~ Agathos Church is a non-denominational Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio. This blog post is an adapted excerpt from a sermon by Pastor Brad Ettore. You can hear the whole sermon, The True Meaning of Easter, by clicking here.
Note: The content of this message is not particularly challenging to understand, yet the background that is necessary to develop the teaching actually can make it easy to lose the “forest for the trees.” For that reason, please read the overview below first. It will help paint the picture of “the forest” before starting to analyze “the trees” and therefore should make this message easier to grasp.
The event we celebrate on Easter is the most significant event in all of human history! To understand its significance, it helps to view it in light of the Old Testament. In the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices were offered at the temple throughout the year. On one particular day, however, the high priest actually entered the Holiest of Holies to make atonement for ALL of the sins of Israel for the whole year. This day was called Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
On the Day of Atonement, the nation of Israel waited with great anticipation as the high priest made very specific preparations to enter the Holiest of Holies on their behalf. If the high priest had prepared himself correctly, the sacrifice he would perform on behalf of all of the people would be accepted by God and the high priest would emerge from the Holiest of Holies alive. The sight of the high priest “re-emerging” from the temple caused the nation to celebrate the covering of their sins for that year! Conversely, if the high priest had not been perfectly prepared, he was struck dead in the presence of God – indicating that his sacrifice on behalf of all the people had not been accepted by God. The grave reality of “some priests not making it” is seen in the Jewish tradition of tying a rope to the leg of the high priest so that he could be pulled out of the Holiest of Holies were he to not emerge alive. The nation would not celebrate having to use that rope to drag the high priest out of the Holiest of Holies because his death would indicate that the sacrifice he attempted to make on behalf of the people had not been accepted. The people’s sins would not be covered.
The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus has become a “high priest over the house of God.” (Heb. 10:21) When Jesus died, it is interesting to note that He was placed in the tomb wearing white linen garments like the high priest would have worn on Yom Kippur. Like the high priests on Yom Kippur, Jesus had prepared Himself to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people – to atone for their sins. Unlike the high priests, however, Jesus was not sacrificing something else, but instead Himself; this is why Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God!
Every year, the high priest would prepare himself and enter the Holiest of Holies to atone for the sins of the people and every year the Israelites likely hoped that he would emerge alive – indicating that his sacrifice had been accepted by God. Jesus also prepared Himself. So, like the high priests who had been successful, Jesus emerged – alive! As both our high priest and the Lamb of God, Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself had been accepted by God . . . and He therefore emerged victorious from the tomb! Romans 4:25 spells it out by saying that Jesus “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Jesus was crucified (delivered up) because we had sinned. He was raised from the dead because we had been justified before God! The resurrection of Christ is the PROOF that Jesus’ sacrifice had successfully paid for ALL sins for ALL mankind for ALL time!
So, just as the people of God in the Old Covenant celebrated with great joy at the emergence of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, all the more God’s children can now celebrate every day of every year at the realization that Jesus emerged from the grave after making payment for all of our sins with His very Own blood! Jesus’ sacrifice for you was accepted by God and you have been declared “JUSTIFIED!” before the Father! All we have to do is receive His sacrifice for us by faith!
The tallest structure in The Temple was the Holy of Holies. There was the outer court, the inner court, and the Holy of Holies. Animal sacrifices were offered throughout the year at the temple, but one particular day, Yom Kippur (the Day of Attonement), the High Priest actually entered the Holiest of Holies to offer sacrifice for the people of Israel – to cover the sins of the nation for the year. No day was more Holy in the Jewish calendar. See below for an artistic rendering of the temple and also a number of scriptures from Leviticus 16 about Yom Kippur.
Lev. 16:2 “and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.” The Holiest of Holies was the only place on the planet Earth where God’s presence dwelt. The High Priest was to enter the Holiest of Holies (before the Lord) once a year . . . after having made extremely specific preparations. And, if the High Priest did not follow those preparations exactly as the Lord told him to do, he would die.
