Why I need Easter

I’m not the kind of guy who gets excited about celebrating holidays or setting special days aside.

But the truth is that I need Easter.

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

I was born with a mind already shaped to believe that my behavior is what will make me acceptable to God. It’s not hard to think this way. The culture around me promotes it. Do all the right things and be a decent person, and God will be happy with you.

But how much is enough? God’s law is too high a standard. How can I love him with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself? That would take a zealot—one of those Christians who are championed in little paperback biographies, spiritual giants whose stories I have no hope of matching.

I can’t become one of these radical Christians. I don’t know how. I haven’t traveled overseas and adopted dozens of orphans or preached the gospel to villages or spent three hours a day in prayer or given away all that I own. I don’t have the will to force myself into anything more than a marginal level of devotion today.

I feel deadened by failure. The law has killed me. And so I die to the law. There is no hope here, only inadequacy and guilt. I am repenting not only of my sin, but also of my righteousness.

This is exactly the way God planned it. This is how he cuts me off from my self-sufficiency and teaches me to live in his strength.

I have been crucified with Christ.

It’s not enough to be given Christ as an example. So many popular teachers will say that this is all he came to be. Anyone who says that is a slave merchant, trying to sell me into bondage to the law again—as though I could match Jesus!

No, I am not called to match Jesus. I have been joined to him. When God looked at him 2,000 years ago, he saw me. He saw my endless sin and my pathetic self-righteousness. And he dashed the fury of his wrath against Jesus until not a drop was left over for me to drink. I have been crucified, but not I—Christ in my place.

On that cross, Jesus obeyed his Father and became obedient even to death. There was never a better man, because he is the Son of Man, the man who is God. On the cross he fulfilled all righteousness: love for God and love for man. And because I am joined to Christ, I was there too. I have been crucified with Christ. When God looks at me, he sees the righteousness of Jesus. I look like him.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Most people would say that I am fairly decent and polite. I know better because I see the inside of the costume. It is frayed, torn, and filthy with sin.

The good news is that I don’t need it any more. I don’t need to force myself to be one of these “radical Christians.” I don’t need to feel depressed because I can’t measure up. That’s the way a self-righteous person thinks. Jesus wants me to look at him, at his righteousness, and know that it is mine. It is mine because he is mine, because he is alive, because he is risen from the dead.

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I live because the Son of God lives. I am joined to him.

If he were still dead, I would still be dead. If he were still dead, I would have no one to trust. If he were still dead, I would have no proof that God loves me.

But he is alive.

It’s true that my mindset is that of a dead man. Even now, I feel the shame of knowing that I haven’t prayed enough, that I haven’t shown enough kindness to others, that I haven’t given enough of my money away, that I haven’t been courageous enough to tell others about Jesus Christ. I need to do more, more, more.

That’s how a dead man thinks. You can scarcely call it “life” to be crippled with doubts and fears like that.

The grim reality is that nothing is ever enough. I can never be radical enough. I don’t have what it takes. That’s why I live by faith in the Son of God. I trust him. I trust that he loves me. I trust that when he gave himself for me, it was enough to satisfy the Father’s need for holiness. I trust that he is not merely the Father but now my Father.

It’s so hard to think this way. So hard. It is not intuitive. It doesn’t make sense. I usually don’t feel that it’s true. That’s why I have to trust Jesus on this one.

You see, Jesus is alive. And that means that he hasn’t left me but is still joined to me. And that means that when God sees me, he will always see Jesus. And he really loves Jesus.

I haven’t been given a system of principles and laws to trust in. I’ve been given a person—Jesus Christ. And this person is alive and victorious and interceding on my behalf, at this very minute, before the throne of the Almighty God.

I need Jesus.

That is why I need Easter.

May the Holy Spirit open your eyes this Easter to see your need for Jesus Christ. May you know that when you believe in him, you are joined to him and never let go.

Scripture taken from Galatians 2:19–20.

