EASTER IS ALL ABOUT LIFE
Dear Christian friends,
I am old enough to remember what it was like to watch a football game before instant replay. Yes, young people, there was a time you watched a sporting event and if you looked away from what was happening, too bad. But then we have always had film; they just didn’t have the ability to play it back immediately. I was not born before the invention of film.
Having played football in high school and college, by film we got to review games we played. We saw the mistakes we made; we built on the good parts. I remember one film session we had after we got trounced. Coach was not in a good mood. As we moved through the film and heard lots of criticism, Coach found some good. He pointed out someone getting a really good block, but it was a side view and no one could see the number. The coach asked gruffly, “Now there’s a good block. Who is that?” I knew who it was, but I wasn’t going to pound my chest in front of my teammates. You know something? It wouldn’t have hurt if a teammate had called out, “Hey coach that was 51 – Zahn!” But I heard nothing but crickets.
What has that have to do with Easter and the Lord’s resurrection, besides allowing me to get something off my chest after all these years? Well, I know it is a stretch, but I want to make a point. The apostle Paul penned these words. It is like an instant replay. He is where he is in life but looks back; he sees how Easter has changed it. “Easter is All about Life:” 1) A life dedicated to Christ; 2) A life with Christ!
At what point was Jesus in his life? He had been imprisoned many times in his life, but when he wrote this letter, he knew he was in prison for the very last time. He had been in prison many times before simply because he preached a risen Savior to the world that needed him. Somehow government officials accused him of being a rebel out to overthrow the government. His demise was close. Later in this letter he wrote, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
This would be the last of his thirteen letters that are part of the New Testament. Certainly a bittersweet moment! Sweet because he knew he was going to heaven; bitter because the world was losing the greatest missionary in history, a missionary who preached the risen Savior fearlessly and unapologetically.
He looks back and writes to Timothy who would take his place. “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” Paul urged Timothy to give bold testimony about Jesus as Paul had done. But it wasn’t always that way with Paul.
This was not a good week for the people of this world. Islamic terrorists were at it again. Thirty four people were killed and over three hundred hurt in Brussels. Twenty plus were killed in Iraq at a soccer stadium. There was a portion of Paul’s life lived as a terrorist to Christ’s Church. Paul, in his own words, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.”
But very dramatically God stopped that… one day at noon… as he traveled to Damascus to do more damage to the Lord’s church. Paul found out that Christianity wasn’t an empty ideology, but based on Jesus, once crucified but raised to life and living. And Paul got to hear about Jesus’ plan for Paul. He wasn’t dead but very much alive.
That Savior had a lot in mind for Paul. He was forgiven even of the murder that he committed and then Paul would do different work other than being incredibly cruel to God’s people. He wrote, “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…”
More instant replay. This conversion wasn’t a seat of the pants thing. “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace.” It was already in place in God’s mind the day he was born to know the crucified and risen Christ and to preach the crucified and risen Christ to the Gentiles – to no-Jews. Think about that. Paul, by God’s grace, went from hating Jesus, hating his followers, to loving Jesus and becoming one of his followers, and used by Jesus to gain more followers. What a turnaround! That’s called conversion.
God used him well. Among many places he was used to establish a Christian base in the city of Corinth. Wherever he preached Jesus, Satan organized forces to stop him. People accused him of being a maniac for Jesus. You’re nuts, Paul! Paul’s reply? “If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” He lived a life dedicated to serving Jesus.
Maybe some of us are thinking I am not as zealous for Jesus as Paul was. For him it seems to be so dramatic. Maybe that’s why I am not so zealous for Jesus. I was cheated. I didn’t get knocked off the horse like Paul did. I didn’t experience blindness for a few days only to experience the miracle of sight like Paul did. I didn’t get to hear the voice of Jesus like Jesus did.
Hold everything, Mister or Mrs. or Miss. It is true that for many of us, there wasn’t a time we didn’t know Jesus. We were baptized into Christ as babies. As the Bible says we were united with Christ and died with Christ and buried and raised with Christ. We were taught about Jesus since babies and believed in Jesus, in his death, and resurrection. There wasn’t a time when we didn’t know that if we died we would go to heaven.
