Living the Joy of Easter
I tossed a salad while hubby placed the buttery rolls on the table. Easter celebration nudged us to hunt for memories.
“Do you remember how Joe would make us laugh with his silly comments?” I said to my adult sons at the dinner table.
They affirmed. And we all laughed remembering Joe’s wit, his unique insights and his gusto for life.
But that laughter visited us only after a long, painful and devastating period of grief. When we first faced the anguish of his death in such a brutal way, my world turned upside down with heartache. I sunk in desperation and wondered how I could ever face my tomorrows dragging the heavy chain of sorrow.
But one day, in my heart, I saw my answer. Christ also dragged the cross. I saw Him bleed his pain. Without complaint, sorrow scraped his heart too. And then nailed on the wood, he tasted the bitterness of betrayal mixed with the hardship of injustice.
Why did He not fight? Beg for freedom from the cross? Or curse His fate?
The answer nearly exploded in my heart. Because He knew glory awaited Him. He was certain eternity was his. And He counted on heaven.
“I want the same,” my soul cried out. And God heard my plea. So with the celebration of the resurrection of hope, and the rebirth of my joy, came a new beginning – my own Easter Sunday.
And while wearing the new outfit of healing, of joy and renewed gusto, I got busy creating a new joy-filled life. When the day comes and my chair is empty at the dinner table, what will my family say about my life? While they scoop up a second helping of mashed potatoes or more slices of honey-baked ham, Will they remember the way I dreaded my Calvary or will they recall how I lived my Easters?
How about you? Have you reached your own Easter of triumph for others to see? Whether sorrow or serenity, we’re subtly creating a legacy, weaving memories and painting strokes on our own portrait. The one our family will hold in their hearts.
And for the Easters to come, the portrait will display the life we lived, the values we held and the conviction that danced in our heart when we answered:
- Did we sink under the weight of our cross?
- Did we keep moving with the strength of hope?
- Did we relish on our own Easter of joy?
- Did we choose to see life beyond circumstances, or did circumstances see us to despair?
- Did we face challenges with determination, or did we allow them to determine our destiny?
- Did we look for tomorrow with passion, or did momentary trials rob the passion for today?
- Did we reach out to others to encourage them, or did our own discouragement reached out to hold us back?
- Did we live life rich with God’s reassurance, or did we live empty of His grace?
- Did fear steal our joy, or did God’s joy erase all fear?
- Did we do things for our own interest, or did we first take interest in God’s ways?
- Did we follow our plans, or did we first plan to follow God’s path?
- Did we fret over petty things, or find the power of God’s precepts?
No matter what the answer, there is no cross of pain that can hold us down, no suffering that can hold us back because Jesus is alive. And with passionate Love He declares,
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
The Crucifixion of Jesus
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
Understanding the work of Christ demands that we know the events of His life as they are recorded in the four Gospels. In God’s wise providence, however, He gave us not only the four Gospels but also the rest of Scripture, all of which is vital for knowing what it is that Jesus accomplished. When it comes to the climax of His work in the crucifixion, the Epistles and their clear interpretation of the cross event are particularly important.
By and large, the Gospels record what the people saw with their own eyes as Jesus hung on the cross. Certainly, there was much that the witnesses to our Lord’s death could learn about the crucifixion by seeing it happen. For example, hearing Christ’s agony at His forsakenness would have pointed the knowledgeable Jew to the truth that our Savior bore the curse of God’s wrath on the cross (Matt. 27:46; see Gal. 3:10–14). However, it is doubtful that any witness fully understood the significance of what was happening as they saw Jesus die on the cross. Such an understanding comes through reading the inspired interpretation of such things given to us by the Apostles in the Epistles.
Today’s passage explains how Jesus took on the curse for our sake. Paul’s teaching harks back to the book of Deuteronomy, where God tells the nation of Israel that they will be cursed for disobeying Him (Deut. 27:26). Ultimately, this curse must be understood as separation from God’s blessing and the eternal exposure to divine wrath. In this sense, it is the opposite of what was considered to be the highest blessing a Jew could receive, namely the light of our Lord’s countenance. The chief priestly blessing was for the believing Jew to enjoy the gaze of God’s favor, to experience His good pleasure and peace (Num. 6:22–27). To be cursed, therefore, is to be denied these privileges. It is not to be denied the presence of God entirely, for the Lord is the one who pours out the curse in hell, but it is to be denied the presence of God’s blessing and grace.
Being perfectly holy, our Creator cannot tolerate sin. He cannot even look upon it, not in that He cannot see it but that He cannot see it and allow it to go unpunished (Hab. 1:13). For us to be reconciled to God, our sin had to be dealt with. The sins of men and women had to be atoned for, and this had to be done by a man, for only a human being can atone for the sins of other human beings. The Son of God—as a man—atoned for the sins of His people, bearing the punishment—the curse—we deserved in His person.
