Not Even the Might of Rome

Hated by those around them and hating the surroundings in which they lived, the lot of Roman soldiers was loathsome.

The common soldier was poorly paid with the only hopes for a decent living found in advancement in the ranks or the spoils of war. Both unlikely in Palestine. With precious few Jewish conscripts or enlistees, Palestine offered little in the way of friendly environs for most of the soldiers. Temples to the gods were banished by the Jewish worship of one God that the Jews claimed could not be seen, for whom no images existed and who, the soldiers were told, loved the Hebrew people above all others. There were no brothels nor any of the normal entertainments found in other parts of the Empire like Rome or Athens or Alexandria. Not only that, the favored legions were stationed closer to Rome so that being assigned duty like this was an indication that even in Rome’s eyes, these soldiers were held in low esteem. But it was a living, pathetic as it might be.

Rebellion could break out at any moment. That usually meant ambushes in the city and countryside and the niggling problem of not being able to tell who was a friend or an enemy among the populace.

The Jews had risen against their captors several times in their history with mixed results. The soldiers knew that even if no open revolt occurred, there were random murders and the open scorn they faced every day.

Passover was always dangerous with the hundreds of thousands who crowded into Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. One spark could light it all up and there was no way the Roman garrison could control everything. The Jewish leaders knew that as well. The threat of this country preacher from Galilee seemed to be undermine attempts to keep the peace, leading to the leaders working to get rid of Him. Strangely, they had to force Pilate’s hand. One would think he could have seen the threat. A mob that might have turned against Rome instead vented its anger and frustration against Him. He was rumored to have performed miracles and supposedly had a following. What good did that do?

At the crucifixion they managed to get rid of Him and two other criminals. But even this did not go smoothly. The Roman guards who conducted the execution returned to the barracks telling of an earthquake, darkness and a strange sense of something being terribly wrong. One soldier seemed particularly troubled by it all, muttering on and on about how wrong all this had been and that the Jewish preacher was “a son of the gods.”

It would seem that the execution should have taken care of everything, but apparently the Preacher claimed that if He was killed He would raise from the dead in three days. So, the leaders asked Pilate to set a guard at the tomb to make sure some of His followers didn’t sneak in and steal the body. Unlikely, since the Jews had a thing about touching dead bodies and Passover was their holiest time of the year. But soldiers do what they’re told.

The first couple of nights were quiet. Quiet as a tomb, in fact. In this detestable place could there have been more horrendous duty? Cold and boring. And not a soul anywhere around.

What happened next was impossible to describe. No scene on the worst battlefield, no terror on the sea, no torture as a captive in an enemy’s hands could describe the full horror and wonder of that moment. It was not from an attacking force but… but… but from inside the tomb. Falling away, then frozen on the ground in sheer terror, the soldiers witnessed death being put to death, of God reversing the curse of the ages, of Jesus Christ rising from the grave! When later they tried to find words they were left stammering. The scene kept playing over and over in their minds in an endless loop, always going back to the stone vibrating, then rolling back and then Him! Expecting to die they were physically unharmed. But mentally, emotionally, no, spiritually there was this. What was this?

When finally the moment of panic was over and He had gone, where to they knew not, they ran like little children spooked in a dark forest. Instinctively they showed up at the High Priest’s home and blurted out as best they could what had happened. Yes, that is what happened. We saw it. We’re telling you that the grave opened up from the inside! He was standing there and then, and then… He was gone.

The High Priest gathered his cronies, telling the soldiers to wait. The plan was hastily conceived and implausible in the extreme. “We’ll pay you to say that the disciples stole the body. We’ll vouch for you. Just don’t tell anyone what you told us.” The soldiers must have smirked when the plan was shared with them. Those laughable losers a match for Roman soldiers! No one is going to believe that. But money is money and besides, they faced execution for abandoning their post. Better to go this way than the alternative.

No scene on the worst battlefield,
no terror on the sea,
no torture as a captive in an enemy’s hands
could describe the full horror
and wonder of that moment.

But word quickly spread that Jesus had risen from the grave. Beginning that weekend the might of Rome was employed to prevent this very thing and in the next three centuries that followed, Rome would try repeatedly to crush the Christians and the story of their risen Savior. Ironically, the Roman Empire would dissolve and Christianity would spread far beyond anything the Romans imagined.

Oddly, the first believers were not Jesus’ followers. Rather, the first believers in the Resurrection were soldiers unfamiliar with belief in the one true God. The secondto believe were the religious leaders who bribed the soldiers to falsify their story because, hearing what they said, they were convinced they were telling the truth.

Now it is for you to believe. Barbarian soldiers believed. Enemies of Christ believed. The disciples of Christ soon followed in faith. If you believe what might He do in your life? Like the Resurrection, the results could be beyond description.

