As churches all over the world prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Christ this next Sunday, I wanted to share a chapter from my book, Reflections on the Resurrection. Easter is the most important event in history. Let’s make sure that this Easter, we reflect on why this holiday is so special. If you enjoy this chapter, click on the link for the book. I know you will enjoy it!
“But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.” (1 Corinthians 15: 20)
Easter is an interesting holiday. It does not get nearly the hype that Christmas does. Stores ignore the religious aspects and have done everything that they can to push the Easter Bunny to the forefront of the holiday, just as Santa is pushed to the forefront of Christmas.
The meaning of Christmas, however diluted it has become, though, is still understood to be about the birth of Jesus Christ. Even though, in many circles, the Christian aspect of Christmas has been removed, most people in the West still retain an understanding that Christmas is ultimately about the birth of Jesus.
As James Martin writes, “But the Christmas story is largely nonthreatening to nonbelievers: Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary and Joseph and the adoring shepherds, is easy to take. As the Gospels of Matthew and Luke recount, there was no little danger involved for Mary and Joseph. But for the most part, it can be accepted as a charming story. Even nonbelievers might appreciate the birth of a great teacher.”
Easter is very different from Christmas. Martin continues, “By contrast, the Easter story is both appalling and astonishing: the craven betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest followers, the triple denial by his best friend, the gruesome crucifixion and the brutal end to his earthly life. Then, of course, there is the stunning turnaround three days later.
“Easter is not as easy to digest as Christmas. It is harder to tame. Anyone can be born, but not everyone can rise from the dead.”
So while the sweet Baby Jesus of Christmas is pretty non-threatening, the non-commercialized, unsanitized version of Easter brings many disturbing and uncomfortable questions and ideas to the forefront:
1. Why was Jesus executed and where is the honor in celebrating that?
2. What do the Christians really mean when they talk about Jesus being “resurrected?” Do they believe that He actually came back to life after being put to death by crucifixion?
3. If the Easter Story that we read in our New Testaments is true, what does that mean for the world? If God really did raise Jesus from the dead, never to die again, what does that mean for me?
To really examine Easter forces us to examine the very foundation of what Christianity is. Was Jesus just a misunderstood Jewish rabbi that ran afoul of the Romans? Make no mistake, messiahs were a dime a dozen in First Century Palestine. Jesus was not the first messiah that the Romans had put to death and He was certainly not the last. The interesting thing about these other dead messiahs is that no one can remember who they were. When they were executed, their followers just faded away.
The Resurrection, however, changed everything. Instead of Jesus’ followers quietly fading away and going back to their former occupations, they began boldly proclaiming, “He is alive!” Men, who just weeks before had been in hiding out of the fear of being arrested as one of Jesus’ followers, now began to stand up in public and preach the message of the risen Jesus. They began to preach, not just Jesus’ teachings, but they began to preach the resurrection.
The men and women who were witnesses of the Risen Christ had a message to share and they were now infused with a boldness and a zeal that could not be suppressed. Their previous fears of being arrested were now replaced with a passion and an enthusiasm that began to spill over wherever they went. The arrest, beating, and even death that many early Christians suffered did not stop, or even slow the message of the resurrection down.
In fact, the more they were persecuted, the more the movement seemed to grow. The Church Father Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” (Apologeticus, Chapter 50) Jesus had predicted that his followers would suffer for their faith. These followers of Christ accepted this suffering joyfully saying with the Apostle Paul, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3: 10-11)
Martin reminds us, “By walking out of the tomb on Easter, Jesus declared something life-changing, something subversive and something that cannot be overcome by commercialism. It is a message that refuses to be tamed. The Resurrection says not only that Christ has the power of life over death, but something more subversive.
“The Resurrection says, “Listen.”
The Resurrection of Jesus is the defining moment of history. The theological implications of this event are many. The basic message of the resurrection to the world, however, was that just as God raised Christ from the dead, there will be a day when He will also raise His followers to the same kind of new life that Christ now experiences. That calls for a celebration this Easter Sunday, and every day for that matter. And maybe even a chocolate egg or two!
Food for Thought– What does Easter Sunday mean to you? How do you normally celebrate Easter? Have you ever thought about how important the resurrection of Christ is to your faith?
Annie and I are serving the Lord in the US, South America, Africa, and India. We are training leaders and helping build great local churches. Would you consider joining our team? Just click here to get involved. Thanks so much!