Several of the main characters in the crucifixion and resurrection story of Jesus did not agree about much of anything, but they did agree about this: the story of Jesus was over.

Pontius Pilate believed he was the final word on all things that happened in his region. It was a troubled part of the Roman world but, despite the challenging situation, Pilate was accustomed to having unquestioned authority. If he decided an innocent man needed to die to keep the peace, so be it. He handed Jesus over to be crucified, and the oft-practised theatre of killing on a cross was performed on his orders. Later, after hearing of Jesus’ death, Pilate issued his final instructions to the religious leaders. ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how’ (Matthew 27:65). There was essentially a triple lock on Jesus’ tomb: a large stone was rolled in front, an official seal served as a powerful warning and armed guards watched to ensure that no one interfered. Pilate was certain that he was the final authority on the story of Jesus.

Mary, mother of Jesus, understood the anguish of seeing a loved one suffer. She watched as opposition to Jesus grew, and she would have worried day after day that something terrible would happen. Eventually, the powerful enemies of Jesus moved against him. Following his arrest, rumours probably circulated about the beatings, the torture and the humiliation he was enduring. She would have felt so helpless, so broken to know that her son was experiencing such pain. Mary would have given her own life to save his, but that was not possible. The best his mother could do was to stand close by until the bitter end, not wanting him to face those final painful moments alone. She was there, near the Cross, as Jesus took his last breath (John 19:25). Filled with despair, Mary was certain that his excruciating death was the final chapter of the story of Jesus.

Peter knew his ministry was over and, in truth, he knew it deserved to be. After all, he had denied Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. Right when Jesus needed him the most, he had failed miserably. After the cock crowed, and Peter remembered Jesus’ words – that before the cock crows, Peter would disown Jesus three times – he bowed his head in defeat and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). Peter had never known utter despair like this. Despite promising his friend and rabbi that even if others denied him, he never would, it had taken only a persistent servant girl to make him unravel and fall apart. In denying Jesus, Peter had lost the ministry that had become his life and joy over the past three years. With his friend’s public death on the Cross, combined with his own repeated denial of being one of his disciples, Peter believed his part in the story of Jesus was now over.

But the story of Jesus was not over. They each forgot one very important thing: God always has the final word.

On that first Easter morning, when everyone assumed that the whole story of Jesus had already been written, the heavenly father wrote the most powerful chapter yet. The large stone was rolled away, the seal was broken and the guards were overcome with fear (Matthew 28:2-4). This all demonstrated that no people or power on earth can prevent God from having the final word. Jesus was risen, alive again, and because of that powerful truth, everything had changed. Pilate and the circumstances he dictated did not have final authority over God’s Son or his followers. Mary was able to see her son’s death not as the end, but as part of the continuing story of God’s compelling grace for humankind. And in the days that followed, Peter discovered that his post-denial ministry would be even greater than he dared hope or imagine (John 21:15-19).

Perhaps you are facing challenging situations in your life right now. Be assured of this: God will have the final word, and no enemy or circumstance can stand against the word of our Almighty God.

Perhaps someone you love is suffering deeply, and you feel inadequate to relieve their pain or heal their hurt. Remember, God will have the final word, and that word will be filled with grace, and hope, and ultimate victory.

Perhaps, like Peter, you no longer feel worthy to be used by God. Possibly at one time you abandoned him and are convinced he has now abandoned you. Be certain of this: God will have the final word, and it will be a powerful word of restoration and renewal. And who knows? Perhaps, like Peter, you will discover your most impactful ministry is yet to come.

My prayer for you, and for the whole of The Salvation Army, is that this Easter will proclaim anew that the story of Jesus is not over, and that God always has the final, victorious word. It will be a triumphant word that reminds us that God is greater than any foe that stands against him. It will be a powerful word of grace and hope for the broken-hearted and hurting. And it will be a restorative word, reminding us that no sin is greater than his redeeming grace.

God will have the final word, and it will be a word of victory!

Happy Easter, and God bless you.

Lyndon Buckingham