As we enter into a weekend of reflection upon the death and resurrection of Jesus, I want to offer some reflections on why these events are so mind numbingly beautiful. The following are 7 reasons why these events are so extraordinary. I hope you’re encouraged.
1. God sacrifices Himself: The Gospel writers go to pains all throughout their stories to point out that Jesus isn’t just a man. He’s not just a prophet. He’s God. My favorite example of this comes in John 12 as John launches into the second half of His Gospel with an incredible assertion. When the Greeks (Gentiles) begin seeking Him out as Savior, Jesus reveals that this is a sign that His time is nearing. What time? The time when he will be “lifted up.” Jesus says this frequently of Himself throughout John’s Gospel alluding to His impending sacrificial death. He says that by being lifted up, He will be “glorified.” (More on that in a moment.)John 12 is the bridge for the two halves of John’s Gospel. The first half is known as the Book of Signs (Miracles pointing to who Jesus truly is and what He came to do) and the second half is often referred to as the Book of the Passion (His Death and Resurrection). Here, in this bridging chapter, Jesus says multiple times that He must be lifted up so that He can glorify the Father. But if you don’t look closely you’ll miss the fact that Jesus quotes from the book of Isaiah twice in the context of His being lifted up and glorified. Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 53. This is essential for understanding who Jesus is and what’s going to happen next.
In Isaiah 53, the prophet foretells of a Suffering Servant who will sacrifice himself on behalf of God’s people to redeem them. Isaiah writes of this messianic figure, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” It’s no secret that Jesus was speaking of Himself here. Isaiah 53 has long been realized as a depiction of the sufferings of Christ for humankind. Don’t miss how Isaiah introduces Him in the chapter 52 though. He tells us in verse 13 that the Suffering Servant will be “lifted up.” Now, in John 12, Jesus is pointing to Himself and saying, “It’s ME! Isaiah was talking about ME! I’m the Suffering Servant who will be lifted up.” By the time John’s Gospel closes we realize that being “lifted up” means lifted up on a Cross in execution.
But here’s the mind blower… Isaiah 6 records a vision that Isaiah has of God in all of His glory, holiness and splendor. Isaiah paints a picture of the heavenly throne room of God. God is on His throne and it’s terrifying in its awesomeness… Angels are worshipping… doorposts are shaking… the temple is filled with smoke… And Isaiah is completely undone. It’s clear Isaiah thinks he’s about to die when suddenly an angelic being flies over to him with a coal from an altar that is in the temple. The angelic figure touches Isaiah’s lips and proclaims that his sins have been atoned for and his guilt taken away. The holiness of God in this passage had always left me in awe. But the real bombshell dropped on me in seminary as I had to translate John 12. It was only then that I saw what countless others before me had already seen… something that I had totally missed for years. Immediately following Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah’s astonishing vision of God in Isaiah 6, the Greek text literally reads, “Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.” Wait… Isaiah saw who? We all know he saw God. But what is John saying? What he’s saying is what makes the Gospel – the death and resurrection of Jesus so mind numbingly amazing… “Him” refers back to Jesus in verse 37. Jesus is saying, “Isaiah saw Me!!!” Here’s a quick way of looking at it:
Isaiah 6: God is high and lifted up on a throne. His glory fills the temple. Sins are being blotted out.
Isaiah 53: The Suffering Servant is lifted up in some form of execution. God is being glorified (although the word glory doesn’t appear). The sins of the multitudes are being atoned for.
John 12: Jesus says He must be lifted up. In doing so, He will bring glory to the Father. He is then lifted up on a cross as the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.
In a nutshell, here is what John is saying: This Jesus that I’m telling you about… the one that I intimately knew… the one I touched and listened to and walked with for years... He is both the Lord of Isaiah’s vision in Chapter 6 and the Lamb of Isaiah’s prophecy in Chapter 53. God has come for His people and He is headed now to His execution in their place because of His great love for them.
You may not be a follower of Jesus. You may not have tasted of His love yet or know of His tenderness and power. You may not believe the claims of Christ. But make no mistake regarding who He said He was and who His followers knew Him to be. The man who died in your place on that wooden beam... The one who was beaten and punished for our peace… The one who was crowned with thorns and spat upon, mocked and crucified is the same one who commands angels… the one they bow down to and worship as they cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy is He…” He is the same one whose presence shakes the foundations of the heavens and leaves men breathless before Him. The profound nature of Christ on the Cross is this – Your God died in your place for your redemption because of His great affection for you.
2. The Humility of God: I said we’d come back to John’s usage of the word “glorify.” John uses this word many times and it has a range of meaning in his Gospel. But at the heart of this word are the concepts of “worship” and “character” or a sense of awe and the true essence of who one is. Jesus says that when He is “lifted up,” that He will “glorify” the Father. He’s saying: “When I am crucified, you are going to see the purest reflection of my character… my heart… who I AM and it should leave you in awe.” That’s staggering because one of the primary revelations of the Cross is the humility of God. Yes… it sounds absolutely absurd, but it’s absolutely true. God is humble at heart. As Paul writes in Philippians 2, “Who being in very nature God, [Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and because obedient to death on a cross!” (vv 6-8). That’s just mind numbing.
