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Jesus, their Master and friend, was gone, the victim of a cruel and seemingly purposeless death. All their rising hopes were inexplicably shattered. Each apostle had struggled to understand who Jesus really was and what he meant to accomplish.
Some thought he would release them from Rome’s tyranny, while others thought he would help them to live through it. Peter came closest to the truth, when he called Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Yet even he was unprepared for what was about to happen.
Sometime between Saturday night’s sunset and Sunday’s dawn, Jesus was raised from the dead. The actual moment of the resurrection may have taken only a fraction of a second, but this millisecond forever changed the course of human history and of creation itself. In that moment, the Lord of all life, the supreme King of all creation, destroyed the power of sin and death once and for all. He broke Satan’s hold over all humanity and opened up a glorious new way to God. How can we understand this?
Adam and Eve, representing all of us, had long ago turned their hearts away from their Maker and had birthed generations who did the same. Their sin plunged their descendants into a constant struggle within themselves. Bewildered and ensnared by the sin in and around them, they felt powerless to stop it. Only by the intervention of the Holy Spirit did any find relief. The power of this fallen nature within each man and woman was so great that the psalmist lamented: “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:2-3). Sin had brought eternal death to all men and women. Who could save them from such a condition?
When Jesus died on the cross that Friday afternoon, he did not die alone. He took with him our fallen nature, our old self that had so stubbornly resisted God’s love and plan. There on the cross with him, this nature was put to death forever. Jesus took the punishment we deserved so that we could be made ready to receive the new life of Easter morning. Because the sinless one suffered the fate of sinners, the original curse was broken. God’s children were restored to their Father and enabled to live by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead! Jesus’ death and resurrection opened heaven to all who would believe in him—a hope for life in him after death, and a reality to begin tasting here and now.
Did the apostles fully understand all this when it happened? Undoubtedly not. Some were quick to believe in the resurrection, while others doubted. But they all needed further enlightenment to understand God’s intentions. This is why Jesus spent so much time with his friends after Easter. He wanted to help them understand his Father’s mind. Soon he would direct them to wait for the gift that his Father would send: the Holy Spirit. It was this Spirit who would lead them after Jesus was gone and empower them to live his new life.
How blessed we are to live now, after all these wonderful interventions of God have taken place! We have not only heard of what Jesus accomplished: We have it available to us through the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit longs for us to know Jesus and the Father personally. He longs to usher us more deeply into a life of “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1) and an abundance of grace. Heaven is opened to us, and we can understand divine mysteries through prayer and revelation. Because we have been forgiven, we can forgive. We can love with the very same love God has poured out on us. Most importantly, we can worship and adore our Creator—all because Jesus has conquered death and risen to new life!