I wonder what comes to mind when you think of Easter? Every year it seems that no sooner has the Christmas merchandise been cleared from the shop shelves that they are immediately restocked with chocolate Easter Eggs and Bunnies. For most, Easter is a welcome break from school or work at the beginning of spring. Days are becoming noticeably longer, there is new growth in the fields and gardens, flowers are coming into bloom and buds are appearing on trees and shrubs.
The origins of the Easter festival are complex. The English word Easter has its origins in pagan festivals celebrating an Anglo Saxon goddess called Ēostre (or Ostara in the Germanic form). Customs relating to eggs and bunnies can be traced to these pagan roots. In many other languages the name for the Easter weekend derives from the Hebrew word Pesah which referred to the Jewish Passover festival. This was the season when Jews remembered God rescuing them from Egypt after 400 years of captivity and slavery. The final sign that changed Pharaoh’s heart was the sign of the death of the firstborn son in every household. Only God’s people who had roasted a lamb and painted blood on the doorposts and lintels were ‘passed over’ and saved from this final plague. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites on their 40 year journey to the Promised Land.
It was the Passover season when Jesus was crucified and rose again. The parallel between the Passover lamb and Jesus was striking and the early church celebrated Christ’s death and resurrection. As the church spread, announcing the good news of new life that Jesus offers, pagan festivals were often Christianised in order to encourage converts to focus their attention on the risen Christ.
The apostle Paul teaches that Christ’s resurrection gives us hope of our own resurrected new life. As you enjoy the new life in nature this spring, and perhaps indulge in chocolate eggs and bunnies, reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection. There is a welcome for you at any of the local churches this Easter, where we would love to help you experience the new life that Christ offers us.
This blog post featured in the March 2016 edition of Hook Focus
I love Easter! It is the festival in the church calendar that for me towers above all the others. It is fun to celebrate Christmas. I love the power of Pentecost. Yet without Easter these other highpoints of the church year would cease to exist. Easter is the kingpin that holds the Christian faith together.
The Easter season covers between 7 to 10 days of Jesus’ 33 year long life yet the gospel accounts devote a disproportionately large amount of space to it, because of its fundamental significance. Easter morning is fantastic as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead!
When I was younger I used to want to rush through to Easter morning. Partly for the chocolate! But mainly because I find the Good Friday account of Christ’s death made me sad. Sad because the hero of the gospels, the saviour who I love, dies. Sad because of the injustice of the illegal, kangaroo court, that convicted Jesus on trumped up charges from false witnesses. Sad because of the gruesome brutality of the floggings that Jesus endured from the soldiers. Floggings that left a man’s back raw with flesh and were capable of ripping his internal organs out. Sad because of the suffering on the cross as Jesus hung naked and ashamed, surrounded by mocking onlookers as flies buzzed around his open wounds, and the heat of the sun bore down on his exposed body.
Despite the undoubted sadness of the crucifixion I have come to realise that it is the centre point of the gospel. When doubts enter my mind, it is the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection that stabilises my faith and reassures me of the truth of the gospel. Of course without the crucifixion there could be no resurrection, but Christ’s crucifixion is not merely a precursor to the resurrection. If it were I am sure God could have found a less blood chilling manner for Jesus’ death.
Throughout the New Testament writings we see that Christ’s death provides the transaction that means that we can be forgiven for our sins. As we have seen in our study in 1 Corinthians, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (the society around us) but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Time and again, in Paul’s writings especially, we see that Christ’s death is the very means by which we are saved. On the cross Jesus took the punishment we deserve, he died the death that we should die in order that God’s justice could be complete. The cross stands above it all!
As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday I encourage you to take time to linger at the cross and reflect on its power and significance. Rejoice that Christ has paid your debt and allow this truth to stir and strengthen you. As you do I am sure that this will only heighten the sense of joy as we celebrate his resurrection on Easter Day.
This blog post featured in the March 2016 edition of Lifelines
Do you ever find yourself questioning whether your faith is true? And if so where do you turn to strengthen your faith?
I am most prone to doubt when I am tired or feeling under the weather. At times like that the number one thing that renews my faith is Christ’s resurrection. Taking that away is like removing a key block from a Tower of Jenga, everything else collapses around it. Paul writes: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NIV 2011) As if that wasn’t strong enough Paul continues in the same chapter to say that if Christ has not been raised: 1) our message is a lie, 2) there is no resurrection for anyone else, 3) our faith is futile, 4) we are still in our sins, and 5) we of all people are the most to be pitied! Of course Paul is being rhetorical here, inviting us to have confidence in Christ’s resurrection, because he then goes in to state: ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ 1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV 2011)
Why was Paul so certain that Christ had been raised? Because he had evidence; evidence that we too can rely on to confirm that our faith is based upon facts. Just a few verses earlier Paul cites the eyewitness testimonies of Peter and the 12 apostles, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote and could have been questioned. He also cites a resurrection appearance to 500 others at the same time, again most of whom were still alive and could have been questioned.
