Easter is a Christian celebration that has come to be my favourite.
As a child, Christmas was the obvious winner, full of joy and gifts and decorations and constant celebration; and in contrast Easter was the story of how Jesus died, and when I was young I didn't like that. I was caught up on the horrible and cruel way that He died, and the knowledge that that sacrifice had been made for me - I could never get passed the crucifixion: it was gory and excruciatingly painful, and for someone as underserving as me. I got so hung up on this as a child, with so many questions about the death of Christ: how could a society punish someone that much? why did Jesus need to die such a horrific death? was I worth suffering that much for? how could I ever repay Him for this? My focus was stuck on the crucifix and mourning the suffering of Christ, so much that celebrating on Easter Sunday never felt like much of a celebration for me, I thought so much about the death of Jesus, that I hadn't come to terms with it in time to celebrate his resurrection.
But as I have grown up, I have had a lot of Easter revelations.
I'm going to share the most incredible revelation with you: Jesus knew the death that awaited Him. The cruelty of the crucifixion was known to Him before the guards came for Him, and He was prepared. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed "My father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done" (Matthew 26: 42). He knew and He was scared, but He also chose that sacrifice. He asked God if there was an alternative, but there wasn't, and knowing that He had to die at the hands of these people so that you and I could have a relationship with God, He decided to pay the price. Jesus stood in Gethsemane and decided you were worth dying for! This revelation struck me hard and has stayed with me for years: in the face of impending death, suffering, humiliation and pain; God incarnate decided that I was worth it. God knows everything: He knew then that I would exist one day; He knew that I would be imperfect; He knew there would be days when I'd fail Him; He knew there and then, every single mistake I have ever and will ever make; and in that moment, He saw a life worth dying for. How amazing is that?! I honestly can't fathom that kind of love in the face of that kind of knowledge, but Christ had it. This transformed my view of the death of Christ, my focus shifted from the crucifix to Jesus' frame of mind as He faced the crucifix: he thought of His suffering, and then He thought of me and you and He chose to die. I don't know that I will ever be able to look in the mirror and see myself as someone worthy of all that, but Jesus did and His opinion of me means more than my own. And though I know it can be hard to view yourself as being worthy - especially when you know all of your own imperfections (not just the ones other people see) - but Christ knew about all of them as well and He still chose the cross. Jesus Christ knows you more intimately than perhaps you even know yourself and sometimes that can be a terrifying thought, but today, don't be scared by that, be amazed by that! He knew every wrong thing you have ever and will ever think or do, He knew every cruel word and mean action, He knew every failure; but He also knew every good deed you have ever and will ever do, He knew the goodness of your heart, He knew the joy you would bring to the lives of others, He knew what you were capable of, and He saw you as worthy(!); and I don't know about you, but for me, knowing this is inspiring. If Jesus thinks I was worth dying for then I was worth dying for - that's a fact - and I need to strive to live my life according to God's will the way Christ did when He died for me: because He died for love of me despite my imperfections and so that I could have a relationship with God. Not only were you worth dying for: you were worth saving; you are worthy of a relationship with God; you are worthy of unconditional love; you are worthy of being called a child of God!
Once I had realised that Jesus thought I was worth dying for, I could get passed the thought of the cruel crucifixion and focus on the resurrection. I was able to realise for perhaps the first time ever how incredible this story is: Jesus was dead, He had been buried and in a grave for 3 days, and then He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. I think maybe because I grew up a Christian and have known this story and other miraculous Bible stories since I was very young, I had just accepted this miracle without giving it much thought: I knew Jesus was God incarnate, I knew He was all powerful and capable of miraculous things, I knew He had healed countless people and raised others from the dead, so I was never shocked by the miracle of Christ's own resurrection. But now that I think about it, fully understanding why Jesus died and why He was then resurrected, this story blows my mind. I can't think about Easter Sunday without a huge smile on my face!
Imagine what it must have been like to have been a disciple of Jesus when all this happened. Lets be honest, the disciples were a little bit clueless: they knew the scriptures and the prophecies, Jesus had told them He was going to die, He had told them "after three days I will rise again" (as He is quoted in saying in Matthew 27: 63), and yet when He was arrested "all the disciples deserted Him and fled" (Matthew 26:56) - they were scared. Can you imagine how it must have felt when on Easter Sunday, they discovered that Jesus was alive! Christ was not dead, He was risen! Their hope was restored, their faith renewed! May the joy and excitement and amazement and praise of the disciples when they realised Christ was risen be in your heart every Easter Sunday, because that mix of emotions must have been incredible!
So, this Easter and every Easter, I have a message for you from God: don't get hung up on the death of Christ - pay attention to it because it was important and He died with purpose - but don't let it get you down because: (1) Christ is risen!, and (2) you were worth dying for!
[To answer the other two questions of a younger me: how could a society punish someone in that way? - they did because that was the method of punishment they knew, it was severe and cruel but it was the society of the time; and, why did Jesus have to die such a horrific death? - He actually answers this question Himself, he did so that "the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way" (Matthew 26:54); How would I ever repay Him? - God isn't vindictive. His sacrifice was selfless, He isn't holding this against you when He asks you to do something, He did this for you, so He could have a relationship with you, you don't owe Him a debt, your debt is paid.]