Captivated by the Cross
by Morris H. Chapman
As much as I love Christmas, it is Easter that most thrills my soul. The message of Easter — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus — remains the central event in human history. My heart is held captive by the hope and the deliverance of the empty tomb. The early believers often greeted one another with the salutation, "Jesus is risen." The response was an affirmation of shared faith, "He is risen indeed."
I am equally captivated by the cross. Without the cross, there is no redemption. Without the cross, there is no lasting peace. Without the cross, there is no reservoir of joy. The cross remains our message, our mission, our mandate, and our hope. It somehow seems natural that the eighteenth-century Gospel song Amazing Grace has become "America's hymn."
Sadly, many are drawn to the poignancy of the hymn without understanding the potency of the cross. Perhaps the most amazing thing about God's amazing grace is how commonplace it has become to so many — believers and unbelievers alike. The yearning heart hears the haunting melody and flowing lyrics of the song; but due to the loss of vitality in many churches, this heart may never be pointed to the cross. Through a tragic truncation of the Gospel message, millions miss the cross. They settle for a sentimental sense of the compassion of God. They fail to experience the life-changing salvation from sin freely offered through the cross. Even many followers of Jesus have lost the sense of awe and wonderment at the full value of our atonement.
The marvel and the mystery of God's grace were fully manifested at the cross. The Apostle Paul wrote, But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, ESV). The cross is the demonstration of God's love. It is a stumbling block to many; but it is the power of God to those who are saved.
The central mission of the Southern Baptist Convention remains the cross. Since our birth as a denomination in 1845, we have sought to elevate the cross. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness in his generation. Jesus became the One lifted up in His generation. As Southern Baptists, we have tried to hold high the banner of the cross across the years. We must not let that banner fall to the ground on our watch!
As we enter this Easter season — the season of remembrance — let us strive to do these three things:
1. Pray earnestly for the lost. So many lost people will fritter away the day, thinking of Easter as only one more holiday to spend with family. Others will crowd into churches of all types with no awareness of the power of the resurrection to save. Even in our own churches, many will come hungry and leave empty.
2. Speak compassionately with the lost. Our Baptist Faith and Message reminds us of our prime directive: "It is the duty of every child of God to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle" (Article XI). The Apostle Paul reminds us that faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ (Romans 10:17). Jesus Himself has commissioned us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
3. Worship reverently before the Lord. My hope and prayer is that we will never lose sight of the glory of the cross. God's love is so amazing. His grace continually awes me. May our hearts be enthralled by the cross. What was intended by men as merely an instrument of torture has become in the hand of God the ultimate act of self-giving love. Let us glory in the cross.
Morris H. Chapman is president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee.
Proclaiming the Easter Message All Year Long
by Geoff A. Hammond
¡Cristo é levantado!
Christ is risen!
It's the greatest lead sentence to the greatest news story ever communicated. I could say it in English, or I could say it in the Portuguese language that I learned to speak while serving as an IMB missionary in Brazil. Whatever the language, the power behind the phrase is the same. "Christ is risen!" — it's been spoken billions of times in hundreds of languages for thousands of years. "Christ is risen!" — it points our attention to the miracle of Easter.
For those of us who follow the risen Savior, Easter is a reminder; first and foremost, it's a reminder of who Jesus Christ is and the great lengths He went through to offer us the gift of salvation. It's a reminder that Jesus Christ is no longer on the cross, and He's no longer in the grave. Ultimately, it's a reminder that Jesus is alive. Christ is risen, indeed!
But if we were to take a look around us this time of year, we'd most likely also be reminded of more sobering truths. If we were to say "Christ is risen!" and then take an honest look at our world, we'd probably notice how North America is slipping farther and farther away from the things of Christ. Sometimes it's discouraging to see the direction in which our culture is headed. This is, after all, the season when "Christ is risen!" And to see that powerful message ignored or rejected by those we work with, live among, and care about should break our hearts.
The first Easter began with broken hearts as well. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary woke up that Sunday morning to a world that seemed lost. Christ was dead and buried. The disciples were scattered. The enemy had won. Or so it seemed.
But for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the Easter experience became one of hope, joy, and purpose when an angel delivered the most important news in history. The report they heard is the same one we've been charged to deliver to the world today — "Christ is the risen Savior!"
