Meaning of Easter and Questioning the resurrection of Jesus

Meaning of Easter

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

To so many, Easter means little more than just a date in the Church calendar. We have lost insight into the main reason behind the arrival of Jesus on earth. There are a number of love stories that touch our hearts, their influence will be evident in the way we live our lives. It is therefore a great shame, I think, that we too often forget about the motivation that drove God to sending his Son to be the redeemer of the human race.

We attain a great victory over death. This is promised to all who believe in Jesus and accept his sacrifice.  Through the resurrection of Christ we have been promised that we will not remain dead once our life expires here on earth.

This great act of selfless love was demonstrated by the sacrifice of God who loves us so much that he was prepared to pay the ultimate price. As the word of God says, this is the greatest form of love, nobody would naturally commit such a selfless act. This then reiterates the greatness of God’s love by saying that whilst there may be some who may be prepared to die for their friends, there is nobody who would go so far as to die for their enemies. (See John 3:16)

Signs of Easter in our every day life

Every year I am reminded, as we approach the Easter holiday, of the story I heard some years ago. Please allow me some writers’ liberty (poetic licence) as I paraphrase this story for you here.

A loving Christian father who actively participated in the upbringing of his children, would spend time with his children reading from the Bible, telling them great Christian stories. Every evening he would call them and remind them that it was time to go to bed. Like a responsible parent he would explain that they needed a good number of hours of sleep to help them grow and encourage their brain to rest and develop. One time one of his sons was reluctantly collecting his toys to put them away for the night and was looking at his father as he tried to get some extra play time.

His father was firm but loving and insisted that they needed sleep, explaining that if they wanted to function properly the next day they needed full rest. “That is, after all, how God created us,” the father exclaimed. At that moment his son raised his head as he could not conceal his curiosity and asked his father, “But why did God make us like that? Why could we not go through the day and night not needing any sleep?”

His father thought for a moment, then turned toward his son as he was stroking his hair and he began to explain:

“You see, as you know every night the sun goes down and you know that with much regularity it will come back again the next morning. You also know that every evening when the time is right I will take you to your bed, we go through our ritual of brushing our teeth, reading bible stories and finally finishing everything off with a prayer and before I leave your room I kiss you. This is a promise to you that I or your mother will be there in the morning  ready to get you dressed and ready for another day.

You see our heavenly father is just like that. Every night we go to bed and every day we wake up and are reminded that we will not die and stay like that. We will rise again, we will see our heavenly father, and life will go on. We should be grateful to God that this message was so important to him that he wanted us to be reminded of it every morning. Every time you open your eyes our God is reminding us “we will rise again”.

What do national papers say about Easter 

From Daily mail March 23rd 2005

Meaning of Easter ‘lost on Britons’ – Daily Mail

More than half of Britons are ignorant of the real meaning of Easter, a new survey shows.

Just 48 per cent of people questioned correctly pinpointed the Resurrection of Christ and 42 per cent could not name Judas Iscariot as the man who betrayed Jesus.

From The Times – April 4, 2007

Store gets egg on its face over Christ’s Easter ‘birth’

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent – Times

A supermarket chain got itself into a huge muddle over the meaning of Easter yesterday in its attempt to sell more chocolate eggs.

“Brits are set to spend a massive £520 million on Easter eggs this year — but many young people don’t even know what Easter’s all about,” said the press release from Somerfield after a survey.

It then went on to claim that the tradition of giving Easter eggs was to celebrate the “birth” of Christ. An amended version changed this to the “rebirth” of Christ. Finally a third press release accepted Church teaching that Easter celebrated the resurrection of Christ. ….

It has been suggested that Easter eggs represent the stone rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb. But the tradition has pre-Christian roots: in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia eggs were dyed for spring festivals.

And the final paper I would like to show here comes from the Independent on Sunday. Notice the sarcasm and mocking that is so prevalent in today’s media.

