Why We Need Easter More Than Ever
The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the [Mountains of Shadow] in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach…. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and the even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.
This passage from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings perfectly illustrates true hope amidst seemingly unending darkness. Here we catch Sam Gamgee resting next to his master Frodo from their treacherous trek through the land of the Enemy. Their harrowing journey has left them exhausted, distraught, and hopeless. Will this great Darkness pass? Can the Shadow be overcome? Then, almost providentially, Sam’s eye catches a single star in the heavens – a glimmer fixed beyond the reach of the bellowing stench and darkness of Mordor. His heart is pierced then quieted by the sight for it reminds him of an unquestioning Truth: this is a passing Darkness.
Hear that again: This is a passing Darkness.
What a profound truth to be reminded of especially at this time in our world. While we are being hit with a tsunami of media disinformation, ten cent prophetic pronouncements, governmental scandals, and economic uncertainties, we must still our hearts and minds with upward sight. Tolkien teaches us from the passage above that true hope in times of trouble comes from an inner joy that can only be generated by self-forgetfulness that affixes itself to the Transcendent Reality of the Light. Only when our eyes are bound to the Light Above can our souls be put to rest in knowing that the darkness, dangers, and dastardly deeds bellowing forth are not a Final Master or Destiny.
The Spirit Of The Age & False Hope
Over the past two centuries our culture has been ingesting a steady diet of false hope. It is a hope deeply naturalistic, humanistic, and mechanistic. From thinkers like Karl Marx, John Stuart Mills, John Dewey, John Rawls, to Richard Rorty we have learned that the way we will save our civilization and species is by becoming sovereign over all Reality. Utopia – that Man centered Garden of Eden we long to establish – is going to happen (we think) as we expand the technologies and sciences and reforge our views of morality and democracy. We pride ourselves with the prospects of attaining human perfectibility and thus surpassing all limitations put on us by our histories, traditions, religions, and values. As author and public intellectual Yuval Noah Harari (1976-present) has said in his bestselling Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,
For thousands of years…the same three problems [had] preoccupied the people of [the world]. Famine, plague and war…. For generation after generation humans have prayed to every god, angel and saint, and have invented countless tools, institutions and social systems [to deal with these problems].… Yet at the dawn of the third millennium, humanity wakes up to an amazing realization. Most people rarely think about it, but in the last few decades we have managed to rein in famine, plague and war. Of course, these problems have not been completely solved, but they have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. We don’t need to pray to any god or saint to rescue us from them. We know quite well what needs to be done in order to prevent famine, plague and war — and we usually succeed in doing it.
In short, we no longer need God for we have become God (the book title Homo Deus literal means “God-Man”). We can have a bright future in the world because we ourselves are at the helm. This secular ideology of intellectualized naiveté is a central tenet in the Spirit of our Age. We are a people who pride ourselves on being the masters and the forgers of our own destinies. We get to rewrite the history books, redefine our dictionaries, evolve our moralities, and transform our identities through sheer will and technology. Who can stop us? In the poignant words of one of our modern philosophers Miley Cyrus,
It's our party, we can do what we want
It's our party, we can say what we want
It's our party, we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can screw who we want
And yet, let’s look around. Despite all the talk from people like Harari and Cyrus by all major metrics we are failing in our quest for divine status. We are far less happy, far less fulfilled, and far less hopeful than any previous generation. Despite all the technological breakthroughs, despite all the social progressive policy making, and despite all the acceleration of information we are a mess of a race. Suicides are up 25% while depression and anxiety now affect about 20% of our population. Illicit drug use among us (especially those in their teens) has skyrocketed to the highest numbers in nearly 50 years. Atop of all this, indicators from those of us who are Millennials (1983-1994) and Generation Z (1995-2002) shows that we are far more dissatisfied and pessimistic about the future than older generations and are subsequently far less likely to even have children than all previous generations recorded.
It has been our party, we have done what we wanted to, and now here we are. Enslaved by our “freedom.”
