Around the world, Christians will celebrate Easter this weekend. Many of us will attend church, visit with family, watch the little ones hunt for colored eggs, and perhaps indulge in one-too-many Peeps. Hopefully at some point during the weekend, we will take a moment to stop and reflect on what this weekend really means.
Much of Easter-focus is on the resurrection of Christ, which is understandably the “feel-good” part of Easter. If Jesus had not risen from the grave, we’d be no better off than other faiths whose prophets are still in their tombs. Jesus conquered death, and that gives us the hope of resurrection that even Job looked forward to.
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. Job 19:25-26 (NIV)
The not-so-easy part of Easter is considering all that Christ had to endure on our behalf. Jesus suffered and died not for anything that he had done, but for all that we had done. As Greg Laurie described it, “Before there was an empty tomb, there had to be a bloody cross.” Don’t skip over that word “had.” It is hugely significant.
Mankind once walked with God, and enjoyed communication with him face to face. That was until our pride got the better of us, and we decided that we would determine for ourselves what was right and what was wrong. That plan didn’t work out so well, and because God cannot abide sin, our relationship with him was severed. Since then we’ve had a long lesson in the consequences of sin and we therefore “lie in the bed that we’ve made for ourselves.”
We are separated from God, because he is holy and we are sinful. In the Old Testament, God instructed the people to offer sacrifices. This was an object lesson to show them that blood must be spilled in order to atone for sin. Sin incurs a debt and the debt must be paid. How tragic it would have been for us if God had written us off as forever separated, but he didn’t. He loved us so much that he made a way for us to return to him. However, it would come at an extremely high price. In simple terms, “God plays by his own rules,” meaning that his plan would meet his own requirements to atone for our sin once and for all. What was his plan? God himself would pay the debt for us. In the book of Isaiah, God tells us how this would happen.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:4-6, 10-11 (NIV)
Jesus was born because he had an appointment with the cross. It was God’s plan for our redemption, and the real events occurred just as Isaiah had foretold.
Several years ago, when the Passion of the Christ was released, I found myself very anxious during the part of the movie where Jesus is carrying his cross up to Golgotha. There was certainly discomfort in watching such a vivid depiction of the suffering Christ endured, but there was something more that I couldn’t quite identify. Eventually I realized what it was that was making me so anxious watching Jesus stumble and fall. Even though I knew how the story would unfold, there was an underlying fear that Jesus would die before he reached the cross. I was afraid that if he did not complete the mission in the way God had planned, that somehow it wouldn’t count against my sins. It was an interesting insight into my own conviction about the significance of the cross. It also made me even more grateful that Jesus willingly took my sin upon himself so that I could have life. Greg Laurie describes it this way, “God treated Jesus as if he had lived my sinful life so that he could treat me as though I had lived the sinless life of Jesus.”
One of my favorite hymns is also a perfect Easter reminder: The Old Rugged Cross.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain.
Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above to bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true; its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away, where His glory forever I’ll share.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown. (George Bennard)
God loved us, chose us, and demonstrated his love to us in a tangible way. He left each of us a love letter. It was a letter written in blood and nailed to a wooden cross in Judea over 2000 years ago.
I cherish mine in my heart. What will you do with yours?
On the journey toward Home,