The Essence of Easter

Title: The Essence of Easter
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Time: April 21, 2014

If we were to boil the holiday of Easter down to its essential parts, what would they be? Or in other words, if we were to summarize the essence of Easter, how would we? It’s popular today for people to say to someone else, “Give me the short version,” or “Put it in simple terms for me,” or “Break it down for me.” What they mean is, “I don’t have a lot of time, so give it to me in a nutshell.” In our busy and fast paced world, we get used to commercials and salesmen and advertisements getting quickly to the point. We’re used to bite-sized presentations that take about thirty-seconds to one minute to get to the point. Well, today I’ve got a little more to say than thirty-seconds, but I’ll try to keep it under thirty minutes in length in getting to the point. After all, it is Easter today and we are celebrating the day, so let’s understand what the essence of Easter is in the process. What is the essence of Easter? Well, Easter is a little different than other holidays, for example, like Christmas, because Easter is really a combination of a number of things – it’s not all just one event. Think about it. With Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. But with Easter we are remembering three different things. First, we remember Christ’s death on the cross on Good Friday. That’s part of Easter. Then, we remember his entombment or burial for three days. Then, finally, on Easter proper, we remember his glorious resurrection on Sunday. So it’s not just one thing, like Christmas is mostly one thing, the birth of Jesus. Easter really encompasses three things, which I’d like to talk about this morning. Now it’s curious because sometimes people get the three things confused or get themselves out of sequence. Even churches sometimes get things mixed up at Easter time. For example, I’ve noticed lately that large mega-churches sometimes have Easter service on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to accompany the large crowds they anticipate during the Easter season. This approach makes it nice if you’re traveling to and fro visiting friends and family out of state. However, it does confuse things a little bit. For instance, some churches are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Good Friday, which is normally the remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross and burial in the tomb. So if you skip his death and burial, or just right to his resurrection, you’ve got things out of sequences, and you’ve missed remembering the total holiday properly. Also, sometimes people wish each other “Happy Easter” on Good Friday, which again is technically rushing things and out of sequence. The mood of Good Friday is supposed to be markedly different than Easter Sunday. And so forth. This all happens because Easter is actually three different things we are remembering. Let’s talk about these three essential things using 1 Corinthians15:3-4 so we can remember the holiday in a richer way.

First, the Easter season is about Christ’s death on the cross. 1 Corinthians 15:3, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” This little section of the New Testament found in the first letter to the Corinthians by the Apostle Paul is one of the earliest Christian writings. It was written around A.D. 55, which is only about twenty-five years after Jesus Christ – historically a short period of time. This section is written in the form of an early Christian creed, so most scholars think that Paul is quoting a well-known statement that early Christians used to summarize their faith. That means it was a summary of Christianity that developed immediately after the time of Jesus, so we’re dealing with a core belief of the Christian faith. The first point of the summary is that Christ died on the cross for our sins. And it happened according to Scriptures, or in other words, in took place in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Which prophecies? Many different Old Testament prophecies, but what the early Christians probably had in mind were the great messianic prophecies of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. These teach that Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He took our place as our substitute on the cross to suffer our punishment for sin. He takes upon himself our sins and he gives us his righteousness in the great spiritual exchange. By placing our faith in him we receive the benefits of his atoning work on our behalf. Now some of you might be thinking, “Well, this is the very same thing as the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper or Communion.” Yes, that’s correct. When we participate in the Lord’s Supper we remember Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. So in one sense, we celebrate Easter, or an aspect of Easter, every time we take Communion. I’ve given messages in the past where I argued that Good Friday, or the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, is the most important aspect of the Easter holiday, although it is often not remembered as well as resurrection Sunday. Like I said before, some Christians and some churches forget or neglect mentioning it very much at Easter time. But from a spiritual or theological standpoint it’s most important. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was actually very accurate in emphasizing Christ’s death and suffering on our behalf when his movie came to theaters at Easter time years ago. We must remember it at Easter because it’s really at the very heart of what gives Easter its meaning. Even though we might be tempted to skip ahead to the “good part” – resurrection Sunday. We really need to let ourselves reflect on the great sacrifice the Lord Jesus made on the cross on our behalf. It’s an essential part of remembering the holiday properly. But let’s move on the second aspect.

