Rebecca Manley Pippert, noted Christian author and speaker was auditing a course at Harvard entitled “Systems of Counseling.” They were looking at a case study in which the therapist, using psychodynamic psychotherapy, helped the patient uncover a hidden hostility toward his mother. Naming the problem and understanding what was bothering him helped the patient feel much better.
Before the professor proceeded to the next case, Rebecca raised her hand and said, “Let’s say the patient returned a few weeks later and said, ‘I’d like to be able to get beyond my anger. I’d like to be able to love my mother and forgive her.’ How does psychodynamic psychotherapy help a person with a request like this?”
There was silence. Then the professor answered, “I think the therapist would say, ‘Lots of luck!’ To ask that this hostility magically disappear isn’t realistic. He’ll have to learn to live with it and hopefully not be driven by it.” That touched off a heated exchange in the class. “Is the most we can hope (for) merely the ability to name and understand our problem?” one student asked. “How do we help our clients find the power to change?” asked another. “If you guys are looking for a changed heart,” the teacher responded, “you’re looking in the wrong department!”
He was right about that—if you are looking for a changed heart and changed lives and the ability to forgive and love, you’ll not find it in psychology, no matter what fancy name, like “psychodynamic psychotherapy,” you give it! The only One who can change our heart and enable us to forgive and to love is the One who said, as He was being crucified, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34); the One who “Manifested His love towards us while we were yet sinners—dying for us to prove it” (Ro. 5: 8). It is clear that Christ changed this planet by His visit. Like a meteorite from outer space, Christ struck planet Earth with such an impact that the world has never been the same since. Every time we write the date, we recognize His coming to earth.
But, that was only the beginning. From the worst our world could muster—a mock trial, torture and crucifixion and burial—Jesus rose victoriously in a glorified body, left the grave clothes behind, walked through the sealed tomb, brushed death aside, forever changing the course of the entire universe. Those who met the risen Savior had their lives forever changed, from Mary Magdalene, who was the first to see Him, to Peter, to James, to all the Apostles on several occasions, to the two Emmaus’ disciples (Lk. 24:13-25), to some 500 believers at one time, and to Paul (after Christ had ascended back to heaven) (I Cor. 15:4-8).
During the time Christ was in the tomb, His followers were confused, grieving and fearful. The Apostles were hiding out, thinking they too might be arrested and lose their lives. But then they met their risen Rabbi, Jesus Christ, who could appear and disappear; who could walk through walls, yet who had a body they could touch, even with the scars of His crucifixion—a body that could still eat food—a body that was recognizable as the Jesus they knew, yet so different. During the next 40 days—before Jesus ascended back to heaven—the disciples were still a bit confused, not knowing if Jesus was still going to set up His kingdom at this time or what was happening (Acts 1:3,6). Then Jesus “gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,” He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to to the remotest part of the earth. And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud receive Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:4,5,8,9).
Ten days later, on Pentecost, God sent the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2), empowering them to be His witnesses to the far corners of the earth. The disciples, who had been discouraged, confused and frightened were now boldly preaching the Good News of the death, burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were willing to lay down their lives—and most did—for the message they proclaimed. Why? What made the difference? It was the power of the resurrection, and the Christ who now lived in them through the Holy Spirit. They understood how much they had been forgiven by Christ through His sacrifice for them, and were enable to extend that forgiveness to others. One of the early martyrs for His faith was Stephen, who—before his death by stoning—preached a powerful sermon (the longest recorded in Acts). “And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ (Sound familiar?) And having said this, he fell asleep (died)” (Acts 7: 60). How could Stephen do that? Because he experienced the “power of the resurrection.”
God would use his testimony to bring a Jewish leader to Christ, one Saul of Tarsus, who stood by and watched (with approval) the stoning of Stephen and heard his sermon and final words of forgiveness. Soon that scene and those words brought conviction to his heart, and the resurrected Christ, now in heaven, appeared to him and he was marvelously changed and became “Paul the Apostle,” missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). He experienced the “power of the resurrection” and he too eventually gave his life for preaching the gospel of Christ.
Why would these, and millions since, lay down their lives for preaching about the resurrection if it were a lie or a hoax? And where did they get their ability to forgive those who persecuted them? It was—and still is—from the power of the resurrection—from the resurrected Christ who now lives in each believer through the Holy Spirit, enabling them to forgive as God has forgiven them. The resurrection sets Christianity apart from all non-Christian religions. Many of the world’s religions look back to the martyrdom of their leader/founder. None but Christianity looks back to an empty tomb which once contained His body. Only in Christianity has the slain martyr risen from the grave and is living today. Furthermore, in Christianity, Jesus Christ had specifically come to die, to pay the penalty of death which He did not owe. He had predicted His death, submitted to its brutality, and even dismissed His Spirit when all had been done. But He had also predicted His resurrection, and after three days, replaced His Spirit back into His broken body, and now He ever lives and offers eternal life to those for whom He died.
Have your received Him (Jn. 1:12)? Have you trusted in His atoning work at Calvary for your sins? “And the witness is this that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life”’ (I Jn. 5:11,12). If you have the Son, you have everything you need to live a new life. You can love unconditionally and forgive those who have injured you. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold new things have come” (II Cor. 5:17). You have “resurrection power.” Praise God for the empty tomb, which speaks of a full salvation available through the risen Savior!