We don’t know exactly know how old Paul was when Jesus appeared to him but he was an adult. He wasted a lot of years and time trying to work his way into heaven. He wasted a lot of time trying to kill the people of God instead of wanting God’s church to grow. Knowing about Christ and the Easter promises all your years has meant a lot to you as you are dedicated to him in whatever station of life God has called us to.
But let’s go back to more instant replay and see why Paul was called and why we have come to know the blessings of Easter. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” Pretty simple and plain, isn’t it? Nothing to do with us. Everything to do with the grace of God.
I read someplace that in the Greek Orthodox Church the day after Easter is a day where people tell a lot of jokes. They feel they were imitating the joke that God pulled on Satan with the resurrection. On Good Friday Satan thought he had won; he was smug and smiling to think that he had the last word. But Easter Sunday came along and God raised Jesus from the dead. Now life and life and salvation is real and by faith ours. God gets all the credit. We can sit and smile because Easter is God’s gift “not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”
It is not just about the events of Easter but how we came to know and believe it. That too is a gift from God. Think about it. Did Paul suddenly choose to believe in Jesus on the way to Damascus to commit murder? Did he suddenly think it was a good idea that he had enough of opposing Jesus and decide join his side? Absolutely not! It was the hand of God. Jesus said, “No man can come to the Father except he be drawn.” Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me, I chose you.” Paul said it like this, “It God who works in you both to will and do of his good purpose.” As Martin Luther wrote, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The meaning of Easter, the joy of Easter, the zeal to follow and share the Risen Jesus is also a gift from God.
Working back again in time, Paul says it like this: “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” God planned it all from eternity. In eternity he planned to save us. He planned that we would come to know Jesus even before the beginning of time. We need to lay human reason aside and let faith take over. God knows all things. He knows all things in the future. He knows all things in the past. He knew the mess created in Eden before he even created Eden. He knew he would need to clean it up. He knew he needed a solution. He knew and planned for Jesus, his Son to be the solution. Even before we were on this earth, even before the he created the world, God chose us to be his. How can that be? Because God is God and he knows all things, because God is gracious.
And then in time he made it happen. “But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Planned in eternity but revealed in time. God planned Good Friday from eternity, and made Good Friday happen. God planned Easter in eternity and made it happen. God knew us and chose us in eternity and in time made it happen that we would believe in Jesus Christ as Savior.
For what purpose? To destroy and bring immortality and to take us from darkness to light.
Judy and I were talking to a business owner recently that we have gotten to know over the years. His business just took a big step and is open more hours. He has a lot of snow on the top of his head and I asked him about the future. He is close to retirement age. He made the remark that he didn’t want to fully retire but always be busy with his business in some way. He said he knew a couple who seem to have such a boring life in retirement. The man fishes all the time and his wife doesn’t even know what day of the week it is. He wants to go on working.
I saw an interesting quote. Someone rather cynical said that “the average man doesn’t know what to do with this life, yet he wants another one that will last forever.” It is not a matter of just wanting a life that will last forever, God intended that there be life forever.
Years ago when I served on our South Atlantic Mission Board we were meeting with a congregation that was struggling. We were supporting it with mission funds supplied by the churches in our church body. Our board oversaw that. One man had it in his mind that we had come to tell this congregation that we were going to close it down by not supplying any more funds. He told him that before the meeting, but he made the same statement in the meeting began. I led the meeting to discuss ways to help them, but he then said what he said to me privately. “We know why you’re here. You’re here to shut us down.” Now he said it all publicly. I told him and the rest of the group with whom we were meeting that we don’t open missions to close them. They are to go on.
God didn’t create life so we would die. Abraham Lincoln said “Surely God would not have created such a being as a man to live only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.” God made Easter to assure us of that. Easter is all about life – a life dedicated to Christ; a life with Christ here and there!