April 18, 2011

The Special Gift of Easter

By Donald G. Mashburn

As Easter 2011 approaches, the world is troubled and people are hurting around the globe. Easter is a solemn time, but a time of renewed hope for Christians. For those in Japan, touched by the terrible triple troubles of earthquake, tsunami and potential nuclear nightmare, it’s time of immeasurable sadness and grief for thousands.

And we can’t forget that our own brave men and women in uniform are still in harm’s way, fighting two separate ground wars where victory is problematic and, given the histories of Afghanistan and Iraq, may prove to be unwinnable, or not worth the cost.

But to many, Easter is not all solemnity or concern about the world’s many ills. In their celebrations, there seems to be little thought about the Son of God whose death on the Cross that first Easter changed the world for all time, and changed the eternal destiny and destination of all those who accept Him as Savior and Lord.

Cities will stage large Easter egg hunts. Stores will offer “Easter Specials” where you can purchase stuff that will wear out before you do. And for many, it’s about lots of things that have nothing to do with this special time called “Easter.”

A San Francisco writer, Barbara Koh, wrote in a report, “Easter is all about Easter egg hunts, egg decorating, the Easter Bunny, parades and dressing up.” While her remarks show little understanding of the real message of Easter, they do sum up the meaning of Easter for many.

From reports like the one from San Francisco, and ones you are likely to hear on television offerings this year, many commentators don’t fully understand the gospels or who Jesus really was.

Many around the globe have the same problem at Easter. They have difficulty grasping the real Christ and why His earthly life ended in a cruel death on the cross.

Whatever may be said of His physical death, how He was tortured and crucified, we should remember an important fact: Jesus gave His life because He chose to!

After suffering terrible beatings, scourging, being nailed to the cross, and having a spear run into His side, He cried out, “It is finished!”

Agonizing words, but words that brought pardon for our sins, and an age of salvation by grace. Then came the resurrection, the empty tomb, and a world changed forever.

It’s not surprising that unbelievers miss the particular significance of the empty tomb. But too many Christians apparently don’t understand it well enough. For we must realize that if Christ is not risen, then all of us are still lost in our sins. A Jesus still in the grave would make dead our hope for salvation.

If Jesus had not been the Christ – the Son of God, as He said – He could not have appeared immediately to Mary Magdalene, and later miraculously appear to His disciples in a sealed room.

Nor could He appear to two of His followers on the Emmaus Road, and later appear to hundreds. Many of these provided spoken and written first-hand accounts that the Savior had risen!

A crucified and risen Christ is still a big obstacle for unbelievers and a problem for uncommitted Christians. Of those who profess Christianity with their mouth, but make little or no effort be Christ-like, Jesus said, quoting from Isaiah, “The people … honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8 NKJV). The secular world and many liberal church people try to grasp Christ’s birth, death and resurrection in the light of their own thinking.

But we need to understand that a crucified and risen Christ is the very essence of love. That is, God did not have to send His Son to die for our sins – we don’t deserve such mercy and grace. Nor did Jesus have to suffer and die a horrible, agonizing death on the cross. But chose to lay down His life to do His Father’s will: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that .whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).

To understand Easter, we must understand that Jesus’ death on the cross was an unselfish, sacrificial act of love, of mercy, and of grace “to save that which was lost.”

Moreover, He willingly gave His life to purchase our redemption. He said, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (John 10:18 NKJ).

And He did it! No amount of revisionism can change what happened at Calvary, and what’s happened to mankind since.

What the Passion of Christ and Easter – Resurrection Day – mean must be seen through the “eyes” of faith. When we see a merciful God of infinite love, we can understand the supernatural and divinely-directed birth of Christ, and His crucifixion and resurrection. All directed by an infinitely merciful Creator to redeem those He created in His own likeness.

The message of Christ’s Passion is found in John 3:16 (see above), and in the Lord’s words, “for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17 NKJV).

Two important messages of Easter are found in Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished,” and the angel’s proclamation, “He is risen!” To understand these is to understand Christ’s coming, and His crucifixion and resurrection.

The beauty of it all is that His gift of salvation is free! We can’t buy it or earn it, nor does keeping it depend on our own weak, carnal efforts. For as Jesus said, “No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29 NKJ). That’s one of the most comforting messages Believers will ever hear.

And it’s the most valuable, most special gift we’ll ever receive. And that “Easter Special” is available every day, around the clock, to “whosoever will.”