The resurrection and the life
Today is Easter. Happy Easter. What a wonderful day this is. In some churches there is a traditional greeting that goes like this, ‘He is risen.’
And the traditional response is, ‘He is risen indeed.’
Shall we try it. Let’s greet each other this Easter morning with this traditional greeting and response. – ‘He is risen.’ – ‘He is risen indeed.’
Don’t you just love Easter? It was the first Christian feast and for a long time the biggest festival in the Christian calendar. It was more important than Christmas, which is a relatively modern invention.
We seem to love Easter for several reasons. It’s spring. There are flowers. We’ve survived the winter. We like Easter eggs and the Easter bunny. We like a nice party to celebrate the end of the cold season. There are all sorts of reasons.
The important reason for us as Christians is that we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. This is the day we especially remember that Jesus rose from the dead. This is the day we remind each other that he is risen. We remind each other at Easter that the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive.
Given all this you may be surprised to learn that the earliest Christians did not celebrate Easter.
The first Christians celebrated passover. They did it once a year, marking it with a feast in the evening just as Jesus did. That was the original Lord’s supper. It was always celebrated on the 14th day of the first month in the evening. Only later did it move to Sunday. And it changed from being a memorial to the crucifixion to being a celebration of resurrection.
At first the resurrection was remembered every Sunday. There was no special day once a year for remembering that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive. Christians meet and worship on a Sunday because that is the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. We meet every Sunday to remember his resurrection, not just on Easter Sunday.
There are arguments and discussions around this that need not bother us today.
The great preacher and theologian Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said: ‘There is no ordinance in Scripture of any one Lord’s-day in the year being set apart to commemorate the rising of Christ from the dead. For this reason, every Lord’s-day is the memorial of our Lord’s resurrection.
‘Wake up any Lord’s-day you please, whether in the depth of winter, or in the warmth of summer, and you may sing “Today he rose and left the dead, And Satan’s empire fell.”
‘To set apart an Easter Sunday for special memory of the resurrection is a human device, for which there is no Scriptural command, but to make every Lord’s-day an Easter Sunday is due to him who rose early on the first day of the week.’ That was Spurgeon’s view.
A central belief of Christians is that Jesus was raised from the dead. Not as Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus. Lazarus came back to life and then died again. Lazarus was buried again and stayed buried. Jesus was brought back to life, but it was different. Jesus was resurrected. Jesus had a resurrection body. Jesus did not go back to the grave. Jesus rose into heaven. He ascended to God.
The earliest Christian scriptures place Jesus’ resurrection at the centre of religious faith. The preaching and letters of Peter and the letters of Paul declared that Jesus died, was raised by God and the apostles are witnesses to this resurrection.
Paul explains the importance of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22. It seems that some of the Christians in Corinth had not grasped just how important is the resurrection of Jesus.
Paul says: “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.”
Who can share in this new life? Everyone who belongs to Christ. If you don’t belong to Christ, please change that situation. Paul says that everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. It came true as Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 25:8 – “He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.”
God gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Friday we remembered the extreme sacrifice of passover. We recalled how Jesus was willing to give up his life on a cross in obedience to God out of love for us.
We are reminded why Jesus did this when we look at Genesis and see what Adam and Eve did.
The serpent, or Satan, is talking to Eve in Genesis 3 and trying to persuade her to disobey God. He is telling her that the fruit he is offering is so delicious it’s worth disobeying God to eat it. Eve reminds him that God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’
The serpent calls God a liar, and the woman believes him.
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.
Eve was correct, and the serpent was lying. She should not have listened. But she did listen and that is why we need to be resurrected. She did die. We all are born dead.
This is the heart of Christianity. It is the very core of what we believe.
Christianity is about belonging to Jesus. It is about being saved from death.
For centuries it was a hope that the Jewish people clung to. Just as God had saved them from Egypt and brought them out of slavery, he would one day save them from death. It wasn’t about a future in heaven, but the dead returning to life on earth and Israel living in peace.
In Jesus that hope of resurrection is realised, though not quite as the Jews expected. In Jesus all who are dead can have life. All who belong to Jesus are saved. And so we find a lot of the New Testament is about how to belong to Jesus.
For this reason, Christianity isn’t a religion about how to behave or how to win God’s favour.
When we are told to love each other it is because that is what people do when they belong to Jesus. To belong to Jesus, you must love your brother and sister.
Christianity began as resurrection movement. There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief. It was never bolted on to Christianity at the edge. It was the central driving force, informing the whole movement. In particular, we can see woven into the earliest Christian theology we possess the belief that the resurrection had occurred and followers of Jesus had to reorder their lives, their narratives, their symbols, and their praxis accordingly.
Paul says for example in Romans 6 – “Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.”
Why is the resurrection of Jesus important? It demonstrates that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. It proves that God has the power to raise us from the dead. It guarantees that those who believe in Christ will not remain dead, but will be resurrected to eternal life.
This Easter Sunday we are reminded of this fact. We have eternal life because we belong to Jesus.
But in fact we should remember this fact every Sunday, and not just every Sunday but every day. This is the Good News. This is the Gospel.
Every day is a good day to remember this Good News and share it with others.