by Dr. Timothy L. Cooley, Sr
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be there at sunrise on Easter day? Easter reflections are faithfully preserved for us in the Scriptures. The Bible tells us how three different groups of people responded to the miracle of Easter — the Resurrection of Christ, that greatest event of all history.
The Unbelievers Were Stunned
The soldiers were terrified. Sometimes I pity those soldiers. They did not know what they were in for. They were tough men, accustomed to all kinds of problems. They were trained to master every situation with their swords and the power of Rome. They were prepared for anything. Almost anything, that is.
But they had never had an assignment quite like this one. They were to guard the tomb of a dead man who had predicted that He would rise again. Sometimes we are a bit superstitious about dead bodies. Really, they are not going to hurt you. I’ve been at funerals, and I’ve ridden in the hearse. Those dead people do not do anything! They just lay there. So of course, this was a silly assignment. Everybody knows that dead people do not get up and walk off. The soldiers were just there to make sure no one stole the body and then claimed that He had risen.
They must have settled down to sleep after a long round of jokes poking fun — sometimes at each other, other times at the stupid Jews who worried over such idiotic things. One after another served his hours and then woke his buddy. It was just another night.
But then an earthquake! The quake started on the outside, but in one big hurry there was a shake on the inside of each soldier. Bright light blinded those brawny men and scared them half-silly. They shook and fell down like dead men. No way could they even ask what the angels were doing, much less stop them! They were powerless.
No one had to tell them something unusual happened! They beat it into town and began telling their story.
The rulers in Jerusalem were dismayed. This could not be spread! They immediately summoned the soldiers and shut them up! They paid them not to tell! And they agreed to defend them before Pilate if he heard of the trouble and attempted to prosecute them. The penalty, you know, for sleeping while on guard duty was death. Check it out in Acts 12:19. At least sixteen soldiers were executed the day after the angel let Peter out of jail.
Apparently, Pilate was indifferent. We never hear that the soldiers had any trouble in spite of the fact that, as Matthew records, the fictitious story about their sleeping on duty was common news.
The unbelievers were stunned. This unexpected resurrection upset their plans. But --
The Angels Rejoiced
The Bible tells us the angels are studying the way God loves and saves mankind. Peter speaks of the plan of salvation that the prophets had foretold and adds, “Which things the angels desire to look into” (I Peter 1:12). God is using the whole project to reveal His wisdom and His saving love “to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10).
Certainly the angels must eagerly anticipate each new development in the program and fervently hope to have a part, whenever possible. Hebrews 1:14 says the angels are “ministering spirits…for them who shall be heirs of salvation.”
Imagine the Joy of the Angel who came and rolled back the big stone. Not all the money in Jerusalem, nor all the power of Rome could stop him! He did not roll it back to let Jesus out. No! He did it so we could see He was already gone!!! Here was the mightiest miracle of all time. This angel must have exulted in the privilege to be the messenger on this blessed occasion.
Hear the Triumph in his remark, “He is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6).
Note the Encouragement of his Instruction, “Go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him” (Matthew 28:7).
While the unbelievers were reeling with the staggering news, the angels were delighting in the glorious opportunity to proclaim the wonderful news to mankind, “HE IS RISEN, as He said!” And when Jesus’ disciples heard it --
The Believers Worshipped
Mary was the first to see the risen Lord. A woman! This is even more unusual when we consider that in ancient Israel women had very few rights. But Jesus tenderly cared for the women who followed Him, and it is significant that He appeared first to a woman. All four Gospels tell us of the early visit of the women, of their determination to minister to the bruised, crucified body, and of their seeing the angels. But John tells us in detail about Jesus’ appearing to Mary Magdalene. Jesus is no respecter of persons. Perhaps her devotion was more fervent; perhaps He saw she was more feeble in faith or maybe that she was mighty in faith.
The angels had told them that Jesus was risen. They already knew that. But Mary lingered weeping, or I should say, sobbing. Tenderly, Jesus approached. At first, she mistook Him for the gardener, but when He called her name, she knew! There was no mistake! That same voice had commanded the devils to release her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). That voice had had assured her that her sins were forgiven. (Was she the woman who washed His feet and wiped them with her hair in Luke 7:36-50?) Have you ever felt the close presence of Jesus as He called your name? As He assured you that your sins were forgiven and you were right with God?
These fantastic stories from the women “seemed as idle tales unto them,” Luke comments. Peter had to go see. So it is that —
Peter and John were running a race on Easter morning. John won. He got to the tomb first, stopped and looked in and believed. He did not need angels and bright lights. He just believed. Somehow the Holy Spirit brought the teachings of Christ to his remembrance and he believed.
Peter received special attention. The Great Shepherd’s care is beautifully evident in his case. When the angels told the women that Jesus was risen, they included a personal message for Peter: “Tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him as He said unto you” (Mk.16:7). It is Mark’s Gospel that preserves this memory. And Mark received his information from Peter himself. I can imagine how Peter loved to tell of the way Jesus never gave up on him, but kept praying and loving until Peter was straightened out.
But there is another special incident I like to recall.
Thomas was not with the others on Easter day. Jesus appeared and their faith (was it even a weak faith?) — their halting faith became sight. One week passed by before Thomas was convinced that Jesus had arisen. It must have been a miserable week. Why had he been absent? He had missed prayer meeting; he probably had a head ache, or a back ache, or a tummy ache, or visitors, or he had to get up too early the next morning, or some kind of excuse. Anyway, it turned out to be the wrong time to miss prayer meeting!!
But did Jesus give up on him? Not on your life! Jesus loved him like He loved Peter, James, John, Mary, and all the others. He knew that Thomas needed some prodding, just like some of us need, and He gave it to him.
The next week at prayer meeting, Jesus walked right through the wall and greeted them, “Peace be unto you.” He never quizzed Thomas about why he had missed the week before; Jesus knew why. He just went to the heart of the matter. He gave Thomas what he needed to convince him that He was alive. “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). Thomas believed and immediately cried out, “My Lord and My God.”
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