The Significant Life
by Sarah Phillips, crosswalk.com
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25: 37 – 40
Have you ever felt dissatisfied with life? Have you ever wondered if perhaps God intended you for bigger things than what you’re doing right now or that perhaps your chance at leaving a mark on this world has passed you by?
If you grew up in my generation, you were probably encouraged to dream big and to make a difference in the world. Depending on how your life has played out so far, you may be experiencing some disappointment as your youthful ideals clashed with the hard realities of life.
But something I, a natural-born idealist, have learned recently is that chasing idealistic notions of bettering myself or mankind can actually direct us away from our calling in Christ.
That’s because achieving big personal dreams or implementing social programs for the betterment of the globe really isn’t at the heart of Christianity. After all, God redeemed you and me by trading His power and importance in for a hidden, mostly ordinary life that culminated in a humiliating death.
Mother Teresa grasped God’s special love for littleness with startling clarity. While most of us view Mother Teresa as a spiritual celebrity who did “big things” for the world, a closer look into her ministry reveals a woman who did not care for broad, idealistic notions. In Finding Calcutta (InterVarsity Press 2008), university professor Mary Poplin reflects on the two months she spent volunteering with Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity during the summer of ’96.
As a worker in the Missionary-run children’s home, Poplin found herself immersed in a humble life most would find excruciatingly boring. A typical day for a Missionary of Charity is filled with repetitive, tedious chores necessary to meet the needs of those who arrive at their doorstep.
Poplin shares, “[Mother Teresa] believed that ‘welfare is for a purpose – an admirable one – whereas Christian love is for a person.'” The Missionaries’ love for a personal God fuels them to love on a personal level, believing no global cause can be effective if it disregards the dignity of even the smallest person. So they feed each disabled infant as if they are feeding the infant Christ. They bathe each dying man as if they are bathing the crucified Christ. And they turn no one away, moving through their hours, days and weeks with joy when most would have given up long ago out of frustration or despair.
Poplin notes that during her time with this flourishing, world-renowned ministry, she never heard a Missionary sister speak of eradicating the world of hunger or even ridding India of hunger. They simply feed the hungry person in front of them. Poplin shares:
“The humility and clarity with which Mother Teresa understood her task in life was one of the most incredible things about her. People go into teaching, nursing, politics, or business with ideas of doing revolutionary things. I once encouraged this unrealistic zeal in my students who became teachers. Now I see how easily they became depressed and discouraged… Starting out with the fervor to change the world can be a quick rut to discouragement. Sometimes despair is a result of thinking too highly of oneself.”
As Christians, we must be careful to fend off this despair born of pride. Chasing big ideals apart from the “smallness” of Christ can distract us from God’s will. The mother who feeds and bathes her infant is doing the same work as Mother Teresa where the spouse who abandons his family in favor of a more “significant” life grieves God.
Chasing ideologies apart from Christ can also blind us from meeting the immediate needs of those sitting in front of us. Mother Teresa once encountered a starving man lying on the steps of a conference center where important leaders gathered to address, get this — world hunger. And in worst-case scenarios, a failure to balance global thinking with love for the least can lead well-meaning people down a path fraught with bloated, utopian philosophies that promote widespread evil instead of good.
I personally am slowly learning to train my “idealist within” to accept that a simple life of serving those around me is often God’s ideal. And if we are unwilling to love each individual we encounter in our small spheres of influence then our highest ideals for humanity amount to nothing. The second part of the Gospel in Matthew puts things in perspective for me: Christ tells those who did not love the “least of these” to depart from Him, into “the eternal fire.”
At the Crucifixion: Close to Jesus
Scripture Reading — Luke 23:39-43
“We are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” — Luke 23:41-42
By their own testimony, the criminals who were crucified with Jesus had led totally worthless lives. They were outlaws and rebels who were now simply getting what they deserved.
But one of them saw the innocence of Jesus and had a change of heart. The Holy Spirit worked miracles in that criminal’s life even though he was in his last hour.
Somehow this career criminal was able to think past his own pain, to feel sorrow for the person hanging on the cross next to him. He became one of the few persons there who spoke the truth about the dying Jesus’ innocence and sinlessness.
This man also—of all people—became one of the first to understand that the death of Jesus would not be the end of Jesus, and that the mocking sign above Jesus’ head was true: Jesus was the King and would soon come into his kingdom!
Further, the Spirit moved this man’s heart and mind to grasp that the one who was being crucified next to him could forgive him, erasing every sin of his spent life and bringing new life beyond death. And, just as Jesus promised him, this man would soon experience everlasting life with Jesus in Paradise.
Have you asked Jesus to remember you?
Sinless, innocent Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. May that kingdom come soon, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.