WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT EASTER DAY?
On Sunday, March 31, 2013, about two billion people on planet earth will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by the Romans and Jewish authorities occurred over two thousand years ago, yet the Cross of Christ remains the most perplexing event in all of human history. Off-course the crucifixion of Christ was brutal and barbaric, yet Christ atoning death on the Cross still remains the pivotal event of the gospel message and His resurrection the central event of the good news of the kingdom. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity. Without it, Christianity will be a tale.
For years, I have been asked questions about the Cross, about Christ’s death, His resurrection, about Easter celebration, about the Church and so forth. I have read arguments for and against. I have read from atheists and doubters. On this Easter Day, I’ll like to answer few of them to explain what makes Easter Day and celebration so special for Christians.
1. Why do Christians celebrate Christ resurrection on Easter Day, which has pagan origin?
As you know, in Christian faith, no other Holy Day can match Good Friday and Easter Sunday. While the feast of Easter was first celebrated in the second century, it wasn't until the Roman Emperor Constantine called “The Council of Nicaea” in 325 A.D., that a date was officially pronounced. One debate of that Council was whether the observance of Easter should follow the Jewish custom of holding Passover on a weekday or should be on a Sunday. During the Council debate, it was decided to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. Later the date of March 21 was selected as the Vernal Equinox. Like so many early Christian holidays, the actual day selected for Easter celebration was as much a political decision as it was a symbolic one.
2. Why was Jesus Christ crucified?
The Jews and Roman authorities crucified Jesus because He claimed to be the Son of God, which is tantamount to being God (Matthew 26:63-65) and in so doing the Scripture was fulfilled. The portrait of Jesus as Messiah was not easy swallow for the Jewish Israel to understand and accept. The Scribes and Pharisees considered Jesus a heretic because he claimed to be the “Messiah.” Jesus did not meet the expectations of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were looking for a charismatic political leader to deliver them from the Roman occupation. The crucifixion of Christ is the vilest wickedness in all of human history. Crucifixion is a malicious manner to murder or kill someone. It is a wicked way to kill a human being, an innocent person for that matter.
However, we have to understand that those who crucified Jesus were not really bad people but blind people. They were not wicked people but people without the wisdom of God. They were humanly wise and self-righteous elite of the day who knew the Old Testament Scriptures better than anyone yet; they did not know the God of the Scriptures. When God showed up in the flesh, they did not recognize Him. They were not really wicked but ignorant, misguided and stupid men who thought that they were doing God a favor. The Apostle Paul was that kind of man until the glory of Christ met him on a Damascus road. We still have such religious zealots in the various religious organizations today.
Biblically and spiritually, Christ resurrection marked the reconciliation between God and mankind thus opened the doors of resurrection for all who will believe in Him (see John 11:25-26).
3. Why did Jesus Christ have to die?
There are hundreds of prophecies in the Bible as well as Jesus statements alluding to His death on the Cross and His resurrection. For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew 16:21, Jesus declared that, "He must die." The Greek word ‘dei,’ is an impersonal verb, which means that it is a necessity or must. It is the strongest Greek word to express necessity. Christ death on the cross was voluntarily self-imposed. Jesus gave him up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Christ died to accomplish God's eternal purposes. In the Gospel of John 12:27, He stated, "No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father glorify your name.” In Revelation 13:8, "He is the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” He was chosen before the foundation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake (1 Peter.1: 19-20).
4. What is the significance of Christ death?
The biblical reason of Christ crucifixion remains the central message of the Gospel message. The crucifixion of Christ is the means by which God provided salvation and forgiveness for the sins of mankind. It is a supreme demonstration of God’s love toward sinful mankind (John 3:16). The prophet Isaiah summarized the human condition: “We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousness are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Even the high priest, Joshua, in his exalted position among God’s people, was clothed in filthy rags before God (Zechariah 3:3). The apostle Paul, who labored arduously to be righteous before God, realized that his most strenuous efforts to please God were no more valuable than rubbish (Philippians 3:4-10). The plight of humanity is that nothing we could ever do could satisfy God’s desire for righteousness. But the miracle of God’s mercy is that God exchanges our filthy rags for rich robes of righteousness (Zechariah 3:4). In this awesome exchange, God placed the sin of humanity upon His righteous Son. Jesus became so identified with our sin that Scripture says God made Him to be sin on our behalf. Christ bore the excruciating pain of our sin upon the cross. He endured the worst physical and spiritual suffering for sinful humanity.
