Once and for All

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” - 1 Peter 3:18 (NIV) by Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder

Jesus died only once. But now, He lives for all.

In the drama “The Trial of Jesus,” the English poet and writer John Masefield has the centurion Longinus report to Pilate after the crucifixion of Jesus. Longinus had been the officer in charge of the execution, and after delivering his official report, Pilate’s wife Procula asks him how the prisoner died. Longinus repeats his story, and then she asks, “Do you think he is dead?” The centurion answers, “No, lady, I don’t.” “Then where is he?” asks Procula. Longinus replies, “Let loose in the world, lady, where neither Roman nor Jew can stop his truth.”

In the 23rd and 24th chapters of Luke, we read the familiar story of Christ’s death and resurrection. At the outset of chapter 24, women go to the tomb with spices only to discover that the stone has been rolled away, and that the body of Jesus is not there. As they ponder what this might mean, they are confronted with the appearance of two gleaming figures, who ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” (Luke 24:5b–6 NIV). The women return to the 11 disciples and share their story, all but one of whom initially does not believe the seemingly fantastic tale.

But Peter’s reaction is different. When he hears the women’s testimony, he runs to the tomb, finds the strips of burial linen that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body, and then wonders what had happened. Soon after, of course, Peter would encounter the Risen Christ, and he would understand that the resurrection would change the world forever.

The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. It was the divine means by which humankind, through faith in Christ, could be reconciled to its Creator.  It was complete in its elements and total in its effect, a triumph over the physical and spiritual death to which each of us is otherwise condemned. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are redeemed. Because of Him, a door to God’s grace was opened that would never close.

So, Christ’s death on the cross was a promise—a promise to forgive us of our sins.

But there’s more. Christ’s resurrection three days later signifies God’s promise that, through His Son, we can live forever. That fact should bring us unparalleled joy.  

On the Easter just before he died, the great preacher D. William Sangster painfully printed a short note to his daughter. A deeply spiritual man, Sangster had spearheaded a Christian renewal movement in the British Isles after World War II, but his efforts slowly came to an end with the progressive effects of muscular atrophy, which first paralyzed his body and then his voice. But on that last Sunday, Sangster was still able to move his fingers, and he wrote, “How terrible to wake up on Easter and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’  Far worse, to have a voice and not want to shout.”

So, Christ’s resurrection was a promise—a promise of eternal life.

And it doesn’t stop there. Bishop Lajos Ordass of the Lutheran Church in Hungary spoke in 1957 to the Lutheran World Federation assembly in Minneapolis. As bishop, Ordass had protested the Communist regime’s confiscation of church schools, a crime for which he spent more than six years under arrest.

When he spoke to the assembled group, Ordass said, “They placed me in solitary confinement.  It was a tiny cell, perhaps six feet by eight feet, with no windows and soundproofed. They hoped to break down my resistance by isolating me from all sensory perceptions. They thought I was alone. They were wrong. The risen Christ was present in that room, and in communion with him I was able to prevail.”

So, Christ’s death and resurrection were also a combined promise—a promise of fellowship with God Himself.

Since those women recorded in Luke 24 first discovered the empty tomb, the promises of Easter—of forgiveness, of eternal life and of fellowship with God—have never been broken. Christ offers them today to every man, woman, boy or girl who yearns to experience them in their own life. It’s the heart of the miracle of Easter. And it only needed to take place once in order to make a permanent change, not only in the world, but in the human heart as well. 

They were—and still are—promises for you.

Commissioner Kenneth Hodder is the National Commander of The Salvation Army in The United States.

Illustration by Alyssa De Asis

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