Easter Was Made For a Time Like This

This article appeared in our local paper, The Manchester Journal, and also at the Baptist Convention of New England blog.

We are living in a time in which we are desperate for good news. We are all reading this hunkered down in our homes under the looming specter of disaster. We feel the state of emergency, and we see it with our eyes. It is on the signs on every business door and on faces everywhere we look. The mood has changed in our community, as friends or neighbors who might happen to see each other outside now talk from a distance. Anyone who dares to venture out to buy groceries notices the absence of the laughter of children. We worry about our elderly relatives and neighbors, even as we try to help them, all the while hoping we are not putting them at greater risk. We wince when we check the latest statistics on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. We wonder how long this will go on. Oh, how desperately we need good news.

Just when we think the low-grade stress of trying to hide from an invisible enemy is getting unbearable, we hear of another cancellation of an event we had looked forward to for months. We know it is the right thing to do, and we might even feel guilty for wishing it wasn’t so, but we mourn our old lives nonetheless. As a parent, I am joining moms and dads all across the world who have to explain to their kids why their favorite spring activities are canceled.

But as a pastor, I am joining pastors all across the world explaining to their congregations that Easter is not canceled.

No, we are not physically meeting. But Easter is not canceled because Easter was made to bring good news to a world that groans under the strain of more bad news. Easter was made for a time like this.

Jesus’ disciples were crushed after Jesus’ death on the cross. They were confused. But when the report of the empty tomb reached them, and when Jesus himself stood in front of them again so much alive that they could touch him and watch him eat, his earlier words flooded back. Right before he had raised Lazarus from the dead they had heard him proclaim, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Now they understood that Jesus’ resurrection was the guarantee of their resurrection. It sealed his promise of eternal life for those who would believe in him.

Some say the resurrection is a time of celebration of new life, as if it is nothing more than a celebration of Spring. Certainly the fact that it took place during a time of new life on earth is bursting with meaning. But if that is all it means, Easter is hollow. We need something more substantial. We need a resurrection.

As our church joins churches around the world during this historic Easter, celebrating the resurrection for the first time virtually and not physically gathered, our joy will be no less. We will wish it was different. We may shed tears of loss and heartbreak. But we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with joy because we know that in his conquering of death, he has promised to make all things new. The Bible looks forward to a day when fear and abuse and hunger and loneliness and viruses will all die, never to raise their ugly heads again. And in their demise, a new heaven and a new earth will be created, a place that believers in King Jesus were made to live in with their resurrection bodies. 

This is good news. This is why Easter was made for a time like this. And because of Easter, because of Jesus, I invite you to make this best of news your news.

“Who Will Roll Away the Stone for Us?”

The Empty TombHindsight is always 20/20.  Over 2,000 years ago the pressing question for a group of Jesus-worshiping ladies Sunday morning was, “Who will roll away the stone for us?” (Mark 16:3)  It was a great question.  They wanted to anoint Jesus with spices to show honor and respect to Him but they didn’t know how they were going to get to Him.

If you have ever seen a rolling stone tomb from the first century (picture to the left), you can immediately feel their anxiety.  Joseph of Arimathea had rolled the “great stone” to the entrance of the tomb (Matt. 27:60), and they had watched him do it (Matt. 27:61).  The flat stone blocking the entrance would have been on a sort of rough “track” so it could be rolled back and forth as needed, as most of these expensive tombs would have entire families buried there.  But it was a large stone–probably even with a mechanism to make it harder to open than it was to close, as was common–and these women, going alone early in the morning, were not sure they could budge it.

However, there was an even more daunting problem that they may have been unaware of.  On the Sabbath, the day after Jesus had died and was buried, chief priests and Pharisees had received permission from Pilate to use Roman soldiers to not only guard the tomb, but also to seal it (Matt. 27:66).

The religious leaders were concerned with somebody stealing the body and lying that Jesus had risen.  Those leaders were preoccupied with somebody going into the tomb, when they should have been preoccupied with Somebody coming out.

Meanwhile, for the women the question remained as they walked there together that morning: “Who will roll away the stone for us?”  But then it happened.  There was a great earthquake.  An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone for them–and us–to see that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead!  This rolling away of the stone was so powerful and dramatic, and the appearance of the angel was so radiant, that the soldiers commissioned with guarding the tomb fainted (Matt. 28:3-4).

Large stones are heavy.  Guarded, sealed tombs are impenetrable.  But they can’t contain the risen Christ!

If you will allow me to help you apply this without being overly metaphorical, what is the stone in your heart right now?  What is it that is getting in the way of your saving belief in the risen Christ?  Assuming that you know Him as your Savior and Lord, what is it that is currently getting in the way of you living like your King truly is the risen and reigning Jesus?  Ask the Holy Spirit right now to help you see past the large stone and into the empty tomb.  For Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!

Jesus Lives!

It is amazing how our hope is tied into the fact of Christ’s resurrection.  As Christ Himself taught, “…I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25b-26)  He could actually call Himself THE resurrection before He had died or been raised.

