Don’t Make Easter Like a Resurrection Birthday

empty tombOn Easter, we Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ and rightly so. Not only is this monumental event the distinguishing mark of Christianity, but it is the one that assures us forgiveness of sins and hope for the future, including the bodily resurrection. Go to any church service and the on the tip of many lips is “He is risen!…he is risen indeed!” We are awash with this glorious event.

A funny thing happens after Easter though. The resurrection gets a back seat to the cross.  Now don’t misunderstand, the cross is significant, too.  This is where Jesus propitiated the sins that were held against us.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling a record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14)

His atoning sacrifice provided payment of sins in one transaction for sin of all times. It is all sufficient to cover all our transgressions. (Heb 10:10-13).  Those in Christ stand in no condemnation before God because of what was because of what God did through the Son, what the law was powerless to do (Rom 8:1-4).

BUT, we receive forgiveness and reconciliation because of the resurrection. That’s why Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Not only does the resurrection secure forgiveness and eternal life, but it also represents God’s rule breaking through to redeem his creation by reversing the impact of sin and death. It gives hope for the day when all is made right. Reading the whole chapter of 1 Cor. 15, it’s not just about Jesus’ resurrection but the bodily resurrection of believers, without which there is no Christianity.

When the apostles preached the gospel, they got into trouble precisely because they preached the resurrection from the dead.

And they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (Acts 4:1-4)

The resurrection of the dead was found in Christ was a huge stumbling block to belief, particularly with this early Jewish audience. The resurrection affirmed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Look at the reaction! They put these folks in jail. This is the reason the apostles were told not to preach in the name of Jesus.  (Also see Acts 13:13-41)

Even to the Gentiles, the resurrection was preached. When Paul addressed the Athenian crowd in Acts 17:22-31 about their “unknown God”, it was precisely in response to the question they had about the resurrection. They didn’t ask about the cross or early church activities. The resurrection was front and center of Christian teaching, which is why Luke tells us regarding Paul’s presentation in this Gentile court, “now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” (Acts 17:32)

It’s also important to note that the resurrection in this early context meant bodily resurrection. This was not some ethereal existence that Gnostic laced teaching later turned it into. I love what N.T. Wright says here

Resurrection is not the redescription of death; it is its overthrow, and with that, the overthrow of those power depends on it. Despite the sneers and slurs of some contemporary scholars, it was those who believed in the bodily resurrection who were burned at the stake and thrown to the lions. Resurrection was never a way of settling down and becoming respectable; the Pharisees could have told you that. It was the Gnostics, who translated the language of resurrection into a private spirituality and a dualistic cosmology, thereby more or less altering its meaning into its opposite, who escaped persecution. Which emperor would have sleepless nights worrying that his subjects were reading the Gospel of Thomas? Resurrection was always bound to get you into trouble, and it regularly did.” [1]

Earlier in the book, Wright discusses how regularly new movements arose that often involved death to its leaders. But Christianity was different precisely because Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to many. The public event promoted a very public ministry, which got folks into trouble. This was no “your best life now’. It was something worth sacrificing your life for.

Each year, my amazement grows at how quickly the high of Easter fades away. It’s as if we treat Easter like a birthday for the resurrection. Meaning, like a birthday party where we celebrate the event once a year, then go back to business as usual. Why do we do this?

The resurrection changed everything. It gives us hope and life. In October, we should still be saying “He is risen…he is risen, indeed”

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 50


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