I sit this morning, alone, watching as the sun crests the peak of my home. It is quiet, with a waterfall in the background and nature sounds playing their melody. I ponder the gravity of this season. It is once again Easter, the celebration of the best love story ever told.
I am reminded of the week’s beginning. The triumphant entry of Jesus, in humility seated upon a donkey, as he arrives at the city of Jerusalem. Greeted as the conqueror; the expectations of those who lined the streets were high as they placed palm fronds before him, expressing their delight at his arrival.
They turned their backs upon this man whom they thought would free them from bondage to the Roman Empire. They were seeking a conqueror of governments, yet he walked this earth to conquer a much greater need—rescue from sin and death.
The week progressed walking alongside his friends, these were his constant companions during the previous three years. He knew the end was near. He also knew that among those he had shared life with, one would betray him, another would deny him, and only a few would be at the foot of his cross in the moments of his highest agony.
As they celebrated Passover together, the precursor to the days that were to come, they shared what would be their last meal. As they took the bread and wine, he spoke this promise, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Yet they knew not what that meant. Gazing upon his betrayer as the meal ended, he sent him to do what had to be done.
A short while later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the tears rolled down the face of this conqueror. Praying, because he knew what was to come. That heartbroken, yet obedient cry was heard, “Father, if you are willing please, take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet, I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42). Three times he repeated this prayer with no answer but to continue on the path that the Son of God was sent to walk.
…one would betray him, another would deny him, and only a few would be at the foot of his cross in the moments of his highest agony.
Pulling up from his bowed position, he walked to where his sleeping companions waited. He awakened them to a confrontation they were not expecting; surrounded by those who were sent to end the influence of this humble carpenter from Nazareth. The religious rulers of the day were threatened by him and sent the temple guards to capture him, bringing him before their leadership.
He was offered a kiss of betrayal then taken by force to the Pharisees, the very ones who claimed to be followers of his Father. They proclaimed themselves to be righteous while they pompously, obstinately held onto their positions of authority over men without humbly serving the God they claimed as their own.
Facing Caiaphas, the High Priest, he was spit upon, ridiculed, and looked at with haughtiness and disdain. In order to complete the task they set out to do, they had no choice but to send this man to the Roman government officials, the very government from which they wanted freedom. They used the authorities they despised to rid themselves of someone they hated even more.
He walked this earth to conquer a much greater need—rescue from sin and death.
Standing before the governor, Pilate questioned Jesus and concluded that there were no appropriate charges for exacting punishment… causing the cries to become louder, the demands more ardent. The Jewish elite wanted no conclusion but to be done with this man. Following the custom of the Passover season, Pilate asked the people which prisoner they wanted to be set free: Jesus or Barabbas. Their choice was Barabbas, a known criminal, instead of Jesus.
When Pilate asked them what he should do with Jesus, they shouted, “Crucify him!” When Pilate demanded to know why—what crimes had the man commited, the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!” As Pilate saw that nothing but a riot would be accomplished, he washed his hands before the crowd and declared himself innocent of shedding Jesus’ blood.
Beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers, Jesus was then led to the cross for one final, physical act. Only Jesus, who was both fully God and fully man, could complete this mission. In doing so, he took every sin upon his shoulders. The weight of which is beyond comprehension.
His Father, the perfect God of the universe, could not look upon the sin his Son carried. As the truest of Fathers, I’m sure his heart was breaking as he had to turn away from him, closing the doors of heaven for the last breath of his Son.
The final price was paid—the final words were spoken by this conqueror, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Those who followed him took his battered body from the cross in secret, attending to him and then carrying him to a tomb to be buried. A stone was rolled in place at the entry and soldiers of the Roman Empire were set to guard this tomb to make sure this was indeed the end. Yet it was not.
The final words were spoken by this conqueror, “It is finished.”
On the third day, two ladies he loved, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Salome and James the younger, approached the tomb. Their grief, palpable in every step they took, was replaced by dismay and confusion. Peering ahead, they saw that the stone was rolled away and the grave was empty. He was gone.
He had conquered sin; he had conquered death! He had defeated the grave so that those who followed him could as well. Over the next month, as he walked this Earth, their sorrow was turned to joy and their defeat into triumph as they learned he was alive. He had paid the ultimate price and made the only sacrifice that would provide the bridge between God and man.
His death and suffering was for all. He died for those who greeted him as their conqueror, only to turn their backs. He died for those who walked by his side, even though only a few followed him to the very end. He died for the one who betrayed him, and for the one who denied him.
He died for the religious leaders, whose only focus was to bring about his death to retain their power. He died for the government leaders who believed his death was in their hands. He died for the soldiers, who drove the nails through his outstretched arms and ridiculed him in his dying moments. He died for the secret followers who were more concerned with the opinion of man than God.
He died for me.
He had defeated the grave so that those who followed Him could as well.
As I sit and ponder this truth, I realize the price that was paid. The ultimate victory was clenched from the hands of those who intended destruction. Tearfully, I find myself so humbly thankful. It is beyond my understanding that the One who was perfect—the God of the universe—would love each of us so profoundly, so purposefully to have given his all for us. To have given his all for me.
Truly, what love is this?
Want to learn more about what Easter represents? Check out this podcast episode: Hope: What Easter is Really All About – 033