As I sat down to write this article, I certainly knew that I wanted to share the glorious story of Easter. So, I opened my Bible to the sections that chronicle the death and resurrection of Jesus. As I gazed at the thin pages before me, I asked myself, “How long, Yancey, has it been since you’ve read this whole passage?” It dawned on me that I usually skip over this section, making the false assumption that I know it by heart. I pass on to get to Jesus’ words about love or Paul’s lessons on faith. The death and resurrection of Christ are no doubt the foundation of who I am, after all. But come on, I don’t need to read it again, by now I must I know it by heart. But do I? If I knew it by heart, would I have worried about my finances last week? If I knew it by heart, would I have felt insecure about my abilities yesterday? If I knew it by heart, would I have judged that guy I saw this morning? Hmmm, maybe not. So I read it again. And again. And I realized I need to be reading it often, immersing myself in the details, and dwelling on its significance for my life. To be honest, I was overwhelmed.
How about we read it together? It may be the millionth time you’ve done it. Or maybe this is your very first time. Either way, let me set the stage for you. A man named Jesus of Nazareth had come into the world and was boldly claiming that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. And people were mad. They knew a Savior would be coming, because the scriptures had predicted it. But their Messiah was going to be a King, not this unassuming, common man. This Jesus of Nazareth was just a mere human. He got tired. He felt pain. He hung out with sinners and didn’t follow the rules. A King wouldn’t be like that, they thought. But He also did something else. He healed the sick and performed miracles. He taught about love and kindness and how they could live a new life if they chose to. So some did believe. Some did choose. And these few believers had to watch when this man they loved was arrested, gruesomely tortured and taken away to be crucified.
The scripture reads,
“…Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied…‘What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?’ Pilate asked. They all answered, ‘Crucify Him!’…Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus…and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They striped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and they twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on Him. They led Him away to crucify Him…When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots…Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS…Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, …‘save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him, ‘He saved others,’ they said,‘ but He can’t save Himself!’…From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?‘-which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?’…And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.” (Matthew 27:11, 22, 27-31, 35-42,45-46, 50)
Can you now picture the brutal scene that day? Soldiers taunting. Nails tearing into flesh. Criminals being raised up on crosses as they moaned and cried out in agony. I can just imagine the sky’s ominous glow as it turned darker that day. The air thickening around them with an eerie electricity of impending doom. And there was Jesus hanging there. His hands and feet throbbing in excruciating pain. His head burning from the sweat pouring into His open wounds. He had committed no crime, yet He was suffering, so painfully suffering.
Did you observe how Jesus knew what answer would determine His conviction, and He gave it anyway? Did you notice that when they took Jesus away, He didn’t resist? Did you see how He allowed the soldiers to beat Him, spit on Him and gamble for His clothing? Why would He do all this if He was indeed the Christ? If He was the King, why would He wear the crown of thorns intended only to humiliate? Why did He allow His hands and feet to be nailed to the cross and lifted high as onlookers jeered and mocked while He slowly suffocated? He stayed there for hours and hours, wondering if even His Heavenly Father had forsaken Him. Did you wonder why He allowed it, especially if He had the greatest power within Him? He could have stopped it all, ended the pain and agony, but He didn’t.
As you read this incredible and sobering story, did you ask why? Why He didn’t save Himself? This is a great and timeless question. One that many have discussed and answered before us. And the good news is there is an answer. It was because of you. He was busy saving you. Jesus pictured your face that day. He knew all the mistakes you would make and the hurt you would cause in your life. He knew you would be selfish and lie and gossip. He knew you would turn away from your Heavenly Father and ignore His commands. Knowing you would certainly fall short again and again, He decided to step up and take your place. He didn’t want you to suffer the penalty of death, so He let His body die for you. Knowing you would be incapable of covering them on your own, He chose for His blood to cover your sins. He didn’t want you to carry your burdens around with you, so He chose to lift them off your shoulders and place them on His own. How does this make you feel? Overwhelmed? You may ask, Why would He do this for me? The answer is simple, yet incredibly powerful: because He loves you so deeply and wants you to live a life of freedom. He chose to be overwhelmed with this pain, so you could be overwhelmed with this freedom and unconditional love. He knew what was waiting for you with your Heavenly Father, so He did whatever He could to take you to Him.
And we read on…
“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. The next day…the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while He was alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. …’Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting a guard. After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb… an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it…The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said.'” (Matthew 27: 57-66; 28: 1-6)
Can you now picture this scene? Jesus had been horribly and publicly crucified. His body had been taken away and sealed up in the tomb. It was over, they all thought. This man had claimed to be the Son of God, had taught them, healed them, and promised them He would be with them again, but there He was in the tomb. As you read this, did you imagine the sorrow they all felt? Could you feel the heartbreak and loss? Did you see the women agonizing by the tomb? Were you as tortured when He waited three days and allowed them to feel such grief? He had told them what would happen, but they still didn’t get it.
“The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised to life.” (Matthew 17: 22-23)
He would die, but rise again! But for three days, they lost their faith. Was anyone waiting for the resurrection? Was there any anticipation for a miraculous rebirth? He had promised them, but they only felt disappointment and sadness. Would we have been any different? Would we have believed Him? Probably not. That’s why He had to make them wait. He allowed all of this so they would believe. He allowed it so you would believe. And then the angel appeared. And then the stone was rolled away. And who was there in the tomb? No one. He was gone. He had risen! He’d kept His promise!
How did you feel when you read this? And what does this mean for your life? I know what it means for mine. It means that Jesus will keep His promises. When He tells you He will be with you, He will. When He encourages you to put your worries aside and find rest in His arms, you will go to Him and actually find that rest. The power that brought Jesus back from the dead is also available for you. You can have a new beginning, no matter what you have done. And when your earthly life is at its end, you can live for eternity with your Heavenly Father in pure glory and love.
But do I deserve all this? You may ask after reading this again or for the very first time. No, you don’t. This is called Grace. This is what Easter, the resurrection, is all about. Grace is offered to you, and even though you don’t deserve it, through the blood of Jesus, you can have it anyway. You were worth saving! This is why the followers of Jesus are celebrating. God was so overwhelmed by His love for His people, that He made a choice:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
So, maybe this Easter is finally the time that you understand God’s love for you. Don’t assume you know the story by heart. Read it again. Experience it again. Breathe it in every day because it will impact your life immeasurably.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
He has risen, my friend! And you know what that means? A new life awaits you…let yourself be overwhelmed!
Maybe you’ve never known this light that Christ provides. Could now be the time that you reach out? His arms were open on that cross for you. Will you open your heart to Him?
If you would like to have a new life with Jesus Christ, you can pray the following prayer:
I have been told that you love me and I want to experience it. I know I am a sinner and in need of Your forgiveness. I have gone my own way and now want to go Your way. I believe that You are the Son of God, that You died on the cross for my sins and then rose from the dead. You kept Your promise, and now I want to let that promise live in me from now on. I want to follow You and allow You to guide my life, so that I can be the person that God desires for me to be. I trust You. I believe in You. I receive Your Grace. Please come into my heart today and live in me forever as my Savior and Lord.
Now take a moment and listen to Big Daddy Weave’s beautiful song, Overwhelmed.