A fresh look at the Easter experience through the eyes of the disciple Peter.
Shattered, gutted and shocked beyond words, the despondent group of men and women clung to each other for comfort and reassurance. Their sobs and despair filled the gloomy room. Jesus had been dead for more than 24 hours. It seemed like the world had stopped.
A crusty fisherman called Peter pounded the wooden table with his fist. "I was there. I saw it. I heard him call out, 'It is finished'. I watched as his head dropped down and his body become still. No more painful agonising breaths. It was all over. Finished."
Peter's painful thoughts came tumbling out. "What does it all mean? Jesus had said, 'Turn back to God - for the Kingdom of God is at hand.' We believed him. We left our homes, our families and businesses. We risked everything in following Jesus. He healed the blind, the lame and the crippled. He calmed the seas and stilled the storms. He walked on water. He was invincible. But now the King is dead. He had raised the dead but who would raise him? Why did God do nothing? It doesn't makes sense.
"Not just dead. He was executed like a criminal, and our own leaders, the priests and the leaders of the nation rejected him and approved of his execution. But who are we to judge - for Judas, our own brother whom we trusted, went and put him into the hands of the enemy. How could we have been so blind and not seen what was coming? But I am worse. I denied him. I cursed and swore that I never knew him. Oh no, I will never forget that time when Jesus looked at me with such pain and sadness. I failed my master. I am a big coward - a first class failure." With his head on the table Peter sobbed and fell into a troubled sleep.
He was still asleep when some of the women quietly opened the door and slipped outside into the early morning darkness. They tiptoed down the stairs and into the silent street with their precious bundles of ointments and perfume. Jesus was dead and the least they could do was to give him a decent burial. Because it was so late on Friday night when he died, all they had done was to hastily wrap his body in the burial shroud and quickly place him in the tomb before the sun disappeared. Now that the Sabbath was over, it was their first chance to get back to the body and to show their love and respect.
As they arrived at the tomb they suddenly stopped. The big stone that should have been covering the entrance to the tomb was rolled to one side. Cautiously they entered the open tomb. A young man dressed in shining white said, "Don't be frightened. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen. See, that is where his body was. Go tell the disciples and Peter that he is risen!"
They fled from the tomb with pounding hearts. Back through the streets they rushed and up the stairs. Hammering on the door. "Peter! Peter! Open up. He is not there! The tomb is open! His body is gone!"
Peter was sceptical, "Has grief gotten the better of you? Dead men do not walk out of tombs."
Even so, Peter ran down the stairs, and through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. He came to the tomb and charged straight in. It was empty. No one there. Well, not completely empty. The shroud was there. The cloth that had been wrapped as a turban around his head was at one side. Like a toothpaste tube with the cap off. But the toothpaste was all gone. The grave clothes were untouched but empty, so no one had just carried the body away. This puzzle had taken a very strange twist. Peter had personally witnessed Jesus raise three different people to life. Could this have happened to Jesus?
Peter walked back to the house, confused. He felt so ashamed. His face burned as he thought back to his denial. His hot words were spoken without proper thought. That is the trouble with words, they are so easy to say and so difficult to unsay. Tears ran down his face. He remembered his boastful comment, "Though others forsake you, I will never forsake you." The strident crow of the rooster echoed and re-echoed in his troubled brain. Satan, the accuser sneered. "Disciple? Disgrace more likely. You are useless. Worthless! Hopeless! Forget it. No one will trust you again. Jesus will never look at you again. You have failed big time and it's all over."
Suddenly he met Jesus. Face to face. Not a ghost. Not an apparition.
Jesus said, "Peace! It's me. Don't be afraid." Peter could hardly believe his eyes. Jesus was alive with a real physical body. Not a different body but the body that had died was now alive again. The original body complete with visible wounds in his hands, his feet and his side was truly alive and walking talking and eating again.
The King was no longer dead. The King had fought his biggest battle and won. What looked like a triumph of hatred and evil and the defeat of godliness and righteousness was instead the defeat of sin and death. Obedience defeated rebellion, self-sacrifice defeated greed and selfishness, love defeated hatred, humility defeated pride, meekness defeated arrogance, and truth defeated lies.
On Good Friday Jesus made the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He paid the price, for Peter's forgiveness and my forgiveness. He offers new life and eternal life to all who will put their trust in him.
Because of Easter, Christians have this audacious hope that eternal life is God's great gift to all who will believe in Jesus. We believe that death is not the end of the story. We believe that diabetes, heart disease or cancer is not the final word. We believe that just as Jesus was raised from the dead so he will also raise from the dead everyone who believes in him. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die."
On that resurrection Sunday Peter's life was changed for ever. Jesus has defeated death and gives eternal life to all who believe in him and nothing would shake this complete confidence. Peter later wrote, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you ..."
Peter was a fisherman. We can wonder what he would say about our city of sails today.
Recently, a young man walked into an Auckland church and sat in the back looking very despondent and discouraged. He was out of work. Drugs had messed up his thinking. Child Youth and Family had stepped in and taken the children away from him and his partner, and he had been diagnosed as having mental illness. Life seemed hopeless but he decided to give church a chance and see if perhaps God could fix this mess. He and his partner met with the pastor each week and studied the Bible together. They asked Jesus to come into their lives and bring healing and new life. With God's help he quit the marijuana and alcohol. God began to bring healing to his mind. He is now back at work and doing well. Their children are back home again and new life has come to a troubled family.
The resurrection is not just a Bible story from long ago. It is a present reality and the Gospel of peace has been an intrinsic part of Aotearoa since the message was first preached here 200 years ago, on Christmas Day, 1814. Jesus is alive and he answers prayer. Where we came from - and the problems, mistakes and failures of our past - are not as important as where we are headed and who we are walking with. Jesus changes lives and brings healing and new life to those who will ask him
This Easter, we Christian leaders of Auckland invite you to attend a church and experience Jesus who will walk with each person into a future of hope and promise. Jesus is alive.
Rev. Dr Neville Bartle, National Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene. Right Rev. Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland. Mr Glyn Carpenter, Director, New Zealand Christian Network. Rev. Roy Christian, Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Pastor Paul de Jong, Senior Pastor, LIFE. Bishop Patrick Dunn, Roman Catholic Bishop of Auckland. Mr Peter Eccles, Auckland District Chairman, Congregational Union of New Zealand. Mr David Goold, on behalf of the Open Brethren Churches. Pastor Mike Griffiths, National Leader, Elim Churches. Pastor Ken Harrison, Senior Pastor, Harvest Christian Church, Papakura AOGNZ. Pastor Dr Brian Hughes, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel. Major Stephen Jarvis, Divisional Commander, The Salvation Army. Very Rev. Jo Kelly-Moore, Dean, Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral. Rev. Dr John Kirkpatrick, Senior Pastor, Greenland Christian Centre. Dr Brian Krum, Regional Leader, Baptist Churches of New Zealand. Pastor Joe Kummerow, Pastor, Lutheran Church of New Zealand. Rev. Andrew Marshall, Director, Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches. Pastor Bruce Monk, National Leader, Acts Churches NZ. Pastor Sam Monk, Senior Pastor, Equippers Church. Pastor Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Churches. Pastor Lloyd Rankin, National Leader, Vineyard Churches of New Zealand. Pastor Dean Rush, National Leader, C3 Churches NZ. Pastor Jim Shaw, New Life Church. Bishop Brian Tamaki, Senior Minister, Destiny Churches International. Pastor Eddie Tupai, President North NZ Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church. Rev. Dr Richard Waugh, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand. Rev. Marilyn Welch, Superintendent for Northland, Auckland and Manukau Synods of the Methodist Church