Eastertide is that period of time from Easter to Ascension Day, a time of victory, in the death of Jesus but also His resurrection. Author Christopher J.H. Wright, international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, starts from a different perspective—that “failure is a fact in the Bible.”
“Do a mental scan through the Bible,” he says, and see how so many in the Old Testament alone failed: Adam and Eve, Abraham, Samuel, Gideon, Moses, David, and “the people of Israel as a whole—God’s covenant people, God’s redeemed people—failed for generation after generation.” He writes in To the Cross: Proclaiming the Gospel from the Upper Room to Calvary (IVP, 2017): “Failure runs through the Old Testament like a ragged thread. The New Testament shows us people failing all over the place as well.”
Not what one might at first thought is a victorious message? Not only did Peter deny Jesus, but “Matthew tells us that all of the disciples forsook Him and fled.”
Church history is a record of failures, he writes, enough to “make us stand in amazement at what God accomplished in spite of the weaknesses and failures of the people he used, rather than because of their marvelous achievements.”
This small book of 132 pages is a wonderfully written explanation and analysis of that week in Jesus’ life, trial, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension—shared in a fresh and helpful way not always seen in other writings. Wright says that “I have been in worship services where there was no confession of sin at all in the whole service, nothing but a diet of triumphant songs and testimonies and the preaching of ‘success,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘victory.’ ”
So in this Easter season, we might be looking as much at our failures as the celebration of Jesus overcoming death. Wright says that it is an “odd paradox” that “in order to become a Christian, the first thing you have to do is to admit that you failed. But somehow, once you have become a Christian, the last thing you’re ever expected to do is to admit you fail.
“It seems that in order to enter the church, you must accept that you’re a sinner, but the only way of staying credible within the church is by pretending to be a success,” Wright says. “Isn’t there something wrong there? Aren’t we missing something of the ongoing reality of grace in our lives—not just at the moment of coming to faith, but in every step of the journey that follows?”
We should admit and accept the reality of failure, but where have you heard that preached from the pulpit? “Peter—one of the foremost of the first disciples of Jesus—failed. I fail. You fail. And so does every other Christian on the planet. What a relief! Because, you see, the truly liberating thing that this story tells us is not only that failure is a fact, but also that failure is foreseen.” Jesus foresaw all of the moments of failure that would come His way in that week before the cross—Judas the most telling example.
As we look at this Eastertide, we should see Jesus as our substitute. “It is our sin that deserves God’s judgment, but Jesus bore the wrath of God in our place.” There lies the victory. “He carried the consequences of our sin, even though he himself was sinless. He took what we deserve, so that we can be forgiven.”
Read those last couple sentences again and again. I believe we don’t always understand the Easter message. Memorize those few lines, and you will believe the victorious lives we live in what Jesus gave to us.