For some of you Easter is a fun springtime holiday. For others of you, it’s the celebration of the most important moment in history.
I want to offer you another possibility: Easter is an entire world-view, and one I suggest that you are desperate for, whether you know it or not.
Today’s post is long. That’s because it’s an edited version of my Easter message at Bridge City, the church where I’m so lucky to pastor.
I’m offering it here as well because, well… I believe deeply that the story told here can change your life, and not just in the eternity-by-and-by kind of way. This is how I see the world, and why I believe that you and I can change. This is why I have hope.
If you’d rather watch than read, you can catch it on Bridge City’s Youtube channel here.
So, all that being said, would you do me the incredible honor of letting me tell you a story?
Every Love Story
Every great love story is the same in it’s essence. Two people meet. Through some set of circumstances they fall in love.
But then something arises that keeps them apart.
Maybe it’s outward circumstances—a cross-country move, a crisis, maybe like Romeo and Juliet their families are bitter enemies. Hopefully that didn’t happen to you.
Sometimes the obstacle is internal—fear, insecurity, struggling with commitment.
The tension, the uncertainty in the story, comes in the question: “Will they make it?” We want to know if their love overcome the obstacle?
We’ve seen this story happen again and again. We look for it in TV shows, in movies, in books. We’ve even watched it play out in the lives of people around us. Most of us, we want them to make it. Even those of us who are a bit more jaded–we hope that things really can work out.
What is it that we’re all rooting for? We want to see their love overcome the obstacles that separate them. We want to believe that love conquers everything.
Not in this world!
As much as we want to believe in all-conquering love, the world we live in tells us this just isn’t true.
Couples get married for love, but in time that love doesn’t seem to be enough to keep them together. Parents are supposed to love their kids unconditionally, but we all have stories where that didn’t happen. Even friends sometimes can’t bear up under the strain of differences of opinion, or crisis, or distance.
Sometimes the obstacle just seems stronger than the love.
Even though we know that real love seems like the long shot, we still have this deep desire to see love triumph. We want to see the couple get together in the end, where they can live “happily ever after.”
I think the reason we cheer for this ending is because we believe in our hearts that a certain kind of love—a love that encourages, that builds up, that values us and that makes us want to be better than we are—is just about the greatest thing on earth. We imagine that living in that kind of relationship transforms you.
Our world, and much of our experience, tells us that this is a long shot at best, probably just a fairy tale. But we still hope and dream about a love where the one who loves us knows us fully and loves us anyway.
Quoting the old philosopher Peter Cetera: “You know our love was meant to be… the kind of love that lasts forever.”
Where does this intuition come from?
Have you ever stopped to wonder why this longing is so deeply planted in our hearts?
So much of the evidence around us tells us that it’s a futile search. So many people hurt. So many people disillusioned. And even if you do find that person who loves you in this way, there’s no guarantee that it will last. Even if they love you the best they can, they still can be taken from you in a moment. In light of all we’ve seen, why do we still hope for love?
I want to suggest to you that the reason we chase this dream of love is because the need for it is built into us. Whether we know God or not, whether we understand this principle or not, we were made to need love; we were wired from the moment of our creation to grow best in an environment of unconditional love.
This is where we find security that goes beyond our circumstances. It’s even where we find who we are, our very identity.
I’ve been thinking about this for years, in my own story, in the stories of the people I’ve listened to as a pastor, in the words of scripture that I read over and over. It seems to me that all those other love stories are just shadows of a greater love story. They’re broken fragments of a deeper, truer story.
Set aside, for a moment, your theology and explanations for Easter. Suspend the need to have everything defined exactly right for a few minutes, and just listen to a story unfold.
The Deeper Love Story
It starts with a Father who loved his children. He gave them a place to live and grow, a place where they could be with Him, where they could learn from Him and constantly know who they were—children loved passionately by their Father.
They were reminded of this relentlessly by His presence. And because they knew their Father loved them, and because they knew who they were in His love, they had no fear.
This was Eden.
Then that obstacle came into the picture, the one that’s in all the love stories. Something separated them. Some combination of pride, distrust, disobedience and foolishness set the children against the Father.
Their intimacy was broken. The children had to set out on their own. Now they had independence, but they also had something else. Fear.
Because they were no longer living in that place of perfect love, they were no longer living with the Father whose very presence reminded them of who they were. So they learned they were naked, vulnerable, and uncertain.
