As this Easter season draws near, I hope the local Easter egg hunt isn’t the only event that comes to mind. Because Easter didn’t begin with a game of eggs and bunnies — it started with a cross and climaxed with an empty tomb.

This Easter marks a special 1-year anniversary for me: It was the day before Easter a year ago that I first wore my cross pendant. Every day since then, with hardly an exception, I have worn that cross. It is a beautiful thing, gold-chained and glinting with diamonds (or so I speculate that’s what those stones are).

But did you know that what I’m wearing around my neck is an instrument of torture and death? Today we see bejeweled cross pendants all the time, often gracing the flesh of superstars singing steamy lyrics. But two thousand years ago, the cross was the most hideous of the hideous — its silhouette upon a hill would bring both chills and shouts of derision, for it was the choice of the Romans for public execution. Those traitors and criminals unlucky enough not to have Roman citizenship were subjected to this most humiliating of deaths: First each was beaten until the internal organs were exposed (many died during this stage); then each had to carry his cross all the way to the site of execution, with crowds jeering; then each lain down upon the cross and had nails driven through wrists and feet, crushing sensitive nerves; and then each was hosted up to hang naked upon the cross for all to see. Besides the extreme pain of the beating and the nails, the person would have to lift himself up with his feet in order to breath, for his particular hanging position would prevent breathing otherwise. After hours had passed, however, his exhaustion would overtake him, and he’d die of suffocation. Many times, the Romans would leave his body as food for the birds.

It is a far cry from diamonds and gold. Why do I wear this wretched symbol?

Partly, because my Lord and my God suffered upon the same instrument of death as those criminals thousands of years ago. His name on earth was Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter-turned-preacher in ancient Israel. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached to the poor. And He revealed Himself to be God, the Creator clothed in human form: “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us'” (Matthew 1:23). God came down to dwell with His creatures as one of them. His extraordinary deeds and claims are recorded in the Bible, which has been proven time and again in history and science as the reliable and extraordinary record of God’s Words. Hundreds of years before, God predicted that He would suffer death for men (Isaiah 53, etc.).

Why did God suffer on the cross? I would say that the cross is the most brutal and humiliating of deaths devised by man — why did the Creator of the universe let Himself be subjected to it? The answer lies in the saving purpose of God: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). For “all of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:6).

We all have committed wrong and hurt God and our fellow men, who have been created in God’s image. Yet this God, instead of judging us all to our rightful punishment according to justice, laid the justice upon Himself in the form of Jesus Christ. He stepped into our deserved place on the cross.

Isn’t it unfathomable! The very thought has often brought tears to me as I stare outside a window, contemplating God. The Creator of the universe, the King of heaven and earth, owes me nothing and I owe Him everything. He could have wiped the slate clean the moment man did wrong and hurt others. He could have judged us all on the spot. But no — He brought Himself to suffer in our place — in the place of criminals and evil men! God suffered for us His enemies — it is beyond beautiful, beyond words!

But the cross is only half the story. If Jesus died and that was that, He would be like all the rest of religious leaders throughout history. Today we find their tombs and many venerate their final resting places. But not with Christ. Because on the third day, on that Sunday morn, Jesus rose from the dead. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Against the wishes of the religious authorities and the guarding of the tomb by Roman soldiers, He conquered death, the final enemy, and appeared to His disciples and over 500 people after His resurrection (1 Cor 15:6). The enemy of man, death, was no match for the God of life. And because Christ rose from the dead, we can be assured that we who believe will conquer death, too. We will rise and be with God for all eternity, because He rose from the dead.

For not only was the ticket of our sin paid in full on the cross, but our ticket to life was insured by the empty tomb. Christ rose, and so shall we. That is why I wear the cross, and that is what we should remember come this Easter morn.