This is what is historically known and recorded by multiple historians and writers of the day: There was a Jew named Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God (and by the claim being God Himself) and had a following of people. Eventually He was executed because of this claim of being God (blasphemy by Jewish law) and for being a trouble maker by Roman law. He died, confirmed by the strict procedures of Roman crucifixion. He was placed in a tomb guarded by both Roman and Jewish guards, three days later His tomb was empty, causing a widespread commotion in Jerusalem over his disappearance.
These facts are easily confirmed. What is also confirmed is that everyone who had a deeply vested interest in finding His body used every means necessary to find the body, including questioning and torturing those who followed Jesus. Few recanted their belief He was God, especially the many who physically saw and spoke to the resurrected Christ.
In 24 hours, I’ve read dozens of Twitter tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts about the celebration Easter is in the lives of individuals. Rightfully so, although every day is in fact Easter for the believer because nothing will ever change the historical fact that Jesus received the wrath of a Holy God – punishment intended for the sinner – and was raised from the dead, confirming God’s satisfaction with the substitutionary sacrifice. What’s left is for the individual to believe by faith that Jesus came to this world to accomplish this stated purpose.
Unfortunately Easter is also a day of lamentation because more than 2/3 of the world’s population – 4 billion-plus people – do not call Jesus Lord or know that His death and resurrection are the only sufficient means to reconcile them to God. Sadly, many of that four billion have never even heard the name of Jesus Christ. They are trapped in the endless spiritual search to generate some kind of righteousness to make them acceptable to whatever their idea of god is. This reveals the difference between religion and Christianity. Religion is a way for man to create a means for reaching God. Christianity is based solely on God reaching down to man.
It may seem subtle but there is a massive difference between the two. Religion is easily manipulated to justify the ends of man. In religion there is no objective measure of righteousness, man becomes the center of establishing the standard and ultimately it is often left to the one who most vehemently asserts his beliefs as to whose perspective is “correct” (see long history of holy wars as evidence). Which religion, then, is right? Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism? Answer: none.
Christianity, however, is uniquely and exclusively set over and against these in that God sets the objective measure, indicates that every human is in the same boat (“all have sinned“), and that there are “none righteous” and “none seek after God.” Therefore every human stands on equally poor footing. Into this desperate situation God sent Jesus to bear His justified wrath. Jesus was a willing and perfect object upon which God’s punishment could be poured. The resurrection is evidence that His sacrifice was acceptable. Crying out in faith to Him for salvation is recognizing our need for something beyond ourselves to save us. This is Good News!
But it is only Good News if people hear it. Right now there are more than 5,000 unengaged people groups around the world, most of them in a swath of land extending across north Africa, the Middle East, central and eastern Asia and India. This means there are a significant number of Muslims, Hindus, atheists and Buddhists who either have no understanding of Jesus or a very skewed understanding of who He is, what He’s done and what He offers in terms of spiritual forgiveness and freedom.
We who have been granted forgiveness and salvation must remember every day the extraordinary grace extended to us through Christ, but we can’t linger in our celebration lest it become self-centered. We must remember the billions of people who have not yet enjoyed His grace, lament the staggering numbers who still stand squarely in the cross-hairs of God’s judgment and GO to them with the Good News of what the resurrection means for them.