When I was growing up, Easter was my favorite holiday. The highlight of the day was the Sunrise Service. There in the church's garden, we sang hymns to the soft strumming of guitars in true 1960's style, as the sun rose, as if on cue, at just the right moment.
There in the dewy garden my imagination took me back to that garden where so long ago mourning women with tear-swollen eyes shuffled with baskets filled with spices to do the grim task the Sabbath's coming had prevented two evenings before. The coming of the Sabbath on Friday night had necessitated a hasty burial, without proper preparation of the body. Now as they approached the tomb they must have wondered how much more unpleasant this task was going to be after the thirty-six hour delay.
Then came the discovery of the empty tomb and the joyful chaos that followed. Dropped baskets. Running to get the men. Suddenly the Scriptures they had always known began to make sense. Of course! Why didn't we see? How could we have believed this was the end?
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices,
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For you will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption.
Psalm 16:9, 10
Yet when we had seen Him there, dying an agonizing death, we had our doubts. Why did God allow this? Insults were shouted but He did not answer. God did not defend Him. God must be smiting Him. Was all He had said to us a lie?
...Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
The tomb is empty! Now we see. (Why didn't we then?) Of course He had to die! The prophets had told us. He had to die so we could be healed! He is the sacrifice that all the blood of bulls and goats for centuries were only a dim, ineffectual shadow.
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me?" says the LORD.
"I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls or of lambs or goats."
The sacrifices were a powerless symbol. A tutor made to teach us. He was the real thing. It all makes sense now. Our sin was not upon the scapegoat, it was upon the Son of God. He, not the goats, bulls, or lambs, had to die to satisfy the just wrath of God.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement of our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
He was the Redeemer promised to Adam and Eve.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.
The Redeemer Job expected to see.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God...
Job 19:25, 26
All the shame of these last few days are forgiven. The denials. The hiding. The cowardice. Our weakness and iniquity were manifest. Yet He has conquered death for us. Not because we were faithful, but because He was faithful.
I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
O Death, I will be your plagues!
O Grave, I will be your destruction!
Pity is hidden from My eyes.
I stood in the church garden, remembering that garden, and as the sun rose, I remembered that the Son rose, too. As I bathed in the morning Sonlight, I was overcome with a sense of forgiveness. And gratitude. And peace.
Now, all these years later, Resurrection Day is still my favorite holiday. Just as I did then, I bathe in His forgiveness and His love, because my Friend has first loved me.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for one's friends.
Read The Last Words of Judas Iscariot by our friend J. D. Wetterling.
See also, Are You Bad Enough to be a Christian?