THE POWER OF SALVATION (An Easter Sermon)
A Sermon by Rev. Patrick A. Rose Preached in Cincinnati, Ohio April 19, 1992
“And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18).
The story of the Lord’s resurrection, the story of Easter, is a story of the most beautiful simplicity. Men had tried to kill the Lord, but when His followers returned to His sepulcher, the Lord’s body was no longer there. The Lord could not die, for He was God. He had risen from the dead. He was alive. He was alive for evermore.
It is a simple story. But it is also profound. When the Lord rose from the sepulcher, He showed clearly that He was God. He was Divine. He had power over death. But He also showed something else. He showed that He had the power to save. Earlier the Lord had told His followers, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). When, therefore, the Lord rose from the sepulcher, when He was lifted up from the earth, it showed not only that He had the power to save Himself from death, but that He also had the power to save mankind. The Lord, by rising from the sepulcher, showed that He was the Savior of the human race. And so it is that the Easter story is not simply a story about the Divinity of the Lord. It is also a story about salvation.
This is why the story of Easter occurs during the celebration of the Jewish Passover. Passover, together with the feast of unleavened bread which followed it, was a commemoration and a celebration of the time that Jehovah had saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Jehovah as God did not just have Divine power, but He also had used this power to deliver His people Israel. The Passover was the most important of three annual Jewish festivals. And it was during the celebration of this annual festival that the events of the Easter story occurred. Indeed, the story of Easter cannot be separated from the celebration of Passover.
Consider, for example, the events surrounding Palm Sunday. When the Lord rode into Jerusalem, multitudes of people came out to greet Him, spreading branches of palm trees in the road. The reason there were so many people in Jerusalem at the time was because of the Passover. A great number of people had traveled into Jerusalem to purify themselves in preparation for the feast (see John 11:55). Not only that; many of them were looking out for the Lord, thinking that He would probably come to Jerusalem for the Passover (see John 11:56). When news came, then, that the Lord was approaching the city, this great multitude of people, people who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, ran out to greet Him (see John 12:12,13). The Passover itself became the central focus the evening before the Lord was arrested. The Lord gathered with His disciples to eat the Passover. It was the last meal He would eat with them before His crucifixion. And it was at that time the Lord established a new feast, a feast which would also celebrate the Lord’s salvation. He established the Holy Supper.
It was during the night which followed that the Lord was betrayed and arrested. The next day the Passover is once again an element in the story. Because it was the most important of the Jewish festivals, the Romans had, as a gesture of good will, made it a custom to release a prisoner at the festival (see Mark 15:6). Pilate tried to have the Lord released as that prisoner. But the multitude – now an angry multitude – would have none of it. They demanded instead the release of a robber, a man called Barabbas (see John 18:40). Here was a sad irony. The Passover was a festival celebrating the Lord’s power of salvation. He had saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Now He had come to save once again. This time He had come to rescue men from a deeper slavery. And yet at the Passover they rejected the Lord. They demanded that the Lord be crucified. They chose a robber over the Lord Himself.
There were indeed dark forces at work during the week which led up to the Lord’s resurrection. The Lord had come to save mankind. Yet evil men, men guided by the hells, were seeking the Lord’s destruction. Still, this also was an integral part of the story of Easter. When the Lord rose from the sepulcher, He rose as the Savior of the human race. The very fact that the-Lord was a Savior implied that mankind had needed saving. It meant that the Lord had rescued them from danger.
It is in this sense that the meaning of the Easter story is neither as simple nor as obvious as it might appear. When the Lord had saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, it was clear who the enemy was. It was clear that the Lord had rescued them from the Egyptians. But the enemies -the spiritual enemies – who threatened mankind at the time of the Lord’s coming were by no means as obvious a threat. Indeed, most people were completely unaware of being in any danger at all. People were blissfully ignorant of the fact that a multitude of evil spirits from hell was threatening the very survival of the human race. The Lord had come to save people from a danger they didn’t even know existed. But the danger was nevertheless very real. Indeed, the spiritual enemies of mankind were a far greater threat than the Egyptians had been. The underlying drama of the Easter week was just as great, just as intense, as was the drama of the Exodus.
Consider the extraordinary events that occurred on the night when the Passover was first eaten. Time and time again the Egyptians had suffered plagues. But time and time again the Pharaoh had refused to let the Israelites go. The Israelites seemed to be completely and hopelessly enslaved in Egypt. But then there came the plague on the firstborn. It must have been an absolutely frightening and horrible night. All of a sudden, at midnight, destruction came upon the people of Egypt. We are told that “there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead” (Exodus 12:30). That night not a single Egyptian household escaped tragedy.
During that same terrible night, though, not a single Israelite was harmed. Four days earlier each Israelitish household had been commanded to set aside a lamb (see Exodus 12:3-4). Then, during the evening preceding that terrible night, the lamb had been killed, and its blood had been splattered on the posts and lintels of their doors (see Exodus 12:6-7). They then roasted the lamb and ate it with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs (see Exodus 12:8). The Israelites were safe, safe from the destruction that came upon the Egyptians, for the blood on their doors served as a sign that they were not to be harmed.
Now it might seem from the story that it was the Lord who destroyed the firstborn, and that the blood was serving to protect the Israelites from the Lord. But this terrible act of destruction was in fact brought about by evil spirits, evil spirits who are referred to as “the destroyer.” “The Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23). What in fact happened during the night of the Passover was that the hells were let loose upon the land of Egypt. But the Israelites were protected from harm by the power of the Lord. They were delivered from destruction, and that same night they were released from their slavery.
