As Easter approaches, let me remind you how the Easter story, or better yet, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything. Nothing is more central to the Christian faith than the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, the apostle Paul, the writer of the majority of the New Testament, says that if Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, we, as Christians should be pitied for believing in the things we do. Christianity from the very beginning was a resurrection movement. The earliest church writings declare a beginning of a new worldview because Jesus was raised from the dead. In their experience of the first Easter everything had changed.
Easter is a word which may possibly come from a German word that means white (the color of the robes worn during church celebrations). It was in the early morning that the women went to the tomb and found it empty. Resurrection was not the first thing on their minds. They thought someone had taken the body. In fact it is very obvious that no one was expecting a resurrection even though time after time Jesus had referred to this in his teaching. In the minds of those who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, he was dead. The Gospel writers are very consistent when they tell the story that the resurrection of Jesus surprised everyone. His followers were defeated, confused, and discouraged. The women came to the tomb not to see a living Jesus but to complete what they felt had been a hurried and incomplete burial. As far as the followers of Jesus were concerned, Rome had done it to them again. Evil had won. A wonderful teacher had died. Someone they thought was the Messiah. It was time to go home. The movement was over.
Then they met a living Jesus. Mary first. Then Paul tells us that Jesus met with Peter, his brother James, the disciples, and many more. Once they met a living Jesus everything had to be thought through again. Life would change forever. The resurrection changed everything. Now, who Jesus really was had to be rethought. None of their personal ideas of who Jesus was, even though they called him the Christ, or Messiah, fit what just happened. Why did the Messiah suffer and die? It is critical to see that often when Jesus encounters people after the resurrection, this is one of the things he is teaching them. He has to explain why he had to suffer and die. He walks his followers through the scriptures so they can understand what just happened. The walk on the Emmaus road story in Luke 24:25-27 is an example of this. Now we know that Jesus died for our sins. He who knew no sin became sin that we might be righteous before God. The early disciples had to change all they thought and understood about salvation. The resurrection changed everything.
Then they needed to back up and think about all Jesus had taught because the resurrection demonstrated that Jesus was God’s Son, a part of the Holy Trinity; and therefore, Jesus wasn’t just teaching about life, He was the life. He wasn’t just communicating a better way to live, He was the way to live. He didn’t just teach about truth, He was the truth. Now each word He spoke had more power and holiness. The early church knew it needed to get these teachings written down in a hurry before people forgot. The resurrection even changed the power for the words of Jesus.
Ultimately, the resurrection meant that Jesus was the first of many who would follow from death to life everlasting. That by believing in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, anyone could have eternal life. That even if we die, we shall live again. That God had taken mankind’s worst act of torture and death, and turned it into God’s greatest gift, life everlasting.
All this added up to one profound testimony. The early church could not help but speak about what they had seen and heard. Jesus who was killed was now alive and ruling with all authority. He had given them a commission to go into the world and be His witnesses. Their lives, changed forever, as they told the world there is “no other name under heaven and earth by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
The writer is the senior pastor at Sidney First United Methodist Church, Sidney.