By Doug Redford
This year opening day of the baseball season is tomorrow, Monday, April 6. Opening day is always a major event in Cincinnati, where I live, in part because the Cincinnati Reds are the oldest professional baseball team, dating back to 1869. In the year 2012 opening day became designated by the local authorities as an official ceremonial city holiday. “This makes us the only city in major league baseball,” said one councilman, “to recognize opening day as a holiday.”
Today, April 5, 2015, Christians observe their own opening day, more commonly known as Easter Sunday. When the women came to Jesus’ tomb three days after his crucifixion, they fully expected to find it sealed shut. They wondered how they would ever be able to move the stone so that they could pay their respects, according to the custom of that time (Mark 16:1-3). To their amazement they found the stone rolled away and the tomb opened. That opening and what it represents is our cause for celebration on this day.
Today is a holiday in the truest sense of the word since holiday is derived from “holy day.” The victory we commemorate today is one far greater than the Reds or any team could ever achieve. To be able to face death as a foe that is feared no more is holy ground indeed.
Luke 24 provides us with one of the four accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. But in Luke’s description we see some specific uses of the word opened. The first two occur in the record of Jesus’ appearance to the two men traveling on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).
Early in this narrative, Luke informs us that these two travelers “were kept from recognizing” Jesus when he first approached them and joined them as they walked (vv. 15, 16). Immediate recognition of the resurrected Jesus was in some way prevented. Not until the men reached Emmaus and sat down with their guest to share a meal were their eyes opened (vv. 30, 31). Why?
We can only speculate the reason for this timing. Perhaps it may be likened to Jesus’ command to those who witnessed or experienced demonstrations of his power not to tell anyone what had just occurred (Matthew 17:5-9; Luke 8:51-56). Jesus, even after being raised from the dead, was still very sensitive to how and when this miracle should be made known. Thus did he later tell those in Jerusalem to “stay in the city” until “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). It can be so excruciating to wait on God’s timetable, but it is rewarding if we are willing to do so.
Had Jesus instantly been recognized by these men, consider what likely would have followed. Caught up in the emotion of the moment, the two may well have hurried back to Jerusalem to report their discovery. The delay resulting from their lack of awareness provided Jesus with the opportunity to conduct what became an unforgettable time of instruction regarding his fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:27). Who knows how often these men may have later used Jesus’ words to help others come to a point of faith in Jesus and open their eyes?
After the men realized who had accompanied them on their journey, they reflected on how he “opened the Scriptures to us.” In doing so he had given them the kind of heartburn they could never forget (v. 32) nor wish to be cured of!
Not only did Jesus, the living Word (John 1:1-3, 14), become alive on opening day—the written Word, the Bible, became alive as well. The resurrection provided the Aha! moment that gave the Old Testament Scriptures validity. Paul told the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If the resurrection of Jesus were a hoax, everything that we believe is, as The Message puts it, “smoke and mirrors.” If Christ has not been raised, not only is his tomb closed, but the Bible is closed along with it. For that matter, all church buildings may as well be closed—for we have no message to give to the world, at least nothing that is meaningfully different from what the world offers. If there is no resurrection, Jesus has been proved a fraud, since he promised more than once that he would rise from the dead (Matthew 12:38-41; 16:21; 17:22, 23; 20:17-19).
In Matthew 12, Jesus cited Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish for three days and nights as a kind of “action prophecy” of his resurrection. But if Jesus has not risen, on what grounds can we believe that Jonah was actually in the belly of the fish? If the resurrection of Jesus is a myth, then the Bible’s authority crumbles. The words of the prophets are not “a light shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19); they are darkness without any ray of hope.
When Jesus said early in his ministry, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19), the disciples “recalled what he had said” after his resurrection and believed what Jesus had spoken (John 2:18-22). But if Jesus has not risen from the dead, then our faith needs to be recalled in the same way an automobile with serious malfunctions has to be recalled.
The last use of the word opened occurs when the two men returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven disciples (minus Judas) gathered together, discussing the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. As the men began to add their own encounter with Jesus to the reports, “Jesus himself stood among them” (v. 36). After Jesus confirmed his actual presence with them by showing everyone his hands and feet and eating a piece of fish (vv. 40-42), the master teacher offered yet another course of instruction, declaring himself to be the heart of the entire Old Testament: “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (v. 44). Then, we are told, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (v. 45).
What is this opening? How did it occur, and how does it occur today? It is worth noting that Jesus followed his teaching by commissioning those present to take part in their own mind-opening ministry. He first taught them to consider how he fulfilled what was written in the past, but then he also challenged them (and in turn all his followers) to fulfill his plan for the future: to be his witnesses to all nations of the good news they have been privileged to receive (vv. 46-49).
This is meant to be the continuing impact of the opening day we celebrate today: to produce other opening days when the message of Jesus’ resurrection results in additional opened eyes and opened minds. Paul acknowledged that the one who has closed or “veiled” the minds of unbelievers to the good news is “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4). Our enemy Satan would like nothing more than to keep the tomb of Jesus closed by closing minds to the truth we celebrate on opening day. Our task is to open minds by opening the Scriptures and allowing their light to pierce the darkness of a broken world.
In 1984 author Thomas Boswell wrote a book entitled Why Time Begins on Opening Day. His premise was that opening day gives every major league baseball team the opportunity to start afresh. Whatever mistakes were made the year before, whatever disappointments occurred, the slate is wiped clean. All teams begin the new season with the same statistic—no wins and no losses.
Today Christians recognize that, in a more important sense, time began on our opening day. Life—eternal life—began on our opening day. In Christ we move from p.m. to a.m.—from death’s darkness to life’s light. “Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10, The Message).
Doug Redford is a professor at Cincinnati Christian University and a freelance writer from Cincinnati, Ohio.
SIDEBAR: Make an Easter Resolution
Easter is about new life, a fresh start in Christ. The power of Christ’s resurrection transforms our eternal lives and our present-day lives.
Make this Easter a time of reflection and action. Meditate on Christ’s death and resurrection. Think about your own life. Now meld the two into a goal: an Easter resolution.
Do you want to bring the joy of Christ’s resurrection to your family life? Do you want to line up your finances with what you say you believe? Want to memorize a Scripture or get to know a neighbor? Now’s your chance.