Guest Post - Jim Denison
Was the cross really necessary? What does the Bible say about Easter?
Easter is the highest, holiest of holidays for Christians around the world.
We celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and believers’ ultimate salvation because of his atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sin. When we accept Jesus as Lord, we stand cloaked in his blood, righteous before God, and we are declared innocent. We have eternal life in heaven because of the price he paid and the victory he won.
But, like the secularized Christmas holiday, nonreligious elements have found their way into our Easter celebrations, and many who observe it have no idea of its true meaning.
Much of the celebration these days depicts white bunnies and colorful eggs. In the northern hemisphere, it is spring. The warmth is returning and flowers are blooming. It’s a time of renewal and anticipation of the outdoors.
For most Christians, Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. But many modern-day, less-than-biblical Easter traditions have crept into its observance in western culture. The most popular cultural symbol of this holiday, the Easter Bunny, was likely introduced by the German immigrants who brought their stories of an egg-laying hare with them. Even further back historically, the decoration of eggs at Easter is believed to date back to the thirteenth century or earlier.
Why do we celebrate with the Easter Bunny?
The Easter Bunny has become a prevalent symbol of the springtime Easter holiday. Of course, the Bible makes no mention of any creature who delivers decorated eggs to children on Easter Sunday. So why has it become the prominent symbol of Easter in the US?
No one is completely sure, but rabbits are an ancient symbol of procreation and new life. As stated, the Easter Bunny may have first arrived in America with German immigrants. Their children made nests in which this creature could lay colorful eggs. Over time, the custom spread across the US. Easter morning deliveries by the fabled rabbit expanded to include chocolate and other candies and gifts. Today, decorated baskets replace nests.
Why do we celebrate with Easter eggs?
Easter eggs are sometimes said to represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb. But Easter eggs are generally linked to more pagan traditions. The egg is an ancient symbol of new life in many cultures. It has often been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring.
Decorating eggs for Easter dates back to at least the thirteenth century, according to some sources. One explanation for this custom is that eggs were once a restricted food during Lent. So people would sometimes paint and decorate them to celebrate the end of the period of penance and fasting, then eat them at a celebration on Easter day.
White Easter lilies are the unofficial flower of Easter celebrations in the United States. They symbolize the purity of Christ for many Christians and are commonly seen in churches and homes around Easter. Their growth, from dormant bulbs in the ground to flowers, symbolizes the rebirth and hope of Christ’s resurrection.
Why do we have Easter parades and events?
Egg rolling and Easter egg hunts are two popular traditions during this springtime holiday. The White House Easter Egg Roll is an annual event held the Monday after Easter in the US. The first official White House egg roll occurred when Rutherford B. Hayes was president in the late 1870s. While the event has no religious significance, some people consider egg rolling symbolic of the stone being rolled away from the tomb at the time of Jesus’ resurrection.
In New York City, the Easter Parade dates back to the mid-1800s, when well-to-do citizens wearing their new spring outfits and hats attended Easter services at Fifth Avenue churches, then strolled down the street afterward. Average citizens started showing up along Fifth Avenue to observe their finery.
The popular film Easter Parade was released in 1948, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland and featuring the music of Irving Berlin. Today, other cities across the US also have their own parades.
Easter processions have been a part of Christianity since its earliest days. While Manhattan’s parade has never had any religious significance, the tradition continued as conditions have allowed, with Fifth Avenue from 49th Street to 57th Street being shut down to traffic during the day.
Should Christian parents allow their children to participate in Easter egg hunts and receive Easter baskets from the Easter Bunny?
The balance Christians face of being in the world but not of the world is never more evident than deciding how deeply to embrace the cultural versions of holidays that have spiritual meaning, particularly Christmas and Easter. Rightly so, protecting our children from worldly influences is always a high priority for Christian parents.
I recommend parents who are struggling to find that balance read two short articles which put this matter in perspective. Several years ago, BaptistPress ran “FIRST-PERSON: What’s a Christian to do with the Easter Bunny?” by Steve Russo. It is relevant and helpful to better understand the issue and how to deal with it.
