Matt Graves asks an important question about true change at Easter
New Easter, New me?
I love Easter! I love for it many reasons, mainly because over Easter in 2017 wife and I got engaged. I also love it because the NBA playoffs start and I get to watch the best players in the world play the best basketball of the year. I also find this time of year very interesting because, in some ways, it feels like New Year all over again.
During the time before Easter, a 40 day period called Lent occurs. Lent is when some people decide to give up something we know is bad for us or cut back on doing something we know we do too much. I always try to reduce the amount of video games I play. I really enjoy playing on my laptop, playing with people online or by myself but I know that spending time with my wife, friends and church family is far more important.
Sometimes we just do this out of tradition or an attempt to impress our friends and family. However, I think mostly we do it because we genuinely want to change ourselves for the better. We see something in our behaviour, our habits and maybe inside our hearts that we don't like. We look at our own lives and see how many unhealthy things we eat, or look at or do to ourselves or other people and want to take a stand. We say ‘For 40 days I'm going to give up donuts, video games, social media etc. and then I'll be a better person and I won't be ensnared to the thing I've given up’.
If we're honest though, we know we should give up or cut back on these things up forever but we have a sneaking suspicion we wouldn't be able to keep it up. The Daily Mirror produced an article in January 2019 that said that only 8 percent of people keep their new year's resolutions for the whole year. When we look back at our lives, I think we see a depressing reality; however hard I try, I always make mistakes and failures and normally they are the same ones I've done over and over again. However hard I try to reach my own standards, I always end up just missing the mark.
I have two younger brothers and a younger sister and I love them all very much. When I was growing up we had some great times together but my goodness, they knew how to push my buttons. They knew exactly what to do to irritate me enough to get me to snap and lash out and then I'd be the one in trouble. Now I think we've moved past teasing each other just to get each other riled up but I see that anger I sometimes have seep out in other situations. I think most of us can recognise that in ourselves. We've got better at learning good coping mechanisms, helpful ways of responding to people and ways to suppress those out of control emotions. Although despite this, on a fundamental level, we've not changed that much. We're still broken, twisted, prideful, lazy and most of all, selfish.
Our human nature is still the same. The Bible calls our natural tendency to be selfish at the expense of others sin. That we've all rejected the God who made us; we wanted the stuff he made but not the relationship he offered. We wanted to be God and decide for ourselves what was right and wrong and not submit to his rule over our lives. But through turning away from the giver of life and light, sin, darkness and death came in to the world. So when we look back at the inspiration for the period of Lent, we'll find out how to this escape this selfish spiral and find real change from the inside out.
Although Lent doesn’t have a direct biblical reference, some Christians have been inspired to take up the practice from stories in both the Old and New testaments. Let’s start in the book of Exodus. The people of Israel, who experienced great prosperity in Egypt while Joseph was Pharaoh's right hand man, are now horribly enslaved to a Pharaoh who's forgotten about Joseph and just sees the Israelites as a threat. So the people of Israel cried out to God and he sent Moses to deliver them out of slavery. The Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go so God sent plague after plague on Egypt. The last one would be the worst, an angel of death that would kill every first born child in Egypt. God told Moses that to be saved from this terrible fate, each household of the people of Israel would need to take a spotless lamb, kill it and then spread the blood of the lamb on their doorposts so that when the angel of death came, it would see the blood and pass over them. At the end of this final plague, Pharaoh relented and freed the people of Israel from slavery so they started their journey to the Promised Land that God had set apart for them.
We learn a couple of things from this story. Israel needed to be delivered from slavery, they couldn't just break free on their own. They needed God to send someone to lead them out and they needed God to work miraculously in their situation to secure their freedom. But even after God freed them, the people of Israel kept grumbling about the hard journey to the Promised Land and sometimes complained that it would be better if they went back to slavery in Egypt. So God punished their disobedience and sin and in the process, it took Israel 40 years to reach the Promised Land.
The reason I say all this is because we are in the same position. We're all enslaved to something. There is always going to be something we live for, run after and desire above everything else and that thing will ultimately rule over us. Whether it is sex, money, power, good grades or our own future perfection, that thing will become our God. On top of that, we need deliverance. We can't escape those things that control us and the selfishness in our hearts. You might be asking me, why are you telling me this ancient story about ancient people? It's because this story and particularly the Passover is a picture that points us to one person; Jesus.
The first hint in Jesus' life to the Passover is in Matthew chapter 4 where, before starting his mission of teaching and healing, he goes into the wilderness for 40 days and nights not eating or drinking and there, he's tempted by the devil. When Jesus left the wilderness to start teaching and healing he made his mission statement clear in verse 17: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. No longer did you need to be part of Israel to be God's chosen people. No longer was it about following the Jewish Law and the religious traditions, which no one could perfectly follow anyway. The King was near. The King of kings, the ruler of all things had arrived and every one of us needed to respond.
This picture of Passover is fully revealed to us in Matthew chapter 26 verses 26 - 29 at the Lord's Supper.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
Now we see that Jesus is the Passover Lamb! He's the blameless sacrifice so that God's perfect judgment for all we've done wrong is poured out on Jesus and passes over us. After the Lord’s Supper, he's arrested, tortured, falsely accused and finally crucified on the cross. His body is broken and his blood is spilled and he died, even though he didn't deserve any of it.
Jesus knew the predicament that we're in and he completely solves our problem of sin through his life, death and resurrection. We fail and make mistakes all the time but Jesus never did. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fully God and fully man, lived the perfect life, perfectly followed God's law and fully obeyed his Father in heaven. Romans 3 verses 23 - 24 puts this really well.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
As Christians, we are not morally superior to anyone else. None of us have done enough good things to get into heaven; we have to be justified by God's grace. That means that we are overwhelmingly guilty and have no excuse for the sins we've committed but Jesus takes the punishment. Not because we deserve his favour but he freely offers it out of his love for us and we have accepted this most amazing gift. He gives us his perfect record and he takes on our guilty sentence.
Jesus didn't just die for our sins in our place but he rose from the dead. Through this he showed where real transforming change can be found; by trusting in Him. The Bible shows us that the reason we're not able to change our natural human state of selfishness and failure is because we're spiritually dead. Everyone knows you can't do anything when you're dead. So what's amazing about the resurrection is that Jesus has proved that he is God and he can give us new life.
Jesus defeated sin and death. He doesn't ask us to pull our socks up and follow the rules and try to be a good person just that little bit harder. He knows we will always fall short so he gives us his righteousness, his perfect standing before God and the free gift of eternal life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come’.
This means that if you are a Christian and have trusted in Jesus, you have been completely transformed. At its core, Christianity is not about trying harder to act in a more morally acceptable way so that God will love you. Actually we are completely unlovable because of our rebellion and sin. It’s about God choosing to have mercy on us, saving us and then encouraging us to now live in line with the reality of our salvation as new creations.
So as you look towards Easter and the end of Lent, I'd encourage you to see what this time of year is really all about. It's not about not eating less chocolate, playing less video games or spending less time on social media. It’s about the only way to become a new creation; recognising that we are broken and rebellious against God, we now need to turn to Him, who died to show us his love and grace and who rose again so that if you believe in Him, you can have assurance of eternal life in His name.
Written by Matt Graves
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