Easter Sunday is the signature day on the Christian calendar. The first “Resurrection Sunday” gave full meaning to Creation, Passover, Christmas and all the rest of those previous God-acts. On that day, the Messiah emerged.
Jesus the Christ lived and died in a world not very different than the one into which He was born. Rome still controlled the world with a brute force that inspired terror and hopelessness. The people of God were particularly disdained by Romans, a pagan civilization that interestingly feared only its vast collection of impotent gods. Rome looked like it might last forever.
But Jewish people clung to hope in one single person — a messianic leader empowered by the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Elisha and others — who would exact God’s revenge upon all who had dared disrespect God’s chosen race. Day by day, for hundreds and hundreds of years, they prayed and waited. No kingdom would stand against God’s Savior. Watch out, Rome. Look out, Caesar.
Jesus of Nazareth didn’t fit the mold of Messiah in most people’s eyes. He knew His Bible, but He didn’t particularly exude wisdom with Solomon’s flair. Jesus didn’t carry a sword, much less take fencing lessons. He lacked the training and inclination to become a military leader.
And while Jesus talked about the coming kingdom of God, He taught that those who wanted to be a part should pray, obey the Scriptures and treat even their enemies kindly. Those who purported to know about the Messiah thought they knew one thing for sure: Jesus of Nazareth was no Messiah.
Perhaps if God hadn’t wrapped the fully divine in a fully human package, Jesus would have been more easily recognized. Perhaps Jesus could have surrounded Himself with a more astute and sophisticated group of disciples/advisors. Instead, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time during His final week, fully aware of the outcome. He would be cheered, then confronted, by a fickle crowd and fickle leaders.
It was in Bethany, on His way into Jerusalem, that Jesus commended a woman who poured expensive perfume on His head. “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial,” He explained.
This preoccupation with dying had become something of an obsession with Jesus. “He’ll have plenty of time to plan for His own funeral,” some must have thought. “But right now we need to be planning a strategy, setting up a transition team and finding an appropriate palace for the reigning Messiah.”
So much to do and so little time.
Once in Jerusalem, Christ led His disciples in the observance of Passover, a reverent celebration of God’s faithfulness to His people. Unknown to those around Him, Jesus’ celebration of an old ritual was to become the occasion for a fuller and even richer observance.
Today, 2,000 years later, we regularly recall His words: “Take and eat; this is my body.” And as He gave thanks for the wine: “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
As they left, they sang a hymn together and walked toward the Mount of Olives. Their hearts were full. They loved Jesus and knew He loved them. What a wonderful moment it must have been. But it didn’t last long. “You’ll all scatter,” Jesus warned. “And, Peter, you will deny me three times before daybreak.” “I won’t,” Peter responded. “And neither will we,” said the others.
All did. The Gospels say so.
Everything seemed to unravel. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Jesus was arrested. Members of the Sanhedrin verbally and physically abused Him. Later, Pilate gave in to Christ’s enemies and ordered Him crucified. Roman soldiers mocked Jesus and beat Him before leading Him off to the hill of Calvary for crucifixion. There, on a cross, Jesus laid down His life in obedience to God, taking upon Himself the sins of every person — past, present, future — even though He had committed no sins Himself.
The third day after this torturous death is the climax of the story. The crucified Christ — God’s final sacrificial lamb — overcame death and emptied a cold tomb. This death and resurrection became the pivotal point in all of human history. For God had revealed His once-for-all plan to redeem undeserving humanity. The God who would have been justified with a vengeful response instead demonstrated His unfathomable love toward even the worst of us.
Today, He still offers us a way out of a life that is hopeless without Him and into the kingdom He talked about so often. We celebrate Resurrection Sunday best by every day telling this personal story to every person who will listen.
But the unmistakeable mark of a believer in Christ is a life lived selflessly, with a strength born out of the spiritual DNA of Christ Himself, willing to be poured out in service to God and others. That is who Christians — “little Christs” — are.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.