After Jesus was crucified, his body was taken by Joseph of Arimathea who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Jesus, and buried in a new tomb that had likely been purchased and prepared for his own burial. Nicodemus who came to visit Jesus one night helped him with the burial. The Bible never tells us what happened in the lives of these men after the cross, the burial and resurrection of Jesus. They were expecting Jesus body to stay in that tomb. It may well have been the case that Joseph after the burial began to think of another burial site he could purchase for he and his family to be buried in. He wouldn’t have known that Jesus wouldn’t need it for long. His visit in the tomb would only last for three days, then this tomb would become the most celebrated tomb ever to exist. Though sealed with a huge stone rolled against the entrance and guarded by the soldiers day and night, on Sunday morning early the stone was rolled away. Jesus was raised. Angels stayed at the tomb to give the news to disciples who came to the tomb that Jesus was no longer there but had been raised just as he said he would.
The events of those three days became the heart of a good news message that God would call on all followers of his to share with the world in all generations among all nations for all people. In I Corinthians 15:1-4 Paul said that the heart of the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The shape of the cross signifies the directions that were affected by what happened there. It points to heaven where the offering of his blood took place in the heavenly temple for all people. The foot of the cross reaches down to where we are. God hasn’t said for us to meet him half way or start down the road to heaven. He came in the form of a man to become one of us. He was in all things made like his brethren that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest unto God. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:16) The arms of the cross extend out reaching in both directions. Jesus blood would flow backward to take care of the sins of those who tried to live right under the Old Covenant. They would extend out to those of us on this side of the cross taking care of our sins when we are devoted to him.
From the cross we see the reality that will play out in everyone of our lives. His body went to a tomb, a burial to await the resurrection of that body. When the body is raised it will be the same body but changed entirely. The corruptible will put on incorruption and this mortal will put on immortality. But there was more to Jesus than just the body that was hanged on the cross. He told the thief “today you will be with me in paradise.” The word paradise means a beautiful garden. What did Jesus mean by saying he was going to be with him in paradise? He was referring to the immortal soul that is the essence of who we are as a person. It is sometimes referred to as the “inner man” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). It is also called the “soul” or “spirit” in other places (Matthew 10:28). Paradise is the place where our inner man goes at death and stays until the resurrection day when body and soul are joined to spend eternity either with God or away from God.
Where is this paradise he went to and what is it? The word paradise is used in 2 Corinthians 12:1-5 when Paul said he knew a man over 14 years ago whether in the body or out of the body, he wasn’t sure, but such a man was caught up into the third heaven, into paradise where he heard unspeakable words, unlawful for a man to say. The third heaven is usually considered the place where God is. The Jews of the time talked about the heavens where the birds fly as the first heaven, the place where the sun, moon and stars were as the second heaven, and the third heaven as where God is. The fact Paul used the words “third heaven” and “paradise” interchangeable indicates they are the same thing.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 Paul talked about what happened when a person left this world for the next. He said, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building form God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” He continues by saying that we were made for this coming dwelling and that “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord” and that he longed for the day when he could be “absent from the body and present with the Lord.”
In Revelation 2:7 the Lord promised those who overcome that he will give them “the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” In Revelation 22:1-5 when John is describing heaven he says that the tree of life was on either side of the river of life and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the people. The tree bears twelve different kinds of fruit, one for each month. Undoubtedly then the word paradise is a description of the beauty of heaven itself.
Jesus was saying to thief that he would be going with him into heaven, where God is and where all the redeemed of the ages are to be found. And he was going there today. Think of what good news this was for the thief. He was being promised his life wouldn’t just hang on in agony for days as many did in that time. He was going on to a better world today. It was great that he wouldn’t go alone. Jesus said he would be “with me”. And it was wonderful news that he was going to heaven even though he deserved to be in hell.
From the cross we see God’s love as it can’t be seen anywhere else. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) In Romans 5:5-9 Paul said it was unlikely that one would give his life for a righteous person, but one might do so. “But God gives his love to us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” “While we were still without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”
From the cross we can see the lengths to which God will go to try to bring you and me to salvation. “He is not willing that any should perish but longs for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He had sent prophets, priest and kings to try to turn us to him. But he wouldn’t stop there. He offered his unique son for us.
From the cross God’s grace is shown in all its glory. In Hebrews 2:9 it is said that by the grace of God he tasted death for everyone. Grace is amazing but not cheap. It cost God his son. It cost Jesus an agonizing death. It cost us our old life. The significance of one being baptized is best seen from the cross. “Don’t you know that as many of us as are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death. For we are buried with him by baptism into death that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:3-4) In Colossians 2:12 he said, “Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.”
When we try to make baptism into just a symbol of our faith or just a way to get into a church, we miss the point entirely. One might as well say the cross of Jesus was just a symbol of someone suffering. In baptism we enter into his dying, putting to death our old man of sin and burying him. We are baptized into death. Through faith in the power of God we are raised to live a new life. Too often baptism is seen as some kind of church ordinance and the radical change that takes place in a person is missed. “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your moral body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:11-14)
The notion that grace means we can go through the motions of a new birth and keep right on living in the world in sin is so far from what the Bible teaches that there is no relationship between them. Grace means a cross. It means dying to sin and coming to life for God by righteousness.
From the cross you can see the amazing power of God. Though he died a horrible death, neither death nor Satan could keep him in the tomb. He was raised from the dead never to die again. “Paul a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:1-4) In Ephesians 1:18-22 Paul prayed that the Ephesian Christians might come to know the power of God demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ from the dead and that now works in us as his people.
From the cross flows a life giving stream of blood that constantly is cleansing those who walk with the Lord’ from their sins. In I John 1:7 it is said, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins.” Just as your blood flows through your body purifying the body, giving life to the body, so the blood of Jesus flows through his body cleansing those in the body from sins. If one’s blood starts flowing outside the body, it must be stopped soon or death will occur. When someone bleeds out death is quick. The body of Christ is his church (Ephesians 1:22-23).
From the cross you see the ultimate picture of submission and of obedience. Jesus prayed that this cup might pass from him and he wouldn’t have to go through this cross. But he said, “Not my will but yours be done.” He declared all through his ministry that he didn’t come to do his own will but the will of him who sent him. There were no limits to how far he would go in doing the will of the father. When we are challenged to “submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” we are being challenged to follow his example. (James 4:7-8) It doesn’t matter what we want or like. When people emphasize their own pleasures and desires it indicates they worship themselves instead of God. Too often we want a cushion instead of a cross, a cake walk instead of a powerful resurrected life for the Lord.
Stand back and look at the cross from a distance. What do you see? Each time a Christian takes of the communion they are looking back at the cross, remembering the one who paid the price for our sins. It is only from the cross that one can see the world as it really is. It is only from the cross that we learn what really matters in life. It is only from the cross that we learn the cost of grace and forgiveness. Just as Jesus reached out his arms to a whole world with nailed scarred hands, we must extend those same hands to our world, living the kind of life he calls us to every day.