Each spring, we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. These are pivotal celebrations because all that we believe and hope for hinges on the events commemorated by Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Some sincere people put great emphasis on getting the details surrounding these events correct. Much has been written about the exact year, or precise date, or precise chronology of Jesus’ arrest, trial, death and resurrection. Though most accept that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, others insist that it was a Wednesday or a Thursday. Some argue over whether Jesus was in the tomb for three days and three nights or just parts of those days. Some believe we should not celebrate the orthodox Christian days at all, insisting that the Old Testament observances are the only correct way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice.
I once thought these details were important and spent far too much time trying to resolve them. I now see that it was time wasted. I don’t mean to suggest that the details are insignificant. The events of Jesus’ last week were carefully orchestrated by God so that prophecies of the Messiah could be fulfilled. However, if we try to establish an exact chronology, some of these questions cannot be resolved definitively, because there is some ambiguity in the scriptural record. However, even if the precise details had been recorded with the attention to chronological detail that we expect today, the details really do not matter. What is important is what happened, not when.
If, about 2000 years ago, Jesus the Son of God incarnate was executed and then later resurrected, the destiny of every human being has been changed forever. If he was not, then, as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). In that letter, Paul reminded his readers that if indeed Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, “Then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (v. 54). Here Paul was quoting from Isaiah 25:8:
He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.
That was probably a popular scripture. It is poetic and concise. Had Hallmark been in operation then, they probably would have put the saying on bereavement cards. Paul was showing the Corinthians that it was no mere pious platitude. Because of Jesus, what Isaiah prophesied became reality. Death had in fact been swallowed up in victory and thus Paul could write confidently: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
Death—any death—does have a sting. If a particular death does not affect us personally, it might only be a small sting and the pain doesn’t last long. Tragedies like a senseless shooting at a school leave us all hurting for some time. The pain of the death of a loved one goes even deeper.
Our Christian worldview gives us comfort in knowing that there is more to life than what we experience in our mortal bodies. Jesus taught that there is an afterlife, and he promised that he would go and prepare a place for us. Knowing that death is not the end for our loved ones moderates the terrible pain of loss, so that we need not “sorrow as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, NLV). However, it does not take away the entire ache. We still suffer the loss of not having their companionship and presence with us while we are still alive and they are dead.
This is why death is the enemy, and even though Jesus has conquered this enemy, we still feel some of its sting when a loved one dies or when we see innocent children murdered. Though we shed tears over death, we are reassured in Psalm 56:8 that God is aware of them all: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle” (ESV); “…list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?” (NIV). Whatever the translation, the point is clear: God knows our pain and suffering down to the details and has promised to eventually remove them forever.
I have been pondering the phrase that John wrote in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Like Paul, John was reminding us of the reality of the promise in Isaiah 25:8. Consider how important that promise is. If God did not wipe away all tears from our eyes, there would be ongoing cause for weeping.
Most certainly, we’d weep over our past sins, the wasted opportunities while we were upon the earth, as well as our acts of unkindness toward others. We would weep much about the old order of things. But God says there will be no more death and the old order has passed away. In the fullness of God’s kingdom, every cause of grief will be removed. In our glorified life, there will be no more death to part loving hearts. There will be no more sorrow of any kind. There will be no more crying for any reason. There will be no more pain of any sort. Instead, there will be fullness of life—a sharing in God’s own kind of eternal light and love.
This is why Jesus allowed himself to be tortured and executed, only to be resurrected shortly thereafter. What he did for us he did freely and with confidence in his heavenly Father. And so we read of him: “Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
The precise chronology of Holy Week is not the important issue (if it had been important, surely God would have made it clearer). What is important is what Jesus did to fulfill the specific prophecies of the Messiah, like those given by Isaiah. Jesus changed the very nature of death and opened a pathway to our future hope when all things are made new (Revelation 21:5).
That is what Jesus did and that is what we should focus on as we commemorate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.