• The Explore the Bible lesson for April 20 focuses on Mark 15:16-20, 33-34, 37-39; 16:1-8.
No season of the year, except Christmas, reaches deeper into our emotions than Easter. In our family tradition, it was not unusual for grandparents to come and share an extended stay. We wore our “Sunday best” to church on that day, sometimes including new dresses for my sisters and a new suit for me.
Easter was, as it should have been, a time of thrilling celebration. Secular and religious traditions mixed without serious reflection as we had Easter egg hunts just before the big day on Sunday.
However, it wasn’t until more mature years and deeper reflection that we considered the more serious import of Easter. It was, indeed, a day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It wasn’t until we began to understand what had to happen prior to the resurrection that it had its full spiritual impact on our lives.
Beyond that, even the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas has no real meaning except in the context of the resurrection. The only thing that gives the birth of the Savior its ultimate meaning is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus we celebrate at Easter.
There can be no resurrection not preceded by the horrific pain of suffering and death in the life of Jesus. Each year, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection should remind us there can be no understanding of the power of the resurrection without, first, the surrender to suffering and death because of sin.
In Mark’s Gospel, we are given a graphic description of what Jesus suffered before he was raised from the dead. In 2004, The Passion of Christ, a movie graphically depicting that suffering, was released.
We took a group of people from the church to see the movie. After it was over, an angry man confronted his pastor in the lobby of theater. He felt the movie was too graphic. The pastor was at a loss to know how to respond to his anger.
A horrific crucifixion
Perhaps it was the first time the man had been asked to visualize exactly what Jesus suffered. It was not the beautiful picture many artists have painted. It was horrific beyond description, and it was essential to what was to follow. God can only raise from the dead him who first has died.
As Mark reports: “The soldiers … called together the whole cohort … and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and … after mocking him, they stripped him … . Then they led him out to crucify him” (Mark 16:16-20).
There is simply no way to beautify the scene of public humiliation and torture. It was a crucifixion and nothing less.
It was not just physical torture. It was such horrible suffering that Jesus even felt his heavenly Father had abandoned him. Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mark 16:34)? It was on that cross that Jesus, in taking our sins upon himself, felt the ultimate pain of sin’s cost—spiritual separation from God.
Years ago, I rushed to the bedside of a young mother whose baby boy was in intensive care suffering from spinal meningitis. It was not certain he would survive. As I stood in silence beside her, she turned to me, weeping and saying, “I just wish I could do it for him.”
Enduring our suffering
In Christ on the cross, God’s wish to endure our suffering became reality. All we believe about God’s plan of redemption hinges on the fact God in Christ took the penalty of sin upon himself and suffered its consequences so we would not have to.
There is language in Mark’s message essential to understanding what happened next. Read carefully what the Gospel reports. When Jesus’ followers went to the tomb and discovered it empty that first resurrection morning, the Gospel reports the angel told them: “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised” (Mark 16:6).
We are not told Jesus arose from the dead. Jesus didn’t get up on his own. Jesus was completely dead. He only got up because God raised him.
A young father was working on a construction site with his son. The boy was down in a pit when a huge boulder rolled over on him, all but crushing his head.
Without thinking, the father jumped down into the pit and, with the strength of several men, single-handedly rolled the stone off of his son’s head, saving his life.
When Jesus was dead, God raised him. God rolled the stone away from the tomb, setting God’s son free.
If we follow Jesus, we, too, will suffer the pain of picking up our cross and suffering the consequences. In the end, we, too, will know the joy of God, in Christ, rolling the stone of death off of our soul and raising us to eternal life.