Jesus changed the world. Most people describe the year based on the number of years since His birth – slightly miscalculated, but that was the intent. Most Christians observe Sunday as a day of rest instead of Saturday, which affects the work schedules of non-Christians as well. We could discuss many other things we see in the world today that are a direct result of the impact Jesus has made on this world, but we have to be able to deal with an important question: what makes Jesus so different?
That’s a question one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin alluded to when he talked about others who had sought to lead revolts against the religious system and Rome in Acts 5:34ff. The apostles understood what made things so different that they were willing to suffer and die to proclaim the gospel – it was the truth of the resurrection. When being admonished for preaching about Jesus, Peter’s response focused on the resurrection and the meaning behind it. “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.” (Acts 5:29-31)
Jesus is risen. He is risen from the dead. The tomb is empty because Jesus is risen. That truth, which the disciples slowly began to accept on that first Easter morning wasn’t fully realized until they actually saw the resurrected Jesus. Perhaps we might understand why the Jewish authorities were a bit skeptical. Sure, they couldn’t produce the body of the crucified Jesus, but there must be a rational excuse for that. Let’s face it: resurrection of the dead is not rational. It’s not natural. It’s supernatural and could only be caused by God. The message that compelled the early church to defy the authorities was a message with no explanation that a reasonable person would believe. People don’t rise from the dead. Dead is dead. Yet, the tomb was empty – a fact which the authorities couldn’t dispute. Standing before them were men who months before were cowering and living in hiding lest the Romans get them next, boldly proclaiming a truth which indicted the Jewish authorities. “You killed Jesus. God raised Him from the dead.” These men who thought they understood God and knew how to teach His word and live according to that word were having to deal with a truth that destroyed all their preconceptions about God. Even their ultimate weapon in the battle for religious authority, death, wasn’t strong enough to win the battle.
The message of the resurrection, though, was one of hope. God raised Jesus to bring all Israel, including these very authorities, to repentance so He could forgive their sins. It’s always hard to admit when you’re wrong, isn’t it? The Jewish leaders preferred to deny the truth in front of them rather than to repent and confess their sins to receive forgiveness. Instead their anger rose as they accused the disciples of wanting to make them guilty for His death. But they were guilty of having Jesus crucified, as was each of the apostles, as am I, as are you. Jesus died and rose again to bring all people the chance to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins. That forgiveness leads to a relationship with God that helps us overcome in all situations – after all, if the greatest enemy is death and Jesus defeated death, then no enemy can stand against us. We will all face death, unless Jesus comes again, but we need not fear death because Jesus has overcome. The grave is impotent and we have eternal life with God that begins the moment we repent and receive forgiveness. All because of the resurrection.
Lord, what a glorious day we celebrate today! Death has been defeated. We can overcome by the power of the cross and the resurrection if we trust You. I pray that we would see many others experience Your forgiveness as we continue to share the good news that Jesus is alive!