Easter, 24 April 2011
It was the pinnacle of his existence. The Prince was more than elated, almost giddy, as he personally led the new prisoner into the dungeon of death.
This is what he had been working toward all these years -- years and years of opposition by the King -- years and years without any respect for his plan or his leadership or his salesmanship skills. And he really was a salesman.
It had been an uphill run the whole time -- from that very first day in the garden when he convinced the two people to choose his way and to eat the mango.
It was he who got the King's special unit bogged down in Egypt for 400 years.
It was he who managed to split the kingdom up.
It was he who prompted army after army to wreak havoc on the land that the King had promised to his people.
Not that the Prince really had anything against the people themselves... They often turned out to be his best allies.
But it was really about seizing control from the King.
Now, there is something you need to understand about this prince. He wasn't really a prince at all. He had simply assumed the title after the King dismissed him from his service and he started the revolution.
Of course, he had other given names but he preferred "Prince" for some reason. And now with the soul of the new prisoner in custody he was showing that he was worthy of the title.
You see, this was no ordinary prisoner. For he was indeed the Son of the King himself. And his capture had been no small accomplishment.
It took years of incitement. It took years of playing to the fears of the religious leaders and demonstrating to the people the weaknesses of the King and his family. Now, he had to stretch the truth a bit to make it happen. But it was necessary and worth it -- as it often is in politics.
For now he had the prize prisoner -- tricked into giving himself up without a fight for who knows what reason. It didn't matter. It just showed that the King and his family were weak -- unworthy of ruling the creation.
The very thought of how easy it was fed his ego. He screamed out at the top of his supernatural lungs "I am the greatest..."
Which of course, he truly believed.
So there would be a celebration that night -- an open bar for his guards and operatives -- dancing and revelry. For this was the tipping point in the war against the King. Victory was now a sure thing. For there in his dungeon, with the rest of the wasted and past mass of human souls, sat the son of the King.
The party lasted all night -- then all the next day -- and even into the third day. The Prince’s guards and operatives had long finished off anything with flavor to it. Now they were just drinking to drink -- and to soften the impact of what they had drunk the day before.
So they were early into the third day of alternating between drinking and sleeping -- sleeping and drinking -- and enjoying the satisfaction from knowing that they were on the winning side.
But early in the morning on that third day -- just as they were getting ready for yet another round -- suddenly from the bowels of the dungeon -- the innermost and darkest hole -- the place where they were holding the Son of the King -- there was a loud hollow creaking and cracking. Then came an explosion of an unimaginable magnitude.
Every single wall vaporized in an instant. A horrible horrible light filled the place which had up to this point only held darkness. It was as though a bolt of unending lightening was striking -- over and over and over again.
The drunken demons screamed in horror as they covered their eyes.
The Prince picked himself up and managed to make his way to the spot where the son of the King had been shackled.
He wasn't there. The shackles weren't there -- only a pile of dust. The walls weren't there. The place was depressingly bright. And the Prince of Darkness knew that he had been had. It had been a trick -- a nasty trick to ruin HIS dungeon. The place would never be the same again.
Already a few of the prisoners had wandered out to the outside world. Most, however, just sat there stunned -- as though they were waiting -- waiting for something more to happen -- although in the light they didn’t seem at all worried -- to the contrary.
The anxiety which had defined the dungeon was gone -- out the door with the son of the King. And the Prince slumped over as he wailed and groaned in the light. For he knew that the light had once and for all time ruined his place -- and that there was nothing he could do to rebuild. The damage was permanent. His eternal plan was foiled. Now, the best he could hope for was to pillage and burn on his retreat.
Because of his defeat the whole nature of his mission changed from dominance to spite. He knew that he was defeated. But he wasn’t going to go quietly.
This, of course, is the story of Easter as told from the perspective of the Devil -- with a slight bit of embellishment.
Now, we generally and rightly look at Easter from the angle of victory -- the victory that was accomplished by God through his son Jesus.
On Friday things looked pretty dark and dim -- as though death was going to win.
Some of you have seen the Passion movie so you have a sense of how dark that day was. But really, the point of the story isn’t to be found in that darkness. It wasn’t the amount of pain and suffering that Jesus went through that makes what he did effectuve for us. Rather it is that he did suffer and die. As we repeat in the Apostles’ Creed -- "He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead..."
And it’s what happened when he descended to the dead that makes this thing so powerful.
Yes, Christ sacrificed his life -- and it was horrible. The last thing we want to do is move to Easter without first visiting Good Friday. So we acknowledge the horror of Christ’s sacrifice. But, you know what -- lots of people have sacrificed their lives and gone through incredible suffering -- even intentionally.
