Easter, the day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, can be confusing. For some, the meaning of Easter is lost among the chocolate bunnies and colorful eggs. It’s just another cultural holiday, an empty shell of an egg that was once filled with religious meaning. For others, it might still be a religious holiday, but the religious significance might be lost in the shuffle of life. For still others, the idea of the Son of God dying on a cross for sins seems barbaric, maybe even a form of divine child-abuse! What’s going on in the religious meaning of Easter?
I won’t discuss any of the cultural baggage, or backgrounds, of the Easter holiday here. I’ve addressed the claims of some that the story of Jesus’ resurrection was influenced by other pagan stories of dying-and-rising gods in another short article. Here, I just want to share one of the best explanations about the nature of love and sacrifice that I’ve come across. It’s from Tim Keller and his book on the Gospel of Mark:
“Jesus Christ came not to be served, but to die, to give his life [see Mark 10:45]. That sets him apart from the founder of every other major religion. Their purpose was to live and be an example; Jesus’s purpose was to die and be a sacrifice” (Jesus the King, 153).
But why? Why did Jesus have to die? Keller asks: “If God is really a loving God, why doesn’t he just forgive everybody? Why did Jesus have to go through suffering into death? Why did he have to be a ransom?” He continues:
Here’s the beginning of an answer: Jesus didn’t have to die despite God’s love; he had to die because of God’s love. And it had to be this way because all life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice.
Think about it. If you love a person whose life is all put together and has no major needs, it costs you nothing. It’s delightful … But if you ever try to love somebody who has needs, someone who is in trouble or who is persecuted or emotionally wounded, it’s going to cost you. You can’t love them without taking a hit yourself. A transfer of some kind is required, so that somehow their troubles, their problems, transfer to you.
There are a lot of wounded people out there. They are emotionally sinking, they’re hurting, and they desperately need to be loved. And when they are with you, you want to look at your watch and make a graceful exit, because listening to them with all their problems can be grueling. It can be exhausting to be a friend to an emotionally damaged person. The only way they’re going to start filling up emotionally is if somebody loves them, and the only way to love is to let yourself be emotionally drained. Some of your fullness is going to have to go into them, and you have to empty out to some degree. If you hold on to your emotional comfort and simply avoid those people, they will sink. The only way to love them is through substitutionary sacrifice…
All real, life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice…
Therefore it makes sense that a God who is more loving than you and I, a God who comes into the world to deal with the ultimate evil, the ultimate sin, would have to make a substitutionary sacrifice. Even we flawed human beings know that you can’t just overlook evil. It can’t be dealt with, removed, or healed just by saying, “Forget it.” It must be paid for, and dealing with it is costly. How much more should we expect that God could not just shrug off evil? The debt had to be paid. But he was so incredibly loving that he was willing to die in order to do it himself…
…The only way that Jesus could redeem us was to give his life as a ransom. God couldn’t just say, “I forgive everybody.” In the creation, God could say, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God could say, “Let there be vegetation,” and there was vegetation. God could say, “Let there be sun, moon, stars,” and there were sun, moon, and stars (Genesis 1). But he couldn’t just say, “Let there be forgiveness.” That’s simply not the way forgiveness works.
God created the world in an instant, and it was a beautiful process. He re-created the world on the cross–and it was a horrible process. That’s how it works. Love that really changes things and redeems things is always a substitutionary sacrifice (Jesus the King, 153-158).
Although much more could be said, it’s helpful to remember the true nature of love on this Easter. All true love is sacrificial. All true love is redemptive. In the death of Jesus Christ, we see the ultimate example of true love. In his resurrection, we have hope that love does truly conquer all, and that his redemptive love can heal our wounds, and fill our emptiness. The tomb of Jesus is empty–but our hearts and lives can be full of his sacrificial and redemptive love.
(HT: marked, for posting the quotes from Keller)