Imagine you are one of Jesus’ devoted followers grieving his execution. A couple of days have passed. You are dejected, bewildered, perhaps scared of the repercussions. You are, of course, totally devastated that your friend, the kindest, gentlest, most faithful friend you’ve ever had has been executed for a crime he didn’t commit. There is at this time no celebration that Jesus had finally achieved victory on the cross. You and the other disciples aren’t partying, overjoyed that Jesus has died to forgive your sins. In your minds, your friend is gone, and since messiahs weren’t expected to die before establishing a restored kingdom of Israel , seeds of doubt begin to sprout. Maybe you begin to wonder if he was who he said he was. You begin to think the cause has been defeated.
In grieving the loss of your friend and rabbi, you are beginning to wrestle with grieving the loss of the meaning he gave to life and to the incredible promise of God’s return to his people he represented. At some point, a dangerous despair could kick in.
That is how Christianity would have stalled before it could even get started, were it not for one shining moment in the history of the world.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus not only died for our sins, but that he rose from the dead three days later to conquer death. And that glorious event is when all heaven broke loose.
For the disciples, the sacrificial death of Jesus must have been emotionally and spiritually moving, but imagine the physical effect, the palpable disturbance under the skin the rumors of his return might provoke. Word is spreading. The gossips are talking. Good news travels fast, and even though you are skeptical, you have seen some amazing things in the last three years. Including the dead coming to life.
Sitting in a quiet room with your compatriots, everyone silent, everyone thinking the same thing, hoping the same thing, but everyone too frightened to say it lest they raise the ire of the grieving.
Then . . . you sense a stirring in the air. The air feels different. Something is happening. Your flesh gets tingly, the hair on the back of your neck sticks up, your soul shakes. And then he’s standing before you. Jesus himself. Not a ghost, not a vision. He is the same Jesus, in a new body to be sure, but it’s him. New flesh, changed flesh, but flesh nonetheless. And seeing him again restores your joy, inflames your dwindling hopes. You would die for a man who cannot be killed.
The death of Jesus is not period marking the end of his life, but a hyphen—it opens up into something more, it marks the beginning of a new way, a new day.
(From the chapter "Jesus the Savior" in my book Your Jesus is Too Safe, coming July from Kregel)