Second, the Easter season is about Christ’s burial in the tomb. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For what I receive I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (and) that he was buried.” Now if you wanted to break the Easter holiday up into three days you might break it down in three ways – Friday we remember Christ died for us, Saturday we remember Christ buried in the tomb, and Sunday Christ rose from the dead. Like I said before, sometimes people and churches get the sequence a little mixed up and start celebrating the resurrection on Friday or Saturday, when they should be thinking of Christ’s death on Friday, and him being in the tomb on Saturday, and then celebrating his resurrection on Sunday. Personally in my own life, I try to manage my mood and emotions to remember this sequence. So in other words, I’m trying to not jump the gun and start my Easter Sunday resurrection mood on Friday, but instead I’m trying to feel what those early disciples must have felt seeing Jesus on the cross suffering for our sins. Then on Saturday I’m reflecting on Christ’s body in the tomb, lifeless, still – and the disciples despairing and trying to figure out what to do next. Then, on Sunday I let myself feel the joy of the resurrection as the tomb is empty and Christ appears to his disciples fully alive. I think we do well in managing our moods during the Easter holiday so that we aren’t out of sequence. There really is a flow and logic to it if it’s remembered properly. Now I don’t fault people from getting out of sequence or not following the strict pattern outlined by the Apostle Paul here in the New Testament, but I think it’s healthy to try to stay more or less faithful to the outline of what really happened when we remember Easter. I think Easter is more meaningful that way. Now what happened when Christ was in the tomb? According to the New Testament there was activity. Last year I gave a message addressing the topic of what Christ was doing between Friday and Sunday. For example, I mentioned 1 Peter 3:18-19, “. . . He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison.” There’s the idea that Christ by his spirit went some place, appeared and taught someplace in the spiritual realm. Perhaps hell? We have the Apostle’s Creed that says, “He was dead and buried; he descended into hell.” But then, on the other hand, we have Christ’s words to the thief of the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise,” Luke 23:42-43, which would imply that at least at some point Christ was in the heavenly realm, all the while his body was laying in the tomb. So a lot of spiritual activity was taking place but we aren’t exactly sure what all took place in that intermediate period between Friday and Sunday because it’s not totally clear from the New Testament, but whatever it was, it was important. So to remember the Easter holiday we must reflect on the burial of Christ and the spiritual activity taking place.

Third, the Easter season is about Christ resurrection on Sunday morning. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For what I receive I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (and) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Now we get to the “good part” of the Easter holiday, the resurrection. At least this is the positive and triumphant part of it. All three aspects are important and essential. We know how important Friday was, the death of Christ on the cross of our sins. Saturday too is important, although we aren’t as clear as to what all was taking place in the spiritual realm. We know the body was lying in the tomb with a large stone over the entrance surrounded by guards, and we know Christ’s spirit was active according to the New Testament, but we don’t know the details. We’ll have to get those details later when we’re in heaven. That would be a good question to ask Jesus when we see him in heaven. “Jesus, what all was taking place as your body was laying in the tomb between Friday and Saturday?” I’d like to hear his answer. But as for Sunday, we know exactly what happened – Christ arose! The most well-known and best-remembered aspect of Easter is the resurrection. And there’s so much to say about Christ rising from the dead. It basically validates everything Christ taught concerning his atoning work on the cross for our sins. In other words, Christ made some pretty big claims during his life in his teachings. He claimed to forgive sins. He claimed that his death would be on our behalf. He offered eternal life salvation on the basis of it. Now these were pretty big claims, huge claims, actually. What proof do we have that he made good on these claims? The resurrection, that’s the proof, that’s the validation. As they say, “Talk is cheap.” Anyone can claim anything at all, but the question is, “Can they deliver?” Can they come through and fulfill their claims? Well, by his resurrection from the dead Jesus proved that his claims were real, that they weren’t just empty boasts. He really has the power over life and death. He really has the power to forgive sins. He really has the authority to grant eternal life. His resurrection from the dead proves it. In fact, it authenticates all of his teachings. Everything Christ taught from the simplest to the most complex truths are all validated by his resurrection on Easter Sunday. That’s one of the most important aspects of Easter – the resurrection helps us believe and trust in Christ because of such a mighty miracle.

But that’s not all it does, it gives each and every one of us hope for the next life. We get so rapped up in this earthly life that we often fail to reflect on the life to come. Is there a after life? According to Jesus there is, and his resurrection proves it. He died and he came back from the dead to prove to us that death is not final, that there is life after death. Now he proved it by physically rising from the dead, because that’s really the only way that would fully prove such a thing as life after death. The cult group the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus only rose from the dead in spirit but not in body. But that isn’t a very dramatic proof, that is, to claim that someone’s spirit rose from the dead. The so-called spiritualist community down the street here, Lily Dale, believes that spirits communicate to the living after death, but if they were to use that as proof for life after death, that wouldn’t be as convincing as someone body, mind and spirit returning from the dead. Jesus returned body, mind and soul to life. There’s no mistaking that! He did so to make a point. But when we die, when our bodies decay, break down, and eventually perish, they’ll bury us, but our spirit will live on. But in order to prove his point Christ not only returned in spirit, but also in body as well. That’s convincing proof of life after death! Once he had shown himself alive to his disciples and others, then he ascended bodily into heaven and his soul and body departed. When we die now we have a firm hope of continued existence with God in heaven. Our spirit will rise to be with the Lord in heaven, just as Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise,” Luke 23:42-43. We can be certain of this because of the resurrection. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection also because it means that we now have a firm hope of life after death. The grave is not our final destiny. There is life beyond this life. The promises of God are true concerning eternal life. I know a lot of people doubt that today. We live in an increasingly skeptical age that thinks it’s cool to doubt everything, including God and life after death. Well, there’s no rational reason to doubt when you have such a powerful proof as the resurrection. If Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead how can you explain the disciples activity afterwards? They were totally convinced that they had seen the risen Lord. What convinced them? If the body were still in the tomb, all the enemies of Christianity would need to do is produce the body. But they couldn’t. It wasn’t there. The disciples died for their faith. Would you die for a lie? No. They were convinced that Jesus rose from the dead; they had seen the risen Lord. We can be 100% certain that our faith is based on facts. Jesus died, was buried and rose again. The promises of God are true. Salvation is available, eternal life is waiting. Are you saved, are you going to heaven? Why not pray with me now and be certain. Let’s pray.

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