…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. ~ Paul, Philippians 3:10
At the heart of Christianity is a cross and an empty grave. Everything else centers around these two experiences of Jesus.
The cross was the aim of Jesus’ time on earth. In the beginning God created us in his image, but it didn’t take long for us to rebel against the One whose image we bear and strike our own path. Deceived by Satan, yet culpable for our own actions, we chose to reject God’s goodness for that of the enemy. We drew our battle lines and said, “We’d rather live without God,” thinking that somehow we as creatures could actually throw down the Creator.
Instead of freedom, we gained enslavement. Instead of life, we fell into the snare of death. Slaves cannot make themselves free and dead men cannot make themselves live. Guilty, we owed God a great debt that we could not repay.
Yet the plan had always been for Jesus to give himself freely for our sake, taking our place. He, the Son of God and true Image of God, took our sins and the wrath that we deserved for our rebellion. He paid the debt so we could be free: a gift, ours for the receiving if only we would believe in and trust him as our Savior-King.
[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~Titus 2:14
The cross is this reality played out: Jesus crucified by the hands of those who need him, so he could absorb the wrath of the Father, and our sins be forever covered with the cry, “It is finished!”
The empty grave was the triumph after this. It would not be enough that Jesus took wrath for us. To be forgiven yet to suffer the fate of death is no benefit. Death is our greatest enemy; the empty grave is a sign that Jesus defeated this enemy. His resurrection means hope for us. If we are his, with sin forgiven, then we have come into a new spiritual life. We are a new creation.
We hope, then, that Jesus would return soon and we would not have to face physical death. But even if we do, we can face it with hope.
Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
Death is not the end of the story. For followers of Jesus this once powerful enemy is now a humbled servant that ushers us into the glorious and joy-filled presence of our Savior-King. Paul said, “To live is Christ; to die is gain.” So we live each moment for Christ, and when [if] we do face death, we find greater gain.
That’s why Paul could write in Philippians 3:10 that he wanted to know Jesus, the power of his resurrection, but also to share in his sufferings.
The sufferings Jesus faced that brought his death were only temporary. They were the path to something much, much greater. To be so united with Jesus that we taste his sufferings is to be so united we also experience his life, his resurrection.
Coming to Jesus we have an immediate spiritual resurrection. Such is just a foretaste of the glorious and eternal physical resurrection when Jesus returns.
The cross and the empty grave…