Months ago I received an e-mail from a post-christian Protestant denomination. Titled “Welcoming Others to Join Our Jesus Movement,” it included an appeal to support “Ministries that make a difference in our world and propel us forward to walk in the way of Jesus.” Bullet points pointing to these ministries included: Creation Care – advocating for the care of God’s creation; Evangelism – welcoming others to join our Jesus Movement; and Racial Reconciliation – working to create a Beloved Community for all citizens. Essentially, “jump on the Jesus train, become an environmentalist, and focus on social justice.” On Easter Sunday, many in the broad spectrum of christianity who attended a church or listened online heard sermons on subjects similar to the above, as they do most weeks, while many heard themes like Spring, victory following defeat, happiness and prosperity and success, or affirmation coming from the inspiring story of Jesus.
The “gospel” so often referenced on Easter and in other sermons, the messages that are the focus of the entertainment-modeled music heard in the typical evangelical, are “gospels” featuring themes of self-affirmation, prosperity, happiness, success, triumph, self-reform, or calls to societal change inspired by “Jesus.” The approach is usually happy, upbeat, and affirming rather than reverent, repentant, and truly joyful. The focus becomes “who I am” or “who I can become” because of God. That, however, is not the Gospel of the Jesus of the Bible. It is a deception. It is a “pied piper” gospel, strong and delusive, making irresponsible promises, attracting followers, but not focusing on grace, faith, regeneration, and repentance. It robs God of the glory rightfully His. And, by not declaring the Gospel of scripture, it does not address the true need of the human heart.
The local church we are part of had both an Easter/Resurrection Sunday service and a service on Friday evening. The Friday service was memorable and was the perfect pattern for a church service. The account of the trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus from Matthew 26 and 27 was read in sections, with a traditional hymn or gospel song appropriate to the occasion sung by the congregation between each reading. The ordinance of Communion was observed, with time devoted to individual reflection and prayer, and the congregation was lead in corporate prayer. Attendance by visitors outside of the congregation had been encouraged, and the Gospel was clearly proclaimed, from the scriptures, in song, in the observance of Communion, and in brief remarks by the pastor. On Sunday morning, the pastor spoke from the resurrection account in Matthew 28, completing the account of the death, burial, and resurrection from Matthew’s gospel. True worship draws the attention of the worshipper to God, to His nature, to His majesty, to who He is and what He has done for us in Christ. What our church did that weekend did just that.
The message of “Good Friday” and “Easter” is not primarily “me” focused. It is not merely “By Your spirit I will rise from the ashes of defeat, the resurrected king is resurrecting me.” No, the message of “Easter” is ultimately God-focused, Christ-focused, Gospel focused. It is the message of sin and the wrath of God against human sin demonstrated and satisfied by Christ on the cross. It is the message of the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ in victory over sin and death. It is the message of the salvation of those who in repentance and in faith believe the Gospel and turn to Him. And yet, paradoxically, it is only when we realize this, when we focus on God, Christ, and His Gospel, that we attain fulfilment, joy, and eternal life. In John 14:19, it is recorded that Jesus told the disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.”
“Because I live, you will live also.” Christ came in the sovereign plan of God to make human redemption possible. He defeated death for us. Because He atoned for my sin, because in His grace He has called me to faith and repentance, because for His own glory He has made me a new creature in Christ, Because He lives, I will live also.