The Beginning of the Easter Story

Jesus the Christ was born on Christmas Day, but that is not the beginning of the story.

The coming of Jesus was foretold throughout the Old Testament.  The prophets announced throughout Israel’s history that a Messiah would come.  But even that is not the beginning of the story.

We could argue that the Easter Story begins with us.  After all, our sins are the reason Jesus came.  We are the ones being connecting back to God through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We are the reason for the Easter Story.  But I don’t think that is the beginning of the story either.

The need for a savior is first manifested in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve go against God’s only command.  “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die… Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 2:16-17,3:1).  We know from the passages that follow and from the intent of this serpent that this is no ordinary serpent.  This is not one of God’s good creations.  This is the Great Deceiver and the Great Tempter, masquerading as a lowly serpent.  No one but Satan would prod God’s good creation to question God’s authority, wisdom, guidance, and love.

Eve and then Adam made humankind’s biggest mistake – they listened to Satan’s whispering and went against God’s command.  Indeed, as Satan had suggested, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to good and evil, but at a terrible cost.  Sin was unleashed into the world, and they were powerless to escape it.  They hid.  They covered themselves with leaves.  But the release of sin was not something they could erase.  It would be passed down, generation to generation.  Every generation would be just as powerless as the last to staunch the rush of sin.

Except that God made a promise – even then.  Although Satan would wield sin, it would not overcome us.  Somewhere down through the generations, an offspring would crush Satan’s head.  “You shall bruise His heel,” God told Satan.  “But He will bruise your head (Genesis 3:15b).  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

So we see that God’s promise came first in the Garden of Eden.  But even that is not the beginning of the story.

It is John who tells us where the Easter Story truly begins.  In the beginning, John wrote, was the Word.  And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-2,14).

Jesus was in the beginning with God!  Jesus was God!  God is the beginning of the Easter Story.  Consider for a moment what that means.

We can feel our need for the Easter Story in our own failures.  We can hear the promise of the Easter Story in the Garden of Eden and in the prophets’ proclamations.  We can witness the Easter Story in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  But we can trace the beginning of the Easter Story to only one place.  The beginning of the Easter Story is God.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

The Easter Story does not begin with us reaching out to God, or even with God becoming one of us.  It begins with God himself.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

Thanks be to God.  For He is the beginning of the Easter Story.

In the beginning, God… (Genesis 1:1)

Cracking, Part I

Have you ever had one of those days where you think: “If one more thing goes wrong, I am going to crack!!”  As in, “The weight of this stressful old world is weighing me down so badly that I can literally feel myself starting to crack up and fall apart!  Arrggghhh!”

I certainly have.  Sometimes I have a whole season of them, which always makes me think of the quote: “I try to take one day at a time, but lately several have attacked me at once.”

During these times, I have a particular image that comes to mind of a person literally drying up and cracking into dust that blows away.  “Dear God!” I say.  “Help me!”  And sometimes that’s all I can say: “Dear God!”

But here’s the thing about cracking.  It’s not fun, but it is sometimes necessary. 

Take, for example, a baby bird trying to get out of its egg.  The egg has to crack.  Rather violently, too.  And that’s exactly what cracking up feels like.  Like a sharp little beak that is incessantly pecking away.  Peck.  Peck.  Crack. Peck, peck, peck…

Granted, we are not an egg, and we do not have a baby bird inside who is trying to get out.  But as Christians, we do have something else inside: the Spirit of God.  And God did not give us His Holy Spirit to keep it bottled up inside for our own use.  He said, very clearly, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

God gives us his Holy Spirit so that we can share it with others.  And sometimes, the best way for the Holy Spirit to shine is for us to get out of the way.  Our mortal self is, after all, nothing but a shell of dust.  If it was just us, the stresses of this world literally would dry us up and blow us away.  But thank God it is NOT just us.  The more cracks we have on the surface, the more God’s presence becomes apparent.  Sometimes these cracks are little, uncomfortable things that make us reach for God’s hand.  Sometimes they are giant cracks where it feels like we have been shoved off a cliff screaming “Dear God, catch me!”  But the purpose is always the same: God’s light bursting forth as a witness to his presence and his power.

