Friday, June 13
Acts 8:26-40: The conversion of the Samaritans, who may be described as half-Jewish, was a step toward the universalizing of the Gospel. Now, however, we come to the case of someone of completely Gentile blood, one of the many Gentiles who maintained some active interest in Judaism without joining it.
It should be noted that this first completely non-Jewish person to become a Christian was from Africa. He was a governmental official of “Candace,” which is not a proper name but, like the word Pharaoh, the title of an office, in this case the queen of Ethiopia (the kntky of Egyptian inscriptions).
This man is obviously reading the Bible out loud (which was the common practice among the rabbis and, with the exception of St. Ambrose, the Fathers of the Church) and is overheard by Philip. The man wants someone to “guide” (hodegein in verse 31) him in understanding Isaiah. Instructed in the Church’s understanding of the Old Testament (cf. Luke 24:27,44-45), Philip interprets the text for him, going on to explain other passages as well.
This exercise terminates in the Sacrament of Baptism. (The Scriptures are intrinsically, and of their very nature, ordered to the Sacraments. All proclamation outside the Church is ordered to Baptism, as in this case. All proclamation within the Church is ordered to the Eucharist; cf. Luke 24:30-35.)
Saturday, June 14
Acts 9:1-9: Among the spiritual blessings conferred on the Apostle Paul in his experience of conversion, it is arguable that none was more significant than a strong and indelible sense of the union of Christ with His Church.
This union was expressed in the first words that Jesus spoke to him, the question, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" To this question the persecutor answered with another, "Who are you, sir?" To this the Lord responded by repeating the same accusation: "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting?" (Acts 22:8)
Even in the blindness that accompanied this stunning revelation, Saul immediately perceived at least three truths. First, this Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had thought to be dead, was very much alive. Second, this same Jesus took very personally the "threats and murder" that Saul was breathing against His followers (Acts 9:1). Indeed, Jesus regarded that activity as directed against Himself. "Why are you persecuting Me?" he asked. Third, this revelation was a warning of divine mercy to Saul himself, a grace-filled call and opportunity to repent.
Such was Saul’s introduction to the mystery of the Church. Jesus of Nazareth showed him the infinite mercy of revealing to him, at his very conversion, the truth that would remain central to his mind for the rest of his life: "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for <i>Me</i>" (Matthew 25:40 NIV). Paul perceived immediately an intimate identity between Christ and His disciples. Beware, he learned; touch the Church, and you touch Jesus of Nazareth.
Paul’s next question was a very practical one: "What do you want me to do?" By way of response to this inquiry our Lord gave him not a single line of instruction beyond telling him to go and put himself under the authority of the Church: "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6).
This answer of the Lord to Saul was significant in two ways. First, it strengthened the substance of the original revelation itself, affirming once again the union between Church and Christ. It asserted that the Church had the authority to speak for Christ. This answer repeated, in specific reference to this Saul of Tarsus, what Jesus had earlier declared to the Church: "He who hears you hears Me" (Luke 10:16). This was the first lesson the soon-to-be apostle was to learn at depth–that he enjoyed no special, one-on-one access to Christ that did not involve the Church. Christ would give Saul no instruction beyond, "Do exactly what the Church tells you to do."
Second, in addition to conveying a truth important to all Christians, this answer of the Lord to Saul addressed the immediate context of his trip to Damascus. He was going there, after all, "so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:2). Now this same man must continue his journey into the city, "trembling and astonished" (9:6), blind and fasting (9:8-9), to submit the welfare of his soul to the very people he had come to arrest.
Such was the new apostle’s introduction to the Christian life. He did not find salvation and then look around for likeminded folks with whom to throw in his lot. The Church was not optional. It was of the very substance of the revelation that Saul received. He did not start with a personal theology about salvation and proceed to search for some group that agreed with that theology. No, the revelation of the risen Christ was also a revelation of the Church. In Paul’s experience, there was no separation between these two realities.
