Easter

EASTER SUNDAY – Hopeless?

Lk 23:33,46 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals… Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.”

In the three reflections this year on Easter, the thing that has stood out to me can be summarized by “all is not as it seems.” We saw it on Palm Sunday; we’ve seen it on Good Friday. Now the climax of it faces us throughout Saturday and on Sunday morning of this terrible but glorious weekend that stands out like no other in history.

At the end of Friday and over the first part of this weekend, from an onlookers perspective, the future of the embryonic faith of the followers of the Christ is utterly hopeless. Jesus has died. They have seen it. He has been buried in a tomb. It is all over. There is absolutely no hope.

It is made worse if you had watched this vibrant, pure life for the last three years bringing the love of God to thousands. And now it is all over. This glorious phase of human history has been utterly squashed and eradicated by a combination of Jewish religious orthodoxy and Roman cowardice and harsh power. The wonder of what might have been is utterly gone.

The future for the believers is hopeless. It appears it was all one ghastly parody of God’s goodness, a travesty of the power of God which ridiculed us and gave us such false hopes for a new world. And now it is all gone. Utterly hopeless! The end! He is dead and buried, gone!

And that is where, if we had been one of the disciples with short memories, we would have been utterly wrong, because when Jesus said something he never lied, and so when he had told them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life,” (Mt 17:22,23) he meant it!

The thing that was about to confirm his claims to be the Son of God was just waiting to happen. Waiting in faith is a not an uncommon Christian experience. As it happened on that wonderful Sunday morning, so it will happen for you and me: God will turn up, new life will come, there IS hope in the apparently hopeless scenario!

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matt 28:5,6)

Good Friday

GOOD FRIDAY – Helpless?

1 Tim 2:5,6   For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time.

The awfulness of Good Friday, the anguish of the dying Christ, and the guilt we feel from having been a part of the human race that did this to the glorious son of God, perhaps covers up the incredible nature of just what was happening on that day inside and outside Jerusalem.

An unknowing time-travelling reporter, observing these events on this day, with no other knowledge than what they see, might suppose that here was a man caught up by the circumstances of the day and rendered utterly helpless. He is arrested by an armed guard and from then on he is utterly helpless to change his circumstances. He might have pleaded ‘not guilty’ before that unjust court but they were determined that he would die. Indeed Pilate decreed him innocent but that didn’t stop his death. He is beaten and thrashed and then the mutilated body taken out and crucified and there left to die – and die he does!  He appears utterly helpless!

But the truth is somewhat different. At the arrest, as Peter goes to take his sword to defend his master, Jesus steps in and stops him: Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:52,53)

This is the same Son of God who, early in his ministry, when they tried to throw him off a cliff, simply slipped away out of their hands (Lk 4:28-30). This is the same Son of God who knew all men and who knew what they were thinking (e.g. Lk 5:22, 6:8) and knew exactly what was to come. No, the appearance is of absolute helplessness but the reality is that he was in total control. As Isaiah had prophesied, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isa 53:7) Voluntary helplessness in order to take our sin, guilt & shame! Hallelujah!

Palm Sunday

PALM SUNDAY – Heralded

Matt 21:8,9 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

David the psalmist wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psa 23:4) It seems an apt description of this week ahead – the valley of the shadow of death. For Christians this week ahead is a week of mixed emotions. On Good Friday there is the awfulness of the events of that day when we rejected the Saviour of the World. Then of Easter Sunday there is the celebrating that he is alive. But as we walk through this week ahead, there is the awful shadow of death hanging over it, the death we know is coming at the end of it.

It is that, perhaps, that makes the events of ‘Palm Sunday’ so incongruous. We know, because we’ve got it in writing and we’re looking back on it, that his death is coming, but death is the last thing on the mind of the crowd who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. Indeed this travelling preacher seems to be the master over death because it was only a few weeks back that Lazarus was raised from the dead by him and the word has spread around the area like a tsunami rushing out from an earthquake epicentre, so now here he is on his way to Jerusalem with the crowd getting bigger and bigger by the moment.

It almost seems like he inflames them for he sends some of his followers to borrow a donkey and he mounts it to ride up to and through the gates of Jerusalem. The words of the prophet Zechariah, taught in the synagogues throughout the land, are being fulfilled before their very eyes: Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Mt 215 quoting Zech 9:9). Some who have come from the north remember the time when he had fed five thousand with virtually nothing and the word had started to spread that this was their new messiah-king, a worthy king for Israel surely!

Thus they herald him as their king, yet nevertheless for some there was this shadow of death hanging over it all. The disciples had heard their master say a number of times that they would go to Jerusalem and there he would be killed (see Mt 16:21, 17:23). They had heard it and they had grieved. Peter had even rebuked him for saying such things.

How unreal those words must have seemed now, with the crowd screaming and shouting and applauding him; yet those very shouts would have had the exact opposite effect upon the religious authorities within the city, who became more and more anxious and sought opportunities to arrest him.

God’s plan was clearly declared by the prophet Isaiah, that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5)  The Cross is the necessary end of this week because of our sins; that was God’s declared plan, but it needed the work of men. The Lord knew how the crowd would react with just a little prompting, so the raising of Lazarus just a few miles and weeks away, and the riding in on a donkey were just gentle fuel to fire the passions of men of power to move against Jesus. As Peter later said to the Jewish crowd on the day of Pentecost, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23).

Yes, this Sunday is a terrible combination of the knowledge and plan of God, the shallow adoration of a self-seeking crowd and, eventually, the sinful scheming of powerful men. How terrible! How wonderful!