(Acts 2:14a, 36-41)
Easter was a crisis.
Exactly 100 years ago, Denmark experienced the Easter Crisis of 1920. The king and the cabinet had a conflict that escalated into a constitutional crisis, leading to the development of a constitutional monarchy in Denmark.
Easter was also a rising. In Ireland, the Easter Rising of 1916 was a bloody milestone in the struggle between the Irish and the British. Beginning on Easter Monday, thousands of Irish men and women seized locations in Dublin and proclaimed an Irish Republic. The British Army responded with force, leading to fierce street fighting and heavy casualties. Almost 500 people died, and 2,600 were wounded.
After six days, the British Army suppressed the Easter Rising. Thousands of people were taken prisoner, and most leaders of the movement were executed.
But Britain’s reaction to the Easter Rising was not popular. Public opinion began to shift, and the result was that Ireland moved steadily toward independence.
On the centennial of the Easter Rising, Netflix offered a mini-series called Rebellion, a drama in which “lover is pitted against lover, friend against friend, and brother against brother.” One of the creators of the series said that “there was a huge appetite for people wanting to learn more.”
So Easter was both a rising and a crisis. But not everyone today knows about the Easter Rising of 1916, and very few people have heard of the Easter Crisis of 1920.
Much better known is the Easter Rising and Crisis of the First Century, events that happened in Jerusalem. This rising was far more peaceful and full of genuine new life, as opposed to armed rebellion. And this crisis did not lead to a new form of government, but instead to a powerful new faith.
The rising and the crisis worked together to launch a movement and change the world. And right up to the present day, there is “a huge appetite for people wanting to learn more.”
So, what is the crisis for us today? The Easter Crisis of 2020?
First, the Easter Rising. Standing in the streets of Jerusalem, the apostle Peter raised his voice and boldly addressed the people of Jerusalem. “Peter’s speech is the first public disclosure of Jesus’ resurrection,” says New Testament Professor Robert Tannehill. “This message is a shock to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
Yes, a shock. The rising is a shock.
Peter spoke about “Jesus of Nazareth” and accused the Israelites of crucifying and killing Him. “But God raised him up,” he said, “having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (vv. 22-24).
The resurrection was a rebellion — a successful revolt against the oppressive power of death. “This Jesus God raised up,” proclaimed Peter, “and of that all of us are witnesses” (v. 32). And having conquered death, Jesus now sits on the right hand of God in heaven. “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36).
Like the British Army in Dublin, the power people in Jerusalem thought they had crushed the rebellion. Jesus was killed on a cross and laid in a tomb. But God raised Jesus from the dead, and public opinion began to shift. More and more people were seeing that Jesus had conquered death and been made both Lord and Messiah.
The rising was a liberation movement in which God freed Jesus from death.
The rising was a revolution in which a crucified criminal became Lord and Messiah.
The rising was a grassroots rebellion in which a man from Nazareth became the right-hand man of God.
The rising was a promise of freedom for everyone who follows Jesus — freedom from sin, freedom from oppression, freedom from death itself.
The rising was a first step toward the transformation of the entire world: One in which suffering is replaced by joy, injustice is replaced by justice, violence is replaced by peace, discord is replaced by harmony, and death is replaced by everlasting life.
Yes, the Easter Rising does all these things, and in the process it shakes up the established order. The Rising creates a Crisis.
Second, the Easter Crisis. The book of Acts tells us that when the people of Jerusalem heard the words of Peter, they were “cut to the heart” (v. 37). The words of Peter created a crisis for them, throwing them into a time of intense difficulty and trouble. As they faced this crisis, they knew that they had to make an important decision — in fact, the Greek work krisis means “decision.” They asked Peter and the apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” (v. 37).
Peter had an immediate response for them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). He challenged them to repent, which means to make a complete reversal of course and move in a new direction.
If you have been opposing Jesus, begin to support Him.
If you have been the lord of your own life, begin to live for a new Lord.
If you have been serving an earthly ruler, begin to serve a heavenly Messiah.
If you have been putting faith in yourself and your own abilities, begin to put faith in Jesus and His power.
After you repent, said Peter, then be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This sacrament gives you forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Once cleansed of your sins, you go forward knowing that you will never walk alone, but that the presence of God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, will always be with you.
The Easter Rising created an Easter Crisis, one that forced the people of Jerusalem to decide whether they were going to oppose Jesus or support Him, whether they were going to serve an earthly king or a heavenly Messiah. The situation was unstable, and they knew they had to choose. But Peter encouraged them to make a decision for Jesus, saying that “the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (v. 39). Wanting them to move in a new and life-giving direction, he concluded with the words, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (v. 40).
Yes, the Easter Crisis was a turning point, one that had enormous consequences for the people of Jerusalem. The choice was bigger than any crisis points in U.S. history, times in which people had to choose. The Boston Tea Party. The Declaration of Independence. The Abolition Movement. The Civil War. The First World War. The New Deal. The Second World War. The Civil Rights Movement. The Environmental Movement.
All have been turning points. Shocks to the system. Times of decision. Crisis points. But they are no bigger than the question raised by the book of Acts: What would the people of Jerusalem choose?
Acts tells us that those who welcomed Peter’s message “were baptized, and that day about 3,000 persons were added” (v. 41). Three thousand new Christians! An unexpected and truly stunning response. And then we learn that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). As with the Netflix series Rebellion, “there was a huge appetite for people wanting to learn more.”
The Easter Crisis led to the rapid growth of the Christian church, from a handful of apostles to a crowd of newly baptized Christians. But instead of creating chaos, this explosive growth was quickly organized by teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers.
This story from Acts reminds us that the days after the Easter Rising were not just a happy time in which the followers of Jesus gave thanks for the gift of the resurrection. No, the rising created a crisis, and the church responded by organizing itself to continue the ministry and mission of Jesus in the world.
We can do the same, as we adopt a crisis mentality and make a faithful response to what God is doing in the world. Our focus should be:
The apostles’ teaching, such as the words of Peter: “God has made [Jesus] both Lord and Messiah” (v. 36). Jesus remains the one leader who both deserves and rewards our deepest allegiance.
Fellowship, which in Greek is koinonia. Within the Christian community, fellowship means sharing, contribution and spiritual communion. It is the mark of a self-giving and generous community.
The breaking of the bread. Since the best path to unity is through the stomach, we should never miss the opportunity to gather around tables for food and conversation.
The prayers. God raised Jesus up and is the power behind our new life in Christ. Our prayers keep us connected to the God who continues to raise us up and send us forward.
Today, we are experiencing a crisis — the Easter Crisis of 2020. So let’s respond by imitating the Jerusalem Christians, who followed the risen Jesus and launched a movement that changed the world.