A friend and I were visiting about the movie “The Passion of the Christ” which came out in 2004. He noted that till then, every depiction of the crucifixion had shown a sanitized and clean version of Christ’s death. There are few wounds, little blood and no graphic details of suffering or pain. Christians have always tried to avoid the violent death of Jesus’ life. Even the early Christians choose to celebrate the resurrection and not fully acknowledge the pain of Jesus on the cross. For generations we have known only the “Sunday school” version of Holy Week and avoided one of the essential lessons of the Passion.
This movie shattered the stereotype image we have of a death void of cruelty and pain. I certainly don’t mean that children should be exposed to the terrible scenes from that movie. Even I had trouble dealing with its horribly stark content. Yet such graphic depiction drives home the cost Christ paid for my sins. His suffering fills me with humility and shame. I feel both unworthy of such sacrifice and deeply indebted to honor Christ with my own sacrifice even though it is insignificant in comparison to His. The central focus of Holy Week should be on events of Sunday morning when God raised His son from death and proclaimed His absolute power over sin. The act of atonement by Jesus and the resulting gift of salvation have and should be the central lesson that infuses and transforms our lives each Easter Sunday.
The end result of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection was our salvation. Understanding more fully the extent of his suffering impacts us in a powerful way and invokes a stronger response to God’s selfless act of love. So it’s important to understand what Jesus experienced during his whole ministry, beginning when he was child preaching at the temple in Jerusalem to his ascension at the end of Pentecost.
Despite his divine nature, it was his human nature which Jesus struggled with. And that’s why we can identify with him. For without this human nature Christ could not have triumphed over the secular powers of this world. Throughout his life Jesus dealt with fear and arrogance, uncertainty and doubt, anger and rejection, sorrow and hope. From the wilderness to the cross he faced all these challenges and was guided by the will of God.
The gospel story of his resurrection is a traditional reading on Easter Sunday. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 should also be considered to understand the full purpose of Christ’s return. If we fully understand what Christ did for us then we feel a powerful desire to fulfill his commandment to “make disciples of all nations”. However the death and resurrection of Christ happened in the past and so our actions are in response to past acts. Paul points out that Jesus is still at work in the world and that he still has much to accomplish. He declares that without the resurrection we live meaningless lives. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” In verse 21 we understand that the resurrection is only meaningful because the human Christ died on the cross and it was a human Christ who was resurrected. “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ”.
The gospels also clearly state that Jesus returned as a human. Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”(Luke 24:39) The disciples were the first to witness the resurrection and a plainly visible sign of the physical body of Jesus would dispel all doubt that he was alive and offered salvation. Thomas learned this when “Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed…” (John 20:24) It’s important to remember that despite three years of teaching, none of the disciple had yet to receive the Holy Spirit. This did not happen till Pentecost when “…there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Act 2:3-4) Once infused with the Holy Spirit they began to preach and bring others to a spirit filled life. Thus redemption is passed on first through Jesus, then the disciples and finally to all others. This is the meaning of Paul’s words in verse 23, “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ”
A single man, constrained by a physical body, can only reach out to a limited number of people in small area over a given periods of time. Since his followers knew him a living man, they needed to experience his death and rebirth as a living man, their friend and teacher. Thus Jesus had to appear to the disciples as man both before and after his crucifixion.
Imagine a general contractor hired to build a home. He may physically lay the foundation and builds the framework of a home himself, but allows others such as plumbers, electrician and landscapers to finish the work. Even though his physical presents may not be there, a contractor still supervises the whole project, providing what is necessary for its completion. In the same way Jesus laid the foundation with his own hands and removed the obstructions which kept the workers from engaging in the work and thus empowering them to continue. For this to occur Jesus had to ascend to heaven so that the holy spirit could dwell among us. Jesus told his followers:”Nevertheless I tell youthe truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8)
Paulteaches us that the Holy Spirit was the spiritual Jesus Christ sent to live among us in his spiritual nature. ” And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts,crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:6)
The terrible suffering and death Christ endured by the Romans was for our salvation and atonement of sins. His resurrection was to empower us with God’s Grace and to allow his spirit to live among us so Christ can complete his work in the world. And so as Jesus suffered for us 2000 years ago, He still suffers with us today. His spirit feels our anguish, pain, heartbreak and suffering. It also lets us feel joy, love and comfort to a greater and deeper extent then we would without him.
Jesus’ work in the world did not end with his physical death nor with his ascension to God’s Kingdom. It continues and will continue till the task which God began in Genesis is completed.
We celebrate the risen Christ, acknowledging his suffering and thankful for salvation. However the true meaning of the beginning of Easter is that Christ is still among us and at work in the world and in us. So in gratitude let our hearts be filled with the Holy Spirit so Christ may complete his work. “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)