RESURRECTING EASTER (PT. 1)
Written by Doug Ponder on April 6, 2014
Easter Baskets, Cadbury Creme Eggs, and Jesus
For most children in the South, the arrival of Easter Sunday means three things:
- trying to persuade your siblings to take your disgusting, individually-wrapped pastel marshmallow eggs in exchange for their Cadbury Creme Eggs
- eating yourself sick on a peanut butter egg the size of the Death Star
- wearing new Easter outfits that are about as comfortable (and fashionable) as a suit made entirely of Easter grass
Of course, there’s the whole “this holiday is really about Jesus” part, too. Just about everyone knows that Easter is the time of year that Christians set aside to give special consideration to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But one day it dawns on you that you’re not entirely sure why Jesus’ resurrection had to take place. You wonder, “What’s the point of the resurrection, anyway?” Sure, you’ve heard some people about Jesus’ resurrection before. But you feel like what they said fell into the category of ‘true, but that doesn’t really answer the question.’ (It’s like asking why 9-11 happened only to receive the answer, “Because two airplanes flew into the twin towers.” Their answer is true, but it doesn’t really answer the question that you’re asking.)
Here are some truths about the resurrection of Jesus that fail to explain the heart of what it’s all about:
1. To Fulfill What the Bible Says?
The first explanation that some people give for the resurrection is simply that the Scriptures predicted Jesus would do so.
Of course, that’s true. Jesus openly said in the presence of his friends and enemies, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The author John then tells us, “He was speaking about the temple that is his body. So when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:21-22).
In other place Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
So Jesus (as well as a few of the Old Testament prophets) did promise that he would rise from the dead. But that still doesn’t tell us why he must do so in the first place.
2. To Prove That He Was God?
It is very often said the point of Jesus’ resurrection was to prove that he was God.
Now, let’s be clear about this. Jesus certainly was God-in-the-flesh. Anyone who has taken the time to read the accounts of Jesus’ life in the Gospels of the New Testament—not to mention the historical accounts of his life from other ancient authors—already knows that Jesus said and did a number of things that make sense only if he was truly God.
That means, of course, that Jesus did not need to rise from the dead to prove that he was God. His life and his teachings already demonstrate his identity. Perhaps you are thinking, “Yes, but his resurrection really would have proved that he was God for all those who still had doubts.”
Perhaps. But that isn’t how Jesus saw things. In Luke 16 Jesus tells a chilling parable about a rich man who spent his entire life living for temporary comforts, while ignoring the real needs of a helpless man who slept near the gate of his private mansion. When he died, the rich man was cast into Hades. There the rich man begged for someone to be sent to warn his brothers in the hope that they might turn from their wicked ways and be spared from a similar punishment. Jesus’ next words are as startling as they are powerful: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let your brothers listen to them.” (Talking about “Moses and the Prophets” was a common Jewish way of referring to Old Testament.) The rich man continued, “No. . . but if someone from the dead goes to them, then they will repent.” But Jesus said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31).
Don’t you see what Jesus is saying? Jesus says that his resurrection would not convince people of anything that they didn’t already believe from their reading of the Scriptures! (Judging by the number of sermons that try to prove Jesus’ deity from his resurrection, it seems that we may not really believe what Jesus has said about this.)
Finally, if proving himself to be God was the “main point” of the resurrection, then it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. After all, what’s so special about the resurrection if it’s just one more miracle in an already long line of miracles pointing the identity of Jesus?
3. To Show that Our Sins Were Paid in Full?
By far the most common answer to the ‘so what’ of the resurrection is this: Jesus rose from the dead to prove his victory over sin was genuine.
Sure, the resurrection does show that Jesus’ victory over sin was genuine. But is that really the main point of the resurrection? Is the resurrection just a ‘receipt’ for the cross saying that our sins were paid in full?
Not according to virtually all of the major Christian thinkers throughout church history. For example, the apostle Paul says, “Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). And elsewhere he says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. And those also who have fallen asleep [died] in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18).
Resurrecting the Meaning of Easter
Our failure to understand the big picture of what God is doing in the world is a major reason behind why we struggle to understand the purpose of the resurrection (and, therefore, the true significance of Easter).
There’s more to the resurrection than just the fulfillment of prophecy, the confirmation of Jesus’ divinity, and the proof of his victory over sin. Those are all true and very wonderful, but what we find in the Scriptures is that the fullness of God’s redemptive plan in the world is something that couldn’t be accomplished without raising Jesus to new life. In other words, the resurrection was necessary for the fulfillment of the mission of God. And that makes Easter even more important than you already thought it was!
To read more on the resurrection and the mission of God, check out “Resurrecting Easter (Part 2)” next week.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.