So it was that on a dark and dreadful night, the Israelites were protected by the powerful arm of the Lord, and were led forth to freedom. Israel became a free people. And from that time on, this event was etched deep into the consciousness of the Israelites. Each year, on the fourteenth day of the first month, they were to reenact the Passover, by eating a roasted lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. During this most important festival of the year, they were to recall that night when the Lord saved them from the slavery of Egypt.
Why did the Passover have such great importance? It of course had immense historical significance. But there was something else. The real importance of the Passover lay in what it represented. The Passover represented that work of salvation that the Lord would do when He came to earth. It stood for the Lord’s presence, and for the way in which He would free mankind from the dominion of the hells (see AC 8017). The actual Passover supper represented the conjunction that would then be possible between mankind and the Lord Himself (see AC 9965:4). And, because this work of salvation was completed in the glorification of the Lord’s Human, therefore the Passover is said to have represented the glorification itself (see AC 3994:6). It was therefore no accident, no accident at all, that the events of Easter took place during the celebration of the Passover. The Lord had told His disciples that He would be betrayed during the feast of the Passover (see Matt. 26:2). And it was at that feast that He would rise again. The primary reason the Passover had been instituted was as a memorial that the Lord would one day glorify His Human and rise triumphant as the eternal Savior of the human race (see AC 10655). And so it was at this very festival that the Lord fulfilled His promise, fulfilled the prophecy contained within the Passover.
The Passover, that night when the Lord protected the Israelites and delivered them from slavery in Egypt, was but a picture, a representation, of a far greater redemption. To begin with, the Lord had used His Divine power to save a particular group of people – the Israelites – from slavery. Now, as the Lord rose from the grave, He redeemed the entire human race. He made it possible for people to be freed from the dominion of the hells, set free from the slavery of evil.
This is what we celebrate and remember at Easter time. We rejoice and give thanks for the Lord’s salvation. When Jesus appeared to His disciples and said to them, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18), the power He spoke to them about, the power He offered them, was the power of salvation, the power to save people from the influence of the hells.
What the Lord accomplished at Easter might sound more abstract than what He had done during the original Passover. The Israelites knew and clearly understood what Jehovah had done for them when He rescued them from slavery in Egypt. The Lord has rescued us, though, from a deeper slavery, from the slavery of the hells. And the importance of this can be difficult to grasp fully. As we have noted, most people at the time of the Lord’s coming were unaware of the spiritual danger they were in. They did not realize how terrible the threats from the hells really were. To a large extent it is the same with us. We have trouble fully appreciating the danger of evil.
We have trouble realizing just how great a threat the hells can be. This is because spiritual dangers are extremely subtle. Physical dangers come from outside of us, where we can see and notice them, and avoid them. Spiritual dangers are different. Evil lurks within the mind, and-so we don’t notice evil in the same way. The greatest danger posed by evil lies in the fact that it doesn’t seem dangerous to us at all. In fact, we tend to enjoy evil. We tend to love it. It is inside of us. It seems a part of us. When we are in evil we don’t see how dangerous it is. It is only as we are lifted out of this evil that we can come to understand how great the danger really was.
That is why the Lord had to come to earth. That is why He had to assume a Human and make that Human Divine. He did this so that we could come to see and understand Him, come to see and understand His love and compassion, and could turn to Him and follow His commandments. And it is as we do this, as we turn to and follow the Lord, that we can then, for the first time, fully appreciate the real horror of evil. In the Arcana, in our third lesson, it was said, “the hells are around every man, because every man is born into evils of every kind; and where evils are, there are the hells” (AC 10659). This is why, we are told, we need the Divine power of the Lord. Only the Lord has the power to cast away those evil spirits of hell. There is then added a very telling statement. It is said that this is something which can be understood by 44 all those … who admit the Lord into their life” (see ibid.). It is those who admit the Lord into their lives, and only they, who can truly appreciate the dangers of evil. It is only those who are willing to turn to the Lord and obey His commandments who can understand that evil is very, very real, and very, very dangerous.
That is why we must follow the Lord. We cannot rely upon our own judgment as to what is good and what is evil. We will always tend to excuse those things we love. We will tend to make light of our own weaknesses and our own follies. And so we must turn to the Lord. The Lord is our Savior, our only Savior. We must do what He says. And if we do, then He will save us. Amen.
Lessons: John 11:55-57; 12:1,12-15; Matt. 28:1-18; AC 10659:1,3
Arcana Coelestia 10659:1,3
… it can be seen that the feast of the Passover, which was also called the feast of unleavened things, was instituted in remembrance of man’s liberation from hell by the Lord. That this liberation was effected by the Lord’s subjugating the hells and glorifying His Human may be seen just above (n. 10655) …
But to those who are in enlightenment the Lord grants that they shall understand what they believe; and when they are reading the Word, those are enlightened and understand it who acknowledge the Lord and love to live according to His commandments, but not those who say that they believe but do not live; for the Lord flows into the life of man and from this into his faith, but not into faith separate from life. Consequently, those who are enlightened by the Lord through the Word understand that the Lord came into the world in order to subjugate the hells, and-reduce into order all things there and in the heavens; and that this could not possibly be done except by means of the Human; for from this He could fight against the hells, but not from the Divine without the Human; and also that He might glorify His Human in order that He might thereby forever keep all things in the order into which He had reduced them. From this comes the salvation of man, for the hells are around every man, because everyone is born into evils of every kind, and where evils are, there are the hells; and unless these were cast back by the Divine power of the Lord, no one could ever have been saved. That this is so the Word teaches, and all those apprehend who admit the Lord into their life; and these as before said are those who acknowledge Him, and love to live according to His commandments.