What is Easter Really About?
By William R. Cunningham
Here we are at another Easter season. This is the time where many people purchase new clothes, candy, Easter baskets, and other items associated with this holiday. Many people will go to church that normally do not attend services. Many people will hear the passion story told another time. However, what is the purpose of all of those activities? What is Easter all about?
Easter has become commercialized just as the Christmas holiday. And similar to the Christmas holiday, Easter is a mixture of a multitude of traditions, which include pagan, Hebrew, and Christian traditions. What is Easter really? More importantly, what does Easter have to do with us now?
In this lesson we are going to discuss the meaning of the Easter story. We all know the story of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, death, and resurrection. I am sure you have heard that story since you were a child. However, we know the story but do we know what it means? What are the consequences of Jesus' death and resurrection? Why indeed is Easter Sunday such a high holy day to Christians? We know the story of Easter but do we know what it means?
I thought it appropriate to include some background information to reveal to you that all that you think you know about the Easter season has little to do with the foundation of Easter for Christians. This will help us to filter out those things that are not really Easter so that we can grasp the true meaning of this holiday.
Most of what we do at Easter has nothing to do with the original Christian tradition or with the teachings of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, you will find no Easter egg, Easter bunny, new clothes, or no special church services neither in the New Testament nor in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers of the Christian faith. Where then do we get our traditional Easter practices? I said earlier that Easter is a mixture of pagan, Hebrew, and Christian traditions. Let's briefly look at these now.
Venerable Bede, an English historian and scholar in the early 8th century, said that the name "Easter" is survived from old Teutonic mythology. It is derived from Ostara or Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon mother goddess of spring (and fertility). The ancient Anglo-Saxons worshipped their goddess Eostre by the earthly symbol of a rabbit or hare. The Germans later brought this custom to America.
The Easter Egg and Easter Bunny
What does the Easter egg and Easter bunny have to do with Easter? For many cultures, the egg was a symbol of continuing (or newness of) life since pre-Christian spring festivals. Ancient Greeks, Persians, and Chinese gave eggs as gifts at their respective spring festivals. The egg appears in pagan mythology where the Sun-Bird was hatched from the World egg. In some pagan cultures the Earth and heaven were thought to have been formed from two halves of an ancient egg (not a chicken's egg necessarily).
In pagan times the egg represented the rebirth of the earth (after winter). Christianity later adopted this theme as a symbol of the newness of man's rebirth.
The Easter bunny or Hare as it was known, was a symbol of fertility, which coincided with the spring festivals. There were hopes of new life for the deadness that winter brought to the land. Of course the bunny and the egg has been commercialized to such an extend that they are both an integral part of the Easter season, though they have nothing to do with the Christian's perspective of Easter.
Venerable Bede says that the month of April was the same as the mensis paschalis, "when the old festival was observed with the gladdness of the new solemnity." The root "pasch" is from the Hebrew pesach (Passover). The Passover was celebrated during Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew year. Nisan was linked to spring harvest in ancient Palestine (see Exodus 12:1-3, Leviticus 23:9-14, and Numbers 28:16). Basically, the Hebrew tradition brought the Passover into the mixture of the Easter season.
Jesus Christ was crucified and arose from the dead at the feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. The name for Easter is therefore Pasch.
It is important to note that there is neither mention of the Easter celebration in the New Testament nor the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. There didn't exist an idea of the sanctity of special times in the minds of early Christians. The early Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals though in a new light or from a different perspective. As a matter of fact, the early Christians met on the first day of the week, Sunday, instead of the seventh, Saturday, in order to honor the day of the Lord (the day Christ resurrected).
A new concept of Christ as the Passover lamb and the first fruits from the dead (vernal equinox, winter-to-spring theme) continued to be observed and eventually became the Christian Easter that we know today.
The Events of Easter
Now let me briefly discuss the events of the Easter holiday from a Christian's perspective. Easter is the time of year that we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was betrayed by Judas and eventually was taken before Pontius Pilate. Pilate, after being persuaded by the multitude of people, condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion. Jesus suffered on the cross for about three hours and at the ninth hour (about 3:00 PM) he died. However, Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God on the third day after his death. He spent about 40 days on the earth and then ascended into heaven.
These events are what Christians celebrate. Why? Why do we celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection? What do they have to do with me today? That is what this lesson is really about so let's get started.
The Implications of Easter
What does the death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection have to do with me and why should I be concerned with it? There are profound implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The commercialization and festivals that we have and practice today in many cases mask the true meaning of the Easter season. Easter has become more of a children's holiday with the Easter basket, Easter bunny, new clothes, etc. Notice how many people will use Easter to purchase new clothes for the kids or for themselves. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that however. It is no sin to use Easter as a standard date to purchase new clothes or a new suit. The problem is that we really don't know what Easter is truly about and participate in such traditions while disregarding Easter's true meaning.