The rest of Paul’s ecclesiology over the years was a development of this perception. First, it was at Damascus that the Church told him exactly how to get rid of his sins: "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (22:16). For Paul, forgiveness of sins was not something distinguishable from being baptized into the Church. That is to say, Paul learned that "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13). Through this sacramental experience he came to know that there is "one body and one Spirit, . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:4-5). Then, sharing in the Lord’s Supper, Paul learned the mystic source of the Church’s union with Christ, discerning that "we many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of that one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17). The Church was Christ’s own body because she partook of that body through the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery.
In short, Paul’s experience of grace in his conversion included the meaning of the Church, the union of those joined to Christ and to one another in the living, specific, and defined institution with which Christ so completely identified Himself.
Sunday, June 15
Acts 9:10-25: We are not free to choose the framework and shape of our repentance—surely this is one of the clearest teachings of the Bible. Jesus “poured water into a basin,” says the Sacred Text, “and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:5). The Lord determined the basin, the instrument that gave specific contour and dimensions to the shape of His cleansing water. He then came to each of the disciples, one by one, and they understood that they had to put their feet into that basin, so that
He could wash them.
In other words, the Lord Himself chooses the manner and pattern of our washing; how we are cleansed by Christ is not a decision for our personal choice. “Here is the bowl,” the Lord’s action affirms; “put your feet right in here, this specific basin, and I will wash you clean, for if I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
This truth was among the most important that Saul of Tarsus had to learn, and God took special care that he learned it well. As he was ruefully to reflect so many times during his later life, Saul had been a persecutor of the Holy Church (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13, 23; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13). “As for Saul,” we are told, “he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). So when the Lord converted Saul on the road to Damascus, He made an explicit point of obliging that persecutor to submit to the Church that he had afflicted.
Some modern Christians imagine that they can come to God by “Christ alone and not by an organized religion,” but the Lord would suffer Saul to entertain no such illusion. On the contrary, in Saul’s conversion Jesus most explicitly identified Himself with the Church: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? . . . I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (9:4, 5). It was in this moment that Saul learned that Jesus and His Church are inseparable.
Thus, Saul would never be able to say that he came to God by “Christ alone and not by an organized religion.” Indeed, after Jesus identified Himself to Saul, He gave him not one word of further direct instruction. When Saul asked Him, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Jesus simply directed him to make that same inquiry of the Church: “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (9:6). That is to say, not even the Apostle Paul, in the very hour of his conversion, was permitted to deal with Jesus “one on one.” The contour and shape of his repentance had to be determined by a specified “organized religion.” Paul would have no “personal relationship to Jesus as Lord and Savior” except through obedience to the doctrine, discipline, sacramental worship, and corporate life of the Church; he could not have a “personal relationship to Christ” on his own terms. Apart from the Church, the saving knowledge of God in Christ was not available even to St. Paul. He was constrained, rather, humbly to submit his heart and conscience to the divinely commissioned authority of that same body of Christians that he had hitherto been persecuting.
Paul’s sins were not taken away simply by his “asking Jesus to enter his heart.” There is nothing in the biblical text to suggest that he did any such thing on the road to Damascus. (Indeed, “Receive Jesus into your heart” is an expression unknown in Holy Scripture.) On the contrary, Paul’s sins were taken away by his deliberate submission to the Church’s sacramental discipline: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16), because he “who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Paul was obliged to adhere to the same procedure as every other believer, a prescription enunciated in the Church’s very first sermon on Pentecost: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Paul was forgiven his sins in exactly the same way required of everyone else, by joining the sole organization in this world that has the authority to forgive sins (cf. John 20:23).
Surely, then, it was in the experience of his conversion that the Apostle Paul received the seed of all his later teaching about the Church, which he identified as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul knew nothing of any non-institutional Christianity. He was familiar with no Christ except the Christ of the Church—that constituted, organized communion of believers so intimately identified with Christ as to be called His “body” (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15–16; 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 24).
