Jesus Christ was dead. He had, in fact, been murdered. Betrayed by one of His close associates and brought before the rulers of His day, He should have received a fair trial and justice according to the law and customs of the Jews. Instead, He was immediately put on trial in the middle of the night and was faced with trumped up charges and bribed witnesses. The entire trial was a mockery of justice; one which was illegal and produced an unjust verdict.
Long before this immoral death sentence was announced, the religious rulers had begun to plot this very moment. After healing a man with a maimed hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath we read in Mark’s gospel: “And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him,” (3:6).
That wicked plot had intensified when, just a little over a week before His crucifixion, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. This undeniable miracle led some to naturally and rightfully believe that Jesus was the Christ; their Savior and King. This same miracle caused the willfully ignorant hearts of others to be hardened. So we read in John 11:53 that, “from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.”
Put Him to death they did. Wrongfully convicted by His enemies, the Roman authorities sentenced Him to death for the sake of political expediency. Jesus Christ was mercilessly mocked, brutally tortured and crucified by hardened Roman soldiers, and then, while He hung on the cross, was taunted by those same people who had plotted against Him. Mark’s gospel records their sadistic jeers: (15:29-32)
“And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest [it] in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.”
These men so hated Jesus, and they felt victorious because their plans had finally come together. Jesus was about to die; defeated by their cunning maneuvers and manipulations. That is what they thought. They were mistaken.
We know from sacred scripture that Jesus made seven statements from the cross during the six hours of His crucifixion. The final two statements were made in quick succession. The penultimate statement from the cross was made with a loud voice. Jesus shouted, “It is finished!”
This was no final whimper from a man tired of being tortured. This was a triumphant victory shout of the God-Man. Christ’s life was over because His work was finished. He was not the pathetic victim He appeared to be as He hung on that cruel tree. His work was accomplished. The redemption for sinners was complete. He was triumphant. Therefore, He finally uttered, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus he gave up the ghost,” Luke 23:46.
Jesus Christ was dead. He died as no other man has ever died. In one sense, He was murdered. In another sense, it was God the Father who sent God the Son to the cross. “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief,” Isaiah 53:10a (c.f. Acts 2:23). In still another sense no one took Jesus’ life. He willingly offered it for those whom He loved. As He said in John 10:17b-18a:
“I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
Mankind’s sin required a perfect, sinless, blood sacrifice. God’s eternal plan of redemption, to satisfy His righteous justice and pay the penalty for man’s sins was for Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God to be scarified. Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, was the willing sacrifice who freely offered Himself as the Substitute who made atonement for our sin. The cross is where that all took place, and the gruesome sacrifice of Jesus on the cross seemed to all who loved Him to be a supreme tragedy.
Jesus Christ was dead, but death had not conquered Him! What appeared to be a tragedy to all who loved Him was actually the greatest moment of victory in the history of redemption; a history that began when Adam and Eve were clothed – covered – by the skins of an innocent sacrifice; a history that was pictured by every blood sacrifice offered by God’s people until this moment. Christ would make that victory gloriously clear when, on the first day of the week and the third day after His substitutionary sacrifice, He burst forth triumphantly from the grave!
Following His passion the resurrected Jesus showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs (Acts 1:3). He appeared to the faithful women who had arrived that morning at His now empty tomb. He appeared to Peter and to the other apostles. He walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and talked with them “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He would be seen by over 500 people at once. He was seen by his half-brother James, and by the Apostle Paul. The tomb which had been sealed and guarded by the Romans was empty. A body could not be produced because the glorified, resurrected body of Christ was busy appearing to and interacting with others for forty days. After which, in the presence of His disciples, He ascended into Heaven. Now He is at the Father’s right hand, making intercession for the saints, and awaiting the time for His second coming.
On the cross Jesus atoned for our sins. In the Resurrection He demonstrated His victory over death. As Paul put it, this victory “is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Timothy 1:10). To celebrate the Resurrection, we must first understand the crucifixion.
Jesus Christ was dead. Now He is alive! He has risen, just like He said. Death could not keep Him in the ground. The tomb could not hold Him. The weak explanations fabricated in an attempt to disprove His resurrection were proven to be false then, just as their modern formulations have been today. The blessed fact of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection confronts each of us in this life. Try to roll the stone of philosophy or science or unbelief or any other excuse in front of the tomb. No stone will keep Him away from you. He said to Martha, and says to all of us: (John 11:25-26)
“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”