“My name is Yves Oppert. I was born on May 25, 1909 in Paris, France. My mother died when I was 7, and I grew up in the home of my grandfather, a rabbi in Paris. I became a successful businessman and owned a chain of department stores. I was an avid mountain climber, and liked to play tennis and to race cars and motorcycles.” That’s the description of the man whose name appeared on the identification card that was handed to me when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.. I was no longer Case Admiral, but for a few hours I became Yves Oppert.
“In 1934, I married Paulette Weill and together we had two daughters. I was called up by the French army in the fall of 1939 to fight against Germany. During the German invasion, I was captured, but managed to escape and return to France. I joined the underground resistance movement but was again captured in 1944. I was tortured and killed in a German concentration camp a month after my 35th birthday.”
As I walked through the Holocaust exhibit carrying my identification card, I took on the personality of this real person. Inside of me, I began to feel much deeper than I thought possible the horror and pain that Yves Oppert must have suffered. As I saw videos and photos of Jews being rounded up and herded like cattle into box cars to be shipped off to concentration camps, I envisioned myself being rounded up and herded like an animal sent off to the slaughter. When I viewed scenes of Jewish men, women, and children walking around like living skeletons and being forced to work long hours at hard labor, I visualized myself as toiling with them. When I walked through a reconstructed concentration camp barracks, crowded with bunks, I pictured myself as restlessly sleeping in one of these awful, lice infested places. And when I finally came across a display of a bin of musty shoes once worn by actual Jewish victims who had been shot or gassed, I thought for a second that I saw the shoes of Yves Oppert — my shoes — in that big pile.
It was a grim and sobering experience to pace through the Holocaust Museum. I left depressed, defeated, and dejected. When I stepped back onto the streets of Washington, D.C., it seemed for a few moments that I had died with Yves Oppert. I felt like a walking dead man.
It wasn’t until later, as I reflected more on what I had experienced that it occurred to me that once I had really been a walking dead man, along with every person in the world.
Our Life Apart from Christ
Paul’s letter to the
When sin entered our world, it didn’t merely disrupt, damage or disease our relationship with God, it destroyed our relationship with Him. That’s death. The best way to define death is not biologically but spiritually. Life is to know God. It is to be linked to Him in a fellowship of love; it is to be connected to Jesus as a branch is connected to a vine. On the other hand, death is to be ignorant of God; it is to be alienated from him. No matter how physically strong and mentally alert we may appear to be, apart from Jesus Christ we are spiritually lifeless. We are dead. Such death is much worse than physical death.
The Apostle Paul depicts a spiritually dead person — beginning with
But a spiritually dead person is also someone who follows “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” This ruler is none other than Satan, who although not visible to the naked eye is very much present in this world. We follow Satan when we buy into his program, when we flirt with temptation, and when we cozy up to sin.
Think of Lot, the nephew of the great Old Testament patriarch, Abraham. In
I heard about a Sunday School teacher who said to his class of young people, “If you’re driving down the road and you see Satan standing by the road trying to catch a ride, don’t you dare stop the car, don’t you dare open the door, don’t you dare let him in, ’cause it won’t be long until he’ll want to drive.” Spiritual death is written all over those who follow Satan.
And, says Paul in
Our sinful nature is that inner condition out of sync with God. It wants to plunk out its own tune and compose its own melody. It’s tone deaf to the voice of the Spirit within us and gladly listens to the devious whispers of our warped, selfish desires. This, too, is spiritual death.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live,” writes Paul. Without the pulsating power of God within us, we are dead, although we are physically very much alive. The world has a stranglehold on us from the outside, the devil has a stranglehold on us from above, and our sinful nature has a stranglehold on us from within. We are gripped on all sides by eternal death.
And as a consequence of these overwhelming powers of sin that envelope us, we are, according to
It’s not a pretty picture. The Bible teaches that absolutely nothing about us captures God’s attention and favor. In a spiritual sense, we are unable to make even the slightest movement and to twitch even the smallest muscle in reaching out to the Lord. We are dead apart from Him.
Our Life with Christ
Praise God, though, that’s not the end of the story. The Apostle Paul continues with
Jesus Christ had been crucified and buried. But on the first day of the week He was raised to life again. We have come together on this Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Everything about my experience in the Holocaust Museum is being reversed here today. Instead of walking away as though I were dead, as happened after I viewed the holocaust exhibit, today I regain a new sense of what it means, having been dead in sin, to be alive with Christ. What brings us together is not defeat but victory. We are here to celebrate and sing because the final word of Easter is not death but life.
