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The Joyful Victory of Easter Sunday

We have walked with Jesus through Holy Thursday where he celebrates the Last Supper with his disciples, prayed to the Father in Gethsemane and was betrayed by Judas and Peter and arrested. We also meditated on his intensely physical, emotional and spiritual suffering during Good Friday.

There can be no doubt that Jesus is our Saviour and that he loves us with a perfect love.

But the story is far from over…

There is little information on what the role players in Jesus’ story were up to on Saturday after he was crucified because it was the Sabbath and by law Jews were not allowed to travel or work on this day. We only read in Mark 16 that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome purchased burial spices and ointments late Saturday evening to anoint the body of Jesus the next day. In those days anointing the body after burial was a sign of devotion and love, similar to taking flowers to a grave today.

Early Sunday morning the women go to the tomb while contemplating how they will enter the tomb past the Roman guards and the large stone. When they approach the grave there is a large earthquake, an angel rolls the stone aside and sits on it. The guards are petrified and fall “into a dead faint” (Matthew 28:1-7). The angel tells the woman “Don’t be afraid!” He explains that Jesus Christ is not here because he has risen from the dead. He invites the women to look in the tomb where the body is supposed to be lying. The women see that Jesus’ body is not in the tomb and are filled with fear and joy. They turn to leave and suddenly, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. She is the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection (John 20:11). Mary is distraught and sees a man she assumes is the gardener. She asks him if he took the body and to tell her where it is. When Jesus says her name “Mary” she immediately recognizes him and wants to embrace him. He urges her to stop being afraid and to rush and “go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee”.

Women find the empty grave
Used with permission by Jan van’t Hoff

Mary Magdalene quickly hurries the disciples and tells apostles Peter and John that Jesus has risen. They don’t believe her and go to the tomb to see for themselves (1 Corinthians 15:3) where they only see the linen wrappings but nobody. In overwhelming amazement, they run to tell the others what they have seen. On their way back to Jerusalem the Lord appeared to Peter so that he could testify to the others.

Peter and John find the empty tomb
Used with permission by Jan van’t Hoff

In Luke 24:13-34 we meet the travellers on their way back to Emmaus from Jerusalem, where they spent Passover. They were disciples of Jesus and were discussing the events of the last three days with sadness and disbelief. Until his death, they still believed Jesus would be a political king who would free them from Roman oppression. While they are in deep conversation Jesus joins them and asks them what they are discussing. He plays dumb and they remark that he must be the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. They told him that Jesus was crucified and that the women went to the tomb that morning to find it empty. Jesus is astonished at their foolishness and disbelief. He begins to explain the prophecies regarding the Messiah, his suffering, death, and resurrection from Moses throughout Scripture. Some of these can be found in Deuteronomy 18:15-56, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and Psalm 16.

They eventually reach Emmaus, about 11km from Jerusalem, and Jesus pretends to be carrying on with his journey. The travellers invite him to stay and they enjoy a meal together. Jesus breaks the bread, blesses it and shares it with them. Immediately their eyes are opened, and they recognize Him. They exclaim “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road?” (Luke 34:32). They immediately make their way back to Jerusalem to find the eleven disciples and the others who also told them “The Lord has risen indeed!” (Luke 24:34)

Traveling to Emmaus
Used with permission by Jan van’t Hoff

Most disciples gathered in a closed room to discuss the bizarre day and pray. Suddenly they see Jesus and they are filled with joy and wonder. (Mark 16:14, Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-25). Jesus blesses them with the words “Peace be with you”. Jesus opens their minds to the Scriptures and all the prophecies regarding the Messiah. He tells them the Father will send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever.

For some reason, Thomas was not with the disciples during their first meeting with Jesus and they told him that Jesus had risen. He did not believe them and wanted to see evidence in Jesus’ hands and sides. Jesus appears to Thomas and allows him to touch the wounds in his wrists and his side. Thomas believes this is Christ, but Jesus teaches him “Blessed are those who believe without seeing,” (John 20:29).

