“I am pressed to admit that I don’t have the capacity to understand the bloodied horrors of a cross and the wild exhilaration of an empty tomb. But at the point that I think I completely understand God… I have lost Him. Therefore, I much prefer to simply marvel.” – Craig D. Lounsbrough
In the year 1674, Isaac Watts Jr. was born in jolly old England. His father (Isaac Watts Sr.) was a committed religious Nonconformist. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this terminology, allow me to briefly enlighten you. After the amended Acts of Uniformity were passed in England in 1662, the term Nonconformist was used in reference to a Protestant Christian who did not bow to the rules and regulations of the official Church of England. Some of the dissidents were outright Separatists, desiring to break away from the sanctioned Church to form independent local Christian assemblies. You may be surprised to learn that these early reformers and radicals who stood in defiance of the state approved and thus “politically correct” church went on to become, among others, the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists of today.
Isaac Watts Jr. grew up to be a renowned Nonconformist, an English Christian minister, hymn writer, theologian and logician. But he is perhaps best known as the “Father of English Hymnody”. At the time of his death on November 25th, 1748, he had written in excess of 750 hymns – many of which are still in use today.
Among those great anthems is a little gem entitled, “This is the day the Lord hath made.” I now draw your attention to a single line from verse two:
“Today He rose and left the dead, and Satan’s empire fell.”
As the rolling calendar once again proclaims that it is Easter time, Christians everywhere will pause to reflect upon the theological lynchpin of our faith: The resurrection from among the dead of a man called Jesus. But why is the belief in His resurrection considered critical to true Christianity?
“God undertook the most dramatic rescue operation in cosmic history. He determined to save the human race from self-destruction, and He sent His Son incarnate as Jesus to salvage and redeem them. The work of man’s redemption was accomplished at the cross.”” ” Billy Graham
Let’s start with the life of Jesus. He walked the earth nearly two millennia ago. He said he was a visitor from another world who was born the son of man. He claimed that his Father was God and that he was sent to earth in human form to redeem mankind. He was no stranger to this planet as he also claimed to be its designer. And so this Creator/Redeemer lived for a season incognito among his own creation.
He spoke often of His mission on earth. He stirred controversy wherever he went. I have come to “seek and save that which has been lost”, is what he proclaimed. (Luke 19:10). The worldly wise just scoffed and jeered, while the threatened religious establishment mostly hated him. But many believed His message. Eventually he was put to death for defying the status quo and delivering a scandalous message of hope, redemption and freedom to a lost and dying people on a doomed rebellious planet. But, according to Him, His death was also part of a master plan.
On that sad and malevolent day long ago, the religious leaders persuaded the authorities to kill Him. Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judaea, reluctantly ordered the execution and then promptly washed his hands of all responsibility.
The Roman soldiers first tortured Jesus, and then they took Him to a location outside of the city called Skull Hill (in Hebrew, Golgotha), a cursed place of public shame, pain and death, where they nailed and tied His bruised and beaten body to a wooden executioner’s crossbeam, hoisted it up high for all to see, and left Him there to die.
For hours this other worldly visitor, this Liberator, this Creator, this God in clandestine human form, hung between the Heavens and the Earth – suffering, bleeding, and slowly dying. The earth trembled and quaked. The sky grew dark and stormy. And Jesus of Nazareth, who was guilty of nothing, quietly carried the weight of this world’s guilt and wickedness upon His shoulders.
Suddenly, looking up from his agony and shame, in a few focused moments of profundity that we may never fully understand, the Nazarene cried, “it is finished.” The word translated it is finished in the English Bible means paid in full. When the Liberator Jesus uttered those final words, He was declaring that the debt owed was now wiped away completely and forever. But this was not His debt; The Redeemer had eliminated the debt owed by mankind; the debt created by our wickedness and rebellion. His mission on earth now being accomplished, He bowed His head, and released His Spirit into death.
With Jesus’ last breath on the cross, He declared the debt of sin cancelled, completely satisfied. Nothing else required. Not good deeds. Not generous donations. Not penance or confession or baptism or…or…or…nothing. The penalty for sin is death, and we were all born hopelessly in debt. He paid our debt in full by giving His life so that we might live forever.” – Charles R. Swindoll
This was indeed mankind’s darkest of hours. And darkness itself was squealing with delight. Those who knew Him, believed in Him, and loved Him were left to face devastating sadness, confusion and despair. “What had gone wrong? Why did He let them kill him? What will we do?”
Remember that song I mentioned earlier? It captures the reason why Jesus had to die: “Today He rose and left the dead and Satan’s empire fell!” With His death, a new day was about to dawn. A new dispensation would begin. His death was not the end – it was only the beginning – and something wonderful was about to happen that would change the course of human history” We call it The Resurrection!
1-7 “But at the first signs of dawn on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb, taking with them the aromatic spices they had prepared. They discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but on going inside, the body of the Lord Jesus was not to be found. While they were still puzzling over this, two men suddenly stood at their elbow, dressed in dazzling light. The women were terribly frightened, and turned their eyes away and looked at the ground. But the two men spoke to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here: he has risen! Remember what he said to you, while he was still in Galilee- that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, and must be crucified, and must rise again on the third day. 8-9 Then they did remember what he had said, and they turned their backs on the tomb and went and told all this to the eleven and the others who were with them.” (Luke 24:1-9)
So it began; He who had been tortured and brutally put to death had actually returned to the land of mere mortals, just as He promised. His followers were overwhelmed and filled with joy to see him again. One expressed some doubt. But the news quickly spread far and wide. Jesus was alive! He had conquered the grave. Death could not hold him. He had power over the finality of mortality.
Many saw him alive as he would suddenly appear out of nowhere. First fearful, then elated, they listened as He spoke to them once again. And that doubter, he even got to touch Him. Soon their sorrow was replaced with jubilation as the memories of that horrific moment of unrelieved darkness on Skull Hill faded into the light of this now brighter era which had dawned upon mankind.
The Resurrection is at the core of our beliefs as Christians. Without it, our faith is meaningless.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
Centuries have passed since those eventful days recorded in the ancient texts of scripture. And yet, the life, death and resurrection of a man called Jesus still remain the very life force of Christian humanity. Though these facts presented here today may be deemed laughable by some, we who are spiritually enlightened solider on, always remembering what the Liberator Jesus said,
1“Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me. 2-3There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly. (John 14:1-3 – Living Bible)
One day this supernatural man we know as Jesus will return to spaceship earth to finish what he started long ago. For those who have faithfully awaited His return – dead or alive – there will be a party at the end of the world. You too may have been invited. Perhaps you’ve just forgotten to RSVP. Here’s your chance to do so. The Liberator Jesus composed the invitation this way,
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 – MSG)
Live free? Take a real rest? Hey, I’m down for that… What about you? Jesus came to open a door. He is the door. Jesus came to help mankind find the right road to true freedom. He is the road as well. Jesus came to exchange your inner emptiness for a fresh start – a new life. He is the life. All you have to do is accept His invitation. Got it? Great! See ya at the party!
Liberator Jesus, build up and invigorate the faith of those who have taken the time to read these words today. Open the eyes of our spirit so that we might see the mighty world wherein you alone are master and King. Help us die to the illusion of time so that with you and because of you we may indeed know the true power of your glorious resurrection. Thank you Jesus, Amen.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabid Coastal Junkie®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656