Love So Amazing

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3: 16-18)

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As a fledgling writer I find myself often challenged to present a fresh perspective on very familiar Biblical accounts. At no time is this challenge greater than at Easter. After all, the story of Easter is the bedrock of our faith. The account of the events surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ comprise a significant portion of each of the four Gospels. Even after the story had been told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John still devoted almost 40% of his gospel to those crucial eight days. It is just that important.

Churches all over the world will be filled to capacity tomorrow with worshipers who will hear that familiar message, “He is risen!”. Recalling the traditions ingrained in us from childhood, many of us will be arrayed in our finest Sunday clothes, joining countless others in singing those Easter classics, “The Old Rugged Cross”, “Up From The Grave He Arose” “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”, and “Because He Lives”.

We will be reminded by the Scriptures that our Lord gave up the glory of Heaven to make His dwelling among us, only to be rejected by so many whom He came to save. We will recall the agony He experienced at Gethsemane, the excruciating pain of scourging, the humiliation of being mocked at, spit upon, and having His beard plucked out. We will cringe as we imagine the spikes being driven into his hands and feet. And we will mourn as we consider what His death by crucifixion entailed. When I reflect on all that, knowing that He possessed the power to prevent it, it is almost more than I can fathom that he chose to endure it out of His love for us.

But then our hearts will rejoice once again that the grave could not hold Him. Pilate told the guards, “Go make the tomb as secure as you know how.” (Matt. 27:65) How God must have laughed at that comment, thinking “Good luck with that!”.

As we celebrate Easter, it is appropriate to remember those events. Certainly it is fitting to reflect on their implications for our lives as followers of Christ. We can rejoice as we sing to the world that we serve a risen Savior. But while doing so, we should also consider that Easter demands a response from us beyond basking in the glory of the miracle that occurred that fateful Sunday long ago.

On the night of his arrest, Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room and spoke these words, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35) Later he added, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

With those words, our Lord clearly articulated the appropriate response to the message of Easter. And yet, surveys continue to reveal that love is seldom the first thing that comes to mind when those outside the faith think of Christians. How that must grieve the heart of God. And it should grieve us as well.

My Sunday School class is exploring the early chapters of Acts. Acts 2:47 says “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” What was the key to that kind of growth in the early church? Certainly, the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost played a large role. But I believe another strong factor is hinted at earlier in that verse where it speaks of them “enjoying the favor of all the people.”

What caused the favor they enjoyed among all the people around them? More than anything else, I firmly believe it was the love they had for one another. As we celebrate Easter this year, may the good news of the Gospel be just as real to us as it was to those early eyewitnesses. May the love that was poured out for us on the cross so resonate in our hearts that it overflows to those around us. May it be that love that defines us as followers of Christ. And may it be that love that once again turns the world upside down. (Acts 17:6 KJV)

Happy Easter to you all. He is risen, indeed!

“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” – Isaac Watts, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

Note: Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)

 

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The Message Of Easter

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! (Luke 24:5-6)

These familiar words from Luke’s gospel articulate the central truth upon which our faith is based. As I said in my last post, the Easter story is so familiar that teachers and preachers often struggle to offer some fresh insight or present some deeper truths to consider. But in reality, Easter is truly a time to just reflect on the truths that we already know so well – the truths that are foremost on our mind when we think of that first Easter morning … the message of Easter.

As you reflect on the message of Easter, what one word would you use to complete this sentence? ..  The message of Easter is a message of _________.  As I reflected on that first Easter this week, I thought of numerous words that fill in that blank quite well.

A Message Of Love

Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love for us. The first Bible verse you likely memorized is John 3:16. If you’re from my generation, you probably quote it as it is translated in the King James Version, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  This foundational verse is the message of Easter in a nutshell. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

A Message of Life

imagePerhaps the most basic and encouraging truth imbedded in the Easter message is that simple truth spoken to the women at the tomb – the truth with which Christians have greeted each other for centuries – the truth stated in three simple yet extraordinarily profound words, “He is Risen!”  The message of Easter is a message of life. We serve a living Savior through whom is available the gift of eternal life – a Savior who lives in us in the person of the Holy Spirit that we might experience the abundant life He promises in John 10:10.

A Message Of Power

1 Cor. 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Think of the awesome power that was demonstrated that first Easter morning. Paul says in Eph. 1:18-21, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart might be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

That’s a profound statement Paul makes – that the same power by which the Father raised Jesus from the dead is available to us who believe. Let that sink in for a moment. Paul goes on to say in Eph.3:20, “Now to him who is able to do more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”  I have often heard it said that we use less than 10% of our brain’s capacity. Imagine how much of God’s power we actually use compared to what is available to us.

A Message Of Hope

In recent years I have spoken at the funerals of several loved ones, including my mother, my sister, my brother, aunts and uncles, and a very dear friend. A number of people have commented that they did not understand how I was able to do that. And I must admit that initially I felt a little unsure myself. The grief that I experience at such times  is so overwhelming. But as I seek the Lord’s comfort in the pages of His Word and am reminded of His promises, I am always filled with hope – a hope that redirects my focus from my own personal sense of loss to my loved one’s present reality. Ultimately, the message of Easter is a message of hope.

While I always share my personal memories of the deceased, I am mindful that there is only one message which gives hope – the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Because the central message of the gospel is the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the resulting hope of resurrection and eternal life for every believer. To comfort Martha upon the death of her brother, Jesus said. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25)

The only reason I am able to overcome my own grief and speak on such occasions is the assurance I have that death is not the end for those loved ones. That because of our shared faith, we will be together again someday with our Lord and Savior.

At my sister’s funeral, I discovered that one of her favorite songs was “In Christ Alone”, written in 2002 by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend – a song I mentioned in my last post. It has become one of my favorite songs, although I can hardly sing along with it now without choking up. As it was being sung that day, the lyrics ministered to me and reminded me of those tremendous truths – the truths that enable believers to grieve differently from those who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13) – the truths of Easter.

“There in the ground His body lay, Light of the world by darkness slain. Then bursting forth in glorious Day, Up from the grave He rose again. And as He stands in victory, Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me. For I am His and He is mine, Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me. From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, Could ever pluck me from His hand. Till He returns or calls me home, Here in the power of Christ I stand.”

Those verses so clearly and concisely articulate the message of Easter – the message of love, the message of life, the message of power, and the message of hope. But wait – there’s more!

A Message To Be Shared

Certainly, the message of Easter could never be adequately conveyed in just one word.image It is indeed the thread that runs throughout God’s Word. But let us never forget that the message of Easter is also good news. And what do we do with good news? … We share it. The message of Easter is not just for those of us who believe – it is a message we have been commissioned and empowered to share with the world – the living hope that is ours through the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Pet. 1:3)

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)