Imagine a religious system where animal sacrifices must be made regularly as payment for your sins. All you know about God is passed down from the priest and religious leaders during synagogue as you stand at the back of the room, because you are only allowed to listen. You have no personal access to God and the only way to please this Him is through good works. Imagine being under pressure to get all household chores and manual labor done by sundown on Saturday because Sunday, no work is allowed. Imagine having no voice or power in religious, political or cultural events. Welcome to being a First Century Jewish woman at about the time Jesus began his ministry.
Does this sound like unfair, hard work? This is a glimpse of Old Covenant practices before Jesus’ work on the cross that changed everything. Why is the resurrection so important to not only Christians, but to the entire world? What’s the big deal about the cross? This is relevant 365 days a year, not just the week on Resurrection Sunday. Allow me to sprint through thousands of years of Biblical history – from the Old Testament to the New Testament – to set the scene, so that we can figure this out together.
Jews lived under the law given to Moses as the Ten Commandments, which were originally established to help Israel learn how to become a nation in the desert wilderness before reaching the Promised Land of Israel. The law was intended for good purposes, but was also based on works. This was the hallmark of the Old Covenant. Moses served as mediator between God and the people, as did the prophets, who came later. The common people did not have access to a personal relationship with the Lord. The printing press had not yet been invented, so no Bibles were available. All culture and law was passed on orally. Sins were forgiven only through blood shed of an animal. Then, once Israel was established, the religious leaders made up 342 extra rules and regulations to add to the Ten Commandments, while they themselves ignored them, but used them to oppress the common people. At this point, due to God’s judgment over Israel’s sin, the Jews came under Roman occupation. The religious leaders hated the Romans and wanted exclusive control over the people. The Romans despised all Jews.
Jesus entered center stage on a donkey into this religious and political chaos to deliver everyone from the real problem – sin. He obediently surrendered to the religious authorities and suffered a painful death on the cross.
What looked like death and defeat to all who loved him was actually God’s sovereignty. What appeared to be failure was God bringing to fruition his redemptive plan. What appeared to be a mistake was really God’s amazing grace.
The disciples all fled in terror, as would every one of us if we had been there. They didn’t understand it then and neither do we today. Maybe we understand the story – the sequence of events – but do we really grasp what the resurrection means today? It’s overwhelming.
Imagine Satan’s surprise, just as he started his firing up his victory party, as he was confronted by the Divine down in Hades and extinguished. Jesus did not destroy Satan, not yet, but put him on a short leash. Yes, God is still in control of Satan and his time of total annihilation is coming. God raised Jesus from the dead, not to eliminate all evil, but to give victory over death.
So, why do Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection? Because it guarantees that those who believe will also enjoy eternal life with him in heaven after our physical death, rather than the horrible alternative of eternal separation from him. Because it’s part of the New Covenant that Jesus introduces the night of his crucifixion, after the Last Supper. Jesus offers up his own body by the breaking of bread – and his own blood by the wine – to take the place of the mandatory lamb during Jewish Passover. Jesus is inviting his chosen people to celebrate not only freedom from Egyptian slavery, but also freedom from sin. The crucifixion and resurrection is the fulcrum on which the rest of world history balances. If we can agree that we are ALL STILL wounded in our sin, Jesus’ victory – from the cross the empty tomb – gives us the freedom to go directly to God for our healing. Jesus is now our intercessor and our high priest.
The Old Covenant exposes sin while the New Covenant covers sin. The Old Covenant is based on doing good works while the New Covenant is based on living by faith. (Galatians 3: 10-11) The Old Covenant was written on stone tablets while the New Covenant law is written on people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). The Old Covenant was for Israelites (the chosen) only, while the New Covenant is for every human being on planet earth. (Det. 4:7-8; Luke 22:20).
Rather than offering the blood of animals as a sin offering to God, we can confess them directly to Him, and offer Him our time and talents. The challenge for us believers today is to find a way to straddle the line between Old Covenant and New Covenant ways. The ceremonies and rituals, such as Baptism, the Eucharist, and Marriage are still important because they all require coming together to celebrate something new. Yet the temptation to simply observe rituals without knowing Him will never go away. The Israelites struggled with this and so do we, thousands of years later. It’s always easier to attend a ceremony, perform a ritual, or warm a pew on a Sunday morning, than examine your heart and do the right thing for the right reason. This is exactly why daily prayer and Bible reading is so important. It’s called Holy Spirit intervention.
I am so grateful to be on the other side of the Resurrection, centuries later, where I have the privilege – yes, the PRIVILEGE – of spending time with God through His Word and prayer. Now there are Bibles available almost everywhere and printed in almost every language known to man! What an incredible gift! Can I have a hallelujah?
Isaiah 43:19 says “Behold! I am doing a new thing!” Isaiah is announcing a message of hope for the Israelites. God’s promise would be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament fulfills and completes the New Testament.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I am forever grateful for your work on the cross and your empty tomb. I am grateful on Resurrection Sunday and grateful in the middle of January and grateful in November and any time of the year. Put in my heart a hunger to know You better. Help me to exalt You first above all else.