Easter is here again and with it comes hot-cross buns, the Easter bunny, chocolate eggs in all shapes and sizes, the mega sales to tempt any credit-card carrying buyer and the coveted long week-end holiday. Easter is an annual event in most parts of the Western world. To start out with, here are some interesting facts about Easter:
- Christians have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ since the beginnings of Christianity. Sunday, or the Lord’s Day, came to be regarded as the weekly celebration of the resurrection.
- Around the second century, this weekly observance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ turned into an annual one for the Christian church, much like a Christian Passover.
- The exact date to celebrate this event has been a subject of debate throughout the centuries.
- This annual celebration eventually came to be called “Easter”. The English name Easter is of uncertain origin. Some believe that in the eight century the Anglo-Saxon priest Venerable Bede derived it from the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess Eostre. “Easter” is not a specifically Christian word.
- Easter has collected many folk customs along the way, many of which have been handed down from the ancient ceremonial and symbolism of European and Middle Eastern pagan spring festivals brought into relation with the resurrection theme. These customs have taken a variety of forms, in which, for example, eggs have been prominent as symbols of new life and resurrection. The Easter rabbit is a symbol of fertility, accredited with laying eggs (often brightly coloured or decorated) in nests prepared for it at Easter or with hiding them away for children to find. Easter has developed into a festival that now has a lot of things that have nothing to do with its original meaning.
For the Christian church, Easter is a time to reflect upon the events of that Passover week when Jesus Christ suffered a cruel death for our sins but rose triumphant from the grave three days later. Easter is about Jesus Christ. That’s our focus today.The Cross
Each one of the four gospel writers records the details of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and unjust trial, his cruel crucifixion on a cross, his death, his burial, his resurrection and his ascension back to heaven. They record the details as historical fact and then share the impact these events had on the disciples. They are reporting as “eyewitnesses” (Matthew and John) or friends of “eyewitness” (Mark and Luke) of these events and there were people alive who could validate their accuracy. They focused their writing on giving a reliable and trustworthy record so that our faith may be grounded in truth. It is not until later in the New Testament writings, in the letters or the “epistles”, that we learn about the meaning of these events and why they had to happen. The gospels records the historical events (“what” happened), while apostles such as Paul, John and Peter give the theological meaning of what Jesus accomplished for us (“why” it happened).
The “cross” becomes central to the message of Christianity (Gal.6:14). The true gospel is the message centred on the cross. Paul describes the “preaching of the cross” as “foolishness” to those who do not believe but as the “power of God” to us who do believe (1 Cor.1:17-25). Paul is not saying that we should be not pursue wisdom (become “anti-intellectual”) or discover compelling arguments for our faith (the task of “apologetics”) but that we should recognise that ultimately it is the convicting power of the Spirit that brings people to Christ not our human efforts or cleverness. Like the Jews and Greeks of Paul’s world, we too today can become preoccupied with a quest for miracles and a passion for more knowledge and miss the simple power of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is full of significance and meaning. Today we will focus on the central aspects of what Jesus did through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.
- Covenant. The cross is all about “covenant”, the new covenant, a new agreement made by God for us (Lk.22:20). There was nothing wrong with the Old Covenant in and of itself. The law was spiritual, righteous, holy and good. It performed a purpose for a time but was incapable of bringing life or making people righteous. There was a serious problem with the human heart in relation to keeping God’s law. Something had to be done. There had to be change. The Old Testament through prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of a day when that power would be made available and God would make a new covenant with his people that would replace the old (Jer.31:31-34). The New Covenant includes God’s law on our hearts along the internal ability to obey by the power of the Holy Spirit who is in us (Rom.8:3).
- Reconciliation. The cross is also about “reconciliation” between God and us (Col.1:13-29). There are two aspects of the reconciliation of the cross of Jesus: vertical – between God and mankind (in Christ Jesus, God is reaching out to every person on earth who has every lived desiring a relationship and a friendship with them) and horizontal – between people (Eph.2:14-18). Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do yet because of Christ’s forgiveness of us we are called to choose to forgive those who have offended us and endeavour to see the relationship healed.
- Overcoming. The cross is also about Jesus overcoming the devil and his plan. It’s about Jesus defeating Satan and his kingdom (Col.2:13-15). It’s about Jesus overcoming Satan, sin and sickness and bringing in the arrival of God’s kingdom, characterised by righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It’s not just about Jesus overcoming - it’s about us overcoming through him. He now lives in us and we can overcome every situation we face (1 Jn.5:4-5. Rev.2:7. 1 Cor.10:13-14. Rom.8:35-39). Are you struggling with something beyond your own ability to cope or endure? Then you are a candidate for God’s power and grace! This is not just some “self-help” human psychological quick fix. This is about the power of the cross working in and through your life right now in a powerful and real way! It’s available and at your disposal right now and every moment of every day. By faith we can reach out and receive it.
- Substitution. Jesus took our place. Christ died as our substitute. This is the central idea of the gospel. The debt of death that we owe was paid by Christ who died in our place. He made it possible to offer us the greatest gift in the world. He will give us His righteousness, forgiveness and life in exchange for our sins, guilt and death sentence (1 Pet.2:24. 1 Cor.15:1-8).
- Salvation. Finally, the cross is about salvation - our salvation. “Salvation” means to be rescued or delivered from something or someone. Saved from what? We are saved from sin and its consequences, from the devil, from ourselves, from hell, from pain and suffering, from rejection, from fear, from every evil, negative and destructive thing. Salvation is the very purpose for Jesus coming into the world (1 Tim.1:15. Acts 4:12. Rom.1:16. 1 Thess.5:9-10). We have been saved (past) are being saved (present) and are yet to be saved (future).
How can this be yours? It's not automatic. Each of us remains condemned until we appropriate the work of Jesus. A transaction must take place – a withdrawal from God's bank account to pay our debt. Provision must become application. Each of us has to make a decision. You and I must respond (Jn.1:12) and ask Christ to be our forgiver (Saviour) and leader (Lord). As “forgiver”, Christ takes away our death sentence and gives us eternal life with Him. As “leader”, Christ has control of our life. It is important that we understand that we come to God not only to forgive past sins but also for strength and guidance that we need to live the way God wants us to live.
Finally, the result is a spiritual transformation by the Holy Spirit. 2 Cor.5:17 says: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! When we respond to Christ as forgiver and leader, a spiritual transformation takes place in us. The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and changes us from the inside out so that we begin to desire to follow Christ. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Come to the foot of the cross and receive its power because of who Jesus is and what he has done for you.Sample Discussion Questions
- What does ‘Easter’ mean to you?
- How should a Christian approach this festival in a world where its meaning has become very secular?
- What do you think of when you hear the word ‘cross’?
- What thoughts and feelings come to your mind when you partake of the Lord’s Supper or communion?
- Why is forgiveness so hard and yet so important (see Matthew 6:9-15; 18)?
- In what practical and tangible ways can we appropriate the power of the cross in our daily lives, especially in living an ‘overcoming life’?