The real meaning of Easter: it’s about me, me, me

Friday, 14 April 2006 by Christina Patterson – Independent on Sunday By Christina Patterson:

State-school kids don’t know that creme eggs have anything to do with a crucifixion

It has been a mixed week for Jesus. He’s back in the news again, but less for his resurrection than the lack of it. The sudden boost to his celebrity status is, of course, due to his infinitely more successful protégé, Dan Brown and those messianic mentors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. It would be ridiculous to accuse Baigent of trying to cash in on a multi-million pound phenomenon, but he did just happen to have another book up his sleeve. The Jesus Papers, due out next month, aims to expose “the greatest cover-up in history”. What, Baigent asks, if there was incontrovertible proof that Jesus survived? Who, he muses, could have helped hide him? Funnily enough, Baigent succeeds where all other historians have failed. He alone knows the truth about Jesus Christ. Just buy the book and you can, too….

What is thought in our churches today?

I remember hearing a great sermon on the resurrection of Christ a few years ago. I would like here to outline a number of points listing them in groups to aid readers in remembering. I was not surprised to hear that there are many church members in many evangelical churches who have somewhat different views on the resurrection of Jesus and likewise this reflects powerfully on their attitude towards our bodily resurrection.

Influences of Humanism and Naturalism in the Church today

Marcus Borg, a famous American liberal theologian, puts it like this: there are two versions of Christianity that he accepts. One is rooted in beliefs in the pre-crucifixion Jesus who was a Jewish wise man with a message for the world, and the second was a post-resurrection Jesus whom many followers of Christ decided to install as a God. He goes on to argue that this is an invented Jesus but nevertheless he likes the ideology behind the stories. Moral input into this imaginary Jesus has given us the humanity and spiritual guidance that we so much need.

Furthermore, he prefers to be removed from the literal and conservative biblical scholarship as he has lost faith in this “rigid” and uncompromising form of Christianity. He prefers to see the Bible as a metaphorical and allegorical instrument that was given to us in order to guide us to be better humans. The Bible for Borg is a book which was written by humans and he would argue that the text is inspired by the Holy Spirit but would also allow for many errors as the “instruments” that were used were imperfect.

That which influenced our lives will determine our philosophy.

However, I’m glad to say that a number of Christian philosophers (including CS Lewis) have argued that we do need to be careful not to portray Christ into an image of our own making, i.e. that which we have concocted is due to the influences that have moulded our young lives. In other words, if we were influenced by the social justice movement our Jesus is a Jesus of social justice, a democrat of the kind whose main objective is to fix our earthly problems. This orientation and misplaced priority would be far removed from the teaching of Christ. We should therefore always examine all teachings that enter our church, searching for the motives behind those who bring  new teaching that is radically dissimilar from the original message of Christ.

They may lack the evidence but by using good rhetorical skills and bold claims atheists often confuse and scare Christians who are not “in the know”.

Especially when such outrageous claims stating un-provable theories are not supported by  evidence and would never be acceptable in a court of law. In fact, this is precisely how they grab and utilise so much undue media attention.

We look to the saying, “if you say it  loud enough with conviction and you repeat it often enough people are eventually going to believe you”. Frequently hiding behind such statements is the claim that “most modern scientists believe this” even when this is not true. I always chuckle at such claims wondering if they have actually interviewed all scientists, especially when one is made aware of the variety of views held by the “experts”.

I think CS Lewis once said that when people reject Jesus of the New Testament it’s mostly for two reasons:

  1. There is sin in their life and they don’t like God who is going to condemn their actions.  It is, therefore, easier to dismiss the existence of such a God than to justify their behaviour in the presence of such a Holy God.
  2. Peer pressure It is said that today there is no greater way to destroy one’s faith as mocking and humiliating sarcasm that will break any human who is not grounded in God and his teachings. It is for this reason that Christ teaches us that we will be hated by the world, as we are not of this world.

Let’s now focus at what was the original teaching and view held of the First century church.

  1. Jesus entered Jerusalem to attend Passover, a great Jewish holiday[1]

Mk 14:1 Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.

Mk 14:12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

Mt 26:2 “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Information on Passover

Let’s try to understand this great story of liberation from slavery from Egypt who underwent Ten Plagues and during the last God knew that Pharaoh, after losing his firstborn son, would finally agree to free Israelites.

