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April 12, 2001

Resurrection Day 2001: I Am With You Always

It is an old and sardonic curse, “May you live in interesting times.” But what is sufficient to make times so interesting as to be considered cursed? Some unusual confluence, jarring juxtaposition, or abrupt disjuncture? Perhaps all that is needed is unexpectedness and uncertainty amid great conflicts.

As we survey our place in this nation and our nation’s place in the world this Holy Week, we can discover several “interesting” circumstances – as well as “interesting” sources of controversy. We constitutional conservatives have many outright enemies and legions of mere opponents arrayed against us. But we are one with the Lord, Jesus Christ, in this, although no events have ever been so “interesting” as those surrounding the first Easter, no days have been as surprising and conflict-riven as the last days Jesus walked this earth.

We can point today to Communist China having held two dozen military personnel hostage for a week and a half, with few daring call that act the provocation it most definitely was. We can cite the Netherlands, which this week legally authorized “euthanasia” (or more appropriately, physician murder) for its citizens, short days after redefining marriage to encompass homosexual sin – and that our country seems poised to soon follow. And we can note our central government’s armed seizure two months ago of church buildings and property, for the church’s “error” of making suitable arrangements other than to serve as a tax-collection agent of government.

Jesus had warned his disciples to “beware of the leaven” of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Herodians, who were, in turn, the materialists, pro forma religionists, and local political power brokers of those days. Similar groups, with different faces, are with us still as agents of evil. Jesus acknowledged as much in words He spoke after the Last Supper, “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53) and “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (John 14:30).

The Gospels further make clear that at the first Easter an intricate web of powerful forces stood arrayed in conspiracy against Jesus: “Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him” (Matthew 26: 3-4). Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ own disciples, initiated the betrayal; Jesus remarked, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26: 45). A multitude, whipped up by the religious establishment, seized Jesus, taking him to Caiaphas. False witnesses were coached for their testimony before the Temple hierarchy, who in turn testified against Jesus before the central government’s authority, the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who represented imperial Rome.

Interviewing Jesus to ascertain criminal guilt, Pilate turned from asking “What is truth?” to say, “I find no crime in this man” (Luke 23:4; RSV). Upon learning that Jesus was a Galilean and therefore under Herod’s jurisdiction as king of Palestine, Pilate transferred the case. (That the technique was used in this particular case, of shifting control to a more local governing authority as attempted evasion of responsibility, ought to strike a cautionary note for secular federalists.) However, also finding no fault in Jesus, Herod sent Him back and Pilate then stated, “Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him.”

To pressure Pilate, who had discretionary power to release Jesus, the priests first challenged, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar” (John 19:12), then they again stirred up the crowd to cry for Christ’s crucifixion, in planned manipulation of public opinion to influence rulers.

And after Jesus had died, the priests went back to Pilate for a guard to watch over His tomb.

To sum up, Jesus had been betrayed, seized, deprived of freedom, and tried unjustly by magistrates of three different jurisdictions. He was mocked, bound, blindfolded, beaten, stripped naked, and crucified. With the broken body of Jesus safely encased in the tomb, enclosed by a stone, sealed, and guarded by soldiers, the conspirators thought they had won. And why should they have believed differently? Their plot had succeeded brilliantly.

Even when the body of Jesus had disappeared from the tomb, the Temple hierarchs found little to fear: The soldiers were bribed to lie about what had occurred.

The followers of Jesus posed no threat; they were demoralized and scattered. On the third day after the Crucifixion, walking along the road to Emmaus, a pair of Christ’s disciples explained their despondency and sorrow over the death of Jesus: “We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21). Little did the two know they were speaking their despair to the Risen Lord.

Like the many and dispersed enemies of Jesus, His own disciples had mistakenly believed this world could be made right through human action alone. None had understood that redemption would require recourse to Almighty, Eternal God, and that nothing lasting and good could be formed from the resources of earthly governments alone.

The chief priests had said, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15), setting the starkest terms possible for the eternal conflict between temporal evil and transcendent good. And the “interesting” conflicts today are at root no different. As Pilate did before them, these claimants to government supremacy and moral equivalency dispute truth, attempt to evade responsibility, but cannot then escape acquiescence in taking innocent life, among other acts of intense immorality.

The historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts has been well established. Eyewitness reports of meetings with Jesus after His death are numerous, mutually corroborative – and convincing. No other possibility besides true resurrection can adequately explain the behavior and beliefs of the Christians living at that time. And as Charles Colson notes, “If archaeology proves the Bible’s accuracy in thousands of historical details, why would it be any less accurate in its other claims?”

No matter how many and how daunting the successes our opponents rack up against us, we serve the Risen Lord; we have no king but Christ Jesus. We have only to follow His commandments, rather than turning to submit to claims of the rulers of this world. Then we must wait to be surprised by Our Lord, who both cautioned and comforted us about living in “interesting” times: “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy” (John 16:20) and “These things have I spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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