Why do we celebrate Easter?
Not long after 3pm on a Friday about 2,000 years ago, the man we call Jesus Christ died. He had been tortured and executed on a cross just outside Jerusalem in the Middle East.
Christians and even many atheists agree: it was a pivotal point in history. Every part of life and culture has been affected by the events of that Friday and the Sunday which followed – the weekend we now call Easter. Even those who do not claim to follow Jesus, recognise him as a great teacher. Those who do follow him claim to know and experience the love of God because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Millions of people over 2,000 years have had their lives revolutionised by Jesus.
The video series Jesus the Game Changer investigates how the life and teaching of Jesus changed the world and why it matters. Drawing on historical evidence from secular historians, as well as eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life, the team of presenters highlight Easter as the heart of the Jesus story.
London-based Bible teacher Rico Tice points to three essentials of the Christian faith: ‘Information – Jesus rises from the dead; agreement – the resurrection is against the laws of nature but I can’t see what else happened on that Easter weekend; trust – I now act on that – I follow him.’ Rico concludes: ‘Everybody has to ask the question – why was Jesus a game changer?’
Focusing on what makes Jesus unique, Birmingham-based writer and lecturer Dr Paula Gooder tackles the question ‘What is the most radical thing Jesus taught?’ Her response: ‘His teaching on forgiveness was completely counter-cultural.’
Looking back to ancient Hebrew thinking on forgiveness she adds, ‘If you wanted a sin to be forgiven you took a sacrifice to the temple and God would forgive your sin. But forgiveness was only available for sins you had done by accident…and forgiveness was always conditional: if you paid back enough.’
Explaining Jesus’ radical teaching Paula says, ‘First Jesus says forgiveness doesn’t have to happen in the temple…Then he says any kind of sin can be forgiven. Then he says “Now you go and do it!”’
What does it take to forgive?
Yale University professor Miroslav Volf learned about forgiveness from his Christian parents who forgave the man who killed his five-year-old brother. ‘In the Christian faith you forgive irrespective of what the other person does. If the other person repents, great. That’s their responsibility. But your responsibility – my responsibility – is to forgive. The message of Easter is forgiveness and a fresh start – the opportunity for redemption.’
Hashim Garrett from New York agrees. ‘Forgiveness is about you,’ he says. ‘It’s not about the other person. When you forgive someone for hurting you, it doesn’t let them off the hook – but you are no longer carrying around that bitterness…that anger.’
Hashim has been able to forgive the boy who shot him, leaving him paralysed. But it has been difficult. He was 15 when he was caught in a gang fight and a bullet hit him in the back, leaving him unable to move his legs. When he was still in hospital facing life-long paralysis his mum gave him a Bible to read.
‘Reading those phenomenal stories I thought “If God could help those people maybe God could help me?” Then I read about Christ and about forgiveness.
‘I thought “I’m gonna forgive my mom and dad for separating.” And I had to forgive the kid who shot me. But somehow I also had to take ownership of the bad decisions I had made.’
Finding forgiveness for himself he says, ‘was like a weight was lifted off me’. But forgiveness is ongoing he adds. Quoting Dr Martin Luther King, Hashim says, ‘Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it’s a permanent attitude’.
‘When we talk about forgiveness, we have to talk about love’ he adds. ‘In order to forgive you have to love. The kid who shot me is human like I am. He’s imperfect; I’m imperfect. True love is from God. God forgives us and sent Christ who taught us “Love your enemy”. ’
For Hashim it is the love of God at work in his own life that makes it possible for him to forgive others.
Rico makes forgiveness personal when he focuses on what makes Jesus different from other faith leaders: ‘The first thing I’d say is that he dies on a cross. This great teacher comes, and the culmination of his mission is he is naked up on a cross. What do you make of that? Other teachers draw men to them and other people do things for them. Jesus comes and he does something for me – he dies on the cross for me. At the heart of his ministry he does that and then he rises from the dead, so Good Friday and Easter day are the things that make him extraordinary.’
Paula agrees: ‘The thing that changes everything is Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus could have come and just been a wise teacher. The thing that makes the difference is that Jesus died and rose again. You need both death and resurrection. Jesus’ death allows you out of the old way of living and Jesus’ resurrection allows you into a new way of being.’