It’s October of last year. The trees of Ouachita Baptist University are in color, and I am having the time of my life. I am wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt to every class. My earbuds never leave my ears, and things could not go any better, except when my schedule tells me I have to go to Scientific Inquiry.
I have never been a science guy, and the science building is the furthest thing from home, but on the third floor of Jones Science Center, I begrudgingly make my way up the stairs as if it’s just any other class period. I am by no means excited, but going through the door, I try to put on a happy face through my mask and say, “How’s everybody doing?”
So, I sit down in my seat, and I lean forward to my friend Karlee, and I ask her, “Karlee, why is everyone so quiet?”
She responds rather quickly, “Noah, we have a quiz. Did you forget?”
Did I forget? Yes, yes, I did.
It is during this process when my stomach slowly sinks and metaphorically hits the floor. I am panicking. My face is red. I never want to put myself in a situation where I am underprepared, but that was the least of my problems at this point. There was no preparation at all.
As soon as I opened my notes, Dr. Hayes, my professor walks into class, and he said, “Alright, class, I hope you prepared for the quiz.” A couple people close to me turned around and said, “Not everyone.”
I forgot, and I suffered the consequences. I could continue on in stories about my blunders as a college student. Still, we will be going through a story that seems unforgettable, a story that we regularly reference in the broader Christian culture, which has eternal ramifications. That story comes towards the end of every gospel. They are the central scenes of the Bible, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
We have seen the visuals and heard the stories for years, from Creation to Redemption to New Creation. The color that filled the pages captured our imagination. We wear cross necklaces and “He has risen” shirts. It’s the highest attended weekend on the church calendar. These stories are imprinted on our hearts, but far too often, they are put on the highest shelf in the kitchen, saved only for special occasions. I would like to journey with you to catch a more extraordinary glimpse of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection to find out how it has a direct impact on our lives.
Toward the end of Mark 15, he writes:
They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull). They tried to give him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.
Then they crucified him and divided his clothes, casting lots for them to decide what each would get. Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge written against him was: The King of the Jews. They crucified two criminals with him, one on his right and one on his left.
Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads, and saying, “Ha! The one who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross!” In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “See, he’s calling for Elijah.”
Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, fixed it on a stick, offered him a drink, and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”
Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last. Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, standing opposite him, saw the way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
This story, in combination with the Resurrection is dealt with ad nauseum in the church context, but we miss the broader narrative, which leads to the first point.
The Crucifixion Was a Brutal Event.
First, we see that Jesus’ physical state was brutally beaten. At this point in the passion narrative, Jesus has been hit with a cat of nine tails thirty-nine times. A crown of thorns has been stabbed into his head. Before Simon, the Cyrene was “voluntold” to help him carry the cross; Jesus had to lug it by himself. Whips, daggers were thrown and stabbed by trained killing machines. His wrists were pierced with a nail, and I don’t know about you, but I twinge a little bit in pain even when my finger gets pricked.
The flesh of Jesus had to have been showing for all eyes to see. His body was falling apart as he was preparing to be hung from the two slabs of wood fixated as a cross, nothing more than a set of heavy two-by-fours. His lungs are being suffocated more and more by the minute, and there’s no way he can stop it. If you’re cringing when I explain this to you, that’s the whole point. That is how we should feel.
Next, we see that Jesus’ emotional state was cast aside. Jesus was heavily mocked by the Roman soldiers. In his most vulnerable state, a purple cloak was draped over his shoulders not to display gratitude to the Son of God or soak up the blood coming off of his back but as a joke. The same people who laid down their cloaks and palm branches a week earlier now hurled insults and loogies toward the carpenter from Nazareth. These same people chose to free a renowned insurrectionist, Barabbas, a zealot with a murder record, over a teacher who displayed his anger by merely flipping tables a time or two, nothing else.
As this good man’s life is slowly fading, the onlookers aren’t expressing sympathy. There’s no sadness, except his most trusted friends, who counted the cost and stayed until the end. They’re hoping the miracle man can try to escape the Roman execution. They say, “Oh, look! He’s calling for Elijah.” I would want to throw in a “How sweet is that. He’s so pitiful.”
Third, we see that Jesus’ spiritual state was torn in two. We can gather this from his question to God the Father, referencing Psalm 22 as he says, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Even though this came as another fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus’ soul was disgruntled. His Father, the Lord God, turned his back on his one and only son.
Once that loud cry rang out atop Golgotha, the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom. The temple was where God was invited into rest, and the temple curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. When Jesus was spiritually suffering, this act served as a metaphor for what he did for you and me, tearing down the curtain where only priests could enter. Our priest breathed his last; his heart was physically breaking. His emotional state, his mind was unraveling, and his soul had been torn apart. To put it simply, that intense pain from all of life’s facets was poured out for you.
This morning looking at the cross, we don’t see the bold, black one we tattoo on our arms, the colorful, gilded one we hang around our necks, or the minimalist one we spread across our sanctuaries. We see one filled with blood stains and the smell of sour wine laced with myrrh on a sponge close by. We see the cross with a sarcastic statement is stapled over the top of it. Atop Golgotha, there is an undecorated, uneventful wooden creation. It’s an imperfect cross that hangs a beautiful, majestic, wonderful, and perfect Savior. King Jesus.
