The winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon made the news in an unusual way back then. Many noticed that the woman who came in first with a new course record looked remarkably fresh and unflustered, and it was ultimately discovered that there was a good reason for that. She had cut out the vast majority of the race and only joined in a few miles from the finish line. Apparently there are people in nearly every marathon who devise some way to try to cheat in hopes of collecting the accolades that accompany the achievement. Unfortunately for them, there’s a prerequisite to collecting the medals . . . You must first actually run the race–all of it. If the requirement hasn’t been met, no victor’s crown will be awarded.
A Familiar Principle ~
A principle associated with that truism is that it is the value ascribed to a goal or the level of achievement associated with a victory that determines how vital and rigid the prerequisites leading up to it must be. In the day-to-day world we live in, all of us understand that. Whether we’re running for public office or signing up for an athletic competition, we first have to qualify by meeting certain required conditions. And again, the more desirable the objective, the more stringent the enforcement of the prerequisites become. As we approach the 2020 celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it might be worthwhile to consider what had to precede that eternally significant Sunday morning, along with some of the implications that affect us personally.
Resurrection has at least one basic, non-negotiable prerequisite. To qualify, you first have to be . . . certifiably dead. There are no specific guidelines or limitations on how one achieves that condition, but there will be no resurrection made available to anyone who has not previously died. I can imagine some of the deep, philosophical comments that might follow the unveiling of that prerequisite. Thoughtful Bible students will be moved to say things like, “Well… Duh,” but we might be wise to hold that reaction for a minute. The idea of resurrection in Jesus’ case was problematic, because neither the exclusive cause allowing death to happen, nor the ultimate means of implementing it, could not be found anywhere in Him.
A Grim Partnership ~
Death cannot be applied apart from sin, and sin is not established until the standards that define it are violated. At no point during His time in human flesh did Jesus ever engage in anything internally or externally that conflicted with the Father’s will or that violated the righteous standards established by God to govern human attitudes and behaviors. As He, Himself declared,
And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” John 8:29 (NKJV)
Beyond that, Jesus blatantly challenged His detractors to produce anything in or about Him that could be used to convict Him of sin.
Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? John 8:46 (NKJV)
A Quandary Unfolds ~
Jesus’ sinlessness made killing Him an insurmountable obstacle to those who hated Him. All their efforts to trap Him or trick Him into doing or saying anything that could be deemed sinful failed at every turn. Even Satan launched an extended personal attack against Him at a time when He was isolated and physically weakened from a lack of food and water. Through it all, He remained fully righteous, and death was left frustrated and helpless, but that made it impossible for Him to meet resurrection’s basic qualification.
At this point, the irresolute conflict between God’s love for a hopeless and helpless world of people, and His unchangeable and unassailable righteousness, reached a critical intersection, and a perfect plan for our redemption was born. God devised a plan that didn’t violate either divine characteristic. The Prophet Isaiah announced the solution that opened a door of hope for all of us.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:5-6 (NKJV)
Jesus was willing to accept the death that the rest of us deserve, and in doing so, He met the primary qualification for the glorious resurrection that would follow. He embodied all the repulsive things that sin is and became everything about it that God hated. He took upon Himself the death that it produces, but He didn’t do it for Himself. He paid that awful price to procure the right to make resurrection possible for each of us, but there’s more to be considered. There’s a prerequisite in place for us as well.
Our Own Prerequisite ~
While Jesus invites us to share in the victory He accomplished, there are criteria that must be met. We can’t simply choose to walk out with Him on Easter morning and sidestep the cross and the tomb. Sharing the glory of His resurrection comes as a package deal and we can’t cheat like the Boston Marathon runner. We can’t enter the race, as it were, a few miles from the finish and declare ourselves winners. The Apostle Paul made it clear that vicariously joining in Jesus’ resurrection involves dealing with its prerequisite on a personal level, too.
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. Romans 6:4-5 (NKJV)
Participating in the glory of Easter morning begins with submitting our own will to the Father as He did in Gethsemane. In order to qualify, we must willingly accept our own “death” to all that the world offers. There’s an amazing renovation that resurrection reveals, but it can’t begin until we’re willing to let death claim everything about us that is destructive to us and dishonoring to God. When we’re willing to let go and let that death have the toxic pleasures of sin’s seductive nights, then we’re candidates for the light of an eternal new day. When we’re willing to condemn the cold, empty loneliness of narcissistic pride to the tomb where it belongs, then we’re ready to walk out into the warm fullness of life as it was designed to be lived.
Hope for Another Resurrection ~
Multitudes of us are praying that Easter 2020 marks a glorious resurrection for our entire nation, but we need more than a healthcare transformation with economic and political benefits. We need a resurrection of truth and a restoration of the kind of national righteousness that Godly men and women built into the design of this unique Republic, but there’s a prerequisite.
There are sins we’ve committed and condemnation we’ve earned, and both must be confessed and claimed as our own. There’s a painful death associated with them that we must accept and a dark, isolated tomb awaiting us, and we must visit it before the dawn of eternal resurrection can come.
Jesus didn’t come to simply confront sin and death and then escape them. He came to deliver a final lethal blow that would banish them forever. He absorbed all their agonizing, terrifying, and damning realities and then overcame them in a victorious resurrection that will forever outshine every star in the heavens. May God help us to make that resurrection more profoundly personal than ever this Easter, and may its impact be more extensive than we could ever imagine.
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- “There’s an amazing renovation that resurrection reveals, but it can’t begin until we’re willing to let death claim everything about us that is destructive to us and dishonoring to God.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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- “There’s a painful death associated with sin and condemnation that we must accept, and a dark, isolated tomb awaiting us. We must visit it before the dawn of eternal resurrection can come.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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