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 second of the three.
Today, Jesus stands among us, with the marks of his suffering plainly visible. He knows us, he knows our fears. We are afraid of economic hardship and diminishing resources; of the enmity between black, white, red, brown, and yellow peoples; of the volatile gulf between rich and poor; of the hurt between men and women; of violence stalking on every side; of the drift toward endless war; and of the ways that restoring broken fellowship might disrupt our lives and our security. We fear for ourselves and for our children. Like the disciples, we are afraid of the power of the systems of the world with their armies, their courts, their prisons, their threats. Like them, too, we fear our own powerlessness, weakness, and sense of inadequacy. We are insecure, frightened of our own emotions, and wary of trusting one another. We feel both the guilt of our sin and the vulnerability of our broken places. Above all, we fear pain, suffering, and finally death.
We, too, are hiding behind locked doors and are afraid to come out. Jesus knows our fears. He wants us to know his resurrection. He says, “Go, tell my disciples that I have risen and that I am going before them. And go tell … ” – he slowly repeats each of our names. Tell him, tell her that we need not be afraid anymore. Like Peter, we have betrayed Christ because of our fears. But Jesus didn’t hold Peter’s fear against him. Nor does he hold our fears against us. We, too, have doubted like Thomas. We have become cynical, skeptical, and faithless. But Jesus stands among us, shows us his hands and his side, and he tells us to reach out and touch him. He tells Thomas and he tells us not to doubt but to believe.
Jesus died for our sins, our doubts, and our fears. He rose from the grave to demonstrate his victory over them and to set us free from their power. He wants us, like Peter, Thomas, Mary, and the others, to know his resurrection. He wanted them to know, and he wants us to know, that his love for his disciples has no bounds, that he died to set us free, and that he rose from the dead to show us his way was true. “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
A conversion was wrought in the disciples. No longer afraid, they fearlessly proclaimed his resurrection in the streets of Jerusalem. What had brought about this miraculous transformation? They had experienced the resurrected Christ, and the experience converted them. They had seen the Lord, and they believed. They turned from fear and turned toward the Lord. Their lives became evidence of the resurrection.
Most people considered them fools for believing. The Jews did, the Romans did, the whole world did. But no one doubted that the disciples believed. The authorities told them to stop preaching, but to no avail. Peter, who had denied his Lord, now rose in the presence of the Jerusalem multitudes to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
What is the good news? When all that sin had done, or could ever do, was laid on Jesus, it did not overcome him. Death could not swallow him. The grave was denied its victory. The witness of history and of his followers is that “he is risen.” He is alive. He has triumphed over all. He is the victor over every sin, hate, fear, violence, and death. Nothing is stronger than his victory – nothing past, nothing present, and nothing future.
The Crucified One has prevailed over every principality, power, and dominion. He has “disarmed” them, made a “public example” of them, “discarded them like a garment,” and “led them captive” in his victory procession (Colossians 2:15). He has unmasked their illusions, exposed their lies, and showed them for what they are. He stands free of their threats, power, and control. He defeated them by letting them do their worst to him, then he vanquished them by the power of God’s love and truth – weapons stronger than all the weapons of the world. Jesus bore the full weight of the world’s sin, and he overcame it all. Today, as then, his people come together to confess, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
The resurrection always exists in relationship to the cross. The cross of Jesus, which appeared to be a complete defeat and utter failure, is revealed as the very means of the kingdom. The cross is, for us, not only the symbol of atonement for our sins but the pattern of our lives. Jesus moved toward it and provoked it when he could have chosen otherwise. “Bearing our cross” is more than simply enduring difficult personal circumstances. For Jesus, the cross was the expected result of a moral clash with the powers of his society. His cross, therefore, not only frees us from personal sin; it also liberates us from the power of this world. Living freely in relationship to those powers, establishing a moral independence from them, will ultimately lead to a cross. The cross is the sign of that freedom. The resurrection seals the truth of the cross; it declares that, once and for all, oppression and death are swallowed up in Christ’s victory.
If this is God’s way of salvation and liberation, do we have the right to choose any other way for relating to the world? The greatest offense in this world is the love that was willing to go to a cross in order to save the world. That was the political stance of God’s suffering servant, a stance that was vindicated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.