21 March 2008

Christmas baby murdered...

Christmas is safe. It’s all about a baby in a manger. It’s so safe, Christmas is for the children.

But Easter is not safe. The baby grew up and was brutally murdered. It’s hard for Hallmark or Clintons to sell that truth, so instead we get bunnies and chicks.

But on the first ‘Easter’, real events happened, that were witnessed and recorded by the people who were there. The world can ignore them if it wants, but the fact of them won’t go away. And the fact is that what happened that weekend changed everything, for ever, for everyone.

What happened?

First of all, Jesus was put to death by crucifixion. After his professional executioners made sure he was dead, by running him through with a spear, they released his corpse for burial on Friday. He was dead, and buried, and the tomb sealed with a one ton stone. The authorities posted an elite military guard at the tomb to make sure no one could steal the body. Jesus’ closest followers had already drifted away, dejected, defeated and utterly disillusioned.

But then news came to them that none of them were expecting.

Jesus had said it, but none of them had believed it – that because he was Christ the Son of God death would not be able to keep its hold on him. And blow it all! He had spoken the truth! Not only had the tomb been found empty on the Sunday, but news was coming in from here, there and everywhere – Jesus was alive, raised from the dead, and he was meeting with people and talking with them. Some had touched him. Some had even eaten with him. This was no ghost, no hallucination, no hoax. These were real events!

So what?

First, these events confirm he is who he said he was.

Put together with his other miracles, it is evident he is the Christ, the Son of God, the man appointed by God to be our King – not just of the Jews, but of all nations on earth. He calls each one of us therefore to repent. That means he commands us to stop our self-rule (running our own lives much as we please) and to come back under his loving rule and protection. To fail to heed his call is a worse treason than the first – and punishable by certain and permanent death.

Second, he did what he came to do.

His death was no mistake. He deliberately took himself to the cross to be put to death on our behalf. The way he put it is that he was serving us as our King, by paying a ransom for us. The ransom was the price necessary to free us from the consequences of our sin. Sin is our rejection of God and his good laws, and all the terrible things, we say and do to each other as a result. The outcome is death and hell, from which we cannot escape.

The voluntary death of Christ Jesus paid the ransom to set us free from hell, and from death keeping its hold on us. Since death could not keep its hold on him, it’s clear he successfully did what he came to do for us.

Third, we have hope for the future.

Before he died, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will not perish but have eternal life.” He promised anyone who would return to him, that beyond death they would pass into the new life he now enjoys. He gave us a glimpse of that life beyond the tomb when he showed himself ‘for real’- flesh and blood – to those eye-witnesses. They were so clear, so sure, so bowled over by what they saw, that they gladly went to their deaths knowing this great news to be true. And it’s as true today as it was then. In Christ Jesus, we have hope for the future.

Fourth, these events change everyday lives today.

Christians are not just ‘waiting to go to heaven’. Jesus commands us to live as his people by his way of life now. It’s a great way of life that must start now, in preparation for our glorious future with him.

Living for Christ Jesus now means freedom from all the other things that dominate our lives. We are free indeed from selfishness, greed, pride, ambition, vanity, and what others think of us. We are free to follow Jesus.

And living for the world to come means we don’t have to try and see everything, do everything, achieve everything in this life. There’s plenty of time beyond the tomb for all that, so we can devote ourselves and our time now to what is closest to his heart – seeing as many as possible saved from death and hell, for eternal life in his kingdom.

Simon Smallwood
Vicar of St George’s