Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not In the Fiction Aisle

This past weekend, we celebrated Jesus’ offering His lifeblood on the cross as a substitute for our sin and, three days later, His resurrection, which garnered victory over death and made possible our reconciliation with God. Jesus is alive!

Well, that’s what we were supposed to be celebrating, but each Easter season that passes, I see less and less focus on Christ. It’s like Jesus is slowly being “politically correctness-ed” out of everything for the sake of societal unity and acceptance. Even among so-called Christians, Jesus seems to get lost among the bunnies, baskets, egg hunting, feasting, and new outfits for the children.

The story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has become so well-known to many of us that we have forgotten to feel the story fresh and anew, not as “just a story” but as history that is true! For example, when you read the Easter story and imagine it unfolding before your very eyes, can you hear the hammer pounding the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet? Feel His humiliation when the soldiers mock him? See His chest heave, struggling to breathe as He hangs suspended between heaven and earth? Hear Him say “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Does your heart tighten? Do you breathe in the sorrow of His death and wait in painful anticipation for the women to visit the tomb and find that He is not there? Do you feel the heavy weight of sin lifted off your shoulders upon learning that He has risen from the dead, that the Father has accepted His sacrifice for your personal sin? No matter how many atheists or cultists have tried throughout history to suppress this story, it still resounds like a bell echoing through an empty valley. And if the story is true, then it is a story worth sharing…a story worth dying for.

But, why is it SO important that Jesus die on the cross or that He be resurrected from the dead? Why can’t the story just be an allegory, a folk tale, a case of “mistaken tomb identity” or a case of mass hysteria by the “more than five hundred brothers” (1 Corr. 15:6) who saw His resurrected body? Why is it really necessary that the story be 100% true?

First, why the cross? Why did God have to become man and die such a horrible death by crucifixion, a death so inhumane that it was forbidden to any Roman citizen, no matter how serious the crime? To begin with, The Bible shows that blood was always required to cover sin. Throughout the Old Testament, the priests were constantly offering blood sacrifices of spotless, blemish-free animals to cover people’s sin, but these were only temporary “fixes” for sin. However, when Christ offered His life, He became the ultimate, perfect sacrifice—He was the sacrifice of all sacrifices, thereby eliminating the need for any more temporary animal sacrifices: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Another question could be why couldn’t Jesus just die quickly? Why must His sacrifice be so painful and inhumane? I think the answer lies in the depth of His sacrifice. Such an extreme plan where Jesus left His Godly throne in heaven to die on the cross for sinful man--for men who hated Him and spat upon Him--means this form of death, this suffering, this cross is God’s plan and is absolutely necessary to salvation…the only way to salvation. This was no easy sacrifice! What else can possibly be worth more than Jesus’ death on the cross? My works? No. God’s word tells us “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

If I can contribute something—anything--to my salvation; if I have anything of value to give that could possibly “add” to the value of what Christ did on the cross—if either of those two situations is true, then that means Jesus’ death wasn’t good enough and that I have to “finish the job” of salvation. Can you hear the hubris and ego in that statement? The self-sacrifice of Jesus (perfect, God, sinless) wasn’t good enough, but somehow I (sinful, fleshly, pure man) can do something else that will be good enough. This is what Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses all teach, that to be saved, people need Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and “works.” Please understand that ANY need for works, for "something else," negates the power and completion of salvation on the Cross. You can’t have it both ways—either the cross was the ultimate, complete sacrifice or it was worthless because there is no way that small, sinful man can sacrifice more than our great God sacrificing His own life for all of humanity.

Secondly, why is the resurrection necessary? Thankfully, Paul already preached a great sermon on this to the Corinthians, some of whom were questioning whether Jesus actually came back to life: “But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all” (1 Corr. 15:12-19).

In this passage, Paul states clearly that if Christ were truly not raised from the dead, then our faith in Jesus is sorely misplaced. In essence, we trusted a liar because Jesus told His disciples, "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later" (Mark 9:31). Put simply, to trust Jesus means He must be 100% correct in everything He says—He is either God and knows all or He’s not. Additionally, if Jesus’ resurrection were all a hoax, then there is no hope for us to escape eternal damnation. Without His resurrection, without His gaining power over sin and death, we are still permanently stained the blackest of black with our sin; without the resurrection, we will die, too, in our sin because this would mean the Father rejected Jesus' sacrifice, and without His sacrifice for us being found acceptable to the Father, we are all doomed to hell. Thank God the resurrection is true.

Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection is no allegory, folk tale, or mass hysteria; it is history and truth. Just as in the Old Testament when the priest looked not at the sinful person but at the spotless lamb that person offered for sacrifice to cover his sin, if you are a true child of God, He does not look at you and your sin but at the sacrifice offered for your sin: His perfect son. You are covered by the blood of the only perfect lamb of God. And He is enough. As you go throughout your week, keep ever before you an attitude of eternal thankfulness, amazement, and awe for what Jesus did on the cross and what His resurrection means to you as a Christian. And remember—there was a cross. There was a tomb. There was a resurrection. As Paul aptly celebrated, "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corr. 15: 54-57). Praise God, the story is true.

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