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Are We Missing The Real Point of Easter?

the real point of easter

I recently read an article in which theologian N.T. Wright was interviewed about the way he views Easter. Wright proposes that Christians, perhaps, are missing the real point of Easter… and after reading his thoughts, I’ve started to wonder if maybe he’s right (no pun intended!)

I think the critical thing is this: Most Christian theories of atonement have not really taken the four Gospels seriously at all.
They’ve tended to go for Paul and Hebrews and have put them into a different scheme because the four Gospels don’t appear to be addressing questions of the meaning of the cross in the way we wish they had done.
– N. T. Wright

The Common View of the Cross

I didn’t realize it until I read the article, but then I sat down to think about how the cross is portrayed in contemporary Christianity. I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to ask myself the question: “if I’m telling someone about Jesus and the cross, what do I focus on?”

As Wright also concludes, the ‘common view of the cross’ puts the focus on the idea that Jesus died on the cross because we humans are so full of sin that, in God’s eyes, we deserve to die. But, because God is love and all that, He sent Jesus to die in our place.

There’s nothing theologically wrong with that. It’s true. Humans sin. Anyone that pretends that they don’t is lying to themselves and fooling no one. And the Bible clearly tells us that:

23 For sin’s meager wages is death, but God’s lavish gift is life eternal, found in your union with our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One.

Romans 6:23 (The Passion Translation)

The cross is about salvation. We are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice. But if we limit the cross to the notion of Jesus taking the punishment that we deserved, suffering in our place, then we’re overlooking another aspect of the cross.

The Crucifixion Heralded a Revolution

There doesn’t seem anything particularly revolutionary about being beaten, whipped, mocked, spat on, and crucified. When I hear the word revolution, I think of uprising, of men (and women, but I don’t want to get into that particular theological quick sand!) proudly fighting for the causes that they believe in.

For all intents and purposes, Jesus went meekly to the cross. He didn’t fight. He didn’t defend himself. Heck, he even told Peter off for fighting and used some supernatural superglue to re-affix the ear that Peter cut from one of the soldiers in the garden of Gethsemane.

But if Wright is right (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist!) then the crucifixion was a revolution – not just any revolution but the biggest revolution in the history of the world.

When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple tore in two, removing forever the separation between man and God. As Wright says:

When you look at the crucifixion narratives in all four Gospels, it’s all about Jesus being enthroned as king.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have very different angles on things, but they all converge on this: When Jesus is crucified something happens, and the result is the powers that have locked up the world in corruption, decay and death are overthrown. And Jesus is, from now on, running the show—even though it doesn’t look like it because we have the wrong idea of what power is and how it works.

If we take the New Testament seriously, we ought to see that the crucifixion of Jesus is the means by which God’s Kingdom is actually launched on earth as in heaven—because the powers are defeated, and this new world comes to birth.
– N.T. Wright

The crucifixion was a revoloution

Ancient Expectations

The Jewish people didn’t recognize Jesus as their Messiah because they were looking for a revolutionary Messiah who was going to storm in and overthrow the powers and principalities that were controlling the world. In the first century, they were looking for someone to set them free from Roman oppression.

And Jesus did that. Just not in the way they were expecting.

The cross broke the chains of oppression that the enemy (Satan) had been using for centuries to enslave the whole of humanity. We know this. But at the same time, we don’t. Confused yet? Me too. Maybe that’s why we’re missing the real point of Easter.

We sing songs with lyrics like, “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain”. Really inspiring, hopeful lyrics, but not quite right. The chains are already broken. They broke on the cross at Calvary, when the revolution happened. You can’t break something that’s already broken.

Jesus broke the chains of death and sin

We’re already free, because the revolution happened 2,000 years ago. And while some may argue that Jesus didn’t defeat death till Resurrection Sunday, I’m going to make a (possibly controversial) argument that the revolution happened on the cross, and Resurrection Sunday was merely the moment when it became tangible to others.

On Resurrection Sunday, Jesus appeared to his disciples (and to a guy named Cleopas on the road to Erasmus), and that’s the point at which they could say, “look, Jesus has defeated death”.

I want you to think about that for a moment. Earlier, I pointed out that in Romans, Paul writes that the wages of sin is death. By that logic, sin = death. If death has been defeated (overthrown), then the result of sin has been cancelled out. That means that sin has been defeated, too. If sin has been defeated, then it has no power, cannot keep us in chains, we’re no longer enslaved by it.

Can Missing the Real Point of Easter Hold Us Back?

Yes, absolutely. If all we think about at Easter is that we’re terrible people because of our sin and we deserve to die, but aren’t we lucky because Jesus loves us and died for us, then we’re missing out on the humongous power of the cross. Our focus makes the cross about us. We say things like “Jesus died on the cross to save you,” when we’re talking to non-believers, and while that’s not wrong, it’s definitely emphasising the wrong point.

Imagine if we told it this way, instead:

Jesus Defeats Death!

On the cross, Jesus confronted evil once and for all, defeated death, and set everyone free from the power of sin in the world. He died to set us free from the chains of death, corruption, and decay of the devil, and bring the Kingdom of God to earth.

The Real point of Easter

Doesn’t this Jesus sound more powerful than the meek Jesus who suffered so that you don’t have to? Portraying the cross from this angle doesn’t detract from the sacrifice that Jesus made for mankind, but it does portray the true power of Jesus, and the real point of Easter.

In this portrayal, Jesus is akin to Superman, Batman, or any other superhero you might think of. That’s the kind of Jesus that inspires people, that gives people hope and confidence.

So why are we not focusing on Jesus the revolutionary leader who overcame death and kicked the devil off the throne? Why do we put so much focus on the idea of Jesus dying a horribly painful death so that people can go to heaven?

Where Does That Leave Us?

I don’t know when (or why) the focus shifted from Jesus the revolutionary to Jesus the personal savior, but what I do know is that we need to redress the situation. Reflecting on this has made me wonder if the reason why evangelism often seems so hard is that, like the first-century Jews, people aren’t looking for a suffering servant but a revolutionary Messiah who can overthrow their oppressors.

Is it possible that if we change the focus, more people may be willing to put their trust in Jesus or willingly follow Him onto the battlefield? Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow – but we’re responsible for the way that non-believers perceive Him and conveying the real point of Easter.

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