Easter and the Hope from an Empty Tomb

Today, Passover starts for the Jewish people all over the world, and for the Christian church, it is also the time of remembrance for the Passion of the Lord Jesus-His suffering, death, and ultimately His resurrection. Unlike Christmas, however, Easter/Passover is not a date that is subject to question in the English/Gregorian the date shifts (this is because the date is designated according to the Hebrew calendar). This article is not about the existence of this date or about the prophetic fulfillments that happened during it that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Jewish people’s long hoped for Messiah (that article will be for a different time!) This Easter time is happening during the Coronavirus crisis, and future generations need a memorial for THIS moment.

How powerful is death? How widespread can it be? History provides many moments to answer that question. According to some accounts 70,000 to 80,000 people died when the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. In the three days during the Battle of Gettysburg, there were over 50,000 casualties. During the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, over 3000 people died. According to statistics (taking also into consideration that nations such as China and Iran have not been honest about reporting their number regarding the pandemic), the worldwide fatality count in regards to the COVID-19 is around 190,000. For me, all of these infamous historical moments, as well as the Coronavirus death count, seem to put into perspective the first Passover in the book of Exodus. The Bible says that on that night in Egypt, when the death angel went through Egypt, the first born of everyone-from the Pharaoh to the slave, even to the first born of the cattle-would all be killed. What did that look like? Egypt was a large country and if the death angel passed through that entire nation, how widespread was the carnage! Can anyone find out how many firstborn children, teenagers, or adults died that night?

There was no joy in the destruction of the Egyptians-God would later command Israel never to forget the Egyptians or their firstborn who died that Passover night. It was the reason that later the Jewish people would be commanded by God to redeem their firstborn sons before the tabernacle with five silver shekels (Exodus 13:13-15, Number 18:15-16). God went further and told the Israelites never to “despise an Egyptian-for you resided as foreigners in his country” (Deuteronomy 23:7).

Last week in New York state, 731 people died because of COVID-19 or issues exacerbated by it. Yet in many parts in the country, COVID-19 seems to be peaking, or is mostly nonexistent. A week ago, the doctors in the White House crisis management team, according to their models, predicted that there may be 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities, according to the “best case scenarios”. There is a big difference between predictions of death and the actuality of it, and while this has in no way materialized, this Easter week, the backdrop of death could not be more real.

For the people of Israel, that first Passover marked a moment of independence and freedom and the beginning of the journey to become one nation before they entered the Promised Land. In other words, it was their Independence Day. They became the first group of people to come out of bondage of slavery from under one of the most powerful and preeminent civilizations of all time. But there was a deeper, more relevant, spiritual side of the Passover that would play in the lives of the Jewish people for all time. That spiritual side was revealed to Moses the moment he heard that voice from the burning bush say to him, “I AM THAT I AM.” By divine providence, God Himself would be the center piece of this memorial/celebration.

“Yahweh” is how we say His name in English. It comes from the YWHW English translation of the Tetragrammaton, which is the Hebrew letters for the name of God that Jewish scribes from the very beginning would use on papyrus sheets or skins they inscribed the Old Testament. Out of deep reverence for His Holiness, they did not write out His name in full. But that name would be attached to every word that described God’s intervention or provision in the lives and experiences of the Jewish people-and eventually for all people. In the King James English, it is translated Jehovah. Perhaps the greatest truth about His name which He revealed to Moses is that God exists NOW. And He will never cease to exist.

Passover is the most important of the Jewish people’s celebrations. It marks the close of one year and the beginning of a new one-the birth of a nation. And that spiritual component can never be separated from it. This celebration will have God’s presence very much a part of it despite what people think or want to believe. Many Jewish people today are atheists, agnostics or secular in regards to their identity. All such ideas are put on hold for this week. Years ago, when I was in bible college, one of my professors-Dr. Gene Brown-taught about Passover and its modern significance to Israel as well as its context in the Church. He started off with talking about the Cup of Remembrance that Jesus would raise in the Last Supper. There are many interpretations and additions in regards to it in Passover in the modern day which add to its significance, and this was one such addition.

They lift the Cup of Remembrance more than once. The deliverance from the Pharaoh of Egypt was only the first deliverance. Within the times of the Bible, they raise it again in remembrance of the time of Esther and the deliverance from the hand of Haman. They also raise it in remembrance of the deliverance from the hand of Antiochus Epiphanes during the Maccabeean period. They raise it a fourth time-for their deliverance from Hitler. In a word, Passover is just a reminder to the people of Israel that God is the only reason that they have survived throughout all history. That Cup of Remembrance can be lifted up for many more moments and experiences. It gives added reason to Jeremiah’s cry in Lamentation 3:21-22: “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.”

