Jesus must be the centre and source of the Christian faith and life. The Good Friday and Easter Sunday events show Jesus dying ‘in the midst’ of two thieves, then manifesting himself ‘in the midst’ of his followers as the resurrected Lord. What was He doing amidst these people? Studying the significance of these occasions will help us understand the reality of Jesus’ oft-quoted promise: Where two or three are gathered in my name there I am ‘in the midst’ (Mt. 18:20)
It intrigues me that Jesus had little time for the religious crowd or righteous elite but was often found among and commonly known as a ‘friend of sinners’! In his crucifixion we see Jesus brutally executed in the middle of two other criminals (John 19:18). A closer look reveals that the authorities did not take Jesus’ life, instead he was purposefully laying it down (10:18). The Cross, the symbol the early Christians chose, reminds all generations of the reason Jesus died, and what exactly is still on offer – Pardon from sin and guilt. This is best understood as we listen to the two dying thieves on either side of Jesus.
Both criminals, close to Jesus, made choices and the difference determined their destiny. One hurls insults at Jesus and challenges him to deliver them. The other simply prays the sinner’s prayer: ‘Lord Remember Me’. Jesus forgave his sins as well as gave him hope and a home in paradise that very day! Observe the three men on the three crosses: one dying in his sins, the other dying to his sins, receiving salvation through faith in Christ and behold, the Man on the middle cross, was dying for all the sins of all the world!
If the Cross was the human ‘NO’ to who Jesus claimed he was, his resurrection was God’s ‘YES’ to what Jesus offers through his death. The empty tomb is God’s receipt for Christ’s payment; God’s ‘Amen’ to Jesus’ ‘It is finished’! Yet we notice his disciples, disillusioned and fearful, hiding behind closed doors when suddenly Jesus came and stood ‘in their midst’. Having made peace on the cross, henceforth Jesus is Peace (Col. 1:27; Rom 5:1) so, he greets them with the words ‘Peace be with you’! (John 20:19) His empowering presence turns their sorrows into joy and replaces fear with fresh faith and courage (Phil 4:6) Here then, what was the resurrected Lord offering his followers?
Jesus gives his disciples a new Companion; his Holy Spirit, and a commission to fulfill his Father’s mission that would make all his followers his representatives on earth (21-23). Like these early disciples who saw their crucified Lord, we also on account of their testimony and by faith can be assured of Jesus’ living presence and thereby have access into God’s presence (cf. Heb. 4:16; 13:5). This is precisely how, even today, Spirit-filled believers when gathered in Jesus’ name can in reality experience ‘Jesus in their midst’!
The centrality of Christ’s person and work seems to be usurped in contemporary ‘Christian’ preaching and ministry by a variety of charismatic themes, social issues and humanitarian activities. Vital as these are, Paul writing to Christians at Colosse makes the definitive statement: ‘Christ is All and in All’ (3:11). Why must Jesus be first (before all things) and preeminent? This is because, as Paul notes (1:16-18), it is by Christ’s power, i.e. through him and for him that all things were created. All things are his possession and it is ‘in Christ’ and due to his providence that all things consist or hold together