Let’s go to Jerusalem, about 2000 years ago, on a day that will become one of the most important in the history of the world. Imagine the scene at dawn as the city begins to stir on the first Easter day.
An incredible drama had been unfolding.
Just a week before, welcomed with hosannas, Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem for the final few days of his public ministry. Many in the city had then turned against him following his arrest, playing a part in a show trial and the posturing between the Jewish leaders, Pilate and Herod. On the Friday, Jesus had been led out of the city to Golgotha – the place of a skull – and executed between two thieves. He willingly submitted to mockery and dreadful cruelty, showing love and forgiveness in the midst of pain, and voluntarily gave up his own life. The city had been covered in darkness for three hours, then shaken by a great earthquake. The veil of the temple tore in two from the top to the bottom. Such were the nature of the events that the Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixion acknowledged that ‘Truly this was the Son of God.‘ (Matthew 27:54)
On the Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath), the drama had paused for a few hours as if taking a deep breath. Now early the next morning, on the first day of the week, perhaps the most incredible event of all occurs.
Picture the women going to Christ’s tomb early that morning. As they walk through the dark streets, they are desperately sad because of what has happened to Jesus, but in love to their Lord they want to anoint his body. They are probably fearful because of the authorities and are unsure how they will get past the stone sealing the tomb. As they draw near, their footstep falter – the stone has been rolled away. What does this mean? Love overcomes their fear and they enter. Jesus is not there, his body has gone and the grave clothes are neatly folded. The tomb is empty. We know the whole story, they didn’t. Their emotions must have been very confused. Where is Jesus? Who has taken the body? Suddenly two angels appear and give them the wonderful news, ‘He is not here, but is risen‘ (Luke 24:6). Initially, this message and the presence of angels is too much for them and they are afraid. Then slowly some of the words of Jesus come back to the women bringing a glimmer of hope and they start to understand. On their way back to the city, Jesus himself meets them confirming the news.
Over the next few hours, Jesus has very personal meetings with Mary Magdalene, and with Peter. He preaches a sermon to two men walking into the country. He appears to the 11 disciples and many others. Across Jerusalem, despair and sadness turn to hope and joy. Unbelief and doubt turn to faith.
Why? Because Christ is risen!
The reason for the despair, the sadness, the grief and the unbelief is explained by Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, ‘The chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel‘ (Luke 24:20-21). Whilst they believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, they had not properly understood what that really meant. They hadn’t fully grasped that Jesus came to bring personal rather than national redemption; to save his people, not the nation of Israel. Now he had been killed and all their hopes dashed. Had they been wrong all along? On top of this, strange rumours were circulating of Jesus’s resurrection, but their sadness and confusion prevented them believing and understanding.
Over time, the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples and Jesus’s other followers to fully understand what had happened that Easter weekend. He does the same for God’s people today.
Often (and quite rightly) we put a lot of focus on Christ’s death and suffering – it showed the depth of his love to his people and was the great atoning act that took away our sins. However, we shouldn’t let the events of Good Friday overshadow the events of Easter Day. Christ’s resurrection is just as important as his suffering and death. Indeed, Jesus’s resurrection put the seal on the whole work of redemption. It proved that his sacrifice on behalf of his people had been acceptable to God the Father. It proved that he had conquered sin, death, hell and the grave. It proved that Satan was beaten and the church was redeemed. If Jesus had not risen, it would all have been for nothing – Satan would have won, God would have failed. There would be no gospel, no Christian faith, no salvation, and no heaven for any of us.
But the grave could not hold him.
More than this, Jesus is still alive – it’s worth dwelling on this, it’s a real fact, not an abstract concept. 40 days after he rose from the dead, Jesus ascended into Heaven, and he is still there. He sits at the right hand of his Father, interceding for his people. A real man who understands us. Almighty God to help us.
How vital the resurrection was. How wonderful that there is a risen, living Saviour.
Whilst events of that day in Jerusalem changed the course of human history, it should be remembered that history itself will one day come to an end. That same Jesus who came to earth as a man, died, rose and then ascended into Heaven, will one day return to earth again. When he does, it will be in all his glory and he will come as a judge. All of us will bow before him on that final great day, and as he himself tells us, those that have never believed on him ‘shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.‘ (Matthew 25:46)[Title Image: www.lumoproject.com]