Easter can be a hard time for some people. It’s hard to feel God’s loving presence when Jesus is being torn apart by pain, grief and disaster.
Come to think of it, it was incredibly hard for Jesus and his followers to feel God’s loving presence that first Easter. So why do we call the day of Jesus’ death “Good Friday”? Maybe it’s about God’s love coming into the toughest parts of our world and transforming it with his life and love.
Is it the cross itself that we’re remembering, or the suffering that Jesus went through on our behalf?
We know that Jesus had committed no crime and was blemish free. He’d been tempted by the devil but had resisted - and even turned the tables on him. Yet he endured anguish and suffering – all on our behalf.
But did Jesus really have to die in such a horrible way?
The disciples, despite being told by Jesus what was going to happen, were devastated when he was killed. Their hopes and dreams had been shattered and they wondered how they could continue without their leader. They were in hiding – fearing that the religious leaders would persecute them, too. Was the Christian movement about to splutter out and end on that Easter Friday, so long ago? They couldn’t believe that the son of God could be defeated so easily by the Romans and the Jewish Chief Priests.
In John 19:30 we hear the last recorded words of Jesus before he gave up his life on the cross: “It is finished.” But Jesus wasn’t admitting that he’d been beaten by the religious leaders. Instead, his words could be better translated as: “It is completed.” In other words, what he came to do on earth had been achieved. Even the seeming ignominy of dying on a Roman torture device. Because he defeated death, it no longer had power over us.
Let’s take a closer look at that death. Did the religious leaders really get the better of Jesus, or was that part of God’s overall plan? In John Ch. 10 we see Jesus asserting that no one will take his life away from him. Instead, he will gladly lay down his life for others. So, John reports Jesus saying that no one will kill him, but instead, he will LET himself be killed, to make a point. And that point becomes all too clear once Easter Sunday’s story unfolds.
Think about what it would have been like in Jerusalem on that first Easter Sunday morning.
One of the disciples runs in breathlessly to meet the others, who were hiding away, fearful for their lives, following the death of their master, a few days earlier. “Hey. Have you heard the good news? He’s alive! The master’s alive! The tomb’s empty and he’s risen from the dead. Let’s go and tell the others.”
I guess that’s how the disciples would have reacted on that Easter Morning after they had gone to visit his tomb, only to find that the stone, which had been blocking the entrance, was rolled away and the tomb was now empty.
Instead of finding the dead body of their Lord, they found two angels outside the tomb, who asked the women why they were looking for the living among the dead? The disciples, however, were still a bit unsure and some, like Thomas, even refused to believe the words unless he saw Jesus himself - touched his body - and put his fingers in the nail holes.
Only a few days earlier, on that first Good Friday, the world of the believers had come to a shattering standstill. Their Lord and Master had been killed – crucified by the Romans - at the insistence of the Jewish High Priests, who were jealous and afraid of the popularity that Jesus had with the common people.
The Son of Man may have allowed himself to be killed, but he astounded everyone, including his closest friends and followers, by rising from the grave on the third day, just as had been prophesied in the old scriptures and had, indeed, been espoused by Jesus when teaching his disciples. But he wasn’t an apparition, a ghost, as many must have thought. He even ate and drank with his disciples and let them touch his body, to see that he was really there.
And he didn’t just disappear on that day, never to be seen again. He was observed on many occasions, by many followers, over the next 40 days - before he ascended into heaven to be with his Father.
Oh yes, there were sceptics and scoffers then and there still are - even today - who say that it was all a big confidence trick. That he never really died. But think about it for a minute - and this is the thing that really convinces me of the truth of what was written in the gospels about the death and resurrection of Jesus - remember how his followers had hidden themselves after the crucifixion and were afraid for their lives. They were terrified that the religious authorities would come after them – to stamp out any remnants of the followers of Jesus, who had called himself the Messiah, the Christ, God’s son.
But following his resurrection, after they had actually seen him, seen the nail holes in his hands and feet, and the gash in his side, then and only then, did they become brave. Brave enough to publicly proclaim him, and his message of love, to anyone who’d listen.
And not only in Jerusalem, or even Galilee, but throughout the known world. Apostles like Peter, Paul, Andrew and John travelled widely and preached the gospel – about how God loved everyone, not just the Jews, and that he wanted to be in a relationship with them.
The apostles were so sure of what they were doing, that they were prepared to die, rather than deny Jesus. And in most cases, they WERE killed, sometimes very violently. And that’s still happening today, as we hear, all too often, that Christians in persecuted countries prefer to be killed, rather than to renounce their faith.
And the gospel didn’t finish with the martyred apostles or those who’ve given their lives over the years. It’s grown and spread around the world to a point where billions of people have heard it and believed. These are ordinary people, like you and me.
So, what should we do with this knowledge? Should we just keep it to ourselves and feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
Or should we, too, go out into all the world and let others also share in the Gospel - the good news about Jesus?
Would you like to take part in the proclaiming of God’s Kingdom here on earth? I won’t deceive you - it’s not an easy task, but we’re much luckier here in Australia, as we can proclaim the gospel without fear of persecution. That’s not always the case outside of our great country.
Surely, each and every one of us can do something to make this story known to others outside the Christian faith.
Search inside yourself, talk to God in prayer, and see what you can do – today, tomorrow, and for every day of the rest of your life.