By Most Rev Emmanuel A.S. Egbunu, Bishop of Lokoja
“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”” (Matthew 28:1–7, ESV)
Perhaps the most popular word or concept in the world now is the word LOCKDOWN. It will be hard to find any nation not in an indefinite lockdown at this time. Indeed, this first quarter of the year 2020 has been described as “the 100 days that changed the world” [Guardian UK, 8/4/20]
As at 31 December, a Chinese government website said they had detected a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million people. Some compared it to Ebola in West Africa.
Now about 100 days into 2020, the virus has reduced the world headlines to one main issue round the clock in both local and international media: Corona Virus or COVID-19. It has stopped international travel, brought economic activity to a standstill, subjected many to an experience slightly different from house arrest as people are confined to their homes with schools, offices, places of public worship all closed. It has affected small and great, going freely into palaces and state houses. The statistics is also frightening: A global total of those infected is put at about 1.3 million; thankfully about 270,000 have recovered; and then the frightening casualty figure is put at over 75,000 in just the first quarter of this year. Songs are being composed about it, predictions and interpretations are taking turns, yet one thing is clear: the UNCERTAINTY about how to treat it and how long this lockdown will continue.
Palm Sunday saw no street processions. And now we are celebrating Easter in a lockdown. What then is the message for us?
“No Power Can Stop God’s Power”
When the Hosannas of Palm Sunday turned to ‘Crucify Him’ on Friday, as instigated by the religious leaders, they felt they had finally got rid of Jesus. They produced false witnesses and went through gross injustice to have Jesus condemned and crucified – even if it meant releasing Barabbas, a troublemaker. They had locked Jesus up finally and permanently in the grave, they and Satan thought.
Not satisfied even with that, the chief priest and Pharisees went to Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” (Matthew 27:63–66, ESV).
What can be a more sever lockdown than that!
But let us see what happens on the resurrection morning: (Matt 28:1-4): “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.”
Heaven came down to carry out this “operation resurrection”. The next thing we read is the angel speaking to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” (vv5-7). That is why we sing: up from the grave He arose; with a mighty triumph o’er His foes… Hallelujah, Christ arose!
That is the greatest reversal of the greatest lockdown in history. May the same power that raised Jesus from the dead grant us this kind of divine visitation in whatever lockdown we may experience at this time – be it physical or spiritual.
“No Barriers Can Hinder God’s Presence”
For the disciples of Jesus, it was a time of fear. Peter had denied his dear Lord at the time of arrest and trial; the others had deserted Him. Now that their Master was cut down, they feared that the Jews might come hunting for them too, so they hid behind locked doors most of the time. John’s gospel brings it out: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”” (John 20:19, see also 20:26, ESV)
Fear shut them behind closed doors, but the resurrection power broke through the barriers to reach them. This virus has brought the fear of death to many people. The reason for the shut down is because of the death toll in places like Italy and what is being predicted for other places. May the power of the risen Christ break through the fears that have shut us in and locked us down. It goes beyond this virus. Many are locked down by many fears that make them do things they should not do, keep things they should not keep, or go to places they should not go.
“No Opposition Can Thwart God’s Purpose”
Even in this lockdown, God has a purpose; and His purposes can never be thwarted (Job 42:2). What Satan and the Jewish religious leaders thought would be the end of Christ’s ministry became the beginning of Christianity. We are told what they did to cover up the truth: “While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” (Matthew 28:11–15, ESV) Indeed not only was their deception exposed, but has been overtaken by the truth of the gospel. Before ascending to Heaven, the risen Christ gave His disciples an assignment which we now call the Great Commission. He said to them “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, GNB). No national, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, political or any other barrier can stop this. He told them how it would happen in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8, TNIV). Not long after the Heavens came down again when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. That became the birthday of the Christian Church. As Apostle Peter preached that day – no longer hiding behind closed doors – he told the vast audience, in Acts 2: 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death,
because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
About 3000 believed the gospel and were saved that same day.
The trend has continued through history like a spreading flame. No lockdown has shut down Christianity. Not even persecution has stopped it. Paul the apostle proved this truth both in his Damascus road encounter, and in his prison experiences. Once there was an earthquake as he and Silas sang in the Philippian jail and the jailer and family got saved. At another time, all in a shipwrecked ship with him were saved (Acts 16;27).
Implications of this Easter in a Lockdown…
1. “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19, TNIV). Whatever happens know that if you believe in Jesus because death was not the last word about Jesus, you too will live. Because Jesus lives you will live. And indeed He said this before He died and rose again. That’s why on the resurrection, the angel said ” as He said… you also will live.” Keep this close to your heart.
2. “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”[Psalm 16:8-11] which was used on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22–27, ESV). Jesus was not allowed to see corruption, meaning we too will not see corruption.
3. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, TNIV)
4. Hope beyond this life. “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT). Corona Virus will come and go like some other things have come and gone but however it lives you, do you have hope beyond this life, hope in Christ? That is the challenge of Easter.
5. “Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.” (Romans 6:5, NLT)
So Easter in a lockdown, they thought they had locked Jesus down but certainly they were mistaken because they could not lock Him down, God reversed it. No power can stop God’s power and I challenge you that if you feel locked down in any situation, let your faith in Christ open you up to God’s visitation to unlock whatever locks you down and to release you. No barrier can hinder God’s presence.
Even in this lockdown there is so much that God is doing and you can be a part of that happy story of how God is changing lives.
Happy Easter! Wishing you the victory that comes by the resurrection of Jesus.