Easter Sunday (also known as Resurrection Sunday) is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which is the key event upon which the Christian faith is based. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity would not exist.
Why is the history of Easter such a big deal to Christians? Even if Jesus did get raised from the dead, so what? How does that have any impact on us two thousand years later? How could the apostle Paul write, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Cor. 15: 17, 19)? To answer these questions, we can look to the history of Easter.
Jesus was not just some random Jewish moral teacher who showed up out of nowhere, said radical things, died, and then came back to life. He existed in a rather unique cultural context. Throughout their history, the Israelites experienced cycles of oppression and redemption. They endured vicious periods of exile and enslavement where they could not meet with God’s presence in the temple. In these times, the people cried out to God that He might save them from their exile so that they could be with Him again. God rescued them from their physical oppression, but they eventually were conquered again. In His infinite lovingkindness, God came up with a plan to allow all people, not just the Israelites, to dwell with Him, the source of all life, forever.
For hundreds of years, God sent prophets to the people of Israel to tell them that He was sending a savior to them who would permanently free them from their endless cycle of oppression and redemption. This promise sat in the background of Jewish culture for centuries upon centuries. Every Jewish man, woman, and child longed for the day God would save them permanently. Fast forward to about 30 A.D., when Jesus began His ministry. The Jewish people were engaged in a bitter conflict with the Roman Empire. Rome, being the world’s greatest super power at the time, was winning that conflict. When Jesus started performing miracles and speaking of God, people began asking Him if He was the promised Messiah. When He responded, “I who speak to you am He,” (John 4:26), the Jewish people understandably assumed He was going to save them from the Roman Empire and reign as their king.
Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God finally arriving on earth. This kingdom would be one of peace and unity, where people of all nations could become one multicultural family, united with God on a restored earth, with Jesus as our king. All of the talk about a new king threatened the existing political and religious structures of the day, and the Jewish leaders set out to have Jesus put to death. They got the Roman governor on board with this plan, and had Jesus unjustly executed through false testimonies and illegitimate legal processes.
With their leader dead, Jesus’ disciples were crushed. How could God’s chosen Messiah, sent to rescue them from the Romans (so they thought), be executed? Had God lied to them? May it never be! God’s plan for salvation went beyond rescuing His people from an oppressive regime (though throughout the Old Testament, He has a lot to say about how He will punish the oppressor). The Kingdom of God does not operate according to the ways of the world. God’s kingdom is one of peace, one that does not advance through conquest. How then would He deliver on His promise of everlasting salvation?
The answer came on the morning of the third day after Jesus’ resurrection: God, through Jesus, is remaking all of creation! Jesus is the first fruits of this new creation (1 Cor. 15:20), a sign for us of what is both happening now and still yet to come. Instead of the temporary salvation offered by political rescue, God invites us to become a part of His heavenly kingdom, where we have the promise of bodily resurrection and eternal peace with God and with each other. This is why the history of Easter Sunday is so important to Christians: it is the day we celebrate the single most important event in human history. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then the things He said about God’s kingdom coming to earth and inviting us to become a part of the new creation are all true.
Since then, spreading the news that Jesus is alive is the primary task of the church. Missionaries traveled far and wide throughout the world to share the fact that Jesus is alive and explain how God’s kingdom is open to all people. In order to spread this news more effectively, missionaries would communicate the history of Easter to people using their own cultural symbols. We can still see some of the artifacts of these cultural adaptations in the eggs and bunnies we see around Easter time. The message of Jesus’ resurrection is just as relevant today as it was in 33 A.D. The recreation work of God is still happening and the invitation to join God’s kingdom is still open to any who will take it today. (Quote source here.)
This past week among the many articles published on the topic of “Holy Week“ leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, I also ran across several articles noting the decline of religion in America today. Bill O’Reilly‘s “Message of the Day,” for today (April 3, 2021), titled, “A Decline in Religion,” sums up what the other articles noted:
I have taken notice of the decline in religion occurring in the USA. A new survey says just 48% of Americans actually participate in an organized religion–that is the lowest number ever recorded in this country.
