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The Easter revolution causes the tyrants of the world to tremble

OpinionThe Easter revolution causes the tyrants of the world to tremble

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One of the distinctive marks of the Christian Gospels, something that separates them from all of the other religious literature of the world, is that they are conveying news. They are not simply musing about timeless spiritual truths or trading in moral wisdom; they are telling us about something that happened.  

Indeed, “gospel,” euangelion in the original Greek, has precisely the sense of glad tidings, good news. Unlike the sacred texts of the other great religions, the books of the New Testament have a grab-you-by-the-lapel quality, an urgency to communicate, not so much ideas however true and fresh, but an event that has turned everything upside down.  

And that revolutionary happening is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.  

Sunrise, Duck, North Carolina,

One of the most powerful arguments for the authenticity of the resurrection is the emergence of Christianity precisely as a messianic movement. (Kevin Ferris/Fox News Digital)

When I was going through university and seminary, there was a tendency to downplay the resurrection, interpreting it as a myth, a legend, a symbol that the cause of Jesus goes on. One of the most influential Catholic theologians of that period speculated that the disciples, after the death of their Lord, felt forgiven and then expressed this fact in vivid stories about appearances and the empty tomb.

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Thankfully, this manner of thinking has gone the way of all flesh. That sort of watered-down, anemic form of Christianity might have flourished in the faculty lounges of Western universities, but it has precious little to do with the New Testament and the witnesses to the resurrection.  

When someone is conveying a myth, he uses language such as “once upon a time,” or “in a galaxy far, far away,” precisely because he is not talking about actual events but, in a symbolic way, about general truths regarding human nature or the cosmos.  

This is not the way the Gospel writers speak. They specify when Jesus was born, namely, when Augustus was emperor of Rome and Quirinius the governor of Syria; they tell us that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; and when they speak of Jesus’ itinerary, they clarify that he operated in Galilee and then in Judea.  

EASTER REMINDS CHRISTIANS HOW RESURRECTION RESONATES IN OUR PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

And when they describe an encounter with the risen Christ, they say, with breathtaking directness and simplicity, “we who ate and drank with him after his resurrection from the dead.” As C.S. Lewis, himself a great expert in mythic literature, explained, “those who think that the Gospels are myths, haven’t read many myths.”  

One of the most powerful arguments for the authenticity of the resurrection is the emergence of Christianity precisely as a messianic movement. There is no question that the first witnesses proclaimed, simultaneously, that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel and that was indeed put to death on a Roman cross.  

The puzzle is that, within an ancient Jewish context, there would have been no surer indicator that someone was not the Messiah than his death at the hands of his enemies, for the Messiah was expected to deal with the foes of the nations and to reign as King. 

EASTER IS GOD REMINDING US OF THIS ONE LIFE-CHANGING THING

And yet St. Paul, who spoke over and again of the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah, could also say, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  

How could any of this make sense unless the crucified Jesus had been, through the power of God, raised from death? Moreover, Paul, Peter, James, Thomas, Bartholomew and practically all of the major evangelists of that first generation went to their deaths proclaiming the fact of the resurrection, their blood functioning as an even more eloquent witness than their words.

Having established the reality of the resurrection, what can we say about its meaning?  

The basic significance of Easter, still massively relevant today, is that God’s love is more powerful than anything that is in the world. The greatest political, cultural and military force in Jesus’ time was the empire of Rome, and the fiercest means the Romans had to cow people into obedience was the cross.  

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On Good Friday, Jesus by all appearances was just one more in a long line of hapless victims of Roman tyranny. So when God raised Jesus from the dead, his followers knew that Rome had been dethroned and that, in principle, any tyranny whose power was based upon the fear of death, was put on notice.  

When they declared Jesus as Lord, they were implying that Caesar was no longer Lord. That the Roman authorities didn’t miss this message is clear from the fact that most of the first evangelists ended up imprisoned or put to death.  

The Church, up and down the ages, has had the same basic task: to declare the Lordship of Jesus. And when the Church is faithful to this charge, she still causes the tyrants of the world to tremble.

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If you want to see an excellent example of this principle in action, remember what Pope John Paul II accomplished in the Communist Poland of the late 1970s. Backed by no army, possessing no weapons, but speaking clearly and boldly of God, of human rights, and of Jesus the risen Lord, he set in motion the dissolution of the Soviet empire. 

So, Easter is not a bland springtime festival, nor a foggy myth; it is an earthquake, a revolution, the best possible news.

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