(Taken from P. H. Reardon, Christ in His Saints)
Monday, June 16
Acts 9:26-43: Given the grievous animosity that had long estranged the Jews and the Samaritans, it is no small grace to read in verse 31 that "the Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace." This initial reconciliation now accomplished, Luke will direct our attention more emphatically to the conversion of the Gentiles, initiated by Philip’s baptism of the Ethiopian and to be extended by Peter over the next two chapters.
Prior to Peter’s baptism of Cornelius, however, Luke describes the apostle’s new travels outside of Jerusalem, to which he had returned in 8:25. Two more miracles of Peter are narrated in this section, the healing of Aeneas and the raising of Tabitha.
The first occurred at Lydda, some 28 miles northwest of Jerusalem, and the cured paralytic was Aeneas, named for the fabled leader of those Trojans who laid the ancient foundations of the Roman Empire. Since Virgil’s account of that adventure, the Aeneid, published in the previous century under Augustus, enjoyed a quasi-official status in Roman culture, it is unthinkable that the cultured and cosmopolitan Luke would have been ignorant of it or have missed the spiritual significance of Peter’s healing a man bearing that name.
Joppa, where Tabitha was raised from the dead, was another twelve miles further northwest, on the Mediterranean coast and thirty miles south of Caesarea Maritima ("Caesarea on the Sea," as distinct from Caesarea Philippi). Tabitha, the seamstress of Joppa. died what the Acts of the Apostles indicates was a premature death, for we are told that she perished of a sickness. Tabitha’s bereaved companions, learning that the Apostle Peter was currently visiting in the nearby town of Lydda, “sent two men to him, imploring [parakalountes] him not to delay in coming to them” (9:38). We observe here the dynamics of Christian intercession. At Tabitha’s death the congregation at Joppa was not content to “go to God directly.” They sought, rather, the intercession of Peter, and to obtain that intercession they sent, not one, but two men to “implore” Peter on their behalf. It is clear that “imploring the saints,” communication among the saints, took place all through this episode. Later generations of the saints would call this process a “prayer chain.”
One is impressed by the several similarities between this story of Tabitha and another biblical account of intercession, the Gospel narrative of the raising of Jairus’s daughter. First, each case involves a premature death, the daughter of Jairus being only twelve years old (Mark 5:42; Luke 8:42). Second, in both episodes attention is drawn to the people weeping near the corpse (Matthew 9:23; Mark 5:38; Luke 8:52; Acts 9:39). Third, in each instance the curious bystanders are dismissed from the room prior to the raising from the dead (Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51; Acts 9:40). Fourth, both Jesus and Peter take the hand of the one deceased (Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:41; Luke 8:54; Acts 9:41). Fifth, there is a resemblance between these two accounts even in the wording of the formulas used to raise the dead persons. This similarity is clearest in Mark, who alone transcribes the original Aramaic of Jesus’ command, “Little girl, arise”: Talitha, koum (5:41). We note that a difference of only one letter separates this word talitha from the Aramaic name “Tabitha,” for which Luke provides the Greek translation “Dorkas,” meaning “antelope” or “gazelle” (Acts 9:40). Thus, Peter’s Aramaic command to the deceased seamstress of Joppa was, Tabitha, koum.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, in each case there is an intercession–literally an “imploring”–and it is instructive to observe that the same word, parakalo, is used with respect both to imploring Jesus (Mark 5:23; Luke 8:41) and to imploring Peter (Acts 8:38). In the context of prayer, that is to say, the saints speak to the saints in a way resembling the way they speak to Jesus. Thus, this identical verb, parakalo, is employed by Paul both to “implore” the Lord in his affliction (2 Corinthians 12:8) and to “implore” the saints at Rome to pray for him (Romans 15:30).
