When asked about what Easter means to them, most people nowadays would reply:
While time off, chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies have all become traditions, the question remains: why is Easter celebrated all around the world?
For Christians, the first Easter was an eternity-changing event that is still remembered 2,000 years later. Speaking personally, Easter means everything to me. It’s the time that has affected every day of my life. Without Easter, I'm not sure what my purpose would be.
Easter was always set in God's plan as a solution to the problem that humankind faced. It focuses on four main events in a week that was determined by God before time even began:
Jesus entered Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, ready for the Festival of Passover. He was well-known in the land – he had spent three years travelling around the country after his baptism, teaching people about God and the way to live. During that time, he had performed miracles: giving sight to the blind, stopping a woman’s chronic bleeding, healing the lame and those with leprosy. He had upset religious leaders, and had shown love and acceptance to the broken and the criminals. Jesus even brought to life people who had died and been buried.
We read in the book of Matthew that Jesus was happy to be with one person or to preach to crowds in the thousands. People followed him wherever he went because they knew there was something special about him.
And so, on this particular Sunday, crowds lined his route as they welcomed him into Jerusalem. For the Jews, the scriptures talked about the Messiah coming to deliver them from oppression; the people of that time were expecting Jesus to deliver them from Roman occupation. They laid palm branches on the ground: the palm was a symbol of victory. That is why it became known as Palm Sunday.
Four days later, the crowds had gone from wanting Jesus to bring them victory to wanting to kill him. On that Thursday evening we see Jesus eating one last meal together with his disciples. Jesus took some of the symbols of the Passover meal and introduced his friends to their new meanings.
He held up a loaf of bread and broke it into pieces so that the disciples could each take a piece. This was a symbol that his body would be broken for each of them, and for everyone who believes in him as Lord and Saviour in the future.
Jesus then took a cup of wine, which he blessed and passed round for them to drink. This was a symbol that his blood would be spilt. He then told the disciples to do this to remember him. At this point, what were they going to remember? They didn't know what the next three days held, but it was so significant, that ‘Communion’ as we now call it, has been celebrated all around the world for the last 2,000 years.
The third thing that Christians remember is the crucifixion. It was the day when Jesus’ enemies took him, humiliated him and tried to silence him by killing him.
In the song called ‘How deep the Father’s love for us’, there is a verse which says
Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
(Stuart Townend, Thank You Music 1995)
I wonder what I would have been shouting in that crowd if I had been in Jerusalem 2000 years ago? We are all separated from God because of what we have done wrong. Every person is caught in what the Bible calls ‘sin’, the things we have done wrong. None of us are free from it. Sin leads to separation from God. It breaks relationship with God, who brings life, and so brings everlasting death. Every person ever born is under sin and as such we are all destined to die.
As we read the account of the run-up to the crucifixion, even Jesus’ closest friends deserted or denied him. One loaf, one cup, one sacrifice is what was required. On Good Friday only Jesus was there to stand in the greatest battle for eternity. He alone was an acceptable sacrifice for all of humankind. No one else was without sin and so able to pay the ultimate price.
Jesus went to the cross on made-up charges, but freely and willingly he went.
Then came a cosmic changing moment, on a cross, placed on a hill which God had created, in front of the people he had created. Despite all the hatred being thrown at him, Jesus’ love for us determined that the full and complete punishment for the sin of the world would be placed on him. In taking the ultimate responsibility Jesus took on sin and death in a straight contest, a fight to the death. The barbaric nature of the cross, the desertion of his friends and the rejection of all people was not enough to stop him from loving us all so much that he would even go through the torment of God turning his back on him. God looked away and placed what was rightfully our punishment on the only one who didn't deserve it. Jesus died taking the retribution for all the sin that had been committed and every sin that would ever be committed. It was the greatest possible atonement for humankind’s wrongdoings.
This was the reset of our account with God the Father. Jesus made us acceptable to God in a way we could never achieve. But if the crucifixion was the end of the story, then it was all a waste of time. If death was the ultimate separation and the story ended here, you could ask yourself what was the point?
But we know that it didn't end here! In the greatest victory of all time, Jesus broke though the power of sin and death. It couldn't hold him, he wasn't defeated but he rose to life again. Christianity without the resurrection is pointless. The greatest success story ever was the moment when Jesus came bursting back to life three days later. He had completely and utterly won; not the power of hell, not the works of the devil, not anguish, sin or even death could hold him! He had broken it all and made for once and for all a way to be completely forgiven, to know God's grace, to live every day in relationship with a loving heavenly Father and to know with absolute certainty what will happen when we die!
Easter means that this day, I get to live knowing him. Easter is the answer that mankind has been looking for. In terms of moments in history, it surpasses all others. For today and every day ahead, I thank God for Easter!
10:00am, please join us for refreshments after the service
The Ridgeway Centre
Wolverton Mill South
Milton Keynes MK12 5TH
10:45am for refreshments
World Vision House
Milton Keynes MK15 0ZR
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