“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” (1 Peter 3:18, NASB95)
Easter is in all the stores. Rows of candy and bags of colored fake grass are being brought home to await the day when all of the gathered goodies will be placed in bright baskets and shared with children. Eggs will soon either be boiled and colored or opened and stuffed in anticipation of a quick search around the yard for these annual surprises. For many people this is what Easter is about, and while I enjoy all of this I also know that Easter is about something much, much more.
Easter is about the truth behind the message of 1 Peter 3:18 and other similar passages from the Bible. It is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Him completing exactly what He came to do which is to save man from his sins. While Christmas, and its pointing for many to the birth of Jesus, seems to be a bigger holiday here in the U.S., it is Easter that points to the real reason from His coming being fulfilled in His death, burial and resurrection. It is for this reason that some even avoid the word Easter, and speak of this day of memorialization as Resurrection Sunday, the day that caps off a whole series of days with the resurrection of Christ as the climax.
Peter wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all….” These words were written to people who were suffering in a variety of ways. They were being challenged in their faith, and these words were an encouragement in how to walk through those difficult situations whether it was at the hands of the government, a hostile master, or a difficult spouse. In all of these Peter encouraged his readers to consider the example of Christ and the extent to which He went to glorify the Father in accomplishing the purpose for which He was sent. Each person is to keep their eyes on Christ and to live according to His example such that the world may be silenced in its accusation, some would see and believe, the individual would be blessed, and the Father glorified. Jesus understood the most intense of situations they would encounter. In fact, He died for them in the most excruciating of ways as the “just for the unjust.” There was no injustice that they would suffer that He did not more greatly suffer.
Jesus committed no sin, yet He died for the sins of all. In the Old Testament and under the Old Covenant, the Jewish people would bring their offerings before the priests who would offer up sacrifices on their behalf. They did this over and over again, year after year in order to make atonement for their sin. But this atoning action was never complete. There was nothing they could do to alleviate once and for all the burden placed on them by their sins. They were never going to be made perfectly righteous by their sacrifices. It was only God who would perfectly and completely credit righteousness to them because of faith in His Son.
Jesus Christ is God’s deliverance. Being God Himself, He willingly took on the form of man to be born of a virgin for the express purpose of bringing man back into a relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of life—eternal life. Jesus was born without sin and He lived without sinning. He was the perfect once and for all sacrifice that never needed to be offered again. His shed blood was totally adequate for the forgiveness of all. With His death, burial and resurrection God’s plan was perfectly competed. It was for this reason that Jesus could accurately say on the cross the incredible words, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
He knew what He came to do, and He was faithful to complete it. Peter continued, “so that He might bring us to God.” Jesus could do this because the grave could not hold Him. He was not a once lived and then dead martyr. He is our risen Lord who is our way of salvation. He does not merely show a way. He is the one and only way. He said that no man could come to the Father but by Him (John 14;6), and this is exactly what He provided for us as He gives us life and a relationship with the God the Father.
And how did He do this? He laid down the physical body, which He willingly took on, in the most violent of ways so that it would be put to death on our behalf to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that we might receive His own righteousness and live just as He lives, alive in spirit. His body may have laid in the grave for three days before even it was resurrected, but Jesus’ spirit never died. And we read in Scripture that the same will happen to us when our own bodies are ultimately laid down.
“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–9, NASB95)
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:50–54, NASB95)
The grave could not hold Him. Jesus was and always will be more than skin and bones. Jesus assured His disciples on that last night with these words, “…because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19, NASB95) This is the great joy of Easter. This is the real reason for incredible celebration.