That was The Fall.
The Painful Pursuit
Now the tension in the story was set up. The Father was desperate to reunite with His children. But the children were so afraid, so vulnerable and lost.
Because they were no longer living with the Father, they were no longer experiencing that perfect love that they were made for. What’s worse is that they were forgetting who they really were. And yet there was still this need within them, this drive to be loved, to be valued, to be told who they were. So they started looking in every possible place to find this missing love.
Some of them learned that by comparing themselves to other people, they could find some sense of value and identity. A feeling that was kind of like being loved. This is how they learned about including and excluding, about us and them. This is how they learned about resentment and suspicion. This is how they learned bigotry and prejudice.
Some of them learned that by having power over others, they could find some sense of value that felt a little like being loved. This is how they learned about manipulation and domination. This is how they learned about oppression and violence. They learned that if you could take something from someone else — whether it was their stuff, or their dignity, or even their life, that you felt strong and safe for a moment.
Some of them learned that by accumulating things, they could have some sense of value that felt very much like being loved. Sometimes this was another way to compare themselves with others; “Who has more of what?” Sometimes times it was a way to have control over others. Sometimes it was an end in itself.
This is how they learned about greed and jealousy. It’s how they learned to consume. It’s where they learned that there isn’t enough to go around, and you’d better get yours before someone else does. They learned that if you possess valuable things you will be seen as special, intelligent, and more worthy of love.
At the root of all this confusion was the simple need built into the hearts of the children—the need to be loved by the Father, to be told that they were His special possession, loved with an undying and passionate love. But because they no longer lived in the Father’s presence, this fundamental need went unmet.
Their pursuit of this simple thing led to every brokenness, every sin, every evil ever known. This is the history of humanity and nature of sin.
The Father’s Pursuit
But throughout history the Father continued in the pursuit of His lost children.
He sent messengers to carry His message. Some of these wrote their experiences down, and we still have them today.
He formed a special tribe, a nation, and gave them the task of keeping safe the story of the Father’s desire to bring His children home.
He worked through the lives of ordinary people in everyday ways and sometimes in supernatural ways.
All of this and more was toward one end—to open a path by which the children could return to Him, so they could once again know who Him and who they really were.
The Turning Point
Like all the other great love stories, this one comes to a crucial moment, a last-ditch effort. The apostle Paul, in the book of Galatians, describes it in these words:
But when the fullness of time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Because you are sons, God sent the spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father,’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
All of Jesus’ life and ministry was wrapped around that goal: Living out the Father’s heart. Telling and showing us what it means to live in the Father’s presence. Providing a way for us to return if we desire it. And then, after living and telling and showing, Jesus stepped into the last ditch effort of the plan to rescue the lost children.
Jesus was betrayed by one of trusted friends, and when the soldiers came for Him in the garden, all the rest of his friends were so afraid that they ran too. Jesus knows what it means to be betrayed.
Jesus was tried before the religious supreme court. His reputation was attacked. His intentions were maligned. His sanity was questioned. And when he told the truth, He was convicted and sentenced to death.
“Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ “I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned him as worthy of death.” (Mark 14:61-65)
Jesus knows what it means to be accused unfairly.
He was taken before the Roman governor, because the religious leaders didn’t have the authority to carry out a death sentence. While Pilate, the governor, suspected that the charges were trumped up, he was unwilling to go against the desires of the crowd, and so as they screamed for blood, he sent Jesus to be crucified. Jesus knows what it means to be hurt by the agenda of power.
Jesus was mocked and brutally beaten by the soldiers. Jesus knows what it feels like to be beaten down. He was forced to carry the crossbeam for his own execution. Jesus knows what it’s like to be stripped of dignity. Weakened, wounded, barely able to stand, He was paraded through the city and led to the place where criminals were executed. Jesus knows the depths of pain.
There he was nailed to a cross and left there, exposed, to die from slow asphyxiation. Jesus even knows the agony of death.
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice… My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’…With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. (Mark 15:33)
It was strangers who took Jesus down from the cross and buried Him. His friends were too afraid to be associated with Him, even in death.
Everything was lost! From the perspective of those first followers of Jesus, the cause was lost. Everything they had been hoping for was gone. They even began to wonder if the things Jesus had taught them were true. They scattered. Their hearts were broken. And it looked like the story was over.