That story is preached in a lovey, dove-y nature, but there was real, intense suffering every step on the road to Golgotha. Taking that aspect out takes away from the intensity required for sin to be defeated and causes us to forget the reality of the death of Jesus, which brings us to our second point.
The Brutal Crucifixion Makes Way for the Merciful Resurrection.
In Mark 16, the New Testament heroines, Mary and Mary, and their friend Salome approach Joseph’s tomb.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint him. Very early in the morning, they went to the tomb at sunrise on the first day of the week. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?” Looking up, they noticed that the stone—which was very large—had been rolled away.
When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he told them. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they put him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there just as he told you.'”
They went out and ran from the tomb because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone since they were afraid.
The first and most obvious would be, “Where were the disciples? “Well, to put it simply, they were not there. The disciples are hiding in their homes, afraid of suffering the same fate as their Rabbi, Jesus, but the dedicated hearts of service brought Mary and Mary, and Salome to the tomb. They refused to forget how Jesus had impacted their lives and paid it forward by attempting to preserve the body. They didn’t forget.
The disciples of all people should have known that this was coming. Especially since Jesus said in Matthew 12:40, “The Son of Man would remain in the heart of the earth for three days, just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish.” The humanity of Jesus was never in question as his most trusted friends stood scared in the one-room, compact house. They walked by his side for years as he made his way through Israel, teaching and performing miracles. But it was the lack of trust in his deity caused them to be as afraid as they were.
These verses have been read Easter weekend after Easter weekend, never touched on any other event on the church calendar. We will breeze by it on “Bible in a Year” reading plans, but we never ever sit and reflect on the magnificent moment. The church was founded on the Resurrection, but it’s safe to say, outside of our church’s “What We Believe” sheet, do we ever dwell on the Resurrection.
The truths of Resurrection have become less and less relevant in the lives of his people as it is proclaimed with no proceeding action like an early 2010s summertime hit becoming weary listen in the millions of ears who used to bop to it every campus drive around. Our neglect of the reality of the Resurrection doesn’t make the Resurrection less accurate, but it dwindles and demerits Christ’s call to carry his message to all people.
But there is overwhelming hope in the Resurrection. There is both comfort and security in who God is and why he does what he does in the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene and the Mother of Jesus were given a simple task by the angels outside the tomb, “Go and tell.” Tell Peter. Tell the disciples.
The Merciful Resurrection Ushers in the Transcendent Christian life
Pretty soon, that message would be echoed by Jesus himself as he ascended to the Father, “Go, and make disciples.” The cross and Resurrection are central to our faith because only through the Resurrection can the Christian hope that will last forever. If Christ died and did not rise again, it was all in vain. Death is not defeated. There is no hope for the future. The body of Christ would not be taken for the Lord’s Supper. It would erode in Joseph’s tomb until there’s nothing left.
But what happened? Shock and awe-filled each face at the sight of the empty tomb. It happened when Jesus appeared to Mary. It came through when Jesus walked through the door to see his disciples. It stayed true on the Emmaus Road. It happened when Thomas laid his fingers into Jesus’ wounds.
Love and joy became the outflow of peace and the practice in the message of the Resurrection. It reunites formerly warring people groups. It is the message of equality, the statement of truth for all people that there is a God, and his name is Jesus. That same Jesus calls us to join him in abundant life since he is the good shepherd who loves his sheep.
The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ were for the unfit to be fit, the unholy to become holy. The sinner to become a saint. The orphan to become a child of the Most High God. It is not us that initiates the work. We are his workmanship. We are the clay. We are the heirs who receive the greatest gift. The sins were placed on his shoulders, not yours. His blood poured for redemption to be accomplished, not mine. Our weakness makes his grace so much more robust, his love much greater, his salvation much sweeter.
George W. Bush said in a recent documentary interview that it took 20 years for the American public to truly forget the effects of 9/11. The 2,977 lost lives coming from the hand of terrorists who hijacked planes, crashed them into formerly fortified pieces of American architectural magnitude, quickly melting to the ground below in a matter of hours.
We have seen the pictures. We’ve heard the stories. But the pain of that day doesn’t stick with college students my age the same way as it might with some of you. In my particular situation, I was rolling around on my living room floor as the planes flew through the New York skyline. Emotions ran high in the hearts, homes, and minds worldwide, and I didn’t even know it was Tuesday.
At this point, 9/11 is simply something we hear about, maybe even celebrate the heroism of those who sacrificed it all to save some. This past Saturday, it was something we scroll past like any other national holiday, and at this point, only your most patriotic friends dared to post anything about that fateful day. An event that has gone down in history, hopefully never to be replicated, has a simple phrase that the American people have ironically taken for granted, “Never Forget.”
Many events have suffered the same kind of consequences. The initial horrors occur, the year in aftermath hoping to uncover answers, the findings of details, and the constant attempts of movie adaptations until the information is exhausted, and there is nothing new to be heard. It happened to the Titanic. It happened to Pearl Harbor. It happened on 9/11. It’s going on as we speak with the Pandemic. But a question to ask you is, will that happen to this story?
Has the information and story of Christ’s death, burial, and Resurrection become more of a tall tale to us than the foundation of our faith? My prayer is we agree with a resounding no. May we never let down the truth. May Christ never leave the front of our minds and center of our hearts.
May we never forget.