If Christian parents determine they want to embrace the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs on a limited basis, this Focus on the Family article provides innovative ideas on how to use these symbols to teach children about the faith.
Why does Easter fall on different days?
Have you ever wondered why the date for Easter moves around so much? Why can’t we pick a specific date for Easter, as we do with Christmas? Or, if we want Easter to be on Sunday each year, why not specify a particular one, as we do with observing Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November?
And, calculating the dates of the Lenten season depends on the date of Easter, of course. If you thought Lenten math was confusing, wait until you read how the date for Easter is determined.
Simply, Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon after March 21—unless that full moon is on a Sunday in which case we wait a week. Not so simple. Here’s how this came to be.
The ancient Jews observed Passover on the fourteenth day of their month Nisan (the first month of their year). Apparently, the first Christians celebrated Easter annually on the day immediately after this Passover event, regardless of the day of the week on which it fell. Those in the Eastern churches perpetuated this tradition, tracing it to St. John the Apostle. Their position was called “Quartodeciman” (from their word for “fourteen”).
However, Christians of Gentile origin wanted their Easter to be on Sunday, whether the day was close to Passover or not. Their sentiments prevailed in the West and became the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. We would think that this disagreement would be minor, but we would be wrong. Pope Victor (late second century) actually excommunicated Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, for refusing to comply with the Roman method. The Quartodecimans organized themselves into a separate church and survived as a sect into the fifth century.
The Council of Nicaea (AD 325) once again settled things for Western Christians. They determined that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. But if this full moon should occur on a Sunday and coincide with the Passover festival, Easter would be commemorated on the next Sunday.
So, as stated above, Easter would be the Sunday after the first full moon after March 21—unless that full moon is on a Sunday, in which case we wait a week. We then back up seven weeks to Ash Wednesday and start Lent—unless we’re in the Orthodox Church, in which case we begin two days earlier.
Aren’t you glad we cleared that up?
What about Lent? Is it relevant today?
This year’s Lenten season began on Ash Wednesday, February 17. While we are already several weeks into this tradition, many who do not observe it often have questions about it. What is it? Is it biblical? Does it really matter?
Let me answer the last question first: yes.
Your soul and mine need what Lent intends to provide. But many of us don’t know much (if anything) about this historic strategy for personal spiritual renewal and growth. This is our loss. While we won’t elaborate here, wouldn’t a spiritual discipline practiced for more than seventeen centuries by the vast majority of Christians be relevant for our souls today?
So, why is Lent relevant for all Christians?
Three reasons for observing some form of Lenten practice suggest themselves, in ascending importance.
One: we need to live in community with the larger body of Christ.
Since the vast majority of Christians practice some form of Lenten observance, joining them in some way is a good step toward solidarity of faith and ministry. This is also an important witness to others, answering Jesus’ prayer, “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).
Two: we cannot fully appreciate Jesus’ resurrection unless we have experienced something of his sufferings.
A fast of some sort is an appropriate means of spiritual identification with our Lord’s suffering for us.
Three: we need a period each year for intentional spiritual introspection and contemplation.
John R. W. Stott said that he required an hour a day, a day a week, and a week a year to be alone with his Lord. We need a time every year for spiritual renewal. Just as students need a spring break, so do souls. Lent is a wonderful season for such renewal: as the physical world is renewing itself, so should the spiritual.
As I asked above, can a spiritual discipline practiced for more than seventeen centuries by the vast majority of Christians be irrelevant for our souls today? If you will go through a spiritual Lent, you can celebrate a spiritual Easter on earth, and one day in heaven. This is the promise of God.
The four whys of Easter
The images and events of Easter are clear and powerful: Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Our Lord driving the moneychangers from the temple, debating the authorities, eating the Last Supper, praying while he sweated drops of blood in Gethsemane, hanging from a cross, rising from the grave.
Those images changed our world.
We know the who, what, and where of Easter. But many don’t always know the whys.
Why did Jesus have to be born to die? Why couldn’t he simply have appeared as a thirty-three-year-old man to die for us?
Why did he have to die?
Why on a cross?
Why did he have to rise from the dead?
These questions are relevant and merit explanation. Their answers are life-transforming.
We begin at the beginning: Why was Jesus born?
