It is always a relief to end the sober meditations of Holy Week with the triumph of Easter. What a joy it is that Christ is risen – He is risen indeed!
The resurrection was clearly described by Luke the evangelist in the 24th chapter of his gospel:
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!
– Luke 24:1-6
Indeed. Yet many of Christ’s followers would keep Him lifeless on the cross or cold in the tomb. How unfortunate, especially because the whole point of Christ’s incarnation – His birth and life and crucifixion – was to conquer the very power of sin and even death itself.
The problem of sin and its effects could not be solved by the endless offering of sacrifices at the altar of burnt offering despite generations of human trying. This is why the Judeans were waiting for the Messiah, the prophesied redeemer who would save them from their travails.
The Book of Leviticus describes the various sacrifices required to atone for sin and restore the Israelites’ relationship with God. Usually an animal was prescribed, an ox or ram or lamb or turtledove, with the stipulation that it must be unblemished. It was offensive to offer an imperfect specimen to God. This animal was often selected at birth, and tended with care almost like a pet until its time at the altar. It was often a wrench for the family to send it to its death, but they endured it because only the best would be worthy of God’s altar. It was King David who epitomized this ethic when he declared,
“I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
– 2 Samuel 24:24
The offering was to have value; and the act of relinquishing it was intended to cause pain. This, like a spiritual cattle prod, was to condition God’s people against straying from His path. They were meant to feel remorse that a poor creature, young and unblemished, had to die in their place. They were supposed to feel repentance for the sin that had occasioned its death. Their sorrow was part of the offering.
However, over time the Israelites became inured to this process and led the animals to slaughter routinely, often without a qualm. They embraced the rituals of religion but not its spirit, and the goal of the sacrificial system – repentance that would lead to a restored relationship with Yahweh – was quite often unmet.
Eventually, as foretold by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, a new system requiring a perfect, once-for-all-time sacrifice was needed to deal with the monumental problem of human sin. In His mercy, Yahweh supplied it.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…
Jesus’s birth published the good news that the redeemer, the long-awaited Messiah, had come. He boldly proclaimed in the synagogue at Nazareth one Sabbath:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19
He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the fulfillment of prophecy, the hope of the world. But not many understood that, and even fewer believed that He was truly the Son of God.
The crowds admired the authority with which He taught and expected Him to regally lead them out of Roman bondage, this Son of David, their new King! Thus they cried, “Hosanna! (Save us!)” as He entered Jerusalem, envisioning a new era of political freedom and prosperity. Little did they know that the liberty Christ would offer was from sin, and the means to it would be through death.
A new system was required, and God invented it. A new sacrifice was needed, and God supplied Him.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
– John 3:16
And so it happened that Passover that the Paschal Lamb, Jesus Christ, was led to the slaughter. Unblemished, He took on the burden and penalty of the sins of humanity – past, present, and future – to atone for them once and for all, to make it possible for mankind to be reconciled with God.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
– Isaiah 53:4-6
This perfect sacrifice perfectly appeased the wrath of God, so that now, all who trust Him and have faith in His atoning work are assured of heaven.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.
– Hebrews 10:11-18
This is why I find it both unnecessary and sad that many who follow Christ, especially in the Philippines, still feel they must perform elaborate and ritualistic sacrifices to expiate themselves from sin.
The only effective sacrifice for sin was paid by Christ. The only means to be forgiven by the Father is through faith in Christ. “And this is by grace, not by works, so that no one may boast,” said the apostle Paul.
Easter marks the Lord Jesus Christ’s triumph over the tomb. Death no longer stings because of resurrection day. There is no longer any need for us to perform ineffectual sacrifices that cannot atone for our sins. The sacrifice has been made; He has conquered sin, He has vanquished death. “It is finished,” said our Lord. He is alive and mighty and will one day return, our victorious King.
The only thing required of us now is the faith to believe this is so.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
– Romans 10:10-11
Can we wake to Easter and find that faith rising in our hearts?