It seems strange to celebrate the death of a noble and great leader. You would be hard pressed to find any other religious or admired world leader who has more celebration and joy around his death than his life. At first glance it doesn't seem to make sense.
We usually celebrate someone's life and then mourn their death when they depart. And yet that is not what we see with Jesus Christ (see What Is So Good About Good Friday?). The commemoration of Christ's death is actually called good. Or to be even more challenging if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not the best news you have ever heard, then you can be sure that you have not grasped it. Why? Why does the Bible challenge us to think of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the best news we have ever heard?
In the last blog post we showed how from the prophet Isaiah, writing 700 years before Christ came to earth, that God while taking no pleasure in the suffering of His son did take great pleasure in what that suffering would achieve. What did Christ's suffering on the cross achieve? There are two main points.
1. What the cross achieved for Jesus was a victorious and abundant resurrection from the dead.
One of the hardest things about death is that it cuts us off from those we love and those who are dear to us. That was so powerfully brought home to me on 17 March 2014 following the sudden death of a good friend of mine. For many months I have had to face the harsh reality that a dear friend of over 10 years is no longer alive - Abhishek (Bunty) is no longer reachable. But Isaiah promises that death is not the end. Jesus was God's suffering servant, but death was not the end for Him. There is hope beyond the grave. In chapter 53 verses 10-12 Isaiah writes about this suffering servant:
10 "Yet it was the LORD's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
11 After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Isaiah writes that this suffering servant has become a guilt offering. For the Jews of Isaiah's time an animal was sacrificed in place of the people to atone for their sins. Every other sacrificial offering made for the sin of the people once it had died stayed dead.
But this offering is different:
- He will see His offspring and prolong His days. (v10)
- The will of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (v10)
- He will see the light of life and be satisfied. (v11)
From verse 12 the language being used is of a great warrior returning from battle having won a great victory. When Jesus died on the cross, 700 years after Isaiah wrote, although it did not look like it at the time, the Bible teaches that He had won a major battle.
This battle is not like the battles that first come to mind - battles or wars like World War 1 or World War 2 or wars going on around the world.
This is the battle against the sin in our hearts and the evil of this world
That war is still going on in our lives, but the final battle has been fought and won with Jesus giving His life on the cross.
This is why God was pleased to crush His Son on that first Good Friday.
Jesus' death was His way to glory and triumph.
What appeared to be a great defeat on the cross was actually the way to Jesus being given the highest place in the universe.
God was pleased to bruise His one and only Son on the cross because He was planning to raise Him from the dead.
2. What the cross achieves for us is that we can be made the offspring of Christ - the spiritual children of God.
The resurrection means we can be justified or put in right relationship with God. We can enjoy friendship and fellowship with God from today, right now and going on into eternity after we die.
Death does not become the end - because of Jesus' resurrection we can keep on walking with God.
A clearer translation of the second part of verse 12 is ".... by knowledge of Him my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities."
The key word there is the word 'justify'. To justify means to put in right relationship with.
The Bible teaches that we have treated God terribly.
We have lived as though He didn't exist.
We've disobeyed His laws.
We've loved everything else apart from Him.
And we deserve His punishment.
Religion is not the answer (see Why I Struggle With Religion).
Yet here is wonderful good news. So wonderful that when I truly grasp it then it can become the best news I have ever heard.
Because of Jesus taking the punishment I deserve, God can say to me when I put my trust in Him, 'you and I are all right.'
I am put right with God. My relationship with God is restored. I can be declared forgiven, righteous, innocent and guiltless.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ leads to the justification of many - that is being put right with God. But it is not quite the way we might expect.
In the New Testament, Paul's letter to the Romans (4:25) puts it in this surprising way:
"He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."
The point is that so long as Jesus was dead in the tomb, why should we have any confidence in Him?
How can we trust in His promises or anything in the Bible if He is still dead? Why can I have any confidence when those I care about die and I am separated from them?
It is because on the third day Jesus walks out of the tomb declaring victory.
And that means we can be justified.
The proof of our justification is the rising of Jesus from the dead.
If you look closely at verse 12 you will see it does not say Jesus will justify everyone. It says "By knowledge of Him my righteous servant will justify many."
Jesus death and resurrection does not lead to automatic justification for everyone.
The Bible is clear that unless I have turned and put my trust in Jesus then I am still out of relationship with God.
I am still in the wrong. I am still under God's judgement. That is the bad news, and the deeper the bad news penetrates my heart then the sweeter will be the good news to me.
The good news is that by trusting Jesus, I can be justified and declared not guilty.
And that justification lasts for all of time, because Jesus was raised from the dead.
If I am justified before God then I can know He totally accepts me regardless of how well or how bad I am doing. That is incredibly liberating. (For more on why this is see Why I Struggle With Religion).
The more I grasp that then the more this really can be the best news I have ever heard.
So is this the best news you have ever heard? Why or why not?