Above: “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Caravaggio, one of my favorite pieces at the St. Louis Art Museum.
It’s that time of year again, when Cadbury Chocolate Eggs are sold by the millions and the History Channel starts airing a year’s worth of planned specials repackaging the same “shocking” and “newly-unearthed” claims riffing off of the same tired themes popularized by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code. With so many confusing messages about what Easter is all about, it’s no wonder we so easily miss the very reasons our broader society universally recognizes it as a holiday (even if many do not believe those reasons). As a helpful reminder and refresher, here’s why Easter is so important to Christians…
#1 :: The Resurrection was an Historical Event
Why did the Christian faith spread across and subsequently convert history’s greatest empire in just a few hundred years if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead? Israel was the only nation/culture conquered by the Roman Empire that was not forced to worship the emperor as divine because their commitment to not worshipping any man as God was so zealous that Rome realized they would rather die than compromise… something as game-changing as the Resurrection would have to happen for such a dramatic reversal. As Tim Keller states in The Reason for God (p.209-210): “It was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human should be worshipped. Yet hundreds of Jews began worshipping Jesus literally overnight. The hymn to Christ as God that Paul quotes in Philippians 2 is generally recognized to have been written just a few years after the crucifixion. What enormous event broke through all Jewish resistance?”
#2 :: The Resurrection is Essential to the Christian Faith
Christians believe that sin (rebellion from God – the Source of all Life) is the source of all death. If Christ remained dead – both physically and spiritually – then He could not have been the Source of all Life (i.e. God incarnate). And if He was not God, then His death could not have possibly satisfied the punishment we deserve. It is for this reason that humanity’s greatest theologians like C.S. Lewis have claimed that the truth of Christianity does not rest on whether we like or agree with Jesus’ teachings, but on the reality of His resurrection. If you do not believe He rose from the dead, then it is utterly foolish to give His teachings an ounce of authority or credibility. His death and His resurrection are two sides of the same theological coin.
#3 :: The Resurrection Foreshadows Full Restoration
Easter does not merely demonstrate Christ’s divinity and power over death (though it certainly does), it is also a down payment on the promise He made to restore everything. The Gospel is not a “get out of jail free card,” but a trustworthy promise that God will be faithful to bringing about the renewal of all things – not merely our souls and not merely our selves, but nothing less than all of creation. He declared the physical world is good at the beginning of history, and He will settle for nothing less than it’s full restoration at the end of history. N.T. Wright beautifully articulates these dramatic implications in his book Surprised by Hope: “The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die… What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
For further reading and exploration of Easter and the Resurrection, check out:
- Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael Williams
- Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright
- The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller