Like many who make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I have stood in the beautifully landscaped garden just outside the old city wall of Jerusalem gazing at the scar-faced hill called Golgotha. It truly does amaze me that the hill looks eerily like the hollowed eye sockets of a skull. Today there is a bus station at the foot of the hill; however the place and its events flood my mind while standing with eyes fixed on the hill.
There is no more sobering place on Earth for me. In my mind’s eye, I could see the three crosses silhouetted against the backdrop of the darkened sky. One commentator on the cross events described the hours of Jesus on the cross as midnight at noonday. Make no mistake, the Earth had never been so dark.
When surveying the cross, the first thought is of the physical suffering of Christ. I have often pondered the enormity of His physical suffering. Without question, the crown of thorns piercing His brow, the latches of the cat-o’-nine-tails on His back and the nails driven through His hands and feet caused indescribable and unbearable pain.
When contemplating the cross, one cannot forget or minimize the mental and emotional suffering Jesus endured. It is hard to imagine how He could have processed the move from the “Hosanna’s” of the triumphal entry to shouts of “Crucify Him” reverberating through the crowd at Pilate’s hall. The mocking of the soldiers and the spitting upon Jesus must have ripped His heart in two, leaving Him exhausted from the mental and emotional turmoil of His hours of agony. Betrayal and abandonment in His most trying hour must have been severe anguish to His heart and soul.
The physical, mental, and emotional trauma of the cross were small in comparison to the spiritual weight of the sinless Son of God becoming sin for us. He gathered the sin of the ages and took our judgment and wrath upon Himself. He was the vicarious substitute for rebellious and sinful people like us. It was not the Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross—it was me and you.
If my eyes were only able to see Golgotha’s ugliness, I would have left Jerusalem in despair. But in that same garden just over my shoulder was a tomb. The tomb had been excavated and while one cannot declare this to be the tomb of Jesus, it is true to the time period, and it symbolized the clear and powerful testimony of Scripture. Written above the tomb are the words, “He is not here. He is Risen!” The tomb is empty. Death could not hold Him. Jesus is alive!
This is the truth of Easter. The cross has no victory without the empty tomb. As we gather around the world as followers of Christ on this Easter Sunday, we do so to worship the risen Savior. He, once for all, made sacrifice for our sin. He took the penalty of our sin and broke the power of sin. On the third day He arose and is our coming again King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Golgotha’s ugly hill surrendered to the empty tomb—this is the central truth of Christianity. Without the empty tomb, our faith has no resting place. But the tomb is empty!
Happy Easter! He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.