Of course, Easter is not a tragedy! It is the glorious celebration of Jesus risen from the dead. He is the one who has conquered death, having left the great enemy of the human race in full retreat. Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus is but the firstfruit. For after him will follow a harvest of glorious resurrections. All who put their trust in him will rise like him. For all those reasons and many more, Easter is the great note of triumph.
But Easter would not have occurred, had Jesus not been hated, betrayed, falsely accused, unjustly condemned and brutally tortured to death. It is, therefore, so important when telling and remembering the story of Easter, that we do not tell it as the story of God rescuing what would have been a tragedy. All the events surrounding Easter, including the crucifixion of Jesus, is a part of the story of triumph. The day of Jesus’ death on the cross, was never called “Dark Friday.” It is “Good Friday”.
Acts chapter 4 opens with Peter and John gladly proclaiming in Jesus, the resurrection of the dead. Luke tells us that the captain of the temple and the Sadducees were greatly annoyed because of this. Peter and John were arrested and put into custody, awaiting to be tried the next day. The next day, Peter and John, rather than being intimidated, boldly proclaim that there is salvation in no other name, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Peter and John are then threatened and released. This called for a prayer and praise meeting among the believers.
Part of the prayer on that day is recorded in Acts 4:27-28:
“…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
The key to this prayer is the word “predestined”. We could also use the word, “predetermined”. That is, God had already decided the events surrounding the entire Easter experience, well in advance of them actually occurring. To what extent did God predetermine the events. The believers in Acts thought that the opposition to Jesus was predetermined. Indeed, we need think no further than Jesus’ own words regarding Judas, who betrayed him.
Jesus had said, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12)
Jesus called Judas the “son of destruction”, for he was to fulfill scripture in betraying him. And the believers in Acts must have remembered that. As they were praying, they were remembering those who stood against Jesus. They do not mention Judas, but they do mention Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and the people of Israel. All of those did whatever your hand had predetermined to take place.
Of course, the believers in the early church did not think that because these matters were predestined, that the enemies of Jesus were treated as robots, and could not be held accountable for their decisions. But they knew that the sovereignty of God and human will can be reconciled. They also knew that because God providentially ruled over the crucifixion, the crucifixion of Jesus was a shout of triumph.
Easter is not the story of a horrible tragedy that was redeemed by the resurrection. It is the story of the plan of God, in sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sin. The resurrection is not God’s redemption of a story gone wrong. Rather it is the demonstration that our saviour triumphed on the cross!