In the darkest moments, God performs his greatest acts. Jesus was acclaimed “Son of David” on Palm Sunday. By Maundy Thursday, he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and brought to trial before Annas and Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate and Herod. Friday he was condemned to death and was crucified. Saturday he lay in the tomb. And all seemed as darkness. The power of the enemy appeared to have conquered God. But now on Easter, after all hope is gone—while it was still dark—the tomb is empty!
Mary Magdalene came and saw the empty tomb and was startled and shaken. She ran and found Peter and John. The last time Simon Peter and John were together was at the house of the high priest, when Peter made his three-fold denial of Jesus. Peter then went outside and wept bitterly. Who knows where Peter was after that. We don’t hear that he followed the hoards to Calvary. Did he look out from the city wall on that barren hill? John had gone up to be with Jesus at his death, along with Mary, and the other women. Perhaps Peter and John were discussing what had taken place on Good Friday. Considering how John’s Gospel and epistles so focus on the love of God, perhaps John was confirming Peter, that the Lord knew all that was in his heart and that forgiveness was available. It may not make sense how he could forgive so complete a betrayal, but Jesus said to forgiven even to 77 times.
Hear Mary’s agony, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.” Peter and John must have been startled as well. What had already happened was bad enough. They both ran to the tomb. John arrived first and stoops down and sees the linen strips. Then Simon Peter comes and rushes into the tomb. He too saw the linen strips and the burial shroud. But this wasn’t the work of grave robbers—the cloth is folded neatly and placed on the side. Finally John went in and saw, and he believed. He didn’t understand, but he had faith in Jesus, that He was who He said He was. He believed in the mystery of Easter.
What is Easter, and why should we care? Easter is the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So what. Jesus suffered and died on the cross at Calvary. So what. He is the Son of God, God from God, Light from Light, perfect and of infinite value to the Father. He is also man, true man begotten of the Virgin Mary; he is sinless and perfectly submitted to the Father’s will. So what. || He bore our sins on the cross. ||
If Jesus had simply gotten old or sick, died, and was then resurrected, it would be great for him, but of no avail to us; we would be sunk in the same mire. If Jesus had suffered and died just as a man—even a perfect man—he may have saved himself, but it would be no help to us still perishing in our sins; his merits would not pass beyond himself. If Jesus had suffered and died as true God and true man, he could have taken away the sins of the world, but there would be no way to know if it had been enough or if the sacrifice was acceptable to God. Moreover, there would be no hope for the life to come. Beyond that, there remain the words of the prophets and of Jesus himself that he would suffer, die, and rise again…empty promises.
Jesus had to suffer, die, be buried, and rise again. All this He did! His death was not the end, it was not the stumbling block that terminated a highly successful, if short, ministry as prophet, religion reformer, and healer. His death did not hinder his mission. The death of Mohammed ended his ability to provide new teachings. The death of Buddha was the stop of his work.
Only Jesus Christ was unhindered by death. In fact, it was for this reason that he was born. All his life, the shadow of the cross stood before him. The prophet Simeon told Mary that by her son, her joy, a sword would pierce her own heart. At his baptism, John proclaimed Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; a lamb meant to be slain. Jesus declared that the Son of Man had to and handed over to the Gentiles, who would mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. Christ came into this world to save sinners, to die for us, to make the once-for-all sacrifice that would reconcile God and man. The resurrection was the vindication of His mission, proof that all He said is true. || The resurrection is the only way that we can understand the plan of salvation. || All Jesus’ teaching would be unintelligible until his death and resurrection. Have you ever been to a 3D movie? Did you take off the funny glasses to see what was actually on screen? The movie is strange, out of focus, and oddly colored; it is not fully understandable without the glasses. In the same way, we can understand Jesus’ teaching only in part without the “special glasses.” But when we look at his life through the lens of his passion, death, and resurrection, it’s like seeing Christianity in 3D, it’s alive and makes sense.
Jesus Christ came to reestablish the Kingdom of God in this world, to set up a beachhead. The powers of darkness at work in this world are doomed to ultimate defeat. The Devil is happy for men to acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, teacher, good man, a visionary, the leader of an obscure sect, or even a martyr. None of these interfere with the work of the Devil. But a Savior who is from God, who fulfilled all the law and the prophets, who is the desire of nations, this Savior stands in opposition to every evil throne, dominion, ruler, and authority. But without the resurrection, Jesus is not the Savior, and we are left abandoned by God, adrift in a world of sin. St. Paul writes (1 Cor. 15:17-19):
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Thus those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
At least men who are lost in the world are temporarily contented in their sins, even though the desire is never satisfied. But a Christian without the hope of resurrection is wretched, knowing what is wrong in the world and what would have fixed it. But Christ did rise, and our faith is not futile! We have been released from bondage to our sins!
