BY STEVE DUNN
This morning, around the world, millions and millions of people went to a place of worship to affirm and celebrate the most significant event in human history. Just shy of 2000 years ago, a zealous rabbi bent on snuffing out the Christian movement; but whose life had been utterly changed by an encounter on the road to Damascus, wrote these words to a church planted in the midst of community suffering from moral chaos. And into a world where death held mastery over all things.
” For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Corinthians 15.3-8, 17-19
There is no greater fear on this planet than that of death. Cryogenics can only slow it, the best medicine in the world cannot eradicate it, people are driven to all kinds of extremes to deny it, terrorists hold it over the globe as a fearsome threat, and the average person would rather not even talk about it.
Yet death is an often grim and inevitably inescapable reality – touching the lives of the rich and powerful and the least and the last. Death is the ultimate price paid in a fallen world for trying to life where man is his own God, the captain of his fate and master of his soul. Our sin simply multiplies it and fuels it. And in a world where God is already out of sight and of mind to much of the population, it carries the finality of ultimate separation from God.
But God would not let that state remain. His compassion for and love of the people He created was too great. He needed to give us away back from our relentless sinfulness and free of us from death’s clutches. For His desire was for His people to thrive in this life without fear or blame, and dwell with Him in inexpressible joy in the next.
I love the words of this Easter hymn, “Death could not keep its prey, Jesus,my Savior. He tore the bars away. Jesus’ my Lord.” He entered the grave as we must, but emerged from it three days later to be the first fruit of our living hope.
Because we still live in the presence of sin, we still live with death–but it no longer has the last word. For Christians who celebrate Easter believe in another historic event yet to be experienced. It is called The Second Coming of the Lord, when He shall put an end history as we know it and shall place everything once again under God’s loving and just authority.
This is illustrated in a true story by missionary writer, Gregory Fisher:
“What will he say when he shouts?” The question took me by surprise. I had already found that West African Bible College students can ask some of the most penetrating questions about minute details of Scripture.”Reverend, I Thess. 4:16 says that Christ will descend from heaven with a loud command. I would like to know what that command will be.”
I wanted to leave the question unanswered, to tell him that we must not go past what Scripture has revealed, but my mind wandered to an encounter I had earlier in the day with a refugee from the Liberian civil war. The man, a high school principal, told me how he was apprehended by a two-man death squad. After several hours of terror, as the men described how they would torture and kill him, he narrowly escaped. After hiding in the bush for two days, he was able to find his family and escape to a neighboring country. The escape cost him dearly: two of his children lost their lives. The stark cruelty unleashed on an unsuspecting, undeserving population had touched me deeply. I also saw flashbacks of the beggars that I pass each morning on my way to the office. Every day I see how poverty destroys dignity, robs men of the best of what it means to be human, and sometimes substitutes the worst of what it means to be an animal. I am haunted by the vacant eyes of people who have lost all hope.
“Reverend, you have not given me an answer. What will he say?” The question hadn’t gone away.
“Enough’” I said. “He will shout, ’Enough’ when he returns.”
A look of surprise opened the face of the student. “What do you mean, ’Enough’?”
“Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough time. Enough”
This is why I celebrate Easter.