By David Stahl

          In our local paper on 15 April eight kids from the Jacksonville, NC area were asked what they treasured most about “Easter.”  Not one of the kids mentioned Jesus Christ. They all mentioned: egg hunts, candy, the easter bunny, and such. Many mentioned  going to dinner somewhere,  but not one mentioned Jesus coming forth from the tomb.  What a shame.  Now maybe these eight kids have never heard of Jesus Christ and the glorious resurrection story, but knowing how religious Jacksonville, NC is (a church  seemingly on every corner) I just shook my head in disbelief.   What have we done?  What have the parents and “churches” in the Jacksonville area done?  I will tell you what they have done they have mixed the truth (the glorious resurrection Gospel message) with a bold face lie; the easter bunny, egg hunts, candy, baskets, and the like. Most parents have done this out of tradition, custom, or just not really knowing better, but Christian parents should know better!  And Churches the same, but they have done it for more sinister reasons they have done this to get kids to come to their community wide outreach (an old marketing ploy) because they know if they can get the kids, they can get the parents, and if they can get the parents then they can get their money. I wonder why Christian parents tell their children lies around two of the most  important days of the year; the birth of Christ and His resurrection from the tomb.  My friend either we will stand for the truth or we will succumb to the lie. Maybe why Christian parents feel it is okay to lie to their children is because the church is complicit with perpetuating the lies with Christmas trees, Santa Claus, egg hunts, bunnies, and so much more.  All of these things are pagan customs and traditions of men yet the church similes and just looks past them.  Now they will tell you we are doing it to share the Gospel message with the kids, well if that be true then why not have maybe activities and food then share a message that glorifies the LORD?  Why lie to the kids?  A lie and the truth mixed, no matter how well intended and seemingly innocent, is still a lie.  Remember what we use to win people to Christ with we have won them to that. Or they will say we are just sharing the love of God with the kids well my friend, love never covers the truth. Truth stands alone it needs no help in propping itself up or supporting it.  This year I could not believe all of the preaching that spoke on the need of evidence for an empty tomb.  I even heard one pastor say after hearing this message you will totally be convinced the tomb was empty, well I was not. He only added to the confusion in many minds. My thought was why do I need to be convinced (or any Christian for that matter) the tomb was empty after all our walk with the LORD is a walk of faith.  Paul tell us in Ephesians, For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9  Not of works (even evidence), lest any man should boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9) We are saved through faith no evidence is needed if we are going to really walk with the LORD.  My friend if you are a Christian and you need evidence Jesus was raised from the tomb then you are probably not a Christian. And if not a Christian there is no preaching or teaching, pictures, slide shows, testimonials, that will prove Christ was raised from the tomb.  This truth is only discovered by the Spirit of God as we allow Him to work in our lives.  The more we read the Scriptures and allow God to work in our lives the more revelation of the Spirit we will receive.  The very next verse in Ephesians says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) The more we become “His workmanship” the more we will know Him. Now I know the need for evidence of Jesus coming out of the tomb is sexy and rallies the faithful (you can even beat up on the devil), but in the end when you apply the word of God and good old common sense you will find no evidence is needed for we “walk by faith not by sight.”

          Two days before I read the article in the paper Freddy, Gerald, and I headed to Craven County Detention Center a maximum detention center that houses about 450 inmates.  We go twice a month and get a wonderful opportunity to share the LORD with inmates (about 120+) who come (no pressure on our part) to our meeting. I must be honest, in these meetings there is a great hunger for the word of God and a presence of the LORD  unmatched in most churches we visit or minister in.  These men are serious they need to hear something that will hold them not something they will hold on to because they know they (like us all) will let go, but something that holds them in tough, confusing, and dangerous times.  It is about a hour drive (after I pick up everyone) depending on the traffic and along the way we have a good conversation, but we stay away from what we plan to share.    

