Why Easter Still Matters

Title: What Easter Still Matters

Text: Ephesians 2:12, Matthew 28:5, John 3:16

Time: March 21st, 2012

 

It’s no new news to say we live in a secular society today. Everybody knows that our modern world has nearly swept away any public expression of God, except for the few large, visible church buildings that dot the landscape. No, we in modern times have organized ourselves around secular interests – the economy, politics, careers, education, health, money and material things, for example. But the funny thing is we still have a past history of faith in God, and the remnants of that faith provide the occasion for holidays such as Christmas and Easter. So even in our worldly, secular society, we remember spiritual events a few times a year, because they are on our calendar and because it’s tradition. But we don’t realize that these spiritual remembrances aren’t just occasions of feel-good nostalgia, they are vitally important for society whether we realize it or not. Because we are in the Easter season, and Easter is just a few weeks away, I’ll focus on explaining why this annual holiday is so very important for society and why it matters so much, still today. It’s important, for one, because it reminds everyone to think about a most fundamental question — a question philosophers and thinkers have pondered for ages – what happens at death? Now modern science can tell us much about many things, but on the topic of death it can’t tell us for very much at all. Sure, science can tell us what happens to the physical body, including the brain, but it can’t tell us what happens in any other way. More importantly, it can’t answer the real question people ask about death – do we survive it in some sense, consciously, as soul or spirit? Now our modern, secular, and in some respects atheistic world tries to bury this question with frantic activity and entertainment because it’s not something secularism can answer. The word “secular” simply means “earth bound” or “time bound.” In reference to society and culture, the word describes civilization that focuses itself on earthly living, earthly existence, with little or no concern for anything else, especially life after death. So on the one hand, we live in a secular, earthly, worldly age that pushes aside ultimate questions such as, “What becomes of me after death?” But on the other hand, we still observe or remember holidays such as Easter, that focus on death and life after death, and these types of big questions. And it’s good that we do still remember these spiritual topics because it makes us take serious the real ultimate issues of life, instead of just grabbing for the TV remote or ordering a pizza, which as citizens of a secular society we are inclined to do. What we don’t realize is we really need Easter every year to point us to God and ultimate things; we need a break from always thinking of earthly, worldly preoccupations. And in respect to Easter in particular, we need it to remind us that there is hope for life after death. Let me explain.

 

First, according to the secular, scientific world there is no hope for life after death. Ephesians 2:12, “Remembering that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Within the past few decades a number of studies have been done related to death and the afterlife, such as Raymond Moody’s Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon, Survival of Bodily Death, followed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s On Life After Death. There has been the rise of formal studies of death and dying at many major universities and research institutes. Now the different approaches taken to this study vary, all the way from, in one instance, weighing the body before and after death, and noticing a slight difference in weight – to attempting communication with the deceased shortly after death. These various studies have produced reams and reams of data, much of which is still trying to be interpreted and conclusions draw. But the bottom line in all this kind of research is – scientifically the results are inconclusive. In other words, using the best science of today, we still don’t know the answer to the question, “Does the soul or spirit survive physical death?” In fact, scientifically speaking, we can’t even determine if there is a soul or spirit to survive death. But these results shouldn’t shock us, because after all, science is the study of the material world and the forces and laws that operate within it. We shouldn’t be surprised that a study of material and energy in the physical world finds no evidence for something immaterial or spiritual such as the soul or spirit. But my point in bringing all this up is this – according to the best science, we can’t determine whether there is a soul or spirit, and we can’t determine whether anyone, in any way survives physical death. So from a totally secular, scientific perspective we are left with no hope for life after death. But this is what the Apostle Paul was already saying two thousand years ago when he said, “You were separate from Christ . . without hope and without God in the world.” This secular, modern world offers little or no hope for life after death to its citizens. Yes, we live with a higher standard of living than any previous generation. We have better food, better housing, better transportation, better healthcare – better living in almost every way – except we are left with no ultimate hope for the future. That’s one of the negatives in living in a godless, secular, modern world. So in all our abundance we are in many respects emptier. In this respect, we actually have less than our predecessors because while they didn’t have all the marvels of the modern world, they at least had hope for a better world in the life to come. Now we can begin to see why our annual Easter holiday is so important for a world like ours today – it offers a future hope in a hopeless world.

 

Second, according to biblical Christianity there is abundant hope for life after death. Matthew 28:5, “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples; He is risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. Now I have told you.’” So we see according to the secular, scientific world there is no certain hope for life after death, but according to the Christian faith there is hope for life after death, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our secular world, the thinking is that unless something can be proven scientifically then it’s not true or real. But that way of thinking is false. There are many things that we take for real but can’t be proven scientifically. For example, we believe that we can think thoughts and can make decisions; we also believe that we have free will so that we can rise above the material world and freely choose what to do in the world. But science can’t confirm these beliefs about thoughts and free will because the most science can say is that we each have a physical brain and that whatever we call thinking and deciding is done in the brain as chemical processes taking place. Now if thinking and decision making simply boil down to chemical processes in the brain, then that means we’re really determined by nature and its laws just like everything else. In other words, science gives us no hope that we are free to think and choose on our own; science ultimately teaches we are determined. But most people reject the scientific conclusion about thought and free will. Most people consider science “out of its league” in this respect because if thinking and free will aren’t material processes, then trying to force fit them into a scientific study would distort the findings and yield false conclusions. Well, it’s the same with trying to study questions of life after death scientifically. According to the Bible the soul survives death and travels to heaven or hell ultimately. It makes sense that science wouldn’t be able to detect this because it’s looking for natural processes and in this case it’s a supernatural, spiritual process taking place. So whereas science gives us no hope for life after death, the biblical Christian faith gives us an abundance of hope for it based on the resurrection of Christ. If Jesus could survive death and come to life again, so could others. If God’s higher power could raise the dead body of Jesus to life again after three days, then he could raise anyone from the dead if he wanted. So then as Christians, our solid hope is in Jesus Christ and we invite anyone and everyone who lives in our modern, secular world to join us in our future hope for eternal existence. But there’s more.

