“On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.”
It is important that we dwell on the suffering and despair of Holy Week, as we journey towards the cross. But it is also important that we journey past Holy Week and into Easter, because the Christ we worship has been raised from the dead.
Two days ago I used the term “Godforsakenness” to describe Jesus’ experience as he approached death. This term emerges from Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, also Matthew 27:46).
While it seems true that Jesus experienced God forsaking him, it is also true that God never forsook him. There is sometimes a difference between how we experience God and how God actually is. Sometimes we feel that God is absent, but in fact God is present. Remember the story of the footprints? We are often unaware that God is carrying us, feeling that God has turned away, but in fact God was there all along. It is similar with Jesus. There was a terrible break in fellowship resulting from Jesus’ death, but God the Father and God the Spirit never abandoned Jesus, never forsook him.
Instead, God the Father and God the Spirit stood alongside Jesus throughout his time of suffering. They were in solidarity with him. They took his part. We have previously reflected on God’s preference for the poor (Day 22). For this one time, Jesus was the poor – remember that ‘poor’ is understood in broad terms, not only economically. Indeed, he was the poorest of the poor. God does not abandon those who are poor. God does not abandon those in need, those who are hungry, those who are downtrodden. It is at these times that God comes closest!
In his crucifixion, as he takes on the sins of the whole world, Jesus embodies poverty. Or rather, he embodies all those who are poor. He becomes the representative of those who are poor. He stands in the place of the poverty stricken. Jesus had sufficient power and authority to liberate himself from the cross – he could have done it in a blink of an eye, and how amazing that would have been! How it would have shown up those who scoffed at him. But rather than a flashy display of power, Jesus opted for the lot of those who suffer, because it was for these that he came. It was the poor he came to liberate. As Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31).
God remained present with Jesus in his death, steadfast at his side, championing him. God never forsook Jesus.
And on the third day, God raised him from the dead. Peter said, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15). This was a tremendous exercise of God’s power, giving us confidence in God. As Paul says, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). It is also a vindication of Christ – God showing that Jesus was indeed the anointed one of God. Peter, again, says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
The resurrection is God’s great “No!” to sin and death and the devil. God did not allow the Son of God to see decay. God did not allow human sin and hatred to overwhelm the Son of God. God did not allow Satan to triumph over the Prince of Peace. God says “No!” to all of that. God says “No!” to everything that undermines God’s vision for the cosmos, God’s purpose for life. God stands up, and puts his foot down, and says “No!”
Many Christians do not give much thought to Satan and the powers of darkness. They live in a world where there is a good God (and perhaps also angels and saints) but no devil or demons. But in the Biblical worldview, and in Jesus’ worldview, Satan is alive and well and busy in the world. Satan crowed at the death of Christ – finally, Satan would get mastery over the Son of God and gain the upper hand in the spiritual battle for cosmic domination. But God says “No!” We are reminded of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, who falls into the clutches of the White Witch and is executed. But there was a ‘deeper magic’ that she did not understand and Aslan was raised to life, breaking the stone altar. Christ’s resurrection is God’s “No!” to the Devil.
Christ’s resurrection is also God’s “No!” to Law and Wrath. This notion emerges in Martin Luther’s writings. The Law is the expression of God’s Will. But it is impossible to keep, even eliciting greater sin, and thus becomes something that creates a barrier between us and God. When the Law functions well, it leads us towards obedience and compliance, and not towards a heartfelt alignment with God’s heart. And so, Law does not lead to Love, because Love must be free to be love – Love cannot be motivated by obedience and conformity. So there is a contradiction in Love and Law, and Luther intuited that this contradiction was located within the Godhead – these two Wills of God for Law and Love:
Luther presents us here with an antinomy, a conflict, between the Divine curse, the Wrath, and the Divine blessing, the Love. The wrath is the Wrath of God; yet it is the blessing that represents His inmost nature. The curse must give way; for if the blessing could give way God Himself would have been defeated. … Thus the Love of God breaks through the Wrath; in the vicarious act of redemption the Wrath is overcome by the Love which is ultimately, as Luther says, die Natur Gottes [God’s nature].
“Christ’s victory was therefore also the victory of God’s love over God’s justice.” Christ’s resurrection is God’s “No!” to Law and Wrath, and God’s “Yes” to Love and Blessing.
The resurrection is also a further step in God’s plan to undo the effects of the Fall. On Day 32, for example, we reflected on Jesus’ creation of community while hanging on the cross as a re-creation of the fellowship and harmony that was lost after Adam and Eve sinned. The resurrection undoes another effect of the Fall, namely death. Christ died and was raised again, opening a pathway for us to follow. We, like him, die and will be raised to new life. Indeed, in becoming Christians, we die to self and are raised to new Life in Christ. Paul really understood this well:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11)
Christ’s resurrection is God’s “No!” to death and God’s “Yes!” to Life.
And the resurrection points towards the New Creation. There will come a time when God renews the earth, which Revelation refers to as the New Jerusalem, the Heavenly City. In the same way that God restored Jesus, God will restore the earth. God will make all things new. We’ll return to this next week, but for now let us recognise that the resurrection is God’s “No!” to the decay of creation and “Yes!” to the new creation.
The resurrection is the most important event in the history of God’s great plan for the salvation of the cosmos. Without it, we would surely be lost. The resurrection is God’s great demonstration of forgiveness and God’s “No!” to all the negative results of the Fall (particularly sin, death and the devil) and God’s “Yes!” to all the divine blessings (which we discussed on Day 6). It does not get more central than that!
In short, the resurrection is God’s great demonstration of Divine Love. We often emphasise the power of God demonstrated in the resurrection, but it is more correctly the love of God or the power and efficacy of God’s love that we see in the resurrection. God exerts an extraordinary and extravagant effort of love for the Son and for humanity and for the whole cosmos, turning back all that is evil and making real all that is good. Easter Sunday is indeed a day of love.
Meditation for the Day
Reflect back on everything we have covered this week on the cross and the resurrection. What stands out for you the most in relation to God’s love for you? How will embracing this truth impact on the life you live?
Prayer for the Day
Christ, my Redeemer, thank you for the extravagant demonstration of love that you lavished on us through your incarnation, your life and ministry, and your death and resurrection. Inspire me with your Spirit to say “No!” to sin, death and the Devil, and “Yes!” to love, life and God. Please re-create me.
 Anglican Church of Southern Africa (1985). An Anglican prayer book.Jeppestown, RSA: HarperCollins, p. 108 (from the Nicene Creed).
 Moltmann, p. 227.
 Written by Mary Stevenson, http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php
 Aulén, G. (1931). Christus victor: An historical study of three main types of the idea of the atonement. London: SPCK Classics, pp. 111-116.
 Aulén, pp. 114-115.
 Gaybba, p. 93.