By Bryan Chapell. Yo-Yos, pet rocks and Reeboks-the fads come and go with dizzying speed as America’s youth undecide, “what’s hot.” But in the simpler times of my own grade school years, there was nothing more “cool” than “stretched nickels.”
The value of a stretched nickel was not determined by how sparingly you spent it but by how flat you squashed it. The thinner the sliver of silver in one’s pocket, the more its owner’s “cool” quotient inflated. As a result some kids stretched nickels by squeezing them in vices, crushing them between rocks or hammering them on driveways. But the coolest kids always had their nickels stretched by trains. They put a nickel on a train track and let a 100-ton locomotive do its work.
Sacrificing a nickel to a train was no small investment to a kid of my day. A nickel amounted to an entire week’s allowance. With a nickel you could get five pieces of Double Bubble, or three jaw breakers, or a slab of gum with two baseball cards. Still, despite the anticipated loss, in the quest for adolescent “cool” I also made my pilgrimage to the local train tracks one Saturday. (Now, I was young and oblivious to the dangers of my actions. So, do not take this account as an endorsement for what I did.)
I stood on the train tracks and looked far down the line. Though it was just a speck on the horizon, I saw a train coming. The smoke of the diesel engine puffed into the air and my hopes soared with it. “I am gonna be so cool,” I gloated inwardly.
I put my nickel on the track and I waited-and waited, and waited: five minutes, ten minutes, thirty minutes. My, that train was coming slowly. The speck never seemed to get larger no matter how many thousand times I checked its progress. If it was moving at all, it was going to take till Christmas to arrive. Though my vision was never quite good enough to tell for sure what was happening, I slowly began to lose confidence that train was coming at all.
As my confidence in the coming of that slow train waned, the longings of my sweet tooth grew. And before I knew it a stretched nickel seemed far less valuable than the sweet savor of Double Bubble and sour-apple jawbreakers. The thought of things more immediately gratifying eventually won out as the train delayed. I picked my unstretched nickel off the tracks, trekked to the local candy shop, and whether that train ever came I cannot say.
But I can tell you of another slow train that did come. It was a train called Death. It brought the sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. The schedule of that train was marked not by hours and minutes, but by millennia, because the Scriptures say that Jesus is the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8) Through his prophets God announced this train centuries before it arrived.
It is one of the wonders of Easter that God saw that train while it was only a speck on the horizon of history. The prophecies of the Old Testament span many lifetimes to reveal an amazing vision possessed by our heavenly Father. When the slow train of Death that would come to crush the Savior was too far off to be seen by any human eye, Scripture reveals God clearly perceived this train centuries before its arrival in all its gory detail: The hiss of the brake release echoes the gasp of the Son as they put the thorns on his brow; the rattle of rocks in the rail bed, the roll of the dice as they gamble for his garment; the roar of the engine, the clamor of the crowd that cries, “Crucify Him”; the pummel of the tracks, the rhythm of the lash that stripes his back; the driving of a piston, die hammer of the blows that pound the nails; the wail of the whistle, the cry of the Lamb, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”; and, above all billows the cloud of smoke that is the darkness as the Father must turn His back on His own Son. All was foretold. The Father saw this slow train coming while it was still distant down the tracks of history.
The miraculous vision, the prophesies of Christ’s passion reveal, is one of the great comforts of the Easter season. The difficulties of our world, our occupations and our families can seem to wrap us in a darkness so deep we wonder if God is really aware of what we face. In our pain and confusion we cry out, “Doesn’t God see?” Easter proclaims he sees and knows.
Like the headlight of a train piercing the foggiest night, God’s vision penetrates the darkness we face. He sees the problems. He knows the pain. If neither the darkness of evil nor the distance of centuries that enshrouded his Son could cloud his vision, then our darkness does not blind him now.
But there is another miracle as evident in the Easter prophesies as God’s amazing vision. It is the wonder of an amazing love. The Father saw that slow train that would crush His Son coming down the tracks of time. That is a miracle. But an even greater wonder is that the Father, seeing that slow train coming, left his Son there.
The Father left Jesus on the tracks that Death would travel. Your soul and mine were to be purchased at the cost of this sacrifice. And though the train was slow, nothing distracted God from his purpose. Nothing of greater value called him away from his diving intention. Even the life of his own Son was not more precious than our salvation.