On this Easter Sunday you and I have been given another identification card. It’s the identification card of another Jewish person. His name is not Yves Oppert but it’s Jesus Christ. He was born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. At the age of 30 He was drafted by God to go on a divine mission. He was called to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and to release the oppressed. But many did not appreciate what He did because He ruffled the feathers of the religious establishment. He questioned their traditions, challenged their practices, and renounced their hypocrisy. They arrested Him, tortured Him, and killed Him by nailing Him to a cross.
Like Yves Oppert, Jesus was a real person. But unlike Yves Oppert whose bones or ashes lie buried in an unknown grave, the story of Jesus did not end in death. There is an additional page. Three days after His execution, this same Jesus who had been crucified and buried, walked out of the tomb alive. The women who had come to pay their last respects were met by an angel who said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen.” That’s the powerful message that rings forth today. Death ends in life.
Even as I was invited to identify myself with Yves Oppert in his death, God now invites me — and you — to identify ourselves with Jesus in His life. Beginning with
The resurrection of Jesus is more than a historical event that we view, detached, from a distance. Through the grace of God, we who believe in Jesus are drawn into the Easter event so that when Christ rose to new life, so did we. God raised us up with Christ. Easter is not only the celebration of Christ’s resurrection but of our personal resurrection as well.
When I carry in my heart the identification card of Christ, I experience, in a way that far exceeds what I experienced in the Holocaust Museum, a unity with the One whose identity I have taken on. I experience a oneness with Jesus. I was crucified when Jesus was crucified on Calvary. Not that I literally hung there on a cross, but even as Jesus died to sin once for all and overcame its awful power, so sin no longer dominates me. I was also buried with Christ. Not that I lay there in the tomb alongside Jesus, but even as Jesus over-powered death, so death has lost its fearful grip on me. And carrying the identification card of Jesus also means that I have been raised with Christ to new life.
The Perks of the New Life
When Jesus rose from the grave, He ushered in a new life. We not only share in Christ’s triumph over sin, Satan, and death, so that these destructive forces no longer control us, but we have received a new life: a new position, a new standing, a new purpose, and a new direction.
When I was young, I nearly drowned. I was hauled out of the water just in the nick of time, not a second too soon. God spared my life. I was for all practical purposes dead, but I received a new chance at life. Spiritually, we once were truly dead — we had drowned — in sin. But God raised us up with Jesus to a new life. And what a life it is.
It’s a life that injects us with new power, a divine power that is equal to the power God exerted when He brought Jesus from death to life (
This new life which is ours because we have been raised with Jesus also provides overflowing joy. A few years ago the state of Minnesota went into the casino business. One of the radio commercials aired to encourage people to gamble had the announcer saying, “It’s more fun than your minister wants you to have.” The idea being conveyed was that the Christian life is joyless, dreary, and dull, and that recklessly spending our money in a losing proposition called “gambling” is fun. But the opposite is true. We have been raised with Christ. Our life is no longer anchored in this passing, decaying earthly existence, but our life is “now hidden with Christ in God.” We are in the firm grasp of God’s hand and nothing, neither life nor death, can separate us from His love. What a life God has given us! It’s one of profound joy.
But we must go even one step beyond that. This new life is one of royalty. In our Bible passage —
Unfortunately, far too often we live far below our means. God has poured out infinite blessings on us, but we shove most of them aside because we have placed spiritual restrictions on ourselves. We have limited ourselves from experiencing the fullness of the new life God has given us by allowing guilt, shame, legalism, and fear to control us.
Let us remember who we are. Our identification card says we are one with Christ. We have died with Him and we have been buried with Him. But we have also been raised with him to a new life, a life that is limitless in power, in joy, in peace, in freedom, and in hope. This identification card is given to every person who places his or her trust for eternal life in Jesus alone. It’s given to everyone who repents of his sin, who looks to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness, who embraces Jesus as Savior and Lord, and who gladly accepts the new life that God has given him through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let us carry the identification card of the risen Lord Jesus Christ with us. Let us hold it tightly to our hearts. It’s a reminder of who we are. We are no longer slaves to the power sin and death. The grave is not the end. We have been purified from evil and given new life in Christ. We can live in joy and victory as children of the resurrection.