Tuesday, June 17
Mark 2:1-12: In all three Synoptic Gospels, the healing of the paralytic (Matthew 9:1–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–26) is followed immediately by the calling of the tax collector and the Lord’s eating with sinners (Matthew 9:9–13; Mark 2:13–17; Luke 5:27–32). This common sequence of the two narratives probably reflects an early preaching pattern, explained by the fact that both stories deal with the same theme: Jesus’ relationship to sin and sinners. The paralytic was healed, after all, “that you may know that the Son of Man has power [authority] on earth to forgive sins,” and the point of the second story is that “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Thus, the most significant thing about the paralytic is not his paralysis, but his “sins,” so this is what Jesus addresses first. Indeed, even when He heals the paralysis, Jesus does so in order to demonstrate His authority over the man’s sins. In what He does in this scene, then, Jesus inserts Himself between God and the man, speaking to the man with God’s authority. It is not without significance that all three versions of the story also include the detail that Jesus could, like God, read His accusers’ inner thoughts.
In each of the three Synoptic Gospels, moreover, the Lord’s claim to authority over sin here becomes the first occasion on which His enemies accuse Him of blasphemy. This is significant too, because at His judicial process before the Sanhedrin blasphemy will be the crime of which He is accused. In a sense, then, Jesus’ trial begins with His healing of the paralytic, because this scene is recognized by even His enemies as the occasion on which He forcefully claims divine authority.
This more dramatic aspect of the account is perhaps clearest in the versions of Mark and Luke, where it is the first of five conflict stories that cast an ominous cloud over Jesus’ activity through the rest of those Gospels (Mark 2:1—3:5; Luke 5:17—6:11). In Mark’s rendering, furthermore, the resolve to “destroy” Jesus is explicitly taken at the end of this sequence (3:5).
In all three Synoptic Gospels the paralytic becomes the “type” of the sinner. He is helpless, carried by others because he cannot carry himself. He is utterly in need of mercy above all things. Indeed, even his forgiveness and his cure are not credited to his own faith. All three accounts mention that the Lord sees the faith, not of the paralytic, but of the men who support him. This point of “corporate faith” in the forgiveness of sins is accentuated in Matthew’s version, where the authority of Jesus to forgive sins is shared with “men” (9:8). The plural here is significant and touches on an important theme in Matthew, the Church’s authority to bind and loose in God’s name (16:19; 18:18). This theme is related to the Great Commission at the end of that Gospel, where the entire mission of the Church is rooted in the total “authority” of Christ (28:18).
Even functioning as a literary and theological type, however, this paralytic is certainly not reduced to an abstraction. Indeed, because of the detail of the removal of the roof (in Mark and Luke) in order to lower the paralytic down into Jesus’ presence, still dangling between earth and heaven, this is one of the more colorful and unforgettable scenes in the Gospels.
Wednesday, June 18
Mark 2:13-17: Since the call of Levi falls in exactly the same sequence in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as Matthew’s call in the Gospel of Matthew, we are surely correct in regarding these two men as identical. Mark and Luke place this tax collector’s calling fairly early, soon after the calling of the fishermen, where we might naturally expect it. Matthew puts it somewhat later in the narrative, after the Sermon on the Mount.
It is much more significant, however, that all three Synoptic Gospels treat the call of the tax collector (Levi/Matthew) as a centerpiece bracketed between two stories about sinners: the paralytic being forgiven his sins and Jesus having dinner with notorious sinners. Thus set between these two events, the call of the tax collector represents above all the evangelical summons to repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
The dialogue connected with the meal at his house illustrates this meaning of the tax collector’s call. Jesus, criticized for his association with sinners on this occasion, explains that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). In thus addressing sin through the metaphor of sickness, the Lord strikes again the note recently sounded by His healing of the paralytic as proof of His authority to forgive the man’s sins (2:5–12).
Furthermore, summoning sinners to repentance and salvation is not just one of the things Jesus happens to do. There is a sense in which this is the defining thing that Jesus does–the very reason He came into this world. This truth is affirmed at the meal at the tax collector’s house, where He proclaims, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32; cf. Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17). Again, it is in the context of the call of yet another tax collector, Zacchaeus, that Jesus says, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
One of those “lost” was the Apostle Paul, who remembered himself to have been “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man.” But then he recalled that the same Lord who received the friends of the tax collector also received him: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:13–15).