We’re going to discover that the answer offers us hope and help we can find nowhere else on earth.
The first why of Easter: Why was Jesus born?
Let’s begin by exploring the question. If I ask you why Jesus came to earth, you’d probably answer, “To die for our sins.” And you’d be right.
But the God who created the universe and could enter it as a man could have come in any way he wanted. He could have come as a child, an adult, or an elderly man. He could have come as a woman. He could have come as a Jew or a Gentile, a Roman or an Asian. He could have come in any way at all. If his only purpose in coming to earth was to die, why did he come as he did?
The facts of his incarnation are clear. The only baby who chose his parents chose a teenage girl from Nazareth, a town so small it’s not mentioned even once in the entire Old Testament. Her fiancé was a carpenter so poor he could not provide more than the most basic sacrifice when Jesus was born.
When the time came for Jesus to be born, his mother brought him to Bethlehem, where they arrived so late there was room only in a stable. And so, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, was born in a stable and laid in a feed trough. The cave where it happened was dark, dingy, and anything but attractive.
He then grew up in obscurity in Nazareth before beginning his movement in Galilee, far from the temple, the rabbis, the Sanhedrin, i.e., the power structures of the day. His disciples, while successful businessmen, were not recognized as scholars or religious authorities.
He spent time with tax collectors, lepers, demoniacs, exiles, and outcasts. Then he came to the one city where he knew he would be arrested, illegally tried, and executed.
Why did he do all of this?
The incarnation fulfills prophecy.
Micah predicted seven centuries before Christmas: “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
Scripture also predicted that he would be born of a virgin: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Jesus fulfilled many more prophecies with his death and resurrection, as we will note later in this paper. But why did God make these predictions? Why did the Spirit inspire these prophecies?
The incarnation shows Jesus’ solidarity with us.
If Jesus had simply come to earth to die for us, what would we miss?
We would miss his healing ministry, as he touched leprous bodies, opened blind eyes, and raised dead bodies.
We would miss his feeding ministry, as he nourished thousands of hungry people.
We would miss his teaching ministry. The four gospels are filled with wisdom we would not have apart from his incarnational ministry.
We would not have the apostles and the movement they led. Who would know that Jesus died for us? Who would tell the story?
Jesus’ earthly life shows his solidarity with us. He was hungry in the wilderness, tired at the Samaritan well, and thirsty on the cross. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He felt everything we feel.
Jesus was also tempted in every way we are: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He was tempted by possessions in the wilderness as Satan tried to entice him to turn stones into bread. He was tempted by popularity at the pinnacle of the temple as Satan tried to entice him to jump off and impress the crowds. He was tempted by power when Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his worship.
In short, he was tempted in every way we are, but without sin.
Jesus is now praying for us: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
We might think that Jesus’ incarnational life enables him to do this more powerfully. Those who have been through what you have been through can pray for you as others cannot.
However, Jesus was and is omniscient, as is his Father. If he had to come to earth to understand us so he could pray for us, what of those who lived before that first Christmas? Does this mean the Father cannot understand us?
Here’s the point: Jesus did not come to earth to learn something he didn’t know but to teach us something we didn’t know. Namely, that all he did, he can still do. What he was, he still is.
In He Still Moves Stones, Max Lucado wrote: “Why did God leave us one tale after another of wounded lives being restored? It isn’t to tell us what Jesus did. It’s to tell us what Jesus does. Paul says in Romans 15:4: ‘Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. The Scripture gives us patience and encouragement so that we can have hope.'”
Scripture is clear: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). All he has ever done, he can still do. Now he wants to do it for you.
What does the incarnation mean for us?
After testifying to Jesus’ defeat of all temptation, the author of Hebrews invites us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The incarnation proves that Jesus understands us. We now have proof that he knows what it is to grieve, to hunger, to thirst, to grow weary. We have proof that he knows what it is to be tempted and tested.
As a result, when we are grieving, hungry, thirsty, or tired, when we are tempted and tested, we know where to turn. We know whom to trust. We can “draw near to the throne of grace” and know that “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The second why of Easter: Why did Jesus have to die?
