“Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” Acts 2:24
This past week was celebrated as THE PASSION WEEK. It began with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting “… Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9) to His rejection and eventual crucifixion. Every year, attempts are made to re-enact the sufferings and pain that Jesus experienced in movies but none can ever adequately capture it fully, not even The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.
When you look at the events of that week, it seemed as though God’s programme for mankind was in jeopardy; it looked like another hope for mankind had been betrayed. For some who had been followers of Jesus, the feeling of disappointment was palpable. Two of them on their way to Emmaus expressed their disappointment thus: “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel…” (Luke 24:21).
HE COULD HAVE WALKED AWAY
The realisation that Jesus could have walked away at any moment if He wanted to is quite overwhelming. Instead, He chose to submit to the will of God. He said this concerning His life: “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:18). He went all the way for the redemption of mankind.
It was not for lack of power that Jesus suffered. After all, when they came to arrest Him, a mere response of “I am He” caused them to fall to the ground (John 18:5-6). They were momentarily subdued by the glory of the ‘I AM.’ Peter tried to fight off His arrest by cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant but Jesus replanted that ear right before their eyes (Luke 22:50-51).
THEY MADE SURE HE WOULD NOT RISE
The Jews tried hard to make sure that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. They were not just satisfied that Jesus was laid in a tomb hewn out of a rock with a boulder covering the entrance, they went to Pilate with a request: “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:64). The first deception referred to the ovation that attended Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with the shout from the people which implied that they had accepted Him as the Messiah. The Jewish leaders feared that if Jesus rose from the dead then His claim to be the Son of God would be confirmed. So, they didn’t want to take chances. “Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.” (Matthew 27:65-66).
Pilate gave them permission to go and secure the tomb. They put a seal on the tomb implying that anyone who crossed the perimeter would be in confrontation with the Roman authorities; they set up a guard (made up of at least four Roman soldiers) all to make sure that the resurrection does not happen. Anyone who would steal the body of Jesus would therefore have three barriers to surmount: the boulder that covered the entrance of the tomb; the seal across the tomb; and the fierce-looking Roman soldiers that were ready to take on any intruder.
It is surprising that the Jews even believed that these timid, cowering disciples would have the liver to come and steal the body of Jesus. At the trial they had all escaped, only a few women stood by. The men were huddling in the upper room, trying to stay away from the sight of the authorities. It really was not about them, it was Satan making sure that the programme of God for mankind was defeated. Because if there was no resurrection then the death of Jesus would be meaningless, there would not be hope for anyone who believed in Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
SHUT IN THE TOMB
Some of you reading this may also find yourself in a ‘tomb-like situation.’ You’ve been shut-in and the enemy is boasting that you can’t get out. They may have placed several barriers to secure your bondage. It happened to Daniel: “And a stone was brought and laid upon the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that there might be no change of purpose concerning Daniel.” (Daniel 6:17).
The devil delights in perpetuating bondage in people’s lives. He does not want them to come out of his oppression (Isaiah 14:17). He wants to destroy their dream. He tried it with Joseph too. “Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. 19 Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! 20 Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him. ‘We shall see what will become of his dreams!” (Genesis 37:18-20). Joseph was thrown into the pit to make sure that the destiny God had for him never materialised.
THE SEEMING TRIUMP OF EVIL
There are times when it looks like evil is winning; when you pray and pray but God seems to be silent. It was probably in that kind of frustration that the Psalmist lamented: “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). Humanly speaking, whether in the case of Jesus or that of Daniel and Joseph, it looked like the enemy was winning, that the programme of God had been aborted. However, the seeming triumph of evil is always temporary. God sometimes allows the evil one some latitude but He also sets boundaries beyond which he cannot cross. Jesus referred to such a time as “… But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53). A time when evil seems to hold sway.
Imagine what the mood was like in heaven during the Passion Week. Was God nervous? Not at all! He knew what He was going to do anyway. The angels must have been wondering and probably were confused at the turn of events but not God. He had the master-plan and the unfolding blueprint all worked out.
Meanwhile, the divine clock was ticking towards the zero hour. There are “… times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” (Acts 1:7). It is a time which God has set to step into a situation. It is a Kairos Moment, an appointed time for God to act. If you look at the story of Mordecai and Haman you will find a similar situation. For the most part, at the beginning, it looked like Haman was in control, he had the upper hand. Everything was working as he pleased. Meanwhile, the Jews were mourning, Mordecai was being oppressed. But a moment came when it was no longer in the hands of Haman nor even in the hands of King Ahasuerus. God had stepped in and would not stop until the enemy was defeated.
When that moment came for Jesus, it was ‘time-out’ for the devil. The game was over. “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. 5 But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (Matthew 28:1-6)
The description of this angel is frightening. No wonder the guards momentarily passed out. The angel did not come to help Jesus out of the tomb, the power of God had already accomplished that. The women had wondered about who would open the tomb for them, so the angel came to do just that; not for Jesus to get out but for the women to go in and be witnesses of His resurrection.
The message of Easter is that Jesus has risen, He has prevailed, God’s plan for mankind could not be sabotaged. Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope that we also shall arise, His resurrection assures us that we can come out of whatever holds us down. That is the promise of Easter. “Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:24).
- Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord!
Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!
- Vainly they watch His bed,
Jesus, my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead,
Jesus, my Lord!
- Death cannot keep his Prey,
Jesus, my Savior;
He tore the bars away,
Jesus, my Lord!