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)
Joy to the world! It’s a popular expression at this time of year as we focus on celebrating the birth of Jesus.
We sing about joy in song, post it on walls and send it in Christmas cards. Joy is all around us. Right?
Unfortunately, not always. The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, can be a tough time for many people. (Although it is frequently reported that suicides increase during this time, statistical analysis shows that the rate actually declines right before Christmas.) People dealing with their first Christmas following the death of a loved one, losing a job, dealing with exes and step-children during the Christmas week, going into debt to buy gifts, negative family situations – all of these and more can leave people feeling anything but joyous at the holiday season. This is even true for many Christians.
So why doesn’t the joy from the Christmas carols translate into real lasting joy?
For starters, many people rely on their circumstances or their relationships to bring them joy. At this time of year, they also hope to derive joy from the songs, sights and traditions of the season.
According to scripture, we can be full of joy even when our circumstances are less than ideal.
They are, however, confusing happiness with joy. Happiness depends on things going well for us. But according to scripture, we can be full of joy even when our circumstances are less than ideal.
Jesus and the apostles often talked about joy in the midst of persecution and suffering. Jesus endured the suffering of the cross because of the joy he knew would result from it (Heb. 12:2); the Macedonian churches exhibited great joy during affliction and deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2); the Hebrew churches accepted with joy having their possessions seized from them (Heb. 10:34); and Peter urged his readers to rejoice when suffering for Christ (1 Peter 4:13).
So if not the circumstances, where does the Bible tell us to find our joy? Surprisingly, it’s not in the birth of Jesus, which is when we most commonly think of joy. Not that we aren’t to rejoice at his birth – the wise men were overjoyed beyond measure when they saw him, and the angel told the shepherds that Jesus’ birth signaled great joy for the world.
But other than the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ birth is never mentioned again.
Instead, we read that we derive joy from entering into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:34), serving God faithfully (Matt. 25:21), the repentance of sinners (Luke 15:4-10; Acts 15:3; Rom. 4:7-8) and living out our faith (Phil. 2:2; 1 Peter 1:8-9).
Jesus’ birth was the promise of joy; his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of it.
Primarily, though, our joy is in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this fact that makes our salvation possible, gives us our entrance into the Kingdom, empowers us to live out our faith and offers us hope for eternal life after death. Jesus’ birth was the promise of joy; his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of it.
Notice that the death and resurrection is a fact. We don’t hope that Jesus will die for us and then be raised to life. It already happened, in a specific time and place, nearly 2,000 years ago. It validated everything Jesus said and did.
And because it already took place, we know that we already have all the things Jesus promised (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Since that is true, we can live life in great joy, no matter our circumstances. Whether we have abundance, health and are surrounded by loved ones, or we’re persecuted, destitute and bereft of close relationships, we still have the same source of joy anchored in a fact that already happened. That source of joy can never be revoked or taken away from us.
People and situations will eventually disappoint us. Jesus never will.
That is so much better than relying on circumstances or relationships as a source of joy. People and situations will eventually disappoint us. Jesus never will.
The fourth verse of the hymn Joy to the World says, “He rules the world, with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love.”
The wonder of his love is not just that he came into the world, born in a stable, but that he died to cleanse us of sin, and rose again to give us new life in him. That truly is joy in our world.