All of us who believe know the answer to this question, right? We know he died for our sins, but why did he have to do so? Why couldn’t God simply forgive us the way we can forgive each other?
The answer offers a profound message of hope and joy every one of us needs today.
Was it necessary?
Think of the last sin you committed. Why should a holy God be so gracious to such a sinner as you?
For this reason: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). “At the right time” points to the specific moment in history when Jesus came. Everything was ready for his appearance (cf. Galatians 4:4): there was a universal hunger for truth, a universal language (koine or “common” Greek) to communicate God’s answer to that hunger, a universal peace to make possible the global expansion of Christianity, and universal roads to carry the first missionaries across the known world.
But it was “at the right time” in another sense as well. Just before we died, Christ died for us. Just before it was too late, when we had no hope of forgiveness and salvation, “Christ died for the ungodly.”
All the ungodly, with no specifications or conditions. All sinners and all sins are included. You have been “died for.” Jesus went to your cross, taking your punishment, bearing your pain, paying your debt, earning your salvation.
Only rarely will someone die for a good man (Romans 5:7), as when a Secret Service agent dies to protect the president or a soldier dies to save the soldier at his side. But we deserved no such consideration: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8).
“Shows” (sunistesin) means “to bring together, to marshal the evidence.” As lawyers used their evidence to prove their case, so God uses the death of his Son to prove his love for us. “While we were still sinners,” this happened. All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). All of us deserved death (Romans 6:23). All of us have instead been granted peace with God through Christ.
We are now “justified” by his blood (Romans 5:9a), declared righteous in his sight as a criminal whose record is wiped clean. If God has done this for us in the past, “how much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (v. 9b). The rabbis were fond of the “lesser to greater” argument: if A is true, how much more is B the case. Jesus used this teaching technique often, as with the parable of the persistent widow: if an unjust judge would grant her request, how much more will God answer our prayers (Luke 18:1–8).
In the same way, Paul reasons that if Jesus has already saved us from the sins of our past, how much more will he save us from God’s wrath in the future. Before Jesus’ atonement, we were “God’s enemies”; now that we have been reconciled with him, “much more . . .shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10, italics added). And so “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (v. 11).
Paul’s thesis is simple: We are at peace with God and can be at peace with each other and with ourselves. Why? Because we have been given access to the Father by the Son.
Since Jesus’ death has paid for our past sins, he guarantees our future reward. Now the Spirit redeems our present sufferings by using them to produce persevering character, which gives us hope that we will continue to be victorious in the days to come. We can be at peace with our past, our present, and our future.
Wasn’t there some other way?
So, we know that Jesus died to pay for our sins so that we could be made right with God. Here’s the question behind the text: Why did he have to do so? Why couldn’t God simply have declared us forgiven? Why did his Son have to die for us?
If I hit your car while leaving a parking lot, I assume you can forgive me without someone having to die in my place. I have forgiven people for things they have done to me without requiring someone to die first.
Since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), why couldn’t he do the same?
Here’s the problem: God is also “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3). As Scripture declares, “There is none holy like the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:2). His heaven is perfect, a place where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
For us to be granted entrance into God’s perfect presence, our sins must first be removed. The debt we owe for them must be paid.
However, the punishment for sin is death: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23); “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). This is because death separates us from the holy God who is the source of life. It’s like cutting off a flower at the roots. It may look healthy, but it is dying and will soon be dead.
The consequence of sin is death. That’s why the payment for sin must be death. That’s why sinners are separated from God for all eternity in hell, a place of living death.
And it’s why we cannot pay this debt for each other. Because I have committed sins, I cannot die for yours. It’s as if I owe the hundred dollars in my pocket to the bank; I cannot use it to pay your debt and mine.
The only person who could pay the debt of our sins would be someone who never committed sins of his own. And only one person in all of human history has lived a sinless life. Not Muhammad, or Confucius, or Buddha, or anyone else. Only Jesus.
That’s why Jesus could die on the cross for our sins. It’s why he had to die on the cross for us to be forgiven for our sins.
Why did Jesus have to die?
Three reasons are evident:
First, it means that we can be forgiven and granted eternal life if we will receive the gift of salvation he offers. A gift must be opened. We must receive by faith the gift he offers by grace.
