The egg has been a symbol of new life since time immemorial. Indeed, the Hindu creation myth, and the creation myths of several other ancient religions, say that the world was hatched from an egg. The sight of an egg lying dormant for several weeks and then new life breaking out of the hard shell must have been an amazing one to ancient man. Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that the egg became a symbol of Easter. Easter falls in the spring, when life seems to return to the earth after it has been dead through the winter. But more than this, Easter celebrates the time when he who was himself the Life came back to life after three days in the grave.

It may interest you to know that the Romans didn’t invent crucifixion. That dubious honour seems to go to the Persians, who are known to have practiced crucifixion some three hundred years before the rise of Rome. The Romans, however, developed this form of execution into a fine art. Speaking of art, there are no depictions of crosses or crucifixion until about four hundred years after Jesus’ death. It wasn’t until long after crucifixion had ceased to be the current form of execution that the cross appeared in paintings and carvings. Artists didn’t depict the cross until it was no longer a visible part of everyday life. Perhaps that’s because those who saw crucifixions knew the horror of them. The film The Passion of the Christ makes it clear to modern viewers that crucifixion was a violent, gory, painful way to die. And some later Church traditions have dwelt long on Jesus’ sufferings. So it’s interesting to note that the Gospel writers don’t go into gory details. Probably that’s because they don’t need to; the short phrase “they crucified him”—and it’s even shorter in Greek than in English—is enough. The first readers of the Gospels had seen crucifixions; they knew what was involved.

Three Days That Changed the World

One thing that interests me about the Gospel crucifixion accounts is that for the squad of four Roman soldiers who are on execution duty that day, it’s apparently all in a day’s work. There are no indications that they see anything different or important about the execution for sedition of one Jesus of Nazareth. This means that God’s will is worked out through the actions of those who don’t know how significant their actions are. It’s not until Jesus dies that the soldiers get a glimpse of what has happened. Only by faith can we understand what happened that day. The one and only Son of God endured an excruciating and humiliating death for our sakes, and the world changed forever that weekend.

I wonder what it was like for Jesus’ disciples those three days. Most of them were hiding behind closed doors, for fear that the Jewish authorities would arrest them as they had arrested their Master. And no wonder, for Jesus had warned them that there would be trouble. Meanwhile some of the women were preparing for his funeral, preparing the spices which were customarily used for burial. They had been with him for several years, watching him as he taught, healed, exorcised demons, and on a few occasions even brought the dead back to life. They and many others had had no doubt that God had put his stamp of approval on Jesus. They had put their hopes on him, believing him to be God’s Messiah and the Redeemer of Israel. But that Friday it must have seemed like they had buried their hopes with him. And then came Sunday.

John in his Gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early that Sunday morning, while it’s still dark. The darkness here doesn’t just indicate the time of day. It’s also symbolic of the hopelessness and despair that she is feeling at this moment. Nor is the darkness lessened any when she sees that the stone which is supposed to block the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away. She apparently thinks that grave robbers have taken Jesus’ body away, wanting the valuable linen shroud and spices. So she runs to tell two other disciples about the grave robbery. She tells Simon Peter, who in the preceding months has emerged as the leader of the disciples, and often acted as their spokesman to Jesus. And she tells a disciple who was also especially close to Jesus, whose name is never mentioned but who is known only by a description: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The text does not say that Mary follows them back to the tomb, but that is clearly implied. The men go into the tomb, and then return home, but Mary remains by the tomb, weeping. Eventually she sees a man whom she thinks is the gardener. She asks him if he knows where the body is, so she can make arrangements to rebury it somewhere else. Not until he calls her by name does she realise that it is Jesus, calling her out of the darkness of grief and despair into new life in the light of a new day.

I wonder how often we make the same mistake as Mary makes here. We don’t see Jesus in the difficult circumstances that come into our lives. We may think that God is punishing us for some sin. It’s true that our heavenly Father disciplines his children when necessary. But I believe that when God disciplines us, he lets us know what he’s disciplining us for, because he disciplines us so we’ll stop sinning. There is a teaching component in discipline.

Sometimes God lets difficult circumstances into our lives in order to develop Christlike character in us. As the apostle Paul puts it,

Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:4-5).

In other words, the character produced by suffering includes a hope that doesn’t let us down by disappearing in tough times. Such hope is able to last because it knows God’s love. It knows that God’s love for us doesn’t change, because it doesn’t depend on circumstances. Nor does it depend on our actions, or on our character. God’s love comes from his character, and that never changes.

Such hope not only knows God’s love, it trusts God’s love. It knows that God’s love for us means that he wants what is good for us, not bad. It knows that if God lets difficult things into our lives it’s for our ultimate good, even though we can’t see that while we’re going through it.