 

Third, according to biblical Christianity there’s even more than life after death. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Now the famous passage above isn’t merely talking about surviving death or life after death. It’s talking about something more. It’s not just saying that whoever believes in God or God’s Son will experience life after death. It’s not just saying that whoever has faith will survive death, although that is a miracle and an accomplishment. Our modern, secular, godless world is less and less believing in the possibility of surviving death, like I’ve explained before. Many people today either don’t believe in life after death or don’t know about it one way or another. More people today take an apathetic attitude towards the whole topic – “Who knows for sure? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t care one way or another, which way it is.” Now as a pastor I’m still trying to figure out why more and more people are taking such a casual attitude toward life after death. I think it’s because they don’t want to get their hopes up and learn or hear of something that would or could disappoint them. So it appears this casualness towards life after death is really a defense mechanism along the lines of, “You can’t hurt me because I don’t care anyway. Whatever science discovers or research finds in respect to death and beyond, it won’t make any difference to me. I’m not counting on living past the grave anyway. I’ll focus my thoughts and actions on this life, not in some life to come.” Yes, that’s the popular attitude today; and it’s basically insulating oneself against any future or further hurt of disappointment. People give up hope of surviving death and then they won’t be hurt if they don’t. The problem is that meanwhile they suffer despair and depression, or they suffer the damaging effects of denial, because secretly we’d all like to keep on living. Life is something good – more or less — and hanging on to life as long as possible is normal and natural, despite claiming the contrary. But the Christian faith teaches that everyone will survive death, because God will raise everyone’s soul or spirit to life after the death of their body. But the real issue is, where will the soul go once it survives death? Our poor secular world is so mixed up on the subject it doesn’t realize that the real issue isn’t whether the soul or spirit survives the grave; the real issue is the destination of the soul once it survives death. And again, the Christian has a solid hope for a happy outcome here as well. Not only can our soul survive death, it can also find its way to eternal bliss in heaven with God forever. But again, this can’t be proven scientifically, as we shouldn’t expect. But so what? We don’t need the confirmation of science about the soul’s existence; neither do we need its confirmation of heaven.

 

But when Easter Sunday comes around every year on the calendar, it’s still good for our secular, modern world because it reminds us all once again of the really important questions of life and death and eternity. It forces us to think seriously about things that our secular society routinely dismisses as unreal or unproven. But Easter also reminds us that science can’t determine some things because of the very limitations of its method. If we use a method that can only detect material or physical forces, then we shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t detect non-material or spiritual realities. I mentioned before that science couldn’t give us any clear answers about the existence of thought and free will. That again, shouldn’t surprise us because if these realities weren’t physical forces, then they wouldn’t be detected by scientific methods; hence, they might be mistakenly labeled “non-existent.” But that’s a problem with our method of discovery, not the realities themselves. It’s the same with the existence of the soul or spirit. The soul exists but it can’t be proven by science. Easter reminds us of this issue. It also points us beyond the issue of life after death to our eternal destiny. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? These must be determined on grounds other than science and secular research. What does the Bible say about these topics? Again, as a pastor I run into a lot of people who seemingly have no interest in such things. How can this be? Wouldn’t one want to know where one would ultimately end up? In other words, as I heard one person put it, “Where will you be in one thousand years?” Your body, what remains, would be in the grave, presumably, but what about your soul? Our faith teaches that the soul doesn’t automatically go to heaven upon death, although for many people, it is a common misconception that it does. In John 3:16, it says that whoever believes or has faith in Christ doesn’t perish but has everlasting life. This is not referring to physical death, as in perishing physically. It’s referring to the perpetual destruction of the soul in everlasting punishment. As Jesus says in Matthew 25:46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” The Easter season reminds us of the importance of considering our eternal destiny. Our faith teaches that the soul is eternal; it will dwell in either heaven or hell for all eternity. Do you know where your soul will dwell forever? Don’t wait for science to rule on this issue, because it won’t, it can’t, it has nothing to say either way. You have to figure these things out for yourself by reading and reflecting on the gospel accounts and making up your own mind. Have you made your decision? Have you decided what you believe? Easter teaches us to think about such things and make such decisions. Why not take the leap of faith and trust in Christ today? The clock is ticking, life is passing by. Why not reach out for the living and everlasting hope through Jesus Christ this Easter season? At least think seriously about these things. Let’s pray.

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