Easter and Christmas
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
25th April 2006
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The central celebration of Christianity is not Christmas but Easter.
It is a great and miraculous thing that the Creator of the universe should be born a baby in Bethlehem. But this is a true saying and worthy of all people to receive that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The reason for his birth was his death and resurrection.
It was wonderful that God should visit us - and visit us as one of us. But more wonderful still is that he should die for us. For God shows his love for us in this: “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
That God the Son became man is of course enormously important. “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.” For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It is therefore right to celebrate his birth with joy. But in his birth he entered the battle - while in his death and resurrection he conquered our enemy and won the war.
In this victory is the great news of God’s visit to humanity. Jesus did not come just to share our experience of life or to teach us the way to live. He came to take our sin upon himself and to bear our punishment in his death. For as he himself said he came to “give his life as a ransom for many”. As the apostle Peter said “he suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
But his “visit” to humanity did not cease with his death. He rose again as a man. Not just as a man but as “the Son of Man”. The Man whom Daniel prophesied would rule all nations for all time. “For as by a man came death so by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
The risen Jesus continues as the man who rules the world. Calling all men to himself by his Spirit announcing the gospel through his servants. And as people come to him by the power of his Spirit’s regeneration, they enter into the Kingdom of God.
It is at Easter that we take time to remember with overwhelming gratitude to God that it is by his Son’s death and resurrection that we are saved. We know that the crucifixion of Christ is the power and wisdom of God.
There is no message more important to preach and no song more important to sing - than that Jesus died for our sins. It was delivered by the apostles “as of first importance” that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
For those who are not saved, Easter is a strange and fairly unimpressive festival. A man dies in the first century and we are supposed to celebrate? He may have been a great man. He may have been an innocent man. He may have died a barbaric death. But what is so important about a man that died? How can you see this action as central to history, life, eternity or your relationship to God? But to those of us being saved, the cross is not a matter of shame and foolishness but the power and wisdom of God.
Christmas will be always more popular than Easter with the non-Christian. It is a message that is easier to understand. It is a message that tells us of our importance. It is a message of birth and life. But Easter is the message that demonstrates God’s wrath upon our sin. It is the message that reminds us of our mortality. It is the message that demands repentance.
Yet Easter is not a gloomy affair. We do not celebrate that Jesus died, but that he died for our sins. We do not only celebrate that he returned to life but also that he rose to rule the universe as our Lord and King. We do not celebrate the wrath of God upon our sin but the victory of God’s mercy over wrath whereby we are justified and pardoned. We do not celebrate life here on earth but life here on earth and into eternity - the new eternal life of the Kingdom of God.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”