Related to this is a verse near the beginning of the book of Judges. Judges 3:2 says that God left some of the original inhabitants in the land of Canaan, “so that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, that he might teach it to such at least as had not known it before.” What does this mean? Why would God deliberately leave enemies in the land that he has given to his people? He does it so that they can learn how to wage war, how to deal with their enemies. They are God’s people, but they are living in a world that has turned its back on God. They are living among nations that will destroy them if they don’t learn to cope. So God puts them in a situation where they’ll learn the skills they need.

So what does this have to say to us? Like the Israelites of old, we are God’s people in an ungodly world. We also need to learn how to wage war with our enemies. Of course, our enemies are not the Canaanites, the Hittites, and the Jebusites, but the world, the flesh, and the devil. And we don’t wage war with the sword. The weapons of our warfare are not physical but spiritual. Our weapons are salvation, truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and the Word of God (Eph. 6:10-17). We must learn to use them effectively if we are to serve God well.

The Advantage of His Going

To return to the Gospel of John. Why does Mary grieve so much outside the tomb? I suggest that she does not understand the benefits that have come to Jesus’ disciples as a result of his death. But in his last conversation with them, on the Thursday evening, Jesus had told them, “It is to your advantage that I go away, because if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Throughout these last discourses in chapters 14—16 of John, Jesus says that the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, will do for the disciples all the things that Jesus has done for them: he will teach, guide and protect them. So why is it to their advantage that they go and the Paraclete come to them? Because while Jesus in the flesh has been with them, the Paraclete will be in them.

Perhaps that is one reason why Jesus says, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater than these will he do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). The physical limitations which Jesus took on when he became flesh no longer apply after his resurrection. During his lifetime even Jesus’ closest disciples did not fully understand the things he said and did. But his death and resurrection inaugurate a new age of power and understanding in which his deeds and those of his disciples are seen as coming from God.

Connected with this is a new privilege which Jesus’ disciples have after his resurrection: that of asking for things in Jesus’ name. He says, “Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will do it in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). He has already said, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). I wonder if we realise what an awesome thing this is. If we ask anything in Jesus’ name, he will do it! This is far more than a formula that we say at the end of a prayer. It means that we are authorised to use all the authority of Jesus as we make our requests. And since Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, we can be certain that whatever we ask for will be done. Of course, elsewhere in Scripture there are provisos that we must ask in accordance with his will. But that is not mentioned here. Perhaps it is assumed, because Jesus has talked about how his disciples must abide in him, and how they are one with him as he is one with the Father. If we have that kind of unity with him, our will gets in tune with his, the way all the musicians in an orchestra tune their instruments to that of the first violinist. And if we are in tune with him we won’t ask for anything outside his will. But with that proviso, and the proviso that we must be prepared to wait for God’s timing for the answers, we have access to all the power of God to meet our needs. That means that we don’t have to be afraid that our legitimate needs will be unmet.

“What Should We Say to These Things?”

What then should be our response to all these things? For myself, when I think about what Jesus went through to buy my salvation, I am awed, and humbled. Am I really worth that much to him? Does he love me that much? Yes, and he loves you that much too. If he loves us that much, can we help but love him back? As John says in one of his letters, “We love him because he first loved us.” Along with love we should feel gratitude, especially when we remember what we’ve been saved from. Now some of you might say, “I was raised in a Christian home. I was a nice girl. I didn’t get into sex, drugs and rock and roll.” What we must realise is that in God’s eyes, sin is sin. It’s easy for us to forget how ugly sin is in God’s eyes. As Paul puts it, “All have sinned, and come up short of the glory of God.” “Nice girls” need salvation as much as “bad girls.”

When we realise that, we’ll also realise that none of us has any grounds for boasting. We can’t say that we’ve been saved because we’re somehow better than anyone else, or that we’ve done anything to earn our salvation. Paul wrote, “You are saved by grace, through faith. It is a gift of God, it has nothing to do with works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8). In one of my favourite hymns Isaac Watts wrote,

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

Those last two lines have always really challenged me as well. When I think of what Jesus gave up for me when he shed his blood, is there anything that I dare to refuse to give up for him? Can I really value anything more highly than I value him?

It may be that someone thinks, since Jesus gave his life for me, I should give something back. That’s appropriate; but what can we give back to him who gave so much for us? We can answer that question with more words from Watts: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my life, my all.” Have you given Jesus your heart and made him Lord of your life? Don’t delay making the most important decision of your life. It would be remiss of me not to warn you of the consequences of refusing God’s offer of salvation. The writer of the book of Hebrews warns, “How shall we escape [God’s judgement] if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3)

I don’t know if any of you have seen a bird hatch from an egg. It has to spend several weeks in the egg to form properly, but then comes the time when it must break out of the hard shell. Maybe you feel like that. You feel trapped in a hard shell of sin or circumstances. The message of Easter is that like a bird hatching, like Jesus bursting out of the rocky tomb on that first Easter morning, you too can break out of your shell. God is calling you, just as Jesus called Mary by name to a new life and a new relationship with him. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in you, and there is no circumstance which that power cannot overcome, to bring you to new and abundant life. Happy Easter everyone.