Easter: What do we celebrate and why?
At Easter, Christians celebrate the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, followed by His Resurrection from the dead. So why did Jesus die, seeing He came back to life again? The Apostle Peter gives us the answer: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). So let us examine what this means and what it involves.
What is sin?
In Genesis chapters 1 & 2, we read the historical account that God created our first parents, Adam and Eve, “in the image of God”, and originally sinless. God provided all they needed to live in a marvellous relationship with Himself, and to share in His life and His love. God also gave them one simple prohibition: not to eat the fruit of one of the trees in the Garden where they lived. Obedience would show their love and trust in God, as well as their dependence on Him. Disobedience would show their disdain for God, indeed their rebellion against God, and as such, disobedience involved a penalty: no less a penalty than separation from God, and death (Genesis 2:16–17).
Satan1 tempted Eve to disobey God, and the ‘bait’ he used was the assertion, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Thus, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were defying God, repudiating His authority over them, and elevating their own wills above God’s will. Thus sin, and its penalty, entered the human race. Sin, in essence, is the desire of mankind to be free from dependence on God, and indeed from any relationship with God at all, especially obedience.
This event is known as ‘the Fall’, and one result of it was that Adam and Eve produced offspring with a tendency to sin. Thus, we all have been born with a sinful nature—so sin now belongs irrevocably to the nature of mankind, ineradicable by man and quite irreversible by the sinner. And as long as we are in this condition, God can no longer admit any of us to His presence, apart from judgment.
The right sacrifice
However, God did not abandon humanity. He provided a way whereby we can be forgiven for our sins, and come into a right relationship with Him. This was by the sacrificial death on the Cross of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, followed by His Resurrection. In preparation for this, God instituted a sacrificial system in the Old Testament, in which the death of animals provided blood sacrifices that were an atonement (or a covering) for sin (Leviticus 17:11).
These Old Testament sacrifices were a ‘type’ of Christ’s perfect future sacrifice, or a foreshadowing of it. They served to ‘cover’ sin (Psalm 32:1), until Christ’s perfect sacrifice for the removal of sins (1 John 3:5) took place and was completed by His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).
Jesus the Lamb of God
When the right time had come, John the baptizer proclaimed Jesus Christ to the world with the words: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Thus John proclaimed Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament sacrificial system.
Hence the reason that Jesus as the Messiah died on the Cross was to provide once and for all the necessary perfect blood sacrifice for sin. Unlike the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, the death of Jesus on the Cross was to bring about eternal redemption rather than temporary atonement.
If God, who is holy, is going to forgive people for their sin, He can do so only in a way that is holy or morally perfect. He cannot do so in a way that is unholy or unjust. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the word ‘just’ in this verse. God can justly forgive people for their sins because the total penalty for their sin has been paid by Christ when He died on the Cross and rose again (I Corinthians 15:3–4).
This means that God can justly forgive people for their sin, but it does not mean that all people are therefore saved. God is entitled to set whatever condition He chooses on His forgiveness of sin, and the condition He has chosen is: “If we confess our sins” (1 John 1:9). Another way of saying this is: those people for whom their sin penalty has been paid are those who show they wish to accept it by repentance (in NT Greek, μετάνοια, metanoia = ‘change of mind’), and by their requesting God’s forgiveness.
So this is what Easter is all about. On Easter Friday, Christians especially remember Christ’s death on the Cross as the necessary and effective sacrifice for sin. And on Easter Sunday Christians especially remember the Resurrection of Jesus from the grave as His victory over death, and as God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for sin.
Romans 10:9-10 tells us “That if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”