Tag Archives: Easter

The Reason for Easter

Although often crowded by the attention given to Spring or the expectation of the Easter Bunny, today has been the foundation of the Christian faith for 2,000 years. Resurrection Sunday is why Christians exist. It is what separates Christianity from all of the world’s religions. It is the deal maker. It is the day that we gather to say: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Jesus has had a monumental effect on human history. Consider the following statements made by both believers and unbelievers. H.G. Wells, British writer who died in 1946 said:

“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as an historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history. Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to [Jesus].”
Daniel Webster, 19th century American politician and the founder of Webster’s dictionary, said: “All that is best in the civilization of today, is the fruit of Christ’s appearance among men.”

Kenneth Scott Latourette, former President of the American Historic Society:
“As the centuries pass by, the evidence is accumulating that measured by its effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet. The influence appears to be mounting. No other life lived on this planet has so widely and deeply affected mankind.”

And finally, Will Durant, popular modern historian and philosopher, when asked what he felt the apex of history was, replied: “The three years that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth.”

Jesus said many powerful things. His Sermon on the Mount has been acclaimed as the most powerful message delivered in all of history. But His influence is not due to the fact that he was a sage. Sages come and go. It is not because He was wealthy, because he was not. Jesus was born into poverty. It is not because of His great heritage. This is why many could not get past that He was apparently the son of a carpenter from Galilee. Rather, it is because of His resurrection from the dead and its practical and historical effect on all who follow Him.

The influence of Jesus’ life is found in the short verse of Romans 4:25: “Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” To explain this statement, let us compare these two sections of Scripture, found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter four and Mark’s version of the resurrection, found in Mark 16. We first understand that…

JESUS WENT TO THE CROSS FOR A REASON.

The Apostle Paul gives us that reason in verse 25: “He who was delivered up because of our transgressions….” Jesus did not die a passive death, as if he was a victim of a horrible circumstance. His death was a part of God’s ultimate plan to provide the means of atonement for our sins. Each person has a deep spiritual need that cannot be met by himself or philosophy or money or sex or relationships or a career, etc. It is only met through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Each of us has a God-shaped void that can only be filled by Him. The fourth century church father Augustine once prayed: “O Lord, our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in You.”

If you are a member of the human race, you are a sinner. Jesus said in John 8:34: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. But if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Sin is defined as any transgression against God’s moral law. By being a sinner, you are at odds with God. You cannot conquer your sin by “doing better next time.” As someone once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Each of us has a sin problem that can only be adequately dealt with by God.

But God, in His love, has reached out to you in the life, death and resurrection of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Both Jesus’ death and resurrection addresses our two greatest spiritual needs, which are forgiveness and restoration. You cannot have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. That tells us that our greatest need is not to have a good self-image. Our greatest need is not to feel positive about yourself. It is not to overcome the trials that come your way or achieve your greatest potential. Rather, your greatest need is to be reconciled to the One that you have offended. And that One is God. As Charles Sell wrote: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior. He has provided the means of your forgiveness. This is why Jesus went to the cross. “He was delivered up for our transgressions.” Secondly, we are told that…

JESUS LEFT THE TOMB FOR A REASON.

If you’ll notice from Mark’s resurrection account, that reason was not automatically known. In fact, you see that the three ladies who went to the tomb on that Sunday morning, fully expected to see the body of Jesus there, awaiting anointing, which was a gesture of devotion. They are met with shock to see the stone rolled away and the angel seated, announcing Jesus’ resurrection. So griped with fear and amazement that they ran back to the where Jesus’ disciples were and talked to no one on the way. They are not sure what just happened. Common in all of the gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection is that the disciples did not expect it. As, they all meet an angel and they all react in fear and amazement.

Mark was written, most likely before the other three gospels were. Matthew and Luke are thought to have used Mark as a template for their accounts. Mark and Romans were probably written at the same time. Mark describes the resurrection event, Paul interprets it. Paul says that Jesus coming back from the dead is a testimony that God can do the impossible. He links the resurrection faith with that of Abraham. Abraham is the father of all those who believe, mentioned at least three times in Romans chapter four, verses 11, 16 and 17. Only God: “…gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” And verse 21: “…what He had promised, He was able to perform.”

This event occurred in 33 or 34 A.D. Fast forward about twenty years, when Christians were going through persecution and the expansion and dispersion of the church. Now, Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, seeks to teach these new converts of the similarities between them and Abraham, the father of the believing. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.

Verse 25: “…who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Jesus died for your transgressions and mine. Each of us needs a right relationship with God. Justification means “…to set free, acquittal.” Jesus death and resurrection are two sides of the same coin. We cannot have forgiveness of sin without His death. Nor can we have justification/acquittal without His being raised from the dead. Charles Hodge, was one of America’s greatest theologians who taught at Princeton in the 19th century. He said: “This verse is a comprehensive statement of the gospel. His death and His resurrection were alike necessary; His death, as a satisfaction to divine justice. Had He not risen, it would have been evident that he was not what He claimed to be. We should be yet in our sins, and therefore still under condemnation.”

Therefore, there are four spiritual laws that are important for everyone to know before they leave this earth. One is that God loves you and has a plan for your life. In other words, you were made for a reason. You are not here by chance, a product of circumstance. You were made by a loving Creator God. But your sin has separated you from Him. You have offended Him by Your deeds. Some may judge a deeds ethics by the hurt it does to others; and if it causes no hurt, then it is not wrong. But God does not believe in situational ethics. He has established eternal standards of what is right and wrong and demands their obedience. When one of His principles is broken, it is as if we’ve broken them all. And we are worthy of His wrath. Hell is a real place because God is a just God.

Thirdly, Jesus came as the God-provided means for your forgiveness. He gave His life so that you could be reconciled with God, your Creator. Lastly, you must receive Christ by faith, in which the same way that Abraham believed God’s promise, and it was credited to His account as righteousness. Jesus lived the life God demanded from you and died the death you deserved. For your salvation, Jesus left the tomb on that morning so long ago. Jesus’ resurrection means life-giving change for you and me. That is why Christians are people of tremendous hope.

Because of Easter, we can have a new life. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can have a new identity. Because of Jesus being raised from the dead, we can go to heaven when we die. But you must follow Him. You must seek forgiveness for your sins. You must become a disciple.

Jesus dying on the cross and being raised from the dead has been the hope of Christians for 2,000 years. Governments can try to stamp that out, to no success. In some of the places where the church is heavily persecuted, it is also expanding at an unprecedented rate. When all is said and done, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only hope that we have.

As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross.

Following Jesus remains the most important, the most critical decision you can ever make. Have you done so?

“Two Different Versions”

The following message is based on Matthew 27:62-28:1-15.  It addresses why the resurrection of Jesus is important to Christians.  This greatest of all miracles defies all conspiracy and is the only catalyst for man’s peace with God.  It was delivered on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013.

Recently, I was reminded how people prefer a certain version against the original.  Hence, one church is said to start their services with a song, followed by a reading, then a time for silent reflection, then a greeting of others.  At first glance, we might think that this is a welcoming church.  But it is not a church at all.  Rather it is an atheist gathering, which meets in Islington, a community north of London.  In place of a sermon, a talk is given, this time a physicist talked about wonder.  An offering is taken to care for the facility.  The group’s motto is “Live better, help often, wonder more.”  And enthusiastic participant said: “It’s got all the good things about church without the terrible dogma.”[1]  This is one version of church.  Not a very good one, I argue.  Dogma is teaching.  If your religion does not teach you anything about God, His character, His grace and what He requires of you, then it is not worth much!

At Central, we teach that the church is the gathering of God’s people, known by their faith in the risen and reigning Jesus Christ.  It is made of people who have been transformed by a God who is limited by nothing.  It offers hope in a God who conquered death by raising Jesus from the dead.  And that resurrection is the basis of how and why God continues to change lives today, nearly 2,000 years after the fact.

