After our Good Friday service this morning several of us went back to the home of Kathryn and Jonathan for hot cross buns. Like the typical Brits we are, we spent the time sitting in a stuffy conservatory rather than in the garden, despite the glorious sunshine, opened all the windows, complained about how hot it was, drank hot cups of tea, and didn’t even think to remove our jumpers.
Our conversations were mostly centred around some fairly deep theological issues, which I found very interesting to listen to – it was like being back in my first year fusion group all over again! One of the issues mentioned was regarding Christ’s victory on the cross, and whether the battle was won on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. It was an interesting conundrum, especially given how little we know about the intervening period; someone asked the question of where Jesus was on Easter Saturday, to which no one really gave an answer.
Nevertheless, I thought I would try to write something on this subject, on the understanding that even if I don’t have exactly the right answer I will at least have thought it through and hopefully inspired others of you to think about it too, even if you don’t agree with me.
A good place to begin would be to touch upon what scripture says is the reason for the cross. Man is fallen, condemned by our own sin to be judged against God’s perfection and ultimately be found guilty. It is clear from the entirity of the Old Testament that the Law does not save a person, since through the nature of man no one can fully satisfy the requirements of the Law. As Jesus himself said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? … There is only One who is good”. Therefore God created a loophole.
When Jesus died on the cross He died the death of a sinner; it was deliberate and meaningful, and not at all accidental. But there was more to it than just a good man dying unjustly – He took our punishment upon himself. Jesus died in our place, so that when the Day of Judgment comes God will see us as purified and holy, because our sin has been taken away from us and placed on someone else. That is the wonder of the cross, that Jesus died that we might live.
However, the question still remains – at the moment Jesus died, had he defeated death? I would suggest not. Surely if death had been defeated it would no longer have a hold on him, and he would have been raised immediately. It seems to me that it happened in stages. The first stage involved the sacrificial giving of life, Jesus taking the sins of the world (past, present and future) upon himself and paying the price for them. At that moment the curtain in the temple was torn in two, thus removing the barrier between man and God. The weight of judgment had been lifted from our shoulders, and we who believe were destined to be found innocent in His sight.
However, that is not the end of the story. If it were, and Jesus had stayed dead, we would still be forgiven, but we would have missed out on the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself said that he had to die, and that he would send his Spirit afterwards. Jesus had set us free from our sin, but not from ourselves. In the resurrection comes a new hope, one that looks not at our sinful past but at the future. Before the resurrection the disciples hid in an upper room, but once Jesus had shown himself and baptised them with the Holy Spirit they were set free from their fear and spoke boldly of the gospel.
So it appears to me that on Good Friday Jesus dealt with our sin, and on Easter Sunday gave us new life. His death welcomed us into the presence of God, and His resurrection gave us the Spirit by which to live our lives in that presence. After all, it’s no good having a telephone and having nothing to say – the curtain is torn in two, the way is open, and through the Spirit we are enabled to live our lives to the full, to bask in that presence and walk and talk in such a way that we make full use of that gift, for the benefit of those around us as much as ourselves.
That just leaves the problem of what Jesus was doing on the Saturday. Well, that is only a problem if you are working in the constraints of time and space that our world is confined to. It is made clear in the Bible that God is not restricted in this way, and that such things do not really factor into the spiritual world. In fact, Jesus on the cross said to the criminal next to him “today you shall be with me in paradise”. He did not say “in a couple of days time” or “at the end of the world” or “on Judgment Day” or “at the Rapture”. The passing of time doesn’t seem to enter into it at all. The fact that there is a delay between death and resurrection is for our benefit, not God’s. Jesus wasn’t busy or tied up in meetings. At the moment of His death that part of the work was done, it was finished. There is no suggestion that Jesus had to go and wait around for a couple of days before he was ready – “it is finished” is a very final and conclusive statement! No, the break is there for us, it is a pause for us to reflect on what has happened, to dry our tears, to find time to understand the enormity of what Jesus did for us. Think of it this way – Jesus died on the Friday, and once his spirit had left his body it was no longer tied to the bounds of time and space that are the building blocks of this world. He then re-entered our physical domain, reclaiming his physical body, and joined the timeline on the Sunday.
It all gets rather complicated when you starting thinking outside of time, but I feel this is the right way to look at it. God isn’t bound by the constraints of time and space, after all He created both of them. God created this existence, He made the rules, and because He knew we couldn’t achieve salvation ourselves He did it for us, bending His own rules to save us from ourselves. The ending is still ours to write though, God does not force that salvation upon us. Jesus has signed his half of the contract, but for us to be welcomed as Children of God we have to sign our half, we have to commit to Him and accept that gift, otherwise Jesus’ efforts were for nothing. If you haven’t accepted the truth, you are effectively throwing that gift back in God’s face and saying that you don’t want it.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know that God does. I may not have it all right, but I do believe in the One who saves me, and who longs to save you too.