Easter: The Most Important Day in History

Historians love to speculate on the what ifs of major historical events. What if Oswald had missed in November of 1963 in Dealy Plaza? What if Von Stauffenberg had armed both bombs and placed them on the other side of the table leg in Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair? What if Richard the Lionheart had lived to return to England and kept his brother John off the throne? What if attempts on Mohammed’s life in Mecca had succeeded? One can go on for days thinking of such things and it can be an interesting academic exercise. But of all the interesting speculation there is one event that stands out as the most important event in all of history. It is the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, in the early half of the 1st Century, on what we now call Easter Sunday. Now that the latest celebration of Easter is a day in the past, let’s consider the implications of this most historic event.

On that Sunday morning, a handful of Jesus followers went to the tomb in which his body had been placed following his crucifixion for blasphemy, claiming to be God, on Friday. They went fully expecting to find his lifeless body wrapped in the sheet it was carried in. Their intent was to finish the proper burial preparations that were left undone as he was hastily buried. What they found instead was an empty tomb and two angelic messengers proclaiming “why do you seek the living among the dead. He is not here. He is risen”. We read about it in among others places, Luke 24 verses 1-7. The subsequent appearances by Jesus to more than 500 people, including the forever nicknamed “Doubting” Thomas, who then fell on his knees and declared of Jesus, “my Lord and my God”, turned what had been seen as a fatal defeat into the most remarkable, stunning, and controversial turn of events in history.

There are at least three reasons why the Resurrection of Jesus makes Easter the most important day in all of human history. First there is what The Apostle Paul has to say about it in 1 Corinthians 15, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead then the Christian faith and all we believe about it is a huge waste of time, effort, and devotion. Not only that but we are to be pitied for believing in something that is only of benefit for this life, and in fact makes this life harder to live. Worse yet, it makes us liars about God claiming He did something that clearly He did not. In other words, Paul is saying that without the Resurrection of Jesus there is no such thing as the Christian faith. No one would be following Jesus if He was still dead and in the grave. Those people who went to the tomb that morning had already resigned themselves to the fact of his death. They went not looking for a Risen Savior but looking to honor in death one that they loved. If Jesus had not risen, Peter would have eventually gone back to his fishing nets, Matthew would have reopened his tax office, Mary Magdalene would have slipped into depression and back to her former lifestyle. Saul of Tarsus would have continued his Pharisaic studies and never encountered the Risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus, thus robbing the world of the man who would become known as Paul, and the third most influential person in history behind Jesus and Mohammed. Europe, North Africa, and the Near East never get evangelized. You could even make the case the Mohammed remains a polytheistic herder in Saudi Arabia and Islam never happens. The list goes on so far and deep, it becomes impossible to speculate on how the world evolves if Jesus was never risen.

But that is only what the resurrection means for history and world events. There is a second reason why Easter is the most important day in history. If in fact Jesus was risen from the dead, it validates his claim to deity. Historians, scientists, and the average Joe and Jane all agree, zombie movies aside, that people simply do not come back from the dead after being buried in a tomb for three days. The uniqueness of the resurrection points to Jesus as actually being who he claimed to be. Those angelic messengers reminded the women at the tomb that Jesus had spoken of this ahead of time. They and the rest of the followers had either misunderstood or simply shrugged it off as hyperbole. Now they were forced into an understanding of Jesus that was far beyond what they every hoped or imagined. Jesus of Nazareth was also, Lord and Christ, Only Begotten of the Father, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He was God in the Flesh. Mysteriously Fully God and Fully Man. His subsequent ascension to the Right Hand of the Father has Him seated in Glory from where He will come again.

The third and final reason for the resurrection being the most important event in history has nothing to do with the grand sweep of world events. Rather it has everything to do with your life. If in fact Jesus is raised from the dead then what does that change about your future? Will you follow him and put your life on a new course? Or will you simply allow the resurrection to remain this unexamined religious oddity, locking it away in a compartment in your mind, not letting it interfere with life today? Not only does history change completely if the resurrection never happened, but so does your future if you chose to believe it.

Why Everything Rises and Falls on the Resurrection of Jesus

While working on my masters degree I had a conversation with another student about the resurrection of Jesus. She made a statement that at first might indicate an incredibly strong faith in God; “If the body of Jesus was found in a tomb somewhere, it would not shake my faith at all”. Far from this being an example of incredible faith, I found it to be the height of both hubris and folly. Hubris because it dared to claim a greater faith than even the Apostle Paul could admit for himself. Folly because that same Paul said that if Jesus is in fact NOT risen from the dead, then we are to be pitied above all men.