We have affirmed God is a construct, virtue is subjective, traditions are repressive, and human nature is infinitely malleable. We have dared to be gods and then look on in perplexity as to why our world and souls are falling apart. As C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) said so poignantly,
“Such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible…. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
In Nietzschesch fashion we have unchained ourselves from any Central Primary and are spiraling without any up or down. One of the reasons for this is because our quest to maximize hope for our civilization and species was rotten at its core from the beginning. It was a godless, hyper-materialistic, self-absorbed quest, seeking to find hope and peace by extinguish darkness through sheer mind and machinery. It didn’t work, it isn’t working, and it will never work. We are now seeing the fruit of such a pursuit.
The Hope Of The Resurrection
We need a far more vigorous source of hope if we ever “hope” to traverse the growing complexities and insanities of the world around us. Resting on the sovereignty of technology, social policy making, and personal enlightenment isn’t working, despite what people like Harari affirm. There is only one solution to our maladies and that is a recovery of the Transcendent at the core of our lives. We need to look up.
I am reminded of the work by the classicalist historian Kyle Harper (1979-present) who writes much upon the rise and remaking of the world by Christianity. One of the reasons he points to for the astonishing rise of Christianity in the earliest centuries was its capacity to create a robust hope that propelled its world through famine, disease, persecution, and war. He said,
It’s easy for us to think about Christians back then being apocalyptic in the sense that they were desperate, or giving up because the world was about to end. I don’t think that’s how it was. For them, it was a positive program. This life was always meant to be transitory, and just part of a larger story. What was important to the Christians was to orient one’s life towards the larger story, the cosmic story, the story of eternity. They did live in this world, experience pain, and loved others. But the Christians of that time were called to see the story of this life as just one of the stories in which they lived. The hidden map was this larger picture.
That “hidden map” of early Christians was not some wishful thinking or otherworldly meditative ecstasy, it was a rested assurance, a profound certainty (in Greek elpida) amidst life’s hardest circumstances that was grounded upon the reality of the Transcendent. It was an assurance that took seriously the work of justice, peace, love, and service not because those things are useful fictions or chemically induced brain states but are actual eternal realities possessing immortal weight and duration – justice, peace, love, and service will exist beyond the grave just as they have existed before the crib. It was an assurance resting in the fact that one’s personal story and identity was not forged by self-determinism or high-tech augments but was gifted and integrated into a far more glorious cosmic and everlasting narrative. The Apostle Peter put it this way to the persecuted and fledgling Christians of Asia minor,
3[God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)
The hope Peter speaks of, that “living hope” has weight richness and purpose to it precisely because it has Jesus smack dab at the center of its orbit. It is an expectant assurance not grounded in circumstances but in a Person. Consider again what Peter said,
God, according to His great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope…
By what means?
…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
To what present and future end?
…to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
What beauty and power and joy reside in these words! The Resurrection is the absolute transcendent invasion of “living hope” into our world. Such hope is not wishful thinking nor expectant could-be-ism. It is an active present abiding assurance grounded in the reality of who God is and what God has done and will do in and through and by His Son! This is why it is a “living hope.” It is not something merely wished for based on uncertain circumstances but is a sign sealed delivered fact grounded in the power of the living and active Redeemer and Redeeming God.
Our hope can be and is “living” because it is rooted in the living God Who is not like the fickle promise maker who fails to deliver his end of the bargain but is the eternal, unbounded, self-existent, giver, definer, sustainer, covenant-making Creator King of the Cosmos that accomplishes all His promises, executes all His decrees, and fulfills all His blessings! That God is the same God who promises and decrees that there is (not maybe) an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance for His children. That God is the same God who split into real space and time, cocooned Himself in the mind, bone, and blood of a Man, and was broken upon a tree and resurrection in a tomb that He might remake the World as it was intended to be.
This Christian hope is active, not passive. It is expectant not reactant. It is resilient, not restless. This Christian hope is not built on syrupy illusions of perpetual comfort, self-deification, or unthwartable success, but a restive resolve and power grounded on certainty. It is such a hope that can pierce the veil of circumstances and find an abiding peace, joy, and love at their expense. As Timothy Keller (1950-present) has put it,
“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.”
