On the first day of the week we worship because Christ rose from the dead; the first day changes all the other days for good. Likewise, His resurrection, though only something that happened once, is just the first of many in a different way. He will not rise from the dead again, but because He did many more will after Him.
Paul told the Corinthians,
in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20–23, ESV)
On the first day of the week we remember the first fruits. “First fruits” is one Greek word, ἀπαρχή, a word that refers to the beginning that represented more. Just as there is no need for an outline without at least two points, so a first signals us to look for a second, for a succession. Paul called Jesus the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18), the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).
We are an army of new men, the offspring of His offering. Supernatural life was breathed into us. We have hope not only in this life but in the life to come. We are no people to be pitied, we are a people purchased and raised and promised the glory of an imperishable body. Jesus is the first fruits and we are part of the rest of the resurrection harvest.
It appears that Americans will have spent more money for Easter this year than they did for Valentine’s Day (ht: Al Mohler). When it comes to the commercialization of holidays, Easter may not be quite as marketed for money-making as Christmas, but it is multiplying like bunnies.
What most people are buying most is candy. I remember getting candy on Easter when I was a kid, and we often give candy to our kids, too.
Is this a bad thing? Is it a sign of our compromise, or worse, of our loss of respect for Christ’s bloody sacrifice for sin and miraculous, world- resurrection?
It certainly could be. Buying candy and giving it as a gift (and eating it) isn’t necessarily Christian, nor does chocolate and peanut butter obviously make one think of the cross or the empty tomb. Candy consumption could be thoughtless. It could be sacrilegious.
But what other worldview would ever make sharing sweets a cultural thing to do? Bacchus was the god of partying, and there was much feasting and drinking done in his name, but it always led to men and women losing inhibitions, and usually someone ended up dead. Serving Bacchus resulted in ecstatic rage and the shedding of blood. Materialism doesn’t offer a good basis either. Mammon is a god to many, but how did the candy company executives and advertisers and store owners convince so many consumers to buy tasty yet otherwise useless candy?
We eat sweets (and other feasting foods) to remember winter’s end, not to try to forget winter’s inevitable return. We buy and give and share candy because Christ’s resurrection has established a world of buying and giving and sharing. We don’t party before offering sacrifice, we rejoice because the sacrifice was already offered and accepted. For it even to be possible to commercialize Easter, Easter had to be effective, otherwise we would all be fearful of immanent judgment and eternal death. We should not be thoughtless, but because Jesus is risen from the dead, think about how much we have to be thankful for.
Based on how the calendar works this year, Easter Sunday and Tax Day in the United States fell within two days of each other. Jesus often used economic vocabulary and asked some critical questions about our accounting categories. What is the price tag on your soul?
In Matthew 16 Jesus told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem and would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised. They didn’t understand this. Peter even tried to argue Jesus out of it. Following that conversation, Jesus told His disciples how they too must take up a cross and follow Him. While that might sound difficult, He asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (verse 26)
This is a rhetorical question based on accounting principles. There is not one possible gain, but two, and likewise there are two possible losses. One can gain the world and lose his life or one gain gain his life and lose the world.
Only those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will find it (verse 25). Only those willing to count everything as loss for sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord understand the gain. Only those who die will get a return.
On Sunday I asked our church, “What would make today a profitable Easter Sunday?” As Christians we can do many things for Christ’s sake. But by way of testing our hearts, could everything else be counted loss if you gained more of Christ? Would you give up your new Easter outfit, your family traditions? Would you give up your theological library for simple trust in Christ? Would you give up your job, your reputation? Are there any good things are keeping you from beholding Him better?
If you could have whatever you wanted, what would you want? If you could define yourself by anything, what would you want said about you? There is more than one good way to answer those questions as Christians, and certainly a variety of vain answers for unbelievers. But, at least in one place, the apostle Paul wrote that he wanted nothing more than a resurrection relationship.
