Easter weekend always represents a joyous period in most of our lives. Personally, I remember the thrill of having thousands of easter eggs to open and thousands more to find in the hunt as a youngster. Whilst as an adult, I look forward to the four-day bank holiday weekend as I seek to recharge my batteries in this everchanging work climate. But somewhere along the line, we’ve lost the real reason for the most important season in the Christian calendar.
I recently watched a sermon from the late R.C Sproul who spoke about how he always posed the same question to his Sunday School kids:
“Do you know what Christ did for you on the cross and why?”
It’s an important question to ask as many children can drift through Sunday school either disinterested with the scripture or taught a happy-go-lucky version of it. We tend to leave out the graphic details of the cross and resurrection and cover it up with child-friendly easter eggs and co.
Perhaps we do this to protect our children from the graphic nature of the cross. But this protection is far more detrimental than you might think!
Recently, I read the Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler. In the first chapter, Chandler describes a trip he had to a church where the youth testimonies seemed to follow a similar pattern:
“I have been to church since I was young. I didn’t understand the gospel. I left the church to experience the world. I felt empty and came back to truly understand who God was.”
Although it’s great that these young people came back to their faith, it does beg the question, why did these youths not understand the significance of Christ from an early age?
Chandler’s explanation? Kids aren’t being taught the explicit gospel. Instead, they’re being taught a watered-down version which positions them at the centre of their faith rather than God. Without saying it explicitly, some church leaders expect their youth (and other church members) to behave 100% of the time according to the will of God. The thought process goes as follows: “You’re a Christian. You should be better.” Such logic insinuates that we have the power to earn favour with God, which, when looked at in line with scripture can only be defined as heresy.
So let’s break this down further by applying two important pieces of scripture to our generic young person that leaves the church only to return after experiencing the world.
Picture the scene…
Our young person, let’s call him John, has been going to church all his life but not through his own volition.
He’s “always” just gone to church with his family. He’s been through Sunday school and the majority of his friends resides in church.
He’s taught that as a Christian he must love everyone he encounters, he must be a good person, and this is because someone called Christ died on a cross a long time ago for him and every believer.
As John enters his teens, he’s attracted by many different temptations that are offered not just in the world but in his church. Because John “identifies” as a Christian, he starts to beat himself up each time he gives in to temptation. He can’t understand why he continues to falter, he can’t understand why he can’t live up to what is expected of him as a Christian.
So after a long time of flirting with his temptations, he goes all in and finds his identity in the world; because at least in his the world, he can be his authentic self and not have to live up to a level of goodness.
Unfortunately for him, this proves not to be the case. The world, as enticing as it once was, provides many different challenges and pressures to our young person. He’s pushed to conform to certain viewpoints, pushed to follow the grain, pushed to live a life to impress others. He realises that the prince of the power of the air has a way of disguising the world as the most desirable present when in reality its interior reflects that of a Trojan Horse.
After experiencing both church and the world with no joy, our young person is not only lost but desperate. Fortunately for him, he meets a youth pastor who lends an ear...
John goes into detail about how we felt that he was not good enough to be a Christian because he was continually giving into temptation. He thought the world offered respite but the same feelings of inadequacy eventually reared their ugly head.
His general feeling? He was not good enough.
To his surprise, the youth pastor agreed. “You are not good enough…”
“But that’s okay. Christ died on the cross of calvary for you.”
John confused, responds “Yeah He did die for me, but look at me, I can’t live for him. I can’t abstain from sexual sin, I can’t stop myself from anger”
Realising that there was a fundamental flaw in his theology, the youth pastor asks him
“John, why do you believe that people go to heaven?”
John replies “People go to heaven because they are good. And do good works for Him.”
To his shock, the youth pastor tells him “No John. People are inherently bad.”
He shows John Romans 3:23-24
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
He corrects John by saying “Your salvation is dependent on whether you believe Christ died on the cross bearing your sins in exchange for His life.”
John remains silent.
“As Christians, we like to think that other sins are greater than others. For example, we criminalise the sin of homosexuality more than that of anger. In our eyes, we may see it like that. But our view doesn’t matter. God sees our sin all the same. And we ALL fall short of His glory.”
The youth pastor then points to Matthew 5:27-28
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
“See, even looking at another woman is a sin. His standard is so high John. We all fall short of His requirements. I and your old pastors included.”
He then points out Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The youth pastor then explains the power of the cross in immense detail. First telling John, that because of the fall of man, we had become unable to communicate with God. That’s until God, without needing to, but because He loved us, gave His only son to bear the penalty of our sins so that we may have eternal life. Thus, the only way to communicate with God is through His son Jesus Christ.
All this time, John had thought that he had to live a “good” life to get to heaven. Yet the youth pastor was telling him that no person, by themselves, is inherently good. As he delved deeper into the scriptures given to him by the youth pastor, he started to realise that his salvation was a gift from God, rather than anything of his own doing. John even found “bad” people in the scripture such as Zacchaeus being assured of his salvation because of his faith in Christ.
So back to our question posed by Sproul:
“Do you know what Christ did for you on the cross and why?”
By dying on the cross, Christ beared our past, present and future sins on the cross so that we may be righteous in the eyes of God and thus have our salvation. He had to do this because of the fall of man and the inheritance of sin. Despite falling way short of His standards, God loved us so much that He gave His only, sinless son so that we may be reconvened with Him. We do not deserve such grace, hence our salvation being described as a gift.
Although we are a significant part of the story, we need to remember that we are not the heroes of it. In fact, we’re both the villains (the fall of man) and the rescued. In short, the Bible’s main theme is God demonstrating His great love for us through giving His only son to make up for our sins.
So as we celebrate Easter this Sunday surrounded by easter eggs and listening to our regular Easter Sunday service, let’s not forget the significance of the Cross. Let’s remember that even our best devotionals or kindest acts fall short of His standards. Let's remember that without the sinless Christ bearing our sins on the cross and resurrecting three days later; we would have no salvation. Salvation is not of our doing, and in these tough times that we all face, take heart and remember that the main battle has already been won on the cross of Cavlary.