Second, it means that we should value ourselves as he values us. Our Father decided that we were worth the death of his Son. No greater valuation could be placed on us than that.
Third, it means that we should serve him in gratitude for such grace. Not so he will love us, but because he already does.
A thousand years ago, the Crusaders constructed a space in the vicinity of the first upper room to commemorate the Last Supper. We take groups there whenever we visit Israel.
One reason the Crusaders located the structure where they did is that they found a first-century sculpture in the immediate vicinity. It depicts two baby pelicans eating from their mother’s body. The tradition in the day was that in times of extreme drought and famine, the mother would allow her babies to eat her flesh and drink her blood. This became one of the first symbols for the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’ offer of the bread and cup to symbolize his body and blood given for us.
This sculpture is displayed by the exit of the Upper Room site to remind visitors of the significance of the place. Whenever you take communion, return to the cross it signifies. Remember his death for us. Receive and share his grace with gratitude for such love.
Where do you need his grace most today?
The Third why of Easter: Why death on a cross?
We just saw why Jesus had to die to secure our salvation. But, of all the ways he could have died for our sins, why did Jesus have to suffer the cruelest, most horrific form of death ever devised? When we understand the answer, no matter who we are and what we’ve done, we’ll never again need to wonder if God loves us.
So, why on a cross? The Jews often executed by stoning, as we see with Stephen; the Romans executed their citizens by beheading, as with Paul.
Jesus’ death fulfilled prophecy
The word of God predicted the manner of Jesus’ death a thousand years before it happened.
In Psalm 22, David wrote these words: “Dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (v. 16). Note that he made this statement five centuries before the Persians invented crucifixion.
So, Jesus died on the cross to fulfill prophecy. But why did the Spirit author this prophecy?
Why did the Father decide that his Son must die in this way? If he simply needed to die for our sins, the Lord could have predicted his death by stoning, beheading, or any number of other means. Why this?
The nature of crucifixion
Research has revealed much about the manner of Jesus’ death. We know that he was scourged, a whipping that tore flesh from bones and caused many victims to die. Victims were then taken to the place of crucifixion. This was intended to shame the victim as he was paraded through the streets, stripped of most of his clothes, and executed in such a public and violent way.
Victims were typically nailed to the cross through their wrists, as nails through the hands could not support the weight of the victim. For instance, in 1968, archaeologists discovered the remains of one Johanan, a victim of Roman crucifixion during the Jewish uprisings of AD 70. A nail seven inches long was still embedded in his heel bones.
If the Romans wanted the person to suffer longer, they could tie the arms to the crossbeam with ropes. They would then nail the hands to the cross, as the ropes would support the body’s weight.
Since Passover was coming, the Jews wanted Jesus to die as quickly as possible. Thus, spikes were driven through his wrists into the cross and through his heels. The bodyweight of the victim crushed his lungs, forcing him to pull himself up on his crucified wrists to breathe. Eventually, he lost the use of his arms and had to push upon his crucified heels.
The Romans would then break the legs of the victim, who would die shortly of suffocation. But Jesus chose to die before the Romans took his life from him.
Crucifixion is so horrific that it has been outlawed in nearly every country on earth. Why did Jesus die in this way? Any death would have paid the debt for our sins. He needed to die publicly so the world would know what he did for us, but stoning or beheading could have been just as public.
If there was an easier, less horrible way to die, don’t you think he would have chosen it? Don’t you think his Father would have chosen it for him?
If you could choose between lethal injection and crucifixion for your child, which would you choose?
Why Jesus chose the cross
I can think of only one reason why the Father and the Son chose the cross: to show us their solidarity with our most horrific, indescribable pain and shame. There is no physical pain we can feel that is worse than his. No pain from disease or disaster, war or criminal attack or accident. The worst that can happen to us is no worse than what happened to him.
There is no shame we can feel that is worse than his. We know the shame of our individual sins; he took the shame of the entire human race on himself. Then he demonstrated that fact by dying in the most shameful manner possible—paraded through the streets, stripped to all but a loincloth, and executed before his mother, his best friend, and his enemies.
