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

 

A Cause for the Nigerian Church

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A God of Justice

God is righteous and just in himself and he desires justice in his creatures. His divine righteousness is thus the basis and obligation for human justice.

When we say that God is just, it means that ‘God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right’. According to the late Dutch-American theologian Louis Berkhof, “Justice manifests itself especially in giving every man his due, in treating him according to his deserts.” This is what God does, and he does so because that is what he is. In other words, God acts justly because he is just.

In Deut. 32:4, Moses declared concerning God that, “All his ways are justice. A God of truth and without injustice. Righteous and upright is he.” Abraham also appealed to this attribute of God when he asked rhetorically: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25)

A God for Justice

Justice is dear to the heart of God. Several Bible passages bear this out:

“Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!” (Isa. 10:1-2)

“Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.” (Mic. 2:1-2)

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

In Psalm 82, God notably declares his anger against rulers who pervert justice.

The psalmist begins by painting a scenario whereby God sits in council with the leaders of the earth and rebukes them. Why? For judging unjustly and being partial to the wicked. Then comes the instruction to

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. (v.3)

He wraps up the meeting with a stinging rebuke of these princes in that much-twisted passage:

‘I said, “You are gods,

sons of the Most High, all of you;

nevertheless, like men you shall die,

and fall like any prince” ‘ (vv. 6-7)

The psalm comes to an end with an appeal to God for global justice, for all nations are his inheritance.

The prophet Jeremiah was also keenly aware of the contrast between God’s just character and the ungodliness in his society, and in 12:1-4, he called on God to act.

‘Righteous are you, O Lord,
    when I complain to you;
    yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
 You plant them, and they take root;
    they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
    and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me;
    you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
    and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
 How long will the land mourn
    and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it
    the beasts and the birds are swept away,
    because they said, “He will not see our latter end.”’

A People for Justice

The church is the body of Christ, his arms and legs, continuing his work on earth. We are the light of the world, God’s elect and chosen people. Our lives should reflect the heart of our Father. Where, as we have seen, his heart beats for justice, his people cannot be indifferent.

Jesus also makes care and concern for the suffering a criterion for judgment on the last day. The King will assess how we have treated the stranger, the hungry, the sick and the prisoner while we were on earth (Matt.25:31-46).

The Nigerian Situation

Our own society requires the church to fight for justice. For anyone who has lived within or studied it for a while, Nigeria is a society in dire need of reform. Consider just one instance: our prisons.

We have overcrowded prisons and it is heartbreaking to learn that a huge percentage of inmates are yet to even go on trial! According to the World Prison Brief, we have 63, 142 prisoners in our prisons. Out of this total, 71.7%  (45, 263) are awaiting trial or remanded. With an official capacity of 50, 153, our prisons have an occupancy level of 125.9%*.

Besides the appalling state of our prisons, we hear of repeated battery and harassment by members of the police force. Many are reluctant to report crimes to the police because they can end up being either branded as criminals or forced to part with money before their complaint is addressed.

What can the Church do?

As God’s community in the nation, what can believers do?

First, we should repent of our failures to take justice seriously as the church. In many respects, we have closed our eyes to the sufferings of the poor and the mistreatment of the weak.

Then we should pray for God’s justice to be restored in our land.

Next, we can petition parastatals and organizations that are noted for injustice and oppression. How about a signed petition from diverse Christian leaders urging the Nigerian Police Force to address abuses by its officers? Can we call on the Nigerian Prison Service to urgently address the plight of prisoners?

What about peaceful protests? We can organize peaceful demonstrations to call our government to tackle specific instances or areas of injustice. And we would do this in the name of Christ, who is the Judge of all the earth.

We should preach sermons which expound biblically the theme of Justice: both its nature as a divine attribute and our obligation to practice justice. Instead of messages which proclaim our comfort and prosperity, we need sermons which arouse our concern for the needs of others besides ourselves. And these sermons must be specific, highlighting how we often practice injustice to our employees, spouses, children, and neighbours.

In our individual spheres, let us cultivate fairness and justice. Are you in charge of a department or unit? live above board. Are you a parent? Avoid favouritism among your children. Are you a government employee? Be diligent and faithful. Do you run a business? Offer excellent service to both your employees and customers (in that order). Do you work in the Police or the Armed forces, I will repeat to you what John the Baptist said to the Roman soldiers in his day: “Be content with your wages”. Do you have the poor and needy around you (we all do)? Help them.

We must bear in mind the instruction of the apostle James:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Jam. 1:27)

It is not enough to keep ourselves unstained from the world; we must also remember  widows and orphans.


*World Prison Brief, Institute for Criminal Policy Research. Figures are as at end of March 2016.

 

An American Dream, a Nigerian Lesson

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Several years ago, Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He stood there not to preach nor to campaign, but to share a dream – a dream inspired by the belief that all men are created in God’s image and are therefore equal. His thought and civil action were clearly driven by his belief in the truth about humanity as revealed in the gospel.

Martin Luther King is an inspiration for a different but related challenge in our own society.

Nigeria may not have a challenge of racial injustice, but she does have a problem of ethnic intolerance. Like most countries in Africa, she is blessed with a racial homogeneity. However, the uniformity in race is more than offset by a diversity in tribal groups. According to the CIA World Factbook, she has more than 250 different ethnic groups. Over the decades, ethnic conflicts have sprung up in locations as far apart as Lagos and Kano. While the discord flares up from time to time in actual conflict, the disharmony is normally of a much more subtle nature. A remark, a look, a sneer – are some of the expressions which reveal our dislike of the other tribe. But also there is the discrimination in organizations, there is the coldness toward a neighbour from another tribe, and there is the outright distrust of some groups from the northern part of the country.

Just as the Gospel provides a stimulus for abolishing racial prejudice, it also gives a basis for seeking ethnic harmony. We may not all be excited about our 103-year-old Nigeria project. Some of us might still harbour a longing for a Biafra or some other autonomous region. Regardless of our hope or desire, the existence of Nigeria as a multiethnic nation is a present reality. Different peoples have been brought together to comprise one nation. Perhaps wrongly or imperfectly, the union has been several decades in the making. It is certain that this union was not brought about because the colonial masters wanted to realize the promise of the gospel. They did it to make the administration of this vast territory easier. But what began as probably a wrongheaded venture could be an avenue for the Gospel to be displayed in its grandeur.

Political force and legislation has not succeeded, and cannot succeed, in creating ethnic harmony; only the Gospel can bring this about. Why? Because ethnic sentiments are deeply rooted. As long as our identity lies in our ethnicity, we will always view those of other tribes with suspicion and we will regard them as inferior to ourselves. The Gospel, however, subverts this tendency by altering the basis of our identity. For the Gospel unites ethnic groups and tribes by proclaiming that they all have the same God and a common Saviour. Our ultimate identity does not lie in us being Hausa, Edo, or Gwari. It lies in us being humans created by a personal God who also redeems us through Jesus. And this same Gospel encourages us to look forward to a point in the future, at the end of this present age and the return of Christ, when the scene below shall be a reality:

‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”’ (Rev. 7:9,10)

May Nigeria (along with other African countries), under the influence of the Gospel, be a little picture of this.


 

Apologetic Non-Starters: Arguments to Avoid in Defending Christianity by Douglas Groothuis

Apologetics is a necessary discipline for the Christian faith. Jesus and the Apostle Paul regularly defended their beliefs through rational arguments. The Apostle Peter tells us to be ready to give…

Source: Apologetic Non-Starters: Arguments to Avoid in Defending Christianity