The Meaning of Easter

Easter is more than a commemoration; it is a celebration of victory. Death no longer has the final word, for it was defeated centuries ago.


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Each year, Christians celebrate Easter, which marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus was a Jewish religious teacher who lived in the first century AD, preached a message centred on the Kingdom of God, and announced he was the long awaited Messiah. He was arrested and condemned by the Jewish religious leaders, and crucified by the Roman authorities. He was subsequently killed outside the city of Jerusalem and buried later that day. On the third day, however, he rose from the grave, appearing to many of his disciples over a period of forty days.

A Life Foretold

The coming of Jesus was a fulfilment of divine prophecy. Isaiah, a Jewish prophet of the eighth century BC, had written of the expected Messiah who would be ‘despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’. (Isa. 53:3). He went on to describe the life of this Messiah thus:

 

Surely he has borne our griefs

And carried our sorrows;

Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

He was crushed for our iniquities;

Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

And with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned—every one—to his own way;

And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

(Isa 53:4-6)

But the Messiah was to be more than just a suffering servant; he was to be a conquering king. He was born to rule.

Speaking of him, King David wrote:

The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;

Today I have begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,

And the ends of the earth your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron

And dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”

(Psalm 2:7-8).

Interestingly, the passage quoted earlier from Isaiah was preceded by a declaration that the coming of the Messiah meant that God’s reign had begun:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

(Isaiah 52:7)

Later in the same chapter, the people are summoned to ‘break forth together into singing’ (v. 9). Why? Because the Lord had ‘comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.’ ‘And all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.’ (v. 10)

Thus, the entrance of the Messiah is an announcement of victory. The Messiah is the ruler over the nations.

To those who are familiar with the life of Jesus Christ, this point about the victorious reign of the Messiah might seem confusing. Wasn’t Jesus killed by the Roman authorities? Weren’t the Jewish authorities pleased that they had got rid of him and his disruptive preaching? That sounds more like defeat than a victorious conquest.

Yes, he was killed. And, yes, he was buried. But in that seeming defeat lay the power to transform creation. For on the third day after his death, he rose again. And with his resurrection, the new age known as God’s kingdom, and which all the prophecies point to, was inaugurated. The death and resurrection was a defeat, but not for Jesus and his message; it was a defeat for Satan and his rule over the earth. With the coming of Christ, God announced that the universe had entered a new phase in its history – the era of God’s rule.

Why the Resurrection matters

According to the apostle Paul, the resurrection of Jesus – which we celebrate today – is the high point of the Christian story. As he wrote in his letter to the Corinthians:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

(1Cor. 15:16-17)

Thus, the resurrection of Jesus was more than a mere historical curiosity; the genuineness of the Christian’s faith depends on it. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, your faith is a sham. Period.

However, Paul was convinced of the truth of the event. And he included a list of witnesses who had seen the risen Jesus, among whom was himself (1 Cor. 15:5-8).

Aside from being the crucial determinant of the truth of Christianity, the fact of the resurrection is a motivation for much in the Christian way of life:

  • It is the ground for hope in the future resurrection of every dead believer. And this will not be to their former state of existence; they will be receiving a greatly transformed body (1 Cor. 15:35-49).
  • Countless individuals have died since the event of that Palestinian evening 2,000 years ago. Yet the resurrection of Jesus on the third day gives us assurance that Death itself will finally be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26, 54-55).
  • The Resurrection is a motivation for extraordinary courage in spreading the gospel (1 Cor. 15:32) and for faithful service to God (v. 58).

Conclusion

The resurrection was the emergence of a new creation, a new order of things. The earth had lain in corruption, with the entire creation groaning in decay and waiting for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). On the third day of his death, Jesus emerged from the grave as the head of God’s new creation. With this, the kingdom of God, which was his mission and message, was finally inaugurated. And his disciples would go on to proclaim this victory of God among all nations, teaching them to obey all that Jesus had taught (Matt. 28:19, 20).

Without the resurrection, the crucifixion of Christ would have been just another death at the hands of the Roman government. It might have been an unlawful death, and, yes, it was a perversion of justice. Nevertheless, his ministry would have been a failed mission – another incident in the great chain of lost causes.

But with the empty tomb on Easter morning, we realize that this was no ordinary death. In fact, it was the death of Death itself. And through that historical occurrence, the world has forever been altered. God’s kingdom has broken loose and the world is never the same again.

The resurrection of Jesus is the assurance that all who trust in Jesus will one day rise from the dead like Him. They would not rise to the same order of things (that would not be something to rejoice over), but to become partakers in a new creation. No more death, no more sickness, and no more pain (Rev. 21:4). All men would worship Jesus and would live in harmony and fellowship with the triune God (John 14:23) forever and ever.

This is the reality and the promise of Easter.


This article was originally published on March 27, 2016.

A Checklist for Raising Children

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At the heart of every parent is the desire to bring up their children well. And for those who have come to know Christ as Saviour, we want to go about this scripturally. Perhaps this checklist can assist as a daily guide.


