By Catherine Ulrich Brakefield
They heard their Jewish leaders cry crucify him! They heard the Roman whip, saw the scorn and watched the spit cover their Lord’s face. They watched Jesus drag that heavy cross through the street to the place called Golgotha to be crucified. Could they be next? What person welcomes suffering with open arms? Is it no wonder that first Easter wasn’t celebrated like our Easter celebrations of today?
Pagan symbols and ancient Jewish sacrifices pop up in a pleasing similitude to our traditions today. Our past Easter celebrations with fluffy bunnies and basketfuls of colored eggs all symbolize pagan rituals.
The female rabbit was recognized as a symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt. The belief spread to the Greeks. It was during the Middle Ages that the rabbit and the egg became a symbol of fertility and rebirth of spring.
The egg in pagan times represented the rebirth of the earth. After winter, the earth was reborn, just like the egg, miraculously bursting into new life. It didn’t take Christians long to embrace this symbol and liken it to Christ’s resurrection.
Chocolate lambs and cakes symbolize the Jewish Pesah, or Passover, when the Jews sacrificed a lamb, called a paschal lamb. Christians would interpret the sacrifice of the paschal lamb as a forecast of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, as stated in John 1:29, Jesus became “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (All forthcoming Bible verses will be NKJV).
Our Easter message could have been lost if Jesus’ disciples had refused to witness to the world about Christ Jesus.
The truth was startlingly clear to these meek Jewish disciples of Christ—the fear of their Jewish leaders and Roman punishment outweighed the thought of proclaiming Jesus’ message of salvation.
Would the Jewish scribes and Pharisees come for them next? When the sound of someone rushing up the stairs reached the disciples’ ears, they were uncertain whether to run, hide, or give themselves up.
Relief swelled through the group seeing Mary Magdalene burst into their room. But when she declared to Simon Peter, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:2), sudden panic clawed at his throat.
Would the soldiers blame them for taking Jesus’ body? Had one of the Roman centurions done this evil deed? Simon Peter and the disciples hurried to the tomb. Peter saw the linen cloths lying there. The handkerchief that had been around His head was not lying with the linen cloths but folded together in a place by itself. “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (John 20:9).
They returned to the upper room for fear of the Jews. We are told in John 20:19-23 that Jesus appeared in the midst of them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed Peter and the disciples his hands and His side and said, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
That didn’t impress Peter or the disciples much. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus continued to reappear to Simon Peter, John, and the other disciples as they went about their daily tasks. The Apostle John tells us that Thomas who had not been in the upper room when Jesus appeared said he wouldn’t believe it was Jesus until Thomas saw “…in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) Jesus appeared and told Thomas to do so.
Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples. Then when Simon Peter decided to go fishing in the Sea of Tiberius, Jesus suddenly stood on the shore, only the disciples did not know it was him. They hadn’t been lucky at their fishing until Jesus told them to cast down their net on the right side of the boat. Coming toward land, it was the Apostle John who exclaimed to Simon Peter—it is the Lord! When Peter heard this—he plunged into the sea (John 21:7).
Was he attempting to run away as his kindred Jonah had? Was the thought of the humiliation of public opinion too much? Did Peter fear Jesus would force him and the disciples to preach? After all, it was easier to live one’s life going with the flow than battle against public opinion. Doing what Jesus wanted meant facing death daily.
Peter loved and trusted Jesus; yet, when faced with conflict, Peter struggled to remain loyal to Christ over his carnal fears. Had Peter thought himself a coward and decided to live a more peaceful life?
This is more evident on the night of Jesus’s betrayal, Peter denied Christ first to a servant girl, then to a girl outside the gate, and lastly to an entire group of bystanders (Matthew 26:69–74). Jesus told Peter beforehand while suppering with him that he would do this, which Peter emphatically denied (Matthew 26:34–35).
He had no intention of witnessing about Jesus Christ to the multitudes or anyone else. That was obvious during that early morning fishing excursion. Yet, here stood Jesus again. You’d think by now, after three strikes against him, Peter would be struck off Jesus’s list. So much for that “on this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).
At one time, Simon Peter was ready to obey. His words are written in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then and there, Jesus changed Simon Bar-Jonah’s name to Peter, which means rock.
Had seeing Jesus tortured and then bloody and hanging on that wooden cross been too much for Peter to comprehend the fulfillment of Christ’s words to him?
Tossed to and fro in the foaming seas of fears and forebodings amidst these pagan rituals of torture by death, Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, and eternal life could well have been lost…
Jesus understood. He never lost faith in Peter or any of His apostles. Though it looked like the apostles had—Jesus Christ had not. He told them where to cast their nets so there would be fish aplenty for breakfast. He played the servant and started a fire for cooking the fish. After they had eaten breakfast, a conversation broke out.
“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
Peter promptly replied, “Lord; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
Three times Jesus asked that same question. Peter was trembling by now. Was he recalling the time Jesus predicted Peter would denounce Him three times before the cock crowed? Or was Peter foreseeing his own death hanging upside down on a cross because he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, Jesus?
What happened that would cause the trembling Simon Peter and the other apostles to become brave witnesses for the gospel of Jesus Christ and boldly spread the gospel far and wide throughout the world? And why did the lily become known to Christians throughout the world as the Easter lily?
See tomorrow’s Blog for the answer. PLEASE VISIT THE BLOG TO COMMENT ON THIS POST.
The Destiny Four Book Series:
Beginning in the Antebellum Era and ending with World War II, The Destiny Series gives the reader CHRISTIANITY—ROMANCE—PATRIOTISM in a sweeping saga of True-to-life adventures.
"…of Waltz with Destiny… I was reading Capt. Kimble’s words about D-Day… the music I had going started playing “God Bless the USA.” Goose bumps popped up all down my arms and legs, and I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. The message of the Destiny series is even more applicable to today than when it first released. Praying for America’s repentance and to embrace God like never before." Debra B.
An award-winning author, Catherine’s inspirational historical romances include Wilted Dandelions, her Destiny series Swept into Destiny, Destiny’s Whirlwind, Destiny of Heart, and Waltz with Destiny. Her newest book is Love's Final Sunrise. She has been published by Guideposts Books, CrossRiver Media, Revell Books, and Bethany House Publishers. See catherineulrichbrakefield.com