Which Holiday is Most Important — Christmas, Good Friday or Easter?

Title: Which is Most Important – Christmas, Good Friday or Easter?

Text: Luke 2:8-12, Corinthians 15:3-4

Date: April 19th, 2009

We’ve just completed the Easter season of 2009 and I wanted to take a Sunday to reflect back on where we’ve come over the last few months and put it in perspective. Towards the end of last year we celebrated the Christmas season, then we began the traditional Christian church calendar season of Lent, which led into Good Friday and finally Resurrection Sunday last week. That got me thinking, “Of all the holidays in the traditional Christian church calendar which one is most important, which one is next in importance, and so on?” Notice the question I ask is not, “Which holiday in the Christian calendar is most favorite?” I don’t think there is any dispute on that question because each year the Christmas season is no doubt the most popular Christian holiday of the year. It not only involves Christians celebrating the birth of the Savior Jesus in Bethlehem but it also includes many non-Christians and many people of other faiths or of no faith at all participating in the Christmas holiday season. So there is no question that as far as popularity, Christmas wins hands down. But the question that I ask still remains, “Which holiday is most important?” Or in other words, “Which holiday is the most meaningful in the spiritual sense?” Or put another way, “Which holiday in the Christian calendar is most important in respect to our salvation?” If we put the question this way, it might not be so easy to answer. Of course, the question is a little like the perennial question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? All three Christian holidays or holy days are important; all three are meaningful in their own right; all three are critical to our salvation and spiritual life. But if we had to rank them in importance, if we had to arrange them in some sort of priority order, which would we put first, which would come second, and which would be third? When we put the question that way I think we can arrange them in some order or rank of importance, based on their direct and immediate value to our spiritual salvation. That’s what I’d like to do this morning. Now before I do so I’d like to simply say that this is my personal estimation of the relative value of these three holidays; it isn’t based on any verse in the Bible or any other historical Christian church precedent. For some people the question is impossible to answer, like asking some similar theological question like, “Who is most important among members of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit?” Now that’s a question that is so complex that I’m not sure that I would even want to venture an answer, but today I’ll be trying to answer a question that I believe is easier. Upon reflection, I’m convinced, although I could be wrong, that Good Friday is most directly important concerning our salvation; that Easter is next in importance; and Christmas is then next. Good Friday, Easter and Christmas – that’s my personal order of importance in respect to our direct spiritual salvation. Let me explain why.

First, Christmas is the commencing work of Jesus for our salvation. Luke 2:8-12, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manager.’” Jesus came into the world on that very first Christmas 2000 plus years ago and that was the start of the salvation process, or at least the immediate commencement of salvation. As 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, the Eternal Word of God, God the Son, Jesus was already before time and before creation and before human history and certainly before his appearing on earth already working out the salvation process behind the scenes. It didn’t just occur to Jesus during the course of his lifetime that he could save the world or that he could become the Savior of the world by dying on the cross for the sins of lost humanity. No. It was a process that had already started in ages past. The incarnation or appearing of God in human flesh in Jesus Christ was simply the visible commencement or start of the salvation process on earth. Before that first Christmas, salvation was something prophesied in the Old Testament and hoped for among God’s people, but the first visible, tangible sign of it appeared when Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem. Of course, without the birth of Jesus as Lamb of God – as John the Baptist called him, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” John 1:29, there would be, there could be, no sacrifice on Good Friday and no resurrection on Easter morning. So in that sense, Christmas is most important because without it nothing of the visible, tangible salvation process could ever occur. But that’s assumed, that’s a given. We could always say that a person’s birth is the most important day of their life. For example, if we ask the question, “What was the most important day of Martin Luther King’s life?” We might answer the day he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in Washington, D.C. But one could always say, no, it was the day he was born because if that day hadn’t happened he never would or could have given the speech, etc. And so the circular reasoning goes round and round. The birth of Jesus is important and we should remember it every year. I’m glad we have the Christmas season every year. I’m disturbed that it’s taken on so much commercialism, but I’m still grateful that our culture and the whole world recognizes it still as an important thing to remember. As John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Christmas is an important Christian holiday, but not the most important Christian holiday. But if not Christmas, which holiday is most important? Let’s look at a potential candidate, Easter.

