On Sunday, churches throughout the world will celebrate Easter. (For those of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, it will be celebrated the following Sunday because the Eastern churches use the Julian Calendar which is 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar used in the West.) While, for many, the focus of Easter celebrations is more on egg hunts and time with family and friends, the focus for Christians is on the bodily resurrection of Jesus and what that means for each of us.
The name Easter comes from the old German word “Oster” or “Ostern,” which means “the rising of the sun.” Oster comes from the old Teutonic of auferstehen (or auferstehung) which means resurrection. This comes from two words: Ester, which mean first, and stehen, with means to stand. And these two words combine to form erstehen, an old German form of auferstehen, which is the modern German word for resurrection. — from Nick Sayers, “Why We Should Not Passover Easter,” http://www.easterau.com.
Since Easter is all about the resurrection, what remains a mystery to me is how so many can claim to be Christians and observe the Easter celebration and yet not believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is so central to the Christian Faith that there really could not even be the Christian Faith if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Without the resurrection of Jesus — who was crucified and suffered and died for the sins of all the world — there could be no reason to celebrate, no acquittal of sinners, no pardon, no forgiveness from God!
The Apostle Paul wrote of this to the believers in the Greek city of Corinth: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18).
Everything hinges on the factualness of the resurrection of Jesus. That is also why the Apostle not only told the believers in Corinth that Christ truly did rise from the dead; he provided them with a long list of eyewitnesses who had seen the risen Christ to prove Jesus’ resurrection was a historical fact.
He wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
Note that he listed those who had seen Jesus alive again after His crucifixion, death and burial. There was Peter, the 12 apostles, more than 500 brothers at one time (and most were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing if any had questions or doubts about the resurrection). There were James, all the apostles again, and, lastly, Paul himself.
Because Jesus did rise from the dead, Christians are assured of forgiveness and life through faith in His name. Paul wrote to the believers at Rome, saying that Jesus “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). The sins of the world were laid upon Jesus, and He was punished in the stead of mankind. His resurrection means that indeed full atonement was made. God accepted the sacrifice of His Son. For Jesus’ sake, the sins of all are paid for in full and God offers and gives through the Gospel His pardon and forgiveness to all who believe!
Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-16).
The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Thessalonica: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). He goes on to describe how, when Jesus returns, the dead in Christ will be raised up first, and then we believers who are alive and remain will be caught up in the clouds to meet our Lord Jesus in the air to be forever with the Lord.
What hope could we have for ourselves or deceased loved ones who died trusting in Jesus if Jesus did not rise? If Jesus did not rise, how could we ever hope to rise? Our faith depends entirely upon Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and His bodily resurrection in victory! But, Jesus did rise. As St. Paul wrote, “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Now, I wonder what those celebrate who do not believe the eye-witnessed accounts of Jesus’ resurrection? What hope could they possibly have? They have no guarantee of forgiveness from God. They remain dead in their sins. They have no reason to believe that they will ever be raised up from the dead to enjoy the everlasting joys of heaven because, if Christ did not rise, how could they ever hope to be raised up?
If they claim to be Christian but do not hold to the historical resurrection of Jesus, they, as Paul said, “are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19).
[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]