Easter Day Meditation - 16th April 2017
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Upon the resurrection, the Christian faith stands or falls. There is no room for compromise. Those who try to spiritualise the event, suggesting that Jesus simply lives on in the hearts of his followers, have missed the point. The resurrection of Jesus conquered the grip of sin, and of death itself. Jesus’ appearances to his disciples were the proof that the resurrection was a real, physical event, foreshadowing the resurrection of all believers – the putting on of imperishable, immortal bodies (see 1st Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:21).
In the gospels, the story is told quite simply, with different writers emphasising different details. The conflict between the accounts should not cause us to doubt their veracity; the minor differences are evidence, rather, of the independence of the stories. The gospel-writers did not collude in order to present a uniform account – they knew the resurrection was true, and they presented their understanding of the facts with confidence. Matthew tells of a 'violent earthquake' and of an angel who rolled back the stone from the tomb’s entrance, and sat on it (28:1-2). Matthew also mentions the guards who 'shook and became like dead men' (v 4). He tells of the women who visited the tomb and encountered the angel, and then of their meeting with Jesus 'suddenly' (v 9). There is a sense of fear mingled with joy, and a real sense that, far from being an ending, this is a beginning (v 10).
It truly was the beginning. During Jesus’ ministry – and even for a while after his resurrection – the disciples believed that Jesus’ purpose was to 'restore the Kingdom to Israel' (see Acts 1:6). They were soon to realise, however, that Jesus had a far greater purpose in mind – the salvation of all humankind. It was the resurrection that gave impetus to the message of redemption, which was to be taken by the disciples to the farthest corners of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20).
We live by faith, not by sight, but the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are crucial. They provide the evidence not only that Jesus was and is alive, but that his first disciples were convinced. If the disciples had only seen a man who had somehow survived crucifixion, escaped from the tomb and staggered into Jerusalem on his wounded feet; or if they had met with a mere resuscitated corpse; or if they had secretly hidden the body and pretended there had been a resurrection, they could not have witnessed so powerfully to a man who had conquered death as Lord of Life. They could not have spoken with such conviction, nor would they have spent their lives propagating this message, nor would they have willingly died to stand by what they said.
Peter, one of the first to see the empty tomb, always put the resurrection of Jesus at the heart of his preaching. Initially, the disicples’ witness was only to the Jews, but eventually it extended to the Samaritans and to the Gentiles – to 'every nation' (Acts 10:34-35). In his speech to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, Peter focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus. He emphasised that he and others had been witnesses of the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead, and 'ate and drank' with them (10:41). He also taught that through Jesus – 'the judge of the living and the dead' - those who believe on him receive 'forgiveness of sins' (10:42-43).
In a similar way, Paul – who had not witnessed the resurrection, but who encountered the risen Christ on the Damascus road (see Acts 9:1-6) – spoke of Jesus as the exemplar of all Christians. Those who have put their faith in him have died to their old selves (Colossians 3: 3) and have been 'raised with' him (3:1). They are now, spiritually speaking, in heaven ('hidden' – v 3) with Christ, and when he is finally revealed, they too will 'appear with him in glory' (v 4).
This is the eternal message of Easter; that Christ is alive and that through his conquest of death, we too shall reign with him.