The meaning of Easter

Once again, the Easter weekend is drawing to a close. To many, it’s simply a long weekend to enjoy, with chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs. What really is Easter about?

To understand Easter, we first must understand Good Friday.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

– Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

Good Friday

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

– The Gospel according to Matthew, telling how Jesus started to tell his disciples about what would need to happen, after they recognised Him to be the Messiah. (Matthew 16:21)

Good Friday marks the day where Christ was hung from a cross, and died. Why was His death necessary?

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

– Paul in his letter to the Romans, explaining that faith in Christ is sufficient for our salvation. (Romans 3:21-26)

22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvationto those who are waiting for him.

– The writer of the letter of Hebrews, explaining why Christ had to bleed on the cross, once for all. (Hebrews 9:22-28)

First, we must know that we are sinners before God, unable to reach Him due to our inherent nature.  Sin is not simply bad behaviour, or being antisocial, but is rebellion against God, refusing to acknowledge God as our Lord. Thus, we are all equal in sin, and we all need to be saved.

Being sinless then, and obedient to God, Christ was the perfect sacrifice, and had to die. He foretold this Himself, and His disciples were dismayed – Peter even told Christ off for thinking this way, and earned himself a rebuke, though he had been the one to first identify Jesus as the Christ!

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

– The Gospel of Matthew, detailing Peter’s admission of faith, and the rebuke he earned shortly after. (Matthew 16:16-32)

So it was necessary for Christ to die on the cross that our sins might be forgiven, by a God who is just and therefore cannot simply overlook our sins. A price has to be paid, either by us, or by something or someone else who can permanently take away that sin.

Thus, a just God who loves us, sent his obedient Son, who also loves us, to die on the cross out of love for us, that justice might prevail.

But if Christ died, and the story ends there, He would be no different from any other sacrifice – or man. Thus we come to Easter and the empty tomb.

Easter and the Tomb

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Christ’s story doesn’t end there. Christ died on a Passover festival, on the evening of the first day (by our tradition, this has become Friday). By Jewish law for the Passover, no one should be left hanging from a tree due to the uncleanness of the cursed person, so the bodies had to be taken down (or the person’s legs broken to accelerate the asphyxiation and death of the victim). Christ was then entombed, but nothing more could be done for Him till the day after the Sabbath. Including Friday, the Sabbath, and the day that the women and disciples would come to look to tend his body, this made up 3 days.

The Jewish leaders, knowing about this, made plans to ensure that no one could spirit away the body and make a false claim.

57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. 

62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” 

65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stoneand posting the guard.

– The gospel of Matthew, recording the events after Jesus’ death. (Matthew 27:57-66

Christ however was nowhere to be found when the women entered the tomb. The angel had startling news, and Christ Himself would appear to the women and to the disciples.

28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

– The gospel according to Matthew, on the women’s discovery of the empty tomb. (Matthew 28:1-10)

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

– The gospel according to Luke, where Jesus reveals Himself to the disciples as a group. The “drama” with the fish was to show that He was truly alive, not an apparition. (Luke 24:36-42)

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Jesus was alive again! But what’s the big deal?

The significance of resurrection

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

– The gospel according to Luke, Jesus explaining to the disciples that scripture had been fulfilled. (Luke 24:44-48)

First and foremost, Jesus had made the amazing claim that He would be handed over to the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law. He followed on with the claim that He would be killed. All this had been fulfilled but the toughest one to accomplish was the claim that He would be raised to life on the third day. If any single one of these claims were proven false, Jesus was but another charlatan, though with more power than most.

Secondly, His resurrection marked His power over death, and was the proof and badge of authority that showed that He could now raise us alongside Him.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”[c] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

– Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, explaining the reality and necessity of Christ’s resurrection and ours to come. (1 Cor 15:12-28)

Thus Easter celebrates this truth – that Christ, while He died a horrible, painful and lonely death, has ultimately triumphed, for our sake. If we believe in Him, we will be forgiven our sins, and be raised alongside Him when He comes again.

Will you come to the cross, and believe in Him? Easter is all about this glorious truth – that while we were sinners, Jesus Christ died for us, that we might be forgiven.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

– Paul in his letter to the Romans, exhorting the brethren to remember the grace of God and how it matters to our faith. (Romans 5:6-11)

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”[a]

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

– Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, celebrating victory over death in Christ Jesus, with the promise of our resurrection alongside Him. (1 Cor 15:55-57)

Come join in the eternal hope of Easter!20140828_JessicaTurner_Rest.jpg


Photos taken from Justtflow, a Christian blogthe LUMO project, Turn back to Godand Incourage.me.

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