For a world that is searching for meaning, there is not a more encouraging and inviting message. And that's the message your North American Southern Baptist missionaries are helping you share with a continent in need.
"Christ is risen!" It's the message Jon and Mindy Jamison are taking to young people in Des Moines, Iowa. Many of the teens they work with live in a world of violence, gangs, and drugs.
"Christ is risen!" It's what missionary Melanie Lawler is sharing with young children in Nevada through her Kids Club apartment complex ministry.
Throughout North America more than five thousand of your Southern Baptist missionaries are looking for and finding lost people who need to take to heart the Easter message, "Christ is risen!"
It's what drives Daniel Caceres, a missionary who helps start Hispanic churches all over Oklahoma. Daniel escaped his home in El Salvador when communist guerillas tried to kill him. Today, he's introducing Hispanics in North America to the One who can take them from death to life.
"Christ is risen!" It's also the driving force behind missionaries David and Shirley Proffitt in Virginia. They're starting churches near college campuses. They often work in communities which are openly hostile to Christianity.
In a very real way, your Southern Baptist missionaries in North America celebrate Easter all year long by consistently proclaiming the message of the season, "Christ is risen!" But ultimately, the responsibility that God has given our North American missionaries is not just theirs — it is also ours.
You and your church are partners in the task of reaching North America and there are many ways you can be a part of that work: You can pray for your missionaries, that they would earnestly seek God's heart; you can help others understand the depth of the need in North America; you can give through your church to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions; and you can join our mission force through short-term, long-term, or career mission opportunities.
Finally, it is my prayer that you and your church will see this Easter season as an opportunity to reach out to the lost in your community who need Christ. Remember, there are still millions around us who need to hear and understand the most powerful message of all — the message of Easter.
Christ is risen!
Geoff A. Hammond is president of the SBC North American Mission Board.
Where Hope Comes to Life
by Frank S. Page
A dramatic incident occurred during the meeting of the Congress of Vienna in February 1815. Representatives of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Britain were meeting to redraft the map of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. On the day when a great degree of agreement had been reached and the boundary lines had finally been drawn, a uniformed messenger came to the door of the council chamber and asked for admission. He went to the presiding officer and handed him a dispatch, at the same time saying in an excited voice, "He is back again!"
"Who is back?" asked the chairman.
"Napoleon," said the messenger.
Immediately the Congress was thrown into turmoil. Fear was on every face. They thought Napoleon was safely guarded on Elba where he could no longer disturb the peace of Europe. Now he was back again, marching triumphantly along the highways of France, being joined by old comrades and new followers. All the careful revision of the map of Europe which the Congress had just made could be discarded. Napoleon was back again. The man they thought was defeated was back again!
Almost two thousand years ago, Satan saw Jesus come back to life after he thought He was defeated. No doubt he had been drawing up great plans for his kingdom. All that had to be changed with the resurrection of Christ.
You see, the resurrection signaled Satan's greatest defeat. It guaranteed his ultimate downfall. Maybe that is why he works so feverishly for souls today, for his days are numbered.
If the resurrection signals the defeat of the evil one, what does it mean for you and me?
There are events which mystify, bewilder, and confuse. In the face of these events, it is not uncommon to hear one ask, "What does it mean?" This was true concerning the resurrection of Christ. Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-2) had difficulty understanding, as did the disciples (Luke 24:11). What does it mean? Consider Matthew 28:5-7:
But the angel told the women, "Don't be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here! For He has been resurrected, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead. In fact, He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there.' Listen, I have told you."
Easter means that without Christ, our world is doomed, devoid of meaning, and empty of hope.
If there had been no resurrection, then there would be no reason for life now.
On the first day of the week, early in the morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb in which Jesus was buried. Their hearts were breaking as they made their way to the tomb in the shadowy darkness of early morning. It was a darkness in which death ruled supreme. Dead was the person who claimed superiority over death. Dead were His claims, and dead was the enthusiasm of His followers. It was the saddest, darkest hour history has ever known. Great was the rejoicing in the halls of hell.
Death's shadowy darkness was made darker by the question, "When He died, did His teachings die with Him?" He taught new and different things. He spoke of love, but where was love now that He was in the grave? He said that He was the only way to salvation, but now He was dead. Where now was the way of salvation? He called Himself the Light of the world, but where was His light now? He taught that if a person died who believed in Him, he would rise to live again; and if someone lived and believed in Him, they would never die. Now what? The brilliant light of His revelation was now quenched in the cold dark waters of death. He was dead and so were His claims and His teachings — or so it seemed.
