Easter is the time of year when we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some Easter celebrations are simple, like flying kites or eating hot cross buns or lighting bonfires. Others, however, are more on the extreme side.
Some cultures celebrate by wearing bizarre costumes or staging a fireworks battle. Others burn effigies of Judas Iscariot. In some places, animal sacrifice is a common practice. Elsewhere, self-flagellation—whipping oneself—is not unheard of. People will carry heavy religious objects to show their devotion. During some reenactments of Jesus’ crucifixion, the actors playing Jesus will wear genuine crowns of thorns and carry weighty crosses.
Why do people do such things? It may be because they want others to understand what Jesus experienced. But most do these things in the name of penance. They are trying to atone for the wrong they have done, and they’re using religious means to do it.
While the Scriptures do tell us that we are crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), that’s not meant in a literal sense. We don’t have to be physically crucified like Jesus was. His sacrifice was enough. And that’s what a lot of people miss—His sacrifice was enough.
Our acts of penance, or self-punishment, for our sins are unnecessary. In fact, they’re as much an offense to God as sin is. We cannot atone for ourselves. We cannot appease God’s wrath. The whole first part of Hebrews 10 talks about how the sacrifices made in the Old Testament times weren’t enough to save people.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
But that same chapter also tells us that
by one offering he [Jesus] hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified
Heb. 10:14, brackets added
The repeated offerings of bulls and goats couldn’t remove sin, but one offering by Jesus was more than enough.
Something else these people are missing is the understanding that what Jesus did more than satisfied the debt. Nothing can be added to His sacrifice. It can’t be improved upon. So, if He paid it all, there’s nothing left for us to pay. Acts of penance are pointless. All they do is say that what Jesus did wasn’t enough.
The cross wasn’t a down payment on the sin debt and now we have to make monthly payments on the balance. No! There’s no debt left! And the sooner we realise that and start living our lives based on that knowledge, the better off we’ll be.
We can’t live our New Testament lives with an Old Testament mindset. All those sacrifices in the Old Testament kept people aware of their sins. But praise God that we have been set free. We have been translated into a new kingdom (Col. 1:13) where God no longer remembers our sins (Heb. 10:17). But we have to choose if we’re going to live by works or by the grace Jesus has provided (Rom. 11:6). Of course, we know that works won’t achieve salvation. This is a multiple-choice question, and we already have the answer to it.
Our trying to add to Jesus’ accomplished work is like finger-painting on the Mona Lisa—we’re just ruining a masterpiece. We need to step back into God’s way of doing things and trust in His plan.
To find out more about what the cross means to us as believers, check out Andrew’s The Power of the Cross teaching.