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Easter Morning—a Restoration of Hope

Photo credit: unsplash.com_RBV
Photo credit: unsplash.com_RBV

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the current acrimonious political scene, it's good to focus on a real hope. Hope that is living and eternal. Hope restored.

This is what the Christian faith has that no other religion can offer or know. It isn't a human hope, yet it's a hope for all humans.

Here's a story of hope restored, when all seemed lost.

Early remembrances

As a young pastor, Easter sunrise services were memorable occasions, especially when our children were young. We have four children within two and three years of one another, so many preparations were made the day and night before Easter. My wife laid out what everyone would wear, and food was prepared for a meal following the service.

Many Easter mornings were cold, even freezing, as we departed into the darkness of the early morning. We packed the children into our small car with blankets, along with my guitar and other things prepared ahead.

Although the early disciples didn’t drive their car to the tomb, I tried to imagine what it was like that first Resurrection Day as we drove to the service. I was excited to celebrate and remember the day that changed history.

Many of our sunrise services were held on a hillside in the southern California desert, somewhat similar in terrain and weather to Israel. Arriving as the first rays illuminated the sky, my heart anticipated the moment the sun broke the horizon.

Waiting for the sunrise seems to take a long time, but when it appears it bursts above the earth as a new day begins.

Hope Lost and Restored

The first disciples didn’t know what to expect that early morning. It was a long night of despair, perhaps sleepless, for it seemed all hope was crushed. The One they believed to be Messiah was crucified and buried on the day Israel celebrated their annual Passover feast.

He who would deliver them from oppression and obscurity had died, and their confidence died with Him. The One to  whom they devoted their lives—believing in Him, leaving all, and following Him—was gone. The night might have dragged on, but when the sun rose things happened fast and unexpectedly.

The women were the first to know about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). In accounts from another Gospel, we are told they met Jesus in person after His resurrection (John 20:11-18).

Women had very little status or standing in Jewish culture in those days. Concerning spiritual or religious matters, women were considered unimportant. Yet, these women were the first to know and believe the truth about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This alone is extraordinary.

Foretold, but unexpected

Everything about Jesus defied the expectations of others and went against conventional wisdom. He began preaching the Kingdom of God in the region of Galilee, far from Jerusalem where the Temple and religious leaders were.

He chose men as His closest followers who were not inclined nor equipped to study the Law and its many interpretations. Some of these men were uneducated fishermen, some religious and political zealots, and one was a hated tax collector. And one betrayed Him.

Instead of resisting an unlawful and unjust sentence of death by crucifixion, shameful and deemed a curse by the Law, He willingly submitted to it. On the day of His miraculous resurrection from the dead, He didn’t appear first to those closest to Him, nor to the important Jewish leaders, but to a few women, even one with a shameful past.

The resurrection of Christ caught everyone involved by surprise, even those who stirred up the crowd and called for His execution. Yet, Jesus spoke of His future resurrection from the dead often and in many instances.

Three written accounts are recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 16:21). Most likely He spoke of this at other times, since the women knew of this when reminded by the angels (Luke 24:6-8).

Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life (John 6:35-40). He used a metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which caused many disciples to quit following. As He taught this, Jesus made four references to the resurrection related to the eating and drinking of his flesh and blood.

And yet—both His death and resurrection caught everyone by surprise.

What about you?

What surprises you about the Lord and His resurrection from the dead? Is His resurrection a living hope in your heart? Have you experienced His resurrection power in your life?

May you have a blessed Resurrection Day! Everyday!

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, except for the questions at the end, which I've added for this post.

Killing of the Innocents

Last week I saw a clip from a movie about the life of Jesus, one of the many shown each Christmas and Easter season. It is a disturbing part of the life of Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18) where King Herod orders the murder of all boys two years and younger. It is a prophetic echo from the prophet Jeremiah when he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem hundreds of years prior to Herod (Jer 31:15). Herod orders the killing of these innocent children out of his own self-absorbed anger and jealousy. It was pure evil.

Reflecting on the recent evil killing of innocent children in Newtown, CT, I'm reminded how often such killing takes place unnoticed by the general population of the world. But it doesn't go unnoticed. Not by those parents, children, and communities who witness these atrocious and evil acts. Neither does it go unnoticed by God.