Alive with Christ
Galatians 2:19-20 (NKJV) For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
We identify with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. By faith our deadness to God was exchanged for the life of Christ, which brought reconciliation to God. We live because Christ lives. If Christ had not died then we would still be dead in our sins and on a crash course with eternal separation from God.
Christ's death was payment for all of our sins because sin leads to death. Consider the following scripture.
Romans 6:22-23 (NKJV) But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We have been set free from sin after being bound to God. The end of our journey is not death but eternal life. Death was necessary because death is the consequence of sin. This death is not just the deadness of our bodies when we leave this earth. This death refers to the eternal separation from God in addition to the corruption of all of creation.
If Jesus had not died then we would have to die for our own sins, which means that we could never be saved and joined together with God. Our end would be eternal condemnation in the bottomless pit along with the grave and Satan. However, since Jesus did die, we have hope of salvation if we would only believe in Him. We can escape death by accepting Jesus' payment for our sin. This accepting is really an act that allows his redemption to overflow into our lives and cover our sins. Without faith in Christ then his redemptive act would not reconcile us to God, which would mean that our sins would never be forgiven and the penalty or consequence of our sin is death.
Consider another scripture.
Colossians 2:11-15 (NKJV) In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
We were also buried with Christ in baptism if we indeed believe in him. His death covered our sins and his resurrection brought us true life with the Father. Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, we too are raised from the deadness imposed on us by our sins into a new and glorious life in Christ Jesus. We can now be counted as children of God and not be ashamed or separated because of our sins.
Colossians 3:3-4 (NKJV) For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
How did we die? Our life was one of sin and self. We were driven by the sin nature to satisfy the lusts of the flesh. It was necessary for us to die to our sinful lusts and the sin nature that enslaved us and separated us from the holiness of God. We died by identifying with Christ, which occurred at the time we were born again. We died to self and the sin nature. We were then brought back to life by the power of God through Christ Jesus after dying to the flesh and to our sins.
Our life is therefore hidden with Christ. Therefore, when Christ appears then we will appear with him. Consider the following scripture.
1 John 3:2-3 (NKJV) Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
We can't see Christ and that isn't important when we consider faith. We have a down payment for the full redemption of Christ. That down payment or guarantee is the Holy Spirit that God gives us as a seal of eternal life with Him (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
1 Peter 2:24-25 (NKJV) who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness-by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Jesus bore our sins in his own body on the cross so that we might live for righteousness after dying to sins. Our life is in Christ. Without the life of Christ then we would be dead to God. We thank God for the life of God that dwells in each of us who are true Christians by faith and not by observance of law.
Christ died and rose from the dead so that we can experience true life with God. The life of Christ and our deadness to sin makes us free from the bondage of sin. We are joined with God and where God's Spirit dwells liberty is also present. We didn't realize the plight that we were in when we were dead in our sins. Things seemed OK because we were blinded by our sins and the darkness of our hearts. We were separated from God and didn't know it.
We are free from the penalty and consequences of sin because Jesus died, rose again, and we believe in Him. We are saved.
Easter is much more than a mere celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though Jesus did not instruct us to celebrate the passion, we do recognize the importance of what he did and remember it with celebration during the Easter season. We praise God that Jesus Christ died on the cross and was raised from the dead so that we could be joined together with him to God. God demonstrated His love for us by giving his only begotten son so that if we believe we would have eternal life with Him.
Easter is so much more than the Easter bunny, Easter baskets, new suits, and parties. It is not a children's holiday at all, though commercialization has transformed it to that in many ways. It is not a special church day, though religion has deceived us into thinking that. Easter is a time when we remember what Jesus did for us and how God showed His love for us. It is a special day in that we focus our attention on not merely the death and resurrection of Christ; rather, we focus our attention on the implications of that death and resurrection. We thank God for being able to stand before him without spot or blemish because we were washed with the blood of Christ who died on the cross for you and for me.
Easter is the time of year when we specifically honor the redemptive act of Christ. What is the redemptive act of Christ? The redemptive act of Christ is his sacrificing his life and then being raised from the dead by God so that we might have life in Him. Yes we know the story but do we know what it means? It means that we are free and that we are alive with Christ and joined to God. It means that sin has no hold on us and death has no grip on us. We are free and alive in Christ.
Let's take time out from now on to remember what salvation is all about and not just on Easter day. Know what the redemptive act of Jesus Christ is and thank God for the greatest gift of all-the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Death now will pass us by because we have the life of Christ in us. We will not know death, separation from God, because Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God. Yes we know the story and now we know what it means. It means that we are alive and free! Amen!
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