He listed his religious assets early in Philippians 3, reasons he had for being confident in his flesh. These were the very things he counted “loss for the sake of Christ.” Then he revealed his value system in two sentences.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8–11)
A Christian want list: knowing Christ, gaining Christ, found in Christ, showing Christ’s sufferings, imitating Christ’s death, and attaining Christ’s resurrection. Christ has made us His own. He fellowships with us now. He promises to raise us from the dead so that we will fellowship with Him without end.
The communion table gives us a taste and increases our wants for the power of His resurrection. No other bread endures to eternal life. No other cup satisfies. When we identify with Him here by faith, He will identify with us and raise us up on the last day. That will be gain.
If Christ is not risen from the dead, then we are all still in our sins. Christians believe that Christ is risen from the dead, but that does not mean that all are out of their sins. Christ is risen but not all believe in Him. Those who believe in the resurrected Savior know His justifying work. Those who do not believe in Him will know His judgement.
Christians celebrate the resurrection because judgement is over. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The propitiation and resurrection of Jesus shows that God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” For those outside of Christ, however, all those who do not trust in His sacrifice, justice will be done as they are punished for their sins.
God has appointed Jesus “to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5). That means that every man in every generation must deal with Him and the issue is sin. We have all “sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sin deserves death, and the Judge doesn’t miss any evidence or overlook any offenses. Unless we are forgiven we will be punished.
As believers in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, we mourn our sin that cost the spotless Lamb His life. The more mature we become and the more we taste holiness, the more we hate sin past and present. The sweetness of our salvation contrasts with the bitterness of our rebellion.
We have burst out in anger and hatred, envied the positions and possessions of other, glutted ourselves on the world, been lazy, lied, lusted, slandered, and worshiped things or persons or ideas over God. We deserved His judgment. The good news is “that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” because He is risen from the dead.
The great resurrection chapter is 1 Corinthians 15. We are partaking of communion on Palm Sunday, a week before we celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. This is the most difficult and the most glorious time of the year on the church calendar. We should remember the history.
On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey and many hailed Him as the Messiah. On Monday Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleansed His Father’s house for the second time. On Tuesday He taught on Mt. Olivet and Judas agreed on a price for betrayal. On Wednesday we don’t know exactly what Jesus did. On Thursday Jesus ate the Passover Meal with His men, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed by Judas, and tried. On Friday Jesus was tried again and again, beaten over and over, crucified, and buried. There is no record of events on the Sabbath, but by early the following Sunday the tomb was empty.
This is “of first importance.” “Christ died for our sins,” “he was buried,” and “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the outline of the gospel story. Is any part of it figurative? The death? The burial? The resurrection? The 500 witnesses (in verse 6)? How about the three days?
Not even the days are figurative. Jesus did not leave the tomb three ages afterward when no one could verify who He was. His appearances were not three undefined seasons later. The details corroborate the week, the week is part of the gospel, and the gospel is our life.
Let us count our blessings these next seven days due to the work of Christ that important week.
There is no more pivotal day in history than the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.” “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (v. 17). “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20); He is risen indeed.
The resurrection was necessary, obviously, because He was dead; “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior.” “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and “he was buried” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Sunday followed Friday, and that Friday is the second most important day in history, the day when Jesus laid down His life, gave up His spirit, and endured the fulness of the Father’s wrath on our sin. The righteous took on unrighteousness; the just took the judgment; He was made sin who knew no sin. He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.
50 days after the crucifixion, Peter preached about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 2:). Many who heard his message were “cut to the heart” (v.37), and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v.38).
The resurrection celebration is for “every one,” but only each one, who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Christians are those who hear the gospel, confess their sin, turn away from their sin, and trust in Christ. That’s the only way to be saved, the only path to share in the sin-forgiving death and life-giving resurrection of Christ.
Even as Christians, we continue to confess our sins because we don’t forget that the empty tomb we celebrate on Sunday is glorious because our sin caused His death on Friday.