Egypt encountered the worst plague at the end (Tenth plague). An avenging angel who went from house to house killing every first-born son. Israeli children were not touched which is how God demonstrated that they were his chosen people. In order for the angel to know which houses were Israelite homes, the Children of Israel were to follow strict instructions:

  • Each household was to take a perfect and unblemished, male lamb, and slaughter it at twilight four days later.
  • Blood from the lamb was to be brushed on the door frames. This would tell the avenging angel that it was an Israelite home and to ‘pass over’.
  • Then the families were to roast the lamb and eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Every bit of the lamb had to be eaten and any remaining bones burned.

The Israelites were to perform this ritual dressed for a journey. Passover lamb – Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1Co 5:7), sacrificed “once for all” (Heb 7:27) for us.

  1. Jesus was greeted by many who acknowledged that Jesus was a long awaited saviour and King of Israel.

John 12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna ’” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”   “Blessed is the King of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 15 “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

3. Jesus predicted his execution on the cross and revealed the purpose of his coming

Luke 18:31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. 33 On the third day he will rise again.”

  1. He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot [2] who sold Jesus for 30 silver coins which was prophesized by the Old Testament prophet

Zechariah 11:12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.

Mathew 26:14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot u  —went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins.

Thirty silver coins. This is an equivalent of 120 denarii’s. Laborers customarily received one denarius for a day’s work. Thirty pieces of silver was also the common price for a slave among the Israelites in ancient times.

  1. Jesus was accused by his fellow countrymen but crucified/killed by Roman law and judiciary.

John 19:6 – 7 Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

Matthew 27:38 – 44 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.  And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, k“You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the 2scribes and elders, said, 42 “He m saved others; Himself He cannot save.  If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. nHe trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” oEven the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

Death of Christ is as important as his Resurrection, both have been challenged by many: Muslims believe that Allah has deceived many as they  crucified the wrong man. What is the problem with this? Here are some obvious reasons why we believe that Jesus died on the cross.  There are those who believe that Jesus did not die on the cross but was revived.

    • He underwent cruel whipping by Roman soldiers which caused a great deal of his skin to be ripped off his back. This on its own is known to have caused death.
    • He was bitten and a crown of thorns was forcefully put on his head which would cause his head to swell up and disfigure his facial features.
    • Roman soldiers could recognise through the process of crucifixion and easily determine if the man on the cross was alive or dead, i.e. if you are hanging in a low position and not trying to prop yourself up to breathe then due to asphyxiation [3] one would end up dead.
    • He was pierced by a spear through the heart and the fact that water flowed at the same time shows that the chamber which forms part of the heart (which contains water) was ruptured. As we all know this is definitely going to kill anyone who experiences the same.
    • If after all of this he was not dead one would have been able to hear easily wheezing as part of the lungs would also have been perforated when Jesus was pierced with the spear and air would be audibly heard coming from the injured person. Therefore, you would know that he was still alive.

  1. Resurrection of Christ and Meaning of Easter by Apostle Paul

A few years ago whilst still living in sunny Brighton, I was astounded by a claim made by our house group leader at a meeting that we, as Christians, will be resurrected in the spirit and not in the body. As a result I had to quote what the Bible says through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

1Co 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,  the first fruits  of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Why do we believe in Empty Tomb / Resurrection of Jesus?

  • Even Non Christian historians now acknowledge that there must have been an empty tomb as other theories are just too outrageously silly, and here are some reasons why.
  • You don’t make the claim of resurrection in the very city (of Jerusalem) where Jesus was burried if your story is false, i.e. like Peter did at the beginning of Acts, as all they had to do to disprove this claim was to take him / her to the grave and show them the rotting body of Jesus see Acts 2:22 – 24

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you  by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—  Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God,  you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;  whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

  • If one should doubt the bodily resurrection of Christ should he call himself Christian? Or should they admit that his/her understanding of Biblical interpretation is significantly different from the agreed traditional Christian teaching.