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee, Editor-in-Chief and National Literary Secretary

Transformed by the Cross

The message of God’s restorative and redemptive love, as evidenced in the Cross and Empty Tomb, is still as powerful and relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.

The Cross is central to our faith and Gospel message. It is integral to everything we believe and is our motivation in reaching a dying world with the message of hope, love and salvation. The Cross is purposefully located at the center of the Salvation Army crest.

A PERSONAL ENCOUNTER

Each of us needs to have a personal interaction with the Cross, for it is there that we kneel to surrender our lives to Christ. The Cross is our place of repentance for sin–where we receive restorative grace and begin a new life in Christ.

The Cross is transformative as God’s love, grace and forgiveness are unleashed in our lives. We come to the Cross condemned but leave forgiven (Romans 8:1 NIV). We come to the Cross dead in our sin, but leave with new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). Through the Cross our eternal destination changes from Hell to Heaven (John 3:16).

The Salvation Army’s sixth Doctrine states: “We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has by His suffering and death made an atonement for the whole world so that whosoever will may be saved.” The Cross is available for everyone and the Gospel message is for the whosoever–this is central to our faith and witness, particularly as Salvationists.

We know this. We preach this. The key question and challenge is: do we always experience the power, reality and transformation of the Cross in our own lives?

MORE THAN…

You see, it is more than simply admitting sin and acknowledging our need of salvation; more than recognizing that Jesus died for our sin; more than a personal and corporate need; more than a simply sacrificial act.

Yes, the Cross is about the price of sin being paid, but it is also about the power of sin being broken. Yes, the Cross is about forgiveness, but it is also about restoration. Yes, the Cross reminds us of our weakness, but it is also a place of power. We come in shame, but we leave in victory!

The Cross is about victory over the powers of evil. The Cross cancels the curse of sin and breaks its power.

Christians can have lives of victory and strength because of the Cross. Defeat is exchanged for victory. Weakness is exchanged for strength. The old self is left behind and the new self is embraced.

This Gospel of Christ and the power of the Cross are holistic. Our 10th Doctrine clearly states that we believe “that it is the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified, and that their whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

STAY FOCUSED

What a glorious reality! What a complete work! All because of the love of God, revealed in Jesus and manifested on the Cross.

Never lose sight of the Cross. We stumble and fall when we forget the Cross.

The songwriter Fanny Crosby prayed: “Jesus, keep me near the Cross” (song 178, The Song Book of The Salvation Army) and George Bennard said he would “cherish” and “cling to” the old rugged cross (song 191).

The apostle Paul never lost sight of the Cross. In Romans 1:16-17 we read: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Paul also asserts that “the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

It makes no difference how the world views the Cross. The inability of existing and previous generations to grasp the fullness of all the Cross accomplishes does not diminish its power or eternal impact. The message of the Cross may not be a popular one, yet its truth is eternal and relevant.

THE EMPTY TOMB

Good Friday and the Cross is only one part of the Easter story. Praise God the story does not end with a dead Savior! We worship a risen Lord who, in addition to cancelling the curse of sin and breaking its power, also defeats death to provide eternal life and Resurrection power to every believer!

The glorious reality of Easter morning is symbolized by the empty tomb. “He is not here; He has risen” were the words of the angel in Matthew 28:6. The question posed to the women who went to the tomb on that morning was: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).

Nothing can constrain God–not sin and certainly not death. The events of Easter demonstrate the sovereign power of God who intervenes in our physical and spiritual realities. God reveals the full extent of His power, defeating Satan and crushing the two most limiting and controlling aspects of our fallen humanity.

A PRAYER FOR YOU

As we once again reflect on God’s incredible gift of freedom from sin, it calls for a personal response from each one of us. I pray that we will all know the love, forgiveness, grace and power of God as we experience His risen presence in our lives.

—General André Cox,is the international leader of The Salvation Army, which is at work in 128 countries.

Now Light Dispels the Darkness

Throughout the Gospel of John there is a reoccurring contrast between darkness and light. “God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone” (John 1:3-4).

There are numerous stories of light and dark, of seeing and being blind, of hearing and being deaf. When we come to that first Easter morning, I don’t believe it is an accident that John says that when Mary came to the tomb of Jesus early, it was still dark. It was in the darkness that the light of the glorious news was revealed.

In darkness sin and evil thrives, in darkness there is an absence of hope and even an apparent absence of God Himself. It was in darkness that Jesus called out, “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?” (Matthew 27:46).  And, on that first Easter morning, I am sure it seemed to Mary Magdalene that no light could pierce the darkness she was in—a darkness that was felt by many. It is a darkness of cynical resignation to life and the “way things are” in the world; it is a darkness that convinces us that there is no way for improvement. Darkness doesn’t allow room for belief or for hope.

