Episode 1. What Makes Us so Special?
As we head towards Easter yet again, perhaps it’s time to think about – well, what makes us so special, that God would do this Easter thing for us.
Join Berni Dymet, on Christianityworks as he takes a look at what was going on in God’s heart, when He was planning Easter.
As we head towards Easter yet again, perhaps it’s time to think about – well, what makes us so special, that God would do this Easter thing for us?
An Intimate Knowledge
It’s always something special to me, that time of the year we call Easter. So we are going to carry it on a little longer this week in the Easter story. This is my 17th Easter since I became a Christian. And it just never ceases to amaze me what the Easter story is all about. It’s a good time for us to think about what God was up to. I mean, Christmas seems like it was just a few weeks ago. Hey, you know, that’s when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the whole baby in the manger thing; Jesus becoming a man.
But Easter for Jesus didn’t happen just a few months after Christmas. Easter for Jesus happened about 33 years later during the Passover celebration. It was the time when Israel celebrated the freedom that they had out of slavery. They’d been slaves in Egypt for a few centuries; God had sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go and God sent a whole bunch of plagues on the nation of Egypt. And the last plague, the most powerful plague, was the first born of every Egyptian family, their animals as well, the firstborn was killed by God and that ultimately convinced Pharaoh to let God’s people go.
But it didn’t happen to the Israelites. You see, they were slaves in Egypt and God said to them, ‘Look, you get a lamb and you slay that lamb, and you put that lamb’s blood on the top of your door frame and the angel of death will pass over your house and this plague upon Egypt won’t befall your house. And so the Passover celebration was the celebration of the freedom that Israel received from slavery by the shedding of the blood of the lamb. And that of course is what Easter is all about.
So here Jesus was in His early 30’s and it’s the Passover celebration and it’s the time that we remember Jesus not only came to earth as a man, He not only walked through every trial and temptation that you and I do, He not only healed the sick and cast out demons and preached with power, He laid down His life for you and for me. He died for us!
Now we will look at the how and why of that, but for me, Easter begins long, long before that. You look at God and you say, “Well, why did you go to such an extreme? What was this all about – you sending your Son, your only Son Jesus, your beloved and you let Him be spat upon and beaten and crucified?”
Easter is God saying to us that you and I are “to die for”. Now the term ‘to die for’ is a contemporary term. If you’re not aware it’s SMS shorthand; you know, the kids as they send the SMS messages to one another often put the word “to die for” They don’t write it out in full, they write it as 2di4 and it’s shorthand for something that you just have to have. A girl might send an SMS to a girlfriend of hers and talk about a boy, say, “He was 2di4”. A boy might look at a car or a motorbike and say, “That car or that motorbike is 2di4”. Something that’s ‘to die for’ is something that you just have to have. And so that’s why we’re talking about it right now because that’s what Easter’s about. And this term “to die for” started me thinking, God was prepared to send His son “to die for” you and me. You and I, in His eyes, in His heart, we are “to die for”.
There’s a beautiful Psalm. You may have heard me talk about this Psalm before. We’re going to spend today looking at this Psalm. If you have a Bible grab it, open it up at Psalm 139 because Psalm 139 is a Psalm that I guess lays the foundations of Easter for me. It lays the foundations of “to die for”. We’re going to unpack this whole idea and have a look at what was going on in the Father’s great and mighty heart. What was He thinking? How was He thinking about you and Me when He hatched Easter.
Easter’s a hard thing to get our hearts around; it’s a hard thing to get our minds around, but Psalm 139 is a great place to start. Psalm 139 tells us just what was going on in God’s heart. What drove God towards this amazing plan that we now call Easter? Let’s have a read. If you have a Bible open it up. Psalm 139. We’ll just look at verses 1-12 to begin with. This is what it says:
Lord, you searched me and you know me. You know me when I sit down, you know when I rise up, you know my thoughts from a long, long way off. You discern my going in and my lying down; you’re familiar with all my ways. Before even a word is on my tongue you already know it completely, Lord. You hem me in; behind me, in front of me, you laid your hands upon me. Such knowledge is just too wonderful for me. It’s too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to the heavens you’re there. If I make my bed in the depths of hell you’re still there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, If I settle on the farthest side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand me fast. If I say, surely the darkness will hide me and the light will become night around me, even the darkness isn’t dark to you. The night will shine like day because darkness is like light to you.