Christ can call sinners, only because He can really do something about their sins. And He can forgive their sins precisely because He has paid the price of those sins. Therefore, Jesus’ forgiveness of sins is theologically inseparable from His dying for sinners. Correct repentance, then, brings the sinner to the foot of the Cross.
In truth, this soteriological dimension of the call to repentance is implied in the Gospel stories under consideration. Both at the forgiveness of the paralytic and at the tax collector’s dinner, all three Synoptics speak of the hostile presence of Jesus’ enemies, the very men who will contrive to kill Him. They accuse Him of blasphemy on the first occasion (“This man blasphemes”—the very charge for which He will be condemned to death) and find fault with Him on the second (“Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”). In both cases Jesus confronts them on this matter of His relationship to sin and to sinners.
Thursday, June 19
2 Samuel 3: Did we pay him more mind, the Bible’s portrayal of Abner would surely appear as a case study in psychology and moral analysis. As Abner’s persona is partly eclipsed, however, by his proximity to David, Saul, and other more obviously “complicated” figures, we may easily fail to notice the interesting moral complexity of his life and career. A kinsman of Saul (1 Samuel 14:50), Abner was a military leader, part of the royal court, and a sharer at the king’s private table. In one of the accounts, he is credited with originally bringing David to Saul’s attention (17:55–57).
With David’s rapid rise, however, the popular prestige of Abner was doubtless diminished as much as Saul’s; nor is it unwarranted to guess at his reaction when David’s superior military ability likewise earned him a place in the royal family and at the royal table. If the popular mind made David something of a rival to Saul, he was surely as much to Abner. Later, indeed, David’s open jeering at Abner in the presence of the army strikes one as the taunt of a personal contender (26:5, 13–16).
But harder days for Abner lay ahead. As a royal relative and the recognized commander of Israel’s army, his responsibilities were considerably increased after the death of Saul and Jonathan at the Battle of Mount Gilboa. Indeed, the political stability of the northern tribes greatly depended on his personal authority during those troubled years, nor could the house of Saul have stayed in power had it not been for the backing of Abner. Events would prove that Saul’s lackluster heir, Ishbosheth, could occupy the throne only by Abner’s assent.
Following the Battle of Mount Gilboa, the Israelites were divided between the northern tribes, nominally ruled by Ishbosheth, and the tribe of Judah under David, a division rendering it easy for the Philistines effectively to control most of the northern area west of the Jordan.
This hapless situation, threatening to become permanent, posed for Abner a true moral dilemma. He was an instinctively loyal man, principled, and innocent of personal ambition. The sundry loyalties of even such a man, nonetheless, may sometimes stand in conflict, and Abner was compelled in due course to choose between his expected adherence to the house of Saul and his more abiding concern for the nation’s very survival. Long accustomed to viewing David through the eyes of Saul, Abner experienced much of the same conflict of loyalties that had plagued the conscience of Jonathan some years earlier, and his painful resolution to that conflict, like Jonathan’s, would lead directly to the tragedy that ended his life.
When he did decide to join with David, Abner’s moral authority in Israel was such that he was able to bring with him, not only the army, but the various tribal elders of Israel (3:17–19).
Abner’s decision, though it probably took shape over some period of time, was brought to abrupt closure when Ishbosheth accused him of disloyalty to the house of Saul (2 Samuel 3:7–11). Decisions about loyalty are particularly tough ones that often can go either way, so it is not surprising that not everyone would agree with Abner. The line of his critics and second-guessers extends from his murderer, Joab (3:24–30), all the way to certain modern commentators, one of whom writes of Abner’s “treachery.”
As we would expect, David took an opposite view of the matter (3:37), as did Solomon (1 Kings 2:32). Abner himself claimed his decision was based on theological truth, not mere political expediency (2 Samuel 3:18). David, after all, had been anointed by Samuel and was recognized by the high priest Abiathar. Ishbosheth, in contrast, had nothing to recommend him beyond his descent from Saul, whose house the Lord had clearly repudiated.
Still, Holy Scripture does not disguise the fact that Abner’s resolve, for all his high-minded adherence to principle, was not untainted by some element of the fleshly and the mundane. In the end it was a sense of disgust with Saul’s son that drove Abner to David’s side.