It is possible these were the thoughts going through Mary’s mind on that long and lonely walk to the tomb; Jesus was dead. Darkness had had its way. And why not. Life, after all, is like that. The good die young, the evil prosper and hearts are made for breaking.

The noble ideals Jesus had taught seemed crushed before the harsh realities of life. His words had loosed the hearts of those who followed Him, encouraging them to live good and honest lives, and to live simply before God—all of it crucified on the cross with Him.

It was her love for her Lord that drove Mary to the tomb that morning. She wanted to honor Him by tending to His body. Maybe she wanted to believe that, despite the obvious, something of the light He had lit in her might be regained just by her being there in the presence of His dead body.

When Mary came that dark morning, she encountered the unexpected… the stone was rolled away. Her first thought was that darkness had yet one more victory, that someone had desecrated the tomb. However, it was worse than she had imagined, as she thought the body had been stolen. The others with her had left, now she was alone, once again alone in her grief. In the midst of her tears she hears two messengers asking her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” The literal question was, “Why are you crying at such a joyous time.” However, for Mary, the darkness is too great; she doesn’t believe; she doesn’t see.

Stepping outside the tomb, still in darkness, she sees Jesus, but she does not recognize Him. How could she? He is dead. Jesus asks the same question as the two messengers, “Why are you weeping?” Still—no recognition, just more pleading—“They’ve taken Him, gardener! Where is His body?”

Then a glimmer of light. She hears a voice she has heard many times; a voice that has brought life, hope and fulfillment to her. That voice speaks one word, and her life is forever changed. A word she had heard a hundred times over the past three years. “Mary.” The darkness is pierced! She is shaken. The voice—its tone, its modulation—but it’s more; it is the heart of God Himself addressing her. Her eyes are open and she knows that it is Him. For Mary, it is Easter morning! 

The Voice that calls each by name
turns whatever the prevailing darkness
into but a prelude

The darkness lifts and is replaced by the blazing light of pure joy, of hope realized, of faith in Him who loves her and speaks her name, who was dead but now lives.

The Resurrection is a statement for all time and for all people—that what this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was and did is the ultimate Truth, the unveiling of the Eternal God.

In raising Jesus from death to life, God shows us that evil will not have the last word. He shows us that the worst His creation will do can never thwart His purpose. His Resurrection showed that death could not hold love captive.

He always calls you and me by our names. He calls us out of our dark cynicism. He calls us to make our world a better place. He calls us to reach beyond self-interests to serve others. He calls us to a life of expectancy and hope and joy.

Because Christ is risen, we too, can stand in and for the light. We can believe that goodness triumphs over cruelty, hatred, bigotry and evil—even when it doesn’t appear to do so.

This Easter, I trust all of us will hear His voice and believe, that we will place our trust and lives in the wondrous news that those who follow this Light “won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12).

All because “He is Risen.”

Commissioner David Hudson is National Commander for The Salvation Army in the USA.

Part Seven—The Resurrection and The Life

“Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” John 11:25).

Chapter 11 of the Gospel of John records the climax of a series of “signs” that unify and authenticate the public ministry of Jesus (chapters 2-12). This chapter contains the most striking miracle in John’s Gospel and the longest account of any miracle in the New Testament—the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

The miracle took place about one month before Jesus’ crucifixion. It was the third recording of Jesus raising someone from the dead. He raised Jairus’ daughter before the funeral (Mark 5:35), the son of the widow of Nain during the funeral (Luke 7:11-17), and Lazarus after the funeral (John 11). The only negative outcome of the three resurrections is that the gospels give no guidance on how to conduct a funeral. Jesus broke up every service He attended!

Jesus had temporarily retreated from public life (10:40-42), no doubt because He knew the ominous events ahead. This hiatus comes between the controversies in Jerusalem described in chapters 7-10 of John’s Gospel and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem before Passover (12:12-19).

Jesus had been well received “across the Jordan” in Perea, “the place where John had been baptizing” (10:40). John the Baptist accomplished his mission. He had lived up to his own preaching: “He must become greater; I must become less” (3:30). He had indeed” [made] straight the way for the  Lord” (1:23).

The fact that Jesus was generally accepted in Galilee, Samaria and now in Perea is significant. When it became apparent that the populace would also soon accept Him in Jerusalem, the authorities took steps to kill Him. Following the raising of Lazarus, the members of the Sanhedrin (the 70-member Jewish religious council) came to a doleful conclusion: “If  we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (11:48).

THE GOSPELS GIVE NO GUIDANCE
GUIDANCE ON HOW TO CONDUCT
A FUNERAL. JESUS BROKE UP EVERY
SERVICE HE ATTENDED!