It was at this moment 2000 years ago, during that Last Supper (a Passover celebration) where Jesus instituted an ordinance-a memorial for the New Testament. Something that has greater significance, meaning, and power for believers in Jesus Christ all over the world. This is especially true during this COVID-19 crisis when so many churches all over the world are unable to even come together this weekend to worship the Lord, let alone have Communion.

The Bible says that Lord took a piece of bread, seemingly at random. Those who insist that Holy Communion was part of the Passover meal must remember that the Lord was doing something new. He took the bread and broke it saying “this is my body which is broken for you.” The next moment, the Lord raised the cup-once again seemingly at random-and said “Drink from it all of you, for this is My blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sin.” (Matthew 26: 27-28) The disciples were to eat and drink from that cup and remember a suffering that was about to begin later that night and continue into the next day.

Late that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, there came that moment which is called the Agony. The Lord Jesus had that “wrestling match” in prayer-a prayer moment with His Father the intensity of which was so dreadful that Luke records in his Gospel account the Lord sweated “great drops of blood”. The prayer moment concluded with total surrender to the Father. “He who knew no sin became sin” in that moment. The next ten hours are the most infamous in world history. Its culmination happened at 9:00 in the morning that Friday: the Crucifixion. By 3:00 that afternoon, Jesus died on the cross and by 6:00 that evening, He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

What does all of this mean for Easter Week 2020? Just like Passover, people can get lost in historical details and miss the spiritual reality which is much more important. And if this be the case, then this Easter season is justifiably cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic without any trouble. But is it possible to look at our current situations with such a mindset?

In a world that often pushes such Darwinism, Humanism, and Evolution (among many sorts of -isms), the Resurrection of Jesus Christ challenges all these notions, and in essence forces humanity to pivot towards the Gospel message in all its fullness rather than away from it. For instance, the Resurrection itself is proven fact without an actual body on display, but rather the witness of over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15) who were willing to lay down their lives to the worst types of torture and death to back up that fact and the subsequent claim that Jesus Christ is the ultimate Lord and Savior of their lives. How are we supposed to reason that out?

Based on that Resurrection, the concept of an afterlife continues to bother mankind in an entirely different way. Christianity has an open tomb as a witness to the world (something that no other religion has), which give us hope, a warning, and a choice. During the last several days and weeks, this particular point has come into greater perspective during this COVID-19 crisis. Just a few weeks ago, Italy was considered the epicenter of this pandemic in Europe. One of the frightening outcomes of a “socialized medicine” healthcare system-the standard for almost all of Europe-was revealed in full. Testing kits were in short supply and not everyone could be tested unless their symptoms were serious enough. Since the elderly are the ones most vulnerable to this disease, they were the ones who needed the most care, but they could not get it. At the time, ventilators were thought to be the most important equipment needed to counter the breathing issues and pneumonia-like issues that much of the COVID-19 patients were experiencing. There was a shortage of the machines. So what did medical doctors have to do? They took them from the elderly patients and gave them to younger patients who were considered more likely to survive. It was heartbreaking to read the stories and see the pictures of this infamy. In one incident one woman cried out as the ventilator she was breathing through was ignominiously taken from her; a few minutes later, her life ended. In another incident, a catholic priest willingly gave up his ventilator so that a younger woman could use it. The hopelessness of that first incident and the resignation in the second was just too much to handle. Did the medical personnel who were involved feel anything? In another incident from Italy, a beautiful Italian nurse was killed by her boyfriend because he thought that she had infected him with the coronavirus. In many parts of India, doctors, nurses and other medical orderlies who were trying to minister to coronavirus victims were assaulted to such a point that the local government has to give them police protection. In the United States, the governors of several states such as Michigan, New York, and California have taken such draconian executive actions that even the total destruction of their local economies is nothing compared to the terrible infringements on the human rights of free citizens. Churches have been shut down under threat of arrest. Unrest has started to develop against these draconian measures, especially when the governors of New York and Michigan verbalize their sarcasm against the Church and Christianity with such derision as to be appalling-and yet they claim it is for public safety. Such terrible fear of death that it has overwhelmed any reason-how did it become this way?

