On that first Easter morning, no one was looking forward expectantly to seeing an empty tomb. The Gospels contain several accounts of what happened that morning, and not one of them includes any evidence of anyone expecting to see the tomb empty, expecting to see Jesus alive, or initially responding with anything other than sorrow, dread or doubt when it was discovered that the tomb was indeed empty. From our 21st century vantage point it can be easy to look back at the disciplines and others and think, “How could you not get it? Were you not listening at all to what Jesus told you?” After all, Jesus had certainly explained to His followers that He was going to die…and that He was going to rise again. As is so often the case with looking back on events of the past from the perspective of our added knowledge, though, I think it would be foolish to think that I would not have reacted in the same way had I been there.
The exciting thing about Easter, though, is that the confused and fearful reactions of those who first discovered the empty tomb were quickly replaced by joy, praise, gratitude and exhilaration once they realized the truth…Jesus IS ALIVE!
I borrowed the title of this entry from one of my favorite Easter songs. The song includes these lines:
Then came the morning, night turned into day;
The stone was rolled away, hope rose with the dawn.
Then came the morning, shadows vanished before the sun,
Death had lost and life had won, for morning had come.
There are many songs about Easter, and Christ’s triumph over death, hell and Satan that I love to sing. Some are old hymns, some are new songs, but what they have in common is the celebration of the dramatic change in circumstances that is captured in the lyric above–night turned to day; shadows vanished before the sun light; death lost and life won. HOPE had risen!
There is nothing more exciting to read, and more foundational to the Christian faith, than the biblical account of that first Easter Sunday…
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10 (ESV)
It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that separates Christianity from any other religion. It is because Jesus rose from the grave, conquering death, that we who have accepted Christ can have the hope of eternal life in heaven with God rather than an eternal life in hell, separated from God. It is because the perfect Son of God took the sins of the world upon Him, suffered and died to pay the penalty for those sins, and arose victorious that we have any hope at all.
The apostle Paul makes very clear the importance of the resurrection…
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (ESV)
If Jesus Christ did not rise from the grave, we have no reason to hope. Everything else in the Bible is in vain. It is all worthless. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which all other elements of the Christian faith rest. Without it, it counts for naught. So praise God that Paul did not stop writing in verse 19, but went on in verse 20 to write, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”