What happened on Easter?
No event in history touches the significance of this day.
When I was a kid, my dad would say to my brothers and I on Easter morning, "He is Risen!" We learned the reply, "He is Risen Indeed!" I always appreciated my dad's zeal on Easter morning, and as I now have my own kids I realize that this is truly the crux of the gospel.
Scripture tells an incredible story of Balaam in Numbers 22 - 23. This man was a prophet, hired by Balak, a Moabite, to curse Israel after seeing how they conquered the Amorites. Balaam was traveling with them up a mountain to prepare an alter when his donkey saw an angel and ran into a field in fear. As they resumed travel, the angel appears a second time and the donkey lied down trembling. Balaam gets angry, and the donkey resumes the journey a third time only to meet an impasse with the angel. On this third time, the donkey retreats toward a rock wall and pinches Balaam's leg. Angry, Balaam begins to beat the seemingly stubborn donkey with a rod.
The next part of the story is truly unbelievable. The donkey appeals to Balaam... it talks! What I find more amazing, is that Balaam argues back! The story takes a final supernatural turn as the Angel of the Lord reveals himself to Balaam, and informs him that if it were not for the donkey, Balaam would be dead.
Balaam's response is to bend low, repent, and say, "I have sinned, I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me." (Num. 22:34) Balaam goes on, not to curse Israel for Balak, but to bless Israel, unconcerned for what the Moabites may do to him. "Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?" (Num. 23:12)
When Balaam recognizes the nearness of the divine, everything changes. He no longer fears man, but God alone.
Christians follow Balaam in this way. We do not to fear society. We do not fear death. A new reality has presented itself. The resurrection of Jesus, like the Angel in Balaam's path, has revealed a truth about our existence that trumps all others. HE IS RISEN!
This gospel proclamation revolutionizes the disciples, 11 of whom fearlessly experience violent deaths. Jesus is alive! He has conquered death! He has gone to prepare a place for us! How then should we live? Without fear - without reservation - without compromise - releasing grudges - freely forgiving - freely encouraging - with generosity - with grace - in truth - in hope - in love. The consequence of death has been removed, the penalties of sin have been payed, and there is a hope now revealed to the world that we have the privilege of sharing with others.
Jesus began his ministry with the message, "Repent! For the kingdom of God is near!" (Mt. 4:17) He ends his ministry with a promise, "I will be with you always, even until the ends of the earth." (Mt. 28:20) Like Balaam's angel, he is near to us. The only place we will not find Jesus is in the tomb. It is empty, he does not dwell with the dead. Our efforts to grasp tightly to this life and control it, prevent pain, and avoid loss are also empty. He will not be found there.
So today, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." (Heb. 10:23)
He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
- Chris Gough