This is why modern hope is bankrupt and Christian hope is solvent. Modern hope, as described by people like Harari and Cyrus, is vacuously naïve and self-centered. It seeks all the answers within rather than looking to an external transcendent source. Modern hope is forever looking forward in the prospects it can escape the past and present maladies to achieve a utopian vision. Christian hope looks back and up – to the resurrection of Christ and the resurrected Christ – so that it might transcend the present and glory in the future. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) said it this way,
“Man cannot live without hope, and that men who have really lost all hope often become wild and wicked. It may be an open question whether in this case hope = illusion. The importance of illusion to one’s life should certainly not be underestimated; but for a Christian there must be hope based on a firm foundation. And if even illusion has so much power in people’s lives that it can keep life moving, how great a power there is in a hope that is based on certainty, and how invincible a life with such a hope is. ‘Christ our hope’ – this formula is the strength of our lives.”
And he would continue at another time to put it like this,
“Jesus Christ the resurrected [means] that God, in love and omnipotence makes an end of death and calls a new creation into life. God gives new life…. The resurrection has already broken into the midst of the old world as the ultimate sign of its end and its future, and at the same time as living reality. Jesus has risen as human; so he has given human beings the gift of resurrection.”
The Shadow Is But A Passing Thing
The resurrection is not a useful fiction, it is the essential fuel that burns up darkness and ignites hope. It is an energizing fire that shows us True Reality. As has been said, “The cross and the resurrection together—and only together—bring the future new creation, the omnipotent power through which God renews and heals the entire world, into our present.”
Many people today may talk about The Great Reset or the path to Build Back Better, but the fact is only the resurrection was and is the Great Reset and the Ultimate Build Back Better event in the entire history of the world. It transformed the world and makes it possible for us to look at our relationships, our vocations, our purpose, and our futures in a new light.
We must get this down into the marrow of our souls. Especially as we proceed over the next months and years.
We must be reminded in the daily that this dark and decadent little orb we call Earth exists in an infinite sea of Light and Beauty which is God Himself, the One who came and conquered the powers of Death, Hell, and the Grave.
Dear friend, be reminded, this is a passing Darkness. The night is dark and truly full of terrors, but Light is greater still. Heaven wins. The transcendent, unbounded, unquantifiable, unsurpassable Creator Ruler is working His unruinable plan that WILL finds its crescendo in the Return of the King. That is certain and that can ground our hope. I leave you with a quote from New Testament scholar N.T. Wright (1948-present),
“Easter isn’t just about one person going through death and out the other side, as a sort of crazy maverick event unrelated to anything else, a sort of one-of display of supernatural power. It is the unveiling of God’s answer to the problems of the world…. The message of the resurrection is that this world matters; that the problems and pains of this present world matter; that the living God has made a decisive bridgehead into this present world with his healing and all-conquering love; and that, in the name of this strong love, all the evils, all the injustices and all the pains of the present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice and love have won the day.”
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 921-922
 Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2017), pg. 1-2
 Miley Cyrus, We Can’t Stop (2013)
 https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1555415521003615; https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
 https://www.addictioncenter.com/news/2021/07/drug-use-peaks-after-50-year-war-on-drugs/; https://drugabusestatistics.org/; https://behavioralhealth-centers.com/blog/american-drug-use-trend-on-the-rise/
 https://www.wsj.com/articles/to-be-young-and-pessimistic-in-america; https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/many-millennials-gen-z-pessimistic-on-life-deloitte-survey; https://www.newuniversity.org/2021/12/14/the-childless-generation-the-consequences-of-opting-out-of-having-children/; https://morningconsult.com/2020/09/28/millennials-economy-children-poll/
 Kyle Harper from his interview with Rod Dreher, The Germs That Destroyed An Empire (April 24, 2020) https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/roman-empire-plague-germs-kyle-harper/
 Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2013), pg. 31
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to Eberhard Bethge (July 25, 1944)
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, trans. Clifford J. Green (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), pg. 154
 Timothy Keller, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (United States: Penguin Random House, 2021), pg. xxi
 N.T. Wright, For All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), p. 62-63
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:13-19
This is perhaps the most unique passage in the entire history of religious texts. In this passage, the Apostle Paul hangs the entire edifice of Christian faith on a historical event: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Understand the strangeness of this. There is categorically no other religion in the history of Mankind that hangs its entire worldview and truth claims upon the tangibility of a verifiable occurrence in space and time. You will not get this with Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Scientology, Secular Humanism, or Liberal Christianity. While all these have origin stories, key founding figures, and calls spiritual wisdom and moral principles, none of them ground their essential doctrines, their whole worldviews, upon a historical event.
