The lights were dim, the stage had elaborate sets, the cast had biblical garb and the pews, in a pre-COVID way, were packed to the brim with people. It was one of the many times as a kid that my family attended a “passion play,” which aimed, in dramatic fashion, to tell the story of Jesus Christ and of what Easter is all about. Yet, despite years of being told the story of Jesus’ sacrifice, and of intellectually believing in the theological highlights, I had been told for years that there was something different this night. I felt goosebumps as the crowd of extras shouted for Jesus to die, I winced every time the whip cracked on his back, and then came the most surreal moment from that night that I will never forget: I was confronted in a personal way with this story I had learned to tune out.
As the cast playing the Roman soldiers were yelling at Jesus as he was struggling to carry his cross, with dramatic music in the background, the actor portraying Christ dropped the cross right next to where I was seated. I remember being awestruck, humbled and weeping as I came to the realization that this was not some character from a book, or some irrelevant theological myth; it was a perfect sacrifice that was purposely, voluntarily and intentionally made for me, and whether you believe it or not, it was made for you as well.
The world is a mess. Our country is a mess and we are a mess. Five minutes watching the news, reading a blog, or looking at your newsfeed on Facebook will convince you of that tragic reality. We all instinctively know that there is something fundamentally wrong and something is missing; we just cannot quite figure out what it is, who it is or how to make it right. So, in true western fashion, we try to treat the symptoms of our problem rather than go after the root of our problem. We seek social, cultural and political solutions to the unraveling of our society that is before us. We seek pleasure, love, satisfaction, security, worth and meaning in our looks, our money, our careers, our relationships, our thrills, and yet deep down inside, remain empty. Yet we are told in the Bible that we were made with an inner longing for more than the world has to offer. We were created on purpose with a purpose.
We were made to do life with God, but to our own detriment, we have chosen individually, and collectively as a society, to tell our creator by our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions every day that we want to do things our way, instead of his way. The Bible calls it “sin,” and because of this disease we were all born with, we are guaranteed a death sentence, in this life and the life after, and there is nothing we can do about it. That is the bad news.
Recently, my daughter had to get surgery for a condition she was born with that almost killed her two years ago. As my wife and I faced this agonizing moment, we wished with all our hearts that we could take our girl’s place and experience the pain she had to endure. And that is a vivid picture of exactly what this time of year is ultimately about. Easter is about the good news that someone took our place, someone carried what we could not carry, and someone died for our sins. Sadly, today, when some people think of Christianity and what it’s about, words like scandal, hypocrisy, politics, self-righteous, or hateful are what often come to mind. Yet, what Christianity is ultimately about is Jesus Christ giving his life for you, by his death on the cross and triumphal resurrection, so you will choose to live your life for and with him. Christianity is about a God who created you, knows you and loves you enough that even if you still disbelieve, he gave his life on your behalf anyway. The good news of the “gospel” is still the best news the world so desperately needs to hear; the news that we are loved and wanted, that there is forgiveness, there is a new and better way to do life and that there is real living, lasting hope.
As Jesus was dying on the cross, we are told in the gospels that there were two criminals who were being crucified next to him, one on each side of him. One of the criminals mocked and rejected Jesus for being unwilling to save himself or the criminal, not realizing, ironically, that by choosing to not save himself, he was working to save him. The other, however, recognized who Jesus was, recognized what he deserved, and he recognized that Jesus was dying a death he did not deserve. The question is which of these two men reflect where you are at with Jesus of Nazareth?
We have two choices when we are confronted with Christ and his sacrifice: we can either accept him or reject him. We can ignore him or embrace him. What we cannot do is pretend that we get what Easter is all about, pretend we have heard and understood the good news and go on living our lives as if Good Friday were just another Friday, and as if Jesus were just another nice guy who said some inspiring things. If Jesus is who he claimed to be, he simply has not left that option to us.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16
Stephen Mitchell is the senior pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Maryland. He also is the host of a weekly podcast, “Real Christian Talk with Pastor Steve,” available on all podcast platforms.