Lewis: The Mere Christian Message

On this Good Friday/Easter weekend, the Christian message of sacrificial death and resurrection may be brought more to the forefront of minds that normally think little of such things. The message is the same at all times, but this weekend sharpens the focus.

To the natural mind, death is finality. There is no comprehension of how it can be of any good. Yet C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, shows us how:

On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.

On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it.

We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Death has led to life, which runs counter to what people normally believe. Lewis notes in Mere Christianity, “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.”

A fresh start. What a glorious concept. I know, personally, how much I needed a fresh start at one point in my life. My sins were forgiven; God treats them as if they never happened. That truth has led me to a constant state of gratitude for His mercy and has pointed the way forward. Lewis again in Mere Christianity:

Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures. . . .

In Christ a new kind of man appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us.

Eternal life really begins in this earthly existence if we humbly receive Christ’s sacrifice as our own; death is merely a transfer of that life into a new and heavenly realm.

That is what Good Friday and Easter/Resurrection Day are all about. Let your gratitude for what God has done show in your life today.

The Meaning of the Cross

On this Good Friday, I want to draw attention to another aspect of the atonement of Christ. Our traditional theological explanation is to say that Jesus died on the cross so we might escape the penalty for our sins. Most of the time we seem to treat it as a type of commercial transaction. Sure, we are grateful we don’t have to bear the consequences, but all too often we see what Jesus did as some kind of transfer: God the Father got mad at Him instead of us. Whew, that was close.

I don’t accept the idea that God was angry at Jesus, that He couldn’t stand Him at that moment because of all that ugly sin attached to Him. Well, the Father did abandon Him, right? It must have been, as the majority of preachers say, that He was pouring out judgment upon Him because He became the personification of sin. The scripture used to back that up is the one that says Jesus became sin. Yet a closer examination of the Greek shows a better translation is He became a sin offering—not the same thing.

Why did the Father turn away? Two reasons, I believe. First, Jesus had to suffer this alone. Just as any sinner separated from God will feel supreme emptiness at the Last Judgment, so Jesus had to fully grasp that experience. We’re told in the book of Hebrews He had to be made like us in all things so He could be the perfect sacrifice. He had to undergo every temptation as a man to be able to take our place. Yet until that moment on the cross when the Father turned away, He never had experienced alienation from Him. Throughout all eternity past, they were One. Now, for this one agonizing moment, He fully experienced the feeling of separation.

Second, and this is where some may say I’m speculating too much, think about the effect on the Father as well. This was new to Him also. He had never been separated from the Son. If Jesus was suffering, wasn’t the Father also? Yes, Jesus carried out the physical suffering, but both grieved in their hearts.

You see, God the Father and God the Son are not some faraway entities. They live with us, feel with us, work with us at all times. The crucifixion was an intensely personal act.

The other half of this is that we so cavalierly tell others to accept what Jesus has done for them and they can live forever. It’s much deeper than that. We need to come to grips with the personal nature of the crucifixion. We need to “see” the agony Jesus voluntarily submitted to for our sake. In our spirits, we need to view the cross as more than a commercial transaction where we dodge a bullet or have a debt paid. We need to gaze upon Jesus on that cross, realize the degree of His suffering, both physical and spiritual, and be so humbled by His love for us that we would never again want to do anything that would bring even more grief to Him.

In other words, we need a stronger sense of the absolute evil of every sin—the bottomless selfishness of every sinful thought or action—in order to bring us to a place of genuine repentance. The cross should break us down, humble us to the point where our commitment to Him is to live a life that honors Him at all times.

Salvation is not one prayer, and too often we push people into praying a prayer of salvation that may be phony. That prayer will only be real when we first acknowledge our complete spiritual poverty without Him and seek His forgiveness. When we come to that point, when we know in our spirit that we are nothing without Him, only then can we begin to walk in newness of life.

On this Good Friday, we should contemplate not some payment of a debt, but rather the kind of love that would lead the God of all creation to empty Himself of all Godhood, and to humble Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. If we understand the depth of that love, we will be changed. And that’s what it’s all about anyway.

Resurrection Day: The Significance

No one who was present on that first Good Friday would have given it that name, not even the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought Jesus’ death. The earthquake and the veil of the Temple being torn in two probably put a damper on their celebration.

Dismal Saturday was, if possible, even worse for the disciples than the day before. It was a day without hope.

But hope was coming sooner than they knew.

Resurrection Day made the two previous days fade into the background. Startled by the Risen Christ, they now began to understand the significance of it all. The resurrection was the cornerstone. As the apostle Paul later put it:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. … If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

And then there is this promise:

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. … Then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

That is our hope. That is the victory. That is the significance of this Resurrection Day.

The Resurrection

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ Now I have told you.”

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Resurrection Day (not Easter) is the most meaningful day of the year, surpassing Christmas. Yes, Christmas is spectacular, but without the Resurrection, it has no significance. Jesus came not just to be a man, but to voluntarily give His life that we might live. The suffering of Good Friday was followed by the splendor of the Resurrection. As a result, we can receive forgiveness and live in fellowship with the One who gave His all.