In this issue of “Theology & Culture” (T&C), I would like to discuss one of the most sacred days of the Christian faith, the day known as “Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday.”
Though we set aside a day to specifically focus on the risen Savior, Jesus Christ, for many reasons, the reality is that every time the church gathers together, we are celebrating the fact that our Lord is not dead but alive, seated in the heavenlies, and one day will return for His church.
I do understand the reasons behind a specific day that we have on our calendars that reminds us of what Jesus did. It is also a day, to be honest, when people who normally do not come to church, with the exception of a few times a year, make their way through our doors. That in itself brings opportunities for us as churches.
As Christians, every Sunday, not just Easter, needs to be treated with the same respect and energy that we put forth in worship and ministry on certain special weeks. Some things are different on those days and churches do various events. For example, we host an Easter breakfast.
The point I am making is that we need to remember as Christ-followers that Jesus rising from the dead is, in reality, a foundation stone of our faith. Thus, when we worship together, we are reminding ourselves of Who God is, and that the Good News that we proclaim to others is not just that Jesus died on the cross to redeem and forgive us, but that He rose from the dead to complete our salvation and make it possible for us to be made right with God. That is the teaching of passages such as Romans 4:23-25 and Romans 5:1-10.
If Jesus had not risen from the dead, we would be forgiven of our sins, because of the cross, but we would still be spiritually dead. That is a fact. Romans 6 explains that we were identified with Christ in both His death and resurrection, and because of that we are able, through the Holy Spirit’s help, to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4-5).
His death on the cross, and our being identified with that fact, means that our “old self” (Romans 6:6), the person we were before becoming a Christ follower (our actions, motives, attitudes, etc.) died with Christ. We have been freed from sin’s power, guilt, and control over us because of what Christ did on our behalf.
But not only did we die with Christ, we also were raised with Him as we have mentioned. Our identity as a follower of Jesus is seen in that we are dead to sin but alive to God because of the resurrection of Christ, and therefore, we can live a new life that glorifies Him.
That is what Easter, and every Sunday, is about. We are dead to the old life we once lived and are under new management and are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) because of Jesus.
Let me share just a few other random thoughts regarding Easter and church life in general. These are some things that come to mind as we consider this special upcoming day in many churches around the world.
Why is it that most churches meet on Sundays and does it really matter? The apostle Paul, writer of thirteen books of the New Testament, in his letter to the Christians at Rome, when discussing a believer’s Christian liberty and how we are to interact with each other if we differ on things not specifically stated in Scripture, made an interesting point.
He said in Romans 14:5-6 that some esteem certain days as better than others. This could be in connection to special celebrations and holidays in the ancient world, including specific Jewish dates or it could refer to the day of the week that you choose to worship God. He leaves it up to the individual to be convinced in their own mind of what they should do. At times, churches I pastored had a Saturday night service, geared to reach individuals who worked on Sunday mornings or had obligations on that day that made it difficult for them to get to church.
But there is a reason that Sunday is the “usual” day for coming together as Christians. It is the first day of the week, it is “Resurrection day.” Jesus rose from the dead on that morning. From the early days in church history, from what we gather, God’s people met on Sundays.
Passages such as Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 mention the church gathering on the “first day of the week.” Revelation 1:10 tells us that John was in the Spirit on the “Lord’s Day,” a phrase synonymous with the first day of the week, Sunday. It was the “Lord’s Day” because that is when Jesus walked out of the tomb, defeating sin and death.
Second century writings point to Sunday as the usual meeting day for believers. Keep in mind that Sunday is not the “Christian Sabbath.” In fact, nowhere in the New Testament are Christians told to observe the Sabbath. Exodus 31:12-18 is clear that the Sabbath was a covenant between God and Israel. This does not mean we should not respect what people believe, even Christians, regarding the Sabbath. Many Messianic Jewish congregations meet on Saturday. We do not want to be legalistic about this and we need to allow churches freedom as to when they meet.
The majority of the church, though, historically, as noted above, has met on Sundays. As we have noted, every Sunday is Easter morning. For us as Christians, as we journey through life, we must keep in mind that our lives, because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, have been changed through the power of God. In saying that, our lives need to show what God has done and is doing in us. It is true that we are a work in progress, but we have the living God abiding within us.
And one last thing that I am compelled to note. In 1 Corinthians 15:3 the writer of this letter, Paul, clearly states what the Good News is - Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day. To leave the resurrection out of a Gospel message is to shortchange, in my opinion, the complete facts about the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Yes, He did die on a cross so we could be forgiven. But He also rose from the dead to give us new life and to make our salvation complete. You cannot and should never separate what Jesus did. I have heard Gospel messages that left certain important elements taught in the New Testament regarding salvation.
There was no message of repentance (turning from our self-centered life and turning to God), which is a work of the Holy Spirit. No point of noting that we need to see ourselves as sinners in need of God’s grace. And no message about the resurrection.
Throughout the Bible, people were saved by faith and still are. We cannot earn our way to heaven. But as God revealed more truth and information, people put their faith and trust in God and what He said and Who He is. Salvation is believing, by faith, that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again from the grave so that we could have eternal life with God and a new life while still here on earth. In that, we are putting our faith in the Person of Jesus Christ. Never shortchange the message of the Gospel. We do disservice to people when we do who need to hear the message of God’s love shown by His saving work.