Thursday, April 09, 2009

Why Does Easter Matter?

Why Does Easter Matter?
Genesis 4:3-5 (KJV) 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

Christianity is different than other religious beliefs because it indicts everyone as sinners and provides no personal remedy for sin. The Christian faith says that redemption is only accomplished through Jesus and is not by "our works". This makes Christianity different than any other religion of man which all provide "our works" as the remedy.

God hates sin. His wrath ultimately must be poured out on sin as the true enemy of God. A few times in the Old Testament God has to control His anger against sinful people and not pour out His wrath on them. I believe He was able to do this by looking ahead to the cross and knowing that His wrath against sin would be poured out on that day, on His Son, and thus completely satisfy the penalty for sin.

As early as Abel, God made it clear that it was "the shedding of blood" that atoned for sin. Cain brought the "first fruits of the field" and Abel brought "the first born of the flock". God accepted Abel's offering and not Cain's because it is "the blood" that makes atonement for the soul. Leviticus 17:11 declares "11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." In Hebrews God says, "22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." Hebrews 9:22. Abel's offering was accepted because it was a "blood sacrifice".

Many people in our culture find Christians and Christianity offensive, feeling that we are judgmental and self-righteous because we say "we are right and everyone else is wrong". I understand why those outside of Christianity would feel that way. But the real thing that makes Christianity offensive is Jesus. It goes against human nature to accept that I can't earn my redemption. 1 Peter 2 says that Jesus will be "offensive" for that very fact. People are destined to stumble over the idea that Jesus is their only hope of salvation because, according to scripture, they are disobedient to the law.

Jesus said in Matthew 26:28 that "his blood was being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." He made the claim that He was the Son of God and that He was dying for our sins.
Romans 5:9 states "9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." This scripture tells me that I have been justified by Christ and spared from God's wrath because of His sacrifice. So I receive forgiveness from my own sin because Jesus received my penalty for sin when He went to the cross. Easter matters because of the atoning death of Christ on the cross.

But Easter also matters because if Jesus didn't rise from the dead then we have no hope of eternal life either.
The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus is the key to the Christian faith. Why? (1) Just as he promised, Jesus rose from the dead. We can be confident, therefore, that he will accomplish all he has promised. (2) Jesus' bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ is ruler of God's eternal kingdom, not a false prophet or impostor. (3) We can be certain of our resurrection because he was resurrected. Death is not the end—there is future life. (4) The power that brought Jesus back to life is available to us to bring our spiritually dead self back to life. (5) The Resurrection is the basis for the church's witness to the world. Jesus is more than just a human leader; he is the Son of God.
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me—that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures said. (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

The Resurrection is the decisive point of the Christian faith. There will always be people who say that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. Paul assures us that many people saw Jesus after his resurrection: Peter, the disciples (the Twelve), more than five hundred Christian believers (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this, although some had died), James (Jesus' brother), all the apostles, and finally Paul himself. The Resurrection is a historical fact. Don't be discouraged by doubters who deny the Resurrection. Be filled with hope because of the knowledge that one day you and they will see the living proof when Christ returns.
What does the Bible teach about our resurrection?

BIBLE READING: 1 Cor. 15:12-28
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor. 15:12)

Our resurrection includes body and soul. Most Greeks did not believe that people's bodies would be resurrected after death. They saw the afterlife as something only for the soul. According to Greek philosophers, the soul was the real person, imprisoned in a physical body, and at death the soul was released. There was no immortality for the body, but the soul entered an eternal state. Christianity, in contrast, affirms that the body and soul will be united after resurrection. The church at Corinth was in the heart of Greek culture. Thus many believers had a difficult time believing in a bodily resurrection. Paul wrote this part of his letter to clear up this confusion about the resurrection.

Our resurrection is certain because of Christ's resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is the center of the Christian faith. Because Christ rose from the dead as he promised, we know that what he said is true—he is God. Because he rose, we have certainty that our sins are forgiven. Because he rose, he lives and represents us to God. Because he rose and defeated death, we know we will also be raised.

Our resurrection is our only hope for eternal life. Why does Paul say believers should be pitied if there were only earthly value to Christianity? In Paul's day, Christianity often brought a person persecution, ostracism from family, and, in many cases, poverty. There were few tangible benefits from being a Christian in that society. It was certainly not a step up the social or career ladder. Even more important, however, is the fact that if Christ had not been resurrected from death, Christians could not be forgiven for their sins and would have no hope of eternal life.

What will our resurrected body be like?

BIBLE READING: 1 Cor. 15:35-58
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will all be transformed. It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, the Christians who have died will be raised with transformed bodies. And then we who are living will be transformed so that we will never die. For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die. (1 Cor. 15:51-53)

Our resurrected body will be eternal. Paul launches into a discussion about what our resurrected body will be like. If you could select your own body, what kind would you choose—strong, athletic, beautiful? Paul explains that we will be recognized in our resurrected body, yet it will be better than we can imagine, for it will be made to live forever. We will still have our own personality and individuality, but these will be perfected through Christ's work. The Bible does not reveal everything that our resurrected body will be able to do, but we know it will be perfect, without sickness or disease (see Phil. 3:21).

Our resurrected body will be different than our present one. Paul compares the resurrection of our body with the growth in a garden. Seeds placed in the ground don't grow unless they "die" first. The plant that grows is very different looking from the seed because God gives it a new "body." There are different kinds of bodies—people, animals, fish, birds. Even the angels in heaven have bodies that are different in beauty and glory. Our resurrected body will be very different in some ways, but not all, from our earthly body.

Our resurrected body will not experience present limitations. Our present body is perishable and prone to decay. Our resurrection body will be transformed. Our spiritual body will not be limited by the laws of nature. This does not necessarily mean we'll be superpeople, but our body will be different from and more capable than our present earthly one. Our spiritual body will not be weak, will never get sick, and will never die.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Passion for the Passion

Hello all,
As we move through Passion Week I wanted to remind you to focus on the reason for this week’s celebration. In Western Culture we seemingly put much more emphasis on Christmas than we do on Easter. I suppose it is only an opinion that would elevate one event over the other, but the Passion Week seems to be much more significant to me than the celebration of the birth. Perhaps we celebrate Christmas more enthusiastically and more readily because it is more universally accepted. Everyone likes births. New babies are sweet and cuddly, so the celebration of Jesus birth is somewhat a natural instinct. Besides, it gives us an excuse to rack up credit card debt to buy stuff……the biggest stuff we buy for ourselves! But Easter is a lot messier and much more controversial. The world stumbles, according to 1 Peter 2:8, over the figure of Jesus precisely because of what the bible says he purchased with His death: forgiveness of sin. Without Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross there would be no forgiveness for sin and no entrance to heaven. That claim sets the world at odds with Jesus and with Easter, because we don’t like being told we are sinners.
During this week in history, Jesus most likely was preaching sermons warning people of the wrath of God to come. He was preparing his disciples for his impending death. And, he was preparing his own heart and spirit for the awful fate that was ahead of Him: the wrath of God. Scripture teaches that He became sin for us who knew no sin. Because He became sin, and because He was offering Himself in our place, He had to suffer, as God poured out His wrath against sin – on Jesus. This was most probably what Jesus was referring to when he prayed “let this CUP pass from me”. The ‘cup’ in the Old Testament was representative of the wrath of God. Jesus took the punishment, not just the physical beating and death, but the true punishment from God, for our sin. He did so, because He loves us! That is absolutely, without a doubt, the most amazing love that has ever been seen!
This week is a reminder of the penalty that should have been ours and the amazing love that held Jesus on that cross! Those of us who are Christian have the great responsibility to be missionaries in our culture. We hold in our possession this vital information regarding God’s ultimate act of love and we need to be telling it to those with whom we work and play. When we forget the amazing graciousness of the gift, we stop talking about it. But when we are aware of this amazing love, we tell it to those who haven’t yet believed. God’s speed as you serve as missionaries of God’s grace and love in a graceless and loveless world.