Do you see God’s humor and irony in the fact that Easter this year falls on April Fools’ Day? It made me smile. Ah, but who is the fool? Someone who believes this resurrection nonsense? No, not even close. According to the Bible, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). I think we pastors all realize that, while it is an interesting coincidence this year, Easter is no laughing matter. It is very serious — a matter of life and death.
There is no place in the Bible more telling about man’s rebellion than the confrontation God had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The consequences of their sin, like ripples in a stream, have touched all of humankind. After disobeying God, they attempted to hide, but were unsuccessful. They couldn’t — and we can’t. None of us. Moses warned, “And you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Even in a time of grace, sin brings with it a very high cost.
But we must also remember that we are not powerless over sin. As we’re told in Galatians 5:24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” There is hope for all of us. We call that hope the Gospel. And sharing that good news, my colleague, is our primary calling as Christians.
I know it is impossible to maintain full-scale evangelistic momentum all the time, but it is not impossible to sustain an ongoing sense of urgency for lost souls. Think about those who will not spend eternity with Jesus — the lost ones.
Almost two decades ago, as I stood at Ground Zero in New York City, I was angry and confused, but with much compassion for the families whose innocent loved ones were ambushed. I also wondered about the eternity of those who were lost. As I surveyed the destruction, I saw a huge cross of remnant metal beams standing tall and triumphant in the midst of all the confusion. It was then that I was reminded that the “old rugged cross” does make a difference. In truth, it is the only thing that will never change. Do you talk about the old rugged cross very often? “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). The need of the lost ones is the hope of the cross.
For years now, we have heard news reports and speculations of numerous types of government bailouts over and over. This phenomenon reminded me of the greatest bailout of all time: the price Jesus paid for our freedom, security, and salvation. Paul wrote to the Romans, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Please notice the words right time and powerless.
John echoed Paul’s words: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son [Jesus]. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). It’s an eternal bailout if there ever was one. This is the hope needed by the lost ones.
Yet, a lot of people still do not know about or continue to reject God’s offer. I’m telling you, my colleague, what is happening in our world today gives you a perfect opening to preach a life-changing salvation message. Go for it!
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16, MSG).
Sometimes, we get so caught up in condemning certain sins, such as abortion or racism or homosexuality or violence, we forget that the idea is to point people toward redemption. I beg you, the next time you preach and teach on the subject of any sin (which I assume is happening right now as we approach Easter), do tell your congregation that sin is wrong. But don’t forget to tell them that God offers forgiveness for those who live under the dark shadow of guilt. Express hope by adding gentleness to your preaching. Tell them that coming to God is the answer to the crushing anguish they carry. Tell them that they do not need to carry this burden any longer. View yourself not only as a stalwart against sin, but also as a physician for the soul.
The Easter message is a message of hope and joy for the lost ones. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
Perhaps it would enlighten our perspective of the accounts leading to that first Easter if we stop to examine the question, “Who crucified Jesus?”
According to Matthew, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate and asked him to secure Jesus’ tomb so that the disciples wouldn’t “steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 27:64). Was it the Jewish leaders, or the Roman authorities? Meanwhile, it was the Sabbath and the Scriptures say little about what the followers of Jesus were doing. We can imagine that they were in shock, asking many questions. Was it we common men? We’re still asking questions today. So, who really crucified Jesus?
This became a question about which many people argued when Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, was first released. However, the answer from Scripture is simply stated in Isaiah 53: “Smitten by God, and afflicted … He was wounded for our transgressions. … The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6, NKJV). The Bible names God as the One responsible for the earthly death of Christ.
Oh, I know you can state the fact that sin killed Jesus, or the betrayal of Judas, or the jealousy exhibited by the scribes and Pharisees, or a spineless Pilate. But the fact remains that Christ’s crucifixion was in God’s plan even before the foundation of the world. It was because God loved us so much that He sacrificed His Son.
So here is my commentary on a loving God and the crucifixion:
- Our condition: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). At one time, each of us could be counted among the lost ones.
- The consequences: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sin separates us from God forever. Lost ones live in desperation.
- God’s passion: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God provides hope for the lost ones.
- Love demands a response: Fortunately, that hope is easily obtained by simply responding to God’s love. Confess — believe — accept (Romans 10:9).
My colleague, I heartily encourage you to be bold this Easter season in preaching Christ, and Him crucified and risen. Let the lost ones know there is hope for their condition through belief in the forgiving and redeeming and eternal life-giving work of Christ on the cross.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).