Our Scripture for today provides a different version of the Easter story alongside of the real one.  Jesus, the itinerant preacher from Nazareth, described his approaching death and resurrection many times. Many things have transpired up to this point in that original “holy” week.  According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was anointed for burial in Bethany as the woman used the costly fragrant oil, pouring it on Jesus.  Our Lord celebrated the Passover with his disciples, prays in the garden, is arrested and sent to a series of unfair trials, is handed over to the Roman governor, flogged, then crucified at the demands of an angry mob.  His body was requested by his followers and laid in a new tomb outside of Jerusalem.  Thankfully, this is not the end of the story.  Actually, it is where we take up, on the eve of God’s greatest miracle.  What can we learn from our text?  We first discover that…

MAN TRIED TO THWART THE RESURRECTION.

Matthew 27:64: “So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

Verses 62-66 Depict man’s efforts to keep the resurrection from happening.  The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.  Only Matthew gives us this exchange which uncovers man’s twisting and deceptive attempts.  But notice that Jesus is called “Deceiver” in verse 63.  His claim to be the Messiah was seen as the first deception and these officials would keep the “second” from happening.  Notice the statement: “The second would be worse than the first.”  Although the resurrection was part of Jesus’ message (Matthew 16:21, 17:23 and 20:19), even the disciples did not absorb it.  They had no frame of reference, so they concentrated on the fact that He was going to die, not on His promise that He would rise from the dead.

Yet, the chief priests and the elders here are making sure that the latter could not appear as though to happen.  They understood His veiled references to His resurrection, like the sign of Jonah in 12:40 and 16:4.  But in order to “keep” that appearance from taking place, the tomb was to be made secure, for fear of the body being stolen.  How was the grave secured?  By sealing the stone and setting the guard.  Donald Carson states that this was done with a cord and an official wax seal.[2]  These were extra efforts to keep any quell any confusion surrounding Jesus’ death.

By doing so, these set the stage for God’s greatest miracle.  J.C. Ryle states: “They little thought what they were doing; they little thought that unwittingly they were providing the most complete evidence of the truth of Christ’s coming resurrection.  There were actually making it impossible to prove that there was any deception or imposition.  Their seal, their guard, their precautions, were all to become witnesses, in a few hours, that Christ had risen They might as well have tried to stop the tides of the sea, or to prevent the sun rising, as to prevent Jesus coming forth from the tomb.  They were taken in their own craftiness: their own devices became instruments to show forth God’s glory.”[3]  In so doing, they proved themselves to be the real deceivers, vainly trying their best to make sure that the resurrection would not happen, or would not appear to have happened.  But in doing so, they set the stage for God’s greatest miracle ever.  Although, MAN TRIED TO THWART THE RESURRECTION, we find that…

NOTHING COULD THWART GOD’S PLAN.

Matthew 28:5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”  Many visited the tomb that day, but the first were women.  We are told in 28:1 that Mary Magdalene and another Mary approach the tomb.  These are two women who had benefited from Jesus’ ministry.  Mary Magdalene whom Christ had delivered from demon possession (Mark 16:9) and Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses, as Mark 15:47 tells us.  They were changed by Jesus.

There are certain things which facilitated the resurrection. First, there was an earthquake.  Secondly, an angel of the Lord appears saying: “Do not be afraid.”  The angel at the tomb had a brilliant appearance.  His countenance was as lightning and that the guards become as dead men.  These were God’s answers to the seal and the guards.  But the angel did not come for the guards.  He came for Jesus’ disciples.  Notice in verse five and following, the angel’s monologue.  He tells the women three things: Don’t be afraid; Jesus is not here; Go and tell.

Verse 8: the women’s reaction was one of fear and joy.  And Jesus meets them.  He told them to rejoice!  Easter is a happy time that comes after a sad time.  Women held his feet and worshipped.  Verse 10: Jesus said: “Don’t be afraid.  Go and tell.  The disciples were to proceed to the mountain in Galilee, where Jesus would give the Great Commission in verses 16-20.  And that’s essentially what the Great Commission is: “Go and tell.”  This message was the capstone, the implication to the greatest miracle ever witnessed!

