It’s Easter weekend again. That possibly means you’ll either be preparing to, or will have already eaten too much chocolate. You’ll also probably be looking forward to a few days off work or education, and you may even be blessed with some Spring sunshine to enjoy. But of course there is another reason for Easter being a holiday weekend.
Around this time of year in AD30 (give or take a few years) in the city of Jerusalem, a Jewish man named Jesus was sentenced to death for crimes he didn’t commit. That is pretty much accepted, even by those who are not religious in any way whatsoever. There are very few scholars indeed who deny that Jesus of Nazareth was an important historical figure who was put to death on a cross. This man had for the past 3 years been preaching the good news of “the Kingdom of God” to all who would hear, both Jews and everyone else living in the Roman province of Palestine. He built up quite a following of disciples because he defied the religious leaders of his day by healing the sick and giving hope to those who had nothing. The Jewish religious leaders declared him a blasphemer because of what he taught. The Roman rulers feared that he would start a political revolution. So they conspired together, he was hung on a cross and left to die an agonising death.
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Luke 23.46
And if that was the end it would have been a tragic story, yet one which is so often repeated in our world. It would however have made little impact on you or me, other than as an oft-told tale of how so very often those who call out the shortcomings of religion and politics become a scapegoat whilst the world keeps on killing the innocent and rewarding the immoral.
He is risen
The story doesn’t end there though. Because those who follow Jesus Christ believe that his death wasn’t permanent, he was raised by God because of his obedience. He was then reunited with his disciples, and he then ascended to heaven where he sits at the right hand of his father. Of course this part of the story isn’t accepted by many scholars, certainly not by those who aren’t religious anyway. It is incredible. It defies logic.
And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Luke 24.2-6
Yet there is no denying that within a few years of these events tens of thousands of people were calling themselves Christians, despite the fact that they were putting themselves in the same danger from both the Jewish and Roman authorities that Jesus had. Their faith in the resurrected Jesus meant more to them than anything else, even their lives.
Ultimately, this is how we in the 21st Century should also view our faith. This story is the foundation of Christianity. It is the most important thing to believe and it should matter hugely to us. We can so often get bogged down in complicated arguments about what we believe and don’t believe, and that can leave us downhearted. Yet this story gives us hope. Hope for the future. The Kingdom preached by Jesus is still being preached today. It is an alternative to the politics and religion of fear and violence.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15.19-22
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is hope for the future. Whilst we await Jesus’ return from heaven, we need to live out this hope in the lives of others by following his example of living a life of self sacrifice rather than hypocrisy. In other words, living like nothing else matters.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3.16-18