Easter is the heartbeat of Christianity. Without it we have mere religion and ritual, a moral system to help us earn the approval of God, whoever we conceive God to be. But the Easter story of the God-man who died to save the world, is no myth. It is a scandalous story of redemption which is rooted in real time, space and history and the central figure of this story is a Jewish man called Yeshua, whom we call Jesus. He was no ordinary man and was killed by crucifixion on the day the Jews celebrated Passover in about 33AD. There is no doubt about this among secular and religious historians, and Easter Friday is the day we remember this event which splits history into B.C and A.D.
As I woke up this morning, I was thinking about what Jesus went through on the night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, the night he washed his disciples’ feet and ate the Last Supper in the upper room, using wine and bread as symbols of his literal body and blood which were about to be torn apart and spilled on the cross. His disciples had no idea of the barbarism of the next 24 hours. This was the night Jews started to prepare for the Passover. Imagine being awake all night after his agonising prayers and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, being dragged though three bogus hearings before the Jewish Sanhedrin, Herod and Pontius Pilate, all before the world woke up on the Friday of Passover. Mocked, flogged, abandoned, disowned by his friends, the target of people who detested him and bayed for his blood like vicious animals. That is how Jesus’ “Good” Friday started.
Stripped, spat on, given a thorny crown to pierce his head, made to look like a mock “King”. That is how Jesus spent the early hours of Friday morning. The King of the universe went silently, like a lamb to the slaughter, carrying his mammoth cross up a hill until he collapsed. He was crucified around 9am, the time most of us are eating breakfast on Good Friday. There was great hurry to finish the messy business of crucifixion and burial before the start of Passover, sunset on Friday evening.
Jesus hung on the cross between two rebels, one of whom heaped more insults on him and one who put his trust in The Son of God. “Excruciating” is the English word derived from the unique pain of a Roman crucifixion. From noon until 3pm, darkness literally came over all the land, while Jesus died slowly, an excruciating death, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Eli, Eli, Lena sabachtini” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was God-forsaken for the first time in all eternity, surely the most excruciating element of his immense suffering.
Then he cried out again in a loud voice and gave up his spirit.
Imagine the shock on the faces of the religious leaders with blood on their hands as they watched the curtain of the temple torn in two from top to bottom. Imagine the terror of eye witnesses as the earth shook, tombs broke open and bodies of holy dead people were raised to life and appeared to many people in Jerusalem. A hardened soldier, a centurion guarding the dying Jesus who experienced the darkness, the earthquake, the resurrections at close quarters, exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Does this sound like a myth? Truth is stranger than fiction. All this happened by 3pm on the Friday of Passover. By evening, two ‘privileged’ Jewish men came forward to take care of Jesus’ Jewish burial rites before sunset. Jesus’s dead body was tenderly anointed with a mixture of 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes and wrapped in a clean linen cloth by a rich man called Joseph (from the town of Arimathea) and Nicodemus, a Pharisee. We don’t know much about these privileged men other than that Joseph had become a follower of Jesus and Nicodemus had visited Jesus in secret to ask him the secret to enter the kingdom of God. (John 3). Both men went against the “politically correct” views of their culture and religion to support Jesus and must have been shunned for that. Joseph gave up his personal, brand new tomb for the Son of God. A massive stone was rolled in front of the entrance of the tomb as the two Marys watched on. All done and dusted in time for sunset and the beginning of the Passover meal. It is difficult to grasp their profound sadness, shattered dreams and disappointment as they witnessed their precious Jesus being placed in this new tomb in a garden, protected by a massive stone.
This all happened on the first Easter Friday, the beginning of Passover when a one-year old, unblemished, male lamb was sacrificed, roasted and eaten with bread and no yeast. At Passover Jewish people celebrate their miraculous redemption from slavery in Egypt, the day the angel of death ‘passed over’ the homes of the Israelites protected by the blood of the lamb. Today it has struck me with new clarity how Jesus is the Lamb of God and his death fulfills in minute detail what was promised in the Jewish Scriptures.
As he promised his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) In fact, there are 354 Old Testament verses that are directly fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Here are just a few of them relating to Easter Friday:
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by his blood spilled on the cross. The Old Testament books of the law, the Torah, foreshadowed the Lamb of God, the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. (Exodus 12) Even the bones of the Passover lamb were not to be broken (Exodus 12: 46; Numbers 9:12) and neither was one bone of Jesus broken on the cross (John 19:31-36). Jesus is the sinless Passover Lamb, without blemish (Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19). He is also the faithful High Priest who stands between sinful people and a holy God (1 Samuel 2:35; Hebrews 2:17; 3:1-3; 6 and 7:24-25.)
Psalm 22, written a thousand years before Jesus’ birth, is an almost a perfect shadow of Easter Friday as told in the Gospels. Just look at these verses from Psalm 22, which begin with the exact words said by Jesus as he hung on the cross:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Matthew 27:46)
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (Matthew 27:45)
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; (Matthew 27:39-44).
8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Matthew 27:43)
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Luke 2:7)
12 Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion. (John 19:6)
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint; (John 19:34)
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death. (Mark 15:34-37)
16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet— (John 19:34, 37; 20:27)
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots. (Luke 23:34;35; John 19:23,24)
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog! (Luke 23:46)
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: (John 20:17)
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it. (“It is finished”..John 19:30; Hebrews 10:10, 12, 14, 18)
The Jewish prophets foretold the Lamb of God, the suffering servant. Allow some verses from Isaiah 53, written seven hundred years before Christ, wash over you:
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (John 12:37-38)
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Luke 4:28-29; Matthew 26:37-38; Mark 14:50-52)
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted. (Matthew 26:66; 27:41-43)
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:9; Colossians 1:20)
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (1 John 2:2; 4:10; Galatians 1:4)
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Matthew 27:12-14; 27-31)
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people? (John 18:13-22)
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death, (Matthew 27:57)
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22)
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief; (John 18:11)
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Romans 6:9)
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. (John 12:27; John 17:1-5)
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Hebrews 9:28)
John the Baptist heralded the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world when he baptised Jesus in the Jordan river. Today is the day we worship and thank Jesus, the Lamb of God, who gave his life so that anyone who believes in him may be made right with God and have eternal life. Today is the day we remember the new Passover, Jesus’ willing sacrifice of himself to pay the penalty for our sins, to die in our place.
You and I, without exception, are the “transgressors” of Isaiah 53:12. And Jesus truly is the Lamb of God, the one, all-sufficient atonement to pay for the sins of whoever puts their trust in Him as their Saviour and King.
Thank you Yeshua, thank you Jesus.