It is easy for us to judge Thomas for his doubt, but he was honest about his disbelief and questioned the validity of the other disciples’ claims. When he received the answers, he was seeking he accepted the truth with faith. This is a much better response to doubt than simply succumbing to doubt with stubbornness and pride, refusing to accept divine answers to our difficult questions.

A few days later seven of the disciples are fishing (John 21:1 – 14) as this was their occupation before Jesus called them. They were on the lake for hours but caught nothing. They notice a man on the beach who tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They oblige and catch many fish. Suddenly apostle John recognizes Jesus Christ and tells the others “It’s the Lord!”. Peter immediately leaves the boat and goes to Jesus. Together the disciples join Jesus for breakfast on the beach (imagine that privilege!).

Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him three times if Peter loves Him. Interpreted correctly it could be the questions progressed in such a way that Jesus first asked, “Do you love me?” Peter was troubled by this question as he remembered denying Jesus before the crucifixion. When he told Jesus that of course, he loved Him, Jesus told him to feed his lambs. A second time Jesus asked Peter “Do you really love me?” and Peter exclaimed “Yes Lord, you know I love you” (John 21:16). In both of these accounts, Jesus uses the Greek word agape for love, which means a complete, self-sacrificing love. A third time Jesus asked him (translated from Greek) “Are you my friend?” and Peter told Jesus “You know everything. You know that I love you.” (v17). Jesus again commanded Peter to feed his sheep. In this way, Jesus confirmed Peter’s commitment to him and his assignment to be the “rock” on which Jesus would build his church.

Later the disciples were with Jesus on a mountain where he gave them the Great Commission to “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commandments I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) This Great Commission was not only given to the disciples, but Jesus also charged us with this assignment. We have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit to teach our neighbours, whether next door or in other countries. Through Baptism, we are united with Jesus Christ and submit to him. This should spark in us a willingness to live according to his teachings and help us identify with God’s covenant that he will send his Son again. Jesus Christ is with us still through the power of the Holy Spirit. He should be the King of our lives we should worship him and allow him to rule our every desire.

We also read in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to a crowd of 500 and later to his brother James in verse 7.

Jesus told his disciples that he would have to ascend to be with his Father in Heaven before the Holy Spirit could descend on them to strengthen them. They kept on asking when the time would come but Jesus would explain to them that only the Father knows when Jesus will be taken up into heaven and when he will return.

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Throughout Jesus’ appearance in his resurrected body, how the disciples matured in faith. The first witnesses thought that it was impossible that He could have risen from the dead. Peter had to go and check, collecting facts before he could believe it. Thomas doubted until he could place his hands in the wounds on the hands and side of Jesus. Where do we find ourselves in this spectrum of faith? Do we encounter Jesus personally every day and every aspect of our lives or are we searching for evidence of his nearness? Do we commit to the Lord, understanding the reality of his presence or do we need signs and wonders to point us to Him?

Forty days after Jesus rose from the grave, the disciples gathered with Jesus in Bethany. Jesus lifts his hands to heaven, blesses them, is taken up into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. (Luke 24:30-52, Mark 16:19-20, Acts 1:3-9) The disciples stood amazed looking up, worshipped Jesus and were filled with joy. Two angels appear to them and tell them that Jesus has gone but will return to fetch them to be with the Father. The disciples returned to Jerusalem where they continued to praise God in the Temple.

It shows us that he fulfilled this impossible promise to his disciples and is evidence that he will accomplish all he has promised for the future. It confirms that Jesus is the Ruler of the Eternal Kingdom and the Son of God, not just a human.

But most importantly we must realize that a man walked out of his grave! And as he did, he defeated the last great enemy: death. The resurrection of Jesus was evidence of the resurrection of all Christians. If we belong to him, we will receive a new body like his, perfectly suited for a new heaven and a new earth will be beyond anything we have seen or can imagine. All because “the Lord has really risen!”

It is the most important aspect of our faith as it demonstrates that He overcame sin, and therefore our deepest enemy – death. We need not fear anything, not even death as Paul writes “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) Because Jesus overcame death, we can be certain of our resurrection because death is not final.

We look forward to that day.

“We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed…The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

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