Therefore, Christ sacrificial death on the cross was for the forgiveness, justification and redemption of lost humanity. The precious blood of Christ was shed for the remission of sin. His blood is a perfect and efficacious act that satisfied the demand of God’s holiness for ever. The message of the Cross is a supreme act of God to help the afflicted, heal the wounded and reclaim lost humanity. It established Christ reign all over the nations, provides eternal life and activated the exaltation and glorification of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
5. Did Christ actually rise from the dead?
In Acts 10:39-40, the apostle Paul writes, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. When the three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome went early Sunday morning to pay their last respects to Jesus by anointing His body with spices. The three women had all they need for the anointing, except for access to the body of Jesus. Who would roll the great stone from the mouth of the tomb?
Suddenly when they looked up they had a terrible shock: the stone had been rolled away already and there a young man in the cave, but no Jesus. Then the divine messenger spoke to them:
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go; tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you” (Mark 16:6-7).
6. What is the significance of Christ resurrection?
If the crucifixion of Christ is the means by which God provided salvation and forgiveness for the sins of mankind, Christ resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Crucifixion and resurrection are the central message of Christian Theology and the major defense of its teaching. The resurrection is the pivotal point of Christian Theology and Apologetics. While crucifixion is the central event of the good news of the kingdom, Christ resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity. It is the divine truth of Christian faith.
Christ resurrection marked the beginning of His exaltation as Lord and Christ, God anointed Jesus—King, Prophet and Priest in the heavenly throne. In raising Jesus from the dead, God proclaimed Him to be the divinely appointed Judge of the world and the provider of salvation for mankind. His resurrection provided the believer the divine guarantee of His justification and reconciliation. The believer is indeed reconciled to God and made righteous.
7. Does the Church today look like what Christ and apostles established more than two millennium ago?
No. Dr. Hank Hanegraaf, president of Christian Research Institute in California and one of the fearless Christian apologists, in his book, “Christianity in Crisis” prophetically and passionately argued that modern-day “Christianity is in crisis.” He argued that the church is undergoing a major transformation and that Christians have embraced another gospel, another Jesus, a gospel of false promises of prosperity, healing, signs and wonders. George Barna, the famous church consultant, researcher and writer also supports Dr. Hanegraaf postulations that the church is dying due to lack of sound Bible teachers and strong Church leaders.
Both men and many other proponents of the crisis in the Church are right. There no doubt that Christianity is in crisis. In his best seller, “Crisis in the Village,” Dr. Robert M. Franklin, a public theologian and intellectual, wrote that the “Church has lost her moral mission, call and commitment.” Today baby boomers and the new “millennials” are flooding to churches and synagogues because of widespread hunger for meaning and many bring aversion to such traditional teachings such as sin, evil, forgiveness, commitment, even truth itself. As a result, what we have today in many large churches is “designer gospel message” and “religious syncretism” where the gospel are re-packaged to suit those who want a faith to satisfy their “felt need,” the gospel message that “God wants you to be rich.” “Send money as a step of faith and God will bless you message.” “Give a $1,000 pledge and God will bless you.” Name it claims it.” “Give to get rich message.” “100 fold return-blessing and even 1000 times return” is another gospel, a different gospel from what Jesus Christ taught.
The Apostle Paul dedicated the entire epistle of Timothy teaching against false prophets, false doctrines and godlessness in the last days. He warns Timothy, his son in the ministry to flee from such things.
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (Second Timothy 4:3-4).
In Second Timothy 3:1-5, Paul warns,
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 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.”
C. S. Lewis, the famous Oxford apologist for the faith, wrote:
“We must return to Christianity in order to preserve the things we value. But we cannot return to Christianity at all unless the thing we value above all else is Christ….. Otherwise, we are in effect, asking to save our idols for us.”
What we have today is a perverted church; a church that is totally misconstrued, misguided and misinformed where spiritual witchcraft and biblical ignorance are in abundance. What we have today is a church that is bewitched, a church that is preaching and teaching another gospel; another Jesus and a message of “get rich and get healed theology.” The church was called upon to uphold the honor, glory and authority of Christ on planet earth. Instead of upholding this divine mandate with dignity, the church and her former rebellious and satanic leaders have been deceived and trampled upon by demons of antichrist and cultic and pharisaic associations where the presence of God is completely absent and self and pride are enthroned. What we have today are church buildings where sin, wickedness, witchcraft and all manners evil are practiced and people accept it so; multi million dollar buildings and temples where the spirit of Christ has been thrown out and Satan himself is enthroned on the altar. No wonder atrocities such as the ones we read in our newspapers and watch on television are happening every day.
The Church must pray for revival and renewal. I believe and agree with Rev. D. Peter C. Moore, that the Church that God cherishes is one that is “Evangelical in Teaching, Catholic in Sacrament, Reformed in Doctrine, Charismatic in Ministry Gifts, and Liberal in Ethos and Global in Scope.”
Anything else is just humanistic and designer religion.
8. What about those who denigrate the Church, Christianity and Pastors!
For those who denigrate Christianity or the existence of God, King David wrote, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:1).
The Apostle Paul writes, “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one. One day, God will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent He will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:19)
Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is a new way of life and living given by God and revealed to mankind through the divinely inspired writers. Christianity is not a religion of the Jewish people. Christianity is not Western religion either. It is a new way of thinking and living empowered by the Holy Spirit. For those who blame religion for the problems in the world—especially Africa, which has been described a bloody continent because of religious intolerance, violence and killings, you are absolutely incorrect in your assessment. Nigeria-Africa’s problem is not religion but religious intolerance and ignorance as well as incompetence, ethnicity, and bad leadership.
It is sad that Africans intellectuals blame God, religion, and Church for our woes—which are not true. There is no doubt that there are many atrocities, pervasion, godlessness, deception, manipulation, false doctrine and false prophets now rampant in our society, but those are not Africa’s problem. I also wish the so-called African intellectuals will read African exegetical Christian writers such as Minucius Felix, Clement, Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Marius Victorinus, Lactantius, all born before Athanasius and then Didymus, Arnobius of Sicca, Optatus, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Shenute of Atripe, Quodvultdeus, Victor of Vita, Fulgentius and others, who shaped the Church’s liturgy, prayers, confessions and even Holy Scriptures. Africa is the seed-bed of Christianity and therefore, not an imported religion.
Despite the intellectual, liberal and pagan attacks on Christianity, against the illogical reasoning of the Cross, Christianity still remains the only faith that makes more sense. The Church is still God’s number one agenda for His creation. It is through the Church that mankind can be redeemed. One of the most controversial and castigated attacks on Christianity is its assertion and claim to absolute truth. Christianity is the only faith with claims to absolute truth. The Church is the custodian of that divine truth. Jesus made those assertions in the gospel of John 14 to Apostle Thomas who doubted Jesus’ resurrection. After Thomas saw and touched Jesus’ hands, Church history documented that Thomas went to India where he preached to millions of Indians who were worshiping many deities. Jesus also said, “I am the way and the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Pilate, the Roman general asked him, ‘what is truth? (John 18:38). The Romans and Jews killed Jesus because of who claimed to be—the Truth, King, Messiah, and God. No other religion or spiritual guru made such claims.
The crucifixion of Jesus is not a tragedy to Christianity or mere incident of Christ’s human life but a supreme purpose for which Jesus came into the world. There could not have been a resurrection without crucifixion. While Christ crucifixion is the central message of Christianity, Christ resurrection is the wonder that distinguishes Christianity from the other three thousand religious beliefs scattered across the globe. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity. It is the central message and the power of God to redeem lost humanity.
I wish you peace, joy and the blessings of Christ resurrection power.
Written By Dr. C. Kingston Ekeke