Think of the 9-11 terrorists or the human bombs who kill people in the Middle-East on nearly a daily basis. In their minds they are making the ultimate sacrifice. They see themselves as martyrs for God. And, of course, we ask, "But really to what end -- The misery and suffering of others -- to establish their own eternity in the company of the Prince of the Power of Darkness?"
There are lots of people making powerful sacrifices. But the sacrifice of Jesus is different. It is important -- in a category of its own -- because it set-up the great escape -- the victory.
God sent his son into the world to not only take on flesh and to become fully human -- to perfectly share in the joys and the sorrows of our existence -- but also to sacrificially share in our death -- and in doing so it set him up to be able free us from the grasp of death itself.
Jesus broke into the dungeon of death in order to break us out.
Hebrews 2:14 (TNIV) -- "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil -- (15) and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."
1 Corinthians 15:54 (TNIV) -- "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
And none of this is really a surprise to anyone (except perhaps the Devil). For even in the Old Testament believers were looking forward, in their own limited way, to the resurrection power that would give them victory over their own situations.
For the God who raised Jesus from the dead to secure the salvation of the entire world was already busy at work saving his people -- and giving them minor victories -- victories which anticipated the Easter victory.
So I want to suggest that some of the responses of these early believers to God’s victory and salvation should also be our songs as we celebrate the victory of the resurrection.
A few minutes ago we read from Psalm 118. And you realize that the psalms are really songs or hymns. We read them but they were originally sung.
Psalm 118 is one of the most popular psalms in the Bible -- on the top ten chart. There are more quotes from Psalm 118 in the New Testament than any other psalm. It was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm.
And even more relevant to our current celebration, it was and is one of the psalms that was used in the Passover celebration. It's quite possible that this was the last hymn that Jesus sang with his disciples before going out into the night on Thursday.
Now, we don't really know the original context of Psalm 118 -- other than that it was a song celebrating some kind of military victory. But the words are especially appropriate for us as we celebrate what God has done through the victory of the resurrection.
Psalm 118:14-17 (NLT) --
"The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my victory.  Songs of joy and victory are sung in the camp of the godly. The strong right arm of the Lord has done glorious things!  The strong right arm of the Lord is raised in triumph. The strong right arm of the Lord has done glorious things!  I will not die, but I will live to tell what the Lord has done."Now, some of you aren't really feeling all that victorious. You have issues that while they haven’t stopped you from joining in the Easter festivities -- they are eating at you and keeping you from truly celebrating the victory of Christ over death and the Devil.
So I want to suggest that you take ownership of Psalm 118 to ease your minds, to put things in focus, and to help you celebrate the ultimate victory. I'm not implying that all your problems will go away -- and that life will get easy for you. If anything it will become more and more of a struggle.
How's that for an invitation to become a follower of Jesus? If you follow him you will find a certain peace and joy on a certain level -- but it will also be a struggle.
Ephesians 6:12 (TNIV) -- "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
It's a battle out there -- a battle manifest in lots of ways in our lives -- everything from moral temptation and anger issues to lack of direction and at times depression.
There is a struggle going on but if we hang in there we can be sure of victory. For the victory is already a done deal -- an Easter present.
So I am inviting you to make Psalm 118 your own -- especially vs. 14 (NLT) -- "The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my victory."
You see, because Christ is victorious over evil and death as his followers -- people united with him -- we get to share in that victory. In a very literal sense "he has become my victory."
In the big picture, death and everything associated with it doesn't count anymore, it's not the final word -- it is no longer the defining characteristic of our existence.
Psalm 118:17 (NLT) -- "I will not die, but I will live to tell what the Lord has done."
I’m not trying to diminish the pain of death -- to suggest that it doesn’t hurt to be separated from people we love and want near us. But the point is that death is now just temporary -- the dungeon itself now has light and it’s no longer a permanent holding facility.
The walls and the bars are gone. And when the time is right Jesus will return and lead his people out along the same resurrection path that he has already established.
As Christ is victorious -- so are we -- "The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my victory."
And that knowledge is meant to encourage us and sustain us through the current struggles. If you’ll hang with it, victory is yours -- because it is ours -- and it is ours because it is Christ’s.
There is an Easter hymn that is not really sung quite so much anymore. It was written by the Baptist minister Robert Lowry in the 19th century. Up From the Grave He Arose -- which I’m certain he wrote with the ukulele in mind -- although it’s not the easiest to sing it has a catchy tune -- and a great third verse. I want to sing that for you -- and then we can sing it together as an affirmation of our faith.
Death cannot keep his prey, Jesus my Savior!Amen!
He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose,
With a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with his saints to reign,
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!