We celebrate Easter in remembrance of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again from the dead. On Christmas we celebrate that Jesus was born of a virgin and that God loved us so much that He became a man and came to live a perfect life for us. Between the stories we celebrate for Christmas and Easter, we learn how God desires for us to live and a love so great that He was willing to save us even when we weren’t worth it. Jesus performed many miracles: He walked on water, fed 5,000 people, healed the sick, and raised the dead.
He also did other things that were unexpected. During the time that Jesus lived, the religious leaders had figured out the formula to live a perfect life and to follow all of the “rules” that they had been given in the Old Testament. They didn’t see that the goal of all of those “rules” was for us to see that we couldn’t do it. They thought that they could simply look at the 10 Commandments and check each of them off. Murdered? Nope. Committed adultery? Nope. They also came up with extra “rules” so that no one accidentally got to close to doing something that God said they shouldn’t. Their version of following God was appearing holy and outwardly being the “good people” that following a list of rules makes you. The Bible talks about how they would make long elegant prayers to God just so that they looked good. Back then you were supposed to take care of your parents. So if they didn’t want to, they would claim that they were going to take the money they should use to support their parents and “give it to God” . . . uh, huh. Right . . . But in all of this “holy” living, Jesus shows up and they cease to be quite as popular and revered.
Jesus begins teaching and tells them that you can look good on the outside and still be the opposite on the inside (he calls them “white-washed tombs”). He tells them that it isn’t about outwardly keeping all of the commandments, but rather about the attitude of your heart. Have you ever hated someone? Oh, guess you can’t check that one off anymore because in God’s eyes, that’s murder. Have you ever looked lustfully at someone? Never mind any action toward it. Just choosing to dwell on that thought . . . well you’re done. All of a sudden, they are seeing that they can’t be perfect before God anymore.
From Jesus’ teachings, we learn that it isn’t about living by all of these rules and making them the focus, but about realizing that you will never be able to keep all of these things and that you have a sin problem. God is so holy and perfect that He can’t be around us because we are so not. Even in that state where we choose to do the wrong thing even when we know what the right thing is to do, God loves us even then. He loves us so much that He offers us the salvation that can only come from dying on the cross and Someone else taking the punishment that we each deserve. The Bible tells us that God knows everything and that nothing is hidden from Him. That means that God knows every bad thing we have ever done or will ever do and He has already taken the punishment for every one of those things. He loves us so much that He came to earth knowing that He would be killed for our sins and He chose to take that punishment for us.
Think about this for a minute. The God of the universe who creates everything, willingly allows Himself to be wrongly tried without defending Himself, allows Himself to be mocked, have His beard pulled out, be beaten, and be crucified (an excruciating and humiliating death). He could have killed them all with a single word or called down millions of angels to defend Him, but He chose to stay and take the punishment. Probably one of the worst parts though is that He didn’t just experience crucifixion. Lots of people were crucified for their crimes and there were probably even some innocent ones who didn’t deserve it. Most of all, Jesus took on the sins of the world. When Jesus was on the cross, He took all of the filth and ugliness of every sin that has ever been committed. Then God poured out all of His righteous wrath on Jesus as punishment and had to turn His back on Jesus because He cannot be around sin.
All through the Bible, we see Jesus seeking out being in a close relationship with God. He is constantly getting away to pray and talk to God. It was where He received His strength, His peace, and what He valued the most. On the cross, He lost that and even cried out about God forsaking Him. Jesus was willing to be separated from God for that short time so that we would not have to be forever separated from God. When Jesus died (it was the middle of the day), it went pitch black and there was a big earthquake. Back then they didn’t have churches, but they had the temple. In the temple there was a special part where only the high priest was allowed to go once a year. After an animal sacrifice to ask God to forgive his sins, he would enter the Holy of Holies to be in the place where God allowed His presence to stay. If he had committed a sin that he hadn’t asked forgiveness for and entered the Holy of Holies, God would kill him because it is serious to stand before God with your sins not forgiven. The Holy of Holies was separated by a thick curtain that was 18 ½ inches thick and hung from the very top of the high ceiling all the way down to the floor.
When Jesus “gave up His Spirit” and died, everything went dark, the earthquake happened, and most importantly, that thick curtain or “veil” was torn from the very top to the very bottom. No longer were we separated from entering God’s presence, but our sins could be forgiven once and for all and now, rather than having to be separated from God’s holiness and perfection, God is able to look at us and see Jesus Christ’s perfection and holiness because He has traded is that for our sins.
But there is still so much more to the story. Jesus didn’t just die and forgive us, but He rose again from the dead proving that He has the power over life and death and sin and forgiveness. He is risen! No longer do we have to try to be perfect in our own strength to be “good enough” to get to God. All we have to do is tell God that we acknowledge the fact that we need Him to forgive us because we have sinned. Sin is an archery term that means “to miss the mark”. It doesn’t matter if you were slightly off perfect center, on the bottom edge of the board, or shot your arrow in the opposite direction of the target. If you missed the mark, you missed the mark, sinned. The Bible says that we have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans ______). Yet, even in that, Jesus wants to save us. He gives us free will so that we have the opportunity if we want to have a relationship with the one we were made for or if we are going to try to do life our own way. Each of us was made to only be complete when we are in a right relationship with God. We have all had times of happiness and feeling like life was alright and we have all had times where we realize there is more to it that we are missing. Jesus is the answer that we have been looking for our whole lives. When we finally give up our search or our insistence that we aren’t searching and accept Him, we find that there is nothing better than having a relationship with Him. We find that it was never about following all of the rules God made up, but about God giving us those because He didn’t want us to be hurt. Sex outside of the context of a one man, one woman marriage is a sin because God created it to be enjoyed in a relationship where there is trust and to deepen the bond that was already there. He made man and woman to be together and that was the picture of Jesus and His “Bride” the Church (capitalized because it refers to all of the people ever to have a real relationship with Jesus rather than a particular group of people or a physical building). He gave us a moral compass inside, literally the Holy Spirit, to teach us what was right and wrong and to empower us to choose the right thing. He wanted us to be set apart and live in a way that wasn’t just rules, but that showed others that we follow Jesus by the way that we live our lives.
The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is offered to forgive you of your sins and help you live in a way that puts you in a right relationship with God. In turn for your sin, shame, guilt, and emptiness, God promises you a life of purpose, love, peace, and freedom to live and enjoy who He made you to be. Make the best decision you have ever been faced with. Choose to follow the God who ripped the veil from top to bottom to invite you to have a relationship with Him.
If you have a relationship with God (not just go to church or try to be a good, moral person), Romans 5:1-8 applies to you. If not, it could. The choice is yours. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faithinto this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice4 in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”