Of course we could also look at the evidence of the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes; the response of the authorities who had every incentive to prove that Jesus had not risen; the eyewitness testimony of the women who arrived first at the tomb; the scepticism of Thomas; the willingness of the disciples to die for the truth of Christ’s resurrection.
A careful investigation of such details leads to the conclusion that the best explanation for that first Easter morning is that Christ is indeed risen! And if Christ is risen then we know that the message of the scriptures is true, that we too will be resurrected, that our faith is not futile, that we have been set free from our sins, and that we are the envy of the world.
This Easter, allow yourself to be captivated by the facts. Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again! Alleluia, Amen!
This blog post featured in the April 2015 edition of Lifelines
The run up to Easter is one of my favourite times of the year. Each new day, as we see the weather improving, draws us closer to the time when we celebrate Christ’s death and Resurrection. Normally in the run up to Easter I would encourage you to focus on Christ’s death as it is through His death that we are able to receive mercy and forgiveness for our sin. But what would the Easter story have been like had Jesus not risen? After all the animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant stayed dead! The resurrection though gives us confidence that the power of death is beaten, and that we like Christ will be raised to life on the last day.
Have you ever wondered what it must have been like for the disciples to encounter the risen Lord Jesus after the tomb was found empty? During a period of 40 days Jesus appeared to over 500 followers on at least 11 occasions as recorded in the gospels and Acts. What would it have been like to be part of that? How would your faith have been strengthened to see Christ standing in front of you with nail scarred hands and a pierced side?
Starting on Easter Sunday will be a 6 week series called ’40 Days with Jesus’. Each week a different preacher will help us join the disciples and retrace their steps in an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. The series is supported by a devotional book by Dave Smith called (you’ve guessed it!) ’40 days with Jesus’. There are also small group questions and video clips that some Connect groups may choose to use during these 40 days in order to help us draw closer to our Risen Saviour.
Dave Smith is the leader of Kingsgate Church which was planted as a small group meeting in a home in 1988 and now consists of a congregation of around 1,500 people in a massive warehouse conversion in Peterborough. Dave Smith is joining us at Westpoint in August so this will also be an opportunity to get to know him before the summer.
If you would like to join us on the 40 day adventure you can purchase a copy from Amazon
Paperback edition 40 Days with Jesus from Amazon UK
Kindle edition 40 Days with Jesus from Amazon UK
This blog post featured in the March 2015 edition of Lifelines
A few years ago when we were on a family holiday in France we visited an amusement park. One of the more challenging rides was a 500m aerial runway across a lake and onto an island. After watching several people take the ride before me I became convinced the ride was safe, plucked up courage, climbed on to the seat and sped down to the landing area. My initial nervous trepidation change to exhilaration as the warm air rushed past my face.
Many people think that becoming a Christ follower is an act of blind faith, a leap into the dark without any rational basis. Nothing could be further from the truth! At the point of decision there may be many unanswered questions but, like my decision to ride the aerial runway, genuine faith in Christ is based upon a body of evidence. Of all the things recorded about Jesus, the one outstanding claim that needs to be scrutinised is His resurrection. If that can be shown to be false then everything else falls away like a stack of cards. Even St Paul recognised this when he wrote these words: And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
No serious historian would question that a man called Jesus lived and taught in the region of Galilee and Judea. Over the years a number of people have written books that set out to impartially investigate the evidence surrounding Christ’s resurrection, the most famous being ‘Who moved the stone?’ written by the lawyer Frank Morison who intended to prove the resurrection didn’t happen. Trawling through the New Testament accounts, and other contemporary evidence, Morison concluded that the most rational explanation for the events surrounding the first Easter, 2000 years ago, was that: Jesus actually died on the cross, he really was buried in the tomb, he was definitely raised back to life and appeared to over 500 of his disciples. In short, the essential elements of the Easter accounts are true.
You may consider that you know the details well, but have you truly examined the evidence? In between the chocolate eggs and fluffy bunnies why not conduct your own investigation into the resurrection this Easter? Begin by reading Matthew 21- 28; Mark 11-16; Luke 18-24; John 11-21. Then get hold of one of the books listed below and see how all the arguments against the resurrection can systematically be shown to fail. Then you will have evidence that demands a verdict; you will have a rational basis for a decision upon which to base faith in Christ.
This blog post featured in the April 2014 edition of Hook Focus
 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NIV2011).