Are we to be a people utterly hopeless, totally fearful, and completely helpless without thought for a better future? If ever we needed the absolute truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is now! In my opinion, it is the only reason that we do not end up as slaves to every kind of vice, every kind of injustice, every kind of false idea or foolishness. As I type this editorial, 22 million people have lost their jobs. The government may have a “shelter in place initiative” till the end of April, and it is very doubtful whether that policy can continue for any longer afterwards. President Trump and dozens of governors all across the nation know this, but they are very much at loggerheads with some from the medical establishment as well as leftists’ politicians and media who peddle fear: “Millions are going to die!” “Hundreds of millions will die!” According to recent statistics, the fatality rate is actually less than 0.1%. Nonetheless, the fear of tomorrow still grips the hearts of many a person in positions of power as well as many in the street.

I focus on that Cup of Remembrance and the Empty Tomb. Jesus said a peculiar statement to His disciples that night: “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” What did He mean? Just some weeks before coming to Jerusalem, James and John along with their mother came to Jesus and she (along with them) had a request to make of the Lord. “Lord, grant that my two sons would sit on either side of you in the Kingdom.” Jesus in essence reproved her for the question asking, “Are you able to drink the cup I am going to drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” The two boys responded in the affirmative not really thinking about what Jesus was asking, but rather only of the pomp and splendor of the “position” they were aspiring towards. Jesus responded that they would certainly undergo both (as would all His true disciples) but that the one to give out the rewards in eternity was none other than the Father.

James and John had no idea what they were asking for, just like this Coronavirus crisis has revealed the true colors of faith in the lives of so many people within the Church world today: they too never understood the true purpose of their faith in Jesus Christ. The Cup that Jesus raised that Passover night was the symbol of the price that needed to be paid for the Salvation, Redemption, and Deliverance (the New Testament) of all mankind: His precious blood. To pay that price, Jesus would be one with the full gravity of the suffering, depravity, and degradation of all humanity. It was and is a message to all the followers of Jesus Christ anywhere in the world where they may be and in whatever situation they may be facing: we can never evade or avoid the Cross. Our worst fears may be realized, our greatest sorrow may erupt right before us and we may cry out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” The difference for us is, the Empty Tomb. He went through the whole experience of the Cross so that we would never be alone. And because He is with us and we are not alone, we can always expect to finish victorious. We can always expect situations to become better. There is always hope; and not as in Greek mythology one the evils in Pandora’s Box to torment mankind, but rather of Resurrection. There is a power-the Holy Spirit-that moves and can change any situation instantly, no matter what our current plight is. Jesus said that final word to His disciples before He went to the Garden of Gethsemane that Passover night after that meal: “In this world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

We have the message of the Empty Tomb which shouts out to the world that no matter what danger we face before us, there will never be hopeless extinction. The idea of a “prison existence” has no place. The apostle Paul correctly identified humanity’s cry for renaissance in Romans 8:22-25: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is no hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”

We crave to rise. We need Resurrection. Hence the greatest Truth about Easter: Resurrection gives us Hope. Hope not just in eternity (though this is most important), but also in life, here and now. Currently, all throughout the United States people are rising to protest the severe restrictions placed on them during this COVID-19 lockdown. Within the first month of this lockdown, the US economy has been decimated, prior to which it was at its absolute best in history. Millions of people have lost their jobs-the highest number since 2008. This was not because of the regular cycle of economics but rather on the advice of medical personnel in the name of trying to “get ahead of the virus”. The protests have been peaceful but democrat governors and the liberal media have gone out of their way to demonize the protestors. The irony: just three years ago, they were encouraging the worst kind of civil disobedience against the government! And when governor Brian Kemp of Georgia looks to open the economy of his state back to “normalcy” by April 27 (actually he is giving business such as restaurants, barber shops/salons the choice to open themselves up), one would be appalled at the kind of gloom and doom (as if Pandora’s Box is about to be opened) and the savage insults hurled at him. What is the difference between the protests of the present and those that happened after the election of President Donald Trump four years ago? Hope, according to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. What does governor Kemp (and God willing the majority of the state of Georgia, I hope) have that their democrat counterparts and the gloom and doomers in the media? Something that comes from that Hope according to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: courage to face fear.

The coming days and weeks will be filled with all sorts of predictions and prognostications…O God, give us Resurrection Power!

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