Easter is over, and for many people the death and resurrection story of Jesus will fade into the background for another year.
But that fading certainly did not happen with Jesus’s eleven apostles, or with the hundreds in Judea who saw the resurrected Jesus and believed, or with the thousands on the day of Pentecost who heard the apostles’ message and believed. Nor does it happen with the untold millions of odd Christians today whose devotion to Jesus goes much deeper than those of typical churchgoers.
So what makes the difference? What makes one churchgoer satisfied to occasionally affirm the story of Jesus, while another is captivated by the story year-round and consistently tries to shape their life around the commands of Jesus?
I believe the difference comes down to whether they have personally experienced the power of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Jesus never intended for his followers to be passive observers of his victory over death. He intended for his victory over death to raise his followers back to life.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! (Ephesians 2:4-5 CSB)
On Easter Sunday I was reminded of a word that well describes that moment of new life: surrender. We don’t really do anything. We merely stop avoiding God, stop running from Jesus, and stop resisting the good news. Just for a moment.
Then we look at the cross, and we are undone; we look at the empty tomb, and we believe; we admit that we’ve been wrong and that God is right, and we embrace Jesus as our one true Lord. And all this happens in an instant as our soul receives from God its first breath of new life.
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10 CSB)
For some believers, that first moment of surrender is dramatic and filled with emotion. Others are more pensive and calm as they begin their new life with Jesus. But either way, they are not the same. They will never be able to avoid the life inside of them that now yearns for more of God. As that life grows, they will want to worship Jesus, want to talk to God, and want to learn more of the Bible. And when they fall to temptation, they will feel a new pain, because their heart now wants to obey the Lord.
And the first surrender to Jesus isn’t the last. I constantly have to surrender to Jesus, laying down my tendency to (yet again) run off after things that he never intended for me to pursue. But the more I surrender, the more I feel the abundant life that he has placed inside of me.