Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the Easter Afterglow

Now that Easter is over you may be feeling a bit letdown, especially if the weather is dreary and cold where you are, like it is here. The cantatas and parties are over; the Easter lilies are turning brown. It’s back to work and the same old same old. All that’s left is a little picked over candy. You may be asking, “Is that all there is to Easter?”

I say a resounding NO. If you’re new to the faith, or even if you’ve been in church all your life, there are some things you should know. The most important of which is, Jesus’ death on the cross, even His resurrection aren’t the end of the story. However, Easter sermons alone won’t fill us in on everything outlined in scripture; we have to do a little digging.

So this week I want to explore three often overlooked details of the Easter story: what Jesus did in the tomb; what He did after the resurrection; and what He’s doing now.

What Happened in the Tomb?
A story began circulating to refute the testimonies of first century believers. They claimed Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but merely fainted. After a sleepless night in the garden, and bouncing from court to court until morning, Jesus then survived a beating from Roman soldiers, and a brutal scourging. He then carried a heavy cross beam to the crucifixion site. His hands and feet were nailed to a beam and He hanged for six more hours without food or drink. He was then speared in the side and the guard in charge pronounced Him dead.

The “swoon theory” says that after a three day rest in a cold, dark tomb, with no food, water, or medical care, Jesus miraculously revived. Then, weighed down by 40-100 pounds of embalming spices and wrapped tightly in linen from head to toe, He emerged from His cocoon and pushed aside the stone that took several soldiers to put into place. I don’t believe that’s the way it went.

Quoting the Wizard of Oz, Jesus was not only “merely dead” He was “really most sincerely dead.” He came to earth in human form to pay the sacrifice for our sins and give us hope for eternal life. Jesus descended into the pit of death for us and came back to life again. He showed Himself to His disciples before He ascended again to heaven. But how long did He stick around?

What Did Jesus Do After His Resurrection?
Every Easter drama or movie I’ve seen ends with the resurrected Jesus and His disciples. A rousing chorus of “He’s alive!” is playing in the background, complete with trumpets. Then Jesus rises to heaven in a puff of clouds and beams of bright light. All of that did happen (well, maybe not the trumpets), but not until 40 days later.

Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and immediately take off for heaven. He stayed to finish the work of His Father. Jesus spent time with His followers to complete their education. By the day of Pentecost, they were both equipped with full knowledge and empowered by the Holy Spirit to confidently proclaim the Good News.

The first person who saw Jesus was Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. Later Jesus walked with another two disciples on the road to Emmaus seven miles away. They had heard reports of His missing body and were upset. He explained why it had to happen that way, “‘Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27). They didn’t even realize who they were talking to until He broke bread with them.

Another day, He entered a locked room with a greeting of peace to His terrified disciples.

“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” He encouraged them to touch Him and examine His wounds. “And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’

“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:36-45).

I’m sure His followers were much like us - one minute believing, the next moment doubting. By appearing on several occasions to various people and giving positive physical and scriptural proof, Jesus overcame their suspicions that His resurrection was just their own wishful thinking.

The story continues beyond the gospel accounts. The book of Acts begins: “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:2-3, emphasis mine).

And Jesus proved himself to more than just the eleven disciples. Apostle Paul, who refused to believe until his conversion experience on the Road to Damascus, gives the full account: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…he was buried…he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…he appeared to [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, emphasis mine).

Jesus took time to show His followers how His life, death, and resurrection fulfilled God’s plan for mankind as foretold in Scripture. We can be sure that what these eye witnesses wrote down for us is trustworthy.

What is Jesus Doing Now?
Many New Testament scriptures tell us what Jesus is up to until the second coming. He sits at the right hand of the throne of God, having completed His earthly mission. He is preparing a home for us in heaven. He is also at work in our daily lives. In the Old Testament, David foretold what Jesus would be doing after the resurrection in Psalm 68:18-20:

When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious— that you, LORD God, might dwell there. Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.

Even though the work of salvation is done, Jesus continues to carry our burdens. He continues to teach and comfort us, and pray for us “because Jesus lives forever… he always lives to intercede for [us]” (Hebrews 7:24-25). What could be more natural than for Jesus to sit and discuss our needs with His Father: “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

So, if you’re experiencing a bit of a post Easter letdown, I encourage you to look up. Our Messiah has conquered sin and death and now reigns in heaven, but He is also with us through the Spirit (John 14-15). Best of all, He will come again to take His believing children home!

Beth Vice, 2011

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