He had just been discussing resurrection with Martha, because her brother Lazarus had died, and she had pointed to the Old Testament hope of resurrection.  He lovingly pointed out that there is no resurrection outside of the Son of God, Himself.  Then He proved it by raising Lazarus from the dead.  Martha got it right when he asked her if she believed this: “She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11:27)  Have you made this confession (see my earlier post, “What is the Gospel?”)?  If you have, then you can be abounding in hope because of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).

This Resurrection Sunday may you rejoice in Christ and in our hope that is in Christ, because He is risen!  I have recently been moved by the words of a song called “Jesus Lives” from Risen, a Sovereign Grace Music CD that is completely about the Resurrection.

Here is the music, but if you don’t listen then check out the words below:

I no longer fear the grave

Christ has come

Took the sting of death away

Through His saving blood

Though my body fails and my flesh grows weak

Till my final breath, to this hope I’ll cling

Jesus lives and so shall I

I’ll be raised from the dust with Christ on high

Jesus lives no more to die

And when He returns, with Him I’ll rise

Jesus lives

In this fallen world I cry

For the day

When Your glory splits the sky

And you come to reign

All creation waits for that promised hour

When the saints of God are revealed in power

Not death nor any power of hell can separate me from

The love, the love of my Savior

(Words by George Romanacce and Bob Kauflin, Copyright 2011 Sovereign Grace Worship)

Thursday Night of “Passion Week”

It is Thursday night of “Passion Week.”  We all know that Christ died on Friday and rose on Sunday, but what happened on Thursday night?  He washed His disciples’ feet.  He taught His disciples in the Upper Room.  He transformed the Passover meal into “The Lord’s Supper” commemorating His death.  He cried out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane until He sweat drops of blood.  He was betrayed with a kiss.  He was arrested.  And He knocked a large detachment of Roman soldiers to the ground with His word.

The beloved Apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, remembered that night: “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’  They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’  Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-6)

Judas, along with the religious leaders, had organized a detachment of soldiers to come and arrest Jesus in the garden.  The word translated “band” of soldiers in the ESV is a “cohort” of Roman soldiers that would normally number 600 men.  However, depending on the circumstances it could be up to 1,000 or as little as 200.  Given that there were extra Roman soldiers on duty for the Passover Feast, as well as the fact that the other Gospels indicate that there were others besides the soldiers in the crowd who carried clubs, it is no exaggeration to say that there was a minimum of 300 men there that night if not the full 1,000 given Jesus’ popularity just a few days before on “Palm Sunday.”  This would be at least 15 times more armed men than are in the picture at the top of this post.

Jesus decimated them by simply answering “I am” to their question.  These trained killers fell to the ground at the word of our Savior!

It is mind-boggling how some commentators will try to explain away this profound moment before Jesus was arrested.  It is another display of His authority before He would let them arrest Him, and we are reminded once again that He is the incarnate God before He humbles Himself to the point of death on a cross.  Before His greatest humility, He once again displayed His power.  Yet some will say things such as that they fell down because they expected to find a meek peasant and instead were met in the dim light by a majestic person.  Ludicrous.  Others say that those in the front were startled when Jesus appeared out of the shadows, which in turn knocked down those behind them like dominoes.  Nonsense.  Roman soldiers were highly trained and had taken over much of the world.  They battled against the most powerful armies on earth and often won.  They did not easily spook and fall down like children when somebody emerged from a dark garden that was now lit up with their torches.  But, they did fall down when Jesus said “I am.”  As John MacArthur explains, “All Jesus had to do was speak His name–the name of God–and His enemies were rendered helpless.” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John 12-21, p. 308)

It is no wonder Peter was emboldened to cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest!  Christ quickly reminded Peter right in front of the soldiers that if He wanted to, He could ask the Father to send 72,000 angels that He could then command (Matt. 26:53).  What was a detachment of Roman soldiers compared to His power?     

This was a foretaste of Christ as sovereign LORD even though the cross was looming on the horizon.  The same Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John later saw Christ exalted and described Him: “…from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.  When I saw him, I fell at His feet as though dead.  But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.‘” (John 18:16-18)

Just as He laid His hand on John to show His grace, how He loves you and me!  That He would place Himself into the hands of these soldiers to obey the will of the Father, to be crushed on the cross as He paid the awful and incomprehensible price of sin when He could have stopped it all in an instant, with a word, needs to move us!

Even when they fell down at His word, the soldiers in the garden that night didn’t recognize Him as God.  But it may have contributed to God’s work in some of their hearts as later some soldiers would believe in Christ as the Son of God and Savior even at the foot of the cross the next day.  As you celebrate Good Friday and then Resurrection Sunday, remember that our King was not a victim of an evil plan (although it was evil, Acts 2:23), but rather the triumphant Victor of the Plan that had been made before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23).  Thank You Jesus for Your power, and thank You for Your grace!