Easter Sunday. On the Christian calendar, it’s the most important day of the year. Churches will hold special services; families will host special meals. It’s a day of celebration, and rightly so.
I wonder, though: how much do we take resurrection for granted?
Many have argued that the central event of the Old Testament narrative, the lynchpin of Jewish identity, was the exodus from Egypt, the miraculous intervention of God to rescue his people from slavery.
The central event of the New Testament? The resurrection: the miraculous intervention of God to rescue his Son — the representative of all that Israel was meant to be — from death. New life is now in the resurrected Son, and God’s people are rescued from slavery to sin.
The resurrection of Jesus is the lynchpin of Christian identity, and we celebrate it on Easter. But does the promise of resurrection mean anything to us on the other days of the year?
In previous posts, we’ve looked at the arrest of Peter and John by the temple officials in Jerusalem. Peter’s preaching had ruffled feathers, and the apostles were dragged before the ruling council.
But what were the temple officials so upset about?
Just this: Peter was preaching resurrection.
The party that came to arrest the two apostles included the captain of the temple guard (think, police captain + chief operations officer), priests, and a group of Sadducees. Frankly, we don’t know much for certain about the Sadducees. They seemed to be an aristocratic and powerful in-group with strong ties to the high priesthood.
One thing we do know, however: unlike the Pharisees, they didn’t believe in the resurrection (Matt 22:23; Luke 20:27), the idea held by many Jews that God’s people would one day be raised bodily from death (cf. John 11:24). Any preaching about resurrection would surely have annoyed them.
But Peter wasn’t just preaching about resurrection in the abstract. He was proclaiming that resurrection of the dead had already begun in Jesus (Acts 4:2). And that was dangerous, revolutionary talk, the kind to shake the foundations of both empires and corrupt religious establishments.
Think about it. What did resurrection mean to Peter, the one who vowed to die alongside his friend, his master and mentor, only to disavow him in the courtyard of the high priest? What did it mean for him to experience the humiliation of his failure, the devastation of his loss — only to have it all overturned and redeemed by the glory of Easter?
For Peter, resurrection could never be an abstract or distant notion. It was the turning point of his story. Before the resurrection, he was a faltering disciple, naively promising to sacrifice himself to the cause. After the resurrection, he was an apostle, ready to make good on that promise.
The temple officials, of course, would not have known or understood all that had happened in Peter’s life. But they knew a revolutionary when they saw one, and it made them nervous.
Does resurrection mean as much to us as it did to Peter? Would anybody mistake us for revolutionaries?
I’m not talking about secret meetings in dark places or plots to overthrow the government. I’m talking about the world-altering impact of a people who engage life without fearing death, who see every present and broken moment against the background of an eternity of wholeness. Bodily resurrection is our promised future; new life today in Jesus is its seal and sign. Who knows what could happen if people really believed it?
May Easter grip our imaginations every day of the year. May the promise of resurrection life in Jesus be our constant hope and stay.
He is risen, indeed.