Second, Easter is the confirmation of the work of Jesus for our salvation. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “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.” It seems that the whole sequence of events is what the Apostle Paul is referring to “as of first importance” – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I don’t think that he was saying that he received and passed on what was of first importance – that Christ died for our sins, period. I do believe that the death of Christ on the cross on Good Friday was the most important event in the whole salvation process as far as our directly being saved in concerned, but I honestly don’t believe that I can prove it from this passage because he’s referring to the whole sequence of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection together as of first importance here. So could Easter morning be the most important Christian holiday as far as our salvation goes? I don’t think so because it’s the confirming work of Christ not the central work of Christ concerning our salvation. So then why do we celebrate Easter as a Christian holiday? Because it marks the triumphant ending of the salvation process Christ brought to earth starting with his birth, which we celebrate at Christmas, continuing on to his death and payment for our sins on the cross on Good Friday. Easter morning, or Resurrection Sunday marks the happy ending of Christ’s atoning work for our sins. The atoning work was done on the cross; that’s where Christ won our salvation. But the confirmation of the whole process occurred on Easter morning. Without the resurrection of Christ the atonement of Christ would be incomplete, not that it would not have accomplished payment for our sins, but that we wouldn’t have a sure knowledge of that payment and we wouldn’t be able to celebrate it by faith. We might still be saved by the atoning work on the cross without the resurrection – if God had wanted to work it out that way – but we certainly wouldn’t be able to have as much confidence in that salvation because there would always be lingering doubts as to what really happened to Jesus. Easter morning is a clear-cut triumph of faith and certainty in the work of salvation already accomplished. We don’t have to doubt and think, “I wonder if what Jesus said about salvation was true? I wonder if his death really did atone for my sins? I wonder if he was speaking the absolute truth, or whether made claims that couldn’t be fulfilled?” Without the resurrection these are the kinds of questions we might ask. But with the mighty miracle of Jesus rising from the dead we have positive faith that our salvation is accomplished. It’s not if Jesus accomplished our salvation with his death on the cross, it now a proven fact. The resurrection proves it. But even as importance as this mighty prove is, I still must say that Good Friday, the day Christ died for sins, took our judgment, and achieved our salvation – that is most important. Let’s look at Good Friday.

Third, Good Friday is the central work of Jesus for our salvation. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “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.” Even though, as I said before, I believe that the entire sequence of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is what Paul is referring to in this passage, it is interesting that he puts it this way, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” It’s interesting that the central fixture of Christian worship, practically the only thing Jesus Christ mentioned as an essential element when believers gathered together as the church, is the Lord’s Supper. And what is the Lord’s Supper, if not the remembrance of the Lord’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and our salvation. The Apostle Paul records in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” It’s interesting that Paul should emphasize the proclamation of the Lord’s death and not the Lord’s resurrection. The Communion or Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of the Lord’s death, that is, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins. We are not commanded by Jesus to remember his birth in any special ceremony, nor are we commanded to remember his resurrection in any special observance, but we are commanded by Jesus to remember his death frequently in the Lord’s Supper. That should tell us what Christ himself thinks is most important of all his works that he accomplished on earth. Of course Jesus continually repeated to his disciples his mission to die as an atoning sacrifice for sins, but this was just too much for even his closest followers to grasp during his lifetime. The Jews were simply not thinking in terms of the Messiah as a human sacrifice. Even though Isaiah 53 outlines the sacrificial atoning death of the Savior, few Jews could comprehend that it was speaking of the Messiah, and even fewer linked Jesus with this prophecy. It only became clear after the fact. For example, on the Emmaus Road after his resurrection Jesus explained to a few disciples, “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself,” Luke 24:25-27. So we see that the emphasis of Christ is on Good Friday event, even after the resurrection. That along with other things leads me to conclude that Christ’s suffering and death on the cross is the most important day for us in respect to our salvation. Good Friday therefore is the most important Christian holiday in the church calendar.

But more important than which day of the year within the Christian church calendar is most important to us is whether this day, Good Friday, is most important to you personally? Have you understood why Jesus Christ had to die on the cross to save us from our sins? Do you personally understand that you, along with everyone, are guilty of disobedience towards God? Do you know that you inherited the original sin of Adam and Eve, that you were born with a sin nature, that you sin naturally because you are part of a fallen human race? Do you also realize that you, along with everyone else, are headed for a Judgment Day based on your sins, based on your disobediences towards God? Christ needed to die on the cross for you personally because someone had to take your place, someone had to pay for your sin debt, and someone had to take the punishment you deserve. If you had to pay your own sin debt, you’d perish in eternal damnation in hell – that’s what the Bible teaches, that’s what Christ himself taught. Now are you beginning to see why Good Friday is so important and why it got the name “Good Friday?” We wouldn’t naturally equate the adjective “good” to a horrible, terrible execution on a cross, but because of what the death of Christ accomplished on the cross that day we can truly call it Good Friday. But is it truly Good Friday for you personally? Did Christ die for your sins on the cross that day? Was it good that he did because you acknowledge his death on your behalf? Do you accept and receive Christ’s atoning sacrifice on your behalf? Do you trust that what he did really does save you? Have you committed your life to Christ because of what he did? Have you repented of your sins and disobediences towards God and turned away from your rebellion against God’s will? Have you bowed your knee at the foot of the cross, symbolically, and humbled yourself at his feet? There is the event of Christ’s death and then there is how you permit it to be applied to your life. Many people have some kind of knowledge and understanding of what took place on Good Friday, yet fail to receive or embrace it’s benefits into their lives. Do you embrace the cross and take it for yourself personally and receive Christ’s death for you by faith? There is the famous story called The Count of Monte Cristo, where the lead actor, the Count, saves a sailor or pirate’s life. Afterwards, the man exclaims, “You saved my life, I’m your man forever.” He pledged to be the Count’s personal assistant for the rest of his life in response to having his life saved. That should be our attitude towards Christ. Jesus saved our eternal soul on the cross and now we owe his a debt of gratitude. We should spend the rest of our life following and serving him out of love. Does that characterize your life today? If not, this would be a good time to start.

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2 Responses to “Which Holiday is Most Important — Christmas, Good Friday or Easter?”

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