Lev. 16:13 “And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die.” The cloud of incense had the purpose of covering the glory of God so that the High Priest did not die from being exposed to more of the presence of God than He could handle.
Lev. 16:4 “He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.”
Lev. 16:14 “He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.”
Lev 16:30 “For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.”
Lev. 16:34: “‘This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.’”
Lev. 16:32-34 “And the priest, who is anointed and consecrated to minister as priest in his father’s place, shall make atonement, and put on the linen clothes, the holy garments; then he shall make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tabernacle of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.”
The Proof of Our Right Standing with God
The death of Christ is the basis of our right standing with God. The resurrection of Christ is the proof! Let’s look at Romans 4:23-25 “It (righteousness) shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Jesus was delivered because of (for) our offenses. That refers to Jesus being offered up as a sacrifice (an offering) for us. He was delivered up “for” or “because of” our sins. “For” or “because of” is the translation for the Greek “dia” . . . “a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act; because of; for; by occasion of; by reason of.” “Dia” essentially means “as a result of.”
So, let’s dissect the first half of the statement . . . “he was delivered because of our trespasses.” Based on that simple sentence structure, which came first, “he was delivered” or mankind’s “trespasses?” Our trespasses of course! He was delivered because of (or as a result of) our trespasses! Here’s an analogy, if someone said “he got a ticket for (or because of) speeding,” which came first – the ticket or the speeding? The speeding did of course. The ticket came because of the speeding. This Greek sentence structure is no different. It was as a result of (or because of) our sin that Jesus was delivered up as a sacrifice. I think we are all on the same page there.
Now, let’s look at the second part of the verse: “He was raised because of our justification.” Jesus was resurrected (raised) because of our justification. Now the Greek word for “because of” in the second part of the verse is the same as in the first part of the verse: “dia.” He was raised because of (“dia”) our justification. So, following the very clear sentence structure we established from the first half of the verse, let’s again answer the same question: which came first? “he was raised” or “our justification?” Remember it is the exact same sentence structure and the exact same Greek word. So, our justification came before His resurrection. In other words, He was raised up as a result of our justification! We were justified before Jesus rose from the dead! You were justified for all eternity in the eyes of God before Jesus rose from the dead! In fact, if we had not been justified, He would have NEVER risen from the dead!
Jesus is the high priest of the new covenant. The high priest goes into the Holiest of Holies with the blood of the lamb and performs the sacrifice of that perfect lamb. And on that day of Yom Kippur, all the people stood outside the temple hoping that the high priest would come out alive! If the high priest emerged, that meant that God had accepted the sacrifice of the lamb for all of the people – for all of their sins for an entire year!
So what is the significance of the resurrection of Christ? When Jesus rose from the dead, that meant that OUR high priest had come back out of the grave alive, indicating that the Father accepted the sacrifice of Christ! That’s why Jesus’ resurrection is incredible! He was raised because of our justification! We were justified and that’s why He rose from the grave! Since Jesus came out of the tomb, it was shouting time! “YES!!! We are forgiven! We are justified! His sacrifice was accepted!”
Many theologians may even say “no, no, no . . . He was raised in view of the justification that WOULD be brought for mankind.” That is not what Romans 4:25 says in the Greek! It says “dia” because of! But, just in case, look at the next verse: Romans 5:1. It starts with the word “therefore.” And every time you see a “therefore,” you need to look back and see what it is there for! And we just read the why of the “therefore” in Romans 4:25! “Therefore having been justified by faith. . .” Wow! HAVING BEEN. You have already been justified – on the evidence of the resurrection of Christ – if you have put your faith in Him! Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God! It’s the resting place. God is saying “be at peace; My Son has taken care of all sins forever.” In the Old Testament the work of the High Priest on Yom Kippur had a “one year shelf life.” Not so with the work of Jesus Christ! His sacrifice was made once – for all time! Jesus has obtained for us ETERNAL redemption!