And the greatest miracle was the conclusion of the greatest story ever told.  Man, made in the image of God, fell out of relationship with Him as a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden.  Through their disobedience as our representative heads, you and I come into this world out of harmony with God.  That friction is realized through our own sins and moral mistakes.  Death exists today as a result of such a rift (Romans 5:12).

The good news is that in this predicament, Jesus Christ came to this earth.  He lived a sinless life, satisfied God’s moral requirements, and then went to the cross as our perfect sacrifice.  This was done as a service to God and mankind.  For instance, Jesus described His death as a ransom payment in Matthew 20:28.  His mission was one of service in that He: “…did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

WHAT DOES GOD’S PLAN HAVE TO DO WITH ME?

What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in our lives?  I would argue for four differences.  One there is a personal, spiritual difference.  Through faith in Him, we are spared from God’s wrath, given eternal life and are reconciled to God.  In other words, if it were not for the death and resurrection of Christ, there would be no hope for a relationship with God, life after death, or peace through the suffering.  In summary, Jesus’ death saves us from the righteous anger of God against our sin. It would truly be a hopeless situation.  Through His death and resurrection, Jesus gives forgiveness, spiritual life, and a home in heaven to all who trust Him.  Why do Christians count the resurrection of Jesus so important?  One commentator noted: “Jesus resurrection demonstrated His victory over death, vindicated Him as righteous and indicated His divine identity.  It guarantees the believer’s present forgiveness and justification, and it is the hope of eternal life in Christ for the believer.”[4]

Two, there is a personal, physical difference.  Jesus rising from the dead gives me hope, that although my body is in the process of giving way; that I encounter illness, some serious, some not so serious; and I’m often reminded of my emotional, physical and spiritual frailty, as I’m moving toward my last breath, death cannot reign over me.  Jesus will one day raise me up and I will overcome death because He has overcome death.

Thirdly, there is a psychological difference: the resurrection of Jesus rescues me from a world where there is so much death and despair.  In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Philip Yancey recalls the events of Newtown, Connecticut and argues that the resurrection of Jesus provides a welcome remedy for the sorrow and depression we face through loss and tragedy in this life.  He uses the example of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who was an agent of social healing after apartheid government ended in South Africa.  Tutu, after hearing testimonies from the victims of brutal assaults, where blacks were shot in cold blood, and collaborators with Apartheid were “necklaced,” where tires were hung around their necks and set on fire, he came away being convinced that evil doers are held accountable; that right and wrong do matter and that love does conquer evil.  He stated: “For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.” (See Christianity Today, “National Tragedy and the Empty Tomb,” 2013, April: 24)

Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus helps me understand death and loss, that it is the last enemy that will be overcome.  Recall our Thought for Meditation from 1 Corinthians 15.  As I witnessed the funeral of Norma Krauss, a long time member of this church and a real saint.  Hearing her children comment on her life, it was a reflection on a Christian woman.  Pastor Bill stated that our great hope as Christians is that Norma is now with Jesus.  And that Bob, Jr., oldest son, ordained Schwenkfelder minister and USAF chaplain, stated what his mom taught: “Jesus is not just a teacher to tell us about a way to heaven; He is the way, the truth and the life.  I couldn’t agree more!  How loving that the God of the universe would go out of His way to reveal this!

But in order for someone to have a repaired relationship with God two things that must occur.  The Bible calls these faith and repentance.  Faith is embracing God, following Christ, wholeheartedly giving Him your life.  Repentance is a turning from sin, asking for God’s forgiveness and determining that you want to go from your way of living to God’s way of living.  Have you done so?  Have you trusted Christ?

The good news is that no tomb in Jerusalem contains the bones of Jesus.  And that’s why we celebrate Easter.  This is why Peter wrote: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).”  That is also why John Donne, the 16th century Anglican priest and poet, who buried many parishioners due to disease and who lost his wife at 33 while she gave birth to their 12th child, wrote:

  • Death be not proud, though some have called thee
  • Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so…
  • One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
  • And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

[1][1] “Sans Dogma,” Christian Century, 20 March 2013: 9.

[2] Donald Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 588.

[3] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986), 401.

[4] “The Resurrection of Jesus,”  The New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1653.