READINGS: Acts 10:34, 37-43/ Colossians 3:1-4/ John 20:1-9
Our Lord Jesus Christ had predicted that He would rise again on the third day after His death (cf. Mark 8:31). However, His disciples seemed to have forgotten this prediction when He was crucified. So, for instance, Mary Magdalene and her friends would go to the tomb with the intention of embalming the Lord’s body; and when they did not find the body, they were alarmed that it had been taken away. Then, Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, also having forgotten that Jesus would rise on the third day, would run to the tomb (cf. John 20:1-9). Paradoxically, the chief priests and Pharisees, who were determined to permanently destroy Jesus and His memory, never forgot that He had predicted His resurrection on the third day. So, they asked Pilate to seal the tomb of Jesus and position guards there (cf. Matt. 27:62-66).
The reason given by the chief priests and Pharisees when requesting for the guards was that the disciples might steal the Lord’s body and claim that He was risen. However, knowing well the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), probably their fears arose from the fact that some great things occurred on the “third day” or in “three days”. Let us look at some of these third-day events:
- In Genesis, it was on the third day that Abraham saw the place to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:4). But since God provided a ram in the place of Isaac, we could say that he was raised back to life on the third day (cf. Heb. 11:17-19).
In Gen. 40:12-20, the Egyptian cupbearer, Joseph and others were in prison in Egypt, when the cupbearer had a dream. Joseph interpreted the dream to mean that the cupbearer would be released in three days, and it was so.
In the story of Exodus, one of the punishments that Pharaoh and his people suffered was darkness for three days (Exodus 10:22).
Again, God instructed Moses that the Israelites were to prepare themselves to meet him on Mt. Sinai; there God revealed himself on the third day (Exodus 19:1-15).
We are also very familiar with the story of Jonah; he was in the belly of the whale for three days (Jonah 1:17). Jesus himself alluded to this when he spoke about his death and resurrection (Matt. 12:40).
The final reference from Hosea is very interesting. Hosea told his wayward people: ‘Come, let us return to Yahweh…He has struck us down, but…two days later he will bring us back to life; on the third day, he will raise us up’ (Hosea 6:1-7).
It should be now obvious why some chief priests and Pharisees would have been worried about Jesus’ prediction about the third day. It was, however, useless to station seasoned soldiers at the Lord’s tomb, though the venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen saw an irony in it: is it not fitting that when the King of kings was asleep there would be guards to keep watch? Do we not have soldiers watching when our president is asleep?
When the president of a nation wakes up in the morning and He is exiting the palace, it is expected that the guards would stand upright and salute. The guards at the tomb of Jesus, however, could not stand up nor move their hands. Why? Because, the majesty and power of the rising Lord caused an earthquake, blew away the stone at the entrance of the tomb, chloroformed and paralyzed the guards. Their lives were spared only so that they could testify about the Lord’s resurrection to people who were not prepared to listen to the truth (cf. Matt. 28:1-10).
Thus, like Isaac, Jesus came back to life on the third day; like the Egyptian cupbearer, Jesus came out of the prison of the tomb on the third day; as in Exodus event, Jesus saw light again on the third day after darkness; as on Mt. Sinai, the majestic presence of God caused an earthquake as Jesus arose on the third day; like Jonah who came out of the belly of the whale, Jesus arose after three days in the belly of the earth; and as Hosea prophesied that God would raise us up on the third day, so He raised up His Son on the third day.
Beloved, Peter who initially forgot about the Lord’s prediction would, after his encounters with the risen Lord, testify to the household of Cornelius: “They put Him [Jesus] to death … but God raised Him up on the third day and made Him manifest … to us who …ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41).
Beloved, if the testimony of Peter and other disciples about the resurrection of Jesus is not sufficient, then listen to the testimony of Saul, a former Pharisee, who thought that the disciples were spreading false news and so he passionately went from town to town to persecute Christians. Fortunately, Saul had an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Person Saul thought was dead and gone (Acts 9:1-22). Saul, who later became Paul, was so impacted by the resurrection of Christ that he would firmly state: “All I want is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10).
Paul would further stress that for Christians, the resurrection is the foundation of our preaching, faith, life, and hope: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But [the truth and the good news is:] Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:13-20).
Beloved, may our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ be renewed this Easter and sustained always; and may this faith renew our hope and strengthen our resolve to lead lives worthy of eternity. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis