There are many reasons why some people have a hard time believing in Jesus. I think one of the biggest is that the Bible tells us that Jesus rose from the dead. From a sane person’s viewpoint that may sound completely crazy. I mean, how could a person die and then come back to life? That is impossible by our standards. It sounds more like something you would see in a movie or read in a book, not something that could ever happen in real life. I know for me when I was a pagan, the whole Jesus thing was just a ridiculous joke. At one point I believed that Jesus never existed, and over time I changed my opinion to Jesus was just a great teacher from the past.
But one thing I did not consider in all of this was why Jesus rose from the grave. Yes it is important to ask the hard questions and research and find facts and evidence. In doing that you will miss the very important fact of the why’s of everything Jesus did. And if you are going to ask the question why did Jesus rise from the dead, then you have to ask the question, why did He die in the first place? Therein lies the ultimate prize for any examination into the truth of Jesus and His resurrection.
If Jesus was just a great teacher, such as Buddha, or a great historical figure who did great things, such as Mother Theresa, then why would there be these strange stories of His murder and resurrection? It makes no sense. It takes a great story and makes it unreal. It takes a great fairy tale and makes it confusing. So again, you have to go back to the why did Jesus die and then ask how did He die?
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father,forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:32-33
Back in Roman times it was common to execute criminals by nailing their hands and feet to a giant wooden cross. They would then erect the cross upright and let the criminal hang there until he died. This is called crucifixion. It could take several days for a person to die in this manner and often the Roman soldiers would break the man’s legs in order to speed up his death. It was a horrifying and cruel way to punish a criminal, let alone a way for any human to die. This was how Jesus was killed.
Why did Jesus receive a death sentence of a criminal? Because the Jewish leaders of His day hated Him and wanted Him dead. Why? The Jewish people called Him Messiah – the one that God had sent to save the Jewish people. The Jewish leaders hated Jesus because they believed He was a blasphemer – a man who said He was God. So they arranged to have Him tried and executed. It seems cruel and unfair that a man be unfairly executed like this. I was appalled myself as I first learned the Gospel story. What I didn’t realize is that the Jewish leaders were just falling right into God’s plan.
Yes, God had a plan to have Jesus die. It was a plan that was set in the works thousands of years before anyone ever knew of Jesus. And that is where we come into the real why of Jesus death and resurrection. Jesus, son of the one true God sacrificed His life in order to give all humanity a chance for freedom. He died so we could have freedom from our own death. Ultimately, Jesus paid the price for us, and He did it all for love.
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:17-18
Love? I have never conceived of a love that would give up everything for me. Not just for me; for everyone through out all time. That kind of love is powerful, but it sounds unreal. To us, it is unreal. It is not a love we are capable of exhibiting. It is a divine love, bigger than any one person. We are not capable of loving in this way, yet we are capable of feeling this intense kind of love. It is not a love based on conditions or restrictions or any other parameters humans put on things. It is far beyond that and almost out of our ability to understand. It doesn’t make sense, does it?
Jesus suffered pain and humiliation that day as He died on the cross. He bared no grudge or anger towards those who seemed to send Him to this fate. He knew exactly what He was doing and why He was doing it. He took it all so He could claim victory over our sin and death. And at His last breath He said, “It is finished.” The work He came here to do was completed there on the cross, forever. It never has to be repeated and it was done for all of humanity, so that we may find peace with God.
Three days later, as His lifeless body lay wrapped in cloth in a sealed tomb, life suddenly poured back into His body. He spent 30 days meeting with His disciples before His ascension into heaven. His resurrection was a proof to all, a demonstration of God’s great power. And it showed that Jesus was not some ordinary man. No, He is God. Divine, powerful, and living. Death can not overcome God, because He is the master of life and death. And through Him we have been given the gift of life and our own resurrection.
With Jesus we can leave behind a life of hopelessness and despair. A life where we are destined to live without purpose and meaning and go down into the grave forever. Jesus brings a new level to life – to experience it to the fullest, without fear. Tell me, who do you know that would die for you? Who would sacrifice their very life to save yours? And if they were to die for you, if they were to pay that price for you, where would that leave you? Imagine: that person would have left behind their own life, family, plans for their future, etc. And you would be left with life, but also with guilt, confusion, possibly even anger. You would not want to live with knowing that you essentially took that away from someone else.
That is not what it is like for Jesus. He died for you and with His resurrection there is no guilt or shame or condemnation for us who believe in Him. There is nothing but freedom and love and righteousness for those who call upon His name. He loves us relentlessly, passionately, eternally. He wants nothing more than for us to know Him, and understand that great love He has for us. That amazing love that He displayed that day on the cross. What does He ask in return? Nothing. Not one thing.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13