A dark contrast
The world was a dark and ugly place some 2,000 years ago. It was so for as long as anyone could remember. The perennial plague of pestilence, war, slavery, and oppression dominated the consciousness of a nation for what seemed like eternity. The brutal world of politics, physical brutality, and spiritual hopelessness left individuals and nations surviving by cunning duplicity and cutthroat rules of “might makes right.” Empires rose and fell, political and military leaders came to power and deposed one another, and crushed the common people beneath the weight of it all. The wheels of time seemed to grind them to dust.
Ever since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the Jewish people were unable to breath a single breath of true freedom. Instead, they were passed as possessions by right of the spoils of war from the Babylonians to the Persians when Cyrus the Great captured Babylon on the night of Oct 12, 539 B.C.
Once under Persian rule in 473 B.C., the Jews narrowly escaped genocidal intentions of a power-hungry anti-Semitic demagogue, through the heroic actions of a young girl named Esther who interceded on their behalf to her husband, King Xerxes I (the same King Xerxes who just eight years before had assaulted the “Gates of Fire” at Thermopylae against the famed King Leonidas and his Spartan 300).
Following Alexander the Great’s victory over the Persians in 333 B.C. and his subsequent death 10 years later, his generals fought over the division of his empire. For the next two centuries, the Jews found themselves caught in the ever-familiar crossfire of politics and greed. Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated their temple which triggered the bloody Maccabean Revolt to restore order and sanctity to the temple (an occasion that is still celebrated to this day as “Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights”). Peace was short-lived as the Maccabees fell to the Syrians, and then to the Romans.
In 71 B.C., Rome was shaken to its core by the uprising of 7,000 slaves led by the rebel Spartacus – an uprising that ended with the Jewish rebels being crucified in a 240-mile line of crosses stretching from Naples to Rome. Soon after, Pompey entered Jerusalem and put 12,000 Jews to the sword, made Jerusalem tributary to Rome, and erased any last vestige of Jewish independence.
Glimmer of hope
It was a dark and bloody history filled with intrigue, deceit, and murder. And suddenly, in this sad and beleaguered world of pain, misery, and death, “the people that walked in darkness [saw] a great light; they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
How odd, it seemed, to hear the words of a quiet, unassuming Galilean tell them to love their enemies, and to do good to them that despitefully used them. He told them, “Render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s.” He told them to go the extra mile and to turn the other cheek. He urged them to show love and compassion in a world that knew only hate and bitterness. Imagine, the hope to see this man whose heart was touched with their infirmities; a man that had the ability to heal disease and raise the dead to life. It was a picture of hope—His words of eternal life in a world far better than this one.
Crushed, so it seemed
Then, their world was shattered! This shining light and spark of hope, was executed on a cruel Roman cross at the hands of the very people He tried to help. Immediately, the world that began to look a little brighter plunged into the blackest night when He was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb, an enigmatic end to a seemingly unfulfilled promise.
Thousands of years of darkness culminated on Easter morning, some 2,000 years ago. A single day changed the course of humanity for all of time and eternity. The song writer describes it well:
“Then came the morning. Night turned into day.
The stone was rolled away. Hope rose with the dawn,
Then came the morning. Shadows vanished before the Son
Death had lost, and life had won
For morning had come.”
On that Easter morning, Jesus rose victorious, conquered death, hell, and the grave, and gave rise to the cry of “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
On that day, salvation was purchased and perfected, and is now free to all! That same Jesus who was there in the beginning with God, that same Jesus who came to earth as a baby, that same Jesus who died and rose again . . . that same Jesus is accessible today, right now. He is as close as the mention of His name! This should change the way we think. This should change the way we live. Why? He changed our world forever, for the better.
Our own times are turbulent, but we can have the “calm assurance that [we] can face uncertain days because He lives!”
Because He lives I can face to tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives.