Something weird is going on with Christmas.
Every year it seems there is an increasing tug of war between the use of “Merry Christmas” and the deemed more politically correct “Happy Holidays” that many secularists advocate.
Christians seem to make an extra effort to cast a Christ-centered Christmas greeting at the local coffee barista while also making sure any tailgater can plainly see the “Jesus is the reason for the season” bumper sticker affixed to the rear windows of our cars (next to our little fish symbols). We want the “Christ” in Christmas!
And think about it, how ludicrous is it for our culture to celebrate a holiday void of the very person for whom the holiday is named? Without Jesus it might be a holiday, but it certainly isn’t Christmas.
Easter is the other Christian “holiday” central to our faith. We say, “Happy Easter,” but we really don’t have a catchy slogan like, “Jesus is the reason for the season” to go with Easter. Here’s a suggestion: “Sin is the reason for the season.”
Huh? Um, yeah, probably won’t see that bumper sticker any time soon.
But sin is the reason for the season. An individual’s sin – all seven billion of us globally – is the only reason Easter is necessary. Seriously, there was no other reason for God the Son to set aside His heavenly position to take the form of a man and die an a cross. Reconciliation to God, as the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, isn’t necessary if our sin didn’t separate us from Him to begin with.
Why such a fuss over sin?
Christianity in America is migrating away from the biblical definition of sin. It is increasingly viewed as acts that cause us to feel poorly about ourselves, or anything that keeps us from reaching our full potential. The word obviously needs clarification when there are 1.2 billion Google returns to the question, “What is sin?” Ironically it isn’t that complicated. Sin is any act that breaks God’s law. Neither of the previous ideas equate breaking God’s standard and God’s punitive judgement as detailed in the Bible. Making the word more palatable may seem a slight adjustment, but it is heretical theology that cuts out the heart of the Good News of Easter.
If we do not see ourselves as sinners in need of saving, then our Christianity becomes a “moralistic, therapeutic deism,” as sociologist Christian Smith calls it. We seek religion to sooth our guilt and make us feel better about who we are. Jesus is reduced to becoming “the key to fulfilling our narcissistic preoccupation,” as theologian Michael Horton says.
To truly understand the meaning of Easter means to truly understand our desperate spiritual situation. Understanding Easter means recognizing that the answer to our problem is not found within ourselves, but rather, recognizing the situation is hopeless and our only hope is foundbeyond ourselves in the Person and work of Jesus Christ and His righteousness. As an ancient theologian said, “We contribute the sin; He contributes the righteousness.”
So why do we need Easter anyway?
The answer to that question is best found in the context of the story of human history; past, present and future. Here it goes:
- God created
- Man Sinned
- God redeems
- God completes
That’s it, history and the Bible in four statements. A holy God created a perfect world that included humanity. There was perfect unity between the Creator and the created (Genesis 1-2). However, it wasn’t good enough for man to worship God. Man wanted to be worshipped, and he succumbed to the prideful desire to “be like God” (Genesis 3).
The violation against God’s command introduced sin into the world and with it, the penalty of spiritual death. Consider, how righteous and just would God have been to overlook law breaking? Even the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations states as part of its vision statement, “That guilt shall not escape.” Guilt before God does not escape – it cannot. How would we otherwise know God’s expectation in relation to an unchanging standard? God would have been justified in annihilating man at the point of that first sin. The tragedy is that God created us to have a relationship with us, but our sin ruined that relationship. Fortunately, motivated by His love for us, He immediately took the initiative to reconcile humanity through Jesus.
Even though He is gracious to restore, God’s justice still demands punishment. Reconciliation comes with a price. The Bible tells us that, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Animal sacrifices vicariously played that role in the Old Testament, giving way for all time to the singular death of Jesus on the cross as the object of God’s justice as well as the acceptable offering that allows acquittal.
So into our mess stepped Jesus. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” God himself both provides and is the perfect sacrifice for our desperate condition. That’s the Good News! That’s the real story of Easter and our sin made it necessary.
His death on the cross paid the penalty due us. His resurrection is proof of its sufficiency. By turning away from our sin, asking forgiveness of sinning against God and asking Jesus to save us, His righteousness is transferred to us, acquitting us of guilt and making Easter ( and every other day) a day of celebration. Salvation comes from beyond us and not dependent upon our ability to become better people.
What’s at stake?
The recognition of sin being the reason for the season is critically important for two groups of people: Christians and non-Christians.
First, Christians. There is great danger in wandering too far from the remembrance of who we were before Christ. When we lose sight of the sin that humbly drove us to seek forgiveness, we quickly slip into the dangerous waters of prideful self-sufficiency. We must never get beyond the cross, but rather, grow deeper in our understanding of all the goodness bought for us by Jesus’ sacrifice. One of the richest is growing in the understanding of what it means when the Bible says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Secondly, non-Christians. Christians, how can we call it love of others if we are not willing to help people understand the utter spiritual peril in which they stand before God? And how can they understand if we don’t help them realize that their sin in the context of Easter? They must know that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection alone offers them their only hope. This does not mean berating them with high-handed moralism and expecting sinners to act redeemed. It means love and compassion and service and a verbal testimony to the fact that sin separates but Jesus saves. Anything less than the truth about their sin renders Jesus’ death pointless. Think about it, why would Jesus have to die on a cross if there were another way to peace with God?
Jesus is the reason for worship
Sin actually made both Christmas and Easter necessary. We were lost, but Jesus came into this world to save that which was lost. “For God loved the world so much that he gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Our sin only reveals how desperate our situation is, but Jesus’ coming reveals how gracious, and merciful and loving and glorious He is.
This Easter, pause to remember that your sin may be the reason for the season, but then lift your soul in praise because Jesus is the reason for your salvation. Even greater, Jesus is the reason for your worship.