Easter has arrived. For much of America, this means a haircut, a new dress or suit, and a biannual pilgrimage to the nearest church. It means renewal, gifts, and the coming of spring. For Christians, this holiday occasions a recognition of the pardon we have received in Jesus Christ—one we underestimate if we forget the freeness with which it was given (John 8:36 NKJV), and one that we slight if we forget the immensity of its cost.
No religion except Christianity holds it to be true that God assumed flesh as a man and died to ransom us (Mark 10:45) from death, the product of our rebellion against God’s ways (Romans 6:23). Islam teaches that believers must gain salvation through their own righteous commitment to God’s law. Eastern faiths, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, teach that we have to discipline ourselves to achieve enlightenment. Only Christianity, however, realizes that man is fallible and cannot perform his own rescue any more than a drowning sailor can throw himself a rope. Other religions have masters and teachers who impose rules; we have a Father who has adopted us (Romans 8:15-16) and signed the contract in his own blood.
Jesus is more than the best option among a list of faiths—the “lazy man’s way” to heaven, as a non-Christian lady once jokingly told me. If we believe that God exists, and that he is truly worthy of being called a God, perfect in every way, then Jesus is the inevitable result of who God is.
Consider this: The attributes of a God who is both perfect and good include absolute justice and infinite mercy. These traits are an impossible paradox. Because God is just, he will reject people for every evil that they do. But if he is also merciful, how can he be himself while giving us exactly the consequences that we deserve? This contradiction might seem to imply that a God who is both just and merciful cannot exist—that no being worthy of the title God could exist.
Except if God chose someone else to take our place on death row. It would have to be someone “without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19) to insure that he could bear the sentence for another’s sin rather than his own. To be a genuine substitute, it would also have to be a person who “was in all points tested as we are” and yet remained as faultless as God himself (Hebrews 4:15). But the only person as perfect as God is God.
Thus, for God to carry out his unwavering justice and yet demonstrate his endless mercy, he had to manifest as a human being and offer himself as a worthy sacrifice on our behalf, to receive all the punishment the world would ever incur.
It would have to be Jesus. That’s why we celebrate this holiday—not only because Jesus lived rightly, or because he died in shame, but because he did both and then rose again to prove his victory. If God is God, then Jesus is inevitable.
He lived the life we couldn’t live. He died the death we should’ve died.
Happy Easter; we are free indeed.
Anthony Otten has published stories in Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Wind, Still: The Journal, and others. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. He lives in Kentucky.
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