Human beings have a fundamental problem. It is a problem some acknowledge and some do not. It is the sinful nature we all have that tends to resist what God wants in our lives. It is one thing to acknowledge the existence of evil in the world, but another thing altogether to face up to evil in your own heart. God led the ancient nation of Israel in a covenant governed under the Law of Moses. There were elaborate procedures for atoning for sin and dealing with what was called “uncleanness.” Reading about all this in Leviticus you think to yourself, “How did they do all this?” It would have been a tough thing to live by. I think the law taught the Israelites about the pervasive nature of sin and how it affects everything we think and do. There are certain important things in Old Testament times that were teaching about atonement and sacrifice for sin, things that point to what Jesus was to do one day. One of these important lessons was the story of Abraham being told to sacrifice his only son. God asked Abraham to do a very tough thing as a test and when it came time to do it, God stopped him and provided a substitute sacrifice. But it raises the issue of how is the life of a ram equal to the life of a man? It isn’t equal, but it was a lesson that God would provide a solution for sin. Another lesson on atonement was an annual practice by the ancient Israelites. It was part of the special annual sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. After other steps were taken to deal with the priests own sins, there was a practice of taking two young goats, sacrificing one and setting the other one free far away in the wilderness. The blood of the sacrificed one was used to ceremonially “cleanse” the altar. The priest put his hands on the other goat’s head and figuratively placed all the sins of the Israelites on that goat, the one that came to be called the scapegoat, and then that goat was taken far away and set free. This teaches the lesson of one individual’s sin being treated as transferred to another and of sin being put away.
These both bear similarities to what Jesus did in dying for the sins of the world. Like Abraham almost had to do, God gave the life of his only Son. Like the scapegoat, the “spotless” sinless one had our sins laid on him and he was put away as if he was guilty. Imagine being guilty of a crime in which the penalty is death, but after the judge renders a verdict, the judge gets down off the bench and turns himself in to take the penalty for the accused! Then the accused is allowed to go free. We are the accused and Jesus took our penalty. How can Jesus death be a substitute for the sins of the world? It is because he is both fully God and fully human. Because he is a sinless human, he can die for humans, the just for the unjust. Because he is God, his life is valuable enough to pay the price. Also because Jesus was given all authority in heaven and Earth by God the Father, he had authority to determine his own death. In John 10:18 (NIV) Jesus said this about his life and death, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Jesus’ life and ministry from a worldly natural perspective could appear to be a failure. Jesus was very popular with the masses and he did great miracles. The people of Israel wanted to make him King but he never pursued any political power or economic gain. In the end he was rejected, largely because the Jewish leaders rejected who He was. He was hated in the end enough that the crowds wanted a murderer set free instead of Jesus! Pilate, who was no softy, wanted to release Jesus but he gave in to the pressure from the Jews. Jesus, as the Old Testament said he would do, did not even try to defend himself when he was being tried. Jesus allowed his ministry and his life to end in being rejected by his people and then being crucified like a criminal. It appeared to the disciples and perhaps to the Jewish leaders that the whole thing would have been over after Jesus died. The Jewish leaders had seen other controversial leaders come and go and be forgotten. They may have thought Jesus would have just been another forgotten movement.
But death could not hold Jesus. The solution was for Jesus to go through the suffering first to make atonement, then much later in history He will return to reign as King of the world. Jesus did not give in to Satan’s temptations in life and Satan did not prevent Jesus from his mission. Even though the disciples had trouble understanding and believing what Jesus told them about his death and resurrection. Even though there was a traitor among Jesus twelve disciples, and even though Peter denied that he knew Jesus. None of these things stopped God’s plan. Jesus’ death also did not stop God’s plan, but became a key part of it. When Jesus was on the cross people mocked him because it looked like a defeat. But what was physically like a defeat was spiritually a victory. God’s solution to man’s problem is not intuitive for fallen humans to understand. The resurrection authenticates Jesus as being both God and Man, and proved everything he said about himself to be true.
Because Jesus rose from the dead, it also means he is alive and able today to save those who believe in him. The Jewish leaders could only deal with his resurrection by making up lies and then ignoring the issue. Jesus body was not dumped into a mass grave with other criminals, as some have alleged. That would have made it very easy to refute the Apostles and others who claimed to see him risen from the dead. He appeared to many people over a 40 day period. Jesus also gave believers hope when he said he would be with us always and when he said he was going to prepare a place for us. Jesus defeated Satan by what appeared from a natural human perspective to be a defeat. Since that meant there was an atonement for sin that was sufficient for anyone and everyone, the only remaining thing was for people to hear the good news and believe it. That began the so-called “Church Age,” which we are now in. So for whoever believes, sin no longer has the power to dominate their life. There is power to change, a child-father relationship with God, and purpose for living life. Easter is a rememberance of Jesus resurrection and a reminder of God’s solution to man’s problem.