This post is to wish everyone a very happy Easter!
Easter Sunday is the most important day in the Christian calendar, because today is the day that we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
As discussed in the post that I wrote last week, Palm Sunday commemorates the majestic entry into Jerusalem by Jesus, where He was hailed by the multitudes as a king.
Well, just a few days later, the attitude towards Him had changed completely. The same crowds which waved palm branches and laid their clothes before Him as He rode on His donkey turned against Him to shout for His crucifixion.
And so Jesus was crucified. The King of the Universe hung on a cross. And yet He did not remain dead. Easter is Easter because Jesus defeated the grave, and came back to life. By His resurrection from the dead He demonstrated to the world that He could offer eternal life to all people who would believe in Him, He could empower all His followers to defeat death in a similar way.
Why Jesus had to die
The Bible teaches that Jesus was handed over by the Jewish Council of clergy to the Roman authorities for crucifixion because the Council was jealous of His influence over the people. They were also angry at Him because He routinely criticised them and suggested that they were not truly living in fellowship with God, but were rather living in man-made religion. So on one level this is why Jesus had to die – because He had sufficiently antagonised the religious clergy of His day, and they wanted to get rid of Him! This would also be a great way put Him in His place, after all the miracles that He went around performing. It would show everyone that He was not so powerful after all, that He was not anyone who had to be taken seriously.
However, beyond this level, there were other reasons why Jesus had to die. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. Christians believe that He died in the place of everyone else to save us from our sins.
How this works: In the Old Testament we read how God required the sacrifice of perfect sheep and goats to symbolically wash away the sins of the people of Israel. This happened annually in the case of the Day of Atonement. So the goat would die for the sake of the people, and the people of Israel would be symbolically cleansed by its blood. It had to be a perfect sacrifice, the goat had to be free from physical defects. When Jesus came, He forever took the place of the goat, and He hung as a perfect sacrifice, for the whole world. (From the time of His death most Jewish people have not believed that Jesus is the Messiah, so obviously they would not accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in any way. However here is a link to a site from Messianic Jews, that is Jewish people who do accept Jesus as the Messiah, explaining this symbolism). He was a perfect sacrifice because He was free from sin, He had never sinned the way ordinary people do. This is true because He was not just an ordinary man, He was actually God in human form. As Christians love to say He was not half God and half man, rather He was fully God and at the same time fully human. An ordinary person would never be able to live to adulthood without making a single mistake. However Jesus had the divine power to do this because He is God.
So for Christians the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross works the same way that the sacrifice of the goat used to work under the Old Testament Law. That is, the blood of Christ would cleanse in the sight of God everyone who was covered by it. The covering is not automatic, however. You have to choose to accept the sacrifice of Jesus for your own self, and ask God to consider you clean because of it. Christians believe that there is no other way to be accepted as clean by God except through this sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. Because Jesus is God, His blood has power that exceeds the power of a goat, His blood is sufficient to cleanse even the most wicked of acts committed by the most wicked of people. The sacrifice that He made only had to be made once, rather than once a day in the case of the regular sin offerings, and once a year in the case of the Day of Atonement.
Christians believe that this is the real reason that Jesus had to die. And yet for all this to be true, He had to validate His claims to be the Messiah by rising from the dead.
In a way, to His followers, to His critics and enemies, the fact that Jesus died would have been a huge blow to His claims. “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross and we will believe in Him!” Matthew 27v42 – So sneered the chief priests as He hung on the cross. Obviously it would have seemed more powerful, more in keeping with His claims to divine power, if He had somehow been able to overpower all the chief priests and escape on a special horse or something and if He had thereby managed to avoid death. However Jesus had plans which no-one could see coming. So not only did He go ahead and die, but the way He eventually and conclusively validated His claims to be the Messiah was by doing something that no-one else had ever done before. He actually rose from the dead by His own power! No powerful prophet summoned Him back to life, as He Himself had previously summoned others. No-one else was involved, just Him and (God the Father and God the Holy Spirit).
What His Resurrection means for us
Firstly, the Resurrection proves the claims that Jesus made, that He really is the Messiah, that He really is God. Secondly, the Resurrection means that we too can beat death, and we can look forward to everlasting life in Heaven when our lives on earth are over. The Resurrection of Christ also means that while we are here on earth we can be living in the Kingdom of God, that means we can be living in love and intimacy with God, and in unity with other Christians (theoretically!) – we don’t have to wait until we get to Heaven.
Choose Jesus today!
Christians believe that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the single most important event that has happened in the whole of history. Not only is it the biggest miracle that has ever happened, but it also has the greatest significance for absolutely everyone alive. This is what can mean the difference between forgiveness from God and life with Him forever, or eternal destruction in hell.
Choose Jesus today! Choose to come under the protection of His sacrifice, choose to be cleansed by His blood. By making this choice you will also be choosing to be resurrected with Him into everlasting life.
Image of Jesus by David Wagner at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net