Thursday, March 24, 2016

What is Easter? (Part 1: The Story)

Easter is this Sunday, and as anyone knows who follows this ministry, it commemorates what I consider to be the most important event in human history. It is my hope, however, that there might be some new readers who are not so familiar with me. A post like this, especially at this time of year, is designed with the curious in mind. It is natural to have questions about God and what the Bible says about Him, and particularly about what was accomplished by Jesus Christ. So that is why I am writing today. I want to share with everyone what Jesus did, why we can trust Him, and what trusting Him means.

To those who already know this story, and whether they believe it or not, what I am about to say may feel repetitive. However, it needs to be said. For one thing, it is a story that should never get old. For another, though, there are more people than ever in this culture who do not know it. They should not be ashamed of that fact, obviously. But they must be told.

The End of the Beginning

A little less than 2,000 years ago, a man was executed by the Romans. He was a Jewish man in his thirties who had been an itinerant preacher for the previous three years. During that time, he traveled no more than 100 miles from his home, but he managed to make quite an impact. Along with his preaching, he was a miracle-worker who healed the sick, calmed storms, restored hearing and sight, turned a mouthful of food into enough to feed thousands, and raised the dead to life.

This hardly seems a cause to kill someone. Jesus never harmed anyone, and no one had ever done so much good. But that did not mean he had never caused any offense, or that he was not dangerous. He did not perform His miracles merely for their own sake, but for the sake of confirming His message. Jesus came proclaiming what He called the “kingdom of heaven.” He came saying that He would offer salvation to everyone who believed in Him, and that forgiveness of sins was available to everyone who asked. True righteousness, He said, was not in following rules, but in following Him.

It was a deeply subversive message. By saying such things, He was claiming to be more than just a man. He was also undermining the religious and political establishments of His day. That was why the Jewish religious leaders arrested Him and turned Him over to the Romans for execution, and it was why the Romans obliged.

For every other founder of a religion in human history, that would mean the end of the story. Indeed, there ought to have been nothing afterward. Muhammad, the Buddha, and even Moses all died in peace. But Jesus, who only had a small following to begin with, lost them all when He was arrested and His death should have marked the end of His movement. There would be no reason to continue once He was gone. Clearly, that was what His enemies intended.

The Reason for Jesus

However, it was not what God intended. Long before it entered their minds to attempt to destroy Him, Jesus had already been predicting that His detractors would have Him crucified. It was, indeed, the purpose for which He had come. He was truly more than just a man. But the miracle was that He became a man, at all. Jesus was God Himself, the Creator and Ruler of the universe. He made humanity, but our earliest ancestors rebelled against Him and we have all been in rebellion ever since. It all comes from choosing ourselves over Him—by looking for selfish, short-term highs rather than lasting goods. And when we do, we cannot make it right. We write out the charges against ourselves, and can do nothing to erase them. Our selfishness creates a gap between us and God that we cannot bridge.

He could have left us that way. He could have decided to be done with us, to destroy us and blot out every trace of our existence. That would be just, and though we may not like to think it, it is certainly what we deserve. In what way have we earned any goodness? But God loves us with a love we cannot comprehend, and so He provided a way to bridge the divide and wipe out our handwriting. He provided it in Himself.

The Good News

Jesus came to this earth, was born, and lived a human life, yet did so without the sins of selfishness all the rest of us commit. He deserved no punishment as we do, but He allowed Himself to be punished so that He could pay the cost for all of us. He offered a perfect sacrifice. Because of you, and because of me, he was arrested. He was beaten and mocked. He was scourged, whipped with a rope having bits of bone and rock tied to the ends of its tongs that tore the flesh off His back. A mocking crown was shaped of thorns and shoved down on His head. He was then forced to carry a heavy beam, which was to be the method of His execution, to His place of death. He was stretched out on that beam, and heavy spikes were driven through His wrists and feet. Then the cross to which He was nailed was lifted up so all the world could see His humiliation. None of it compared, however, to experiencing the wrath of God being poured out on Him as he bore the weight of all our sins on that cross. Then, at last, He gave up His spirit and died. Because of me. Because of you.

Jesus died on an April Friday almost 2,000 years ago. And in His death, He provided an escape from eternal death to everyone who believes in Him. But if it had ended there, it would still be over. We would not know whether the things he claimed to be doing were true, if He had merely died. His preaching would seem to have come to nothing, and the forgiveness He offered would be worthless. There needed to be something more. On that following Sunday, there was.

On the first day of the week after His crucifixion, after having been buried in a borrowed tomb, Jesus rose from the grave. He had laid down His life for us, and for the same reason, He took it back up again. Death was to be the punishment for all our faults, death and total separation from God. By coming back to life, Jesus conquered death and judgment. His victory over sin was total. He loved us so much that He died, and lives, for us. If we place our trust in Him, we can know our sins are forgiven and we will spend eternity with the One who was willing to pay any price to be reunited with us.

That is the story of Easter. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the central event of human history. When we know we are weak and in need of a savior, we can find our salvation in Him. Nothing we have done can outweigh the blood He spilled for us. Nothing anyone has ever done matters more. That is why Christians celebrate every year. It is why we should celebrate every day. And it is what we offer to all those around us. We do not want you to become like us so we can feel better about ourselves. We are not perfect, and we do not want to make you try to be, either. We only want you to know that Jesus loves you, and He can save you if you let Him. He can make you better. We rely on Him, and we hope you will, too, because He offers the only hope there is.

But that leaves one question: Is it true? In the second part of this article, we will look at the strongest proof for Jesus’ resurrection. And if it is true, it requires a response.

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