Appreciating the Easter Sacrifice

Confessions of an honest Christian just trying to grasp the significance of this most holy week of the year —

I have been a Christian since I was five years old. My father explained to me that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and that if I wanted to go to heaven, I needed to ask Him to come into my heart.  It was an easy decision.

Many would argue that at such an early age, I had no idea what I was signing up for.  They would be completely accurate.  Yet there was something there. I can remember often gazing into the sky, knowing God was there. I can remember communing with Him in sort of a secret way, whispers to God from my heart. Even at the tender age of five, I had a calming knowledge that God knew me, and Christ was my savior.

So, I have considered myself a Christian for a long time. Almost fifty years now. But there is one thing that still bothers me–and that is my lack of appreciation for Christ’s death on the cross.

Being saved at such a young age, I had no appreciation of my need for such a thing. I had not murdered anyone. I didn’t have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. I hadn’t committed adultery or done anything that people consider “sin”.  I was just an insecure kid wanting God to reassure me that things would work out in the end.

Nobody’s Perfect

As I have grown physically so has my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. For one, I know with certainty that being a Christian doesn’t mean being perfect. That is perhaps the greatest misconception the world has about Christians. Christians do not think they are good people, at least the ones that are honest with themselves. Christians know there are too many sins to claim innocence. Even those Christians who look like they’re living pretty good lives on the outside know that there is plenty of sin on the inside. There is too much bad stuff going on in there to claim righteousness. Who can claim to never be selfish, proud, or arrogant in some way? Who has never judged someone else, or spoken with contempt?  Who is never jealous, or envious of someone else’s good fortune? Who has never struggled with sensuality or lust? Who has never lost their temper, or become bitter for some past offense? Who has never had a touch of malice toward someone? Who has never slandered, flattered, manipulated, or otherwise used their words to get what they want? Finally, who here believes that God lives, sees, hears, and controls everything?  Who is totally, one-hundred percent content with what He’s doing?  Show me that person and I will give you a one hundred dollar bill.

Anyone who is honest can look at this list and find something that hits home. The same goes for me. I know that I’m a sinner. But that still doesn’t help me appreciate what Jesus did on the cross for me.  I know He forgives sin, but I want to feel like I need that forgiveness.

Easter is a Struggle for Me

That is why every Easter is a struggle for me. I try to appreciate Christ’s suffering and death, but it doesn’t come naturally. Easter has become such a paganized holiday, with eggs and bunnies all around. Even in the Christian community, the Easter sunrise services and the “He is risen!” greetings sound a little trite to me. I find it hard to share in the celebratory mood of my fellow church attenders. I want to experience feelings of regret, of mourning and desperation so that Christ’s death can be meaningful to me. However, I have discovered that it’s hard to generate those feelings.

In 2009, I watched the Mel Gibson move, “The Passion of Christ” with my daughter, Jessica.  The brutality portrayed in that movie was disturbing. I was sick to my stomach at how the soldiers used a cat-of-nine-tails on Jesus’ back,  reducing it hamburger. The intensity of Jesus’ sufferings were clearly portrayed. The movie was professionally done and very moving in the moment. Yet here it is, 2020, and I find myself still struggling to grasp that feeling of appreciation of what Jesus’ sacrifice means to me.

The Lesson of Job

Thankfully, an Old Testament story I read earlier this year gave me insight into the message of Easter. It is the story of the ancient patriarch Job and his annual ritual of offering sacrifices for each of his seven sons (Job 1:5).  In that story, Job offered up an animal sacrifice for each son, reasoning to himself, “perhaps they have sinned and cursed God in their heart.”  I imagine the scene. The sons sitting around the altar, watching as their father offered the sacrifices. One by one, each son saw an animal on the altar, the knife raised, the quick motion, the blood shed. An animal for each son.

I’m sure any folks from PETA would have a cow over this story, no pun intended. But this is not their world. They do not get to make up the rules. That position belongs exclusively to God, and God makes three laws about the redemption of a soul.

