I remember from somewhere the proverb that March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb. This year it seems that the proverb has a particular ring to truth to it. You see, I never understood what they meant. I grew up in Minnesota where March came in with deep snowdrifts and frigid weather and often left with shallow snowdrifts and frigid weather. If anything, the end of March was the time for violent storms in the northland, so I suspect that it was those east-coasters who developed the proverb. Maybe their experience of March was different than mine.
This year, however, Easter is the last day of March. I cannot say how the month will begin, but it will end with a major celebration of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world - not to mention bunnies and colored eggs. March may or may not "go out" like a lamb, weather-wise, but this year it will end with the celebration of the Lamb who was slain for us. That is close enough for me.
It always puzzles me. I expect the unbelieving world - the Pagans - to struggle with the idea that Jesus died and rose again. It is history, and attested to more clearly and widely than most events of history that we just take for granted actually happened, but it is unique, and it is religion, so I would expect the unbelieving hoard to cast doubt on the truth of it, particularly after a couple thousand years. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the Christian faith would be utterly without substance. The enemies of The Faith would like that. Their resistance to the truth makes sense as part of their religion, I guess. It is the on-going opposition to this truth by those from within the church that makes no sense to me.
I guess it makes sense when I consider that those who oppose the resurrection are, in the final analysis, unbelievers. But they are unbelievers who style themselves as believers, and are usually making their living as teachers within the church. If what they try to proclaim as their "new" wisdom were actually truth, the church would not exist, and they would not have a job. Besides, their "wisdom" is not all that new. The Apostle Paul was responding to teachers of their ilk in 1 Corinthians 15. This is not exactly a new idea!
There are certain irreducible minimums to the Christian faith. First, one needs to believe that there is a God. Without that, there doesn't seem to be much sense to religion in general. There are those within the church (at least physically within it) who don't believe in the actual existence of a deity. For them, religion is a tool for manipulating the simple-minded and gullible.
In order to qualify as "Christian" in the historical sense of the word, the God you believe in must be the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as explained in the three Ecumenical Creeds. I would point in particular to the Athanasian Creed, which says (among other things), "Whoever desires to be saved, before all else it is necessary that he hold the catholic [that is, universal, Christian] faith. Unless one keeps this faith complete and unaltered, he shall without a doubt perish eternally." It then goes on to define the Trinity with great detail and precision, and concludes by saying "This is the catholic faith; which, unless one believes faithfully and firmly, it is not possible to be saved." Those who deny the Trinity or reduce it to something less (and therefore, something else) are simply not Christian. It makes no difference what they may say or how they might protest that judgment.
One also needs to know the facts of the case and believe that they are true. The facts to which I refer are the Incarnation, the sinless life and substitutionary death on the cross of Jesus, and the subsequent resurrection on Easter, followed by the ascension. False teachers in the history of the Church have tried to undermine each and every detail of this Gospel and declare that the alteration or loss of this or that event or fact does not change anything. To put it bluntly, they lie. There are very few details given us in Scripture about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, so losing any of them alters the entire thing.
Let me illustrate. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth has been challenged since the time of the Apostles in one way or another. When I was in college, there were those who were inordinately fond of saying, "It doesn't matter to me if Mary was a virgin or not when Jesus was born." It was just like how unimportant the length of time for the creation of the earth was to them, or whether Noah actually "floated the boat." Their faith was apparently made of firmer stuff than, say, reality. For the rest of the world, particularly those capable of rational thought, the Virgin Birth was the affirmation of the Incarnation. If Mary was not a virgin when she conceived Jesus, the idea that her son was God's son and not the result of prior sexual activity is unlikely in the extreme. Denying the Virgin Birth is a blunt denial of the divine nature in Jesus Christ, which denial also undoes the whole Gospel.
The skeptics rarely deny that Jesus died. If He hadn't died, after all, He would still be with us. They debate when and how He died, although there is a great deal of historical evidence to the crucifixion. They like to remove Him from the cross, that is, say that He never was crucified, or allow Jesus to survive the crucifixion. Some challenge the cause of His crucifixion, wanting to make Jesus a failed revolutionary, or a very unwise political figure, or just an unfortunate rabbi, popular for a time but naive, who got caught up in the politics between the Sanhedrin and Rome, and paid the ultimate price for His naivete. They want Jesus Christ to be anyone except who He is; the Son of God and our Savior, who died deliberately to redeem us.
We are coming up on the time of year when the world engages in historical revision about Jesus. Former Roman Catholic priest John Dominic Crossan (for example) will grace the television screen again in one documentary or another presenting his unique perspective on how people misunderstood Jesus and invented this crazy religion. Suddenly, people you have never heard of will be presented to you as leading scholars in the world of Christianity (and occasionally Judaism), trying to explain how we (the Church) got all of this particular bit of history wrong, and the Christian faith is just one monumental historical mistake. If Jesus were walking among us today, they suggest in grave and authoritative tones, He would tell you that they are right and the Church through the centuries has gotten it all wrong, and that, deliberately.
And all of those experts are ostensibly coming to us from inside the church. I wonder if it is the grace of God that has them in such a twist, or if they simply relish the role of the saboteur, attempting to prove Jesus wrong where He said, "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." I will note that the programs are coming from outside of the church. It is the world trying to gently lead believers away from the faith. The "scholars" that sit and attack the faith on these programs are clearly not really part of the Church. They do not believe.
But everywhere they attack, or "teach" something new, they unwittingly proclaim which things are essential to the faith. The devil only attacks the truth. Error already established and believed, or human traditions that have nothing to do with the Christian faith in substance are ignored by the false teachers. Jesus' nature as true God and true man inseparably joined in the Personal Union is one example. It is not in accord with human reasoning, and it has been the target of heretics and false teachers from the very beginning. It is something that must be believed if one is to be a Christian. It doesn't require that you understand it well, or can make it work in your head, but you must believe it - or at least not reject it or deny it.
On Easter, we celebrate the most sublime mystery. It is one of those things that human reason cannot compute. We can talk about it like we know something, but we cannot reason out every detail, and if God did not reveal it to us through His prophets and apostles, we would never have come up with this. God understood that we were not able to put right what was set wrong in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve chose disobedience, they did something to their nature, twisting it to focus in on themselves rather than looking to God or caring about one another. They accepted the satanic premise that they could or should be "just like God". They did not understand what that meant, really. They probably never understood what they traded away for that conceit and sin. We won't really grasp what they traded away either, until we stand in glory with Christ. But God knew we had set ourselves on a course we could not control or reverse, and which would destroy us. You see, on that day, they ceased to be really, truly alive.
They earned death, extinction. They were built for eternity, inside and out, so death took a while to claim their bodies, but it had their souls instantly. As their children, the entire human race has inherited both problems. Death is coming for our bodies and we were born dead spiritually - that is, we were born corrupt and helplessly lost to eternal destruction, the sort that just keeps on going because what is being is being destroyed cannot cease to exist. Eternal death. Hell. God saw the problem. He saw it coming before He created everything. That is the tough part of being God, I suppose. He knew what was coming, but having decided to create, He would not turn back. He had to devise a way to rescue, redeem, and save us. That was His imperative, not one anyone imposed on Him. How good He is!
So He worked out The Plan. The plan was that He would save us Himself, by becoming one of us, earning the life He had planned for mankind from the beginning, and then taking our place in the death and destruction we have so richly deserved. In the process, He also planned to teach us about Himself, and correct some faulty information we had invented - some of it was given to us by the old evil foe - so we could once again be in fellowship with Him. That fellowship included walking together in the garden, at one time, and talking. He expanded it to include dining together. It includes working together with Him in this world and, probably, in the next.
The Old Testament tells us how God set the plan up. He revealed Himself in special ways and through His prophets of old. He worked with His chosen people to illustrate for them, and us, who He was and what He was really like. We, as a people, are quite good at missing the point and twisting the message, so He took centuries to teach and reveal and record the lessons. He used kingdoms and lifetimes and world events to make His points. And He explained everything He was going to do to redeem us in advance, so we would not miss it or misunderstand it, except by deliberate unbelief and network documentaries.
Then He came. He did thirty-some years among us as one of us. He out- maneuvered both the world's power-brokers and the Evil One. He manipulated the greatest powers on earth of that time, and used them like a tool. He took the religion that He had set up, which His enemies had commandeered, and made them serve to point out who He was and what was happening, all against their intentions. He led them openly to reject Him, those who were already His enemies in fact, and declare that their covenant with Him was abrogated ("We have no King but Caesar. Crucify Him!"). Then He used their evil to enforce upon Him His own judgement against sin, so that He could bear the pain, and the guilt, and die in our place, though innocent of all sin and deserving to live forever, the death we deserve by our sin. He made the exchange He had planned so long before, and then He set about proving the exchange by doing the impossible (as men evaluate such things) again. He rose from the dead.
And He has been proclaiming His love, and His grace, and the gift of everlasting life now for over two thousand years. The gift is free, for us, and is received by everyone that takes God at His Word, and trusts Him to do what He has promised to do. One of the things He had promised to do is make us "just like Him", a gift that Adam and Eve tried to pilfer, but God is bestowing it as a gift ("Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.") And that is what we celebrate when we celebrate Easter: the resurrection and all that Christ brings to us because of all that He did. And Scriptures call Him "the Lamb of God who Takes away the sin of the world." This year, we celebrate that at the very end of March.
Happy Easter to you all!
Yours in the Lord,
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