There is a silent miracle hidden in the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. But I’ve never seen a preacher or commentator point it out.
As we know, Jesus was unjustly arrested, brutally tortured, and horrifically executed by the religious and political leaders of his society. The Roman invention of crucifixion was meant to maximize agony and anguish. Perhaps more painful than his physical suffering, Jesus died in betrayal, abandonment, and mockery.
That’s what Jesus got after “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). That was Jesus’s reward for proclaiming good news to the poor, declaring freedom for prisoners, opening the eyes of the blind, and speaking God’s blessing (Luke 4:18-19).
It’s hard to imagine greater justification for righteous anger and brutal revenge. After all, Jesus was known as the “son of David.”
If we look at the end of King David’s story, bitter anger and brutal revenge is exactly what we find.
In his final song, David boasts, “I pursued my enemies and crushed them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed” (2 Samuel 22:38). In his last words, David declares,
“Evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand. Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.” 2 Samuel 23:22-23
David dies speaking words of violence and burning destruction against “evil men.”
In 2 King’s version, David’s last words are filled with even fiercer revenge. David reminds his son Solomon of the betrayals of his military commander Joab and demands, “Do no let his gray head go down to the grave in peace” (2:6). Then David reminds Solomon of Shimei, a man who had cursed David. David informs Solomon that he swore not to kill Shimei but instructs Solomon otherwise:
“But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.” 2 Kings 2:9
These are literally David’s last words – instructions for his son to cunningly assassinate his gray-headed enemies. David’s “great commission” is blood-soaked revenge.
David’s last words set a striking contrast to Jesus’s.
After Jesus is raised from the dead, he doesn’t say a word about his betrayers, his torturers, his executioners, or his mockers. This is the miraculous silence in the Easter story. It appears that Jesus actually meant what he said when he cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34) and, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Jesus abandons revenge and opens a new beginning.
It’s important to remember that when Jesus rises from the dead, he hasn’t magically undergone a memory wipe. In fact, Jesus shows Thomas the wounds from his execution (John 20:27).
But when Jesus meets his disciples – the ones who abandoned him in his moment of greatest suffering – Jesus says, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 21). When Jesus speaks with Peter, who betrayed Jesus three times, Jesus simply says, “Simon son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep” (John 21:16). Jesus then sends his disciples on a global mission to teach obedience to his counter-cultural commands, which called for loving and forgiving enemies (Matthew 28:20; 5:43-48; 22:34-40).
The resurrected Jesus is free of bitterness. He doesn’t brood over the past or plot revenge in the future. He proclaims peace, calls for love and service, and sends his students on a costly mission to change violent culture.
Of course, resurrection from the dead is an astonishing miracle that only God could perform. As N.T. Wright has famously said, Jesus passed through death and broke through the other side, busting open the way to undying life for humanity.
But the miracle within the miracle of Easter is that Jesus didn’t rise again with righteous anger and calls for brutal revenge against the “evil men” who killed him. In some ways, perhaps this is the more impressive miracle. The horrific evil of Jesus’s murder not only couldn’t capture and control his physical existence. It didn’t capture and control his moral and spiritual existence in the face of the future. Jesus was unchained.
As we celebrate Easter this year, are there people in our lives that we need to set free from the evil of the past with the new beginning of forgiveness? Are there betrayers to whom we can say, “Peace be with you”? Instead of marshaling our troops for revenge, are we willing to mobilize our community to break with culture for the sake of reconciliation and neighbor-love for “all nations”?
This is the silent miracle that the power of Jesus’s resurrection calls us to. Without it, the resurrection isn’t resurrection at all but simply the resuscitation of the old world of death. Let us celebrate Jesus’s resurrection this year by abandoning the cycle of revenge for the new beginning of God’s triumphant love.
This is the way of hope.