Consider smallpox, for instance. This disease killed an estimated 300-500 million in the 20th century alone. But, massive efforts to vaccinate people led to the eradication of smallpox in 1979. It no longer kills anyone! It has been wiped out.
Still, everyone who is born eventually dies. No one can outrun death. Why not?
Because death is within us. Isaiah calls death “the reproach of people,” that which shames them. Death shames us because it is a judgment pronounced by God, a curse upon sinners. “The soul that sins will die,” the Bible tells us. Death is the clear and final evidence of our sin.
And Christ entered into it. What a wonder it is, that the God who laid upon us the curse of death as the judgment of our sin then turned and gave His Son into death as the antidote for it! That He might rescue us, God gave His Son over to a real death that took place at a real place: a hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha. “On this mountain He will swallow up death forever,” Isaiah says.
On this mountain, where Christ was crucified. Easter’s joyous news of the victory over death begins there. You cannot have the true joy of Easter without the true sorrow of Good Friday. On the hill of Golgotha Jesus took upon Himself the reproach of His people. He who was without sin became sin for us as our sins were laid upon Him and charged against Him. Oh, how the ravenous beast of death rejoiced to see the Lord of life become the bearer of God’s curse of death for sin! Death descended upon Jesus as a vicious beast and eagerly devoured Him, believing it had won the ultimate victory. But, Jesus was a feast that could not be digested, for He did not enter into death with the curse of sin upon Him. Yes, Jesus bore our sins upon the cross, and He endured God’s eternal punishment of them. See yourself there, for it was your sins that caused Christ’s death! But, before He died He cried out, “It is finished!” God’s wrath against sin had been emptied and sin’s judgment completed. At this point Jesus no longer bore any sin; the curse was removed. See yourself there, now cleansed of sin and sound of body, with all disease removed forever! It is finished! Sin is gone!
Why, then, did Jesus die? Because we need a warrior to fight for us against the ravenous beast of death that consumes us all. Jesus allowed the ravenous beast of death to come upon Him and consume Him that He might ravage it from within by bursting forth from its belly and destroying it by His resurrection. This is what Easter is all about. The mighty Son of God entered into the shame of sin and death for us! He, the right hand of God, glorious in power, shatters the enemy! Today we hear this wonderful news, brought to us who still live in the shame of death.
How strange, perhaps, seems Mark’s account of the resurrection when compared to the other Gospels. Mark tells us of the angel that was inside the tomb. The place of death has been emptied of its power and gloom and now serves Christ! Sadness and confusion fills the women, however. They run away and say nothing to anyone, because they are afraid. Sadness, and not joy, seems to reign! It is often this way for us. And yet, Jesus remains one with us. He remains the God and Savior of sinners who are afraid and shamed by death, who do not fully appreciate or understand what He has done for us. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified,” says the angel. By mentioning Jesus hometown of Nazareth, a small and insignificant village whose residents were looked down upon and scorned by people as of no account, the angel is assuring us that Jesus is the Savior of those who are afraid and lowly and despised! The angel also tells the women to “go, tell His disciples and Peter” of Jesus’ resurrection. How shameful was Peter’s denial of Jesus a few days before! And yet, the angel is very specific in saying that the news of Christ’s resurrection is to be brought to him. He is forgiven! His shame is set aside. Jesus is not ashamed to be the Savior and companion of those who are ashamed because of their sins!
Christ died to roll away the stone of our sins. He has done so. It is finished! Your sins have been forgiven by His sacrifice for you, and you need not be ashamed of them anymore. He has also rolled away the stone of your death by His resurrection. You need not tremble in fear before it, for though it consume you it will not hold you! Christ will roll the stone away from your grave and call you forth.
This victory was won for us on a hill called Golgotha and in a tomb nearby. This victory is now given to us in words delivered by God’s messenger (not always a young man, like that angel!), and at altars where His crucified and risen body and blood is given. Here we receive Jesus, with the forgiveness He won for us and eternal life He was raised to bring us. Here we escape the huge stone of sin and death which threatens to crush us. And so, here we say with Isaiah: "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation!”