“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." I John 3:16
Traditionally, forty days before Easter, Christians give up something to commemorate the death of Jesus. Those sacrifices typically include a food item--something we may love but shouldn't be eating anyway. Most of the time these sacrifices also align with a personal goal. Last year for Lent my cousin and my aunt gave up sugar. My aunt is not religious but she happily reported back that she lost 8 pounds. A few years ago I had a friend who "gave up carbs". I did not question her about how she could give up carbs for Lent since many foods contains some carbs. But since she was planning a spring wedding right after Easter I suspected that she was really just getting in shape for the big day.
While I disagree with using Lenten fasts as an excuse to diet, there is certainly nothing wrong with a sincere fast, and I think God does honor sincere sacrifices for Lent. But the story of Easter teaches that the most sincere, heartfelt sacrifice is not enough to please God. Jesus came to earth as a man to die for us because NOTHING we could was good enough to satisfy God's demands. Our best, most sincere effort to obtain salvation was utterly useless. As 1 Peter tells us, "All our greatness is like a flower that droops and falls, but the Word of the Lord will last forever."
The Gift of Easter is the free gift of salvation--unearned and unmerited. We can't work hard enough for it or be good enough for it. A just God could not simply overlook our sins, but a loving God paid the price for us. His sacrifice for us was so huge that it is impossible for us to comprehend. He gave up eternity and immortality to be born into a confining human body; He gave up the wealth of the universe to be born into a stable and to live in unimaginable poverty. Nazareth is a village built in caves on a mountainside--He made his earthly home among those who did not even live in houses. He endured a brutal scourging and a criminal's death on a cross. He was buried in a borrowed tomb.
As our scripture from Isaiah says, He was wounded for OUR transgressions; He was bruised for OUR iniquities, the chastisement of OUR peace was upon Him and by His stripes WE are healed. He paid the price that we owed for our sin and now he extends to every person an invitation to be free and to be adopted into His family.
The only gift that we can give back to God is the gift of a changed life and a witness to a dark world that we really have been changed. That is the only sacrifice that God really wants from us because it is the only sacrifice that impacts others. Our gratitude for the gift of Easter should be the return gift of a life that honors God and points other people to Jesus.
"It is God's will that your good lives should silence those who foolishly condemn the gospel without knowing what it can do for them, having never experienced its power. You are free from the law, but that doesn't mean you are free to do wrong. Live as those who are free only to do God's will at all times." 1 Peter 2:15-16
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