But the story is not over.
But that is not the end of the story, because true love—the kind that encourages, that builds up, that values us and that makes us want to be better than we are: the love of the Father—does not die.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ (Mark 16:1-7)
The Unexpected Turn!
Everything was true.
The life Jesus lived was not just the life of some wise teacher. His insight into the Father’s heart was not just an educated guess.
When Jesus came to find the lost children and show them the Father’s desire for their return home, He was speaking with the heart and the authority of the Father. His word: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
There was now a path home for the children to take. They could live in the presence of the Father again—learning who He is and who they are. They could experience that perfect love, the love they were made for, the love that makes them whole.
Our Deep Intuition
Our intuition that true love never dies is not just cotton candy and warm kittens and hopeful wishes. In the book of Job, the most ancient text in the Bible, and very likely one of the most ancient texts in recorded history, Job says this:
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)
Now, I was brought up in a Christian family, and was taught to believe in the Second Coming of Jesus. So these words are no great surprise; it sounds like a little bit of the New Testament. But think about these words for a moment.
Those words were written before Jesus. They were written before Judaism even existed. They were written before any of the Old Testament prophets had recorded words from God. It’s quite possible they were even written before Abraham. The author of these words was expressing a raw hope that he had no theological or religious basis for. You see, this belief won’t go away because it’s hardwired into us from the moment of our creation.
Jesus Overcame the Obstacle
Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday not only verified the truth of His claims. It not only opened up the path back to God. It showed that the Father’s love is more powerful than even death. The final obstacle to relationships that last forever has been overcome.
Jesus’ rose from the grave and returned to the Father. And because of that, every one of us who is bound to Jesus by love will return to the Father as well.
Paul succinctly expressed this:
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8)
It’s hard to understand. It seems irrational, unscientific. And yet this story tells us that true love, the love of the Father, never dies. And because it is the Father’s love that keeps us alive, just like our bodies need air and water, those of us who accept that love, those of us who choose the path back to the Father, will never die as well. We may sleep for a time, but we will not be lost to the Father.
Death has been swallowed up in victory. (1st Corinthians 15:54)
Love really does win.
So you see, love does conquer everything. Not our weak and selfish love. It doesn’t take much to mess that up. It’s the love of the Father that conquers everything. Everything.
And because of it, new pathways, new opportunities, are available to us today. Right now. New possibilities that can change your life in this moment. In this week. Now and forever.
Because of God’s love we can find forgiveness and healing.
Because of God’s love, we can be made whole.
Because of God’s love we have the opportunity to accept a whole new life, a new relationship, and a new eternity.
Because of God’s love a way has been made for us to live in God’s presence now and forever. That means every day can be lived knowing who we really are and that we’re not alone.
But this is not just about us. It’s a love that turns us inside out and draws us inexorably toward those around us.
Because of God’s love we can love others without fear.
We can lift them up.
We can help free them.
We can give generously.
We can risk our reputations.
We can walk with the broken.
We can include the excluded.
We can tell them the story their hearts are desperate to hear.
For A Thousand Years
On Thursday, I was writing in a coffee shop. I had my headphones in, and Pandora was on playing music. While I was preparing my Easter message, writing and thinking about these things I’ve just shared with you, a random song started playing.
It was a song that I’ve dismissed because it’s associated with a movie I don’t think that highly of. It’s a love song. A wedding song, really. And those are often overstated and sugary. Not my favorite music.
But my head was in the middle of this story that I’ve told you today. As the song played I heard the lyrics differently, and it captured my heart.
Because I heard these words as God’s words. God speaking to me across time:
I have died every day waiting for you.
Darling, Don’t be afraid.
I have loved you for a thousand years.
I’ll love you for a thousand more.
In even an ephemeral pop song, God can speak. These are the words of the Father, speaking to you across time, the words your heart is dying to hear.
Will You Let this Story be Yours?
Every great love story is essentially the same. Two people meet. Through some set of circumstances they fall in love. Then something arises that keeps them apart. But true love reveals itself when it risks everything so that the lovers can be together.
But you see, all the great love stories are just shadows, fragments, broken shards of the deepest, truest love story, the story your heart is desperate to hear:
You are the lost child.
God has been seeking for you since before you were born.
Jesus opened up the way for you to come home, for you to live in the presence of the Father, where you can know Who He is, and who You are, and the love that makes you whole.