Easter: Jesus's Most Important Message to Us

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Easter: Jesus's Most Important Message to Us

Believers as well as non-believers in Jesus are quick to agree on his exceptional teaching and compassion, as displayed in the Christian gospels. In his history, entitled Antiquities, in chapter 18.3,3, Josephus Flavius, a first century Jewish historian, records that Jesus  was "a wise man...a doer of wonderful works" and that he drew many Jews and Gentiles.

Underscoring Jesus's bond with his followers, Josephus adds that, after Pilate had Jesus crucified, "those that loved him at the first did not forsake him...And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day."

With such humble beginnings, the strong bonds that kept Jesus and his followers continued on after his crucifixion. But how?  Why weren't they crushed after their leader had been taken away from them and humiliated publicly? Josephus doesn't record how the early followers of Jesus continued to be identified with him after his crucifixion--an act which surely would have warned the faint of heart not to continue following in their master's footsteps.  At the least, one would imagine they would keep their commitment to him quiet.

But, in order for a non-believing Jewish historian to have heard about the continuance of this new "tribe" named for Jesus, the early Christians must not have been ashamed of their association with Jesus, despite the possible consequences from Rome or the High Priest in Jerusalem, Caiphas.

In fact, following the gospel accounts of Jesus, the Book of Acts depict Jesus's disciples, Peter and John, being brought before that same Caiphas for healing someone.  Caiphas and the other religious leaders in the Sanhedrin gathered ask them point blank by what power or in whose name they performed this healing.

Peter took this opportunity to boldly proclaim that they did it in the name of Jesus, whom they had crucified, but whom God had resurrected.

After Peter's eloquent speech, Acts 4:13 states that, "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."

Indeed, it must have been a perplexing moment for Caiphas, for as the writer of Acts tells us, the healed man was right there looking at them, and many knew that the man had been crippled before.  He and the other members of the Sanhedrin conferred and decided to not debate the point further but to simply release Peter and John--but with the strict order to not speak or teach at all in Jesus's name.

Let's not forget: this is the same High Priest mentioned in the gospels who interrogated Jesus and sent him over to Pilate for crucifixion.  And this is the same Peter who denied Jesus three times in order to not risk injury or shame right before his master's execution.  Perhaps in order to finesse the whole Jesus issue from coming up again, Caiphas was willing to give Jesus's disciples a more lenient penalty than he gave their master.

Caiphas was letting Peter and John get by with it this time...just be quiet about Jesus.

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But something happened to Peter between the night before Jesus's crucifixion, when he denied knowing him, and this interview with Caiaphas.  The coward who was afraid of a little girl's taunts while Peter denied Jesus was now ready to boldly defy the top religious leader in his society.  Peter was willing now to risk his own death--but he didn't seem to care.

In Acts 4:19, we are told that both Peter and John replied to Caiphas, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

The writer of Acts says that, after a few more threats, the Sanhedrin let them go.  The boldness of Peter and John to speak the truth about what they had "seen and heard" from Jesus had been more than they had bargained for that day.   No doubt, the Sanhedrin were more accustomed to people agreeing obediently to their edicts.

But what was it that made Peter and John, ordinary men if ever there were any, willing to risk life and limb like that?   They had already witnessed Jesus's teachings and miracles before his crucifixion. Yet the gospels consistently depict Peter in those times as a man of inconsistent faith, not to mention fearful towards the end of Jesus's life.

Whatever had transformed Peter's lack of confidence and faith would seem to have occurred after his exchange with the young girl who demanded to know if he was not one of Jesus's disciples.

Something significant must have happened to make Peter stand up with great faith to the very man who had condemned his friend and lord to death.  And it must have occurred after his initial doubts at the report from Mary Magdelene and the other women who went to put ointment on Jesus's battered body at his tomb. They return to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen and that they had seen him.  In Luke 24:11, we are told that the disciples, Peter included, didn't believe the women.

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But in the next verse, Luke 24:12, we see a curious Peter, running to the tomb to see just what had happened.

The rest is yours to read over this Easter weekend.  Some say that belief is purely a matter of faith, and certainly, belief in things spiritual is not simply a matter of mathematical analysis alone.  If that were the case, only a math whiz could be a believer.  But God does put clues in our way, giving us a breadcrumb trail that can lead us to undeniable conclusions of one form or another.

For my part, I have always been struck not only by Peter's boldness after the crucifixion but also the manner of speech that Jesus is said to be using in the resurrection accounts in the gospels and in the Book of Acts.   He not only still has the same voice in his remarks and the same easy familiarity with the disciples.  Jesus also has that other quality that we have come to admire, namely his confidence and faith in the Father, stronger now than ever, even after all that he has been through.

He has no need to "go after" Pilate or Caiphas.  They can't touch him now.  It is enough for his disciples, gloriously enough, that he simply is.

He lives! Literally.

His new life after the resurrection is Jesus's greatest message to us, a message that began with his interrogation by the High Priest, then continued through his scourging by the Roman guards and the crucifixion, and then by the final message that his resurrection brings,  namely: forgiveness for all who would come to him.  That is a deep love that is willing to undergo all of that agony to demonstrate God's grace.  Only Jesus could do it. And he did.

Jesus was able and willing to forgive his best friend, Peter, for denying him--three times.  He was able and willing to forgive all of those who put him on a cross to die, who tried to wipe his name off the record forever.  If he can endure all that and still forgive them, does his resurrection not prove that he is both able and willing to forgive you?

Happy Easter.  He did it for you, as well, so that you would know that you can be forgiven by God, too, no matter what you've done.

 

 


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