  1. The first law is this: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The soul of every man and woman in the world is corrupted and sick. This is a universal law. There is no one who is exempt, not even the most magnanimous philanthropist.
  2. The second law is this: “the redemption of the soul is costly” (Psalm 49:8).  The cost to redeem, or to buy back the soul to a purified state, is very high. It is too high a price to purchase with church attendance, generosity, acts of kindness, or even love. This leads to the third law.
  3. The third law is this: “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).  From the beginning of time, God has decreed that the only remedy, the only adequate covering for sin, is the loss of a life. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, their handmade grass skirts were not adequate. God made animal skins to cover them, implying an animal had to die on their behalf. No animal before that time had died. Imagine the dismay Adam and Eve must have felt, knowing that their disdain for God’s command cost this little critter his life.

Job’s sons were probably morally upstanding young men. But no man is immune to the deceitfulness and destructive nature of sin. Somewhere in their heart, they knew they fell short of God’s standard of perfection and holiness. As Job performed his ritual, each son mourned the same as Adam and Eve as they watched an animal sacrificed on their behalf.

When I read that story about Job and his sons, I felt the connection between my sin and Christ’s death in a very real way. I felt the mourning that I have missed my whole life. The costliness of my soul’s redemption was tangible; I could sense its remorse, and for the first time, appreciate the sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus is a wonderful thing. I feel the remorse of sin, but with the shedding of blood, there is forgiveness.

Forgiveness brings Confidence

It is a truly liberating thing to feel the freedom of an unshackled soul. To have regrets lifted and removed forever is like taking a deep breath of fresh air.  It brings an unusual confidence, even in the most unlikely circumstances.

David is known as the “man after God’s own heart”. He was a King over Israel, but was also known as a great religious leader. In a moment of weakness, David succumbed to adultery. His attempted cover-up of his sin led to a series of compromises and poor decisions, the worst of which was the murder of his devoted friend and lover’s husband. Yet when he came to terms with the depths of his sin and confessed everything, he experienced the forgiveness of God in a powerful way. His confidence, seen in his famous prayer recorded in Psalm 51, can easily be mistaken for presumption. But in reality, it stemmed from the comprehensiveness and thoroughness of God’s forgiveness. God appropriately disciplined his beloved shepherd-king. David’s reign was marred with scandal and rebellion for the remainder of his life. But because of God’s forgiveness, David’s soul remained remarkably calm as he faced each trial with resolve, decisiveness, and fairness.

Righteousness by Association

The sacrifice of Jesus also brings the joy of righteousness. Christianity is unique from all other religions in the world because of one very important distinction. Like all other religious people, Christians are trying to walk the straight and narrow path. The difference? Christians have at their disposal the abiding presence of the Spirit of Jesus to help them do it.

Christ dying on the cross doesn’t make people righteous any more than walking into McDonald’s makes a person a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  The abiding presence of the risen Christ living in the hearts of people makes them righteous. There’s a big difference.

We are righteous by association. We are righteous, not by claiming any sense of perfection or holiness in and of ourselves, but by clinging to Christ with both hands, fingernails dug in tight. When the disciples were breaking the Law of Moses by picking grains of wheat on the Sabbath, Jesus silenced the accusations of Pharisees. The disciples were with Him, and that was sufficient (Mark 2:23-28). They were untouchable in because of their proximity to their Lord. They were perfect by association.  Righteousness is not measured by how often we attend church or how much we donate to charity. Righteousness is not measured by how well we avoided temptations. It is measured strictly by our proximity to Christ. The prophet Jeremiah calls Jesus, “The Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6).  Jesus is our righteousness, so we ought to stay close to Him! Plain and simple.

Concluding Remarks

Those who don’t believe in God or sin will never experience the sensation of forgiveness or the peace of righteousness. They will adapt to the guilt, accept it as normal. It’s sad, because they are never more than a sincere prayer away from peace with God.  It’s right there, all they have to do is grasp it.

So let us all mourn the sinfulness of our sin and appreciate the death of a living soul, Jesus, on behalf of that sin.  Let the remorse and guilt have its effect as we gaze upon the altar.  Let us groan as the knife does its work. Let us own our sin, so we can experience the overwhelming flood of forgiveness, and the liberty and confidence that comes with it.

 

 

 

 

 

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