Christ is alive! Let Christians sing. / The cross stands empty to the sky. /
Let streets and homes with praises ring. / His love in death shall never die.
Christ’s death and resurrection, then is the pivot in Salvation History. That is to say that all that had gone before was leading up to this one moment, was in preparation for it; all that follows is inexorably changed based on this event. There is no going backward; you cannot step over the empty tomb and cross back into a “pre-Christian era”; nor can the world escape into a
post-Christian era”, except by entering the gates of Hell, where even the Devil will be forced to bow and acknowledge Christ.
This change in history results in changes in our lives. Our hope is dead unless it results in a changed life. Peter told Cornelius, “God does not show favoritism.” Just because the Jews were the “chosen” people did not ensure their acceptability to God, their salvation. They were granted a birthright—they were redeemable, if you will—, but the birthright had to be earned once received. Moreover, the family of God is open to all nations. This is great news for Gentiles. Consider Rahab. She was a prostitute and a Canaanite; call it two strikes against her. Yet when the Israelite spies came into Jericho, she hid them for fear of what their God was about to do. She did what was right and hid the spies. Because of this, she and her family were the only ones spared in the city.
Conversely, consider what happened to the original Israelites who had come up out of Egypt. They did not fear God, but feared the inhabitants of the land who seemed too great even for God to conquer (never mind that he had just decimated the firstborn of the Egyptians with the destroying angel and He laid waste their army in the Red Sea. They did not fear God and did not do what was right. As the Psalmist writes (Ps. 95:7b-11):
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
The Israelites had seen what God had done for them, how he delivered them with outstretched arm, but they were afraid of men. They would not enter into God’s rest, and were content to go back to Egypt and live in slavery (Num. 14:4).
Our baptism grants us access to the true Promised Land, immeasurable riches, even eternal life in the presence of God. But we need to live the Resurrection life! There can be no hesitation. We cannot say, “Being a Christian is too hard, no one can ever live as Jesus Christ did. I’m glad that I was baptized, and maybe one day the difficulty of being a Christian will be reduced or gone. But for now, I will return to a life of sin and toil under sin.” Isn’t that what the Israelites did in the wilderness? Isn’t that what nominal Christians try to do today? They accept the name Christian, but don’t live the Resurrection life. Paul wrote the Colossian: (Col. 3:1-4):
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”
|| Have you been raised with Christ? || Then set your heart on things above! Don’t dwell on earthly things. Set your heart on how to please God, to worship Him more perfectly; and how to love your neighbor as yourself. The world does not “get it” when you think of things above and not on things below. Peter writes (1 Pe. 4:3,4):
“They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation,” “debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry,” “and they heap abuse on you.”
The world is threatened by true Christianity, by the witness of those who really believe the Gospel and who live like they believe it. People who are called “Christians” and only occasionally live as such, these are no threat to the world. The only real threat is a real, live, living Christian; one who has died to the world and is has been raised in Christ. They are dangerous.
St. Paul writes (Rom. 8:5-6,12f),
“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”
“Therefore brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’”
This is what it means when he writes (Col. 3:3), “For you died, and our life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Our spirits cry out with Christ, Abba Father. We could not do so before the resurrection, before our baptism, for we were still separated from God. But since we have died in Christ, we have been raised in Christ, and share in his sonship.
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, in which we participate through baptism, we have the birthright, access to all the glorious riches of the Kingdom of God. All the honors and privileges that go with being a child of God. We have been blessed with the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, miracles, prophecy, tongues, interpretation, administration, helps, and more and more. We, as limbs of Christ the True Vine, are tapped into the power to produce in our lives the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. We have the birthright. Like a child inheritor of a vast fortune, we must grow up—mature, become perfect—to receive the family fortune. If the inheritor remains a child forever, he will never gain custody of his birthright. And our fortune is a Pearl of Great Price.…eternal life, yes, but even greater is God Himself, with whom we will spend eternity.