“After three days I will rise again.” Matthew 27:63 NIV
It was Friday. The day before, she had spent Passover with family and friends in Jerusalem, feasting and celebrating like hundreds of thousands of other Jews in the city. Today, however, there was no celebrating. Today, she stood huddled with several other women watching a barbaric execution.
She was at Golgotha—“the skull,” an apt name for such a foul, place of death—helpless, trying to be strong, watching as He hung there dying. When He told His followers they would have to take up their cross, she never dreamed He would be the first to set the example.
For months she had taken care of His needs and those of His disciples, using her own money and resources to support Him and His ministry. He gave her her life back; gave her new life. Just like each of us who are His followers, she owed Him everything she had.
Most of His disciples ran and hid in fear; but not her. She forced herself to watch the Light of the World hanging there like a common criminal, determined to stay until that light was extinguished.
That Friday, Mary Magdalene was a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion.
• • •
It was Sunday. After the Sabbath was over Saturday evening, she bought spices and fragrant oils, planning to get up before dawn the next morning and anoint his body as it lay in the tomb, planning to minister to Him, planning to see Him—albeit mutilated and disfigured—one last time.
Those were her plans.
That Sunday morning, though, her plans were shattered—she burst into tears as she discovered Jesus was not where she had watched them lay Him two days earlier.
As it turns out, Jesus had plans of His own. Instead of lying dead in the tomb, He stood behind her—alive—and asked her, “Why are you crying?”
That Sunday, Mary Magdalene was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
• • •
What happened between Friday and Sunday, between Jesus’ obvious death and His equally obvious return to life? The angels at His empty tomb said it best:
“He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Luke 24:6-7 NIV (text emphasized in bold here and in other verses is strictly my addition)
On Friday, she watched them lay His lifeless body in the tomb; on Sunday, she saw Him standing outside the tomb—His body no longer lifeless—just as He said. Mary and the others missed that key fact. They were so focused on the reigning, conquering Messiah that they missed the fact that He had to be the suffering servant first.
Thus her tears on Sunday morning.
But instead of being exasperated, instead of saying, “How many times did I tell you I was coming back? You never listened,” Jesus simply asked her: “Why are you crying?” He wasn’t looking for an answer; he knew the answer. His question was a gentle reminder that, since He said He would be raised back to life, she should have expected His tomb to be empty—there was no reason to even go. Any tears she shed should have been tears of joy—not tears of despair.
• • •
Interestingly, the fact that Jesus would be resurrected shouldn’t have been news to any Jewish individual in the first century. Besides all the times He told them himself, the Hebrew Scriptures—the books of our Old Testament—are full of references to Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Even Job, one of the oldest individuals in the Bible, understood it. Job said:
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. Job 19:25 NIV
Not hover above the earth as a disembodied spirit, but stand on it on two physical legs.
Job knew that he himself would also be resurrected bodily. In verse 26 he says:
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.
Jesus and Job—both in resurrected physical bodies for eternity.
Psalm 16:9-10, written by David but understood to be Jesus speaking about the events that took place from that Friday to Sunday, says:
My body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
The resurrection was not an afterthought—it was promised and prophesied.
• • •
As part of the spiritual journey the Lord took me on as I wrote this post—and it was quite a journey—I found myself asking this question over and over: Was Jesus’ resurrection really that important? He gave His sinless life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Wasn’t that enough?
The Apostle Paul didn’t think so:
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1 Corinthians 15:17 NIV
I was totally stymied by Paul’s assertion in this passage. Why would the lack of a resurrection negate Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross? Although Paul doesn’t give a definite answer to that, this simple, but interesting (at least to me), thought occurred to me—or was impressed on me by the Holy Spirit: Three times in the Gospel of Mark alone (8:31, 10:34, and 14:28), Jesus is noted as telling His apostles He would be raised from the dead. Had that failed to happen, that would have made Him a liar; as a result, He would no longer be sinless and unable to serve as the pure, perfect atonement for our sins. His death on the cross would have meant nothing.
As Paul said, we would still be in our sins.
But that’s not what happened:
“He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:6 NIV
By his power God raised the Lord from the dead. 1 Corinthians 6:14 NIV
Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:20 NIV
Jesus was alive then, is alive today, and will be alive for eternity.
But the equally amazing part? As believers, we will be, too. By the act of resurrecting Jesus, God demonstrated that He is able to do the same for each of us who have been saved by that sacrifice.
• • •
There were several people recorded in the Bible as being raised from the dead: one each by Elijah, Elisha, Peter, and Paul, and several by Jesus. All of them died again at some point later on, though. Unfortunately, dying is just part of our human experience. The author of Hebrews (9:27 NIV) assures us that:
Man is destined to die once.
(Obviously some exceeded that limit…)
But by being resurrected from His perishable human body to His imperishable supernatural body, never to die again, Jesus set a new precedent—He became the “firstfruits” of those believers who will one day join Him with imperishable bodies of their own.
Way back in Leviticus, not too long after God had rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, He instituted a number of feasts to celebrate various aspects of their experience as His chosen people. Passover, the feast Jesus celebrated with His disciples the Thursday evening He was arrested, was one of those. The Feast of Firstfruits was another.
To celebrate Firstfruits, the first sheaf of new grain—grain being an über-important commodity in the life of the Israelites—was brought to the priest at harvest time. None of the other grain was to be harvested until the Firstfuits offerings were made to the Lord. In other words, the Firstfruits offering was the first before the larger harvest.
When Jesus was resurrected in his imperishable body, He became the first—the “firstfruits” offering made to the Lord before the larger harvest of resurrected believers. Paul actually gives us that sequence:
In Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1 Corinthians 15:21-23
Jesus first (✓), and the rest of us at the rapture. (I’m fine with waiting my turn, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m looking forward to that day.)
One final thing to make you go “Hmmm:” It’s significant that the Jewish Feast of Firstfruits was to take place the third day after Passover—the same day Jesus was resurrected…
• • •
So do you see the significance of Jesus’ resurrection? It goes hand-in-hand with His crucifixion. Both are of vital importance. Jesus’ love for us was expressed through His death on the cross—and our hope for eternity was sealed by His resurrection from that death. The 19th century Anglican Bishop, J. C. Ryle, expressed this relationship beautifully. He said:
“Our Lord’s resurrection is the crowning proof that He has paid the debt He undertook to pay on our behalf and is accepted as our guarantee and our substitute by our Father in heaven.”
Jesus had to die on that Roman cross, and I can hardly go a day without thanking God for the price He paid for me at Golgotha that Friday. But that’s not where it ended, and I thank God just as often for the hope His resurrection that Sunday promises me as a follower of Jesus: the promise that one day I—and I hope you—will be free from death and alive for eternity.
And when I finally see Him face-to-face, Jesus will ask me, like He did Mary Magdalene: “Why are you crying?”
Just like with Mary, He won’t be looking for an answer; He’ll know the answer.
My tears will be tears of joy.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”
Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:20 NIV