It was nearly three o’clock in the afternoon but darkness had spread over Jerusalem like a thick cloud. The streets were hushed. Just hours ago they had been roiling with the fury of thousands of raised voices calling for blood.
All that was before they had watched him die. The undulating mob, the dour-faced priests and the stoic Roman soldiers had all been carried along on a tide of blood lust and rage that had saturated the sticky air around them. Like ravenous wolves they bared their teeth at the bloodied young man who staggered along the cobbled streets.
Jesus of Nazareth.
Only days before they had waved palm branches and hailed him as their king. Now they were ready to rip him to shreds with their bare hands. If he was their king he would never have allowed the Romans to capture him. No king of theirs would ever concede defeat so readily.
They would have followed him to the ends of the earth if he had wielded his power to secure their triumph over the Romans. Now they just wanted him dead. Like any other mob they were fickle, foolish and driven by emotions that they couldn’t decipher but were desperate to burn off.
When they reached Calvary they stood in quivering knots along the craggy hillside and watched him die. They had seen men die on Roman crosses before. They knew the effect that the excruciating pain and abject humiliation could have on a man.
But as they watched Jesus struggle for breath they realised there was something different about him. He wasn’t just another condemned Jew splayed out on a Roman cross. He was more than that. They had seen men die on Roman crosses before but none of them died with the same dignity or composure.
If watching Jesus live had captivated this mob, watching him die unsettled them.
What the Jewish mob couldn’t verbalise the stunned Roman solider articulated. “Surely this man was the Son of God” he breathed.
In death as in life Jesus commanded both reverence and worship.
When he finally breathed his last the ground shook and the sky cracked with thunder. The fury of the mob dissipated on a gasp of fear and the city was hushed.
Who was this man?
Soon after Jesus died, Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus quietly made their way to Pilate and secured his permission to take possession of the body. Setting a tall ladder against the rough hewn cross, Joseph climbed up to where Jesus hung and pried out the nails in his lands. Below him Nicodemus took out the long nail that held his feet secure. They wrapped his body in a shroud and took it away to be embalmed with spices they had specially prepared.
Joseph then led the way to his own personal burial plot, a cave with a heavy stone over its mouth. As they laid him inside the sepulchre perhaps their minds went to Lazarus, who had been buried in a similar cave and resurrected just four days after he had died. But the One who had called Lazarus from the tomb was now being placed in one. Who would raise him from the dead?
As they rolled the stone over the mouth of the cave, they probably felt a sense of finality. Jesus had raised the dead. There was no one to raise Him.
As a precaution against theft and wild stories of resurrection the priests persuaded Pilate to set a guard of Roman soldiers to watch the tomb.
Jesus rested on the Sabbath and his heartbroken disciples did the same. But in the early hours of Sunday morning, Mary made her way to the tomb and was startled to find it empty. Peering into the darkened cave she saw the grave clothes that had been wrapped around Jesus folded and resting on the cold slab of stone that would have held his body. Shocked and despairing she hurried to tell his disciples the news.
In a voice crackling with raw emotion, she told them what she had discovered. Jesus was gone. She had no idea who had taken him or where he had been taken.
The disciples listened to her in slack-jawed disbelief. Unwilling to believe the word of an emotional woman, Peter and John ran to the tomb. They tore down the streets of the city in the cool gray dawn, veering onto the packed path leading to the garden tomb where he was laid.
They found the scene exactly as Mary had described it. He was gone. If Jesus' death had devastated them, His empty tomb disillusioned them. Stumbling away from the yawning cave they made their way home, unable to fathom what had happened.
Mary had followed them to the tomb and when they left she lingered in the garden. Broken-hearted she wept. Peered into the tomb. Cast about in her mind for some plausible explanation as to where Jesus might be. Who might have taken his body? She was startled to see two men sitting inside the tomb.
Their garments were shining with an otherworldly glow and their faces were serene. Who were they? And where had they come from?
“Why are you crying?” one of them asked her and without pausing to consider the questions flooding her mind, Mary responded by rote.
“Because they have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where to find him,” she said, and then disoriented by the bizarre encounter she pushed herself away from the tomb and turned around only to find another man standing there.
He is familiar but unrecognizable. Before Mary could gather her wits about her he asked her the same questions as the previous man “Why are you crying?”
As Mary stared at him a thought struck her. “Sir” she breathed “if you have taken him away then please, tell me where you have lain him and I will take the body” She wasn’t thinking clearly but it was the only idea that popped into her mind in her confused state.
She continued to stare at the familiar stranger, assuming that he was the gardener and thinking that if anyone had moved Jesus' body it would be this man. Instead of responding to her query he simply said her name. “Mary”
At that moment Mary’s entire world tilted and then righted itself again. She knew that voice.
But how could it be? She had watched him die. And yet there was no mistaking his voice because it was the same voice that spoke hope into her life when it was shattering around her.
She continued to stare at him and her mind reached back and grasped a memory of another man she knew. She had watched her brother Lazarus die. She had watched him being laid in a tomb. And then four days later she had watched Jesus raise him from the dead. If Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead then why could He not raise Himself?
As the realization washed over her, pure joy flooded her entire being. Choked with emotion she managed to squeeze out a single word “Master”
Jesus was alive!
Christianity hinges on a single event. The resurrection of Jesus. Without it our message would be powerless and our mission would be redundant. Every single reality we cling to as human beings is broken and re-formed through the prism of that single event.
If Jesus is alive then death is no longer a nebulous void.
If Jesus is alive then He is God.
If Jesus is alive then He has the power to save us from our sins.
If Jesus is alive then His word can be trusted.
If Jesus is alive then the Bible is true.
If Jesus is alive every paradigm you have ever held on to must shift and be reinterpreted through the lens of his resurrection.
If Jesus is alive then you have hope.
And perhaps that is the greatest truth to take away from Jesus' resurrection. We live in a world shadowed by deep despair and yet, the truth of who Jesus is and where He is right now gives us something that nothing else in the world can; hope.
Hope for a future.
Hope for eternity
Hope for power to overcome.
Reach out and grasp that flame of hope. May it burn brightly in your heart today.