salvation

Easter is the high mark of the Christian calendar. Yes, we have Christmas and its celebration. But Christ’s advent has been shaped by commercialization and media. Even so, it is Christ’s entrance into the world. Christmas is special for the believer, but it is not ultimate. Jesus did not come to the world to live as a baby or as a child. Christmas matters because Easter happened.

Holy Week is our opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Much of the gospel accounts are given to the last week of Jesus (1/3 of Matthew, 1/3 of Mark, ¼ of Luke, and 2/5 or nearly half of John). The last week of Jesus’ life emphasized his conflict with the religious leaders setting up the final act of his life. In this last week, Jesus predicted his future and taught his disciples. He invited them to witness something glorious and eternal. 

We cannot overstate Holy Week’s importance to Christianity. It is the culmination and fulfillment of the salvation we so loudly proclaim.

But this year it feels different. This year it is different. Holy Week 2020 does not feel holy. Many believers across our world will not gather in their churches. They will not dress up in their Easter outfits. They will not celebrate the season with Easter egg hunts, pastel colors, and decorative hats. Because many churches won’t gather, Easter musicals and cantatas will be cancelled or postponed. Easter sermons will take on a different tone. The high attendance day of the gathered church in the West will not be. This year, many of us will celebrate Easter in quarantine and during stay at home orders.

Holy Week does not feel holy. This year it does not feel like a celebration. It feels more like a separation.

We are tense—cooped up in our homes unable to visit, travel, go to school, or even work as normal. We are confused—frustrated at what we’re experiencing. We are afraid—uncertain if we will get sick, if we do, what will happen, and if we can recover from the challenges facing us. We are worried—anxious about tomorrow.

In truth, for many of us, Holy week 2020 may actually be more like the first Holy Week. 

The disciples could sense the tension. For years it had been building between the Jewish religious leaders and their Master, Jesus. Time after time they had questioned him, attacked him, and baited him. With ingenious wit and gracious words, Jesus always managed to silence his critics. This did little but anger them further. 

Upon Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem mere days before the Passover, the disciples could feel the tension.  Jewish lawyers, Pharisees, and other religious leaders saw this as the opportune time. They arrived with questions designed to trap Jesus in blasphemous statements. Yet as before, they were thwarted and left dumfounded. 

The tension of Passover week elevated at that fateful supper. The Lord’s table that he instituted the night before his trial and the day before his death. Judas was sent on his mission of betrayal. Peter’s denial was foretold. And the party left for a time of prayer. Jesus prayed while his followers slept.

The tension in the garden grew significantly with Jesus’ arrest. Led before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod, Jesus faced mock trials that culminated in his crucifixion outside of Jerusalem. During this part of Holy Week, the disciples scattered in fear, doubt, and confusion. 

The tension became passion when Jesus was beaten, crucified, and unjustly punished on Calvary’s cross. Jesus suffered unlike any man before. Not only did he face the physical brutality of Roman execution, but Jesus carried in his body the curse of God for human sin. Jesus became sin, that we might know God and experience salvation. 

 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

The tension on Calvary became death in a borrowed tomb. Any hope the disciples had that Jesus would come down from the cross and fulfill their vision as a political Messiah, was finished when Jesus’ dead body was removed from the cross and buried. 

The tension of his followers became confusion. How could One who had done so many miraculous things not keep himself from suffering like this? The confusion led to fear. If they would do these things to Jesus, which ones of us are next? The fear led to worry and uncertainty. What will we do now? Jesus was our life for three years. What next? Will where we go? What will we do? 

No, the first Holy Week did not feel holy. The first Holy Week did not feel like victory. The first Holy Week did not feel like a celebration. The first Holy Week did not culminate in fancy hats, pastel colors, musicals, cantatas, egg hunts, desserts, and celebrations. The first Holy Week concluded with an event at first confusing and ultimately more important than any other even ever to take place on planet earth. 

But at the end of Holy Week was a resurrection.

While our situations may cause us to feel isolated and separated this Easter, we can and must still celebrate. Here are some ways you can make this Easter special and unforgettable in your Christian faith.

IMAGINE how Jesus’ followers felt during Jesus’ passion week. Remember how it was during Holy Week for those who first experienced it. But also remember, they met the Risen Lord. Everything changed for them when they saw the resurrected Christ. Everything changed for us when we met Jesus, Jesus who is alive and not dead.

REFLECT on the universal and personal importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was for you he died. Your sins are the reason Christ went to the cross. The sins of the world are the reason Christ died and went to the cross. It was for you that Christ rose from the dead. It was for the nations that Christ rose from the dead. We are right to individualize our salvation experience, but we must do so in light of the billions of other individuals who need salvation.

PAUSE all other distractions to make time to worship Jesus. That first Easter gathering behind locked doors with fearful disciples did not feel holy or full of celebration. But when Jesus entered everything changed. You may be celebrating Easter by yourself, with a spouse, or with your children. You may not be with your church family (in person). But you are not alone. Jesus is with you. He is ever present and you can worship him as you celebrate his resurrection.

JOIN other believers (your church) through streaming, radio, or television. While we may not by in the same rooms physically, we can still celebrate together. Here are some links to celebrate Easter with Wilkesboro Baptist Church. You can join us for worship through Facebook, Vimeo, or YouTube. If you attend another church, make sure you join them in whatever capacity you are able to worship.

ANTICIPATE gathering with fellow believers again. While our normal may be different after Covid-19, we will one day gather again to worship Christ. As for my church, we will create our own Easter Sunday celebration when we are able to gather again as a church family. Let the distance and separation created by our circumstances motivate you to participate in worship when we are able to gather again.

REMEMBER that Jesus’ resurrection defeated death. Everyone of us will face death. I’m heartbroken for those church members who have lost loved ones recently and have not been able to have memorials and funerals. I’m heartbroken for the thousands of families and friends who have lost someone to Covid-19. But we don’t have to grieve, worry, or dread like those without hope. Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Jesus is victorious over death. Death holds no power over the believer for Jesus holds power over death. This is the hope of Easter. And this is truly why Easter is Holy, no matter what it feels like.

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

I’ll never forget the spiritual journey that brought me to faith in Christ. My father is a retired pastor, and we were always in church. My mother was a godly prayer warrior. From my earliest age, I remember having my spiritual faith encouraged. We had devotions, went to church, and I had numerous opportunities to experience faith.

I learned to be a good little boy. For most of my childhood, I believed the facts about the gospel. I tried to do all the things I should (read the Bible, confess my sins, behave well). In spite of my efforts, my teenage years were internally disturbing. I experienced uncertainty about my salvation and could not be confident that I would have eternal life. For about 6 years, I faced mounting doubt and uncertainty. There were a number of occasions where I just wanted to die so I could find out where I would spend eternity.

On the outside, I’m sure I looked fine. On the inside, I was a spiritual mess.

During the summer of my 18th year, I was invited to go to summer camp with my cousin’s church. I distinctly remember having a conversation with God prior to camp where I said,

“God, I don’t know what is going on in my soul. I can’t get peace. But whatever you say, whatever you tell me to do, I will do.”

At camp, the internal turmoil did not ease. Rather, it grew exponentially. My heart was bursting with tension and frustration. It was at this point of tension, that God spoke loudly and clearly,

“Chris, you need to be forgiven. Your sins are the reason I died. You need to trust Me alone for your salvation.”

That night is forever imbedded in my memory. I gave up. I asked God to forgive me. God saved me that night at summer camp. In that moment, I experienced a peace, a joy, a freedom that was unexplainable. Something else became unalterably clear to me in that moment. God wanted me to preach his gospel to others. For me the call to salvation and the call to preach occurred at the same moment.

In the 20+ years since that experience, I’ve thought a lot about my conversion and call experience. Following are some insights into God’s call that I’ve developed as I interpreted my experience through the lens of Scripture.

  • Personal experiences are not universals, but they can be templates. It is important that we don’t generalize our experiences that we believe they are universal for everyone. But we should learn from personal experiences. Moses’ call in Exodus 3 might not be replicated in our lives today (God speaking through the burning bush), but when God calls, it will be to reveal himself and send us on his mission (this is the universal).
  • My need for salvation was because I had been relying on my goodness rather than God’s grace. Over the years I reflected deeply on why I was not converted at a younger age. I believed the facts of the gospel long before I experienced salvation. God helped me understand that one could believe spiritual facts while still relying on self for salvation. Trusting in Christ alone is required for salvation, and that is what I was missing.
  • God’s calling to salvation may not always be a calling to preach, but it always includes a calling to serve. Not every salvation experience includes a vocational call. But every salvation experience does include a call to follow Christ and serve his purpose. I’m afraid that in experience-driven Christianity, this may not always be communicated clearly. God’s call to salvation anticipates a call to serve his purpose and testify to him and his glory. According to Matthew 28:18-20 we all have the obligation to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus.
  • In order to hear/sense God’s call, we need to have distractions removed. That fateful summer camp for me provided a time of devoted attention to hearing from God. Moses’ burning bush experience occurred in the wilderness where he was alone. Many of David’s psalms were written during his alone time with the sheep. The principle is this: if we are going to hear from God, we need to make time to be alone and quiet with him. Cell phones, television, and other distractions must be removed so we can hear and experience God.

What about you? Have you experienced God’s call to salvation? I hope so. Nothing is more important than knowing God and being confident of eternal life. If you have that peace, then have you embraced God’s call to serve his purpose and live his mission? If not, why not make time to pause, pray, and hear from God about his calling on your life.