John begins his narrative by first establishing Jesus’ deep affection for Lazarus and Mary and Martha, his sisters. John quotes the sisters’ urgent message to Jesus: “Lord, the one You love [philias] is sick” (11:3). Two verses later, John reveals the depth of ]esus’ love for the family by clarifying that “Jesus loved [agape] Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (5). The Greek word for “love” in verse three suggests a “close friendship,” while the word in verse five signifies a “pure, unselfish love.” Jesus had a special love for this family.

One reason for Jesus’ love for Lazarus, Mary and Martha may be that they were a wealthy family who apparently chose to live among the poor. Lazarus had a “family tomb”—a sure sign of first-century wealth. In addition, it was Mary who “poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair” (11:2). Only the wealthy could afford such a lavish display of affection. Since the word Bethany (Hebrew: Bét-a-ni) means “House of the Poor,” many poor families probably lived in this modest village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The wealthy normally lived within the protection of city walls.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus “had already been in the tomb four days” (17). Lazarus had died around the time the messengers reached Jesus with the news that “the one you love is sick” (3). Knowing what miracle He would perform “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (4), Jesus tarried for two more days to make sure that Lazarus had died. It took Jesus and the disciples two days to traverse the steep, treacherous road from Perea to Bethany, traveling about 20 miles a day. By the time they arrived, Lazarus had been dead for at least four days. Jesus wanted to ensure that everyone understood that Lazarus was dead. Though not taught by the rabbis, a popular belief persisted that the spirit of a dead person hovered around the  body for three days. A resurrection on the fourth day would be striking because all hope for natural restoration would have gone.

Characteristic of the sisters, Martha went out to meet Jesus while Mary initially remained in the house (20). After comforting them, Jesus came to the tomb and ordered the stone covering removed. He stood above the entrance, and through a small opening in the side of the inner tomb He called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (43). Those nearby were astonished to see Lazarus, still wearing his grave shroud, ascend the few steps from the inner tomb. Jesus’ words to Martha now brimmed with life-giving certainty: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (25-26).

Throughout the two millennia that have followed, Jesus turns to every person and asks the question He addressed to Martha: “Do you believe [I am the resurrection and the life]?” (25-26). May our answer ever be the same as hers: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.”

Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.

Kiss of Death

When is a kiss not a sign of affection? When it is given in betrayal. Such was the case for Judas Iscariot’s final contact with Jesus—a “goodbye” of sorts—the night he betrayed our Savior.

Judas intended the kiss to be the sign to the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees present that this was Jesus—the One whom they were looking for to railroad toward an appointment on a cross on Golgotha’s cruel hill.

To Judas, and those who came with him to arrest Jesus, it was intended to be a kiss of death. It’s a bitter iRony that Judas’s final contact with Jesus was a kiss—but an even more poignant tragedy is that the kiss of death turned out to be, not for Jesus, but sadly for Judas, himself.

Kisses between men were socially acceptable in the culture of Jesus’ time. Slaves kissed the feet of their masters as a sign of submission.

Still others kissed the hem of a superior’s garment as a signal of great reverence.

But a kiss on one’s cheek was an expression reserved only for only close affection, intimacy, and love. Such a kiss was reserved only for the closest of friends.

Thus did Judas’ kiss of death on Jesus’ cheek become the most despicable of all acts. Why couldn’t Judas give Him a kiss of lesser significance? Judas could have kissed His feet, or the hem of His garment, or even His hand. But no, he wanted this kiss to be an unmistakable sign to his co-conspirators—a kiss that would be the most repugnant sign of all.

Jesus, realizing the full gravity of what was happening, gave Judas an extremely stinging rebuke which is often overlooked in Scripture: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). In today’s parlance, it was as if Jesus was saying” “Seriously? You’re kissing My cheek like a close friend, when in reality you are trying to thwart God’s plan? Whatever!”

Consider what Jesus says to him next: Friend, do what you have come to do!” (Matthew 26:50). The word Jesus used for “friend” here is hetairos (fellow; man—i.e. “Man, do what you have to do!”).

Contrast that with the word Jesus used for “friend” in John 15:14-15, philous“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends (belovéd; brothers).

So when Judas betrayed Jesus with, of all things, a kiss of death on His cheek, the traitor was no longer “a belovéd brother.” Surely Jesus’ chilling response, “Man, do what you have to do,” must still ring in the betrayer’s ears, as it will for all eternity!

So with the dastardly deed done, off Judas went into the night. This marked the beginning of an eternal night in his soul as well. Within hours, he hanged himself.

Pity. For three years, Judas walked alongside of Jesus and was privy to the greatest spiritual advantages afforded to only 11 others in history. But he squandered that sacred blessing to fulfill his illicit passion. Why? Because his faith was never genuine in the first place.

Judas lived in the unclouded light of Jesus’ presence—but his life ended in a night of despair.

A kiss of death—intended for Jesus—was instead a bitter portent for Judas. That’s an iRony for the ages!

— Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, National Publications