A RISEN SAVIOR, OR THE EASTER BUNNY? (April 2005)



    I woke up this morning, sat in bed drinking my coffee and listening to the neighbor’s kids looking for Easter Eggs. And I just felt sad. Maybe it was because I was feeling guilty about skipping out on the Sunrise Service at Church. I tend to think it is because the true meaning of Easter has been lost on so many families.  To be honest I never understood the Easter Bunny thing. Even as a child, mention of the Easter Bunny called up images of Buggs Bunny.  I half expected one of those eggs to explode. You can imagine my relief when I found out there was no Easter Bunny.



true meaning of Easter

    Well it is about the resurrection of Christ, but there is so much more to the story. I believe it starts with Judas... 

Luke 22:1-5  Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.
2 And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people.
3 Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.
4 And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.
5 And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.
6 And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude.


    Now we are not told why Judas did this, there is a lot of speculation and talk of pre destination. People will say that Judas didn’t have a choice in the matter; this was his role in history.  Christ needed his betrayal in order to fulfill his purpose. I think that Jesus would have gladly found a way to fulfill his purpose without the betrayal of Judas.  I think Judas’s problem was the same as Peters. Pride and self-reliance, I think Peter just had a little more faith.

    I doubt that Judas believed for one second that Jesus would allow anyone to nail him to a cross. He, like the rest of the disciples still thought that Jesus was here to set up an Earthly kingdom. I’m sure he was convinced that if he put Jesus in a corner then he would have to reveal to the world who he truly was. He would drive out the Romans and the Jews would finally have what they were waiting for.  Please don’t think that I am trying to excuse him, I’m not. He walked with Jesus for three years. He saw and heard everything that all the other disciples saw and heard. This just seems to me the most likely explanation for why he did what he did. It also seems to explain his reaction when he realized his mistake.

Matthew 27:3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.


    Judas didn’t see what he had done until it was evident that the priests were going to get what they wanted.  Jesus, knowing all of this gathers his disciples together to celebrate the Passover with them.  Can you imagine the pain he must have felt, knowing Judas intentions? Knowing that they would all scatter when he was arrested and that Peter who would at least follow at a distance would so vehemently deny even knowing who he was.

Matthew 26:31 Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
32 But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.
33 Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
34 Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
35 Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.


    I am sure Peter meant this when he said it. Remember Peter had the same problem that Judas had. He was absolutely confident in his own ability. Maybe Peter had a little more faith in Jesus then Judas, but until he was willing to accept Jesus strength in place of his own, he would fall every time. I think Luke brings this out very clearly.

Luke 22:31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
33 And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.
34 And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.


    Jesus, even when facing his worst trial, was thinking of Peter and what it would take to finally make him into the man Jesus knew he could be. Peter was almost there but he would need the humbling experience of denying Christ for his total conversion. 

At this point they have come to Gethsemane. Jesus asks most of the disciples to wait, taking Peter, James and John with him to pray. 

Matthew 26:38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
43 And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.


    Can you just hear the disappointment in his voice? Especially with Peter;  What?  Could ye not watch with me one hour? With everything that had already gone on that night you would think that they might have been a little more alert. Jesus had revealed that one of their number would betray him. He had come right out and said that he would be killed and they would run like frightened sheep. Something which they all claimed would never happen. They couldn’t have missed the exchange between Jesus and Judas or the fact that Judas was now missing. Yet here they are asleep. In his hour of need, they sleep.  

    Now Judas comes back into the picture with the Temple guards. Kisses him and calls him Master. This was the pre arranged signal. The man Judas kissed would be Jesus, (like the guards didn’t already know who he was). The guards bind him and drag him off to the High Priests.  Annas and Caiaphas took turns questioning him and mocking him which was all they could really do since only the Romans had any real authority.  We know that Peter followed Jesus from the garden to the home of the High Priest where he tried to blend in with the crowd.  Of course it didn’t work, after all as followers of Christ we are not meant to blend into the crowd.

Matthew 26:69  Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also was with Jesus of Galilee.
70 But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
71 And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
72 And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.
73 And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee.
74 Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.


    As soon as Peter said it the third time and the rooster crowed, that must have been like a spike being driven into his heart. 

    From the High Priest, Jesus is sent to Pilate who, to his credit, does try to get around condemning Jesus to death.  After questioning Jesus he can’t find a good reason to crucify him. The city was crowded for the Passover, the people were screaming for his blood, and the last thing that Pilate needed was a riot. I’m sure that would not have gone over well in Rome. So he took the easy way out and handed Jesus over to the Priest to be crucified.  Pilate did get in his licks though. What he does next tells me he knew he was being used by the Priest. He didn’t have the backbone to stop it, but he did get in at least one shot.

John 19:19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.
22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.


    This was not to mock Jesus but to mock the Priest. Everyone leaving the city early to prepare for the Sabbath would read that sign. Many of them had been in the city for the Triumphal Entry and had hailed him as a King. That sign was meant to undermine the Priest’s authority with the people. 

The Romans nailed Jesus to a cross, while the Priests watched. 

The Romans cast lots for his garments, while the Priest watched.  

It’s hard to imagine that the Priest never read the Psalms.

Psalms 22:16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.


Maybe they just didn’t like being called dogs.

    They tormented him, suggesting that if he truly was the Son of God he should save himself and come down from the cross. While our salvation depends on Jesus staying on that cross, I would give anything to see the look on their face if Jesus had come down. The most amazing thing is that if some of these Priests saw the truth later and repented, even they had access to the same salvation you and I hold so dear.

Even on the cross Jesus ministry went on.

Luke 23:39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in 
paradise


    Jesus died three hours later. He died, I believe due to separation from God. Separation caused by the sins of the world which he took on to himself. You and I killed him; our sins were part of that load. He died that you might live; will you let his death be in vain?

    Jesus body was buried in a new tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. The High Priest and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked him to set a watch lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.  Personally I think the tearing of the veil at Christ death had them more then a little worried. Posting guards didn’t work. 

Matthew 28:1 In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher.
2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.


    I love the image this portrays. Can’t you just see the angel sitting on the stone, maybe cleaning his finger nails, waiting for the women? The guards lying on the ground completely helpless. Can you hear him telling the women that Jesus is not here he is risen, go tell the disciples? 

This is the true meaning of Easter. He is risen!  Go and tell everyone! That is our charge as Christians. 

    We shouldn’t be teaching our children about the Easter Bunny and sending them on egg hunts. We should have the courage to step away from the world and teach our children about the Risen Savior. Christ died for us. He died so that our sins could be forgiven. He died and was risen so that we, thru him could have victory over death. Are we, like Peter going to deny him year after year?

    This year, without really thinking about it, my wife and I did not get the kids any candy or stuffed animals or baskets. There was no egg hunt or talk of an Easter bunny. It wasn’t planned or talked about in advance. It was one of those rare occasions when my wife and I were thinking the same thing without having to communicate it to each other.  What we did do with the kids today was to sit down with them and talk about the real meaning of Easter. We have committed to doing that and only that from now on. 

    Will you join us and boot the Easter bunny out of your home next year? Isn’t the story of a Risen Savoir much better then a big bunny and a chocolate egg?

 

In Christ, E.D.Smith

 

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