As we come into the Easter season, it is pleasant to think of cute little chicks with fluffy yellow feathers, but we should not forget the process that allowed them to be born.  And on Easter morning as we reflect upon our own rebirth in Christ, we should not forget the process that allowed us to be reborn.  Even our most stressful season is nothing compared to the apprehension Jesus endured in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Here is the picture of a man who is cracking up, whose stress is causing him to sweat drops of blood and who is pleading with God the Father to take this task away.  Yet he still manages to say, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).  And in the end, it was through the cracking of His body that the Spirit of God shone through to offer salvation to the world.

In this world, we can try to rely on our own strength.  We can try to patch the cracks and hold everything together.  But God doesn’t want a perfect shell, and He will keep pecking away, trying to shine through.  He uses imperfect people by allowing his Spirit to shine through our cracks.  He pushes us out of our comfort zone so that we rely on Him.  He uses our weaknesses to demonstrate His strength.  Sometimes, in fact, the cracks we are trying so hard to glue together are supposed to be there.  Sometimes the cracks are how we see the very presence of God. 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

Click to jump to Cracking, Part II.

Lest We Forget

Not too long ago I read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.  It was perhaps the most horrible book I have ever read.  I highly recommend it.

If you think that is a contradiction, it is not.

The book sat on my bookshelf for several months before I raised the gumption to open it.  I knew instinctively what kind of horrors it would hold.  Of course, as one friend commented, “It’s not that hard to figure out.  It says right on the back ‘a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality, and fear…endurance tested beyond their worst imagining.’” 

I honestly didn’t know if I would ever read it, but one night almost on a whim I pulled it off the shelf and read the first page.  And once the cover was cracked, the story would not let me go.  Two nights of staying up way too late and it was done.  There were parts I’d squeeze my eyes shut only to peek back through one eyelid to keep on reading. I didn’t want to read the book.  I read it anyway.  Perhaps it was like the proverbial car wreck that you don’t want to see but somehow can’t keep from staring.  I likened it to something vaster: The Holocaust. 

Surrounding the dark periods of our history we often hear the phrase, “Lest We Forget.”  The phrase is used to remind us of the importance of remembering our history, in part to pay tribute to those who have gone before us and in part to be on guard against repeating the cataclysmic horrors that our history contains. During this Lenten season, the phrase should also remind us of something else.

There are certain things in the world so horrifying that I really don’t want to know about them.  I don’t want to read about them, I don’t want to talk about them, I don’t want to think about them.  And yet, I have an indescribable need to do all of those things.  The Holocaust is one example; the tale of Mariam and Laila in Hosseini’s novel is another.  It is as though by acknowledging the deep and unyielding suffering of another, I somehow share some small part in it.  As though by sharing in the suffering in even this small way – the tears, the sickening of the stomach, the pure and vile nausea at the hell of it – as though by acknowledging its existence, by staring it in the face and being duly horrified, I become a little more… human.

Paul explained this phenomenon another way.  We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…if one part suffers, every part suffers with it (1 Corinthians 12:13;26). He also said, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

We are the Body of Christ.  Perhaps the greatest manifestation of this tenet is seen when we bear witness to the suffering of another.  It is in sharing each others suffering that we enact Christ’s trip to Calvary.  It is in bearing one another’s burdens that we are reminded of Jesus Christ, who carried the ultimate burden when he bore all of our sins to the cross.  When we are faced with the horrors of this world, we are reminded how desperately we need a Savior, and how graciously God provided one.

Through our suffering, God reminds us to lean on Him and to have faith in Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings.  There are times we must stare the horrors of this world in the face and remember how human we are and how desperately we must cling to our Savior.  During these times we must join together as the Body of Christ and look to the cross.  Lest we forget.

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17).