1 Corinthians 15: 17 – 19 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

  • Apparent differences in Gospels of the account of the resurrection story (which sceptics like to use) that appear in the synoptic Gospels are easily explained. One should remember two things:

–          that like in a court of law witnesses would record different parts of the testimony

–          Witnesses will also not strictly stick to the chronological order of proceedings. We know from early church fathers that Luke’s gospel was viewed as a topical rather than a chronological documentation of events, so at this point let me quote a well known scholar Wilbur Smith who puts it like this:

“In these fundamental truths, there are absolutely no contradictions. The so-called variations in the narratives are only the details which were mostly vividly impressed on one mind or another of the witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection, or on the mind of the writers of these four respective Gospels.

“The closest, most critical, examination of these narratives throughout the ages never has destroyed and can never destroy their powerful testimony to the truth that Christ did rise from the dead on the third day, and was seen of many” ([4]and[5])

  • Starting point of arguing issue of resurrection should also be recognised as crucially important. Let’s look at the two points of view that are most common even in some of our churches. Naturalism: its roots come from Existentialism and perverted versions of scientism. It goes something like this: “If we don’t observe things happening in nature then we know these unusual things are not possible”. A similar version of this was strongly argued by the famous Scottish philosopher David Hume. However, one must remember that the starting point is at fault here. We call them presuppositions and assumptions. If one assumes that there is no God then this can be justified. However, as a Believer there are a few things that we need to know. By choosing sides one will also pick the corresponding view point.

1. If there is a God he could both control and amend natural laws that apply to all of us as he is the creator of physical laws.

2. If God chooses to use miracles to demonstrate his existence and his intentions to us, then this can be an excellent way of communicating his existence and will.

3. Demanded and illogical request to prove resurrection that pivots on the observation technique is unreasonable and therefore is not the same and can not be treated as equal to historical evidence. The need for evidence for this is historical (documentation) in nature The first is empirical and can be measured but does not apply to historical studies. However, the resurrection is a unique event and therefore can not be tested in a laboratory as it is not repeated.  

4. Many apostles and followers of Jesus who were previously running and hiding for their lives were happy to lay down their lives for him now. The explanation given to us in the Bible is powerful when Paul talks about the effects of death. He mocks the devil and power of death as losing its grip, power and sting. In fact he is saying that he would prefer death but is contented to live as he has so much work to do.

5. The resurrection of Jesus is defined as a miracle and therefore does indeed break natural laws. The apostles did not say we are stupid and don’t understand this. On the contrary, they themselves had doubts initially.

  • Criteria of Embarrassment: This is a very important argument in the story of the resurrection of Jesus. Let me try to explain it here. Historians agree that if there is any sense of embarrassment in the text it is more than likely true, otherwise why would someone want to document such events. If the original authors of the Gospels of Jesus wanted to lie about his resurrection, then their stories would be obvious and put in better light. i.e.
    • There would be no apparent differences in the chronological order (For explanations on this see “Apparent differences in Gospels” above). If there was a plot to deceive people as some want to claim, then they would get their story straight before publishing it.
    • Choice of Witnesses would be different: Whilst testimonies of women were acceptable they were not treated as equal to those of men so why then did the Gospels list women as the first witnesses. Would it not be easier to list men in order to strengthen their story?
    • Peter was unsure about Easter: He ran to the grave to confirm the testimony of women.  John overtook him but waited for him at the grave site.
    • Thomas doubted: Jesus appeared to them when Thomas was not there. Thomas did not believe until he saw it for himself. They had doubts like anybody else which demonstrates their humanity and imperfection but at the same time gives clear answers to this puzzle. Thomas witnessed things for himself; he touched Jesus’ hands and his side after which he exclaimed my Lord and my God.

