Easter is a Christian High Holy Day. Egg hunts, jelly beans, pretty foil-wrapped chocolate, and fluffy bunnies and chicks aside, it is the most solemn and serious of all the holidays celebrated by Christians. Easter is a season that is actually longer than Advent (Christmas), for Easter begins at Shrove Tuesday/Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and ends with the celebration of Jesus’ ascension to Heaven on the seventh Sunday after Easter (Pentacost). But while Christmas is about the bringer of our Salvation, Easter is about the method of salvation itself. The supreme sacrifice – the sacrifice made with the intention that man could stop leaving blood offerings on the holy altar.
From the second the first sin of disobedience was committed in the Garden, this sacrifice became necessary. God asked one thing: Do not eat from the tree of knowledge. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they lost their blessed innocence. We know this because they became aware of their nakedness before God and were embarrassed by it. God clothed them, perhaps to show compassion for their discomfort. To do that, he slaughtered two animals for their skins to provide clothing. The first blood sacrifice – the price of the sin committed by those two in the Garden.
“The wages [cost that must be paid] of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23) Sacrifice (livestock, sometimes crops) became a way of life in payment for the many sins that mankind went on to commit. But animal sacrifice wasn’t going to be enough. Sure, the animals died, they paid the sin price. But that was a temporary fix, because it became too easy to look upon that as payment for the privilege of misbehaving. Lie about your neighbor? Take an extra chicken to the altar. Steal something belonging to another? Offer up a cow. When David coveted another man’s wife and sent that man to his death in battle because Bathsheba had become pregnant with David’s child, the man’s death was on David’s head. Sacrifice had to be made for the sin against the commandment not to kill. The very child that had been at the heart of the controversy fell ill and died. Man could not go on this way, though. Something else was needed, something that would have the power to permanently conquer sin. God would have to offer up part of Himself. A holy sacrifice.
Enter Jesus. The Lamb of God. The sacrifice that held the power to save humankind. And all the people had to do was accept the gift. But man could not be simply handed the sin price like an allowance. It would have been easier for God to just make the sacrifice Himself, I’m sure, just as it’s sometimes easier to bail our children out of tough situations instead of letting them find their own way. But what do they learn if we pay the price for their wrongs and they bear no consequences?
God, as our very wise heavenly parent, did make the sacrifice that absolved us of our sins, but first He gave us a refresher course in His expectations of us – His rules. Jesus’ message while he walked this earth was as simple or as complex as anyone wanted it to be. Through all the teachings of Jesus ran one solitary, priceless thread. It’s the basis of good relationships, otherwise known as The Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” Other cultures might call this Karma. Some might call it the rule of “what goes around comes around.” But the bottom line is, the Golden Rule is really part of the admonition against judgment. One of the most well known warnings in the scriptures comes from Luke 6:37. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” If we follow Jesus’ teachings about loving others, if we follow the Ten Commandments, if we’re righteous people, why then, should we have been instructed to not judge others who fall short of these ideals? This is partially explained in Matthew 7:3, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” You see, we also have faults; we’ve all done things wrong, made mistakes upon occasion, made poor choices. Because of these things, we are not capable of truly impartially judging others. We have a tendency to blind ourselves to our shortcomings and look more harshly at the failings of others. No one is exempt from this trait. In fact, this fact is driven home in Romans 3:22-23 with a very pointed statement that none of us is better than the next person in the eyes of God. No matter how hard we try, how righteous we aspire to be, how like Jesus we walk, we are all sinners. “…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” GOD is our judge, the only One qualified to judge any one of us. And in His eyes, we will be found lacking every time. So we don’t want Him judging us by the standards we use to judge others. Hence, don’t judge others or you will be judged. If you condemn a man for his mistakes, your own mistakes will be held against you.
But wait! We are asked to go even further. Did you know that the verse warning against judgment (Luke 6:37) goes on to say, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven”? So you see, we have not been instructed to remain passive when it comes to reflecting Jesus’ teachings. Not only are we to refrain from passing judgment on others and condemning them, we are called on to actively forgive them instead. Jesus told Peter that we must forgive those who wrong us not once or twice, not a mere seven times, but seventy times seven times if that’s what it takes. (Matthew 18:22). And as if forgiving is not enough of a burden to lay on us, we are told to love others. Jesus explained the greatest commandment as: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) But don’t stop there, He adds, for the second greatest command is nearly the same: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
And there it is; the key to living our lives as a reflection of Jesus in this ugly world. Don’t judge or condemn, but forgive instead. And then love. Love everyone of our worldly neighbors – not selectively but collectively. Love the elderly shut-in who sometimes can’t remember her name as much as you love the tidy, smiling children in the Sunday School class. Love the impoverished mother who works two jobs and still qualifies for state assistance to help care for her children but also love the prostitutes on the street corners, for they may not know any other way to survive. Love the teenager who boosted your car and crashed it, the boss who made you work late so he could go on vacation. Love the bully who tormented you in high school, the terrorists who flew planes into buildings, and the disturbed young man who shot up an elementary school. Love these people by first forgiving them.
Do you require an example of how to follow this instruction? You need look only as far as Jesus’ last moments on the cross, as imparted to us in Luke 23:32-43. After the persecution, the ridicule, the lies, the denials, the beatings… the judgments. After nails were pounded into his body affixing him to the cross… as the sacrifice was underway, with the sins of all mankind – past, present, future – being heaped upon the shoulders of Jesus making Him into the Sin Price upon the altar… As he hung dying, two men joined him in his misery. Criminals, each one also nailed to his own cross, one to the right of Jesus, the other to the left. While soldiers cast lots for His clothing and awaited His death, Jesus prayed to God, speaking of those who had tortured Him. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” One of those criminals hanging alongside him hurled insults, asking if He was who he claimed, why he did not save Himself and them too. The other man pointed out that the two of them were suffering justly for their crimes, but that “…this man has done nothing wrong.” That man turned to Jesus and pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when You arrive in Your kingdom!” With that man’s sins joining those of the rest of humankind and laying heavily up Him, Jesus forgave the man and showed him love in his answer: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
~1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Have a blessed Easter 2014