Who would have ever thought that our celebration of Easter this year would take place either online or in our cars at a drive-in service? That we wouldn’t be sharing the Lord’s Supper together as a church family? That the Easter cantata wouldn’t be sung? That new clothes would be the last thing on our minds?
Honestly, we’ve been spoiled for so long here in America that we sometimes get caught up in the commercialism of our “Christian” holidays. Many of us have lost sight of what we celebrate and why.
Oh, I’m not saying that we don’t know that Easter is about the cross instead of the eggs and the Savior instead of the bunny. I’m just saying that maybe this year we should meditate a little more on what we really believe and why we believe it.
True, every Sunday is a resurrection celebration, but Easter is an opportunity to remember and to celebrate even more the one event upon which our whole faith rests.
I fear that we in the West have turned the celebration of Christ’s resurrection into another secular holiday in which we focus on ourselves and our family. New clothes, Easter baskets, and the first official weekend of beach season can override the power of the resurrection in our lives.
But not this year.
This year, we have a little time to think about what the resurrection of Jesus really means. In the midst of tragedy, shortages, and quarantines, we now turn our attention to an event that brings hope to every situation–even death.
Because without the resurrection of Christ, our faith means nothing.
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”1 Corinthians 15:14, NIV
In other words, everything we believe as Christians (our faith) rests on one event: the resurrection.
Do we really believe it? In a world of “you be you” and “own your truth,” do we really even believe that Jesus’ heart stopped beating on the cross, that He was wrapped and laid in a tomb, and that hours later His heart began to beat again, and He walked out of that tomb alive?
Or do we just say we believe it but really harbor some intellectual doubt? Because if Easter has become focused on hunting eggs and buying new clothes with a passing glance at a special service on Sunday, I have to wonder what we really believe.
But things are different now. The cultural focus on Reese’s Eggs and beach season has shifted to social distancing and online worship.
How will we respond? Will we get into the Word at home with our families and talk about the power of the resurrection? Will we allow the Holy Spirit to confirm these truths in our hearts in a way that makes Easter really about Jesus and not about us?
Will we meditate on the cross of Christ and the power of His resurrection to make us new? Will we allow the hope of Christ to carry us through difficulties and share that hope with others?
That’s how the early church responded.
How do we know? The best verification for historical documents is early evidence and eyewitness evidence. We have both.
Even if we use the latest dates that critics all agree on, we have early evidence for the resurrection. We know Jesus’ death took place around AD 30. The latest dates for the Gospels would be around 60 for Mark, 80 for Matthew, 85 for Luke, and 95 for John.
Even with these late dates, that’s very early for historical documentation. (Compare Alexander the Great’s historical testament coming 280 years after his death.)
But even earlier than that, we have the church creeds found in the New Testament. We have to remember that 70-90% of Jesus’s followers were illiterate.
The early church creeds contained the Gospel message as a way to know what they believed through oral tradition. Here’s an example:
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Paul says here that he had passed on (when he first visited Corinth in 51) what he had received (prior to that), and then he shares the creed. This creed, which proclaims the life, death, resurrection, and appearances of Christ, had to at the very least date back to before AD 51.
I don’t know about you, but my son was born almost 25 years ago. I still recall every detail of his birth. Likewise, the resurrection of Christ would have been a major event in their lives that they wouldn’t have forgotten.
For the early church to declare less than twenty years after Jesus’ death that He was risen from the dead and seen by over 500 people is significant. Many of those people were still alive to dispute the church’s claims, but they didn’t.
Some scholars agree that the creeds date even further back than that, probably to within five years of the resurrection. And all historians will agree that early dating is one of the most significant factors in verifying the reliability of a text.
The second is eyewitnesses. Again, most of these eyewitnesses were still alive and could testify to Jesus’ resurrection, and they did. That’s how the church grew. That’s why they were willing to die for something that could easily have been disproven if it were not true. They were there. They knew it was true.
Those are the facts. But along with those facts, we also have our faith in God. We have our testimony of what He has done in our lives. We once were lost and dead in our sins, but we have been given new life through the resurrection of Jesus and His victory over death, hell, and the grave.
Do you remember what your life was like and where you were headed apart from Christ? Do you remember what He saved you from and how He has made you new? Do you remember the price He paid to give you the new life you now have?
This Easter, let’s forget the bunnies and cantatas and candy. Instead, we can spend this week remembering the cross of Christ. We can reflect on what Jesus has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection.
Let’s remember that His resurrection is what brings us hope and share that hope with those around us.
And let’s be sure we know what we believe and why we believe it, because Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus.
And if we believe that to really be true, our celebrations of it should never be the same.