During World War II a group of Scottish soldiers were captured and forced to build the Burma Railway. Conditions were harsh, the guards’ treatment of the POWs was brutal and the death rate was high. Ernest Gordon, in his book ‘Miracle on the River Kwai’, recounts the true story of how at the end of a particular work party the guards counted the shovels back in as they did each evening; only on this occasion the count was short, a shovel was missing!
The officer in charge was furious and began ranting at the prisoners demanding that the person responsible for stealing or hiding the shovel should step forward. They stood silently in line; no one moved. Incensed, the guard shrieked “All die! All die!” and began to aim his gun at the defenceless men. At that moment one man stepped forward and the officer beat him to death right before the eyes of his colleagues.
The survivors were permitted to pick up his bloody corpse and carry him, along with the shovels, back to the camp. Here the guards carried out a second tool check and found that all the shovels were accounted for, there had never been a missing shovel! The first check point had simply been a miscount. News of the incident spread quickly through the entire prison camp. The realisation that an innocent man had been willing to die to save others had a profound effect, binding the prisoners together in deep loyalty.
Before his death Jesus told his disciples: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” [ John 15:13 (ESV)] He knew that he would shortly be betrayed by a friend, arrested in the middle of the night, stood before a kangaroo court and condemned to death on a cross. He also knew that he could turn and walk away from his destiny but he chose to embrace death. Jesus’ death is far greater than a good man dying for the benefit of others. At Easter, Christians across the world celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection; confident that in his death Jesus received the punishment that we deserve and so we can receive forgiveness, assured that through his resurrection the power of sin and death is broken and we can look forward to eternal life with him. Why not join with us during this Easter season and experience for yourself the liberation that Jesus offers you.
This blog post featured in the March 2013 edition of Hook Focus
Recently two women (Mrs Eweida and Mrs Chaplin) took their case to the European Court after they faced disciplinary action for wearing crosses to work. The British Government argued that Christians do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work and claim that the two women’s application to the Strasbourg court was “manifestly ill-founded”. The fuss that has surrounded this matter has divided opinion in the UK, sometimes along unexpected lines.
Controversy has surrounded the cross ever since Christ was crucified. St Paul wrote: ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) Crucifixion was a brutal form of execution that was designed to torture its victims as, over many hours, it led to a slow painful death, primarily through asphyxiation. Even among the Romans the cross was an object of horror, so for a Jew to declare that ‘it is the power of God’ is astonishing.
How is it then that something as unpleasant as the cross could become the symbol of God’s power and love? Paul’s answer is ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.’ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NIV) If Jesus’ death on the cross had been the end of his story then he would have been just another forgotten Jew who died at the hands of the Roman occupation army. However, as millions of Christians will celebrate on Easter Day, Christ did not stay dead but resurrected from the tomb demonstrating his power over death, affirming his power to provide forgiveness. Christ’s resurrection transforms a rough wooden cross from being an ugly object of scorn into the glorious means of our rescue from sin.
The true mark of a follower of Jesus is not a cross worn around their neck but that the message of the cross has penetrated their heart. We invite you to join us this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. Our prayer is that you too may know the power of God that is found in the message of the cross.
This blog post featured in the April 2012 edition of Hook Focus
Think about some good news that you had recently – the birth of a baby, a marriage or a job appointment. I wonder how you heard about it? I wonder what your instinct was when you heard the news? Increasingly people use things like Facebook and Twitter to pass on good news but even if you don’t ‘do technology’ I am sure that you will agree that there are few things as frustrating as having good news that you can’t share.
For Christians there is no greater news than the Easter message. The death and resurrection of Jesus provide us with tangible assurance of God’s love for us and the means for our forgiveness and reconciliation. There are few Christians who don’t want to share God’s love with the people around them but many of us struggle with how. Over the next few months we have planned a number of activities that we believe will help us. The two main events are InsideOut and Catch the Flame please put these in your diary now so that you do not miss out.
InsideOut is a series of four Wednesday evenings starting 11th April. Led by Steve Lee from Miracle Street, these sessions will help us to share God’s love in practical and natural ways as part of our daily lives. You can watch a personal invitation from Steve on our website (lifechurchhook.org/insideout) As well as helping us to live our daily lives as followers of Jesus these evenings will also help us get ready for Catch the Flame which will take place over 26/27th May as we work together with the folk from St John’s. On the Saturday afternoon we will be holding another Fun Day followed by an open air ‘Church in the Park’ event on the Sunday. Catch the Flame is intended to tap into the 2012 Olympic theme as well as taking place at Pentecost weekend.
Please make it a priority to get involved on those dates, above all please pray that we will see people respond to the good news over the coming months.
This blog post featured in the April 2012 edition of Lifelines