For Christians, today begins the crescendo of Holy Week as we celebrate Maundy Thursday – the day Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples and was later arrested in the garden of Gethsemane; Good Friday – the day Jesus was nailed to the cross, was crucified, and died; and Easter Sunday – the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
A thought came to me this morning prompting this blog: Why does Easter matter?
I don’t mean that question to be posed to those of us in the church who are everyday disciples of Jesus. Certainly we understand the ramifications of the empty tomb. I really pose that question to my brother and sister Christians who are what I call “Easter-Christmas” Christians – ones that just go to church on Easter and Christmas and pretty much live a worldly life every other day of the year.
When I think about explaining the meaning of Easter in layman’s terms – no churchy words – I start with a fundamental question: Do you think you have a soul?
See, the answer to that question determines everything else when it comes to whether Easter matters or not.
Do you have a soul? If the answer is, “No, I’m just flesh and blood with a brain that reacts to chemical inputs,” then Easter really doesn’t need to matter to you at all. Jesus could be a guy who lived a couple thousand years ago who was a great teacher with some pretty good advice about how to live a good life.
But if the answer is, “Yes, I have a soul that is separate from my body and my mind,” Easter becomes a pivotal crossroads for you where a decision must be made.
If your answer is yes, then the next question is, “What do you think happens to your soul when you die?” For the Easter-Christmas Christian inevitably the answer is they go to heaven. It’s not so much they really understand what heaven is, rather they learned that when they were in Sunday school as a kid or from their parents somewhere along the line.
However, for anyone who thinks they are going to heaven, Easter is where the rubber meets the road and it is vital that all Christians – even our Easter-Christmas friends – really “get” why Easter matters.
These three big days of Holy Week – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday – usually focus on the Passover meal; Jesus’ betrayal by Judas; Jesus’ arrest and interrogations; Roman governor Pontius Pilot’s attempt to not crucify Jesus but the crowd release Barabbas instead; Jesus’ beating and crucifixion; the empty tomb three days later; and his appearing to the disciples and others. It’s a fabulous story but I think the meaning of Easter sometimes gets lost within the details.
When we think about Easter it’s not about what Jesus did it’s about why Jesus did it.
If you believe you have a soul and are going to heaven the only reason you can believe that is because of Jesus who took the punishment meant for you so that you could be declared not guilty and gain entrance into heaven.
Before Jesus we were all enemies to God (Romans 5:10), disobeying Him at every turn. Because God is just He simply couldn’t allow this type of rebellion to go unpunished. And the punishment for the things we’ve been doing – murder, rape, adultery, torture, betrayal, lying, false gods, worshiping idols, narcissism, acting as if there was no God – was death. That is why Paul tells us that we were “dead in our transgressions” before Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1)
The bottom line was this: None get into heaven because all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
And then Jesus came. Of His own volition and free will Jesus came to make right all the wrongs we had done, were doing, and will ever do. Jesus came because He loves His creation and was willing to give His life for ours to satisfy the punishment that must be enacted to satisfy God’s justice. I should have been on that cross and lost heaven, but Jesus went there for me instead – and my sin and yours put Him there.
Without Jesus there is no entrance to heaven, which is why Jesus told us not to worry about the one who can harm the body but worry about the one who can kill your soul. Jesus took the punishment even unto death to save your soul and mine from eternal death. And all He asks in return is this:
- Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12)
- They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another (John 13:35)
- If you love me, do as I command (follow His teachings – John 14:15)
- No one comes to the Father except through the Son (Belief and faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior gives you entrance to Heaven – John 14:6)
Tonight at our church we will hold a Maundy Thursday service that will be similar to all the other Maundy Thursday services we’ve held in the past. Many churches will hold a Good Friday service, and every Christian church will hold an Easter Sunday service. Yes, it’s easy to get bored with the same theme and service each year during Holy Week, but it is vital that we not forget why we celebrate.
What happened to Jesus should have happened to you. It should have been you who was illegally arrested and interrogated; beaten without mercy within an inch of your life; forced to carry a heavy beam through town and up the hill to your own execution; had nails driven through your skin and bones into that very beam; raised up on that cross in excruciating pain; and eventually suffocating as your lungs burned and no longer could take in air as your body collapsed unable to push itself into position any longer to grab on last gasp of air.
None of us – not one – is worthy of heaven no matter how good we are, how much money we give, or how much we love God. There is nothing you can do to “earn” heaven. Jesus did what only Jesus could do; He was sacrificed without blemish (perfect) so that the rest could have eternity. No greater love has man than to give his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
I said earlier that what Jesus did is not as important as the why Jesus did it. Understand this Holy Week that Jesus loves you so much that He gave His life in the most horrific way so that He could spend eternity with you. That’s why He did it.
Do you have a soul? Do you think you’re going to heaven? What do you think you owe Jesus for taking your place? Do you want to spend eternity with Jesus as much as He already proved He wants to spend it with you? If so then you need to really rethink what you’re doing in your life.
Do you love others the way Jesus loved you – sacrificially?
Do people know you follow Jesus by the way you love – are you noticeably different from others because you shine Christ’s light in this very dark world?
Do you follow all that Jesus commands – do you love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, lead others by serving others, and strive to do as Christ did in your everyday life?
Do you understand that you cannot get to heaven based on anything you’ve done and the only way to see the Father is to embrace the gift that Jesus has given you by believe that He is the Christ – the Messiah who came to die for the sins of the world?
If so, your life should look radically different from it did before you believed these things. If you’re one of my Easter-Christmas Christian friends and you said yes to these questions I need to tell you in truth and love that you’re fooling yourself. You are not following Jesus as He expects you to follow Him. You are following Jesus the way it makes you comfortable and it may not be enough. You could be one of those poor souls who on that day say, “Lord, Lord!” and Jesus will respond that He never knew you, because you made no effort to know Him, do as He commanded, or follow Him sacrificially. (Matthew 7:21).
My friends, Easter matters. It’s not just another Christian holiday. It’s the day we as Christians recognize that Jesus gave us something we could never earn on our own, that we don’t deserve, and continue to undervalue in today’s world. If you think you have a soul Easter is the day you prostrate yourself on the ground and thank Jesus that you won’t be spending eternity separated from Him, but instead you will enjoy paradise with the one who gave all He could give for you.