Why Celebrate Easter?

Title: Why Celebrate Easter?

Text: Matthew 28:11-15, 2:7-8, 28:16-20

Time: March 23, 2008

Today is Easter Sunday 2008 and so today we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead! Joy to the world! But not everyone in our city, our state, our nation, our culture, or our world is celebrating today. Still others on our planet are celebrating Easter somewhat, but for mostly human social reasons, not for the true spiritual reasons that real Christians are celebrating today. As Christians, we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ dramatically proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was indeed the Savior by conquering his own death, and therefore, he is qualified and able to make promises about saving us from the experience of death, and is able to actually save us from permanent death through his life-giving power. But like I said before, not everyone sees the importance of Easter or for that matter the importance of Jesus rising from the dead, assuming they even believe it in the first place. For many people today in our modern, materialistic world, Easter Sunday is a religious holiday, a celebration of a spiritual or religious belief – that’s all. Many of these same people don’t really believe that it is possible for someone dead to come back to life, so they don’t take the celebration of the resurrection seriously either. To them it’s all just another religion celebrating just another spiritual belief, that’s all. They are more concerned about tangible, concrete, material, earthly things, like world peace, the economy, making money, material possessions, health, safety, security, recreation and entertainment, jobs and careers, travel, enjoying life with hobbies and other interests, meeting with friends for social activities, pursuing intellectual education, having fun, experiencing all there is in life, etc. The resurrection of Jesus Christ to them is just a spiritual thing unrelated to the real material world. So they see no reason to celebrate it. They’d just as soon stay home on Sunday morning and read the paper or get some extra sleep or eat a big breakfast, etc. Or they might go out for brunch and then visit friends or family, or scratch around in the yard or work on some home improvement project. Going to church on Easter Sunday is not on their agenda. Now other people do find themselves in church on Easter Sunday, but they are there not for spiritual reasons primarily, but for social reasons – it’s tradition in their family, or their husband or wife dragged them to church, or they want their kids to learn about Christianity, or they are meeting with friends and family at church and afterwards going out to eat, or a thousand other different social reasons, but not truly spiritual reasons. But then there are those who are celebrating Easter because they know and understand its significant and want to celebrate it with others and appreciate it even more spiritually. Three kinds of people, three different attitudes toward Easter this year. Which one are you? I’d like to talk a little more about the three kinds of people and their attitudes towards Easter.

First, there are those who don’t celebrate Easter. Matthew 28:11-15, “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep. If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” So we see here that some people don’t celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from among the dead because they don’t believe it. It’s interesting that the Jews as a general rule even up to this very day don’t believe that Jesus really rose from the dead. They have to believe something like the fabricated story of the soldiers to explain how Christianity got its start. Something happened that launched the Christian faith, it either had to be the actual resurrection of Jesus or something else happened instead with the body of Christ that morning, but in any case, it was gone and there has to be some explanation. People who don’t celebrate Easter usually don’t believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. Consequently, they don’t believe there is any value in celebrating an event that doesn’t really impact their lives in a concrete and tangible way. If you look at life totally from a secular and materialistic point of view, the resurrection, even if it did indeed happen, isn’t really that important to you. How does the resurrection improve your financial condition or your material net worth? It doesn’t. For many people, everything is measured by how it improves their financial state or level of wealth. If it doesn’t help their material bottom-line, then its worthless to them. Many people are like that. The only thing they celebrate is something material. They will go out and celebrate a raise in their income, but they won’t celebrate Jesus raising from the dead because even if true, doesn’t help them get ahead financially. That’s the only they care about. These people can’t see the significance of Easter because it doesn’t accomplish anything obviously worthwhile to improve the world now. For example, Jesus rising from the dead doesn’t bring world peace, end all the wars and conflicts. It doesn’t cure cancer and other deadly diseases. It doesn’t educate the children of the world. It doesn’t put food in the mouths of starving people all over the world. From an entirely worldly perspective, the resurrection of Christ is almost totally worthless. That’s why lots of people don’t celebrate Easter because regardless of whether or not they believe it actually happened, they can’t see any tangible, concrete good it does the world in concrete terms. But the problem with this view is that it’s too narrow. It lowers us all to the level of animal existence. It fails to recognize that people are made in the image of God and have higher needs than mere animal survival and existence. It totally forgets that the soul is eternal and our destiny is beyond this earthly existence. The resurrection is extremely important because the soul is of infinite value and its eternal destiny is of extreme importance. The resurrection of Jesus has everything to do with the eternal destiny of the soul. But there’s another common attitude found among some people about Easter.

