The Power of Easter
by Greg Heisler
The use of the word "fantasy" to describe dead people coming to life intrigues me. I am preaching through Mark's gospel on Sunday mornings, and I do not believe the centurion who was at the foot of the cross would describe the death of Jesus as fantasy (Mark 15:39).
I also do not believe those first eyewitnesses who went to the tomb on Sunday morning created a "fantasy" in their minds to help them cope with the death of their beloved Jesus. They went to the tomb looking for a real body, because they witnessed a real crucifixion.
I also do not believe the early church viewed the resurrection as a fantasy. How many of us would give our lives to die for a lie that we knew was not true? Or worse yet, who would willingly and courageously die for a fantasy that we knew was not true? And if the Romans wanted to subdue this movement of Jesus followers, why not just expose their fantasy for what it was? Produce the body of Jesus, and this movement of Jesus followers will easily fall apart from the inside out. Yet, no body was ever produced. And believers died for the cause of Christ.
For the early church, the resurrection of Christ from the grave was the cornerstone of their faith. The church was born by the spirit on the day of Pentecost according to the book of Acts. Study the sermons preached in Acts, and you will find them constantly coming back to the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Peter is preaching in Acts 4 when he says, "Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. ..." Peter would not let anyone forget the horrible, cruel death of the cross, nor would he let his audience forget the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God.
In Acts 5:30, Peter says, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death, by hanging him on the cross."
The cross of Christ and the resurrection of Christ were no "fantasy" to the early church -- they were the bedrock foundation of their faith.
In I Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul reveals the gospel of the early church in a nutshell: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."
What Scriptures is Paul referring to? When examining Scriptures related to dying for our sin, there's no better place to start than Isaiah 53:5: "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our sins." What about his resurrection? According to Jesus in Matthew 12, the story of Jonah is a foreshadowing of his resurrection: "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
Again, the death and resurrection of Jesus is not fantasy -- it's not imaginary, the folklore of the early church. The gospel is predicted by Scripture and fulfilled by Jesus -- it is not the making of human invention or fantasy, but God's plan on redemption revealed in the Bible.
Easter is a celebration of the gospel, because the Gospel is humanity's hope. The Gospel is God's answer to the reality of our fallen world, steeped in sin. Jesus' mission is simple but profound -- reconciling rebellious sinners to a holy God through his death on the cross.
Our sins created a debt we could not pay; Jesus paid a debt he did not owe, but willingly laid down his sinless life as payment for sinful lives. Amazingly, by faith, we exchange our sinfulness for his forgiveness. We confess our unrighteousness, and by grace he clothes us with his righteousness.
How do we know God accepted his sacrifice for sin? Three days later, God raised Jesus to life to demonstrate his acceptance of his perfect sacrifice, and to give us hope that we, too, can be raised with Christ to eternal life in glory.
The empty tomb is the ultimate reversal of sin's curse -- it's how we know that death does not have the final say over us. Christ's triumph over death, by death, takes the sting out of death for the believer:
"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Death could not hold Christ in its grip. And for believers who trust in him, it cannot hold them either. This is the power of Easter. This is the power of the empty tomb.
This Easter, believers all over the world will rejoice over the empty tomb. Will you be one of them?
Editor's note: Greg Heisler is the senior pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 3505 Bamboo Road in Boone. For more information, call (828) 266-9700, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.mvbcb.org.