When you and I think of the “Easter” story, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what theme do we see? What kind of story is it? What comes into our minds? Is it the deeply personal prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane? His triumphal entry into Jerusalem? Jesus before Pilate and the crowd? The beating Jesus took, carrying the cross and suffering upon it? Perhaps it’s the beauty of the empty tomb?
The “Easter” story as we so fondly call it is certainly about the love of Christ displayed for us as evidenced in the scenes mentioned above. For without this great love, not our fallen human love but a love that existed with the Father in eternity past, the work completed on the cross would not have been possible and we would be left with an imperfect way of restoring ourselves to a fellowshipping relationship with our Creator. We see Christ’s love for us displayed through the entire event. Despite his desire to have the impending ridicule, torture and death pass from him (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44), he fully accepted that “this cup” couldn’t be taken away unless he drank it. With the end result clearly in view, Jesus continues walking the path to ultimate persecution so that, as he tells the disciples in Luke 24:46-47, “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” He embodied his statement in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” and we are so much more, for we are His creation.
However, we should not make the mistake of viewing this time and surrounding events as just a story of Christ’s love for us. There is so much more to see, so many more themes that are woven into the fabric of the gospels’ accounts. No doubt, there are many more scholarly and biblical people around who could provide infinitely more than what will be presented here, but I hope what follows provides a wider lens with which to view all that surrounded the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
In addition to a love story, this is a story of victory. In Matthew 16:21 Jesus tells us, “that he must be killed, and on the third day will be raised to life.” This is confirmed to have come to fruition when the two women visit the tomb and are told, “He is not here; he has risen.” (Matthew 28:6) In his response to the Sanhedrin and high priest, Jesus gives us a future picture of his victory when he tells them “In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew26:64) So, what we are presented with is a picture of the contemporary victory of Jesus over death and His future victory in re-claiming the earth unto Himself. The wonderful part for us who have believed and accepted the risen Christ is that His victory over death provides for our victory as well.
This is also a story of sacrifice and redemption – the sacrifice of Jesus and the redemption of His creation. Again, in the Matthew 16:21 passage, we see the awareness and acceptance of Jesus regarding his death. In his prayer to the Father in Gethsemane, though he asks for the cup to be taken, he is willing to offer himself as the necessary sacrifice according to the Father’s will. Matthew 26:67-68 and 27:27-44 show us the sacrifice of pride Jesus made in providing no response to the degrading treatment and mockery he received from the Sanhedrin, the soldiers and those who watched as he suffered on the cross. Luke 24:46-47 gives us a wonderful description in Christ’s own words of how his sacrificial suffering and victorious rise from the grave would provide for the redemption of man, “He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations’...” Praise be to God for the willingness of Jesus to give all of himself so that we could repent and receive forgiveness and be redeemed from the eternal consequence of sin. We are no longer held captive as slaves to the fallen nature of the world but are now given over to the freedom of living a life consumed by the very One that was laid down as a sacrifice for each and every one of us. (Romans 6:2 “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”; John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”)
We also have before us a transitional and foundational story. If, as we are told, Christ was the second Adam, the one who was sent to set things right, to begin the restoration of all creation so as to make it as originally intended, then we must see that all that happened before the death of Jesus changes with the resurrection of Jesus. The relationship we have with God now is not the same as it was before. What we are presented with in all that surrounds the life of Jesus before and after the crucifixion, is Him preparing the foundation of what was to come in His place and transitioning how people relate to God the Father. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus tell his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is foundational and transitional as it changes the previous mindset of following God by completing religious ceremony, to giving up all that focuses on us and what we do and simply following the leading and example of Christ. Jesus also transitions from the unfulfilled prophecies regarding him to the completed works and fulfillment of scripture - Matthew 26:54 “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” and verse 56 “But this has taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” The Jewish people were especially aware of the Messianic prophecies and Jesus was trying to show them He was the one, because without the acceptance of that fact the people could not move forward into the new reality of the indwelling Spirit that was to come. Perhaps one of the most profound instances of transitional proof comes from Matthew 27:51 “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” We know that prior to Christ, God’s dwelling among His people was the temple and the people had to go there to “meet with God” and then only by the representative actions of the priest. At the moment of His death, Jesus destroys the separation between the people and God and now the way is opened for every believer to have a personal relationship with and direct access to God the Father – Ephesians 2:18-19 “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household…” and 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” This is also foundational truth, because any acceptance of Christ has this realization at its core. When Jesus begins his ministry and up through His death, the focus is on what He teaches and how He lives. However, when Jesus appears to the disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20) he transitions the focus to what they will do in His name when they hear “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” In Luke 24:45 we are told “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Without this understanding, they could not have followed the commission to teach others. Jesus tells them (and us) in John 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” He provides the disciples the foundation of their ministry to come in Luke 24:48 “You are witnesses of these things.” Their first hand experience with Christ was going to be the very authority from which they could draw their passion for ministry. The same is true for us, as we are witnesses to what Christ has done in our lives. In the transitional and foundational process, we see Jesus preparing the way for His bride, the church to come into being, thus setting the stage for the building of the new house of God – “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22) How significant then is the event that took place as the disciples were hiding out and Jesus appears and tells them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” (John 20:19-22)
Ephesians 3:9-11 “…and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Lastly, the biblical narrative given to us is a story of God’s covenant love. Before Jesus, life in relationship with God was lived under the old Mosaic covenant that, although not intended to, became an impersonal legalistic way of life. At the last supper, Jesus does away with that view of relationship and shows that the new covenant is sealed with His blood and is very personal and relational. As prophesied in Jeremiah 31:33-34 “This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts!—and be their God. And they will be my people. They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about God. They'll know me firsthand.” In fact, the new covenant is so personal, Jesus said we must partake of him, John 6:53-58 “Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." These words and those Jesus spoke at the last supper show the closeness of the relationship He and the Father desire with us. We are to enter into a relationship where we share their life, both with them and with one another. We are “...fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19-21)
So, we can come to this time once a year to focus on Jesus’ love for us and leave thinking that’s all there is to it. But what happened 2000 years ago was on so many levels the beginning of all God desires to accomplish in preparation for His coming kingdom.
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