Of course he did! Easter celebrates the faith of the first disciples that Jesus’ death was not the end. God raised him to new life.
He did not survive in the sense of not really dying. For he died in one of the bloodiest ways possible, executed on a cross: dead for all to see. When, as the earliest records tell us, Peter reported that Jesus appeared to him in Galilee, despair turned to hope, disappointment to joy. It generated stories and experiences.
It was not that Jesus was to be found wandering around Galilee or Judea in flesh and blood. Rather they spoke of Jesus appearing and disappearing, clearly understanding his resurrection as like the spiritual resurrections expected at the climax of history.
But what did it mean that God raised Jesus from the dead?
For some then, and many since, it meant a turning point. A story about Peter helps us understand. Mark tells us that when Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter answered he was the Christ, the Messiah (8:27-29). Jesus then spoke of the path of suffering which lay ahead of him and Peter tried to correct Jesus (8:31-33). If Jesus was the Christ, then he was surely not going to suffer execution.
People who hoped for a Messiah expected to win. Human ambitions often colour how people think about Jesus and God. One very human version of Jesus and God goes like this: Jesus’ main aim was to seek power and glory, to be the centre of attention, and the church exists to expand the base of admirers. Mark suggests that Peter and the disciples had values like this. He tells how Jesus caught them arguing about which of them was to be the greatest (9:33-35) and a little later how James and John asked to have the top posts in his kingdom (10:35).
Jesus had rebuked Peter for harbouring humans’ priorities, not God’s (8:33). Responding to James and John, he declared: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45). It was as though they were saying the opposite: “The Son of Man came not to serve but to be served and to make his life an example for many.”
Mark turns such human values upside down when he depicts Jesus as enthroned on a cross and crowned with a crown of thorns. Love and vulnerability were Jesus’ way. They are also God’s way. Jesus was not an exception to the way God is. That was why God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.
Easter is a big ‘Yes’ from God: yes, those are my priorities. The human model knows how to subvert that into its opposite: Easter meant God was saying, thank goodness, that’s over. Now I can get back to business as usual, power and glory. Thus people reduce the priority of God and Jesus to the whims of insecure people wanting to make themselves the centre of attention. Then the cross was just a stunt to help Jesus earn the status of a hero and get him the glory he always secretly craved for.
When human images of love for power and glory subvert the gospel of love for people, then Jesus and his message do not survive Easter. True worship is not to project the fantasies of human neediness onto God and Jesus, but to believe that Jesus truly was God incarnate, the revelation of God’s heart.
What we sometimes say and sing plays Peter’s theme and then only it survives.
Rev Emeritus Prof Bill Loader
After 40 years in WA, Rev Emeritus Prof Bill Loader and his wife Gisela are moving to NSW. The Uniting Church WA gives thanks for the huge contribution Bill has made to the church and beyond during this time here. Bill began his service within the Uniting Church WA as a New Testament lecturer at Perth Theological Hall. He has spent the last 40 years researching, teaching, preaching and writing throughout the Uniting Church WA, Murdoch University and around the world.