The Victory

[A note from Jim]: 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 is posted in three parts: Below is the first

of the three. I wish all of you a happy and holy Easter.

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.

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