What Difference Does Easter Make?
April 16, 1995
I come to you today as an apologist for Easter. I am a great fan of holidays in general. And I come to you to defend the holiday we call Easter. I think it deserves to be held in higher esteem.
In our society, there are two great religious holidays each year—Christmas and Easter. For most of us, Christmas is the bigger and greater season of the year. It’s the time when we gather with family and friends. We sing, we celebrate, we laugh, and we exchange presents. Christmas is the climax of the whole year. And Easter? For most people it’s just another long weekend, a break in the dreary stretch between Christmas and summer vacation. Even some Christians view Easter as a second-rate holiday.
It is the great miracle of Easter that gives Christmas its true meaning.
Somehow we’ve gotten our thinking badly mixed up. If Easter had not happened, Christmas would have no meaning. If Easter had not happened, Christmas would be nothing more than a sweet-sounding fable. If Easter is not true, then Christmas is only the story of an obscure baby born in an out-of-the-way town in a forgotten land 2000 years ago. It is the great miracle of Easter that gives Christmas its true meaning.
Six More Weeks of Winter
Sometimes we know part of the story, but not all of it. This week I read the story of a grandfather who wanted to know how much his four-year-old granddaughter knew about the Easter story. When he saw little Julie playing in the backyard with her friends, he asked them, “Who knows why we celebrate Easter every year?” One of Julie’s friends chirped up first: “Oh, that’s when you go to the mall and sit on the big bunny rabbit’s lap and tell him what you want in your Easter basket.” Her second friend’s answer was no better: “No, no, no! It’s when you get a tree and hang eggs on it—and you wake up on Sunday and there are presents underneath it.”
At that point Grandpa interrupted and gently said, “That’s a good guess, but it’s not quite right. Julie, do you know why we celebrate Easter?” Julie nodded her head. “It’s when Jesus was crucified. He died, and His disciples put his body in the grave. They rolled a big stone in front of the opening. And the guards went to sleep. On the third day, there was a big earthquake and the stone rolled away.”
Hearing all that, Grandpa was really encouraged that Julie knew so much of the Easter story. Then she continued, “When the earthquake happened, the entire town came out by the grave. And if Jesus came out and saw his shadow, they knew there would be six more weeks of winter!” (FamilyLife, February, 1995).
But it’s not only Christians who are mixed up. The world in general thinks much of Christmas and very little of Easter. That’s doubly unfortunate. Easter ought to be the supreme religious moment of the year because the resurrection of Christ answers the deepest and most profound questions of modern man. It meets him underneath the surface, where he lives and wonders and ponders the great issues of life.
Let’s take a look at five of those profound questions and see how Easter provides satisfying answers.
1. The Question of Doubt
Modern men and women ask with great sincerity, “How can I know which religion is the right one?” That’s a fair question. The average person today faces a veritable supermarket of religions from which to choose. He sees the well-stocked shelves and wonders, “Which one should I choose?” There is only one problem. All the bottles have been poisoned except one. How can he find that one right, pure and safe bottle?
It’s a crucial question because on the surface there seems to be no great difference between Christianity and the religions of the world. They have great leaders … and so do we. They have written Scriptures … and so do we. They have miracle stories … and so do we. They have high ethical standards … and so do we. They have a long and rich history … and so do we. So a casual shopper could be excused for assuming that all religions are basically the same. Not so!
One Fundamental Difference
But there is one fundamental difference, one fact that sets Christianity forever apart from every other religious system. Go to the tombs of the founders of the great world religions. Call the roll:
Mohammed … “Here!”
Moses … “Here!”
Buddha … “Here!”
Confucius … “Here!”
Jesus Christ … … .
Christianity is the one true way to God because the tomb is empty.
No answer! Because he is not there. The tomb is empty! Which religion is the right religion? How can you be sure? Just go to the one whose Founder rose from the dead. That religion is the true religion. Which bottle in the religious supermarket is pure? Just drink from the one that says, “Living Water.”
That answers the question of doubt. Christianity is the one true way to God because the tomb is empty.
2. The Question of Guilt
Someone has said that no doctrine of the Bible is so easy to prove as the doctrine of human depravity. We see the evidence all around us. Pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV, listen to the radio, think of the people you work with every day, or better yet, look in the mirror. The evidence is so plain that no honest person can deny it. The reason we feel guilty is because we are guilty. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. It also tells us that “there is no one righteous, not even one” Romans 3:10.
How do I get rid of the guilt I feel in my soul?
That is, there is no one who can claim to have lived an absolutely perfect life. The record of our failure haunts us day and night, it whispers to us in the darkness and it shames us in the light. Sin stalks the trail of every person born on planet earth. No one is born without sin, no one lives without sin, no one can claim to be totally free from sin. The question is not, “Am I a sinner?” because the answer is always yes. The question this morning is, “How do I get rid of the guilt I feel in my soul?”
There are three primary ways people have for handling the guilt problem.
1. People try to do good.
They hope to even the scales, so to speak, by being model mothers and exceptional fathers. They work in the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Cub Scouts, they contribute to the Community Chest, the United Way, they mow their lawns and pay their debts on time. They work hard on the job. In short, they are fine, upstanding citizens who help make the world a better place. And they hope and pray that by doing good deeds they may find freedom, forgiveness and a release from the guilt that feel within.
2. Some people try to cover their guilt through the pursuit of pleasure.
For these people, life is one nonstop fraternity party. Everything is happiness, lights and music. They laugh and talk and keep on moving. They are in perpetual motion because they fear that if the lights are ever turned off, if the laughter stops, if the noise dies down, they will have to face the hard facts of life. That’s why some people turn to alcohol, drugs, pills, uppers, downers, artificial stimulants of every kind. It’s the only way they can deaden the deep inner pain.
3. Some people become very religious.
They know they need to make their peace with God so they join the church, get baptized, take communion, read the Bible, and attend mass every chance they get. Religion for them is a way to alleviate the guilt they feel.
You can’t be good enough to erase your guilt.
All these answers fail because they don’t deal with the root problem, which is sin and the true moral guilt that exists between all humanity and a holy God. No one can get around that issue. You can’t be good enough to erase your guilt, you can’t laugh enough to drown out your guilt, you can’t pray enough to cover your guilt. It can’t be done.
Only Easter answers the problem of guilt. You say, “But I thought it was the death of Christ that forgives our sins.” Indeed it is. The Bible even says, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” I Corinthians 15:3. But that’s only true because Christ rose from the dead. If Jesus is still in the tomb, then we are still in our sins. If Jesus did not rise, then the Romans and the Jewish leaders were right when they crucified him. If Jesus didn’t come back from the dead, then Calvary was just another execution of a well-meaning, but misguided religious leader. Without Easter, Good Friday isn’t good. Yes, the death of Christ forgives sins but only because the resurrection of Christ made his death effective.
If Jesus is still in the tomb, then we are still in our sins.
Do you want forgiveness and release from your guilt? Look … look … look to the crucified, buried, and risen Son of God, Jesus Christ. Look to him who rose victorious and you will find forgiveness and freedom and peace.
3. The Question of Loneliness
Men and women across the world ask, “Where can I find a friend? How can I find someone who cares for me?” That might seem an unlikely question. After all, here we are in Chicago, home to over seven million people. How can anyone be lonely?
It’s not hard to understand if you live here. We’re all in the fast lane now—get up, get dressed, go to work, come home, read the paper, unwind, eat supper, watch TV, go to bed, get up tomorrow morning and do it all over again. We live in such a fearful society that we never really get to know our neighbors. We put up fences, shrubs and security systems to protect our privacy. People move in and out so fast that we hardly know they were here, much less that they moved away. Hundreds of thousands of people across Chicagoland go to bed each night with burdens and cares and heavy hearts, frustrated, bored, worn out, tired, having questions with no answers, problems with no solutions. And no one they can call a close friend.
What will Hell be like?
People wonder what Hell will be like. T. S. Eliot calls it the Great Void, the land of ugly nothingness. We might imagine it as the one place in the universe where you are utterly, totally and eternally alone. You scream and no one answers. You cry for help but no one hears your voice. You are falling, falling, falling through the darkness. You are alone. That’s what Hell is like. The place of utter aloneness.
Against that awful reality stand the words of Jesus, “I am with you always” Matthew 28:20. But don’t forget that he said those words on this side of the Empty Tomb, after he had already come back from the dead. Those words have meaning only if Jesus is alive. If Easter did not happen, then Jesus is not with us, and we are truly alone.
The Lord Jesus says to us, “I will never leave you” Hebrews 13:5. That’s a promise. It’s true and you can rest your life upon it. If you belong to him, he will never leave you. Because he rose from the dead, he lives today and will be with us forever. Therefore, we are never alone, never forsaken.
4. The Problem of Weakness
Most of us struggle with the question, “How can I be the kind of person I really want to be?” We struggle because despite our good intentions and high ideals, we continually fall short of what we want to be and to become.
Most of us made New Year’s resolutions that lasted about a week. We keep turning over a new leaf because the old ones won’t stay turned over. The pages of history are littered with the stories of men and women who dreamed big dreams and failed to accomplish them.
How can I bed the kind of person I really want to be?
Is there a way out of the constant cycle of defeat? For the Christian the answer is yes. How much power do you think it took to raise Christ from the dead? If you translate it into horsepower, would it be 10,000 or 100,000 or 1,000,000 horsepower? Some people have speculated that it took the equivalent of a thermonuclear explosion to raise Christ from the dead. The truth is, with all our scientific knowledge we can’t begin to duplicate it today. His resurrection is a one-of-a-kind event. That’s real power!!!
Just think how much power you’d have if you had resurrection power. Think how strong you’d be. Think how many things you could do. Think how easy it would be to overcome the nagging problems of everyday life. If only you had the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
Here’s the great, glorious, earth-shattering good news. You have that power!!! That’s right. The power that raised Jesus Christ is the power that resides in you today. You have resurrection power right now.
Easter is God’s answer to the problem of human weakness. Because Jesus rose from the dead, you’ve got all the power you need to face and conquer every single problem in your life.
5. The Question of Death
Four thousand years ago Job asked this question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” Job 14:14. That is the greatest of all the questions, it is the central question Easter was meant to answer.
Have you ever touched a dead person? Ever experience the cold, clammy, waxen feel of death? There is no movement in the nostrils, no twinkle in the eye, no smile on the lips. Death feels terrible, unreal, unnatural. When we stand over the body of someone we love, we feel helpless, angry, defeated and afraid.
Death is sobering, frightening, terrifying. No wonder the Bible calls it “the last enemy” I Corinthians 15:26. No man has ever lived who hasn’t trembled before the fact of his own death. Deep in our hearts we wonder how we will do when our time comes to cross the Great Divide. How will it be with us when we have to go through the valley of the shadow of death? Will we be afraid? Will our faith stand the test? What happens when we die? Does Easter answer the question of death? If it doesn’t, then everything else I’ve said is just a sham.
Easter Has Already Arrived!
A few years ago, while writing my dissertation, I came across a paragraph from a letter written by a pastor in Pennsylvania who was dying of cancer. Until he was stricken at age 55, he had never faced his own mortality. During the three years before his death, he wrestled mightily with all the sermons he had preached about grace, salvation and eternal life. But now, at the age of 58, he was about to die, and he had to find out if all those sermons had been true. The following paragraph comes from a letter he wrote shortly before his death:
All my life as a pastor I have been preaching the promises of the resurrection of Christ and the power of his atoning death. So far, I have been distributing faith’s checks; now I’m starting to cash them for myself—to find out if they are really negotiable. And I have come to a very personal conviction. It is that facing our own dying incomparably improves the quality of our own living. King David ended his twenty-third Psalm with the assurance that he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” For me what that means is that I, along with all those who have gone before me, am just outside the door of the fullness of God’s grace in life everlasting. For me, Easter has already arrived!
A faith that doesn’t help you when you are dying won’t be much good when you are living. When Jesus walked out of the tomb, the people of God walked out with him!
Death could not keep its prey,
Jesus my Savior.
He tore the bars away,
Jesus my Lord.
Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.
He arose a Victor from the dark domain
And he lives forever with His saints to reign
He arose, He arose, Hallelujah, Christ arose!
The empty tomb says, He is risen. The disciples say, He is risen. The church of Jesus Christ says, He is risen. All creation says, He is risen.
Jesus has conquered our last enemy. He solved the problem of death forever because he entered the realm of death on our behalf and he came out on the other side holding the keys of death and hell in his hands!
The Garden Tomb
Is it true? Can we believe it? I can only give you my personal testimony. Six months ago, a group of us from Calvary visited the Holy Land. On Monday morning we visited the sacred spot called the Garden Tomb, the place believed by many people—myself included—to be the actual site of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We saw Golgotha—the place of the Skull—where Jesus was crucified alongside two thieves. Then we walked to the place where an ancient tomb has been hewn out of the limestone side of a mountain. Like all the first-century tombs, it has two chambers—one chamber where they placed the dead bodies and one chamber called the “weeping room” where loved ones could come to mourn the dead. One by one we filed into the outer chamber, ducking our heads because of the low entrance. Once inside it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Then you see it, the burial chamber with a ledge carved in the limestone. The very place where Joseph and Nicodemus would have placed the body of Jesus late on Friday evening.
Every detail of the Garden Tomb perfectly fits the biblical description for the burial place of Jesus Christ. Everything is just as the Bible says it should be—everything except one thing. You look around the tomb, you search high and low, your eyes scan from side to side and from top to bottom. One thing is missing. The body is gone! The tomb is empty!
As you leave the Garden Tomb, a hand-carved sign catches your attention. It says very simply, “He is not here, for He is risen.”
If a man dies, will he live again? Yes! Yes! Yes! Here is the answer to the greatest question, the deepest question, the final question. All of us will face death someday. But for those who know Jesus, death holds no fear. We’re not afraid of the darkness for Jesus is the Light of the world. We don’t fear the valley of the shadow of death for Jesus has said he will be our guide. We may die, but we won’t stay dead. Jesus has the keys and one day he‘s going to come back for us. When he does, he’s going to unlock those doors and let us out.
One final word and I am done. Perhaps you’ve seen the billboard with a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. Underneath the picture are three words: “It’s your move.”
Jesus died on the cross. It’s your move now.
Jesus rose from the dead. It’s your move now.
God has answered your deepest questions with the simplicity of an empty tomb. On this happy Easter morning I declare to you that Jesus Christ is alive. My friend, what will you say to that? What difference does it make to you? Will you give him your heart and your life? Will you trust him as Lord and Savior?
It’s your move now.
Father, may those who doubt, doubt no more. May those who wonder, “Is it true?” find that all their questions are answered with the triumphant message that Jesus Christ is alive today.
Living Lord Jesus, be born anew in our hearts today. Lead us to the empty tomb. May we hear the angel’s voice declare, “He is not here, for he is risen, as he said.”
Grant that we might leave this place singing with Easter joy in our hearts.
Through him and to him who is the resurrection and the life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.