The routine is usually arrive at 6:15 pm clear security, walk down to the main building and huddle. Then about 7:00 pm we are allowed in the large meeting room.  From 7:00 to 7:15 pm  their praise team sings (always a great job) and so we have 45 minutes usually divided among two speakers with a deadline of 8:00 pm when we must be hitting the door.  Well this time we arrived cleared security, walked down to the main building, huddled at 6:25 pm and they let us in.  WOW what a blessing an additional 35 minutes to share the LORD with the guys.  I had some thoughts from Job that was still working in my spirit, but I planned not to speak. Gerald started off talking on the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:21-22 (did a powerful job) and Freddy spoke on the similarities of the Old Testament priest making an atonement from Numbers 19:1-7 and Jesus’ experience on the cross (he also did a powerful job). They both always slip into personal testimonies as they talk, I love it. Well Freddy finished with 35 minutes to go, so next man up.  I asked the LORD, please give me your thoughts and suddenly these words, dropped into my spirit, “the message in the message.” My friend the preaching and/or teaching of the word of God must be brought down to our heart if not it will not be able to do the work God intends to do in us. Now the message of Jesus being killed by the Father (make no mistake my friend this was the case) is a mysterious, glorious message of Jesus becoming the propitiation (blood sacrifice) for our sin.  In 1 John we read, “And he (speaking of Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  (1 John 2:2)  This is the good news of the Gospel, Jesus Christ the Son of God came to earth and was slain for the sin of the world. This is the main message in the wondrous story of Jesus in Gethsemane, to the cross, and out of the tomb in great victory is the greatest story ever told.  Far greater than all of the miracles and other stories of Jesus.  Now do not get me wrong they too are wonderful, but not as wonderful as the crushing Jesus endured at the hands of His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, which means where oil is pressed. The crushing of Jesus:   into the submission of going to the cross, the bruising at the hands of the religious folks of the day, the lies, the falsehoods spoken against Him, the betrayal of His disciples, the scrounging and beatings at the hands of the Romans soldiers (they were the best in the world in torture), and the bloody painful slow death and open shame of His nakedness on the cross.  Can you image the Son of God hung naked on the cross for all the world to see.  All of this was the Father’s perfect will for Jesus’ life.  I hear Christians say the Romans killed Jesus or we people killed Jesus with our waywardness, but no the Romans did not kill Jesus, nor did you or I, it was the Father.  Jesus’ gruesome death was the Father’s idea and it was in His heart before the fountain of the world was laid.  In Revelations  John tells us, “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb (speaking of Jesus) slain from the foundation of the world.”  (Revelation 13:8) What a mystery. Jesus died before the earth was made and in time Jesus was born to live and die for our sin.  I do not understand, no one really understands it, and no evidence nowhere is presented, it all must be believed by faith.  But inside this wondrous message is a message that God gave me as I walked to the podium and what I presented to the men was the message how Jesus showed us to die in God.  Jesus showed us how to go to our own cross and die without making a big fanfare or drama.  Jesus opened not His mouth, but said, “Father forgive them.”  Now this death in us is the measure of the life of God in us.  Paul tells us,  “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)  We will not be raised in “newness of life” unless there is a spiritual death in us and the more we can die to our desires, ambitions, plans, our self life the more of God’s “newness” of life” we will have.  In Philippians Paul talked about knowing His (talking about Jesus) resurrection power, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;”  (Philippians 3:10) Well we will never know His resurrection power unless we enjoy the “fellowship of His sufferings” and are “made conformable unto his death.”  You know one has to be dead to be resurrected from the dead.  And if the Father killed Jesus do you think He will spare us?  Is the servant greater than the master?  It is God’s will and His good pleasure to put us to death so that He can live through us.  We are that corn of wheat that must fall into the ground.  John tell us, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. 25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”  (John 12:24-25)  “He who hateth  his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”  Did you get that? Jesus showed us how to fall into the ground and die.  This message played well to a bunch of men doing hard time for murder and only God knows what else.  This is the message in the message a message of our personal death and having enough faith to believe if the Father raised Jesus from the dead (He did) He too will raise us.