Isn’t it a beautiful Psalm. They’re not just words. This man who wrote the Psalm is pouring out his heart about how wonderful God is. And the three things that jump out at me in this short passages, the first few verse of Psalm 139: firstly how intimately God knows us. “Lord, you’ve searched me, you know me. You know when I sit down, you know when I get up, you know when I go out, you know when I lie down, you know what I’m thinking. Even before I say a word you know what words are going to be on my lips. Lord you know me.” God knows us intimately.
Sometimes Easter feels a little bit like a retailing phenomenon. You know, lets go buy chocolate eggs, have a long weekend, have a rest. And if God is a busy God and He doesn’t have time for us then He doesn’t love us. But that isn’t who God is. He knows you and He knows me, everything we’re thinking, everything we’re doing, everything we’re hoping for, everything we’re for hurting for … God knows us.
And secondly, He’s on this journey with us. “Lord you hem me in: you’re behind me, your in front of me, you’ve laid your hands upon me.” It’s interesting you know, when this was written all the other God’s that all the other nations worshipped lived in static places. They lived in temples, on hilltops and people went up to the hills to worship them in their temples. But this God whom the Psalmist is writing about, this God spent 40 years on a journey in the wilderness with His people Israel. You can read some more about it in the Book of Exodus.
This God sent up home amongst His people in the temple in Jerusalem when they finally crossed over into the Promised Land. This God has a heart to be with His people. It’s His heart’s cry. We hear it time and time and again from the beginning of the Bible, way back in the Old Testament, to almost the end. In the second last chapter of the Book of Revelation. God over and over says this:
‘I will be your God and you will be My people. And I will make my dwelling place among you’.
God is a God who is on this journey with us. Even in hell, even in heaven, even if we go to the farthest part of the world, even there God is with us. His presence, His face – that’s literally what the Hebrew means – His face is there. Even when it falls dark, surely the darkness will hide me and the light will become like night around me. But God, even in the darkness it won’t be dark to you. The light will shine like the day for darkness is as light to you.
God is in those dark places and He’s not some distant God. This is not some unmoved mover. You know, someone who just doesn’t feel for us. This God is a God who knows us – wonderfully, and beautifully and intimately – and He’s on the journey with us. And I know that’s hard for us to fathom. There are billions of people who’ve lived down through the ages and He knows each one of us more and more intimately than we can ever imagine.
That’s what God’s like. He knows each one of us like that. And that for me sets the scene for Easter.
He was There
We’re taking a look today at what was going on in God’s heart. What was He thinking when He was dreaming up this whole Easter thing? It’s an amazing plan. God sends His Son to earth to be beaten and spat upon and crucified, to die on that brutal Cross at the hands of men. Psalm 139, which is the Psalm we were looking at the break, tells us about His motivations behind Easter. It doesn’t talk specifically about Easter, but it tells us what God’s heart is for us.
And we just had a look at the first part of that Psalm to show us that God knows us intimately, He’s on every step of the journey with us. And that’s huge … to know that God is walking every step of the way with us. There is nowhere we can go and be alone or apart from Him, even in heaven or hell. But how is it that He knows us this well?
I mean, sometimes we don’t even know ourselves, do we. We can’t explain why we do what we do or how we react to something or why we did that. You and I are pretty complex creatures. There’s so many layers to who we are. Some things are so deep inside us, we can’t really understand them or talk about them ourselves. So how does God know?