Easter is a time which ought to shock us into the realization that life without Christ is the saddest, darkest, most horrible existence imaginable. It is hopelessness.
In 1927, a submarine sank off Provincetown, Massachusetts. As soon as possible, divers descended. They walked about the disabled ship trying to find signs of life within. At last they heard a gentle tapping. Listening intently, they recognized the dots and dashes as Morse code. These were the words spelled out: "Is there hope?" This question is asked over and over again by a heartbroken humanity.
Easter means that hope has arrived.
The resurrection is real. In verse 6, God's messenger states it clearly. Some claim that His body was stolen. The Scripture says He rose from death to life.
Let us get the story in perspective. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, had been executed for crimes of treason. They thought the matter was over. Even the disciples thought that their dream of deliverance had ended. All hope had died. They hadn't understood what was happening. The religious leaders had won. They had killed him.
The story wasn't over, however. Although they didn't understand, and many do not today, Jesus died for them. The weight of the world was on His shoulders, and He died. He was whipped, stomped, spit on, and literally nailed to a piece of wood. When He died, they forgot that they were dealing with the Son of God. He rose from that grave. He conquered death itself.
The first to know the joy of that victory were some women who were with Jesus when He was killed. They were with Him when He was laid in the tomb. As they came to mourn the death of their friend, they witnessed the fact of the resurrection. The whole matter was so staggering that it might seem beyond belief. It was too good to be true.
Some still feel the promises of Christ are too good to be true. Some feel that the life which He promised can only be had by preachers or deacons or "holy people."
We can and must take Him at His word. Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Do you believe that He wants you to share in the life that He can give you? The Bible says that you are dead in your sins, but that in Christ — only in Christ, because He rose from the dead — you too can be made alive. First Corinthians 15:22 says, For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. There is hope.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was not a case of another religious reformer going down in defeat. Jesus Christ was declared to be God's Son through the power of the resurrection. According to Romans 1:4, Jesus was established as the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness.
Easter means that the word of Christ is reliable.
In verse 6, the angel in the tomb confirmed Christ's word and reliability.
The angel reminded them that Jesus had promised He would indeed rise on the third day. Matthew 16:21 says, From then on Jesus began to point out to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. He reminded them of this promise which they had not understood. In verse 6, the angel says, Come and see the place where He lay.
The Lord can be believed, for He is reliable.
What He says He will do, He will do. Hebrews 10:23 says, Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
He is faithful. When we come to Him in confession and repentance, He forgives. First John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we open our hearts to Him, He will come in. Revelation 3:20 says, Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.
He is faithful. Let Jesus show you His reliability. A while back, on the cover of the Biblical Recorder, there was a picture of Annie Shaw, age 100. She had just been saved and baptized. Whoever you are, let Christ do for you what He said He will do.
Easter means that the promise of Christ's continued ministry of presence is true.
The angel (verse 7) told the women to announce, you will see Him. The Lord would appear to His disciples.
Jesus had promised to go ahead of His disciples into Galilee, and the angel now reminds them of this (verse 7). The present tense ("is going ahead") cannot mean that Jesus is already on His way, because verse 10 places Him still in Jerusalem. The verb is not a progressive present but a vivid future. As He promised, Jesus will arrive in Galilee before they do and meet them there, contrary to their expectation.
John's Gospel tells of His continued ministry of presence. Acts tells us of His continued ministry through the Holy Spirit. For us, the resurrection gives us the certain hope of His constant friendship and the assurance of His return. It gives us the certain hope that we, too, will rise again.
John G. Paton, a nineteenth-century missionary to the South Seas, met opposition to leaving his home in Scotland and going to preach to the cannibalistic peoples of the New Hebrides Islands. A well-meaning church member moaned to him, "The cannibals, the cannibals! You will be eaten by the cannibals!"
Without hesitation, Paton replied, "I confess to you that if I can live and die serving my Lord Jesus Christ, it makes no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; for in that Great Day of Resurrection, my body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer!"
What does Easter mean? What does it mean to you? It means hope!
Frank S. Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina.