Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.
Many are beginning to question pagan idolatry that has entered the Christian celebration of Easter. Where did we get bunnies and eggs and ham and candy? There seems to be a general consensus that many of these customs were assimilated into Christianity during the early centuries of the Church, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water! We must ask, “How important is it to believe in the resurrection on Easter and to honor God for this event?” I would like to make three points about God’s raising Yeshua the Messiah from the dead that demands our respect and worship.
First, let me draw your attention to the “if” clause in Romans 10:9. “If you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved.” This certainly sounds like simply believing in the Messiah, the son of God, is not enough, but that belief in the resurrection is also essential. However, here is an important question. Must we take this extraordinary event, raising a dead person to life, by blind faith? I think that ultimately it comes down to faith, but we do have evidence that the resurrection actually occurred.
The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, who was a contemporary of the events of Yeshua, refers in his Antiquities to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” There is then a controversial verse in The Antiquities (18:3) that says, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats....He was [the] Christ...he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.” One version of Josephus has come down to us in a different version, which has led scholars to suggest that the passage was later edited by Christians. There have been attempts to reconstruct the original without much success. However, the important point is that Josephus wrote about Jesus, his resurrection, and the committed belief of his followers.
By the way, The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a), which was composed at a much later time than the resurrection, confirms Jesus' crucifixion on the eve of Passover. As a point of interest, this passage in the Talmud also contains accusations against Christ for practicing sorcery and encouraging Jewish apostasy.
So, my first point is that Scripture tells us it is essential that we believe in the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead. Ultimately, this belief comes down to faith in that event. However, there is some evidence that the resurrection actually occurred.
My second point is this. The first Christians became so excited by the news of the resurrection that signs and miracles were happening all around them. I suggest we focus, not on the signs and miracles, but on the excitement that led to these wondrous events. If we can recapture that original excitement, I firmly believe that signs and wonders will follow.
On the Day of Pentecost, listen to Peter as he cried these exciting words. “God raised Jesus up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24). Consider the “agony of death.” The older we become, the more we must face the finality of this agonizing end. Death is final, and totally destroys the life that we have been living. Yet, the resurrection has put an end to this agony for those who understand what the resurrection of the Messiah represents. "I am the resurrection and the life,” explains Yeshua. “He who believes in me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25).
I think the account that best captures the excitement of the news of the resurrection is recorded at the end of Peter’s dramatic speech on the Day of Pentecost. We learn that those who heard Peter “were pierced to the heart” (Acts 2:37). If we read Peter’s speech in Acts 2:14-36, perhaps we also will be “pierced to the heart” with the same excitement. Peter’s message was so powerful that, on that day, “there were added about three thousand souls” who accepted the message with fervor and wished to be baptized (Acts 2:41). We must try to return to that fervor about the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead.
My third point is perhaps the most important. We know that the resurrection of Yeshua points to the future resurrection of all those with faith in him. That alone is exciting, but the resurrection also points to something powerful in our lives today! You don’t have to wait for future eternal life with God to claim the power of the resurrection in your life now. If your heart is pierced by the exciting news of the resurrection, and you respond like the 3,000 souls on the Day of Pentecost, you should be performing signs and miracles in your daily walk with the Lord Yeshua.
Listen again to Yeshua’s words that he is the resurrection and the life, and take careful of what follows the “and” as well as the word “never”. "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies [referring to something future], AND everyone who lives and believes in me will NEVER die” (John 11:25-26). I don’t know about you, but I certainly know many people who have lived a life of faith in Christ, but they died. So, we can’t say that they never died. What does it mean that “everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”? I suggest this second part of the verse is not referring to future eternal life with God but to true life in Christ in our lives today.
The Apostle Paul gives us the answer to our question: “What does it mean that we will never die?” Listen to Paul’s word first, and then I will explain my understanding of the meaning.
“We have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom 6:4-5).
- “We have been buried with him through baptism into death” – The ritual of baptism is symbolic of washing away sin. By removing all the sin in our lives we become righteous, which is the condition that is required to come into the presence of the Righteous God. The Messiah’s death on the cross is a metaphor for the death of sin. If we stand on that understanding and walk in it (which is another way of saying faith in what Yeshua accomplished on the cross), we destroy the sin that is present in our lives.
- “Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father” – Our focus should be on glorifying God. We do this by believing what God accomplished through His son, the Messiah, when He resurrected him from death to life.
- “So we might walk in newness of life” – When we get rid of sin in our lives, we look sin in the face and say, “You are dead!” Then we are raised to a newness of life without sin. This newness of life is righteous and in harmony with our God so that we can come into His presence, both now in our daily walk from time to time and at the end of time in complete newness of life.
- “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death…” – This is an “if” clause. If we are in the likeness of the Messiah’s death, then we have put sin to death in our lives. That is, we have crucified the sin in our lives on the cross. Putting sin to death is a goal for which we strive, and we only accomplish it from time to time. But when we do, there is something wonderful that happens. Read what comes next!
- “We shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” – The resurrection transforms us from a life of death in sin to a newness of life with God.
So, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Let’s continue to celebrate Easter but with the fervor and excitement of the early Christians. Let us commit to a life that declares of sin, “You are dead!” And then, we will be walking in the newness of life that the resurrection has made possible.
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