According to the Christian tradition, Jesus died on Friday and rose again on Sunday. While experts can debate the details and argue about whether Jesus really spent three days in the grave, whatever you decide, Saturday was a difficult day for His followers.
Picture it…Jesus, their hoped for Messiah…the One they thought would ride in on a white horse and restore Israel’s greatness…He was dead and buried. And not even decently buried. They were in such a hurry to get him in the ground before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath (which, consequently, leads to a great deal of confusion about when Jesus was crucified…it wasn’t necessarily Saturday), they didn’t even get to prepare His body properly.
However you look at it, Saturday is a dark day for everyone who loved and followed Jesus. He is dead. All their hopes and dreams died with Him. They are facing a crisis, all holed up together trying to figure out what they’re going to do.
I’ve been there…my dreams dashed, my heart broken, overwhelmed with confusion and disbelief, shaken by doubt. It is a miserable place to be. Can you relate? Something tells me you probably can…
One experience in particular stands out in my mind…an experience not unlike the disciples were facing so many centuries ago. Only the one who was dead was my child…my unborn child whose anticipated arrival was still months away. Different expectations and hopes, but all dashed, just the same.
As I sat in the car, wrestling with God over the loss of my baby, over the agony of death and the frailty of life, I realized something. Death is a gift.
Yes, you read that right. Death is a gift.
You see, if you take the Bible literally, as I do (and please, let’s not get into a debate about that here), then you believe life began in a garden…the Garden of Eden. And in that garden were two trees; the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve ate from one, but God wouldn’t let them eat from the other. And there in lies the gift.
You see, if Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Life, then they and everyone who came after them would have been doomed to spend eternity in our sinful state.
Paul describes the flesh in Romans 7:18,
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
The result of living in our “flesh” as the Bible calls it, or our “natural state” results in certain behaviors that are anything but beautiful. A complete list can be found in Galatians 5:19-21, but that isn’t the focus of this post.
You see, if we were left in our sinful state for all of eternity, then we would hopeless, helpless, and just plain miserable. But, we’re not!
Because Adam and Eve didn’t eat from the Tree of Life, we all die. And in death, we are set free from the bondage of sin. That is the gift; that we do not spend all of eternity in bondage. As followers of Jesus, we have choices beyond our sinful nature, but we still struggle under the weight of it. But we won’t, not always. Some day, we’ll be set free. And when we lose someone we love, whether we bury a baby born too soon or a parent at the end of a long and fulfilling life or anyone in between, that is a reminder that this life is not all there is. There is more. Someday we will experience life the way God intended in the Garden…without our natural tendency to be selfish or unkind or blame someone else for our mistakes…some day…
That some day is what makes the day we commemorate on Easter Sunday really special. Because if Jesus had just died, if the grave could hold Him, then nothing else mattered. Sure, He was our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7); sure, He lived a sinless life (Hebrew 4:15); sure He fulfilled multiple Old Testament prophesies. But if He had stayed dead, none of it would have mattered.
But He didn’t. Jesus “came alive again” to borrow a phrase from one of my children. The day we commemorate on Easter was the day Jesus conquered death. The angels at the tomb said it best, when they inquired of the women who had come to finish the burial rituals; “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Luke 24:5 ESV.
That is what I think of when I hear of someone dying. My heart aches, I grieve with those who are grieving, I weep with those who weep, but I am also reminded of the gift it is to eventually die. In the end, we will have an answer to Paul’s anguished cry in Romans 7, “who will save me from this body of death?” The answer is, Jesus!! And He already has.