It is an amazing thought, isn’t it? The God who sees so far through history sees as deeply into us. He sees our sins, our failures, our doubts and longings. He sees all that could make us undesirable to him. Yet he deemed nothing more valuable than our souls. Nothing appealed to him more than us. He was not distracted and he did not lift the One infinitely more precious than silver from the tracks on which Death traveled until all was accomplished.
The amazing love of God revealed at Easter further comforts us in our troubled world. For even if we believe that God sees through our darkness, when our world caves in our hearts cry out, “Doesn’t God care?” The heart of God displayed at Easter responds, “How could I care more?”
Look through God’s eyes and see how great is his care for you. There coming down the tracks of time is the slow moving train that will crush life from his Son. It will take only the slightest motion of God’s hand to trip the lever diverting the train down another track. Every parental impulse is to lift the Son from danger and clasp him to the Father’s breast in loving relief. Yet our Heavenly Father sees that if the train crushes not Jesus it will destroy you and me. He looks at us with our sin-stained clothes and angry eyes. He looks once more at the train bearing down upon us, and then his eyes settle on his Son. The decision is made. The gaze will not shift again until the moment of the awful blow.
We are deemed more precious than the Most Precious. The Father gave the Son to save us. “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10) that we might live. Nothing was more valuable to the Father than purchasing your soul and mine-not even the life of His Son. What an amazing heart beats in heaven for you and for me! What a wonderful reassurance that heartbeat provides when our fallen world does not make sense and our lives are full of pain. When explanations are not possible we still know God cares. He already purchased us at too high a price not to consider us precious to him now.
The amazing love and vision revealed in biblical prophecies of the Easter events are wonderful encouragements. But there is another wonder the prophecies illumine. It is the amazing purpose in God’s Easter plan. God revealed long ago that he would not allow his Holy One to see decay. (Psalm 16:10) The grave would not own the Son. For this to be true the power of Death itself had to be destroyed. God planned every detail.
When Death struck Jesus the collision not only crushed life from him, it ruptured the engines of the train itself. And the sin that fueled this formerly irresistible force spewed upon the Savior leaving Death powerless to run the rails of time again. It could not even inch beyond the point of impact with our Lord.
When it struck Jesus, Death collided with its own destruction. Jesus rose from the wreck to prove the once mighty train had made its last run on the route heaven claims. From the ruin God purposed a resurrection whose impact reverberates still in our lives. For there are moments of despair and difficulty when it is not enough that God sees or cares. We also question, “Can’t God help?” Easter echoes the answer that God is able.
In Christ’s resurrection God demonstrates he will achieve his good purposes even if the forces of a fallen world seem to travel unhindered for a time. The train whose destination was the Cross proves God’s plan is precise, his actions are sure, and he is never behind his schedule. Even though our circumstances may confuse and trouble us, Easter bells announce the arrival of the train of God’s amazing purpose that cannot be hindered.
The train called Death crushed Jesus. Then Jesus commandeered the train. With his death he conquered Death and gave this train a new name. The train left the station of human history names Death, but it arrives at the destination of God’s purpose as the Death of Death. Now as it travels on through the lives of millions of souls in the largest cities and remotest places Jesus calls to us. He beckons us aboard the train powered by the righteousness no man can match and bound for the destination no man can reach alone.
No force can keep the passengers aboard this train from the purposes God intends for their lives. Their route is perfectly planned. Their arrival is sure because Lord Jesus engineers this train. It may seem to take a while, and sometimes it may seem delayed but the train is coming. Through history it rolls, to heaven it rides. Jesus is at the throttle and neither sin, circumstances, nor Satan himself can stop this train or hinder its riders.
Year after year the Easter train comes. Each time it passes it roars anew Christ’s victory and our hope. Earth’s clamors fade when the Easter train comes. Christ’s victory drowns every echo of doubt and makes faint the loudest fears. When we see his amazing vision, when our hearts perceive his amazing love, when our minds conceive his amazing purposes; confidence grows in our souls, courage resonates in our lives and rejoicing springs from our lips.
Jesus rose from the wreck for me and now he engineers my victory. The Easter train is coming again. My Savior rides it still. Because I see him coming, I face this life with the confident words of the old Negro spiritual as my own victory song: “Ride on King Jesus, no man can hinder me. Ride on, Ride on, King Jesus-Now, no man can hinder me!”