Easter will soon be upon us again, but what will people make of it? An excuse to indulge in a few extra calories with an egg or two, or a welcome break from school or work, and maybe a chance to show off your latest Spring outfit – regardless of the weather!
Or perhaps, somewhere in the back of your mind, there is a vague religious significance to it all. Whatever you make of it, most people will see it as a pretty tame festival with not quite the same excitement of Christmas.
It comes as some surprise, then, to find the apostle Paul speaking of Easter as a shocking affair; an event and a message that got people very upset. Indeed, he talks about some people being shocked beyond belief by the message of Easter – the Greek word he uses gives us the English word ‘scandal’. How could anyone be scandalised by the message of Easter?
As news of the events of the first Easter spread, it was not just about someone called Jesus being put to death by crucifixion outside Jerusalem. What ‘scandalised’ people was the claim that Christ had risen from the dead and that through his death God would save people and give them a new life.
To some, the very idea was ludicrous; it beggared belief. The Greeks of Paul’s day, with all their education and clever notions about religion, could not bring themselves to countenance a claim like that.
But the reaction of Jewish people was worse. They knew from the Old Testament that when a person was put to death in this way it was a sign of God’s curse upon them. To them, a message about a crucified Saviour was offensive in the extreme.
Things really haven’t changed in all the years since then. If people stop to think about the message of Easter today, their reaction is much the same. Either they laugh it off as being irrelevant in our sophisticated world, or else they are affronted at the thought that they must turn to the cross in order to come to God.
But God hasn’t changed his message either! It is still through this message, of Christ crucified and risen, that God takes those who believe, makes them his own, and makes them new people.
In one sense, the Jews were quite right about the death of Jesus – he was being cursed by God. But he was not cursed for any sins he had himself committed. Rather, he was cursed in the place of all who would ever trust him, so that they might escape God’s curse. God ‘made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
That’s not just shocking; it’s amazing!