In his article, ‘The Easter Effect’ in The Wall Street Journal over Easter (March 31 – April 1, 2018), George Weigel asks, ‘How did a ragtag band of nobodies from the… edges of the Mediterranean world become such a dominant force in just two and a half centuries?’ He notes that by the beginning of ‘the 4th century Christians likely counted for between a quarter and a half of the population of the Roman Empire, and their exponential growth seemed likely to continue…’
Weigel goes on to comment that ‘there is no accounting for the rise of Christianity without weighing the revolutionary effect on those nobodies of what they called “the Resurrection”’.
While though at first some like Thomas, questioned and doubted the accounts that Jesus was physically alive, when they saw him their lives were transformed – so, Thomas’s “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Indeed it was Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead that changed their lives.
Let me take up two examples of the way Weigel demonstrates the impact of Jesus’ resurrection on his followers.
Drawing on the work of NT Wright and Pope Benedict XVI, Weigel observes that the resurrection Changed the way they (Christians) thought about time and history. ‘God’s kingdom had not come at the end of time but within time – and that had changed the texture of both time and history. History continued, but those shaped by the Easter Effect became the people who knew how history was going to turn out. Because of that, they could live life differently’.
Furthermore, Weigel notes, ‘The way they thought about their responsibilities changed’. Seeing that their future was caught up with Jesus, ‘they could face opposition, scorn and even death with confidence; they could offer to others the truth and even the fellowship they had been given’.
Indeed, without Easter there would have been no gospel mission. Every outreach talk in the New Testament is founded upon Jesus’ resurrection (so, Acts 17:31).
A better world today? Most of us don’t find it hard to imagine a safer, happier fairer world, but the question is, ‘How do we get there?’
Changed people. In Colossians 3:1-3 we read: So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
We need to read text in context and so recall what Paul writes in Colossians 1 and 2. There he tells us that when Jesus came a dislocation in human history occurred. In Jesus, God’s rule over the cosmos took on a new form. With Jesus a new world order began, and that new world now co-exists with the one we see about us.
In Colossians 1:13 Paul put it like this: God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves...
God is working out his cosmic strategy in world events and in the arena of our lives. The key element is now in place – Christ Jesus. Truly God and truly man he has given his life as the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world, satisfying in full all of God’s righteous requirements.
But Jesus’ death was not the end. Rather, it was the end of the beginning— the first stage of God’s cosmic plan. It also marked the beginning of the end— the last stage of God’s plan for the cosmos as we know it. How can we be sure about this? Jesus’ resurrection is the key.
Jesus’ resurrection was not simply a good ending to a fantastic life. It demonstrates that all Jesus tells us about God, the world and us, is true. But Jesus’ resurrection points to more than life beyond the grave: it points to a new world order that exists; a world order that we can begin to experience now.
Two great realms now co-exist—the dominion of darkness and the kingdom of God’s Son.
The dominion of darkness we could say, is centered around a black hole. It is a shrinking world, shrinking to eternal destruction. But the other world, the kingdom of God’s Son, is centered around a bright nova, and it is an expanding universe, expanding to eternal glory.
For the present, there is an interface between these two parallel worlds, a door in time that allows people to pass from one world to the other. Those of us who turn to Jesus and give him our allegiance have an identity in both worlds. Physically we are still in the old, but our names are registered in the new.
In his concluding remarks to his WSJ article, George Weigel comments, ‘However important the role of sociological factors in explaining why Christianity carried the day’ (in the 4th century and beyond), ‘there was that curious and inexplicable joy that marked the early Christians, even as they were being marched off to execution. Was the joy simply delusional? Denial?’
Weigel concludes, ‘Perhaps it was the Easter Effect: the joy of people who had become convinced that they were witnesses to something inexplicable but nonetheless true. Something that gave a super-abundance of meaning to life that erased the fear of death. Something that had to be shared. Something with which to change the world.’
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com