The Bishop’s Easter Message
Truths of Good Friday and Easter must be internalised in our personal experience
THE rhythm of Christian worship has a pattern. It is shaped after the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The church year closely follows the life of Jesus – His birth, death, resurrection, ascension, His divine rule, and His second coming. We therefore have Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, and so on, as major events in the annual worship pattern of the Church.
What is true in our worship is also true in our creeds. In the Apostles’ Creed, we declare our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” This part forms the bulk of the Creed, again demonstrating that like the worship of the Church, the beliefs of the Church are deeply rooted in the Person and life of Jesus.
We should not be surprised by all this if we have been reading our Bibles carefully. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Now I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you …By this gospel you are saved … ” (1 Cor. 15:1-2). Paul then went on to state in rich concentrated form the Gospel that he preached: “For what I received I passed to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and the Twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:3-5).
This then was the essence of the Gospel that was recorded in Scripture, preached from the beginning, and which has been guarded by the Church since.
The question to ask is “What significance has this in our personal lives today?” Especially as we observe and celebrate Good Friday and Easter at this time of the year.
The answer from Scripture is that it has to do with the very heart of our Christian lives. In his great epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul asked, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:3-4).
Paul makes it crystal clear that we need to make the death and resurrection of Jesus more than items of intellectual beliefs – that we need to make these truths key aspects of our own personal experience. Baptism helps us to come into personal contact with the death and resurrection of our Lord in a deep and profound way, in a transforming and lifechanging way.
Mysteriously in baptism, which symbolises our new birth in Jesus, we become identified and connected with Jesus, so much so that the major events of His life give birth to similar eternally life-changing events in each of our own lives. Paul explains that to have an experience of the salvation that Jesus brings to us is to be united with Him through baptism.
Note what he says: “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.” (Rom. 6:5).
To observe Good Friday and Easter as annual services held in the Church is not enough. The truths of these key Christian festivals must be internalised and appropriated in our own personal experience. Otherwise we would be like the people of the last days described in the Bible, whose religious lives will be grossly distorted, “having a form of godliness, but denying its power”. (2 Tim. 3:5).
The key is to move from rite and ritual to relationship. As long as the life of Christ (including His death and resurrection) remains outside us, we have not truly experienced the power of the Gospel; we have not really experienced the salvation that the Gospel of Christ has promised. In order for us to experience the power of the Gospel, the life of Christ must come into us. He must live in us. We must become deeply united with Him in a life-giving relationship.
This is the reason why Paul wrote that in baptism (through which we are initiated into God’s family), we are united with Christ. His blood cleanses us from our sins, and His life becomes our life. In another part of the New Testament, what is probably the earliest part, Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20).
We must note carefully what Scripture says so clearly. True Christian experience begins with an acknowledgement that Christ died for us. This must be a personal acknowledgment filled with personal repentance and faith. True Christian experience then must be based on a union with Christ, which has to be evidenced by a growing relationship with Jesus.
It would mean that we walk with Jesus by denying ourselves and carrying our cross. It means being “crucified with Christ”. It means the death of self and the flesh, and the burial of the old sinful self. It would mean that we rise with new life through the resurrection power of Jesus. It means that we no longer let sin reign in us and be our master (Rom. 6:12,14). It means that, offering ourselves fully to God, we will become “slaves to righteousness”. (Rom. 6:13, 18). It means that the life of Christ takes root in the soil of our hearts and that Jesus begins to live in us. His life becomes our life.
John Wesley describes this union with Christ when he wrote, “God loves you; therefore love and obey him. Christ died for you; therefore die to sin. Christ is risen; therefore rise in the image of God. Christ liveth ever more; therefore live to God till you live with him in glory … This is the scriptural way, the Methodist way, the true way.” But how much have we experienced this personally?
‘There is no Easter without Good Friday’
Have Christians become so used to the things of God that they have become numbed in their souls? Do they touch the holy things of God without allowing themselves to be touched by God? Are they like the workers in an art gallery who carry and move about priceless works of art, without appreciating their true value and beauty?
Is it not possible that Christians may become so used to Good Friday and Easter as Christian rituals without being touched by the mysterious power of these biblical events, without deeply encountering the Lord of Good Friday and Easter? There are many Christians walking about near the cross of Christ who have yet to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. These are the ones who are so full of themselves – clear evidence that they do not truly know the Christian experience.
As A. W. Tozer wrote, “In every Christian’s heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross he remains on the throne.”
And there are so many Christians who walk near the empty tomb of Christ who have not experienced the life-changing resurrection power that bursts forth with new life in us, when we are united with Christ. They wonder why they do not have such power. They must know that there is no Easter without Good Friday – in their own personal lives.
Dear brother, sister, are you united with Christ? Does He live in you? Have you shared His death and resurrection?
As long as Christ lives only outside you, it is a lost cause for you. He must live inside you. For “He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 Jn. 5:12). May you have the joy of seeing Jesus live in you. And may others too have the joy of seeing the same.