Every year since 1997, people in North Korea have celebrated April 15th as “The Day of the Sun”. It’s apparently the most important holiday the nation has where they celebrate the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday. He was the founder of North Korea and its former president, who—were he still alive and kicking—would be 105 years old.
The citizens of North Korea go all out for The Day of the Sun with a big parade where children get candy. But don’t look for floats made of paper flowers or clowns from the Shriner’s Club trying to get some laughs out of spectators by driving around in tiny cars. This parade is highlighted by showing off its weapons of war. Lots of them. Current president Kim Jong Un was there and he’s all about the fire power.
As all this took place yesterday, Christians here and around the world prepared to celebrate a different kind of power—the resurrection power of Jesus Christ—on this day, Easter Sunday. After remembering his suffering and violent death on Good Friday, we wait through the silence of Saturday to get to the joy of Sunday morning.
What a striking contrast of two celebrations. One that remembers a man who started a communist nation and celebrates by flaunting its military might that could wipe out millions of lives in mere moments. The other, held in gratitude and remembrance for a man who was God in the flesh—Jesus, the Son of God. Believers all over the world celebrate not so much the death of Jesus, but His life. What makes it so different is the empty tomb.
The man celebrated by North Koreans this weekend died and he stayed dead. His bones are still lying in his grave. But, with the power of God His Father, Jesus the Son rose again on the third day, and the Good News is—He’s alive and His Spirit lives in anyone who puts their faith in Him to forgive their sins. Jesus, the One Who Saves, beat death once and for all…and because of Him, so can we.
Now that’s real power—and that’s something to celebrate.
Christmas these days seems to stress people out more than give them the joy that it was meant to give. As people get busier and busier, they find themselves always looking down: at the next text message, the next email, the next status update on Facebook. What has all this racing around, looking down at some electronic device done? Could it be that the stress so often accompanying this time of year is of our own making? It’s made us forget times that were simpler…Christmases past that seemed to hold more magic, more beauty, more imagination.
Maybe it’s time to stop looking down for a while and start to notice things again. Today we have a Christmas Moon—a rare event– a full moon on Christmas Day. It’s the first time in nearly four decades that that has happened, and it won’t happen again for another 19 years. The sky was beautiful last night, and the moon was bright. It’s not politically correct any more to say “Merry Christmas” or to even use THAT WORD in some places (like our public schools), but last night’s sky, at least where I was, reminded me of that first Christmas that gave us this opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ every year.
Even though we don’t know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, it still started with a starry night and Wise Men from the East who had been observing the nighttime skies and studying ancient prophesies for quite some time before they noticed one star in particular. It seemed to be different from the others—bigger, brighter, and more magnificent. So they followed it, for what may have been as long as 2 years after the actual birth. When they found the Young King and His parents, they presented him with precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Regular folks like shepherds found Him too (even sooner than the learned mean of means did)…and the Bible tells us the child’s mother treasured all of these things in her heart. She took nothing for granted, and I can imagine that every year that went by as he grew into a boy, then a man, that she looked back with awe and fondness on the Holy Night when she first held her child in her arms.
It’s often said, “Christmas is for kids”. How wrong people are who say that. I don’t think you can really appreciate all that this season and this day has to offer until you have some wisdom of years behind you. You may not remember every gift you got for Christmas over the years, but you most likely will recall the stories of Christmases past—funny or poignant moments that you talk about together around a table full of good things to eat. Stories that are told year after year and they never seem to get old—some get even better with each retelling. Like the young woman Mary of the manger scene, you’ve been storing up those treasures of memories in your heart. They don’t get old, wear out, need batteries or fall apart after 3 days.
If you’ve been stressed out for the last several days or weeks because you were preparing for this day, consider trying something new next year: re-focus on what Christmas really is about. Before this becomes Christmas past, set aside the distractions and look around you. Return to the manger, Follow the star.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
We’re all familiar with the phrase: “T.G.I.F—Thank God it’s Friday!” It’s what gets many of us through the week, just knowing that Friday comes.
Today is Good Friday. On this day, Christians around the world remember the suffering and death of an innocent man who was more than a man: He was God in the flesh. That flesh was broken that day in the most gruesome of deaths. He was publicly humiliated, spat upon, mocked. His only remaining possession—the clothes off his back—were raffled off among carousing soldiers.
What could possibly be good about this?
As legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say…here’s the rest of the story:
When Jesus Christ drew His last breath on the cross, the earth literally shook and all kinds of unusual events occurred. The Gospel of Matthew tells it this way: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;…”
Setting aside the fact that dead people rose up out of their graves and began walking around (which had to have been frightening for eyewitnesses), put your focus on the veil in the temple. The Bible is very specific in saying that it was torn “from top to bottom”.
That veil or curtain is what separated the main part of the Jewish temple from the Most Holy Place, where only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and even then he could only go once a year to make a sacrifice for himself and his family. No one else could go there. Also, this veil was no cheap piece of linen. It was a heavy, hand-made creation woven tightly by highly-skilled artisans.
No human being could tear such a curtain in that way, so the Bible would lead us to believe that only God Himself could have done it. I used to think God was upset at what had just been done to His only Son.
But that’s not why the veil was torn. As with so many things (like rainbows, for instance), God was using a visual symbol for all to see that now, with Jesus’ mission accomplished, anyone could go straight into the presence of God—not just the High Priest, and not just once a year—anyone at any time.
God was throwing open the doors of His heart for those people—and us today—to draw near to Him through the sacrifice represented by the torn flesh of Jesus. Just before He died, Jesus felt abandoned, not just by His friends and followers, but by His Father. It was the first time He had ever known the feeling of separation from His Father when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It was at that moment that he was taking on every sin that human beings had ever or would ever commit…and so, being Who He is, the Father turned away from the Son and the sin that was on Him because of us.
It’s hard to believe that the Creator of the universe would care so much for us that He would devise such a plan for our salvation. But He did. He did it for Peter and John…his mother Mary…and for Judas His betrayer…for me and you…George Washington and Adolf Hitler…the guy who cut you off in traffic this morning and the lady in front of you tonight at the grocery store with too many items in the express line. He died for Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and Ted Cruz…and for the militant Islamists responsible for killing 147 Christians yesterday at a college in Kenya. One sacrifice, one time for all people—the “whosoever will” the Bible so often talks about.
What is it that puts the “good” in Good Friday? It’s this: Jesus could have changed His situation at any minute on the way to The Cross, but He didn’t because of His love for people and His desire to be in a relationship with all of us…and He would have done it had there only been one of us to save.
So TGIGF: Thank God it’s Good Friday!