The 20th April 2022 will mark one year since I had an autologous stem cell transplant. I remember my emotions a year ago. It was the time where I felt most alone and afraid in my entire life so far. Nobody could experience the high dose chemotherapy and the suffering that it caused on my behalf. Nobody could visit me in person to comfort me because of the Covid-19 restrictions. Easter 2021 was filled with a real sense of what I referred to as ‘my personal Gethsemane’.
The garden of Gethsemane was located just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem and it is still filled with ancient olive trees today. It was a place where Jesus would often go to pray, but it is also the place where Jesus was betrayed the night before His crucifixion. Before He was arrested, Jesus was praying to God in the garden and asked Him, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT). He said to his closest followers, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). Yet his closest friends could not stay awake and pray with him. Jesus must have felt incredibly isolated and alone, especially knowing all that was to come.
A Real Cost
Even as I was laying in the hospital bed, this was a ‘light and momentary affliction’ in light of what it cost Jesus; His suffering resulted in securing His followers an eternal home with Him forever (2 Corinthians 4:17). Forget having a mortgage. Jesus purchased a place in His kingdom that will be a forever home. He has signed off the debt that we owe through all of the sin we have ever committed and all the sin that we will ever commit. He signed it with blood, nails and a wooden cross.
Why was such a gruesome means of suffering necessary to accomplish God’s purposes in defeating sin and death? Death is described as ‘the last enemy’ (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death is a consequence of living in a sin-saturated world, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We will all go through death because ever since the first sin was committed against God, death was the result and it has passed down through every human being since then. If this seems a little extreme, perhaps we haven’t grasped or comprehended just how offensive our own sin is. Sin separates us from God. That is why we all need Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:16).
We need to see the cross as the place where God’s love was most perfectly displayed. God is the one who dealt with sin. God is the one who desires that no one should perish, but that we should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He was the one that made a way by dying in our place.
For those who eagerly want God to step in and do something about the suffering and pain in this world, He has. It was done and accomplished on the cross. Jesus said, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). Our greatest desire may be for healing, a comfortable life, happiness, peace. But our greatest need is Jesus. In Jesus, we have all we need. Will everything be how we want it to work out? Absolutely not. Life reminds us of that every day, doesn’t it? Yet, God sees the end from the beginning. We do not. All we see is here and now, but there is much more going on in God’s plans and purposes than we can begin to realise.
A Real Hope
Life is hard. In many ways, life has gotten a great deal harder in many areas for a lot of us. But Jesus is faithful, even when we are not. He is present, even when we are looking for answers and scrambling for help. He is true in a world filled with lies. He is near, even if it feels contrary to that. He is strong when we are weak. He is kind when we are not. The difference that Jesus makes to all of the suffering is that He has been there Himself. He has encountered the darkness – the deepest possible depths of evil when He went to the cross and died.
However, Easter is the time that we can be confident that there is a real hope for a hurting world. His crucifixion was not the end. It was not just a horrific way to die (although it was that). It was the ushering in of how to truly live. Jesus rose again from the grave three days after He died. Eyewitnesses can attest to the fact. Believers from all corners of the world have been transformed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. He opened up the way for humanity to walk once again in the presence of God, with our sins paid for. When God looks at a follower of Jesus, He does not see our sin and count it against us. He sees Jesus and His nail-scarred hand and feet. The perfect, sinless Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world by nailing it to a cross (Colossians 2:14).
Jesus has faced death and He has overcome the grave. More than that, He has conquered the power of sin and death. He will return again and there will be a day when all of the dark nights of the soul will cease for those who trust in Christ. As we celebrate Easter this year, let us look to the empty cross and the empty grave. He is risen. Hallelujah!