I have a friend who teaches New Testament courses at a nearby graduate school. She’s articulate, well-studied, and insightful in her writings about Jesus and His first-century context. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from her and I count her as a trusted friend.
Did I mention that she is Jewish? While she admires Jesus for His teachings and His understanding of human nature, she doesn’t believe Jesus is the Messiah, and she doesn’t believe in the resurrection. Needless to say, we have some very interesting conversations and challenging debates. I will give her this: she keeps me on my toes.
One day we were talking about how pastors should be prepared for their ministries, and we got on the subject of the weaknesses and strengths of seminary education. Without any warning, she turned to me and said, “If you were the president of a seminary, could I teach on your faculty?”
I looked back at her and said, “No, you could not.”
She wanted to know why not. I had come to expect that kind of follow-up question from her. I’m not just going to give an answer without having to explain the process that allowed me to arrive at my decision. She reminded me that she was better qualified than most people I would hire. True. She told me that she had been published more than most people I could hire. Again, true. She told me that she was a better professor, a better teacher, than most I could hire. Again, all true.
“Then why wouldn’t you hire me?”
“Because you don’t believe in the resurrection. How can we train Christian ministers to work in Christian churches if you tell them that the resurrection didn’t happen?”
That led to an intense discussion about the alternative viewpoints of the resurrection, how the church has historically understood the resurrection, and what it means to follow the Risen Christ.
“I know all of that,” I said. I know all of the alternative suggestions and reasons that are given about why the resurrection couldn’t have happened. I know about the confusion of the gospel accounts. I know all of that and yet, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christ was indeed raised from the dead and He conquered death in the process. I believe Jesus is alive now and able to bring life from death through the Spirit of God.
You can’t stand up on Easter Sunday morning and preach, “Maybe…” You have to be able to declare, “He’s alive!” with every fiber of your being. If you can’t do that, then don’t preach. Don’t preach on Easter or any other Sunday for that matter.
Easter matters because if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead—if Jesus is still dead—then He can’t help, and we need His help. We desperately need His help…
…because we’re all dying. In big ways and little ways, but we’re dying just the same. That’s why all of us love the ending of Romans 7. Is there anyone who can help us? Right here? Right now?
It’s not just Easter that’s at stake. It’s every day. One of the things I love about being the pastor of a local church is that you get close to people’s lives. The one thing I hate about being the pastor of a local church is that you get into people’s lives. There are a lot of days I walk around wishing I didn’t know what I know.
The old preachers used to tell me to preach “as a dying man to dying men.” It would be several years until I fully understood the truth of that statement.
All of my people are dying, some in big ways. They’ve been to the doctor during the week and been told there’s nothing more the doctor can do. They’ve buried a husband or a wife in the past several days. They’re struggling with the hardest questions of life. Does living mean anything? Is death the final word?
What does Easter mean to them?
Some of my people are dying in little ways. A marriage is fraying. Despite all of their efforts, this couple can’t find love again. Something very precious is slipping away. Who can help? What’s left to say?
An addict starts using again. He knows his habit is killing him, but he can’t find the strength to get free. Can Jesus still defeat death? Even when death is in the pill bottle by your bed?
One of our students didn’t get into graduate school. Now what? All of the dreams—all of the promises of the future—are now in the trash can wadded up in the last rejection letter. What’s left? Get a job and work until you die? Can Jesus defeat death when it kills you one dream at a time?
Sometimes, on the Sunday after Easter, I will read the familiar passage of the disciples being surprised by the resurrection of Jesus. We hear the story of despair giving way to hope, of death being buried by life. Jesus was raised from the dead and He’s alive now!
Yes, that means nothing can separate us from Him or His love for us. It means that when we die, He’ll bring us to be with Him. He won’t allow death to have the last word in our lives.
And He won’t allow death to have the final word in our days. Christ has defeated death—the final and ultimate destroyer of our lives and meaning, and Christ has defeated all of the little deaths we experience in the days until then.
Broken marriages can be healed.
Addicts can be set free.
Dreams can be put back together into better dreams—the dreams we would have wanted if we had known they were even possible.
No, you can’t preach on Easter Sunday if you don’t believe in Easter.
In fact, you can’t live on Monday or Tuesday or any other day of the week if you don’t believe death has ultimately been conquered and all of the little deaths in between have been conquered too.
Happy Easter. Jesus is alive. And that makes all of the difference.