Easter marks the celebration of something big. For some, that “big” celebration is receiving and eating chocolate from a rather unique bunny. For others, it’s a time for family to share in the extended weekend of a meal or two – Good Friday fish and Sunday turkey, to be precise. But for Christians, Easter changed everything. The bunny might be able to lay chocolate, and family and friends might bring everyone closer for a few days, but Jesus undeservingly embraced our sin, died for us on a cross, and overcame death. Jesus gave us a second chance.
We all know we’re not perfect – I don’t have to convince you of that. We may, however, need to look closer at what Jesus taught, how Jesus led by example, and why a bunny doesn’t come close to giving us what Jesus can.
Jesus’ message of selflessness
At Bethel, we are working through a sermon series based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s gospel. As John Stott pointed out, Jesus didn’t simply preach this one sermon; rather, this is a summary of what Jesus taught over and over again.1 One of Jesus’ main messages is a message of selflessness. Decreasing our personal power over our own lives, and increasing God’s leadership over us by serving and loving others.
In a culture where everyone has the “right” to live for themselves, this message of selflessness is often lost in the noise. In fact, I’ve heard Christians and pastors speak of “putting ourselves first”, and “loving ourselves first”. While this may be a true psychological and sociological idea, it couldn’t be a more false Christological one. According to Jesus, His followers are to grow close to Him, by acting selflessly (as outlined in the Beatitudes) so that the world may see Jesus through their lives.2 This doesn’t equate to being a pushover, but it does equate to engaging in counter-cultural norms.
How Jesus led by example
In Matthew 5, Jesus gives special mention to how we are to respond to those who take away our “rights” and treat us poorly or with disrespect. It’s clear that everyone deserves to be treated well, but for the sake of the gospel, we should be willing to lay aside our “rights” so the kingdom can grow. Jesus said:
“39…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”3
Among these cultural examples, we have to ask, “what is the principle Jesus is trying to teach us?” D. A. Carson penned this well:
“What Jesus is saying in these verses, more than anything else, is that his followers have no rights. They do not have the right to retaliate and wreck their vengeance (5:39), they do not have the right to their possessions (5:40), nor to their time and money (5:41f). Even their legal rights may sometimes be abandoned (5:40)…personal self-sacrifice displaces personal retaliation; for this is the way [Jesus] himself went, the way of the cross.”4
Jesus calls his disciples to be selfless by himself living out the most selfless act possible – giving up his own life for everyone else. Jesus was wrongfully accused (27:187f), insulted and struck (27:30), striped of his clothes (27:35), and paid the ultimate price for humanity’s freedom (27:45f).
So when Jesus told us to “…deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross and follow [Him]. For whoever would save [their] life will lose it, but whoever loses [their] life for my sake will find it,” (16:24f) Jesus is clearly defining the significance of Easter and the impact of selflessness on those who follow Him.
What the Easter bunny can’t do
I love eating chocolate. In fact, it was just the other day when my wife called me a chocoholic. It’s not my fault I believe every meal should end in chocolate. But I digress… 🙂
The problem with the Easter bunny isn’t so much that chocolate is involved, as it is about how Easter is being commercialized and marketed just like every other event in our calendar. Easter should be about Jesus’ selfless action and our selfless response.
The most the Easter bunny can offer is chocolate, and the chocolate isn’t even free. Americans spend about $2.1 billion on Easter candy, and all American Easter-related spending (including gifts, clothes, and flowers) equal about $14.6 billion every year.5 That’s a lot of consumerism for an event based on selflessness. While it’s not even close to the 2015 Christmas retail sales of $630.5 billion,6 the fact that it only costs $30 billion to globally provide clean drinking water, to those in need, should get us thinking.7 Where is our focus?
Easter is about witnessing the selflessness of Jesus and responding to that free gift of grace – something the Easter bunny can’t offer.
Our response can be displayed in many ways. For example, we can:
- Refocus our spending habits;
- Help a local organization (like a Church) reach those in need;
- Willingly give something up to help others;
- Care for those who have wronged us or persecuted us; and most importantly,
- Take a moment to be thankful for a God who selflessly loves us so much and accept His grace.
We may question God’s existence or God’s love because 10 percent of the world still doesn’t have clean water. But the fact is, God doesn’t owe us a better world; because of the cross, we owe it to God to selflessly serve.God doesn’t owe us a better world; because of the cross, we owe it to God to selflessly serve. Click To Tweet
In a world where our “religious rights” are under attack, we need to live out the meaning of Easter like never before. Jesus isn’t calling us to “retaliate,” rather to serve selflessly – that’s the way of the gospel.
The Easter bunny can’t help us. Those things can be fun and I’m not purposing we do away with them entirely, but they shouldn’t trump our desire to serve Jesus and others. The ball is in our court. We can’t point fingers. The only person we can change, is ourselves. So…
How will we celebrate Easter?
Will we choose to embrace selflessness or commercialization?
What will we convey to our kids as most important?
Feel free to share how you have focused on the selflessness of Easter.
|⇑1||John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount Christian Counter-Culture, (Downer Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1985), 22-24.|
|⇑2||Matthew 5:3-12; 5:13-16.|
|⇑3||Matthew 5:39-42, ESV.|
|⇑4||D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount And His Confrontation with the World, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 1999), 55.|
|⇑5||“Easter Statistics,” Statistic Brain Research Institute, accessed March 18, 2016, http://www.statisticbrain.com/easter-statistics/.|
|⇑6||“Holiday retail sales in the United States…”, Statista, accessed March 18, 2016, http://www.statista.com/statistics/243439/holiday-retail-sales-in-the-united-states/.|
|⇑7||Guy Hutton, “Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions…,” World Health Organization, accessed March 18, 2016, http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2012/globalcosts.pdf.|