I am on spring break with my family this week. As we approach Good Friday and Easter, I wanted to share with you the concluding chapter to my book, The Call to Conversion. It’s a reflection on the cross and resurrection, “The Victory.” It will be posted in three parts: Below is the first of the three.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him” (Matthew 28:57).
Jesus is alive. That was the rumor that spread through Jerusalem that first Easter morning. Women came to the tomb early in the morning, the first witnesses to the resurrection. Their testimony as women was not even admissible in court under Jewish law; the word of a woman had no public credibility in that patriarchal culture. But God chose to reveal the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection first to women. They were told to report the astonishing news of the empty tomb to the men. At first, the men did not believe it.
Jesus’ first appearance was also to a woman, Mary Magdalene. She was in the garden near the tomb, stricken with grief. The one who had accepted and forgiven her, the one whom she loved so deeply, was gone. She saw a figure she thought was the gardener and said to him, “They have taken my Lord. Do you know where they have laid him?” Then a familiar voice called her name, “Mary.” She looked up and recognized him. “Master!” she cried. Her Lord had come back, and the heart of the woman who had been cleansed by his love leapt for joy. Mary went straight to the disciples with a simple testimony, “I have seen the Lord.” Their excitement must have been enormous.
The disciples were in hiding behind locked doors from fear of the authorities, says the Bible. They had seen what had happened to their leader and were afraid they would be next. So they huddled in secret.
The ones at the tomb who appeared as “young men in shining garments” told the women to go tell the disciples and Peter. Peter had always been the leader among the disciples, but he had betrayed his Lord three times with oaths and curses. Peter denied his Master from fear. The strong fisherman wept bitterly and became utterly dejected after the death of the Lord. Jesus especially wanted Peter to know of his resurrection. He wanted to make sure Peter was told, not as a rebuke, but so Peter would know that he was alive and that he still loved him. When the women told them the news, Peter and John ran to the tomb. John, younger and faster than Peter, arrived first and waited at the entrance, peering into the darkness. Peter, always the impulsive disciple, didn’t stop at the entrance; he went right inside. He had to see. He had to know. They saw the empty tomb, and they believed.
Then there were the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Jesus until he broke the bread. They also rushed to tell the disciples. Imagine the situation. The air was electric with rumors and reports of witnesses who said they had seen him. Most of the disciples had not yet seen him and were full of wonder. Could it be? It was too good to be true. A world that had ended for them three days earlier now seemed to be opening again.
Then Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said, as he looked into their eyes. Think what they must have felt at that moment. He showed them his hands and his feet. “It is I, myself touch me and see.” They could hardly believe what they were seeing. He even took a fish and ate it, just to show them he was real. He recalled to them the Scriptures and his own foretelling of his death and resurrection. It was really he, and he was really alive.
Thomas wasn’t there. When the others told him, he didn’t believe it. Perhaps wounded with pain and disillusionment, perhaps filled with bitterness and cynicism, Thomas would not let his hopes be rekindled. He said, “Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, unless I put my fingers in the place the marks were, and my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Later, Jesus came to his disciples again. This time, Thomas was present. “Thomas,” he said, “put your finger here and see my hands. Put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas must have witnessed the marks of Jesus’ suffering with tears in his eyes. “My Lord and my God,” he humbly exclaimed. For Thomas, and for them all, unbelief was turned to belief when they saw their Lord and the marks of his suffering. They were converted by the resurrection.
The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. He had touched their lives as no one else ever had. He was the one who loved them, and the one whom they had grown to love. Jesus was alive again and among his disciples as before, but now in a new way. The first words spoken to Jesus’ followers at his empty tomb were, “Do not be afraid. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” And the Scriptures say, “When they saw the Lord they were filled with great joy.”
Jesus of Nazareth was delivered up by the chief priests and killed by the Romans under Pontius Pilate. He was dead and, three days later, was alive again. A man who died had been raised from the dead. History has been able to offer no other believable answer to the fact of his empty tomb.
The guards who had been posted at the tomb ran to tell the chief priests what had occurred. Their very lives were at stake for failing to prevent the tomb from being opened. To break the Roman seal that had been placed at the entrance to the tomb was against the emperor’s law and punishable by death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was, then, an act of civil disobedience. The chief priests agreed to protect the guards if they would go along with a story they made up, saying that the disciples had stolen the body.
But the story failed. Something had happened and the disciples had lost their fear. A dejected and defeated band was filled with faith and confidence. They had seen the Lord, and they had been converted.
When the disciples saw Jesus, they came out of hiding. Until then, they had been cowering behind closed doors, controlled by fear. They had feared the Jewish authorities and the Romans who stood behind them. They had feared the power of the soldiers, the courts, the temples. And they had been afraid of their own faithlessness and inadequacy.
Until they saw Jesus, the disciples viewed the world the way others did. The central reality of their lives had been the power of the system and their own powerlessness. But when they saw him, they unlocked the doors, came out, and began turning the world upside down. The disciples were converted; they knew another reality then, one that was truer, greater, stronger, and a more compelling authority than the realities that had paralyzed them with fear. Jesus had risen, and Jesus was Lord.