I was recently asked where and how I find the graphics I use to illustrate these columns.
No secret there — search engines on the internet provide a plethora of images on any given subject! The real trick is to find images for which I can get a royalty-free license so I don’t infringe anyone’s copyrights.
However, it is always interesting to see what comes up as the most popular theme for any given search. Obviously for this week I searched for “Easter” with no other qualification — and was unpleasantly surprised at the results. 80% of the graphics had something to do with eggs, mostly chocolate, but a few with fowl. Almost all the others had to do with rabbits! One lonely picture showed bright sunlight just beyond a stone entrance with a circular stone rolled to one side. An empty tomb!
For most in our society, Easter has been hijacked into a secular celebration of springtime, fluffy bunnies, new clothes, and baskets of eggs filled with chocolate. And while all of these things are wholesome and enjoyable, by themselves they have lost their connection to what Easter means. Instead they seem to have just become a marketing opportunity for candy companies and an excuse to push products after the demise of winter. They are just a sweet and shiny and cuddly distraction from what Easter really means.
So my question is: what does Easter mean?
I think the best way to get an answer is to look at the source. I think the best way to understand the true meaning of Easter comes from just three words spoken by Jesus himself, “the new covenant”.
In Luke 22 we get a picture of the night before His death: When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, "I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won't eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God." Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, "Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come." He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me." After supper he took another cup of wine and said, "This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you" [Luke 22:14-20 NLT]
There it is, the heart of Easter lies in those words, "the new covenant between God and his people."
I have already written a few columns exploring some of the “old” covenants, and to put this “new" covenant in context we must look at those previous historical covenants.
Long before Jesus was born, God made other covenants with His people (the Israelites) - some to multiply them, some to bless them, and some to give them land.
All along the way, God required believers to recognize their sinful nature, confess their sins, ask for forgiveness for their sins, and offer specific animals to the priests as sacrifices for their sins.
Their religious observance of Passover included sacrificing unblemished lambs, just as the Israelites had done when they painted their doorposts with the lambs' blood the actual night of Passover - when Moses led God's people out of Egypt (see Exodus 12:11-13).
The sacrificial lamb was a significant part of sparing the lives of the Israelites at the first Passover, as well as in future remembrances of the event. God gave Moses and Aaron specific instructions on how to honor God with annual Passover celebrations. Lamb was the pinnacle of the Passover meal (and still is). The lambs were to be without blemish and even lived with the families for several days before they were sacrificed, adding to the understanding that the ultimate sacrifice was close to the hearts of those whose sins were atoned for.
The “blood of the lamb” was the “get-out-of-Egypt/Slavery-alive” card, and the “get-your-sins-of-the-past-year-forgiven” card for the people of Israel. It is no coincidence that Good Friday is the day before Passover, and Easter Sunday the day after Passover!
Easter and Passover are in a special relationship for many reasons. A special sacrificial lamb was what made Passover “work”. Without spilling the blood of the lamb, there was no point to the observance. Thus, Jesus became the "lamb without blemish" as He sacrificed His life for the sins of all who believe in Him - to bring them into right relationship with the Father.
Just as the Israelites celebrate freedom from their slavery to the Egyptians as they celebrate Passover, Christians celebrate the victory over sin and death signified in Jesus' death and resurrection.
Jesus said the new covenant between God and His people was "an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.”
It was no coincidence that Jesus gave up His life for all at the time of Passover. It was the appointed time, chosen by the Father.
In John 1:29, as he sees Jesus approaching, John the Baptist announces to the crowd around him, "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" He knew that Jesus was the son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the one whom God's prophets had promised to save mankind from their sins and to give them a deep heartfelt relationship with God the Father. The new covenant would be an everlasting covenant. (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Jeremiah 32:39-42, Isaiah 55:3)
Jesus, was to be our sacrificial lamb, our Savior, our God, our Redeemer - He laid down His life as our sacrificial lamb to pay for our sins.
But, when He rose from the dead three days later, He gave victory over eternal separation from God (death) to all who put their faith and trust in Him.
There it is! That is the new covenant - everlasting life spent with God through faith in all that Jesus Christ has done and continues to do.
And so we have the true meaning of Easter — you can live forever, in peace and harmony with God because of what Jesus did.
Our society tries to distract from this fact by placing shiny attractive things in our view, bunnies and chocolate among them, but the central fact is still this: without Jesus we are doomed, dead men walking; but with Jesus we are the most privileged and loved people who live, now and into the glorious future.
Paul tells the Corinthian Church, which was also struggling with shiny distractions in their own time,
“Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-4).
And the Roman Church in the midst of persecution: "If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9)
But the apostle John, who was arguably Jesus’ best friend during his ministry, says it best:
"All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don't believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don't believe what God has testified about his Son. And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God's Son does not have life." (1 John 5:10-12).
“He came to give us life in all its fullness, He came to set His people free!” [John Gowans]
Let’s make sure we still proclaim the astounding Good News of that first Easter.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Happy Easter! (Enjoy your eggs!)
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black