“He laid down his life for each one of us.”
An appropriate comment to hear around Easter/Passover, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The words are those of Jonathan Osborne, senior chaplain to London’s Metropolitan Police, speaking about the brave officer who died confronting a terrorist trying to attack Parliament.
Khalid Masood stabbed PC Keith Palmer after mowing down pedestrians with his car on Westminster Bridge, leaving another three dead, while a further victim later died of her injuries.
Monday’s funeral of PC Palmer was a sad day indeed for all of us, and for me it coincided with the funeral of a much-loved pastor as well as with the anniversary of my late wife Irene’s burial 17 years earlier.
But then I realised how it was all happening around Easter when Jesus, the Jewish Messiah and Saviour of the world, also laid down his life for us all.
As the innocent Passover Lamb without blemish, he was led to the slaughter for our sake. For “we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53.6)
I don’t wish to belittle what PC Palmer did – it is true that he gave his life to preserve our freedom, as so many soldiers have done over the years. And he is worthy of being called a hero. But our nation needs to remember afresh the debt we owe to our Lord Jesus, who gave his life that we might truly live, knowing and serving God without fear because of our certain hope in the resurrection to come, for which Christ has paved the way.
That’s why neither of the two personal funerals to which I have referred was without hope. There was sadness, of course, at the earthly passing of loved ones, but it was accompanied by the joy of knowing they have gone to a better place and that we who believe will one day be reunited with them in glory.
Yes, Jesus suffered the cruellest possible execution – and could have summoned legions of angels to rescue him. But he hung there for our sake. “For he was pierced for our transgressions…” (Isaiah 53.5) But “after he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied”. (Isaiah 53.11)
The risen Jesus appeared to more than 500 witnesses. (1 Corinthians 15.6) That he conquered death is a fact of history. But if you too want a certain hope of the resurrection, you must believe in Him. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16)
The Apostle Paul writes of Christians: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15.19f)
That fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 25.8 – that “he will swallow up death forever” – and of Hosea 13.14: “Where, O grave, is your destruction?”
And Paul answers the rhetorical question with a resounding: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15.54-57)
I am so encouraged that the words of Jesus will be displayed on many London buses this Easter, thanks to the vision of Revelation TV founder Howard Conder. How appropriate too, coming in the wake of the London terror attack, that the iconic red buses should be reminding us all of how Jesus died for us.
As we continue to celebrate 500 years since the start of the Reformation, we would do well to remember one of England’s greatest heroes, William Tyndale, who gave his life so that the entire English-speaking world would be able to know the resurrection power of Christ. He defied the leaders of church and state by translating the Bible (then only available in Latin) into English so that “even a ploughboy” could understand it.
And he was burnt at the stake for his troubles. But in doing so he lit a flame for the gospel, and for freedom, that has since fired the hearts of millions to know, love and serve the Saviour who died on a cross in Jerusalem that first ‘Good Friday’.
The Roman authorities, religious Jews and our own sin all played a part in the crucifixion of Christ, but ultimately it was God’s doing for, as Isaiah foretold, it had to happen – because “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53.6) and “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…” (Isaiah 53.10)
When Irene died all those years ago, I remember so well how, at the funeral, I looked at the coffin and wondered how I was going to bear up, especially in giving the eulogy, when God spoke clearly into my spirit: “She is not here; she is risen!”
May that be your hope too this Easter and Passover tide!
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com