Easter is upon us again, but what do people make of it? An excuse to indulge in a few extra calories with an egg or two, or a welcome change from the grind of the current restrictions, (or the chance to dream of a return to normality!) Or maybe, 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 in the world of his day. Indeed, writing to Christians in Corinth, 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’. You might well ask how anyone could be scandalised by the message of Easter!
As the message about the events of the first Easter spread, it was not just about someone called Jesus being put to death by crucifixion outside Jerusalem, it was also about the claim that, through his death, God would save people and give them a whole new life.
To some, the very thought of such a thought was ludicrous, in fact it beggared belief. The Greeks of Paul’s day, with all their education and clever notions about religion couldn’t 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. The cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and a laughing stock to the educated classes.
Things really haven’t changed in all the years since then. If people stop to think about the message at the heart of Easter today, their reaction is much the same. Either they laugh it off as irrelevant in our educated, sophisticated world, or else they are quite affronted at the thought of having to go to the cross in order to come to God. But God hasn’t changed his message. It is still through the message of Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners, that God takes those who believe, makes them his own and turns their life around.
In one sense the Jews were quite right in how they understood the death of Jesus – he was indeed being cursed by God – but it wasn’t for any sins he had committed himself. Rather, he was being cursed in the place of everyone who would ever trust him, so that they would escape God’s curse and be freed from the judgment they deserve. That’s not just shocking, it’s amazing!