1 Corinthians 15:3-4
There are days that alter the course of things. One day divides the student from the graduate, the pupil from the alumnus, and how many countless bridegrooms I have seen perspiring, no, sweating, because they knew the momentous hour grew near that for better or worse would alter their lives forever. As followers of Christ, we have three days that altered the world, that shook the world from center to circumference and will affect events until time falls exhausted at the feet of eternity – three days that altered the direction of history, arrested the drift of time and turned around the sequence of events. Three days!
The first day – Friday. A hill shaped like a skull, an execution, a corpse, a tomb. What did it all mean? Some of the noblest minds of history have wrestled with the meaning of this first day: Irenaeus and Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Barth and Tillich and Luther. What did it mean? All these have many theories as to what this first day means. There is the legal theory that a law had been violated. A sentence was imposed and on that cross Christ accepted in himself the penalty. Then five hundred years ago the Dutch theologian, Hugo Grotius, propounded the theory that Calvary meant wiping away an embarrassment in God’s governance of the universe, in removing an awful shame that a violation had occurred and had not been righted. Then of course, there is the moral doctrine of what happened on that first day – that Christ showed in his exemplary way how far God would go to save his people. And there is the revelatory doctrine that God revealed the heartbeat of his love at Calvary and at the same time unmasked the powers of evil, took away from them their pretense of respectability, pulled off from them their cloak of honor and showed them to be a wicked government in alliance with a blasphemous religion turned against the fairest the world has ever seen. For the cross forever reveals the wickedness of men and we see over and over again conniving political operators joining hands with prostituted religionists to crucify the best the world has ever seen.
When that day had wrought its way, it was shown that Joseph Caiaphas, with all of his gold plates on embroidered linen, stood on the side of hell.
Well, all of these theories may well have truth in them, but not one of them tells me everything about that first day, nor can all of them together tell me what happened. As a boy I could not read the account of our Lord’s death without tears coming to my eyes, and I still cannot. For I know in some way I have never been able to explain that he took a lick that was meant for me. I know that where our slates were all blotched and marred, he wiped them clean. And I know that he got under a load that I was meant to carry and that where the charges stood against me, he cleared them. If in Eden I see a forbidden tree, at Calvary I see a tree providing my salvation. But in some way deeper than I can ever say, he made it all right with my soul. He transformed the slave’s bondage, brought the exile back to his native land, put the orphan at the father’s table and called him or her a child of the King and an heir to the throne. I know that at Calvary that first day my condition was forever altered and changed and I am now a child of the royal house.
“Was it for crimes that I have done He groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree! At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light and the burdens of my heart rolled away, it was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.” – The First Day !!!
The second day, the scriptures do not speak much. The 3rd chapter of 1 Peter at verse 19 says, ‘He was freed in the spirit and went and preached to spirits in prison.’ It is this text that gave rise to the whole Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Those of us who have lost a love one who did not accept Christ feel sometimes a strange sadness and I am one of those. I wrestle with this cryptic passage that he went and preached to the spirits in prison.
I do read that word our Lord spoke about a shepherd. Was he talking about himself? Is he the one who left the 99 and went searching for the one lost sheep who had strayed? I do not know what he preached. Did he take his text from the old book, ‘Arise, shine for thy light has come?’ I do not know. Or did he utter again the words he spoke when he addressed himself to the deepest places of Lazarus’s death and said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life?’ I do not know. But the record says he preached to the spirits chained in darkness on this second day. In vain, I do not know. According to the scriptures, there was some profound activity on this second day.
The Third Day should be in all our preaching all of the time – all of the time. There is no better word to preach than this Third Day.
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