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A Stunning Reversal

By Suzanne Nicholson


An Easter Poem

death has the last word.
We cannot say
Life has won.
Your eyes have opened:
the pain
the suffering
the abuse
ending all

Oxygen in Your lungs
now struggling, depleted, defeated:
The Devil
smiling that knowing smile.
help me.
stories of old
floating in my mind,
so many promises
broken and poured out—
It is done.
(Now read the lines from bottom to top.)


The joy of Easter arises from the stunning reversal of all that seemed so powerful in the world. Darkness, death, sin, pain, suffering. We are constantly bombarded with reminders that the world is not as it should be. When illness rears its ugly head, when relationships shatter into unrecognizable pieces, when doubts choke out our vision of the future, we are tempted to despair. Even the disciples — who had walked with Jesus for more than three years and witnessed abundant miracles and heard astonishing truth and experienced profound love — they, too, could not make sense of the worldly power that had crushed the Holy One of God.

I wonder what the Devil thought in those last days. Early on, he had unsuccessfully tried to turn Jesus to worldly ways of displaying his power (Luke 4.1-13), and even hordes of the devil’s minions could not defeat Jesus. They were so scared, they begged to enter pigs rather than hear Jesus banish them to the abyss (Luke 8.26-33). Finally, the Devil took the matter in his own hands: he entered Judas and found a way to hand Jesus over to those who wanted to kill him (Luke 22.3). The anger and hostility of the crowd chanting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” must have thrilled the Devil. Killing the Lord’s anointed—Satan must have thought he had finally thwarted God’s plans. How would a son of David reign now, let alone forever (2 Samuel 7.12-13))?

But the Devil was never as smart as he thought he was. Even though he knew Scripture and could twist it when needed (Matthew 4.6), he didn’t seem to understand its import. (We should remember that even the disciples needed the resurrected Jesus to open their minds to the Scriptures; see Luke 24.45). Paul emphasizes the importance of the Spirit for right interpretation: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2.14)). The Devil simply could not understood that Isaiah’s proclamation — “…by his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53.5) — was about the Messiah. As Paul says, “…we speak God’s wisdom… which none of the rulers of this age understood, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2.7-8).

In God’s most ironic twist, He used the very tool of humanity’s separation to repair the breach between God and humanity. Human sin birthed death, but the death of God’s Righteous One birthed new life for those who believe. The power of sin had been cancelled when Jesus — the only pure, unblemished sacrifice — `made full payment for our debt with his life.

The empty tomb provided the necessary proof that sin had been defeated. If Jesus had stayed dead, then the tyranny of sin remains, the payment was not enough, and death still reigns. As Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17)).

Every Easter we declare that our faith is not futile. We are no longer chained to our sins. Christ is risen, and nothing will ever be the same. The life of Christ now lives in us, and as we walk in step with the Holy Spirit, we experience new life, both in this world and the next.

Even though disease, famine, war, broken relationships, and death still exist, they are remnants of an old kingdom that is perishing. They are the last futile skirmishes in a battle that has already been decided. We who know that Christ is alive can declare that — whatever happens to us in this life — there is more to come. God’s story is not done.

We cannot say death has the last word.

Rev. Dr. Suzanne Nicholson is Professor of New Testament at Asbury University and an Elder in the MidSouth Provisional Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church.

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