3. The Paradoxes: Israel wants a King to toss out the Romans and militarily take power. But Jesus shows His Kingship as the sacrificial lamb. Death becomes Life. Mourning becomes Joy. God literally shows His strength through allowing weakness. He shows His love through sacrifice. The Creator allows His creations to execute Him. But then He crushes the power of death in His resurrection. No wonder His Kingdom is an upside-down Kingdom. It’s stunning in its beauty.
4. The Centrality of the Death and Resurrection in the Great Story: After He is raised from the dead, Jesus appears to two disciples on the Emmaus Road in Acts 24. They’re crushed because Jesus was crucified. They don’t know He’s risen. They’re devastated. Enter Jesus who tells them that they’ve missed the point of the entire Old Testament. Ouch. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (vv25-26).Let’s just absorb that for a moment… Jesus tells them that the whole story up until that time was pointing towards Him and His sufferings. That’s mind numbing. Jesus is saying that approximately 4,000 years of scriptures… written by a multitude of different people… spanning 39 books… and encompassing multiple different genres from poetry to prophecy… was all pointing towards Himself. And not just Himself, but in particular they pointed to one specific event – His sufferings. The 27 books of the New Testament include hundreds of references to the Old Testament that illustrate how the writers were pointing to Jesus’ death and resurrection for the atonement of our sins (the Gospel). This event is the breathtaking catalyst that spurs the authors of the New Testament scriptures to write extensively. And for that reason, the New Testament scriptures point back at the Cross just as the Old Testament scriptures point forward to it. The events that we reflect back upon this week stand at the center of the entirety of Scripture… they stand at the center of history.
5. The Flawed Characters: I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t have all of it together. In fact, I have very little of it “together.” I’m terribly flawed. In fact, the longer I’ve walked with Jesus, the more keenly I’ve become aware of the depths of my sinfulness as He shines the light of His Spirit into the nooks and crannies of my heart. But I’m not discouraged by this. Because I’m also aware that the depths of my flaws are no match for the depths of His forgiving and transforming grace. I mean that. His grace is that good. Take a look at the company He keeps in His final hours and note the patience, kindness and grace He shows them. There’s a criminal on the cross next to Him who asks only that Jesus save Him. And Christ pronounces that the same very day that man would join Him in paradise. There’s his best buddy Peter who has just denied him three whopping times. But after Jesus is raised from the dead, He goes straight to Peter, forgives him, encourages him and calls him to shepherd his people. And then there are the disciples. You remember them, right? The guys he spent three entire years with. And where are they? They’ve disbanded and they’re in hiding because they don’t understand that the cross was always part of the plan. These same flawed characters are forgiven, strengthened, transformed (over time no doubt) and become the leaders of the early church. His grace is astounding. And it should give flawed characters like you and I great comfort.
6. A New Creation: When Jesus explodes from the grave, He begins the renewal process of everything. Those who trust in Jesus are now united with Him not just in His death, but also in His resurrection. As Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come!” We aren’t just forgiven and made righteous in Christ, we’re also being transformed into His image daily. We’re being made new. Jesus is restoring and renewing all things. The world systems have begun a process of slow change because Jesus has instituted His Kingdom through the lives of His people. A Kingdom where humility, mercy, justice and love rule. A Kingdom where the true King is worshipped joyfully by those who are being renewed daily. Truly, the earth and all who inhabited it were on a collision course. But Jesus’ resurrection brings hope in an instant… the certain hope of the restoration and renewal of all things. Do you see the earth being damaged and decaying? He’s going to renew it. There is a new Heaven and new Earth coming because Jesus is releasing the earth from its state of decay. Do you grieve over suffering? Take heart. You not only have a companion who knows your sufferings intimately, but He has promised that when He returns, pain and suffering will disappear. Do you grieve to watch the poor and downtrodden oppressed? Take heart. The Kingdom of God has infiltrated the Earth through the Spirit living in God’s people. There is a new system at work now. A Kingdom where humility is prized, the poor are loved, the downtrodden are cared for, the broken are tended to and the forgotten are remembered. For this reason, our God declares, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).
7. Redemption: The events that we reflect on this week are stunning because they tell us that our story is one of redemption. It’s one of restoration and renewal. It’s a story of hope. It’s a story where justice and love collide into one beautiful tapestry. And all of this is possible because of events that took place 2,000 years ago… the death and resurrection of the Creator, Our God, who came to His people and bore their punishment in death… But was raised to life that our story might be one of redemption and life.
As we reflect on these events this week, may our hearts be set aflame with the great love of our humble God.
Grace and Rest to you this week!
I'm married to an incredible woman, Joni. We have two little treasures, Zach (4) and Jon (2). We moved out to Valley Haven Camp and Retreat Center in Hickory, NC in April of 2015 and are excited to see Jesus cultivate a relational context for restoration and renewal in His Gospel and grace out here under these beautiful mountains.