Friday, April 3, 2015

Why We Celebrate Easter

Why do we celebrate Easter? I thought I would take some time to explain why this particular holiday is so important, and why we still have reason to celebrate in 2015. Perhaps you’ve never heard it explained, or maybe you have celebrated Easter your whole life, but never quite grasped why the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was necessary for our salvation.

It all began with the first man, Adam. He had a special relationship with God, who communicated directly with him, and gave him a wife to help him look after the Garden of Eden and tend it. It was a beautiful, peaceful world. However, God gave him one command, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he would, death would follow. When he disobeyed the direct order from God, sin and its natural effect, death, infected Adam and Eve and all the children they would bear. From that point forward, Man continued to sin, and we faced the consequences through suffering, pain, and death. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” All it takes is one sin, and as Romans 3:23 states, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As all men fell short of perfection, there needed to be a way for Man to be made right with God once again. In order to do so, God set up a system of substitutionary atonement through the death of an innocent life. This began immediately after Adam and Eve were banished from the paradise that was the Garden. In Genesis chapter 4, we see that the first children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, were practicing this system of offering, though Cain’s offering of fruit did not meet God’s requirement of innocent blood. Abel, on the other hand, offered the firstborn lamb of his flock. The lamb bore the punishment for Abel’s sins, and he was able to stand reconciled before God. However, any sins Abel would later commit would again require this sacrifice. Of course, Abel did not live much longer, as his brother’s jealousy drove him to murder, the clearest sign of how far Man had fallen in the wake of Adam’s sin. The knowledge of good and evil was leading Man to self-destruction.

As the story of the Old Testament continues, God develops a special relationship with a faithful man named Abraham, whom He promises to bless with children greater than the stars he could number in the sky. He also promises that through his family, all the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 22:17-18). God was going to use this man to accomplish something remarkable for all of humanity, though the specific details were not revealed to him. Abraham’s family would become the nation of Israel, and they would be God’s representatives in a fallen world. Throughout the centuries, they would observe God’s laws and continue to offer blood sacrifices to atone for their sins. As it becomes quickly apparent in reading through the Old Testament, those sins would be many, as His people would repeatedly turn away from God. Still, God used them to ultimately accomplish His plan for the whole world. Through the bloodline of Israel, prophets prophesied that a Messiah would come. He would be the one to save His people.

Then one day, an angel appeared to a young, unmarried girl named Mary, whom he declared would give birth to the Son of God who would rule over Israel, and whose kingdom would have no end (Luke 1:30-33). The Messiah was coming! This Savior was born and He was named Jesus. Shortly before Jesus was born, a man named John (the Baptist) was born to Mary’s cousin, and this man would be the one to “bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe (John 1:7)” In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John the Baptist bore witness to Him, and as Jesus came to John to be baptized, John declared, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)” What God’s people were anticipating was a man who would establish an earthly kingdom and rule for the nation of Israel, but John here declares that His purpose was to make payment for the sin of the world as the Lamb of God. How incredibly contrary! The Son of God would not come to rule, but to be killed. His blood would be shed for the sins of the whole world, just as the lamb sacrificed by Abel was shed for Abel’s sins. He was to be the perfect sacrifice, one that was pleasing to God. He was the only Man worthy to be sacrificed because He was the only Man who was Himself without sin. The One without guilt would pay the price for the guilty.

Jesus would be faithful to His purpose, and after three years of earthly ministry in which He performed countless miracles and spread the word of His kingdom, He would be offered up on a cross and His blood would be shed. The perfect sacrifice would be made, and it would be possible for Man to be made right with God. Romans 5:12-21 tells us how the death of Jesus Christ atones for the sin that entered the world through Adam. Verses 18-19 say, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

This payment explains how all the sins up to the time of Jesus’ death could be atoned for, but how about the sins that came after? Wouldn’t we still need to have payment for our sins going forward? Hebrews 10 addresses this. Verse 10 says, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” and continuing in verses 12-14, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” There is no limit to the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus Christ as payment for all sins past and present, because Christ Himself is infinite, and His blood is of infinite value. There is no need for further sacrifice.

Christ offered Himself up as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Does this mean then that all are saved? A clear, honest reading of the Bible, including the words of Jesus reveals that this is clearly not the case (see Matthew 25:31-46). Many will be lost and will die without atonement for their sins. Even many who claim to be believers will be cast away from His presence on the day of judgment (Matthew 7:22-23). How then can we be saved? Well, there is a good analogy that comes from the Old Testament. In Numbers 21:4-9, we find the Israelites wandering through the desert and suffering judgment for their sins by way of snakebites. Verses 8-9 recount, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” It just so happens that this, just as with the animal sacrifices, was foreshadowing something greater. Jesus says in John 3:14-17, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Later, in John 12:32 He says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself,” again drawing from the same analogy. His being “lifted up” was to be His death on the cross, a symbol for us to look upon to find salvation from death. Those who refuse to look to the cross will not be saved. John 3:18 continues, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” To believe is to trust. Do you trust in Him that His death on the cross will atone for your sins?

The Good News is just that, good news! We don’t have to pay for our sins should we trust in Him to have made that payment for us. We can accept the gift of grace that He offers us. This Easter we celebrate that gift, but not only that, we celebrate that the One who paid the price for our sins is risen from the dead! Jesus’ final words on the cross were “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit (Luke 23:46).’” Just as the Father had put His stamp of approval upon His baptism by John with the words, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” so the Father confirmed His promises to rise from the dead on the third day. The women found His tomb empty. He then appeared to as many as 500 people at once. His disciples died as martyrs preaching these truths and the Church grew like wildfire amidst persecution. This is history and it remains relevant to our story. The resurrection of Jesus confirmed the authority by which He spoke, and therefore confirmed that all that the Son said and did was in agreement with the will of the Father, including the statements that suggest His divinity and unity with the Father (ex. John 8:58). This means that God was not only offering up His son on our behalf, but He was offering Himself. He was willing to die so that we could live with Him forever! His resurrection foreshadows the kingdom of heaven where the saints (those of us who trust in Him) will shed the corruptible for the incorruptible, and we will truly be free from the weight of sin and death. We will walk with our Savior in the light of His glory.

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