Second, there are those who celebrate Easter for purely human, social reasons. Matthew 2:7-8, “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’” Now wait! Isn’t that a Christmas passage? Isn’t that one of the familiar scenes from the Christmas story? You may be saying, “Pastor, you must have had a really busy week. You are confused. Today is Easter Sunday not the Christmas season. You’ve got your seasons confused. You should be talking about the resurrection of Christ, not the birth of Christ.” But wait, hear me out. I mention this passage only to show the false motive of Herod; he gave a reason for something but it wasn’t the real reason. And that’s like a lot of people who “celebrate” Easter across our nation and around the world. Yes, they are in church. Yes, they are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead. But the real reason they are in church is because it’s a family tradition to be in church with the family, or it’s a tradition of theirs to attend church twice a year: Christmas and Easter. They aren’t there primarily because they want to appreciate the resurrection of Christ more deeply or because they want to reflect on and celebrate the spiritual meaning of Jesus rising from the dead. No. They are there primarily because they want to be with family; family time. They are there, if they are women, to wear their new spring fashions they recently purchased, or to spend time with children and grandchildren. It’s a social event. Some men attend Easter services in order to satisfy the minimal requirements of their religion. If they didn’t attend at least on Christmas and Easter they might feel guilty for neglecting their religious commitments. So they make their appearance each year, the way some men make their appearance once or twice at the VFW hall in order to keep their membership active. They don’t want to be dropped from membership, so Christmas and Easter are good times to make their religious appearances. It isn’t for spiritual reasons that they celebrate Easter. Now I don’t want to give the impression that people like this, and there are lots of people like this in churches this morning for Easter, I don’t want to give the impression that they shouldn’t be welcomed; they should be welcome in church at any time. And often, through the process of attending church on Christmas and Easter for social reasons, these people eventually truly do come to a true faith in Jesus and then someday eventually do celebrate Easter for spiritual reasons. But I just want to honestly point out that the reason why Easter is such a highly attended Sunday at churches is not because so many people suddenly get spiritual, it’s because most of these extra people in churches are there for mostly social reasons, not spiritual. Let us pray that they eventually understand the true significance of Easter and celebrate it for that reason instead of just using Easter for mostly a human agenda. It’s not enough to celebrate Easter, it’s important to celebrate it for the right reasons, just like Christmas. But there’s another attitude for celebrating Easter – the correct one.

Third, there are those who celebrate Easter for its true spiritual meaning. Matthew 28:16-20, “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Then Jesus came t them and said, ‘All authority in haven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Here we see the real spiritual celebration of Easter – worshipping the risen Christ. Is that why you are here in church this morning? Is that why I’m here? It should be, if our hearts are pure and our motives are right. If we are truly celebrating the resurrection of Jesus this morning we’ve come to worship him for who he is and what he’s done. On Good Friday, we remember how he died on the cross for our sins as a sacrificial atoning death on our behalf. By placing our trust and confidence in Christ to remove our sins and make us righteous by his blood, we are saved. Then, on Easter Sunday, our faith is strengthened through the powerful resurrection of Christ from the dead, which gives us hope for the future when the time comes for our own death, because Christ conquered death through the resurrection, we have confidence that he will do the same for us for our souls beyond death. The only proper response to all the benefits and blessings we receive from Christ is worship. That’s what the first disciples did. After the resurrection, they went to the spot Jesus had told them to go and they saw him in his resurrection body – there they worshiped him. Now notice, it also says that there was some doubt among them. That’s a curious addition in the text. We might think that there would only be positive faith described at the appearance of Jesus, but there is actually mention of some doubt. Why is that? Well, the fact is that we aren’t always 100% spiritually strong. We aren’t always totally at the top of our faith all the time. There are times when people doubt things, question things, have moments of deep concern about their faith in Christ. Jesus wants them to know that they are still welcome as His followers even though they are less than perfect in their faith. If you fall into doubt about something, that doesn’t disqualify you from being a Christian. If you fall into sin, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a Christian. The church isn’t a place for perfect Christians; it’s a place for sinners and doubters. Yes, we must confess our sins and repent of our sins and recommit ourselves to faith in Christ. That’s important and essential. Yes, we must honestly acknowledge our doubts and questions when they arise, and then seek out the answers and find the truth again for ourselves. But just because we doubt or just because we sin, doesn’t mean we can’t worship God and participate in church. The point of celebrating Easter is not that we must be perfect to worship, but that our hearts have truly grasped the real meaning of Easter and we embrace Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We value above all other things what Christ has done for us through dying on the cross and through rising to life on the third day. That’s what celebrating Easter is all about. Let’s pray.

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