Paul put it this way when he wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”. 1 Corinthians 15:14-18

The woman who said that her faith would not be shaken if Jesus never had risen, did not understand the absolutely crucial, linchpin place, that the resurrection has for followers of Jesus. Paul understood that the resurrection was the game-changer. Because Jesus rose from the dead, everything was now different. It was the resurrection that vindicated Jesus after his humiliating death on the cross. It was the resurrection that demonstrated his victory over sin and death. It was the resurrection that lead to his being seated at the right hand of the Father and at whose name every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

If the resurrection had never happened then Jesus was simply one more religious teacher who led people astray, only to disappoint them in the end. Rabbi Gamaliel understood this when he told the religious leaders to leave the disciples alone. He said that if Jesus was a nobody who was still in the grave then this talk of him as a messiah would fade away, just like it had so many times before with other religious zealots. Paul understood that if the resurrection had never really happened then the whole Christian faith was a sham. It was people preaching lies about God. It meant that their faith was only a faith for this life and that was a huge waste of time and effort.

But Paul was adamant that the resurrection was real. Jesus had risen from the dead. His resurrection was the down payment for us, the guarantee that all who had faith in Jesus would also rise from the dead one day. Jesus is the pioneer who leads the way for all who trust in him and in the reality of his resurrection.

My friend from graduate school is someone who Paul would say is to be most pitied. She has a faith that really has no future. It is a faith that does not need a risen savior. Without a risen savior, one who is still in the grave, there is only the grave for us. Our faith is for this life only. If Jesus had never been risen then there is no reason to follow him. He is just a guy who died 2,000 years ago and is still dead. And no matter how much we believe in him, when we die, we will be just as dead for just as long and stay that way. No hope. No future. No life eternal. If Jesus is still in the grave then Christianity is a giant lie.

But because he is risen, we have life and hope, and a future that is beyond our most vivid and beautiful imaginations. We have a purpose in this life that will find it’s fulfillment in the next. We have a God who is worthy of our adoration and praise. We have a message to take to people that can change their lives, now and forever. We have a relationship with a very real God who loves us enough to pay the ultimate price for our reconciliation with Him. We have the power to bring that reconciliation to the world, healing to the broken, dignity to the oppressed, joy to the grieving, laughter to those who weep. I could go on and on because the resurrection changes everything. From the moment He burst forth from the tomb, nothing would ever be the same again. A world that was spiraling down into darkness and oblivion, became a world that could be lifted higher and more glorious, all because He is risen.

Easter is Over, Now What?

We have been reminded of and celebrated the fact that Jesus conquered sin and death and rose from the grave. Churches around the world did their best to worship God and inspire people. Choirs burst forth in song, preachers gave their all, the faithful dressed in their best. And with that, Easter for this year is over. Now what? What will you do differently in light of all the assurance, hope, and inspiration you received on Easter?

We focus a great deal of understandable attention on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. But we should never stop there. As important as those two events are, there is a third that is connected to them that when left out or ignored, has a huge impact on our thinking, attitudes, and actions. That third event is what we call, the Ascension. Luke tells us about this all important event in Acts 1:9. We are told that Jesus spoke to the disciples, gave them their marching orders to take the Gospel into all the world, and then was raised up, ascended, into the clouds and out of sight. At that point an angel spoke to them and said that we would one day return in the clouds just like they saw him depart.

Okay, fine, what is so important about how Jesus was raised up into the clouds that it absolutely must be spoken of in the same breath as the Crucifixion and the Resurrection? Simply this; it is not how Jesus ascended that really matters but where he ascended to that is all important. In the Apostles Creed we state that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father”. We get that idea from numerous places in God’s Word. Perhaps the most complete and compelling of those passages is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:18-23

The theological capstone on the Crucifixion and Resurrection was that Jesus was raised to glory in order to take His place at the right hand of the Father. The imagery of being at the right hand is that Jesus is now reigning over creation as Lord and Christ. He has gone from being the despised, suffering servant, to being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one to whom every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. He has been vindicated and is now ruling over his kingdom.

For us that means we can go through life with a confidence that is beyond measure. We can go forth into the world carrying out the mission of taking the Gospel with us and have no fear. We need not fear because Jesus has conquered sin and death. We need not fear because Jesus is enthroned in glory. We need not fear because he has sent the promised Holy Spirit to lead us and strengthen us and comfort us in all things.

