Upside-down, Inside-out

THE EMPTY TOMB

Easter presents the most important question that each person must answer in his life—what happened to the body of Jesus of Nazareth? Contrary to the eponymous Bunny which has become the symbol of this day, Jesus of Nazareth lived—he was a historical figure—he was real. The life of Jesus Christ is arguably better documented than that of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln—and the historical documentation is sourced both from sympathizers and critics (ironic that the writings of those who despised him are some of the best evidence of his life—ah, the law of unintended consequences!). Jesus lived.

Jesus was also killed. This relieved his enemies—those threatened for either political or religious reasons (perhaps both in some cases)—by the message he propagated. He proposed nothing short of a re-ordering of all things, an upside-down, inside-out order that meant those on top might end up on bottom, and that those on the bottom might actually be on top. He was the evidence himself, he claimed—God come to earth in the form of a human—arguably the most radical cosmic re-ordering possible!

As if that wasn’t enough to upset people, he added that he just might destroy the Holy Temple and rebuild it in three days (a claim understood by many to mean that Jesus would die and rise from the grave on the third day—a claim of deity, no doubt).

So it was in the interest of the establishment (or so they thought) to get rid of this man and his upside-down, inside out rhetoric—just in case. The religious establishment trumped up false charges and used the political establishment to carry out a rigged trial and an execution by crucifixon. It all came down to the body—and everyone knew it. The body was the only evidence needed to prove that Jesus was a phony, that there would be no ‘rising again’ on the third…or any other day—that there would be no new Kingdom with an upside-down, inside-out order.  They had snuffed out the man and now planned to extinguish his following.

So they put Jesus’ body in a cave with a sealed rock in front of it and armed guards to protect it.

How did it come to this?

APPEASING THE DEEP MAGIC

Jesus didn’t just talk about a re-ordering; he lived in that reality. As an adult he chose to live as an itinerant preacher—with no home and virtually no belongings. He spent those years with a group of close friends, walking from town to town and sharing in the lives of the people they met. Jesus’ ministry was one of satisfying needs, whether they were physical (feeding them), medical (healing them), social (spending time with them) or spiritual (offering them a relationship with the God of his Kingdom).

His good friend Paul described Jesus in this way: “…being in very nature God, [He] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

But there was a Need that Jesus could not satisfy through his life or ministry.

C.S. Lewis describes the Need as Deep Magic. In Lewis’ fairy tale land of Narnia, we find Aslan the Lion discussing it with the White Witch (see here). They are addressing the fate of Edmund, one of Aslan’s young friends. Edmund had broken the Law of Narnia and the Deep Magic required his death as punishment.

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller.  “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?  Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning.  You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill.”

[…] “And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine.  His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“Come and take it then,” said the Bull with the man’s head in a great bellowing voice.

“Fool,” said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, “Do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force?  He knows the Deep Magic better than that.  He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

The White Witch ruled Narnia, but Aslan was its True King. And though Aslan conceded that the Deep Magic must be appeased by death, he loved Edmund.

Quite a conundrum. And so it was for God.

The Bible tells us that God created us to have a relationship with Him—that He loves us more than we could ever hope or imagine. Our consciences likely tell us we have not loved God in like fashion. If our consciences don’t, then perhaps a look around the world would suggest something doesn’t add up. “What’s happened to the American Dream?” asked Night Owl in Alan Moore’s The Watchmen as he looked at the chaos in a rioting New York. “It came true. You’re looking at it” came the reply. Even with all our best efforts and intentions, we have fallen short, individually and collectively.

The Apostle Paul says it this way: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23a). Or Isaiah: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (53:6a).

Worse still, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).

“He knows the Deep Magic better than that.  He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says, all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.”

We are all Edmunds and the Deep Magic must be satisfied.

GOD’S TREASURE

Jesus once said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

One thing we learn about God, in Jesus, is that though He created all things, he does not possess all things. What else could have prompted Him to come down to earth himself? It was a mission—a treasure hunt of sorts. His treasure was not in heaven but it was here on earth and he was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan (back in Narnia, of course).

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Who better to look into the stillness and the darkness before the dawn of time than the God who created time? God knows the magic deeper still. He came to live among us, not to teach us about life (as many say now); or to usher in some form of political realignment (as many expected then), but to bring home the treasure He lacked in heaven.

You.

His fallen creation had been separated from Him in such a way that he could not have the union he most deeply desired. Only in His death could the Deep Magic be appeased. Only with the Deep Magic appeased can we enter God’s presence.

So Jesus let his captors ridicule and torture him, let them take him outside the city gates and hang him on a cross between two ordinary criminals in a junkyard.  He drank the cup of God’s wrath and satisfied the Deep Magic. Jesus came to die, because you are his treasure.

It was his battered and bruised body in the cave behind the stone.

UPSIDE-DOWN, INSIDE-OUT

When Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother Mary got to the cave to look at the tomb, they were greeted by an Angel who rolled the stone away for them, scaring off the guard. Jesus was gone.

“Don’t be alarmed” said the Angel of the Lord. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here…” (Mark 16:6).

He has risen indeed!

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

As Aslan knew, there is more to destroying death than just rising from the grave. Death itself starts working backward. All of creation will be restored. Everything sad will come untrue (Samwise in Tolkien’s Return of the King).

Victory through death. A master who serves. A God who becomes obedient to death.

Who could have made this up? Who would have had the audacity? God became a man and instead of rising to power on earth, he lived a life of service—then died at the hands of those he served. And his great victory came not from his strength but from his willingness to die. He gained his treasure by giving his life.

Yes, the wages of sin is death “but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Yes, we all like sheep have gone astray, each turning to his own way “but the Lord had laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6b). All have indeed sinned and fallen short of God’s design for their lives but “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23b).

Do you know that you are God’s treasure?

This is the invitation of Easter—it’s an invitation to all in Need to come to the banquet table in God’s Kingdom. Come as you are; you cannot earn your way in, for the work was done on your behalf. Come and claim your inheritance—given freely by the God who loves you.

Jesus turned things upside-down and inside-out on that first Easter.

He was taken out of the city so that we could come in. He was mocked and ridiculed so that we can be rejoiced over. He was removed from God’s presence so that we can enter it. He died so that we can live.

He is the King of the upside-down, inside-out Kingdom.  Through his death, he recovered his treasure.

So what did happen to the guarded body of Jesus the Nazarean?

May we all find something as we look in the empty tomb this Easter.

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