None of this was necessary for Jesus to understand our pain and shame. He was and is omniscient. He did not learn something about us at Calvary that he did not know beforehand.
But we learned something about him at Calvary we did not know beforehand. We now know that the God of the universe is not a Zeus atop Mount Olympus, impervious to our needs; he is not an Allah, removed from our sufferings; he is not an impersonal force like the Hindu Brahman; he is not simply a judge of right and wrong as some in Judaism picture him.
The Son felt the worst we can feel. His Father watched his Son suffer in such pain and shame, proving that he understands all we feel for those we love.
The bottom line: Jesus chose the cross to show us that he will help us bear our cross, whatever it is.
The fourth why of Easter: Why was Jesus’ resurrection necessary?
We understand why he had to die on the cross: to pay for our sins and purchase our salvation. But why was it important that he rise physically from the grave on the third day? Why couldn’t he go to heaven like everyone else who has eternal life?
Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), but the thief didn’t have to rise physically to rise eternally. My mother went to heaven many years ago, but she didn’t have to rise from the grave physically to rise into God’s presence.
My first answer was: Jesus had to be resurrected because the Bible promised he would be. And that’s true: David predicted that God would not “let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). The prophet said of the Suffering Servant, “when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days” (Isaiah 53:10).
Jesus promised repeatedly that he would be raised from the dead. For instance, he told his disciples that he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).
But why were these promises made? The Spirit didn’t have to inspire the Old Testament writers to make them or lead Jesus to affirm them. Why did his physical resurrection matter?
What’s unique about Easter?
Here’s the answer that came to me: everything Jesus did in his public ministry was something others had done before him. Nothing he did proved that he was God.
Jesus was a great teacher, but Moses gave us the Ten Commandments and the first five books of the Bible. Jesus controlled nature, calming stormy seas and walking on water, but Moses parted the Red Sea and Joshua’s people stepped into the flooded Jordan River as it stopped miraculously.
Jesus fed the five thousand, but Moses promised the people manna from heaven and Elijah provided for the widow with oil that was miraculously sustained during a drought (1 Kings 17:8–16). Jesus healed the sick, but Elisha healed the leprous Naaman (2 Kings 5). Jesus raised Lazarus and the widow’s son from the dead, but Elijah and Elisha raised the dead as well (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4).
None of Jesus’ miracles by themselves proved that he was God. But his resurrection did.
When the women met the risen Christ on Easter Sunday, “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9). When Doubting Thomas met the risen Christ, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
What about Lazarus and others raised from the dead in Scripture? Remember, they all died again. Here’s a significant distinction: they were resuscitated, not resurrected.
Jesus is the only person in history to die and then be resurrected, never to die again. His resurrection proves that he is God. If he had simply gone from the cross to heaven, we would not know that. We would not have proof that he is who he says he is: our Lord and King.
The problem of the empty tomb
You see, there’s no way around the empty tomb.
If the disciples stole the body, they then convinced five hundred eyewitnesses that a corpse was alive (1 Corinthians 15:6), somehow got it to make breakfast beside the Sea of Galilee (John 21:9–14) and appear through locked doors (John 20:19–20), then threw the corpse into heaven at the ascension (Acts 1:9). Then they died for a lie they kept so well that their secret never got out.
If the women stole the body, they faced the same problems. If the authorities stole the body, they would have produced it. If the disciples went to the wrong tomb, the authorities and owner would have shown them the right tomb.
The “swoon theory” is my favorite: Jesus “swooned” on the cross but didn’t actually die. He then survived a spear thrust that pierced the pericardial sac around his heart and being wrapped in an air-tight mummified shroud for three days before shoving aside the stone, overpowering the Roman guards, appearing through locked doors, and doing the greatest high jump in history at the ascension.
His empty tomb shows that he was resurrected, and his resurrection shows that he is God.
Now, what does the fact of Jesus’ divinity mean for you today?
One: He is present in your pain.
David said to God, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). God promised his people, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2–3).
God is with us in our greatest pain. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is present in your pain. He suffered the worst torture known to man in his crucifixion. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He has been tempted in every way we are (Hebrews 4:15).
When you wonder if Jesus is with you in your sufferings, challenges, and temptations, remember Easter.
