Saturday, December 26, 2009

Not Christmas but Easter

I meant to post this yesterday, but we were enjoying family way too much! This is a short meditation on Christmas and Easter. Happy Christmas everyone!
"The central celebration of Christianity is not Christmas but Easter. It is a great a miraculous thing that the creator of the universe should be born as a baby in Bethlehem. But a true saying worthy of all people to receive is that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim 1:15): the reason for his birth was his death and resurrection.

It is wonderful that God should visit us - and visit us as one of us. But more wonderful still is that he should die for us, for "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). That God the Son became a man is, of course, enormously important. As the old hymn goes:

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.
(Cecil F Alexander, "There is a green hill far away")

God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19), so it is right to celebrate his birth with joy. But in his birth, he entered the battle, whereas in his death and resurrection, he conquered our enemy and won the war.

This victory contains the great news about God's visit to humanity. Jesus did not come just to share our experience of life, or to teach us the way to live; he came to take our sin upon himself and to bear our punishment in his death. He himself said he came to "give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). As the Apostle Peter said, "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous" (1 Pet 3:18a).

But Jesus' 'visit' to humanity did not cease with his death. He rose again as a man, and not just as a man but as the 'Son of Man' - the man whom Daniel prophesied would rule all nations for all time (Dan 7:13-14). "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive", wrote the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:21-22).

Furthermore, the risen Jesus continues as the man who rules the world. He calls all people to himself by his Spirit and announces the gospel through his servants. As people come to him by the power of his Spirit's work of regeneration, they enter the kingdom of God.

At Easter, we take time to remember with overwhelming gratitude to God that we are saved by his Son's death and resurrection. We know that the crucifixion of Christ is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18-24). There is no message more important to preach and no song more important to sing than that Jesus died for our sins. This message was delivered by the apostles "as of first importance" - that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried , that he was raised on third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3-4).

For those who are not saved, Easter is a strange and fairly unimpressive festival. A man dies in the first century and we are supposed to celebrate? He may have been a great man - he may have been an innocent man - he may have died a barbaric death - but what is so important about a man who died? How is this action central to history, life, eternity or your relationship to God? In contrast, for those of us being saved, the cross is not a matter of shame and foolishness but the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18).

Christmas will always be more popular than Easter with the non-Christian. It has a message that is easier to understand - a message that tells us of our importance. It is a message of birth and life. But Easter has a message that demonstrates God's wrath upon our sin. It is a message that reminds us of our mortality. It is a message that demands repentance.

And yet Easter is not a gloomy affair. We do not celebrate that Jesus died, but that he died for our sins. We do not only celebrate that he returned to life, but also that he rose to rule the universe as our Lord and king. We do not celebrate God's wrath upon our sin but the victory of God's mercy over wrath - whereby we are justified and pardoned. We do not celebrate life here on earth, but life here on earth and into eternity - the new eternal life of the kingdom of God.

Jensen, Phillip D. By God's Word: 60 Reflections for Living in God's World (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2007), 208-211.

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