The Easter Prelude

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This is the prelude of Easter. Is a dead Jesus still resting in the tomb? No!

“for as yet, they did not understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9).

On Friday before sundown, before the beginning of the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus claimed the body of Jesus and laid it to rest in Joseph’s sepulcher tomb. And then they rolled a great stone against the opening of the tomb to secure it. We are here at the tomb keeping watch in the early morning hours, but we are not to be left in the dark concerning who is here and who is not. The final words of Jesus on the cross as we beheld him on Good Friday inform us concerning who is here and who is not, even when the stone has yet to be rolled away. Let’s digress a little.

The last words of our Lord on the cross were: “It is finished! And, Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” “It is finished,” signaled the completion of our Lord receiving the wages of our sin from the Father: suffering the alienation and condemnation of the Father we sinners deserve. The full and complete atonement for our sins was accomplished. Jesus commended his spirit to the Father and breathed his last but not as a succumbing victim. He physically died of his own choice as the victor over the wages of sin, the power of death, and all the forces of the Devil. At this point in the story, his victory was manifest only to Himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Most who beheld his crucifixion thought Jesus to be the victim and his death on the cross to be his final defeat. Witnessing his death, the centurion exclaimed: “Truly, this was the Son of God.” He got his identity right, but his outcome was wrong.

We should not be too hard on the centurion. He was simply making what seems like a most reasonable conclusion. Just about always, it’s the one who dies that is the loser in the battles of warfare. Most, including the Devil, drew the same conclusion as the centurion concerning Jesus as his body was laid to rest. This Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, Son of Man, would-be Messiah, now is a was. Now, it’s simply a matter of who he was because, in the battles, he fought in life, he died. And since he died, he lost.

But not so fast! The incredibly Good News about the cross of Christ is this: the One who died there to sin did not lose! He has gotten the victory over sin and all the powers of evil. In his death, the death of sinners in Christ is swallowed up. It is overcome! The one who died on Calvary’s cross is the victor. It was there and then that he got the victory over our captors: sin, death, and the Devil. It is just hard for us to see these things in the lifeless corpse of Jesus that was laid in the tomb.

Jesus is the first fruit of a new life where dead bodies are not simply anointed out of respect; they are raised up out of grace and truth.

Now, here we are, who are baptized into the death of Christ; here we stand at the tomb of Jesus in these early still-dark hours of the morning. This is the prelude of Easter. Is a dead Jesus still resting in the tomb? No! We are here, but Jesus is not, not yet. Jesus has already been busy carrying out the first things of his achieved victory. He is not sleeping passively in the tomb. As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed;

He was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he arose from the dead.

Our Lord Jesus’ victory proclamation and celebration has already begun. It began in the bowels of hell as the adversary was the first to learn of his defeat, and with him, all the powers of darkness and evil. Our champion has chosen to take his victory lap in hell; yes, even before the stone was witnessed to be rolled away. Even before the women made their way to the tomb that first Easter morn’ before sunup. We have already received the spoils of that victory, but this is the Easter prelude. There is negative space in the tomb of our Lord Jesus, but we are in the darkness, so you just do not see it. Not yet.

Nevertheless, the negative space in the tomb signals a turn of events for fallen sinners born of Adam. Death no longer signals a loss for those in Christ. The curse has been broken by the Second Adam so that all reborn of this One might receive the inheritance of his victory over death. Jesus is the first fruit of a new life where dead bodies are not simply anointed out of respect; they are raised up out of grace and truth. What you can’t see in the tomb of our Lord is the Good News you get. The angel is poised to proclaim it: He is not here; he is risen! We anticipate these exciting things about the tomb of Jesus here in the darkness of this Easter prelude in the early morning. Here in the shadows of the stone rolled away and the empty tomb, what you don’t see is the victory we all get. You don’t see God’s curse of the ground holding your Lord and Savior. You don’t see the Devil doing any victory laps. True, you don’t see the risen Lord Jesus just yet, but soon you will. His victory for you over all the powers of darkness is now already a done deal. It’s all over but the shouting. So, let’s be done with the Easter prelude and begin the shouting!

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed, hallelujah!