And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left (Luke 23:33, ESV).
This is the month when committed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ remember the pivotal event in all of human history: the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Whenever I read the gospel accounts of the crucifixion I am struck by the brevity with which each writer records the event: there they crucified Him (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:27, Luke 22:33, John 19:18).
I would have thought that at least Luke, the physician, might have given us some of the medical details of the death of Jesus. I have been asked on several occasions, as a physician, to discuss the pathophysiology of crucifixion—what exactly happens in the body leading to death. I tend to shy away from such discourse because it clearly distracts from the message of the cross. And this is precisely why we see such economy of words—and there they crucified Him. The gospel writers want the readers to focus on the following: “What was this for and what does it mean?”
Every Easter I find that I have many opportunities to engage those in my sphere of influence about the meaning of Good Friday and Easter. Largely, the culture in which I move is clueless about these events. Easter weekend we remember the death of the Lord Jesus Christ as He accomplished the perfect and finished (never to be repeated) work of atonement for all who would trust in Him alone. That His sacrifice was sufficient was confirmed by His bodily resurrection from the dead.
The Wages of Sin
We must never run past the horrors of Calvary in our haste to get to Easter. Good Friday is all about our sin nature. God’s law says that sin requires the death penalty (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23). Contemporary culture, and even the church, has marginalized sin. We make our own definition of sin. In Scripture, sin is anything short of the glory of God. Sin is missing the target; sin is choosing the wrong target. Above all, at its core, sin is an offense against an infinitely holy God. We do not know how great evil is until we see it in light of God’s holy law. P.T. Forsyth has accurately diagnosed our condition: “We are not merely stray sheep or wandering prodigals, we are rebels taken with weapons in our hands.”
Our view of sin will clearly shape our view of salvation. John Stott reminds us that the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man. Sin is no peripheral issue as far as salvation is concerned; it is the issue. The distinctive element of the Christian message is the power of Jesus Christ to forgive and conquer sin. Not until we have learned of our need to get right with God, and of our inability to do so by any effort of our own, can we come to know the Christ who saves us from sin.
Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all. Sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. We never know what sin really is until we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of His total demand on our lives (James 2:10-11; 1 John 3:4). Conviction of sin is an awareness of a wrong relationship with God.
In his work entitled, “A Breviary of Sin”, Cornelius Plantinga states, “To speak of grace without sin is to trivialize the cross of Jesus Christ and therefore to cheapen the grace of God that always comes to us with blood on it. What had we thought the ripping and writhing on Golgotha were all about? In short, for the Christian church (even in its popular seeker services) to ignore, euphemize or otherwise mute the lethal reality of sin is to cut the nerve of the Gospel. For the sober truth is that without sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting.”
Engaging our Culture About The Meaning of Easter
How do we engage our culture about the true meaning of Easter? Paul speaks with great clarity in his Romans letter about the fallen nature of man. Yet, without compromising truth, he finds a way to engage the men of Athens in Acts 17 by building bridges. He knows where to start in a culture that has no concept of the living God. We need to follow the example of Paul.
He starts at the beginning. God is in charge of history and geography. He is transcendent. He neither dwells in houses built by human hands, nor is He an object fashioned from gold or silver. He is a God who is seeking a relationship with His creation. In other words, though He is transcendent He is imminent. And He is merciful, and righteous. He commands repentance, and He will one day judge the world.
This concept of final judgment is unpalatable to modern man. Paul knew what he was up against and made it clear to his culture that man was created by God, is accountable to God, and will face God. And he does this in a tone that keeps his audience engaged.
When we share the hope we have in Jesus—who died for our sins and rose triumphantly—we must make it clear that we, too, were in rebellion to a holy God. We must know our audience—truth has indeed stumbled in the public square and there is little we may agree upon. But most will agree that the world is broken. The culture will say that the problem in this broken world lies outside of us, and the solution lies within us.
The Bible says just the opposite—the problem is inside of us and the solution is outside of us. It reminds us that our brokenness is due to our alienation from God who made us. And this alienation lies at the root of all that is wrong. But the Bible also gives us the answer because it is the amazing story of God re-making His broken world. It has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Jesus.
I am praying that this approach will be helpful in engaging our culture this Easter.