As we start to notice the first hints of spring with budding blossoms and spring bulbs pushing through the grass, it feels as if a Narnian thaw is well and truly setting in for 2018. The hard ground of winter is giving way to the fruitfulness of spring. Meanwhile, in Cape Town, the city is in serious drought and an entire population waits for “day 0” to come, when there will be no more water in the taps. We are physical beings, you and I, created and designed by a transcendent God with spiritual hungers, but very much located in and made for the material world. The Bible sees no contradiction between the physical and the divine. In fact, in Jesus Christ, God entered our world of flesh and blood, beauty and tears.
It’s important that he did this at a particular point in history in a way that is open to our scrutiny and verification. This is no superstition or ethereal moral principle. Christ really is God with us – this actually happened. The great writer, Dorothy L. Sayers, wrote: “It is the dogma that is the drama – not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death – but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death.”
God has not left us alone in our drought, our failures and our sins, but he has come as the great rescuer. Jesus went to the cross. The Romans considered crucifixion to be the most shameful, the most painful, and the most abhorrent of all executions. The Roman statesman Cicero called it “the most cruel and disgusting penalty” and the Jewish historian, Josephus, who witnessed multiple crucifixions, called it “the most wretched of deaths.” The Roman jurist Julius Paulus listed crucifixion as the worst of all capital punishments, ahead of death by burning, beheading, or wild beasts. And from Seneca, we have this description of a crucifixion: “Can anyone be found who would prefer wasting away in pain, dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man by found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly wounds on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross.” The ancients considered death by crucifixion to be not just any execution, but the most obscene, the most disgraceful and the most horrific execution known to man.
The Easter story of God’s love means that Jesus came and, as a human, endured the most horrific pain known to man in order to demonstrate his love for us – to suffer for us as well as with us. His suffering at the cross was expiation – that means that the pure, holy Son of God takes the sin of the world upon himself and bears it. This is no simple thing. Paul writes that God made “He who had no sin to be sin for us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That means that Jesus, having lived a perfect life, only knowing sin as something external to him, which he observed, takes our sin and guilt into himself at the cross, carrying it away from us. Because Jesus is more than an ordinary man – he is God made flesh – he has the capacity to do this for the whole world. He takes the sins of the world upon his shoulders, carrying our burden for us and taking it away from us. But the sacrifice does not end there. His suffering at the cross was also a propitiation – that means that the punishment and wrath of God, the righteous judge, against the evil of the world were also poured out upon Jesus. Jesus doesn’t just take our sin away from us; he personally bears the cost and weight of the just deserts of our sin. The penalty we are due is taken by him. Divine justice is meted out upon sin and Christ bears both the sin and its just consequences. What an extraordinary kind of loving sacrifice. Bonhoeffer noted that “Forgiveness is a form of suffering” – through Jesus’ suffering, we are forgiven.
A few years ago, I spoke to a girl in Ireland after I had given a lecture at Galway University. She had grown up in a nominally Roman Catholic home and had walked past a crucifix hanging in her parents’ hallway many hundreds of times. As we talked about the Christian view of what had happened at Christ’s cross, her eyes filled with tears and she remarked “I never knew what it was about – it was just there and I ignored it.”
And at Easter, we will celebrate with Christians all over the world that Christ who died for us is risen. His crucifixion did not end in defeat and ignominy. He was raised from the dead, he conquered death, and the life and forgiveness he offers is death-defying. In every church I have been in for the last 20 years on Easter Sunday, the Easter liturgy “Christ is risen – He is risen indeed – Hallelujah!” is proclaimed in the language of every person present. In our church in London one year, we had more than 40 languages. It was so moving! This global, earth-shattering truth is utterly life-changing and nation-shaping. Christ is risen!
Here in the RZIM Europe, Middle East and Africa region of the world, our team of evangelists would say:
“Christ asɔr! W’asɔr ampa!” (Mfantse Language, Ghana)
“Yesu ya tashi daga mattatu. Lallai ya tashi. Halleluyah!” (Hausa language, northern Nigeria)
“Uvukile uKrestu!!! Uvukile ngokwenene!” (Xhosa language, South Africa)
“Kristo Azukile, Azukile illala!” (Lusoga language, Uganda)
“Yesu Kristu Azuukidde! Azuukidde Ddala, Aleluya!” (Luganda Language, Uganda)
“Ayaru Yesu Alakatwak! Ayaru Kire, Aleluya” (Ng’Akarimojong Language – North Eastern Uganda)
Kristo amefufuka, Amefufuka hakika. Haleluya!” (Swahili language, Kenya)
“Hristos voskresna, navistina voskresna, aliluja!” (Macedonian)
“Христос воскресна, навистина воскресна, алилуја!” (Cyrillic)
“Cristos a înviat! Cu adevărat a înviat, Aleluia!” (Romanian)
“Der Herr ist auferstanden! Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden! Halleluja!” (German)
“Mesih dirildi, gerçekten dirildi, Haleluya!” (Turkish)
“Le Christ est ressuscité, Il est en effet ressuscité Hallelujah!” (French)
“¡Cristo ha resucitado! ¡En verdad ha resucitado!” (Spanish)
المسيح قام، بالحقيقة قام. هلليلويا. (Arabic)
I hope it encourages you to hear that the truth of Christ’s cross and resurrection is being faithfully and courageously proclaimed in this region in multiple languages by an incredible team. This year, we will be on many campuses for missions across the region. The team are also taking this message into businesses throughout the year with a special “Festival of Thought” in South Africa from April 15-22, when we will have more than 100 events in corporate spaces, as well as universities and churches. We are also equipping young people with apologetics through REBOOT – a desperately-needed resource for the rising generation to be equipped with the very best apologetic for the Christian faith. Over Easter, we will also open a new office in Nice, France, under the leadership of evangelist-apologist Raphael Anzenberger with a focus on French-speaking people in Europe and North Africa. None of this would be possible without your support. Please continue to stand with us and to pray that the Lord Jesus would be known, honoured and loved in every corner of the world.
With very much love in Christ,
Dr. Amy Orr-Ewing
EMEA Director, and Director of the OCCA