  • Witnesses testified that they saw resurrected Jesus: Paul lists a number of people who saw the resurrected Jesus. He lists at one time 500 witnesses, he includes himself and twelve apostles (minus Judas Iscariot), the women at the grave and we know of two people travelling to Emmaus. See John 20:3. And the most important exemplary story of encountering the risen Jesus calls two disciples as witnesses on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13; Mark 16:12). What Paul is saying is this: “if you don’t believe me go and talk to other witnesses, they are still around”. Any error and deception would be therefore easily and very quickly discovered.
  • Jesus and his word predicted and thought resurrection: Therefore any follower of Jesus should believe accordingly; otherwise they are following something else. See Matthew 22: 23 30; Matthew 22:31; Mark 12:23; Luke 14:14 Luke 20:33; John 5:29 John 11:24 – 25; Acts 1:22 etc. (There are many more.) Remarkably in the Book of Isaiah the suffering servant in Chapter 53 is an exact copy of the suffering servant portraying death and resurrection of our savior.
  • If Jesus was revived and not resurrected this would be evident to apostles: This would not make sense on several accounts.
  • Why would the apostles desire to have the same kind of body as Christ if his body was bruised, half skinned and disfigured?
  • They would exclaim when they saw him for the first time that he had survived crucifixion and that we see a revived Jesus, not a resurrected God. They would call for the doctor and not acknowledge as Thomas did, My Lord and my God.
  • No sane person would give their life for a lie. From the analysis of their testimonies we indeed see, coherent and logical witnesses, not insane arguments. This gives them the assurance they require that to lose their life here is to gain it through Christ.

Meaning of Easter by Isaiah 53

  • bHe is despised and rejected by men,
  • Surely eHe has borne our grief’s (literal “Sickness”) And carried our sorrows;
  • But He was fwounded 2for our transgressions,
  • He was 3bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
  • And by His gstripes 4we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray;
  • Yet hHe opened not His mouth; For kHe was cut off from the land of the living;
  • For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
  • lAnd 7they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death,
  • 9He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge oMy righteous pServant shall qjustify many,
  • For He shall bear their iniquities.rTherefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
  • sAnd He shall divide the 1spoil with the strong, Because He tpoured out His soul unto death,
  • And He was unumbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And vmade intercession for the transgressors.

[1] Passover is one of the most important religious festivals in the Jewish calendar. Jews celebrate the Feast of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) to be reminded of the liberation of the Children of Israel who were led out of Egypt by Moses.

Jews have celebrated Passover ever since about 1445 to 1447 BC if you are conservative (mid 1200 BC if you hold a more liberal view) following the rules laid down by God in Exodus 13.

[2] Iscariot. Means “a man from Kerioth”

k Matt. 26:61; John 2:19

2 M scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders

m [Matt. 18:11; John 3:14, 15]

n Ps. 22:8

o Mark 15:32; Luke 23:39–43

[3] A condition in which an extreme decrease in the concentration of oxygen in the body accompanied by an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide leads to loss of consciousness and eventual death.

[4] (The Supernaturalness of Christ, W.A. Wilde Company, 1954, p. 205).

[5]McDowell, Josh ; Stewart, Don Douglas: Answers to Tough Questions. Nashville : T. Nelson Publishers, 1993

b Ps. 22:6; [Is. 49:7; Matt. 27:30, 31; Luke 18:31–33; 23:18]

e [Matt. 8:17; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24]

f [Is. 53:10; Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4]

2 Or pierced through

3 crushed

g [1 Pet. 2:24, 25]

4 Blows that cut in

h Matt. 26:63; 27:12–14; Mark 14:61; 15:5; Luke 23:9; John 19:9

k [Dan. 9:26]

l Matt. 27:57–60; Luke 23:33

7 Lit. he or He

9 So with MT, Tg., Vg.; DSS, LXX From the labor of His soul He shall see light

o [1 John 2:1]

p Is. 42:1

q [Acts 13:38, 39; Rom. 5:15–18]

r Ps. 2:8

s Col. 2:15

1 plunder

t Is. 50:6; [Rom. 3:25]

u Matt. 27:38; Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37; 2 Cor. 5:21

v Luke 23:34

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2 Responses to Meaning of Easter and Questioning the resurrection of Jesus

  1. Terry Finley says:

    What a great lesson…thanks.

  2. Hi Terry

    Thank you for your kind comment.

    Regards

    Defend the word

Comments are closed.