Why Christians Celebrate Easter

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This
Sunday is Easter. Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection
of Jesus Christ. The Bible makes very clear that on the third day
after Christ’s death, He rose bodily from the tomb and showed Himself
to His disciples. To those who affirm the authority of the Bible,
this is not a matter of conjecture, but of certainty. It is, moreover,
of crucial importance. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul makes
clear that our Lord’s resurrection is a central component of the
Gospel. If Jesus Christ did not rise bodily from the dead, St. Paul
tells us, then our faith is in vain.

For
this reason, orthodox Christians of all groups and denominations
have historically celebrated Easter. Why was Jesus Christ’s resurrection
so significant?

For
one thing, it proved Him to be the Messiah. Most Jews at the time
believed in a coming Messiah, the great Redeemer of Israel, as the
Old Testament had predicted; but, like most Jews today, they did
not believe that Jesus Christ was that Messiah. This is one main
reason why they cooperated with the Romans in crucifying Him. But
a minority of Jews, and increasingly many Gentiles, correctly identified
Jesus Christ as the Messiah. This is just what Jesus Himself taught
about Himself. Jesus Christ’s resurrection verified his messianic
claims. He had predicted that He would rise from the grave, and
His resurrection validated His messiahship.

Second,
Christ’s resurrection signaled His triumph over Satan, sin, and
death. In the Garden of Eden, God had threatened death to Adam as
a penalty for sin. St. Paul taught that the “wages [payment] of
sin is death.” Christ came into the world to put away sin. In His
death, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for man’s sin. He was a sacrifice,
or substitute, for sinners. In this way, he paid for their sins.
He released the stranglehold by which sin gripped mankind. His resurrection
was both a proof and a continuation of this victory over sin. Death
did not have power over Him, because He had defeated sin, which
gave death its power. He had to die in order to pay the penalty
for sin; but He could not remain dead, because He had destroyed
the power of sin in His very death.

Third,
our Lord’s resurrection was the initial phase of His present exaltation.
This is made abundantly clear in St. Peter’s message in Acts chapter
2. God demonstrated Jesus Christ’s Lordship when he raised His Son
from the dead. Christ ascended into heaven and presently sits on
the right hand of God the Father. Here he reigns as a Sovereign.
The German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has suggested that Christ’s
resurrection secures the universalism of the Faith. In the Old Testament,
godly religion was limited largely to faithful Jews. As a result
of Christ’s death and resurrection, however, all races and nationalities
can now come into the Faith, if they trust in Jesus Christ as their
Savior and Lord. There is no longer a special place for race or
nationality.

Christ
is not only Savior; he is also Lord. And He can be Savior precisely
because He is Lord. Man’s only eternal hope is salvation in Jesus
Christ, the resurrected, living Savior and Lord. He reigns presently
over the entire earth. All those who place faith in him are translated
into his spiritual kingdom.

This
kingdom is not just heavenly. It has drastic implications for the
present life. Our Lord’s goal is not simply to prepare man for heaven,
but to progressively redeem man and the rest of His creation. St.
Paul tells us that Christ will reign upon His throne until all of
His enemies are subdued. This is not some sort of utopian political
program, but the spiritual work of the Gospel in the hearts of redeemed
man. Jesus Christ subdues man not by the power of the sword or guns,
but by the gentle, loving power of the gospel. This re-orients men’s
present lives, and little by little they re-orient society itself.
This a chief work of the present, resurrected Christ. It is not
limited to a future heavenly home for the redeemed (blessed though
this is), but it is a work of present redemption of cosmic scope.

These
things, and much more, we Christians celebrate this Easter.

April
11, 2001

P.
Andrew Sandlin is Executive Vice President of the Chalcedon
Foundation
which since 1965 has been dedicated to applying
historic, Biblical Christianity in today's world. He is the author
of Christianity: Bulwark of Liberty and several other works.

P.
Andrew Sandlin Archives

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