Easter Sunday 2016 is in the books, and it’s a safe bet that if you attended church, you heard a message on resurrection. The most important day on the Christian calendar is about an empty tomb, a risen Savior and new life.
But Easter also brings death. As the stirring old hymn declares, “Up from the grave he arose/with a mighty triumph over his foes.” The Resurrection neutralized a number of enemies that have vexed this earth since Eden’s fall.
EASTER BRINGS THE DEATH OF SIN
The Cross paid the penalty for sin; the Empty Tomb gives power over sin. Paul captures this marvelous truth in the sixth chapter of Romans. Embracing the Cross crucifies our old, sinful selves and basking in the glory of the Risen Christ empowers us to walk in “newness of life.”
In my late 20s, I was a bartender, drinking heavily, wallowing in despair and driving my young wife crazy. Then we started going to worship and something happened: the Word of God introduced me to Jesus Christ. He “broke the power of canceled sin” and set this prisoner free. I still sinned, of course, but for the first time in my life I felt that I had the strength to fight and overcome. This wasn’t my willpower at work. Ephesians 1:18-20 tells us that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power available to those who believe. This is not raw power that the selfish and greedy wield, but the power to love enemies, experience joy in all circumstances and speak God’s word with authority, bringing hope and healing.
EASTER BRINGS THE DEATH OF HOPELESSNESS
If any group of people had a reason to be hopeless, it was the disciples on Good Friday. Their Master’s body had been pummeled, crucified and sealed in a tomb. Peter denied Him three times and wept bitterly into the night. Driven to despair over the betrayal of his rabbi, Judas hanged himself. The rest locked themselves away, fearful that what happened to Jesus could happen to them. To add insult on injury, their dreams of a restored Israel had been crushed: the Romans were still in charge and the world kept spinning as it had before.
Then came astounding news: the stone had been rolled away, the tomb was empty. In short time, the disciples beheld the Risen Christ with their own eyes. Hope was renewed!
Hope is not wishful thinking. It isn’t crossing your fingers that something good will happen. It is expectation based on the solid rock of divine promises. Yes, believers still live in the “real world” with pain, obstacles and death — but these do not get the closing arguments in God’s courtroom. Our Advocate gets the final word, and His Word says, “hope will not disappoint” (Romans 5:5).
EASTER BRINGS THE DEATH OF UNBELIEF
We’ve all heard of doubting Thomas, the disciple who wouldn’t believe that Jesus had rebounded from death. When the Risen Christ appeared, He invited Thomas to put his fingers in his crucifixion marks and said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:20). The word for unbelieving doesn’t mean doubt; it means faithlessness. Thomas didn’t have normal uncertainty about the Resurrection – he didn’t think it happened at all and said he would only believe if he had hard proof.
I believe God can handle honest doubts and earnest questions. Not too long ago, I was talking to a pastor who wondered why he hadn’t experienced revival in any of the congregations he served. With deep emotion, he said, “I often ask God, ‘Lord, what would it hurt if you sent revival? Isn’t that your heart?’ I just don’t know why He doesn’t.” In the next moment, he was praising God and asking me to join him in prayer. This man was wrestling God — but he wasn’t turning his back on Him. He had questions, but was awaiting an answer. His Easter faith doesn’t tell him everything he wants to know, but gives him enough to continue to love and serve God.
EASTER BRINGS THE DEATH OF INJUSTICE
The Empty Tomb changed Chicken Littles into mighty eagles. The emboldened disciples flooded into a hostile empire with resurrection news on their lips and the compassion of Jesus on their hands. The early Christians fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for widows, rescued abandoned infants and spoke truth to secular power. This inspired work didn’t die with Peter, John and the rest, but continued to roll down the corridors of history. Christians have been on the forefront of abolition, prison reform, women’s suffrage and civil rights. Easter people don’t hunker in church buildings, but take the church to the least and lost. Jesus went so far as to say that when you do these things, you are doing them to Him.
EASTER BRINGS THE DEATH OF ALIENATION
In high school, I was terribly lonely. You wouldn’t know it by being around me, because I was a class clown and theater nerd, always ready for a laugh or night out with friends. But my soul felt like it was groping for the light switch in a pitch-black room. I didn’t know that God could bring the intimacy I craved; in fact, I rejected church because I had concluded that everyone there was old and uptight. How little I realized that through the Risen Christ, believers are dynamically united to God and each other, regardless of age, race, gender or nationality.
Yes, I know congregations that are fractured. I’ve attended plenty of meetings where churchfolk draw lines in the sand instead of working out problems for the greater good. And I have run into more than one pew-sitter who always wants to pick fights than give the “right hand of fellowship.” Years ago, during a revival, a man told me he was upset because I had entered the sanctuary in blue jeans and a cap. When I explained to him I was portraying a character, he groused, “I don’t care! You still shouldn’t show up in church dressed like that!”
So, yes, there are folks who cherish their traditions and opinions over the spirit of God’s Word. Still, I believe that you can’t hold on to the things that divide when the Reconciler of All Things enters the picture. The Risen Jesus is our Elder Brother whose heart is all about harmony. It is He who welcomes us into the family of God in all its glorious, messy diversity.
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Easter is about resurrection, but you can’t have resurrection without death. When we die at the foot of the Cross, we come alive in Christ. We don’t have to change ourselves or worry ourselves sick about the state of the world. Faith, hope, personal transformation and so many other gifts will come to us from the One who said, “I am the first and the last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades!” (Revelation 1:17-18).