The Right Side Of Easter
James Stewart of Scotland says: “The supreme need of the world in our time is to start living on the right side of Easter.” I heartily agree and I want to try to tell you why…
Once in a very great while, an event takes place in history which is of such earth-shaking importance that it radically and decisively alters the entire human situation. Nothing can ever be quite the same again. The change affects everybody—the generations alive at the time and the generations yet unborn. One thinks here of such events as the invention of the printing press, the Protestant Reformation, the American Revolution, the Wright brothers’ flight, the fall of Hitler’s Germany, the development of atomic power—all of which have drastically affected the lives of those living at the time and those who followed after.
But there is one event in history which stands alone in terms of both its immediate and its long-term effects. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here was God’s mightiest act, which shook the whole earth and sent its reverberations “far down the future’s broadening way.” Nothing escaped its impact. Nothing was sheltered from its fallout. The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead—a power mightier than a million nuclear bombs—that power bisected all of human history and ushered in a new age. It changed everything and everybody—so much so that life on this earth could never be the same again.
Just look, for example, at those disciples. Something profound happened to those confused, fear-stricken, heartbroken men. Something restored their faith and kept it alive even in the face of suffering and persecution and martyrdom. Something restored their hope and kept it alive even when the world sought to make a mockery of their dreams. Something restored their love and kept it alive even though others hated them and branded them as fools. Something restored their zeal for God’s Kingdom and kept it alive until “the Church of the Upper Room” became “the Church of the four corners of the earth.” That “something” was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They saw the resurrected Lord and their lives were charged with a new power. They went up and down the land. They crossed the seas. They shook the Roman Empire until it toppled and fell. They changed the world. They weren’t crackpots or morons or lunatics. Quite the contrary, they were radiant souls filled with a new power, living every golden hour to the fullest and tasting the deepest joys of life. They knew themselves to be living on this side—the right side of Easter.
Paul picked up the same theme and wove it into all his writings—but perhaps no where more clearly than in the third chapter of Colossians where he goes to great lengths to help us understand what it means for us to be living on the right side of Easter. His words are worth considering…
Paul says, first of all, that living on the right side of Easter erases our past.
That seems impossible, doesn’t it? I mean the past is a closed book, and we know it. It has been written, and we have to live with it. Oh, we wish we could rewrite some of the pages or even rip them out. But we cannot do it. We suspect that Omar Khayyam spoke the truth when he wrote:
“The moving finger writes, and, having writ,
Moves on, nor all your piety nor wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”
But Paul says: “No, when you live on the right side of Easter things are different.” Imagine yourself standing before the bar of judgment to explain the record of your life on earth. You pour out the long list of your worst sins and plead with God for forgiveness. Then suddenly an angel of the Lord steps forward with a great golden book and leafs through the pages. After a lengthy search, the angel says: “We have no record of such sins.”
According to Paul, that is how Easter erases our past. Paul believed, and his own experience confirmed that belief, that the death and resurrection of Jesus represent the operation of God’s grace and power in every one who becomes by faith “a man or a woman in Christ.” God kills that person, buries that person, and erases that person’s name from the Book of Life. But then God raises that person to new life, making that person brand new, giving that person a whole new identity. And that person has no need any longer to be ashamed of the past, because in Christ that past is erased. It’s wiped clean.
During the First World War, there was a soldier who lay dying and who said to his friend kneeling beside: “You have been on the wrong side of the law a number of times, but there are no convictions against me. There is nothing on the books to tarnish my name. So take my life, my identity. It’s in my wallet, all of my identification. Take it and give me yours. I will carry your crimes away with me and you will have the chance to build a new life, free from your past.” That’s exactly what God says to us in Jesus Christ. He says: “Here is my life. Take it. I give it to you. Hand your life over to me that I can carry away all your sins.” You see, living on the right side of Easter means that our past can be erased. That’s what Paul means when he writes: “You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” That’s music to our ears. Or at least it’s music to my ears. Living on the right side of Easter means the past is erased.
But Paul also wants us to understand that living on the right side of Easter changes our present.
Oh, how many of us would love to be able to do that! So many people I encounter want to change their present circumstances. So many people wish they could change their jobs which have reached a dead end, or their marriages which have degenerated into tired friendships, or their economic status which they feel denies them some of the good things in life, or their whole lifestyle which has simply become dull and pointless. They long to change the present, but they feel they cannot do it. I mean, after all, who climbs out of the coffin after the lid has been nailed shut? We cannot change the present.
Paul says: “Don’t you believe it!” Paul says: “If you identify yourself with Jesus in His death and resurrection, that will change everything.” And that is true. For if you accept the resurrection and believe it as a fact, then that will give you a whole new way of looking at life. It changes everything.