Now, there are a number of reasons why. Number one, secular values are heavily promoted in the entertainment and news industries. In fact, often traditional religious Americans are openly mocked. We all see it. And that filters down particularly to younger people whose lifestyle and belief systems are not fully formed.
Number two, more and more people do not want to be held accountable for their behavior. Religion does that–the concept of sin. There’s always an excuse for wrongdoing, a rationalization.
And third, it’s all about me these days, is it not? Nothing higher. Whatever is good for me is good in general. Well, that’s not what theology says. Theology says on the Judeo-Christian front, you got to look out for your neighbor. You got to treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s not all about you. (Quote source here.)
I’d like to add a fourth reason to that list which is found in 2 Timothy 3:5. It has to do with those who show an outward display of religion or godliness but there is no real power behind it, which could actually fall under the second and/or third reasons in Bill O’Reilly’s list.
GotQuestions.org answers the question,“What does it mean to have a form of godliness but deny its power in 2 Timothy 3:5?” as follows:
In 2 Timothy 3, the apostle Paul describes the nature of people in the last days. In his description, he warns of people who are characterized as “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (verse 5). Paul then issues this command: “Have nothing to do with such people.”
Paul often uses contrast to emphasize an attribute he wishes to highlight. In 2 Timothy 3:1–4, he gives Timothy a long list of sinful behaviors and attitudes that are contrary to God’s will. In verse 5 he tells Timothy to avoid those who state they are Christians with their mouths—they have a “form” of godliness—but who act as unbelievers—they deny the power of godliness.
Those who have a form of godliness are those who make an outward display of religion. They present themselves as godly, but it is all for show. There is no power behind their religion, as evidenced in the fact that their lives are unchanged. They speak of God and live in sin, and they are fine with that arrangement. As commentator Charles Ellicott wrote, “These, by claiming the title of Christians, wearing before men the uniform of Christ, but by their lives dishonoring His name, did the gravest injury to the holy Christian cause” (Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for English Readers, entry for 2 Timothy 3:5).
These false Christians are destructive. Paul warns that they will “creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts” and that they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6–7, NKJV). He compares them to the wicked magicians who opposed Moses and warns that their folly and corrupt minds will be revealed to all eventually (verses 8–9).
The power of God, which should accompany the form of godliness, is shown through the Holy Spirit and results in the transformation of our lives. The Holy Spirit indwells the believer (1 Corinthians 6:19) and enables him to bear certain fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). These are the attributes of a true Christian, as opposed to Paul’s list of sins in 2 Timothy 3:1–4.
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy falls in line with James’ explanation how to identify a true faith (James 2:14–26). True faith will be evidenced by good works, which will occur naturally. If a person says he is a Christian but shows no evidence in his life by bearing the fruit of the Spirit, we have to make a judgment about him and avoid that person. He may have a form of godliness, but he is denying God’s power by not letting himself be controlled by the Spirit. In fact, if his faith is not genuine, he cannot be controlled by God’s power, because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in him.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural person may have a form of godliness, but he denies God’s power in the way he lives. Only faith in Jesus Christ can bring justification and the transformation he so desperately needs (Colossians 1:21–22; Romans 5:1–2). (Quote source here.)
Second Timothy 3:2-5 lists the type of people to watch out for:
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
We would be hard pressed, if we are honest, to not find something in that list that includes us starting right off with “lovers of themselves.” How about “proud” or “boastful” or “without love”? How about “unforgiving” or “slanderous” (gossip is a big one) or “treacherous”? There is no point in going through the entire list. The picture is pretty clear.
So what does a genuine seeker of God look like?