Jesus has come to condemn external religion, so you must rely on God (Mark 11:12–25)

Here is a short list of people whom Jesus is going to offend today:

  • Religious people
  • Businessmen
  • Salesmen
  • Merchants
  • Treehuggers

The guy never bothered to read Dale Carnegie’s book, did he?

It’s been a while since we’ve seen one of these “sandwich stories” that Mark includes in his account of Jesus’ life. He starts with Story A, then interrupts it with Story B, then concludes by finishing Story A. The interrupting story (Story B) helps you and me understand what is going on in Story A.

Here, Story A begins with Jesus walking to Jerusalem. Apparently, he missed his breakfast that morning, so he’s hungry. He sees a leafy fig tree in the distance, walks up to it, finds no figs to eat, and curses it. If that seems a little arbitrary and vindictive, Mark only makes the problem worse; he explains that the reason Jesus found no figs on the tree is that “it was not the season for figs.”

So what’s the deal here? Did Jesus wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?

We quickly find the answer when Mark shifts to Story B: the “cleansing” of the temple. Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and begins clearing out all the salesmen and moneychangers who have set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles, which is where non-Jewish people can enter to pray to God. He also prevents people from using this Court as a shortcut when carrying things from one side of the city to the other. He thunders, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of robbers.’” He’s quoting to them a couple of passages from the Old Testament prophets. The first is from Isaiah 56:7, where God invites foreigners to worship him at the temple. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day are permitting salesmen to interfere with this purpose of the temple, just so they can make a quick buck. That’s one reason why Jesus is quoting the second passage of scripture. It’s from Jeremiah 7:11.

Now, in the context of Jeremiah 7, the Lord God was condemning the people of Israel for their unjust and idolatrous behavior. They were convinced that they were safe from punishment because they had the temple with them; they believed that their religious system would protect them from harm. They were viewing the temple the way criminals view their hideout. But the Lord threatened to destroy the temple as the holy city of Shiloh had been destroyed. And now Jesus is implying a similar threat to the religious leaders of his day, who think that their external religion will cover up the wickedness inside their hearts.

Needless to say, Jesus doesn’t make a lot of friends today. Mark tells us that “the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him.” Why? “They feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” Jesus is speaking with divine authority, and it’s mesmerizing the people who hear it. Of course, the words of God always threaten those who rely on the power structures of this present world. If Jesus had come to modern-day America, we would have killed him, too.

Now, we get back to Story A and find out that the fig tree has withered. Aha! we realize. The fig tree symbolizes the temple establishment. Jesus is cursing those who are abusing the temple as a means to financial gain and as a religious hideout for their crooked hearts. Just as the fig tree has “withered away to its roots,” so the temple will be destroyed, so that “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2).

But the temple was the place where God came down and lived with his people. If the temple and its crooked leaders are to be done away with, will Jesus’ disciples be cut off from God? No! Remember, the fig tree withered at Jesus’ words. God still has power and is still eager to hear the prayers of his people. “Have faith in God!” Jesus encourages them. “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”

Is Jesus giving us a blank check to get whatever we want when we pray? No, this is clearly contradicted by other biblical teaching (e.g. James 4:3). What Jesus is doing is using hyperbole to encourage you and me. He knows that it’s easy to think that God is far away and doesn’t care about us. Without a physical building like the massive Jerusalem temple, it’s hard to believe that God is near. So he reminds us that God is eager to do great things for us. Most amazing of all, he can forgive the sins you’ve committed against him—grievous though they are—as long as you are forgiving others (v 25). He is absolutely worth your trust.

You belong to one of two camps. Perhaps you are trusting in a religious system or some other man-made scheme to justify yourself before God. You think that it will protect you from his wrath. But he will curse your external religion and your self-righteousness. Your stubborn resistance against him will give him no choice but to destroy you.

Or perhaps you trust in God to protect you and to forgive you for your rebellion against him. Then you will find that he will do impossible things for you. He will bend heaven and earth to bring you close to him.

Jesus loves the wrong people (Mark 2:13–17)

One of the great joys of the Internet is the ability to access endless reams of useless information, such as an incredible list of Yogi Berra quotes. Of course, some of them are real, and some are fake, so you can’t believe everything you read. As Yogi himself put it, “I didn’t say everything I said.”

If you’re still reading this and haven’t yet fluttered off to Google in search of more Yogiisms, I really appreciate it.

One of the classic Yogi quotes is this gem: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Well, we all know that vague, unsettling feeling that somehow we’ve been here or done this before. That sense of déjà vu is what we should be getting when we read Mark 2:13–17. Here, we find Jesus passing alongside the Sea of Galilee. He sees a man hard at work and tells him, “Follow me.” The man drops what he’s doing and immediately follows Jesus.

Sound familiar? That’s how Jesus called his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James, and John. When he did it the first time, nobody really minded. Sure, it was a little odd for a rabbi to seek out his followers and not vice versa. And it was a little odd for a rabbi to choose grown men already devoted to a particular line of work. However, nobody seemed too offended by it. Maybe the people of Capernaum were proud that this sensational teacher had hand-picked some of their own to be his followers.

As proud as they were then, they sure must be upset now. This time, Jesus has chosen a man named Levi—a tax collector. Now, in American culture, nobody is really a fan of tax collectors. In fact, a man made headlines recently for crashing a small airplane into an IRS office building in Austin, Texas. Most people, however, won’t get too mad at someone for being an IRS agent.

The difference between American tax collectors in the present day and Jewish tax collectors in the first century was the degree of corruption. Most IRS employees are just doing their job. However, tax collectors in Jesus’ time were well-known for overcharging, for skimming off the top, for essentially running a crime syndicate. Worse yet, they worked for the hated Roman oppressors; most Jews viewed them not only as thieves but as traitors. They were treated as outcasts from Jewish society; anyone who associated with them was considered to be defiled. So naturally, the only companions of a tax collector were prostitutes and other “sinners” who were fellow outcasts. Jesus’ countrymen probably would have loathed tax collectors and their ilk to the same degree that we loathe inner-city gang members.

So, of course, Jesus picks one of these scoundrels to follow him. Then he throws a party and invites all of Levi’s disgusting friends.

The religious teachers, who serve as the conscience of the community, are not happy. They already got ticked off the other day because Jesus claimed to have authority to forgive sins, which is something only God can do. Now, this man—who had seemed so much like the Messiah!—is not behaving like even a respectable Jew ought to behave. Something must be done about this rogue teacher. They corner a few of his disciples and question them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” You can almost hear the contempt dripping from their mouths. And who can blame them? These sinners are absolutely rotten; they’ve gotten rich by cheating and stealing money from poor villagers, making a lot of people in Capernaum utterly miserable. These are sick people whom Jesus is treating like friends.

Jesus hears that the religious leaders are upset at him. Their attitude bothers him so much that he steps outside the house to confront them. He doesn’t apologize for what he’s doing; and he certainly doesn’t try to convince them that deep down inside, these tax collectors and sinners are basically good people. They aren’t. And that’s the point. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” Jesus explains. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus has come for one group of people: sinners. Broken people. Scum of the earth. If you’re not in that category, then Jesus isn’t really interested in you. If you do fit that description, then Jesus wants you to drop your old way of life, trust him, and follow him. He isn’t ashamed to be seen with you. Your sin is not holding him back from asking you to be with him; it’s the very reason why he’s calling you. Jesus is in the business of rescuing sinners. If you’re a sinner, this is really, really good news.

If you’re not a sinner, then this is really, really offensive news. It means that Jesus doesn’t want to be around you. It means that Jesus isn’t interested in calling you to follow him. It means that Jesus is going to pass you by and call people that disgust you. He will love them, he will throw a party for them, and you’ll be left outside—cynical, bitter, and fuming.

Do you want to know Jesus and understand his love? Open your eyes and see the truth: you are a sinner. You are dirty, rotten, revolting, and sick. Then you’ll see that Jesus has come for you.