Leo Tolstoy tells of a group of Russian peasants whose lives were crushed by misfortune and whose dreams were shattered by poverty, and yet they continually greeted one another in the streets each morning with the words: “Christ is risen!” They were doing what Paul suggests: “Set your minds on the things which are above.”
But so few of us do that.
Did you know that several years after the second World War a company of Japanese soldiers was discovered hiding out in the dense, mountainous jungles of the Philippines? They didn’t know the war was over, and they were hiding from fear of being killed or captured. They typify the mood of so many people in our time—people who cringe in terror before the forces of evil which are loose in our world—people who try desperately to camouflage their quaking panic—people whose lives are paralyzed into uselessness by their own fear of the world about them. They need to be told to come out of hiding. For in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has defeated the powers of evil. The war is over. Oh yes, there are still skirmishes to be fought here and there, but the war has been won. God has gained the victory in Jesus Christ. So set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. Come out of hiding and start living on the right side of Easter.
I have to tell you straight from my heart that the reality of the resurrection has changed my own perspective on the present. I know there are some who would write off that belief of mine as being nothing more than wishful thinking or mindless fantasy. And I would confess to you that over the years there have been times when that belief has been bombarded by doubts created by psychological insight, or by historical investigation, or most severely, by walking through the valley of the shadow of death with people I love. Yet I tell you that even when the clouds of doubt descend and blanket my faith and my hope—even then, I am conscious of being held fast by the power of God in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This Jesus has filled my life with a sense of meaning. He has rescued me from my distress. He has flooded my experience with an unbridled joy. And He has taught my heart to sing. He has blessed my every day with the gift of love and laughter and friendship and opportunities for service. He has taught me that the human journey ends neither in a bang nor in a whimper, but rather in a Hallelujah Chorus. And that’s why even in the midst of a world like this, a world where we are surrounded with the tidings of death, a world where violence is regarded as the expected thing, a world where human life is regarded as an expendable commodity, a world where anger and hatred are celebrated as liberators, a world where despair has become the god of the stage and the screen and the novel—even in the midst of a world like this, I can still say and know it to be true: “The Kingdoms of this earth shall become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” I can say it because I know that I am living on the right side of Easter.
Then Paul wants us to understand that living on the right side of Easter secures our future.
It was a bright, bitter cold day in December of 1666 when Hugh Machail, a young Scots preacher, was condemned to death for his faith. He was to be hanged in four days time. As he was led away to prison to await his execution, the crowds of people gathered along the streets, all of them weeping because he seemed so young to be facing such a terrible fate. Yet in his own eye, there was no trace of a tear, no sign of self-pity or regret. Instead his face was shining like the sun and he cried out to the people: “Trust in God! For the good news is that I am just four days away from seeing my Saviour!”
You see, the risen Christ gives us a future. Not even the threat of death can stymie that future. Paul believed that. He believed that because God did what He did for Jesus in the resurrection, He will do the same for all of us who belong to Jesus. That is what he means when he writes in Colossians: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with Him in glory.”
In one of his books, Paul Tillich tells of a witness who was called to testify during the Nuremberg War Trials. The man had lived for a long time in, of all places, a Jewish cemetery in Poland. It was the only place where he and a number of others like him, could hide away and escape Hitler’s gas chambers. In his testimony, he told of an unusual birth which took place one day in that cemetery. Down in one of the freshly-dug graves, a young woman, assisted by an old gravedigger, gave birth to a baby boy. When the infant uttered his first cry, the old gravedigger prayed aloud: “Great God, hast Thou finally sent the Messiah? For who but the Messiah could be born in a grave?” Well, that old man spoke a truth larger than he knew. For the Messiah, the Christ, was born in a grave—a grave in a garden in Jerusalem from which He came forth to fill the earth with His presence and to live forever with His people.
That means that for us—if we are living on the right side of Easter—for us the grave is not the place of our death, but rather the place of our birth. We do not die there. We are born there! For that begins our future in eternity. That’s Good News! That’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ! That’s the Word of the Lord to us this day! And that is the decisive answer of God to the chaos which exists in our world: Jesus Christ, alive and living. In Him we can find everything we ever need for life. We can find hope when all hope seems broken. We can find courage when we are feeling afraid. We can find friendship when we feel lonely and forsaken. We can find light when we feel that we are walking in the darkness. We can find forgiveness when we know we have blundered so badly. Then at the last, we can find a warm and wonderful welcome home from the Lord of life eternal.
James Stewart says: “The supreme need of the world in our time is to start living on the right side of Easter.” But you know, it seems to me that that ought to start right here, right now, with you and with me…