The Fix
I addressed this a bit in another post (Broken), but I have some further thoughts on the aftermath of the killings. A lot of debate developed over how to fix whatever problem caused it all. How to prevent such tragedies. I heard three general themes or issues through all the rhetoric—gun control, violence in the media, and mental and moral health management.

Gun control will be debated over and over, and some good points can be made. Two thoughts come to mind. Gun ownership is a right according to the Bill of Rights, and once a right is eroded in some way (like the current assault on religious freedom, ie: Christianity), it is a slippery slope for more erosion. Okay, I get that. 

But the 2nd thought is this—guns are instruments of destruction, pure and simple. That's their purpose, whether it's a target, an animal, or a human being. Yes, they can be a deterrent and means of protection (self-defense). Yes, others with evil intent must be restrained, whether individuals or people groups (nations). But, the ultimate question is how much is enough, and will it really be enough?

We do live in a violent culture. I see this obsessive fascination in the many forms of media that inundate our culture—movies, TV series, digital games, cartoons, etcetera and so on. It isn't normal and it isn't healthy, just ask the many men and women of the military returning from active war environments, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

This also can become another so-called freedom issue. But is it really? Do we really need all this violent input involving zombies, vampires, and people who take the law into their own hands. We (our culture) glorify violence, plain and simple. And if we think it doesn't have a lasting and impactful influence on our psyche, then we are in serious denial at best, or simple self-inflicted delusion.

Deeper down
The third general theme of discussion formed around people with mental health issues and the general moral compass of our culture. This gets much closer to the core issue. But alas, morality cannot be legislated. Well, it can be put into law, but it won't just happen because of a law, no matter how well enforced.

How about the prevention of violence by the mentally ill? First of all, who determines which people are at risk for violence? How does one go about doing this? It's a rather impossible task to accomplish. Too many variables and factors are involved, and the bigger issue would be those in contact with whoever could be considered potentially dangerous. Dr M Scott Peck looked into this issue in his book, "People of the Lie."

Determining who is bent towards violent, evil action is not easily discerned. Ultimately, it's a people problem. All of us have a certain capacity for doing terrible things. It's called selfish human nature. When self-indulgence and self-exaltation (and other self absorbed characteristics) go unchecked anyone can be self-destructive, and this can spin off into violence towards others.

A cursory view of un-rewritten history (think– non-politically-corrected) brings the reality of human evil into sharp focus. It is easy to blame tyrants such as Hitler, but what about the many people who played a part in his spectacle of evil? The problem of evil is an internal one. Whether we choose it or not, it coexists in our world with good—moral, ethical and spiritual goodness. 

External restrictions and controls will never fix this problem. It might slow it down a bit, for a while, but it won't solve the problem. It requires a change in human nature. An internal change. One impossible for humans to bring about on their own.

Can we fully understand the power and nature of evil? Perhaps not. Even so, it's real. When innocents are killed it is incomprehensible, regardless if it takes place at an elementary school, an island retreat (Norway), or the region surrounding Bethlehem.

The truly innocent One
The story of King Herod's senseless, brutal massacre stems from jealous insecurity, after hearing of a newborn king of the Jews (Jesus). But this innocent child escaped his terror. Later, willingly, Jesus submitted Himself to the murderous plot of Jewish leaders and the complicity of a Roman ruler. Even at 33 years old, Jesus was still innocent—sinless.

His innocence (sinlessness) was sacrificed for man's lack of innocence (sinful nature). This is the only solution for evil—an internal change, a change of inner nature. Only by trusting in Him and His work of redemption upon the cross can we hope to escape the power of evil. Will it remove the presence of evil in the world? Not until people's hearts are changed and they receive a new nature.

I look forward to the day when God will end evil's reign for good (Rev 21:1-4). Until then, I must continue resisting evil in my own life, and spread the message of the only solution I know. I choose to look beyond the killing of innocents to the only One I know to be truly innocent. He is the judge, not me. He is the One who will resolve all things in His time (Eccl 3:1-8, 11).

How will you process senseless violence? What will you, and can you, do about it? It is your choice, each of us, and it is a daily choice to be made.