Why Do We Celebrate Easter?
It’s Good Friday today, but we are making our way quickly to Easter — my favorite holiday of the entire year. So why do we celebrate Easter? It’s a great question that takes us back to the very roots of our confession and the basis of our faith. The question arrived recently in the inbox. “Hello, Pastor John! My name is William. I’m a 15-year-old new believer of about seven months. My question is this: What is the importance of Jesus’s resurrection? Since Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins, why does it matter that he rose again? Is it essential for salvation to believe so? I have heard people deny that he physically resurrected, saying he only spiritually resurrected. What difference would this make?”
It’s a great question, and there are great answers in the Bible. This is not a hard question to deal with, because the resurrection is the greatest event — along with the death of Jesus — in the universe. It is greater than any galactic event that may embrace light-years of distance and brightness. It’s a million times greater than our sun. The resurrection of Christ is greater.
Jesus Is Lord
So, before I give three reasons from the New Testament that the resurrection is essential to God’s purposes in creation and salvation, let me just say clearly that affirming the bodily resurrection of Jesus is essential to being a Christian. Paul says in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Now, I know that Acts 16:31 says this: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” But when he said that, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” he did not mean, “Believe on a dead man.” When he said, “Believe in the Lord,” he meant, “He’s Lord — he’s Lord.” You can’t read Paul’s letters and think that Jesus was Lord, and now he’s in the grave. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except in the Holy Spirit.” He is Lord. You can’t be a Christian if you only believe in a dead human being who was Lord. You can’t. He is Lord. And Jesus is Lord is the fundamental early-church confession.
So, here are three reasons why the resurrection — and, consequently, Easter — is so important.
- It’s important because of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and his death.
- It’s important because of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection.
- It’s important because of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and his present and future ministry.
1. Christ’s resurrection vindicates his death and frees us from sin.
Christ’s resurrection closely connects with his death. Consider two key passages.
“[Christ] was delivered up [to death] for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). That means that the resurrection was God’s sovereign act to emblazon the triumph of Christ’s death across the universe. The death of Christ successfully completed the foundational work of our justification. Nobody would be saved without God’s declaring us just and righteous before his throne of justice. And Romans 4:25 says that the death of Christ so completely and successfully secures this justification that God put his omnipotent stamp of approval on it by raising Jesus from the dead. The bodily resurrection of Jesus vindicated the saving success of the bloody death of Jesus.
Now, here’s the other text: 1 Corinthians 15:14–18. Paul is talking about bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).
Jesus died to remove the guilt of our sins. And Paul is saying that if he’s not raised, you’re still in your sins. He goes on to say that “those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:18). In other words, Paul’s preaching of the cross is pointless if Christ was not raised from the dead. “Futile,” he says. And we know it means bodily resurrection because the rest of 1 Corinthians 15 makes it clear that’s the kind of resurrection he’s talking about. You are still in your sins; they are not forgiven; the blood of Jesus is powerless, useless, a failure; it aborted — if Christ was not raised from the dead. First Corinthians 15:20: “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” So the resurrection is important because of its connection to the death of Christ.
2. Christ’s resurrection guarantees ours.
The resurrection is also important because of its connection between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. First Corinthians 15:20: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That means the resurrection is viewed as one great harvest, and Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, the first stage of the resurrection that guarantees our resurrection.
Or Romans 6:5: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Our resurrection will be owing to our union with Christ, who was raised. If he wasn’t, we won’t be.
Or 2 Corinthians 4:14: “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” So, Christ’s resurrection is important because ours depends on his. If he wasn’t raised, we won’t be either.
3. Christ’s resurrection empowers his present ministry.
The resurrection of Christ is important because of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and his present and future ministry. The death of Christ was the purchase of our salvation, not the application or consummation of it.
The Bible describes much more to be done for our everlasting enjoyment of the glory of God and the fellowship of Jesus. Christ’s saving work goes on in his resurrection body as he intercedes for us, and when he comes again in glory to establish his kingdom. The goal of our eternal life is to enjoy and magnify the living Christ as he rules over his church and gives himself in service and fellowship to his bride. It is a salvation of living fellowship. If he weren’t alive, we wouldn’t have any salvation. There would be nothing to enjoy forever and ever that is supremely satisfying. So, with no resurrection, we get no fellowship, no salvation, no joy. Consider these texts:
Romans 6:9: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”
Romans 8:34: “Who is to condemn [us]? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that [that’s really important!], who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
Ephesians 1:20–23: “[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named. . . . And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” That’s his present ministry today, as all-supplying guide and head for the church.
Acts 17:31: “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” Judgment is coming. Jesus is going to be the man who does the judgment. “And of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Colossians 1:18: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
So, the resurrection of Jesus is all-important because his death would be ineffective without it; and because we would have no hope of resurrection without it; and because the ministry of Jesus that he is performing right now, and will perform forever for our everlasting joy, would not exist without the resurrection. Together with the death of Jesus, his resurrection is the all-important event in the history of the world.