“I’m not on the cross. Don’t look for me there.”
Asked to visualize the scene of the cross and then invite Jesus into our thoughts, I did as I was told. But Jesus didn’t come. I just stared at the empty cross on a barren hill and wondered why didn’t He come. Those around me participating in this creative exercise seemed to be having no problem.
What was wrong with me?
Jesus, where are you? I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to show up here so I can complete this exercise.
And then I heard—only in my head but quite loud and clear—“I’m not on the cross. Why do you keep going there to find me?”
Was there a note of impatience in the voice? It didn’t condemn, but the conviction was real.
Then God in His great wisdom and grace, showed me another scene. He turned my head from the empty cross to an outcropping of rock not far away. Seated atop this rock, waiting with infinite patience, was Jesus. Not Jesus in His flowing robe as we usually imagine Him, but Jesus in a flannel shirt and hiking boots. Jesus ready for action.
He wasn’t resting, He was waiting.
I wasn’t sure I was still following through on the exercise correctly, but I no longer cared. I was having a sacred moment of revelation.
We’ve been reminded of the great sacrifice Jesus made by going to the cross to die on our behalf. We see the unfathomable love the Father has for us in this sacrifice, this atonement for our sins, making us holy and righteous as He is holy and righteous. How grateful we are, how in awe and amazement we stand. To be loved with such fierce devotion—a love like we have never before and will never again experience this side of eternity.
It is understandable that we want to linger in the place where it all happened.
We step from the cross to the empty tomb. Jesus rose from the dead to live, not just again, but forever with His Heavenly Father. Where the cross engulfs us in love, the empty tomb floods us with the glorious hope of eternal life with our Heavenly Father. What a sweet spot to wait for eternity, a constant reminder that we have been made clean and death has no hold on us.
But there is the problem. Waiting…
We get so focused on the gift of the cross or the power of the empty tomb that we forget what Jesus said.
In John 21:19, the risen Christ says to His disciples, “Follow me!”
He doesn’t say wait here for my return. The garden tomb wasn’t built on the side of an amphitheater with seating for all, like a giant bus stop.
If we only go as far as the cross and the empty tomb, we’re only going to experience the half joy of what Christ has done for us.
Consider what it would be like if someone gave you an all-expense paid trip to a beautiful island getaway, but you just stood there, never leaving the ticket station, but reverently clutching the ticket to your chest and thanking them.
What if you told them repeatedly how unworthy you were to receive such a gift? What if you poured everything you have into remembering the moment they gave it to you?
What if you never used the ticket bought for you to go on the journey you’d been invited to take?
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples several times. On one occasion, He asked Peter “Do you love me?” He asked the question three times. Three times Peter said “Yes Lord, I love you.” And three times Jesus then told him “Then feed my sheep. (see John 21).
I have a relationship with Jesus because someone first led me to the cross of Christ and then to the empty tomb. Someone was willing to feed His sheep.
They didn’t stay at the cross, they turned as saw Jesus leaving the tomb and followed Him over a rocky mountain path out into the world that, thank God, eventually led them to me.
Am I going to keep staring at the vacant cross or empty tomb while Jesus sits on the rock, impatiently checking His watch, adjusting the laces on His hiking boots and wondering how long it will be before I realize it is finished, but we are not?
I’ve been blessed by the opportunity to visit the Garden Tomb and see the place of Calvary in person. I can verify that the cross is not there, the tomb is empty, and the work Jesus has asked of me isn’t in that place. It is a beautiful place, both aesthetically and spiritually, but it is not the end destination of my Christian walk.
It is the ticket station into the journey and life Christ purchased for me.
If the cross and the empty tomb don’t ignite a passion in me for more, then I question if I really understand the significance if either.
It is finished, but we are not.