The Mission of Easter
He is Risen! Not only is this great news the affirmation that Jesus really is who he claimed to be and that the promise of salvation and forgiveness of sins is true, the resurrection is the central hope of the Christian life.
On the fact of the resurrection, Paul is clear:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,and that he appeared … I Corinthians 15:3-5.
The first importance facts of the gospel are Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. But he goes on to list all those to whom the resurrected Christ appeared: Cephas, the twelve, over 500 at once, and then to James, and finally to Paul. His point – this thing really happened!
But more than the factof the resurrection, Paul points to the significanceof the resurrection. In verse 19, he says, ‘If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied’. His point is that Jesus didn’t come to give us a better life now; Jesus came to bring us into full-time fellowship with the eternal Trinity.
Now, we mayhave a better life now … or we might die as martyrs next year. The momentary, light affliction that marks our lives is nothing in contrast to the degree of glory to be revealed.
Paul is crystal clear, ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (v. 17). The resurrection means we are really forgiven, that we really have new life in Christ, that we have really been saved. But it means so much more:
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality (vv. 52-53)
Paul points Christians to the historicity of the resurrection so that we will have confidence in our future glorification. In short, the way I learned it in Black Mountain: ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’
As we prepare for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus – I’m reminded of CEO Christians. These are Christians who attend church on Christmas and Easter Only. Even if Christianity’s influence in society is waning, there is still sufficient cultural overhang in the States to prompt people with only a mild affiliation to get up and go to church at those times of the year.
In Scotland, we don’t have CEO Christians; we have COCs – Christmas only Christians. Easter is just not a big thing here. You have to understand that 96.2% of our county (West Lothian) does not regularly go to church (and by regularly they mean ‘at least once a month’!). In other words, only 4.8% of people regularly attend church at all. And so at Christmas, there is an uptick in attendance for the Christmas Eve carol service.
But what about Easter? Why doesn’t this attract the same crowds as it does in the United States? First, there are many aspects of Easter cultural associations we just don’t have. I remember as a boy going shopping with my parents in the Spring every year because ‘I had to have something to wear for Easter!’. And the weather simply isn’t warm enough here to be in any way, shape or form related to Spring.
Oddly enough – or not – it is the superficial, cultural trappings of Easter that does have representation here. There are chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies and colourful pastels. But no resurrection.
Beyond the lack of cultural tie-ins of a spiritually-significant Easter, however, there is a deeper reason I believe Easter is avoided while Christmas is celebrated. The baby in the manger is a picture of hope – light shining in darkness – peace from God. Everyone likes light and peace – and we can pack into that little baby all of our hopes. Who’s threatened by a baby?
But the resurrected Lord of Glory? This is something entirely different. According to Paul, Jesus ‘was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4). That is, it wasn’t a non-threatening toddler who walked out of the tomb, it was the Lord God almighty. And as the one who just defeated death, hell and the grave, he’s not to be trifled with.
People are much more comfortable with a little baby in the manger; we can sing Christmas carols in worship because ‘he’s the Prince of Peace’. But the resurrected Lord must be obeyed; He is the King of Kings, and he’s in charge. This may explain why people don’t turn out to celebrate Easter the same way they Christmas.
But it also reminds us about our purpose. The reason we are here in Europe – the reason we preach the gospel, train leaders and plant churches is because so many people don’t know God. Remember – 95% of people here have no meaningful interaction with church at all. And the similar statistics are true across Europe.
And this is why I’m so thankful for our partners. It is through your ongoing, generous partnership that we are able to be on the front lines of gospel advance in Europe. From a gospel perspective, this is a great place to be – we’re surrounded by people who don’t know God! And as the Lord works in and through us and draws people to himself, your praying, your giving, your sowing, and your perseverance are breathing fruit.