Well the writer of the Psalm goes on to explain that. Let’s have a read now of Psalm 139 going on to verse 13 to 16. If you have a Bible, grab it. This is what it says:
For God, you created my innermost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know that so well. My frame wasn’t hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days were ordained for me, they were written in your book even before one of them came into being.
That’s one of the most precious passages in the Bible to me. As I look back on my life, and you too, there’s a mixture of wonderful and desperate; beautiful and ugly. We’ve both done some brilliant things and we’ve done some really stupid things. There are great heights and there are dark valleys. But when you and I were conceived, God was there. My innermost parts – who I am; your innermost parts – who you are. A DNA blueprint – the way that we look and sound and all our gifts and abilities and strengths and weaknesses – all that, those layers of complexity He created in our innermost being. He knit you and me together in our mothers wombs.
Imagine you and I have been handcrafted by God. Distinctive, one of a kind, completely, utterly, amazingly, beautifully, wondrously made. Separated and different from any other person who has ever lived or any other person who will ever live. Intricately woven together, each strand of DNA laid down according to God’s plan.
But not only that, not only who we are, but everything that would ever happen to us. Look at it again. ‘All the days that were ordained for me, they were written in your book before one of them came into being.’ I so despair when I meet people who waste away their lives worrying and complaining about their lot. Yes, some people seem to have better lives than others. Some people seem to get all the breaks and the benefits and the blessing and other people seem to get handed more difficult lives – painful lives. A bit like Jesus; people like the Apostle Paul. But that’s all part of God’s plan.
There’s a beautiful poem, you might have heard it once before and it goes something like this:
My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colours as He weaveth steadily,
Sometimes He chooses dark threads and I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper and I the underside.
Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reasons why
The dark threads were as needful in the weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He hath planned.
You and I are what He made us to be. We’re living the lives He planned for us, lives He always knew that we’d live. Nothing is a surprise to God. And when we put our faith in Him we experience the most incredible joy.
I was having lunch recently with a women who is well into her 70’s now, whose husband, quite a few years back, committed suicide. How devastating would that have been. But she put her faith in Christ. She spent time in God’s Word and she has this quiet joy and a beautiful countenance about her. She could have lived the rest of her life bitter, but no, she’s live it in Christ.
And when we see the beauty of God’s plan, handcrafted as we are by Him to live the life that He laid out before time began, we get some sense of what was going on in His heart when He came up with this plan for Easter. Because we can only live the life He has planned if we live it with Him.
We have a basic problem, that problem is called “sin”. It’s the things that we’ve done wrong that keeps us away from Him. And that’s what Easter’s about. We’re going to look at that shortly.
That’s Huge …
As we continue to look back on Easter, one of the things that I hope we’ll ponder is the reaction of the writer, the Psalmist, the person who wrote Psalm 139 that we’ve been looking at today. There’s a sense of awe and wonder as He ponders how intimately God knows Him, how faithfully God hangs in there with Him, and the wonder of God’s craftsmanship and plan. Look again at what the Psalmist writes in verse 6:
Such knowledge is too high for me, it is so high I can’t attain it.
I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, oh God, that I know very well.
How weighty are your thoughts oh God, how vast is the sum of them. I try and count them but they’re more than the sand on the beach. I come to the end and I’m still with You.
Easter is the time when God sent His Son to die for us, to solve this basic problem of humanity that we have. A problem that God calls “sin”. And I know, “sin” used to sound like such an old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy word to me too, but it is the problem of humanity. And we’ve been looking at that over the past few weeks. But the thing that oozes out of this Psalm for me – that speaks so much about God’s motivation behind Easter – is His incredible love. We will never ever be able to wrap our minds and hearts around God’s love completely. We’ll never, ever be able to understand how God feels about us.
God says in His Word that one day we’ll stand before Him and all things will be revealed. I can’t imagine … I just can’t imagine looking at God; I can’t imagine looking on the face of Jesus; I can’t imagine knowing and understanding fully how much He loves us. And when He created you and when He created me individually and wondrously and perfectly handcrafted you and me – intricately woven together in our mother’s womb – that was the most amazing act of grace because He knew when He did that, that you and I would reject Him. He always knew that.
He always knew that to bring us back to Him, to save us from ourselves, to save us from what we deserve – which is an eternity without Him – He’d have to send Jesus to die on that Cross for you and me. No if’s, no but’s, no maybe’s – you and I, our sin, our rebellion are no surprise to God. He always knew and He still created us. He still allowed us to be born and He still planned every day of our lives, even before any of those days existed at all. That blows me away. No wonder the Psalmist writes:
How weighty are your thoughts to me oh God, how vast is the sum of them. I try and count them but they’re more than the grains of sand on the beach.
Because behind Easter is this amazing act of grace. Not just that Jesus came to suffer and die for our failure but that God always knew that by creating us He would have to do that. And yet He created us anyway.
Could I encourage you never ever put Easter in some measured little box; never ever to consign Easter to some head knowledge thing, but like the Psalmist be blown away by God’s love. Every breathe you take, every step, every hilltop, every valley, every twist, every turn, everything that we have to suffer and bare – live it in this awe and wonder of who God is and how much He loves you in Jesus. Life takes on a completely new meaning and vibrancy and colour.
Doesn’t matter how much we have to suffer, how much we have to weep, how many tears we cry, we know that God has a plan and He always, and God was there when you were handcrafted by Him in your mother’s womb. God always had a plan for you to be who you are, for you to live the life that He’s given you and for you to have a life through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. And for you and me to walk in wonder and awe of the completely unattainable knowledge of His love for us in Jesus Christ.
We’ve been looking at that over the last few weeks and we’ve seen how His love plays itself out on the Cross. But right now, unless we are completely lost in the wonder of His plan and His love, you know what, I think Easter just becomes another long weekend, doesn’t it?
Listen to the Psalmist:
God I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are so wonderful that I know full well. My frame wasn’t hidden from you when I was made in that secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days that were ordained, they were already written in Your book before any of them as yet came into being. How precious to me are your thoughts oh God, how vast is the sum of them. Were I to count them, they’d outnumber all the grains of sand on the earth. When I awake I’m still with you.
You see, you and I are “to die for” in God’s sight. God created us. He knew that we’d rebel, He loved us and He knew that His Son would have to come and die for you and for me. That, my friend, is what Easter is about. Because your rejection of God, my rejection of God severed the perfect relationship that we can have with God. And God is good, He’s righteous, He’s perfect. Ultimately when we reject Him, when we sin, when we turn against Him, when we do what we know is wrong, somebody has to pay that price.
Now, if you look at our law and our judges, they don’t work perfectly, but if we do something wrong, someone has to pay the price. That principle of justice comes from the very nature of God. God is a just God and He’s a loving God and God’s justice and His love were in conflict. Justice demanded that we be punished, love demanded that we be forgiven. On the Cross they come together, on the Cross they merge. Through the death of Jesus the demands of justice are met and the demands of God’s love to set us free, to have a new life, are met as well.
Friend, Easter is about the central devastating sickness of humanity. Easter is about setting you and me free from our sin to give us a new life. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we celebrate Easter. The chocolates are nice, the long weekend is nice, the church services are nice for those who go but bottom line God sacrificed His Son so that you and I could have an eternal relationship with Him.
It’s relationship that begins the moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s call our sin for what it is – it is sin. And friend, as much as we look in the mirror and we see wrinkles and warts and failures and bad things, God knows those, that’s why He sent His Son Jesus to die on a Cross for you and for me, and that my friend, is Easter.
If you have never put your trust in Jesus, then you do not know the freedom of God’s forgiveness. The moment we believe that Jesus died to pay for our sin and through His death we’re forgiven by God, the moment we accept that and believe that my friend, we are set free to live a new life. That’s why Jesus rose again – to give us a new life. And that new life begins here and now. That is Easter.