The Passion season is again with us, that wonderful time of the year when in a special way we commemorate the suffering and death of our Lord and Saviour. And just a few more weeks, and another Easter Day will dawn, when “Torn the lips of old and young alike, we hear the old yet ever new refrain: “The Lord is risen indeed!”
Thus, as church of the living God, we commemorate the work of our Lord which was accomplished in our behalf more than nineteen hundred years ago. Thus from year to year, we pause for a moment as it were, to remind ourselves in a special way of His atoning death and glorious resurrection. And thus every year, especially during the season of Lent and Easter, we stand face to face with a mighty contrast: the amazing cross and the open tomb!
We say a contrast, for the cross is the symbol of suffering and shame, but the open tomb of glory and honor. The one speaks of death and the curse, the other of life and favor. The one spells utter defeat, the other glorious victory. The one caused tears and sorrow, the other gave songs in the night.
And yet, here too, there is unity and order and all God’s work is perfect, for the amazing cross and the open tomb belong together. The one is the way to the other, and without the one the other cannot be realized. In fact, they are so closely related that without the gloom of Calvary the joy of Easter is impossible. So that also here we are confronted with the words of the Saviour: “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
And well may we take those words to heart, especially today as we approach Good Friday and look forward to Easter. For Easter is indeed a day of great joy and gladness. In a world of gloom and sorrow it spells hope and comfort and speaks of life in the midst of death. For we live in a world in which sin and death and the curse surround us on every hand, and seemingly nowhere is there a way of escape. But the open tomb proclaims to us: “Fear not, for behold, He is risen!” And in those few words we have the entire gospel of our redemption. For they tell us that because He is risen our sin is gone, the curse has been removed and that death has been swallowed up in victory. They proclaim to us that by a wonder of grace the things impossible with man have been made possible by God, and that through Him the risen Christ is become the life-giving Lord, in whom in principle the word has been realized: “Behold, old things have passed away, all things have become new.” Small wonder, then, that on this day the church sings glad hallelujahs and that she boasts of the life of her King.
And needless to say, the real joy of Easter, therefore, does not consist in the displaying of gifts, and flowers and pretty Easter togs, for these have nothing to do with the meaning of this day, and generally they serve only to hide its true significance. Instead, it consists in glorying in the resurrected Christ and in beholding Him as the God of our salvation. It consists in the assurance that He is our personal Lord and that He is risen in our behalf. It means that we lose ourselves entirely in Him and in the blessed thought that our guilt is gone, that our death is conquered and that His resurrection is the sure pledge of our own blessed resurrection. That, friends, is the real joy of Easter.
However, that joy can be obtained not by joining the Easter parade, but only in the way of the cross. That was true even and first of all for the Saviour Himself. Since He bore the sins of His people, and since God is holy and righteous, for Him there was but one way to the joy of Easter and that was by the way of His death. Even a grain of wheat tells us this. For except it fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. So, too, it was necessary for Him to die in order that by His atoning death He might become the true vine and might hear much fruit.
Besides, it was God’s purpose exactly through Him to confound the wise, to make foolish the wisdom of man and to manifest before the eyes of all that He is the wonder-working God Who brings forth life out of death and changes the curse into a blessing. And that could best he shown through the cross which to them that perish is foolishness, but unto us that are saved is the power of God unto salvation. Hence, also because of this, the cross was a must, and Jesus could come to the glory of the resurrection only by the death of the cross.
And no different it is for us, for God is still the same. And His goal ever remains: nothing of man, lest any man should boast. Therefore Jesus once said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, let him take up his cross, and follow me.” Therefore we must renounce all that is of self and crucify our flesh. We must lose our life in order to find it. So that also for us the way to the open tomb begins at Calvary.
Not, of course, that in the literal sense we must die as Jesus died and thus make atonement for sin, for in that respect Jesus did it all. But it does mean that Jesus’ cross must become the only hope of our salvation. At the foot of that cross we must cry out with the publican of old: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And from the heart we must ever confess: “Nothing of myself I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”
And only in the measure that we do, can the joy of Easter be a blessed reality in our lives, for in the wisdom of God, also for us the relationship between Christ’s cross and resurrection is such, that the one is the way to the other, in order that no flesh might glory in His presence. Hence, he who is a stranger at Golgotha must needs be a stranger at the open tomb, and only those who celebrate Good Friday can experience the joy of Easter.
And the truth of this, and that this order of God cannot be broken with impunity, we see realized plainly in the world round about us, especially in the Easter parade and in the manner in which the world celebrates Easter. Since the children of this world have no eye for sin, they despise Christ’s suffering and do away with His cross. But when Easter comes their “joy” is confined to the things that perish. Because they did away with Good Friday, they do not understand the meaning of Easter. Because they were blind for the beauty of Calvary, they are strangers at the empty tomb.
But, thanks be to God, by His grace, there is also another people, a people which knows its sin, and because of it, seeks its salvation in a cross. And therefore during the Passion season, and to an extent during every season, with their minds and hearts they follow the Man of Sorrows. They follow Him to the bitter end. They follow Him from the mean stable to the accursed tree. In fact, they follow Him, even as the women of old, to Joseph’s garden. And when the morning of Easter dawns, now even as then, the Word of God comes to them: “Fear not, for behold, He is risen.” Risen indeed! Risen also for you. And needless to say, friends, theirs and theirs alone, is the true joy of Easter.
Indeed, therefore, the amazing cross and the empty tomb belong together, for the one is the way to the other, and without the gloom of the one the joy of the other cannot be attained. And well may we beware, lest we strive to put asunder what God hath joined together.
May we be content therefore to have it thus. And during this Passion season, may we put first things first, in order that on Easter morning, we, too, may see Him, not as the Man of Sorrows, but as our Risen Lord.