Over the years, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of very old historic cemeteries. In fact, my family and I got locked in one at sundown one day when they closed the gates with us inside. And that was before cell phones. So we had no way to contact anyone to let us out. Not an experience that I would recommend.
Maybe it’s weird, but I find the tombstones and monuments interesting. I look at the dates on the markers and imagine what it may have been like when that person was born and died. For most of them, we have little or no recorded information about those dates except for a birth and death certificate.
So generally, we are left with only an occupied grave, two dates, and a couple of pieces of paper to recap the bookend events of that person’s earthly life. That’s the way it is for most people.
But not for Jesus.
THE EASTER STORY
With Jesus, we find an empty tomb. We find that second date crossed through and replaced by a third date. And we find detailed narratives of both His birth and death written by three different historians, namely Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
But even more gloriously, we find the story of that third date which is unique in all of history. It is a date that miraculously wiped out that date of death for Jesus. It is the date of resurrection that we commonly refer to as Easter. It is a date that only Jesus can claim.
Now before you get critical, I know that there were others who were resurrected. Lazarus was probably the most well known. But they all died another earthly death. They all still had a date of death on their tombstone.
But not Jesus.
His birth, life, death, and resurrection are like none other. His story is absolutely unique, and His story determines our story.
So as we approach Easter, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read or reread the Easter story from the Bible. For the enormity of its importance, it takes up only several chapters over relatively few pages. So you can find time to do it.
But not only do I hope you will read it for Easter, I hope that you will try something different this year. I hope you will commit to spending at least five uninterrupted minutes on each of these four intense dramas as they unfold. And I hope that you will picture yourself as personally being there and seeing the events as they happen. I’m asking you to read the story then close your eyes and visualize its details.
For your convenience, I am recapping the corresponding verses in each of the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that can take you through those critical moments. You don’t have to read the story in all three books if you don’t want to. Quality time on one is better than rushing through all three.
The critical point is to realistically grasp the significance of each of these four moments as they occurred:
1. The Crucifixion of Jesus
Matthew 27: 32-44 or Mark 15:21-32 or Luke 23:26-43
2. The Death of Jesus
Matthew 27:45-56 or Mark 15:33-41 or Luke 23:44-49
3.The Burial of Jesus
Matthew 27:57-66 or Mark 15:42-47 or Luke 23:50-56
4. The Resurrection of Jesus
Matthew 28:1-10 or Mark 16:1-20 or Luke 24:1-12
In doing this little pre-Easter exercise, what should we expect? Well, that’s kind of between each of us and God. If we cooperate, He can guide us into the specific messages that He has for us individually.
Perhaps He will use it to rekindle your sense of awe and gratitude toward the enormity of the sacrifice made on your behalf.
Or maybe, you are one who has never really given much thought to the Easter story or made a decision about the place of Jesus in your life.
THE EASTER DECISION
Well, the story is found in all those verses. Everything we need to know to make a decision about Jesus is available to us in the stories of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus was crucified and died to atone for your sins and mine. He was buried but rose on the third day to prove that He is who He said He is and has done what He said He would do. His ultimate act of sacrifice provided the only path to the grace that you and I so desperately need to be reconciled to God.
But the choice is up to you and me on whether we believe and accept this story as true. We can either accept Jesus or automatically reject Him. There really is no middle ground. Either Easter is our personal celebration of relationship, awe, and gratitude, or it is an empty religious ritual. It’s our choice.
Unless you or I experience the second coming of Christ in our lifetimes, our earthly bodies will most likely end up under one of those tombstones with two dates on it. But that second date is not the end of our story.
Just like Jesus, we too can experience resurrection.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The choice is ours.
I hope that each of you have a happy, joyous, and genuine Easter.
(By the way, in case you’re wondering, a passing motorist called the police who called the groundskeeper who came back and let us out of the cemetery. That almost seemed like a resurrection in itself.)