Two: He hears your every prayer.
Jesus promised, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). The psalmist testified, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice” (Psalm 55:17).
God hears our prayers. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus hears your every prayer. The next time you wonder if Jesus is listening to you, remember Easter.
Three: He is more powerful than your greatest problems.
The Bible says of God, “It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). God is omnipotent. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is more powerful than your greatest problems.
The next time you wonder if Jesus has the power to help you with your challenges and struggles, remember Easter.
Four: He loves you where you are, as you are.
The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus loves you where you are, as you are.
The next time you wonder if Jesus will forgive your sins, if he loves you no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, remember Easter.
Why was Jesus’ resurrection necessary?
Can the risen Christ change any life? Can he heal any pain, hear anyone’s prayer, address anyone’s problem, and love any soul?
Alice Cooper was one of the most notorious “shock rockers” in America. Known for his heavy metal concerts, he was infamous for stage acts too horrific for me to describe. He was also known for his years of alcoholism and heavy drug use.
A few years ago, Fox News carried a story that caught my eye: “Alice Cooper believes his faith saved him from alcoholism, temptations of rock star lifestyle.” It turns out Cooper is the son and grandson of ministers.
When he nearly died from drugs and alcohol, he says, “I grew up in the church, went as far away as I could from it—almost died—and then came back to the church.” He says that his faith saved his life and is the basis for his long-lasting marriage.
He’s not the only surprising story of conversion in our day. David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” murderer and devil worshipper, is a sold-out Christian who ministers to his fellow prisoners.
Dr. Francis Collins is director of the National Institutes of Health and arguably the best-known scientist in America today. He was a staunch atheist before C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity helped lead him to faith in Jesus.
Lee Strobel graduated from Yale Law School and worked as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune for fourteen years. A staunch atheist, he was shocked when his wife became a Christian. Investigating her faith, he became a Christian. He has since published the bestsellers The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for the Real Jesus. His life story has been made into a movie.
Here’s my point: If Jesus could change Alice Cooper and David Berkowitz and Francis Collins and Lee Strobel, what can the risen Christ do in your life today?
Because of Easter, Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God.”
Because of the resurrection, we all can.
Easter is about you and me
Romans 5:8 is clear: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were sinners. Not because we were good enough for God, but because we were not. He didn’t die for us because we deserved it, but because we did not.
He loves us simply because he is love. And nothing you can ever do will change that.
We don’t have to be good to come to Jesus. Because Jesus is good, he has come for us.
His excruciating, tortured death proves that it is so.
Right now, realize that God wanted you to exist. And Jesus made you (Colossians 1:16), all the while knowing that you would sin and cause him his crown in heaven.
Realize that you are loved that much.
What have you done for which you’re ashamed today? What failures, what sins, what mistakes? What causes you to think you’re not important, that you don’t matter, that your life isn’t significant?
Jesus died for all of that, just for you.
Today, decide that you will see yourself through the lens of Easter as God sees you: as a person of infinite worth. Not because of what you own, do, or look like, but because God loves you.
What do you think of others? Of the people seated around you? Of your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers? Every person you see right now and every person you will ever know is someone Jesus chose to make, knowing that he would die for him or her one day. Every one.
The next time you are at odds with someone, remember what Jesus thinks of them. And decide he’s right.
In the hymn “The Love of God,” F. M. Lehman wrote these wonderful poetic words about our theme today:
The love of God is greater far Than tongue or pen can ever tell; It goes beyond the highest star, And reaches to the lowest hell. The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win; His erring child He reconciled, And rescued from his sin.
But the best words to the song are the fourth stanza, written not by a famous poet but found on the walls of a mental asylum. Before the man who lived there died, he somehow came to know God’s love for him. To realize that Jesus valued him enough that he would give up his crown for that man’s cross. And ours. And so he wrote:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.
That’s what Easter says about us.
Notes: Details on the history of the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, and Easter events were adapted from “Easter Symbols and Traditions” at History.com.
That the fourth stanza of “The Love of God” was found on the walls of a mental asylum is recounted at https://hymnary.org/text/the_love_of_god_is_greater_far.