Easter Brings New Beginnings

This Easter morning I will be surrounded by family and friends as we celebrate the launch of a new church in Marshalltown. For many in that crowd, this will be the culmination of more than two years of prayer and hard work. Yet, that is not the most important thing we will celebrate Easter morning.  
The most important thing is we will have a chance to celebrate that Jesus conquered death and walked out of a grave that could not hold him around 2,000 years ago. Because of that He created an opportunity for a new beginning for all of humanity. We get to celebrate the certificate of debt (sin) that belonged to each of us. It was nailed to the cross with Jesus and ripped up when he rose from the dead and tore through his burial clothes.
Lets camp on that last idea for just a second. The certificate of debt (our sin) was nailed to the cross and then ripped up when Christ walked out of that grave.  
Jesus tells a story (check out Matthew 18.21-35) where a king is settling his accounts with all of his servants. One of the servants owed him ten thousand talents, but he didn’t have the money to pay it back, so the king had mercy on the servant and forgave the debt.  
At first glance, that story seems cute and nice, but we miss the weight of “ten thousand talents.” So, let's unpack that idea a little further. One talent was the equivalent of 20 years’ wages for an average laborer. Based on US Census data the median annual household income in Marshalltown is around $50,000. Modern day, then, one talent would be worth $1 million. This servant, however, owed the king 10,000 talents… so more like a modern day equivalent of $10 billion.
The way Jesus tells the story makes it very clear there is absolutely no way that servant could ever pay back that debt. One may even ask, why was the king so reckless as to let the servant rack up that sort of credit card bill anyway. The point of Jesus’ story was to emphasize there is no way the servant would have ever been able to pay that debt on his own, even given many lifetimes to do so.  
When Jesus would tell stories like these the purpose was to help emphasize a main point, so let’s see if we can figure out who each of the characters are. The main characters are the king and a servant. When we think through this story in terms of our relationship to God it is pretty clear that I’m not the king, and neither are you. That role belongs to God who is the King. So, that makes you and I like the servant - drowning in debt that we will never be able to repay.  The debt that we carry is all of the sin that we have ever committed - every evil thought, every little white lie, every tab in our internet history, everything that was against God’s expectation of perfection.
This is the moment where some people begin to think they haven’t committed any of the “big sins” or that the good things they have done can hopefully outweigh their bad things they have done. However, if you remember back to the first sin ever recorded it was two people eating a piece of fruit they were told not to eat. That seems pretty innocuous. That wasn’t one of the “big ones” as we like to categorize sins into. So, let's lay to rest this idea or argument that we can make it to heaven on our own as long as we try really hard to be good. It just won’t work.
How, then, can the servant get rid of that debt? Only through the mercy of the king. In Jesus’ story the king forgave the debt, just like that. Yet, someone always has to pay the debt. The king didn’t just magically get that $10 billion back, so he had to get it back from somewhere else in order for his accounts to balance. Just like with you and I, our sin must be paid for, but how could we ever do that? Just thinking of how I would have to figure out a way to make right all of my sins leaves me feeling hopeless.
Enter hope. His name is Jesus.  
He was not just a really good guy that told some cool stories. Jesus is God, who was born as a helpless baby, lived a perfect life, so that he could be the perfect one to bear the burden of the sin that I could not have paid back. The Apostle Paul wrote “[God] erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2.14).
That is where this theme of “new beginnings” comes from. My new beginning was when I sat on my bedroom floor as a freshman in college and surrendered my life to God. It wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t fancy, but it was real. Before that day I was stuck in this cycle of trying to be “good enough” in a game that I never had a shot in. Think of this year's Iowa State basketball team playing against the Michael Jordan-infused Chicago Bulls team of the 90’s. Just like them, I didn’t have a chance, until God called me to surrender to what Jesus had already done.
Maybe this story is new for you. Maybe this is the first time you are understanding the story of God is not a story that tells you to try harder and do more, but rather it is a story that calls you to surrender. It is a time to come and recognize your certificate of debt was already nailed to the cross and ripped up when Jesus walked out of that grave. Now, God is calling you to stop trying harder and instead He is calling you to surrender to what Jesus has already done. That is the beautiful message of Christianity. It is not a religion about what you have to do, but rather it is the true story of what Jesus has already done for you.
Easter is about more than bunnies, eggs and new dresses. It is the annual celebration of remembering that because He died, I can live. Because He was punished, I have been set free. Because He conquered death, death now has no hold on me.  
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