What is the most important Christian holiday? Based on the amount of time and money spent on it, you would think the answer is Christmas. But according the Bible, it’s Easter.
While the Christmas story is mentioned briefly in two Gospels, the resurrection is referenced dozens of times, in all four Gospels and in most the epistles. Paul makes it the central theme of his writings. He insists that if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17).
Even Good Friday, which celebrates the death of Jesus on the cross, is meaningless without the resurrection.
Why should the resurrection mean so much to Christians? Here are a few reasons.
It validates everything Jesus said and did. The son of God came to earth to show us how to live a completely new life. But if he had simply taught a new moral code and then died he would have been no better than any other religious leader. It was only by his rising from the dead – conquering death – that everything he said and did took on significance. Otherwise, as Paul says, we have no foundation for our faith.
“If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith.” (1 Cor. 15:14, HCSB)
Through his resurrection we begin living a brand new life through his power.
It gives us new life. When we commit to following Jesus, he doesn’t just make our lives better. We die to the old life we had and through his resurrection we begin living a brand new life through his power.
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” (1 Peter 1:3, HCSB)
It sealed God’s plan to send the Holy Spirit to all humanity. Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit came only to a few people who God selected. But the plan all along had been to send him to all people. The resurrection made it possible to fulfill that plan. Jesus revealed this at the Last Supper.
“’Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you.’” (John 16:17, HCSB)
It gives us eternal life. Jesus’ death on the cross meant the punishment for our sins had been fulfilled. His resurrection meant that he had conquered death, and through him, believers have also been granted freedom from eternal death. While our mortal bodies will die, our souls will live on in eternity in God’s presence.
In John 14:19, Jesus himself proclaimed this. “’In a little while the world will see Me no longer, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live too.’”
Knowing the power of the resurrection should be our goal.
It is our source of power. The Christian life should be lived with great power through God (2 Tim. 1:7). Paul speaks repeatedly of the power of the Gospel, and the point of the Gospel is Jesus’ resurrection. It is by God’s power that Jesus lives. Knowing the power of the resurrection should be our goal, as it was Paul’s.
“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection….” (Phil. 3:10, HCSB)
It is our source of joy. The resurrection is a historical fact; nothing can take that away. When we find our joy in that fact, we will always be able to experience joy, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. That is how Jesus approached the cross because he knew what was to come afterward.
“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” (Heb. 12:1-2, HCSB)
Years ago in college, I was privileged to see a show by a Christian illusionist. His act amazed and delighted me.
Among his magnificent tricks was placing his full-grown assistant into a box and shrinking it down to 1-foot-square cube, making objects disappear and reappear and levitating. Before each act, though, he would say something like, “Nothing you see here is magic. It is all just an illusion.”
Throughout the performance he kept reassuring us that he was an ordinary man who had no magical powers and everything he did was simply a trick of the eyes. I wanted to scream, “Noooo! I’m not that easily fooled!” I preferred to think the illusionist had some special powers rather than that he was fooling me by doing what any ordinary human being could do with the right training and preparation.
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”
There’s a verse in the Bible that reminds me of that magic show. It’s James 5:17, which begins with “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”
Remember the testimony about Elijah in the Old Testament? He prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain for more than three years (1 Kings 17:1), he was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:2), he lived with a widow and her son and caused her meager food supply to never run out (1 Kings 17:13-15) and then raised her son back to life after he died (1 Kings 17:18-24).
But Elijah was barely getting started at this point. He defied the king and his wicked queen (1 Kings 18:17-18), called down fire from heaven in an awesome display of God’s power compared to false idols (1 Kings 18:21-40), brought the rain back (1 Kings 18:41-44) and outran a chariot pulled by horses (1 Kings 18:46).
Want more? He was fed by an angel (1 Kings 19:5-7), felt God’s presence and heard His voice in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13), prophesied the death of the evil Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 21:20-24), called down more fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10-15), parted the waters of the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8) and was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). And then Elijah appeared with Moses alongside Jesus (Matt. 17:3).
Yep, Elijah sounds just like every other human being I know.
Seeing the assertion from James that Elijah was an ordinary human with no special powers blows my mind, much like the amazing illusionist I saw. I prefer to think that he was some special godly creature.
Because if what James said is true, then it means any of us – including me – should be able to perform at least some of what Elijah did. Seem laughable? In our own power it is, but James’ prologue to his statement about Elijah is, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
What brought about all the miracles and awesome display of power by Elijah? His righteousness. What made Elijah righteous? His utter dependence on God and his willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him (not that he didn’t have doubts – at one point he thought he was the only righteous person left in Israel and expected to die at Jezebel’s hands).
God is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us.
Since Pentecost, all true followers of Christ have his spirit, the Holy Spirit, living in us. He is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us. Can we raise the dead, call down fire from heaven and part a river? Absolutely not! But the Holy Spirit could through us.
In all likelihood, we won’t be called on to do the more showy works that Elijah did because we’re living in a different time. More likely, the Spirit’s work in our lives will be to give us joy and peace in times of turmoil, to give us the words to speak at the right time and to lead others to following Christ. But he also might give us the power to end travesties like sex trafficking, abortion and lethargy in our churches.
And that, unlike the amazing illusionist, would not be a trick of the eyes. It would be demonstration of God’s power that is as real and available to us today as it was to an ordinary human like Elijah.
Ordinary human beings rock – when we allow the Holy Spirit to move through us!