What are you looking for in life? Be careful what you look for. The Bible tells us that those who seek will find. But you might be seeking wrong things. If you are looking to be rich, you may well end up rich, but also tremendously unhappy and burdened down by the things of this world. You may be looking for fame, for recognition of your accomplishments. In the process of finding that recognition on earth, you may well lose the praise of heaven.
Many have just quit seeking. Living lives of quiet desperation, they simply hope to avoid disaster or pain. Sometimes even Christians can find themselves in the rut of everyday life, with the only thing they are looking for being heaven some day. The pressures of life have stifled desire of any significance, and life is just something to be endured.
Did you know that God never intended for us to live this way? God is actually looking for the discontented. He is looking for seekers, those whose desires are always going beyond the confines of daily life. In 2 Chronicles 16:9 the Word says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” The same concept is expressed in Psalm 14:2, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” I don’t know about you, but I want to be found by the God who is looking for seekers.
What does it mean to be a seeker after God? Does it have any real meaning for us? After all, if we are Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The Lord has promised to be with us always, even until the end of the age. So, is it necessary for a Christian to be a seeker after God?
I believe that King David gives us a wonderful understanding of what it means for a man of God, experiencing the presence of God, to still be a seeker after God. In Psalm 27:4 we read this passionate prayer of a man after God’s own heart: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” If we try to analyze this verse in spatial, literal terms, we find ourselves confused. If David were in God’s temple, gazing upon His face, why would he still be seeking Him?
That’s because seeking God is much more than having one experience and calling it “finding God.” It is much more than believing a certain set of doctrines. It is even much more than having a good prayer life. God is too big to be confined to any one person’s experience or belief system. Seeking God is an attitude, a way of life, a journey that is never complete in this life.
The vastness of God makes the task of seeking Him the journey of a lifetime. Let me give a totally inadequate illustration, but one that may be helpful nonetheless. I always enjoy visiting the Smithsonian Institute when I go to Washington D.C. As you might know, the Smithsonian is made up of dozens of buildings, each housing a particular aspect of man’s knowledge or achievement. So you could go to the Air and Space Museum or the American History Museum or the Portrait Gallery and still say of each, “I went to the Smithsonian.” What would be totally inaccurate would be to go to one of those museums and return home saying: “I have experienced the Smithsonian in its entirety.”
God, of course, dwarfs the Smithsonian, but we sometimes feel like or say, “I know God. I have experienced God. Others need to seek Him, but I have found Him.” That’s like going to one building of the Smithsonian and thinking you have experienced all that the Smithsonian is.
David didn’t fall into that trap. His desire was to spend all of his days in the presence of God, gazing upon His beauty. Yet he also realized with humility, that he would still need to have that seeking heart for the rest of his life.
I believe that to live this life, we must start with prayer. Ask God to give you a seeking heart. Repent of any spiritual lukewarmness or self-satisfaction. All that we have comes from God, even a heart that seeks God. But we must ask Him. We do not just become seekers because we are naturally good and spiritual. We are not! We must ask and receive that gift from God.
Seeking also requires effort. When we have asked and received of the Lord a seeking heart, there will be required of us an earnestness and effort that emerges from the longing for intimacy with God, that God Himself has placed within our hearts.
The path to God is always Jesus. He is the way! There is no other path to God. Seeking God successfully only happens along the pathway that is Jesus. It is in intimacy with the Lord and walking daily in His ways that we find ourselves with a seeking heart that pleases God and draws His eyes and favor upon us.
Here is the good news! Jesus said that all who seek will find. God is not hiding. He longs to be found and known. But His very character and vastness demand a life of seeking. No matter how long we have known Him and walked with Him on this planet, we will still find ourselves learning and experiencing new aspects of who He is. “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Psalms 84:5). (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with the words given by an angel to the women who came to Jesus’ tomb after he was buried (found in Matthew 28:5-6): The angel said to the women–Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified…
He is not here . . .
He has risen . . .
Just as he said . . . .
YouTube Video: “Easter Song” sung by the Worship Team at Northland Church: