2nd Sunday of Easter - Sunday 3 April 2016
Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21 Acts 5:27-32 Revelation 1:4-8
The readings for this week remind us that the powerful resurrection plan of God is far greater than anything that mortals can dream up — and one day everyone will see that.
I have always been amused by what the Israelites say in Exodus 14. Confronted with Pharaoh’s plan to reverse their exodus after the Passover, they forget that God has a plan too. They are terrified of Pharaoh who is puny compared to their God and they complain against Moses. “We should have stayed in Egypt!” they say. They have forgotten rather quickly how terrible slavery was. When they were in it they couldn’t wait to escape. Foolishly often we look back wistfully at the past when things get tough in the present and we cannot see a way forward.
“Are there no graves in Egypt to bury us in?” the people ask — which is most ironic, since even today the one thing ancient Egypt is famous for is its graves.
The pyramids of the Pharaohs stand as an enduring testimony to their death, while the people of God continue to thrive and to flourish all over the world. In the face of what they think will be imminent death, God opens up the way to new life, for their safety and his glory.
Finally they believe and rejoice, though the fate of the Egyptians is publicly sealed.
So as Maximus of Turin once put it, “the one who walks calmly in faith will not fear Egypt in pursuit.”
Faced by the potentially life-threatening authority of the high priest, the apostles in Acts 5 might have similarly been cowed into despondent fear and spiritual panic. Reminding them that he had given “strict orders” that they were not to teach in Jesus’ name, he confronts them with evidence of their determined and brazen impertinence. But far from being silent, Peter and the others cannot help but calmly speak out (which establishment figures who have lost sight of truly spiritual imperatives have always considered to be infantile and unproductive).
They must obey God, rather than any human authority — even that of the high priest — because God has acted decisively in Jesus through his death, resurrection, and exaltation. Those who repent and obey the true Leader and Saviour of Israel will receive the Holy Spirit. The authorities will not be able to deny the unpleasant evidence of their failure to get with God’s programme.
The apostle John’s vision of the risen and ascended Christ begins with a blessing of grace and peace from the one who has an eternal plan: he was, and is, and is to come. He has loved and freed his people by shedding his own blood, as the true Passover lamb, and faithfully witnessed to the sovereign rule of God over this world and the next through his glorious resurrection.
John testifies that Jesus will one day return. And when he does, it will not be in a corner. It will not be as a suffering servant. He will come to bring salvation for his people, but wailing and aching regret to those who reject him. “Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” must be one of the most devastating lines in Scripture.
As Matthew Henry says, “He shall come, to the terror of those who wound and crucify him by apostasy: he shall come, to the astonishment of the whole world of the ungodly.” Those who oppose God and his plan to save his people will, at the end, be clearly and openly defeated. Yet we are not to react with schadenfreude, but with repentance and sobriety, trusting in the ultimate justice and wisdom of the one who is Alpha and Omega.