Nor does the biblical narrator himself say, in so many words, that Abner was an honorable man; he simply tells the story and lets the reader decide. (Indeed, he may not have known whether there was truth in Ishbosheth’s accusation.) Only God, after all, can fully measure any man or his moral decisions.
Friday, June 20
Psalm 88: Psalm 88 (Greek and Latin 87) is possibly the most difficult of the psalms. In any case, it is arguably the darkest. It even stands among the most somber compositions in all of Holy Writ, comparable to the overcast pages of Job and Ecclesiastes. It is appropriately prayed on Fridays, the day of our Lord’s death.
It not being readily apparent, perhaps, how to reconcile such tenebrous tones with evangelical hope, some may even judge the sentiments of this psalm too dismal for it to serve as Christian prayer at all. Psalm 88 is not only darksome in its every line; almost alone among the psalms, it even ends on a dark note. Its final line says: “My friend and confrere have You kept afar from me; and my neighbors, because of my distress.” Now, how can that sort of sentiment be the “last word” in a Christian prayer?
But then, on closer inspection, we may observe certain subtler features softening this impression of our psalm. For all its gloom and shadow, for example, is it without significance that Psalm 88 begins by thus addressing the Almighty: “O Lord, the God of my salvation”? The intimacy and quiet hope of this address put one in mind of Psalm 22, in which the crucified Jesus, asking why God has forsaken Him, nonetheless continues to call Him “my God, my God.”
Three further comments seem appropriate regarding this umbrageous aspect of Psalm 88. First, one must bear in mind that, like all the Bible, it comes to us from the Holy Spirit. If death is portrayed in this psalm as a very bad thing, then the Holy Spirit wants us to regard death as a very bad thing. One occasionally meets pagans and unbelievers who avow that they are not afraid to die. Well, this psalm suggests that maybe they should be afraid. In line after line of Psalm 88, a writer under the guidance and impulse of the Holy Spirit says, in the sharpest terms, that death is a most terrifying prospect.
Second, bearing in mind that our fear of death is a reaction of the fleshly man, the “old Adam,” still active within us, we should be mightily consoled to think that the Holy Spirit, in this psalm, has made such generous provision for this fleshly side of ourselves. The Holy Spirit, that is to say, gives our fleshly fear its due. If we yet feel this fear of death, the Holy Spirit is careful for this fear to find expression in prayer. Here is the tender condescension of God, that He provides even that our fallen nature may voice itself to Him in supplication and the lowly fealty of our very fear.
Third, Jesus took on Himself, not our pristine, unfallen nature, but our nature as weakened at the ancient tree and throughout the rest of our history. So the fear of death expressed in this psalm is certainly a fear that Jesus felt. If, in addition, as Holy Scripture indicates in so many places, death is but the outward expression of sin and our alienation from God, then a deeper understanding of sin must surely imply a more profound understanding of death. And who understood sin more than Jesus? Likewise was His perception of death vastly more ample and accurate than our own. And, as He knew more about the power of death than any of the rest of us, there is every reason to believe that He felt this fear of death more than the rest of us possibly could.
Finally, it is an ironic feature of liturgical and homiletic history that one expression from this psalm has been consistently used by the Church to refer to the death of Jesus, not as a term of doom but as an emblem of the high triumph and validation inherent in His Cross. That expression is “free among the dead.” In the mystic vision of Holy Church, Jesus was indeed “free among the dead” in the sense that death had no dominion over Him. He was “free” with respect to death, inasmuch as it could not hold Him fast. Reaching to seize Jesus in the moment of His final breath, death found itself, instead, cast down and trampled by the rush of His abundant life crashing into that realm where the grave, hitherto undisputed, had so long held sway. Every antagonist fell beneath His mighty, grinding tread.
And forthwith striding to the nether world, Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient” (1 Pet. 3:19, 20). To demonstrate, moreover, that our Lord was truly free among the dead, “the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt. 27:51–53).