We can also live in a constant sense of wonder. Easter is a day that reminds us of that wonder. It is a wonder that the tomb was empty and Jesus appeared alive to the disciples. From the empty tomb, to the angels, to the grave clothes lying inside, to Jesus appearing to Mary, then to the disciples, then to Thomas who doubted, every detail is a wonder to behold. We rightly feel that sense of wonder and joy on Easter. But we can and should feel and walk in that sense of wonder everyday. Everyday is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Everyday can and should be an acknowledgement that our King is ruling over all the universe. Such knowledge should take our breath away. It should constantly impact our decisions and actions. A picture of Jesus on the throne as King should cause us to live each moment as an opportunity to love and worship him like never before.

He is risen. He is Risen indeed! He is risen not only yesterday, but everyday and is ascended on high and rules and reigns over all creation! Live like it.

A Very Scary Saturday

What do you do the day after the person you have surrendered everything for, followed night and day for three years, were convinced would be the liberator and savior of your nation, is brutally executed like a common criminal? Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, there was Saturday. We are told next to nothing about what happened that day and what went through the minds of the disciples of Jesus.

We know that when Jesus was arrested, most of the disciples scattered in fear. John the youngest, followed after the crowd as they took Jesus away and he was able to get into the court yard where Jesus had been taken. Because he knew someone in the High Priests house, he was also able to get Peter inside, just in time for Peter to deny even knowing Jesus. By the time Jesus is nailed to the cross later that day Peter is hiding in shame. Only John along with a group of women, including Jesus mother Mary, are there to watch Jesus die.

Somehow the disciples manage to gather together for the next forty hours. We know that they are together because on Sunday morning the women who found the tomb empty, rush to the place were the Apostles were gathered to give them the news. Peter and John run to the tomb and from that point on the whole mood changes. But until then, during that seemingly endless forty hours, it had to have been the longest, loneliest, and most frightening time of their lives. They were certain that the religious officials would come for them next. After all, didn’t Jesus tell them that if they persecuted Him, the Master, how much more would they do to them, the followers.

As they huddled behind the locked door of the upper room the memories of the meal just hours before would have been fresh in their minds. They would have been running through their minds the memories of Jesus words around the table, looking for some clue as to what had happened and why. Accusations would have flown as to who was to blame. Anger at Judas Iscariot would have been at a fever pitch. Off in the corner, Peter would have been silent for maybe the first time in all the years they had known one another. From time to time, moans and sobbing from a man racked by guilt would be heard coming from his direction. The bewilderment of having lost Jesus, Judas being a betrayer, and Peter the second in command in an emotional puddle on the floor would have been nearly impossible to deal with. Every bit of security and familiarity that they might cling to had been rocked and crumbled.

I wonder how many of them thought, “I should have never left my fishing boat”. Were some of them even now trying to find a way to slip back home unnoticed and try to take up their anonymous life hoping that no one remembered them being with Jesus? Were they in such shock that such plans and ideas were still beyond their capability? Were they paralyzed by the possibility of finding themselves on a cross at any moment? Were they like the proverbial deer caught in the onrushing headlights just before being crushed to death?

For us, that Saturday before Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection is almost a spiritual pause. It is a day of anticipation of celebrating the victory over death that Jesus achieved and has promised for all who love and follow Him. It is a day of looking forward with expectant hope. For that first band of followers, it was a day of dread. They had no grasp of the promises of new life that Jesus had given them. His statements of being raised after three days made no sense to them prior to Easter morning. This day for them was a day of fear, hiding, shame, bewilderment, and recrimination. It was a day when each one looked deep inside himself and felt very alone, in spite of being in a room crammed full of other people who were in exactly the same emotional and spiritual state.

After the reality of the Resurrection sunk in, they were a completely different group. Their boldness in the face of opposition became legendary. Their willingness to sacrifice for Jesus and one another is a model for all who would come after them. Their joy even in the face of hardship would become something at which we marvel. It seems to me that in many ways we are the complete opposite of that hardy little band. On the day before Easter we are relaxed and anticipating the Resurrection. They were in hiding, fearful and uncertain. On most of the days following Easter, we can quickly become Christians in hiding, not letting our faith shine before others. We become afraid of what we will loose if we to openly follow Jesus. We live with doubts and uncertainty about the truth of who Jesus is and our own future resurrection. On the days following Easter, they lived and loved boldly. They had no fear. They refused to hide. They were as certain of their own future resurrection as they were of that of Jesus whom they had seen and spoken to and eaten with.

It is odd that it works that way. One would think that living in the light of the Resurrection, living Post-Easter, we would be much more like those early followers were on Easter Monday, Post-Easter. Instead we are often more like they were the day before that first Easter morning.