The essence of Easter is audacious. It’s disturbing. It’s offensive.
If you don’t think so, then we’re not reading the same New Testament narrative. Here are four things that Easter does that might surprise and perhaps even transform us:
1.Easter refuses to be romanticized.
Contemporary culture tries to domesticate Easter by wrapping it in brightly colored eggs, cute bunnies, chocolate candy, and retail sales. But Easter defies this retelling, if just for the fact that its story involves the most inhumane form of execution the world has ever known.
Likewise, there are those who romanticize the Gospel as the drama of a good man who stands up against an evil empire. In their narrative, Jesus is crucified for daring to speak truth to power. Although he is martyred, his message lives on in the hearts of disciples who revolutionize the world by opposing hatred and oppression.
Nice story. The problem is that it’s just not true.
According to Scripture, Jesus isn’t a martyr. Rather, he’s the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). And if being the Lamb isn’t enough, Jesus also proclaims that he’s the “Good Shepherd” who intentionally sacrifices his life for his sheep (John 10:18). Jesus tells Pilate that Pilate’s authority to execute him is governed by the hand of God himself (John 19:11).
Christ’s crucifixion wasn’t a human conspiracy to kill him; rather, it was a divine conspiracy to save us.
If that’s the case, why would we need saving?
After all, we skeptics argue, a truly loving God would never send those he created (especially us) to hell. When we say this, we emphasize God’s love at the expense of his justice. If only we could understand that the cross is where God manifests his love and justice in infinitely equal measure.
If saving the world could have been accomplished by humanity’s inherent goodness, don’t you think that God would have spared his Son the agony of it all?
Rightly considered, Easter isn’t about eggs and candy; it’s about God ransoming you and me from the death sentence of our depravity.
2. Easter convicts us to confess the depth of our own depravity.
From the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, the Bible tells the story of God’s relentless plan to redeem a people who will love and worship him. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit begin by creating humanity in their image with the capacity to choose (Genesis 1:26-27). God gives Adam and Eve the freedom and abundance of a perfect world, but warns them that the treason of disobedience will result in their losing everything—even their very lives (Genesis 2:15-16).
Their sin not only separates them from Eden, but also alienates them from God, from one another, and from the very earth from which they are created. If heaven is the dwelling place of God, then hell—the ultimate consequence of sin—is the utter absence of God’s presence. Though the Bible describes hell in terrible, metaphorical terms, words can’t do it justice. When we abandon God, he grants us the full consequences of our choice. As C.S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.
Why is sin such a big deal? After all, can’t an all-loving, all-powerful God simply choose to overlook it? No. The Bible says that there are just some things God won’t do.
God will not overlook our sin against him or our sin against one another (Acts 17:29-31). Our sin is an affront to his holiness. It’s spiritual rebellion, spiritual treason, spiritual adultery, and more. To sin is to spit in the face of his goodness, to trivialize his justice, and to slander his character.
We grow comfortable with our sin and even justify ourselves in comparison to others. But when humans see their fallenness in the light of God’s holiness, they are overcome with fear (Genesis 3:10), remorseful (Isaiah 6:5), and mortified (Revelation 1:17).
When we sin, we incur a debt against God. All of us sin. All of us are spiritually bankrupt. All of us are lost without God’s grace (Romans 3:21-26). When we say, “We’re not that bad,” we’re really saying God’s not that good. We want a deity who’s willing to look the other way, to wink at perversity, to lower the bar of his holiness. This is not the God of Scripture.
Throughout the Old Testament, God makes provision for humanity’s sin by allowing the shed blood of spotless animals to cover our transgressions (Leviticus 17:11). This provisional sacrificial system points to a “once and for all” final work of God’s Messiah (Hebrews 10:1-10) who will not only cleanse us but also transform us into the people God means for us to be.
We cannot experience Easter until we confess the fact that we cannot save ourselves.
Only true hedonists and true Christians will admit their own depravity.
The former do so to celebrate their unbridled decadence; the latter do so to boast in God’s lavish grace (1 Corinthians 1:28-31). Those who have come to terms with their “lost-ness” mean every word when they sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”
3. Easter invites us to embrace the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice.
At Christmas, the Son of God lays aside his glory to be incarnated as the Son of Man. On Good Friday, the Son of Man takes our sinfulness upon himself to fully satisfy the debt we owe Almighty God. On Easter morning, the Father vindicates Jesus to the whole universe by raising him from the grave and—in doing so—destroying the power of sin, death, and hell (Philippians 2:6-11).
If I am to understand Easter, I must confess that it’s not just the sin of humanity—but my sin in particular—that caused Jesus to walk up Calvary’s hill.
My good works can never appease God—much less please him—but Christ’s perfect work does. This is why Jesus cries, “It is finished!” as he dies (John 19:30). My sin debt is “paid in full” upon his death. As Paul the apostle writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin [or the “sin offering”] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We are therefore redeemed by Christ’s works, not our own:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn God’s acceptance because Christ has completely justified me before his Father. His grace is fully sufficient to secure my salvation and to guard my life until he returns or calls me home. In Christ, I am free to live my life in gratitude to him, extending this unearned grace to others as a testimony to his love.
Easter changes everything.
We no longer have to fear God’s judgment, because Christ has fully satisfied our debt with God.
We no longer have to fear dying, because Christ has conquered death and is preparing a place where we will enjoy his fellowship forever.
We no longer have to fear rejection by others, because we are as beloved by God as Christ himself.
We no longer have to fear our own failure, because Christ is all-sufficient.
4. Easter compels us to extend God’s grace to our enemies.
This grace thing seems all well and good when I apply it to myself; but it’s problematic when I have to extend that same mercy to others.
What about those who have truly harmed me or those I love? What about the abusers, the accusers, the robbers, the rapists, the manipulators, the murderers, the tyrants and the terrorists? What about those who twist the truth and promote ungodliness? What about my political opponents and religious enemies? What about the adulterous ex-spouse and cruel ex-boss and corrupt ex-business partner?
Surely I don’t have to hold out hope for them, much less extend grace to them? Don’t they deserve the hell that God has prepared for Satan and his demons?
Yes they do. And so do we.
But when our hearts are swept up by God’s grace, we no longer divide the world into “them” and “us.” Rather, we see ourselves as hopelessly lost adversaries of God whose pardon was bought by the death of his Son. As Paul writes:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…. For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:6-8,10)
Easter compels us to love as Christ loved, to serve and Christ served, and to lay down our lives as Christ did. Jesus faced Golgotha knowing that his best friends would desert him, that his enemies would murder him, and—to add insult to injury—that his death would actually atone for their sins against him. And yet, he chose an afternoon on the cross and three days in the grave over an eternity without you and me.
With Easter’s empty tomb comes a sobering responsibility: Jesus entrusts us with his ministry of reconciliation. Not because our lives depend upon it, but because God depends upon us to convince our skeptical world. Paul is adamant about this:
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. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)
To truly experience Easter means that we follow God’s example of forgiving those who have sinned against us. We no longer look upon them as enemies; rather, we have compassion on those who are as lost as we once were.
Then we do the most radical thing imaginable: we choose to forgive them. We let go of their debt because Christ paid it when he paid ours.
By forgiving them, we not only release them from their debt to us; but we also free ourselves from the unbearable burden of being their debtor.
Their sin injures us in two ways. First, there is the offense itself. Then, there is the anger and bitterness that festers in our hearts because of it. We deceive ourselves when we think that we’d be happy if our enemies “got what they deserved.” In the end, this doesn’t shift the pain from us to them—it just spreads it out.
But forgiveness operates differently.
When we forgive those who have harmed us, we acknowledge the true magnitude of their harm, yet choose to let go of the pain and resentment they have caused. It’s not that we let their debt go unpaid; rather, we accept Christ’s payment of their debt to us at Calvary. Someone did pay: Jesus. And we don’t resent the fact that Jesus paid their debt because we’re always humbled by the realization that he paid ours as well.
We think that forgiveness follows confession and repentance. But that’s not what God does at Calvary. On the cross, Jesus looks up to heaven and begs his Father to look down and forgive those who are in the process of murdering him. His forgiveness doesn’t follow their repentance—it precedes it.
Rightly understood, God’s forgiveness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Forgiveness is not something we earn because we repent; rather, repentance is something we do because we’ve been forgiven. That way, we can’t say that God “owes” us because we’ve “done” the thing.
God forgives first. That’s why grace is so amazing, but it does demand a response.
If we reject his grace, we damn ourselves to a life burdened by bitterness and an eternity of unending alienation. For one day, God will require of everyone an accounting for every sin. If we have not accepted Christ’s payment on our behalf, then we will have to pay for our sins ourselves.
But when we accept his forgiveness, we start undoing our fallen world by forgiving others first—even if they are unwilling or unable to respond.
I’m going to celebrate this Easter by forgiving someone who has harmed and offended me. I might even let them know that their debt has been paid in full and I’m no longer holding it against them.
I invite you to do the same.
And may we all have the most scandalous, marvelous, audacious Easter ever.