Today I

__ Hugged my child and told him, “I love you.” (Luke 15:20)

__ Prayed specifically for my child.

__ Listened carefully when my child wanted to talk. (Matthew 18:5)

__ Read to my child. (Proverbs 4:1-4)

__ Discussed God with my child. (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)

__ Expected obedience from my child. (I Timothy 3:4)

__ Exhibited patience with my child. (I Corinthians 13:4)

__ Sang or listened to music with my child. (Psalm 8:2)

__ Spoke about his daddy/mommy with loving respect. (Colossians 3:18-19)

__ Did not expect behavior beyond his age capabilities. (I Corinthians 13:11)

__ Punished his disobedience with appropriate measures. (Jeremiah 17:10)

__ Helped my child learn something new. (Luke 2:52)

__ Encouraged my child to do something for someone else. (Galatians 6:10)

__ Protected my child from evil and harmful influences. (I Corinthians 13:6-7)

__ Challenged and helped my child to do something he thought he couldn’t do (I Thessalonians 5:14)

__ Did not punish my child when I was angry. (Psalm 103:8-14)

__ Exhibited good manners for my child to model. (Matthew 7:9-12)

__ Praised my child for a character quality. (Galatians 5:22-23)

__ Read the Bible to my child. (II Timothy 3:15)

__ Prayed with my child. (Matthew 18:19-20)

__ Modeled only the attributes I want my child to emulate. (I Corinthians 4:16)

__ Laughed with, not at, my child. (Romans 12:15)

__ Thanked my child for something he did. (I Thessalonians 5:18)

__ Gave my child some responsibility. (Titus 3:14)

__ Did not talk negatively about my child in his presence. (Proverbs 12:18)

__ Praised and thanked my child more than I criticized him. (Proverbs 16:24)

__ Asked my child’s forgiveness when I was wrong. (James 4:6)

__ Forgave my child immediately. (II Corinthians 2:7-8)

__ Made time to be alone with my child. (Deuteronomy 6:7)

__ Did not make a promise to my child that I cannot keep. (Ecclesiastes 5:5)


 

Source: Monergism

 

The Lord’s Song

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“By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How shall we sing the LORD’S song
in a foreign land?”

(Psalm 137:1-4 ESV)

You can feel the sorrow, the anguish, and the pathos. This is the cry of the captive Jew taken from his homeland down to Babylon. ‘On the willows there/we hung up our lyres.’ How do you make music in captivity? How can you rejoice in the land of the oppressor? Jerusalem was the location of the temple, signifying the throne of God on earth. It was the privilege of the Israelites to be the chosen people of God among whom He dwells. The songs of Zion were songs of worship sung in the temple; they were unique to the people of God.

Jeremiah would go on to deliver a message to these captives, encouraging them to seek the good of the city, in spite of their captivity:

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7)

Yes, they were captives. And, yes, they were forcibly removed from their homeland. Yet, God was using their presence as a means of blessing their captors. Here was the Jewish community, God’s chosen people, bringing God’s blessings to the gentiles. Here was the seed of Abraham blessing the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). This was the Gospel in infancy. Prior to this time, God’s saving grace was largely confined to the Israelites. Now it was flowing out to the nations.  As Paul would later write in Romans 11, the gentiles were being grafted into the tree of the original Jewish church. And as that happens, we cannot help bursting into praise alongside Paul:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33)

The songs of Zion were becoming the songs of the nations.

Isaiah wrote of a future time when the captive Jews will return to their homeland and be able to sing the song of Zion once more:

“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isa. 35:10)

But the very context of this passage indicates that this passage points beyond the return of the Jewish captives to their homeland in 538/539 BC. It looked forward to a time when ‘the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped’ (v. 5), a reference to the ministry of Jesus. It also speaks of when ‘waters shall burst forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert’ (v. 6), a picture of the era initiated by the coming of Christ and to be completed at his return (cf. Isa. 43: 19; 44:3-5; Joel 2:28).

What was confined to the Jew has been made available to all nations. The dwelling place of God is no longer just with Israel, it is being extended to all – to all humanity who place their faith in the Redeemer. And eventually, all humanity shall come together to sing that song of Zion. As John observed in his vision of the end of history:

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and he will be their God.” (Rev. 21:3)

God’s revelation leads us to look forward to that time when the Lord’s song will be sung by a great multitude, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9)

And what song would they sing?

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (v.10)

May we, through faith in Christ, be found a part of that joyful choir.

Arrival of the King – By N.T. Wright

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As we prepare for Advent and Christmas, one obvious theme is the kingship of Jesus. We use royal language about Jesus a lot but we seldom pause to think what exactly that ought to mean both when we talk about Jesus himself and when we think about leadership and government in the world. On both sides of the Atlantic just now we are living with the surprising results of democracy, and this is a great moment to reflect on God’s vision for human government, and indeed God’s vision for a healthy human society. I find myself returning again and again to Psalm 72. Some theologians in our day have protested against royal psalms like this one, seeing them as exercises in spurious divine legitimation for oppressive regimes. But this Psalm stoutly resists all such deconstruction, for two obvious reasons to start with and then more as we go deeper into its message.

