By Eric Johnson
On Easter Sunday, Christians from both the eastern and western traditions of Christianity take great joy in telling each other, “He is risen.” What makes this holiday more important to them than any other—including Christmas—is their belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ about two millennia ago.
There would be no celebration without “Good Friday,” a somber commemoration of the brutality suffered by their Savior. The anticipation during His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane resulted in Jesus sweating drops like blood. This was just the beginning.
A few hours later, Jesus was whipped on the back by a soldier who wielded the Roman flagrum, a three-lash whip with pieces of bone or metal on the leather strips, tearing through the flesh and muscles while setting the stage for circulatory shock.
A crown of two-inch thorns was jammed into His cranium. Jesus was then led to Golgotha, the “place of the skull,” where His hands and feet were nailed to a wooden stake and crossbar.
A word in use today originated from this event. “Excruciate” means “out of the cross” and signifies great pain. The nails pounded into the victim’s wrists and ankles severed nerves and sometimes even arteries; there was no escaping death upon this Roman instrument of torture.
Before Jesus died in agony, He cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Even though He was already dead, a solider speared His side. If Jesus hadn’t been dead already, this certainly was the final blow.
The followers of Jesus were devastated. Considered to be the most prominent disciple, Peter denied His Master three times to avoid arrest. He and the other apostles hid because they were scared for their lives. Their hopes and dreams for a messiah appeared dashed.
Mel Gibson produced a dark film in 2004 called The Passion of the Christ. Until the final two minutes, there is no scene where the theatergoer would have jumped up for joy and spilled popcorn all over the floor. Without a satisfactory resolution, the memory of the bloody mess resulting from “Good” Friday would have dampened any desire to celebrate.
Indeed, Jesus appeared destined for the same fate as other religious leaders whose graves can be visited today. Yes, Jesus could have been remembered for His moral teachings and flawless life, but something always would have been missing. By itself, this tragedy never had the potential to provide anyone hope.
At this point, though, the Gospel account in Matthew 27:51 records how the temple veil tore in two, highly symbolic of the atonement available to believers. The blood shed wouldn’t have mattered unless there had been an “expiation,” not merely the “perspiration,” of the sacrificial victim.
The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (9:12-13). Verse 16 adds, “For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.” There could have been no resurrection without a death.
It took a miracle to put everything into perspective, best summarized by the Apostles’ Creed—an ancient statement of belief regularly recited by millions of Christians. It says in part, “On the third day He rose again from the dead.”
For some, Easter might just be just another Sunday, a day when the car is washed and preparations are made for the following week. To Christians, however, Easter provides ultimate hope despite these trying times.
Those who celebrate Easter as the most holy day of the entire year base their faith on Jesus who, as God, became flesh and literally dwelt among humanity (John 1:14). He died like we all will, but death was unable to keep Him in the grave. This event is the cause of Christian optimism. Hallelujah!
As one Christian song states, “Because He lives I can face tomorrow, because He lives all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”
Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed!