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The Easter Message Applied

What makes for a memorable event in our experience? Is it not when we have some event or experience occur to us that is life transforming? What makes the memory endure is that it changes me in some way! That is exactly what the proclaimers of the gospel expected to happen when they told the story of the Easter events. They believed that it would change lives. The apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). For this reason, they applied the message of Easter to their hearers in a number of different ways. So how did they expect it to change lives?

By Forgiveness of sins

It is striking that every early sermon preached by the apostles all ended with the summons to receive the forgiveness of sins. Peter said to his hearers at Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38); again, after the healing of lame man, he spoke to the crowd that assembled, “Repent therefore and turn again that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Paul at Antioch, proclaimed that Christ lived, died and rose again, and then said, “Let it be known to you that though this man, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38). These all recognized a deep need in the human spirit and that was for forgiveness. John Stott cites a medical doctor in charge of a mental hospital in some of his writing who declared, “I could dismiss half my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of forgiveness” (Contemporary Christian, 81).

Until the occurrence of the Easter events, this human dilemma could only find a temporary reprieve. That is all that the OT sacrificial system could offer. But with the death and resurrection of Jesus, sin's punishment is fully paid. Of that work of the Lord Jesus on Calvary, Peter declared, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24) and Paul said that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19). Easter is about Jesus making a full and complete atonement for sin so that we could be forgiven from all of the judgment which we rightly deserved; the resurrection is God's declaration that he had received that atonement for our sins (Heb 10:12). Because of that atonement, we can be restored to right relationship with God, just as he had intended from the beginning of creation. Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians that once they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you . .. have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13). That makes us fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

By Liberation from the Power of Sin

The early proclamation of the Easter message also included the good news that sin's power in our lives was broken. That was good news because as sinners we were in bondage to sin as well as under the judgment of sin. But as Paul reminded his hearers, the application of the Easter message included the wonderful truth that “we were freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-9). This truth is announced in Rom 6 where Paul declared that in union with Christ we too have died to sin so therefore it can no longer rule over us; “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we could no longer be enslaved to sin.. . . . Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions . . . . sin will have no dominion over you” (Rom 6:6, 12, 14). The writer of Hebrews says, that “through death, [Jesus] destroy[ed] him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb 2:15). This is indeed life changing news because, as we so often demonstrate, we lack the ability in ourselves to overcome sin's habits in our lives. Now the good news is that through Jesus' death and resurrection, we are set free from sin's tyranny!

By Empowerment for Holy Living

Another notable element of the application of the Easter message was that the believer in Jesus was given the power for holy living. The message of the apostles post Pentecost is that because of Jesus' death and resurrection, he has given us his Spirit. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter said that all those who repent and believe will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the indwelling third person of the Godhead who enables us to live holy lives. In Rom 6, Paul says that we are freed from the tyranny of sin so that we can be servants of righteousness. The desire to do good and the power to do it is God's good gift to us as we submit to the indwelling Spirit (Eph 5:20) and “walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 20). Hence the death and resurrection of Jesus are the foundations for us to have a life set free for obedience to God. Paul summarizes this in Titus when he declared, “The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us to . . . live self controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Tit 2:11-12). So what we cannot naturally do as unregenerate sinners, God produces in us by his Spirit who is the gift of the risen Lord to his people.

By the Gift of a Living Hope

The apostles also talked about how the Easter message opens up a glorious future for believers. Paul in 1 Cor 15 says that because Christ has been raised, we also shall be raised; “Christ is the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to him” (1 Cor 15:23); we must put on the imperishable so that we can participate eternally in that which is immortal. He goes on to say that is what the resurrection of Jesus guarantees: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor 15:56). To the Thessalonians, Paul said that “God has not destined us for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess 5:9-10). Paul urged Titus to proclaim to the church he pastored that the grace of God which had appeared to them, led them to “wait for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13). Likewise Peter also insisted that we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He continued by noting that though it is a delayed hope, it is certain for all who know the redeeming work of Jesus. That certain hope of a glorious future matters for the present, enabling our endurance through this vale of tears.

Conclusion

The Easter message proclaimed by the apostles did indeed bring transformation in many areas

  • “Thus the resurrection of Jesus assures us of God's forgiveness, power and ultimate triumph. It enables us to face our past (however much reason we have to be ashamed of it), confident of God's forgiveness through him who died for our sins and was raised; to face our present (however strong our temptations and heavy our responsibilities) confident of the sufficiency of God's power; and to face our future (however uncertain it may be) confident of God's final triumph of which the resurrection is the pledge. The resurrection, precisely because it was a decisive, public, visible act of God , within the natural order, brings us firm assurance in an otherwise insecure world” (John Stott, Contemporary Christian, 85)

Embracing the Easter message will forever change us and therefore will always be most memorable to us! May God make each of us “living epistles” of the Easter message as we work out the salvation he has so graciously worked for us