Psalm 72 holds out for us a vision of a world aflame with glory; a world in which justice is done, especially for the poor and for those who have nobody to speak for them. This is a vision of a king to whom the kings of the earth come bearing gifts because he is doing what they know they ought to be doing, namely delivering the needy when they call out, having pity on the weak and poor, rescuing the helpless from the greedy, the oppressive and the violent. How many times in recent years, recent days, have we longed for a society like that? In my country, and I think also in yours, the political elites and the pollsters grossly underestimated the fact that while in London and New York and elsewhere the rich were getting richer and organising the system to their advantage, in many parts of my country, including Durham where I used to work, and in many parts of your lovely country too, there were people whose cries for help seemed to be going unheeded.

The real poverty and hardship faced by many in the waste places of the former industrial heartlands have not been addressed. The job descriptions have not come true. Politicians come and go but they always have as part of their stated aim the radical improvement of the country, of the world, of the lives of ordinary people. Most public servants start out believing in that aim and object, but even if they are not befuddled by the many compromises they have to make on the way up they will be dazzled by the glittering temptations of power and prestige; or they will suppose that the way to put the world right will be a heavy-handed solution imposed from above, whether through a new social structure which might just trickle down to where it’s really needed or through bombs and missiles raining down on our perceived enemies. My friends, we’ve tried all these again and again and the world is in more of a mess, not less, as a result. It is time to glimpse the biblical vision of God’s kingdom which we find in this Psalm, as we read it through the lens of the gospel of Jesus in which its theme is intensified, not relativized as so many have imagined….

The obvious Christian reason is that this Psalm is picked up by both Matthew and Luke in announcing the birth of Jesus. Matthew’s Magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus are obviously fulfilling the prophecies of this Psalm about the gifts brought by the kings of Sheba and Seba, and indeed it may be the implicit reference to this Psalm which, in popular imagination, has turned the Magi into actual kings. Luke’s Benedictus, celebrating John the Baptist as the royal herald, echoes the final praise of the Psalm: Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel who alone does wondrous things! So the first followers of Jesus were encouraged to go back to this Psalm and make it their own, which they duly did in reporting the claim of the risen Jesus to possess already ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’. The foundation of all biblical visions of God’s purposes for the world, and how they are to be implemented is that the Creator God wants his world to be full of his glory, which means among other things full of true justice and generous mercy. This is not just a vision for a far-off distant time. We are not expected to sit on our hands and wait for it to happen beyond the sky by and by. Even in Old Testament times, it was perfectly possible for kings to do justice and love mercy; they often failed, but the best of them didn’t do too badly. And part of the point of the resurrection narratives in the gospels is that in the risen Jesus God has already launched his new creation.

Jesus himself is both the start of that new creation and the Lord who gives his own Spirit so that his people can continue the project. You see, from Genesis 1 onwards it’s clear that the Creator God wants to rule his world through wise, image-bearing human beings. There is a Trinitarian base for all biblical political theology: the Creator wants to work in the world by his image of justice and mercy being reflected through obedient, humble, wise humans. The Davidic king is seen in some texts as the true Adam, and in others (as in Psalm72) as the fulfilment of the Abrahamic promises. The King is therefore the archetypal image-reflecting human. The grandiose language and glorious hope of the Psalm depend on this vision, that the coming king will reflect into the world God’s priority and care for the poor, the oppressed, and those who suffer violence and wrong.


Source: From Sunday Sermon, 20 November 2016

NTWrightOnline.org

Should I Trust God When I Can’t Find A Job?

“Failing to get a job after 1,000+ applications can only mean one thing: Never trust your work experience and education. They will definitely fail you. But above all, never put your hope in anything or anyone besides Jesus Christ.”

This post from Pew Theology is a helpful reminder that our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.


Learn why you should trust in the Lord and lean not on your understanding even when you are unemployed and in debt. Discover the power of resting in Christ.

Source: Should I Trust God When I Can’t Find A Job?

Christ is the World’s true light

 

1. Christ is the world’s true light,

Its Captain of salvation,

The Day-star clear and bright

Of every man and nation;

New life, new hope awakes,

Where’er men own his sway;

Freedom her bondage breaks,

And night is turned to day.



2. In Christ all races meet,

Their ancient feuds forgetting,

The whole round world complete,

From sunrise to its setting:

When Christ is throned as Lord,

Men shall forsake their fear,

To ploughshare bear the sword,

To pruning-hook the spear.


3. One Lord, in one great Name

Unite us all who own thee;

Cast out our pride and shame

That hinder to enthrone thee;

The world has waited long,

Has travailed long in pain;

To heal its ancient wrong,

Come, Prince of Peace, and reign. Amen.


- George Wallace Briggs (1875-1959)