THE CHALLENGE OF EASTER

(April 02, 2022) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, shares great Easter truths…

Many years ago when I was ministering in the north-east England, I received a phone call from my brother to tell me that our father had died. In deep grief my wife, Jean, and children got in the car and drove overnight to Stranraer in Scotland to catch the ferry to Northern Ireland. During the drive in the dark of night I was consumed with sadness.

As dawn arrived and the sun began to rise and dispel the darkness, I remembered that in a few days Christians throughout the world would be celebrating Easter with is message of Jesus’ resurrection – death had been defeated and its darkness had been overcome! 

That glorious message penetrated my despair as I realised that the sting of death had been forever removed when Jesus rose triumphantly from the tomb. Of course the sadness remained but the bleak darkness had been defeated, and I was comforted by the knowledge that because of Jesus’ victory over the death, I would see my father again.

I love Easter!  I love its glorious affirmation of the triumph of God over Satan, the triumph of life over death, the triumph of good over evil.

Let me now share a few thoughts about this special season.  Easter Day must be seen in the context of what went before and what followed.

1. The worst decision in history 
I suggest that the worst decision in history was made by those who called out for Jesus’ execution. According to John 19 the chief priests and their officials called out to Pilate who sought to set Jesus free, Crucify! Crucify!’ (v6) and the crowd took up the chant, Crucify him!’ (v15).

And so the decision was made – destroy Him through whom ‘all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of me’ (John 1:3-4). 

Sinful humanity’s choice that day was to destroy the Creator of all things, to kill the Source of life and to extinguish the Light who had come to banish the darkness of our spiritual and moral ignorance.

He was mocked by the soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on His head, struck Him on the head, spat on Him and put a purple robe on Him.  (Mark 15:17,19)  And while He hung on the cross the chief priests and scribes compounded His suffering by scornfully calling out to Him, ‘He saved others but he can’t save himself!’ (Mark 15:31).

The worst decision, that was made that day by religious and political leaders and by the general population, was one that rejected and killed Jesus.  They thought that that was the end of the matter. Little did they know that it was only the beginning and that the vile rejection of Jesus actually triggered God’s redemptive plan.  So humankind’s ‘worst decision’ paradoxically was used by God as the first step in drawing men and women back to Himself. His death was not in vain.

On the contrary, as Paul wrote, ‘… of first importance: that Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). 

2. The greatest event in history
Paul then wrote, ‘… He (Christ) was raised on the thirdday’ (1 Corinthians 15:4). The decision of the crowd to kill Jesus appeared to signal the failure of God’s plan to save humankind… but appearances can be deceptive!

There is a painting popularly known as Checkmate that was painted by the German artist Moritz Retzsch. It depicts a chess game in which an arrogant Satan is sitting with a smug look on his face. On the other side of the chessboard is a rather dejected man… for if Satan wins the man loses his soul. The devil smirks as his move has trapped his opponent who gazes at the chessboard in dismay. It appears that Satan’s move has trapped his opponent. There appears to be no way out.

However there is a story associated with this story which tells of a chess master who stood before the painting for some time examining the placement of the chess pieces. Then the chess master declared, ‘There is one more move.’ And with that move Satan was defeated and the young man was saved.

When Jesus died and was placed in the tomb it appeared that Satan had won, but God had one more move and on Easter Day Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave.  God’s plan was still on track!

Many people in our secularised society today not only do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but they also mock the account of His resurrection.  Of course, that is not just a modern occurrence – when Paul preached in Athens that Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave, he was met with ridicule.  We read in Acts 17:32,‘When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered.’

The disbelief of atheists and the scorn of cynics do not alter that fact that Jesus is alive! As Robert Lowry’s 1874 hymn triumphantly declares,
‘Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes!’

Death could not defeat Him! The grave could not hold Him! ‘He arose, He arose, Hallelujah! Christ arose.’ That is the greatest, glorious and wonderfully true message of Easter Day.

Despite what others say, nothing can erase this wonderful truth – Jesus is alive! That is a historical fact. 

When I was in Bible college training for the ministry, one of my professors, who knew that I was wholly convinced that Jesus rose from the tomb, asked me, ‘What would happen if one day a tomb was found and the body inside was definitely that of Jesus? How would that affect you?’ 

I looked at him for a moment and my reply was something like this, ‘I can’t process that question for I firmly believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead.’ This is what Paul wrote, ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men’ (1 Corinthians 15:19).

The fact is that if Christ did not rise from the dead, Christianity is a deception!  If we remove the fact of His resurrection from the Christian faith we are left with pious platitudes and a futile religious exercise.  To put it simply – the only alternatives are an empty tomb or an empty religion!  Paul made the categorical statement: ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead’ (1 Corinthians 15:20).  That’s it!

3. The best decision in history
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact of history and it will remain just a ‘fact of history’ unless we decide personally to respond to it. And that personal decision to put our faith in Jesus and to follow Him is the whole point of the resurrection story.  And when we personally respond to Him in that way, we affirm that putting our trust and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ is the best decision that anyone could ever make!

When the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples on the evening of the first Easter we read in In John 20:20, ‘The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.’ They were never the same after that. Their encounter with and surrender to the Risen Lord was the best decision they ever made and it transformed their lives and shaped their future.

And that is the ongoing, timeless challenge of the Easter message. It is transformative in this life and permanent in the life to come. The New Testament account of Jesus’ resurrection demands so much more than merely agreeing to the argument that Jesus was one of the finest men who ever lived, or believing that the things He taught were timeless and relevant to us even today, or even religiously attending church regularly.

The best decision anyone could ever make is personally to put our hope and trust in Him and follow Him faithfully throughout our lives.

I will finish with a poem I wrote recently…

 Almighty God, Forever Seeking Man
Almighty God, forever seeking man,
You sought me long before I ever knew
That it was part of your eternal plan
To bring my wayward soul back home to you.
And though at times my spirit turns to grieving,
Yet I find comfort in your love receiving.
I trust in you!

Almighty God, in love you sent your Son
Into a world of suffering and loss
Knowing full well that we would choose to shun
His outstretched hands and nail them to a cross.
While it appeared that Jesus was defeated,
Yet Satan’s army rapidly retreated –
His schemes undone!

Almighty God, on Resurrection Day,
You broke the chains of death that held us slaves.
Christ’s saving power was then on grand display
And we can now declare that Jesus saves!
Our glorious Lord in victory now is seated.
Hope is restored, salvation’s plan completed.
O glorious day!

Almighty God, You promised Christ’s return
With heavenly host and glorious majesty.
Then will the hearts of all who know Him burn
With joy and love. Our Savour we shall see
As parting clouds reveal his grand appearing –

The ‘blessed hope’ eternally enduring.
Lord Jesus come!

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Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.

His helpful book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, is offered free as are all of Dr Jim’s highly recommended writings – such as Grace Revisited, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James, and Faith Works – A Commentary on the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and. Link for orders and questions: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com

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