Christianity is different. Christianity starts not with “This is the way you should live,” as all other faith systems do, but with, “Here is what Jesus did in history, that you may live.” Huge difference.
In the passage above Paul says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead…your faith is in vain” (v. 14). That word “vain” is the Greek word kenos, which means unreal, empty, without power. It is getting across the understanding that the faith we have as Christians is impotent, incapable of changing anything if the resurrection is but a useful myth or a mere symbol. In short, Paul is making clear that Christianity is not less than emotions, but it is not relegated to mere emotions. He is saying that it does not matter if you feel that the resurrection is true, it does not even matter if you have had a cathartic religious experience about it, and it does not even matter how many Easter sermonettes proclaim the joys of it. No, he is affirming that if the resurrection did not tangibly happen in space and time, then Christianity is bunk. The whole Faith is at best a fanciful delusion and at worst the greatest falsified travesty in the chronicles of Humanity.
Easter, therefore, is the pivotal hinge of the Christian Faith. No Easter, no Christianity.
No Easter, then not only is Christianity bunk but all sense of identity, security, and peace in this life is bunk. How so? Well, if Jesus was not raised, then there is no hope beyond the grave, and if there is no hope beyond the grave then there is no objective standard of meaning and purpose in this life except what we conjure up in our three pounds of gray matter between our ears. Countless Christian and non-Christian thinkers have made this point very forcefully in the history of human thought. The ardent atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) helps to summarize much of the literature on this when he said,
"Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving…. His origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms [and there is] no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, [that] can preserve an individual life beyond the grave… [All the] labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement [will] inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins …. [It is only] within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built."
This oxymoronic view of life is what our whole vacuous post-modern culture is about. It proclaims: “You are an accident, there is no ultimate future, so live life to the fullest and be your best self!” But we know that this is inane. Such a “truth” means fundamentally that all our talk of objective “love,” all our fights for “justice,” all our language of “hope” for a brighter future, and all our desires for “identity” are at the bottom laid waste, eaten alive in the face of moral relativism and death.
The electrifying message of Easter guts the absurdity of Russell’s message. It affirms to us that God has entered history and that through love and justice He laid waste the power of death at the same to renewing our identity and giving us a glorious future. Because of Easter, history regains objective meaning, our faith is vindicated, our identities are renewed, our purpose is established, and our hope is assured.
THE TANGIBILITY OF THE EMPTY TOMB
This discussion of hope and identity is not emotional jargon, it is grounded in Reality. Precisely because of the historical reality of the resurrection we can take comfort in the objectivity of our Faith, meaning, and future. It is vitally important that you understand this Truth and teach it to your children and those around you.
The resurrection is as historical an event as Pearl Harbor, Washington crossing the Delaware, or the assassination of Julius Caesar. Understand this. There is actual historical evidence for such a claim. There is a tremendous body of world-renowned scholarship that affirms the historicity of the resurrection and the N.T. writings. I cannot get into the depths of it for sake of brevity but let me sketch out at least three points:
The fact that there was an empty tomb – This sounds insignificant, but it is profoundly important. A tomb is a particularly definable objective geographic location. This means to disprove the resurrection one need only provide the body of Jesus. Why didn’t the Romans, the Sanhedrin, or any other skeptics of the time produce such a body? Answer: Because it wasn’t there. The fact is all the Gospel writers and many Jewish, Christian, and pagan writers of the time affirmed that the tomb of Jesus was empty.
The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses – The Gospels claim that the first eyewitnesses were women. Have you ever thought of the importance of this easily looked over point? You see women were considered intellectually, emotionally, and morally deficient compared to men. Because of this their testimonies were not even permitted as acceptable evidence in the court of law in 1st Century Palestine. As the famed Jewish historian Josephus (37-100 A.D.), who lived at the same time as the N.T. authors, said,
"But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment."
The point is if you are constructing your own resurrection myth in the 1st Century you would not use women as the chief eye-witnesses to justify your position! People like Josephus would have disbelieved not merely on resurrection grounds but the fact of the absurdity of believing women to be legitimate witnesses to such an event.
The Gospel writers cited women as the eyewitnesses…because women were the eyewitnesses. In short, the fact that the Gospel’s record women as the eyewitnesses give historical authenticity to the truthfulness of the account. If they were liars or mythmakers they would not have crafted a narrative in which people (women) who were considered unreliable were the central sources of establishing the truthfulness of the event.
The fact of the transformation of the disciple's beliefs – There is no doubt that the disciples themselves did not have any kind of a religious or cultural understanding about the kind of messianic resurrection Jesus achieved. They constantly misunderstood His true purposes. But can we blame them really? Second Temple Judaism did not have any rabbinical teachings and no theological perspective on a resurrection of a single person amid history, much less the idea that the Messiah would be a dying and rising Savior. It is important to understand this. To First Century orthodox Jews the conceptual category of “dying and rising Messiah” did not even exist. For them, “resurrection” was an eschatological End of Days event for all Jews and the Messiah was to be the political figure who would come to redeem Israel from its oppressors and destroy her enemies.
The question that deserves much attention then is, “What made these 1st Century Jews transform their entire religious and cultural identities overnight?” What event could have happened that made these individuals go from Unitarians to Trinitarians; or go from believing God cannot be a man to God becoming a Man; or go from a political Messiah to a risen Messiah; or go from celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday; or go from kosher foods to freedom in what one eats? What could possibly explain all these social, cultural, and religious transformations among masses of people all at once?
Everything in their lives changed. How so!?! I would argue that the only viable historical explanation is the one they give. As the Apostle Peter said,
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
2 Peter 1:16
And the Apostle John said,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1 John 1:1-4
They had such extraordinary transformation because they experienced an extraordinary event: the bodily objective tangible resurrection of their leader Jesus of Nazareth. If you do not believe this, then you have to come up with some other theory to make sense of all this historical data. But as the renowned 20th Century N.T. scholar C.F.D. Moule (1908-2007) said,
“If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with? … the birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church therefore remain and unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself.”
In the same vein Shusaku Endo (1926-1996), the famed Japanese Christian novelist and thinker, put it like this,
"If you don’t believe in the resurrection, you will be forced to believe that something hit the disciples that was every bit amazing, maybe different, yet of equal force in electrifying intensity. For if you try to explain the changed lives of the early Christians, you will find yourself making leaps of faith every bit as great as if we believed in the resurrection to start with."
A HISTORY THAT GIVES US HOPE
It is not enough to go away from this post with historical data about the resurrection. While this is essential to ground the reality of faith, it is not sufficient to ignite it. Easter must become more than an event we celebrate, a tradition we relive, or a feeling we have – it must become living and breathing and active. Therefore, we must keep before us the Reality of the resurrection on the daily. We must understand that this event in space and time changes all of space and time. It makes our space sacred, our time sacred, our lives sacred. As one author said, “The resurrection is not a stupendous magic trick but an invasion.” It demands our attention, it remakes us into a new creation, and it destroys the powers of insecurity, indifference, and fear in the present and the future.
The Resurrection makes shows us (proves to us) that there is a future that is deeply personal, certain, and wonderful (paraphrasing Timothy Keller’s words in a sermon I heard once). This means that whatever we do in this life has true lasting impact, it is not burned up into the sea of oblivion as Russell thought. It means that Love, justice, and relationships transcend their particular moments and have real eternal significance. It means suffering and evil has a purpose and are only to be tolerated – one day to be vindicated and swept away. It means that death, the great equalizer, the tyrant of our souls, loses its hold over us – the great irreversibility of life is made reversible. All of this is achieved because the Resurrection tangibly, historically, happened for us. Easter actually happened! I cannot say any better the words of N.T. Wright (1948-present) as I close this post,
"The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice and love have won... If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense - [then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world - news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn't just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world of injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things - and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement [the] victory of Jesus over them all. Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzche probably was right to say it was for wimps."
 Consider the works of Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Frederick Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, H.G. Wells and many others
 Bertrand Russell, “The Free Man’s Worship” (1903), Accessed from https://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/br-free-mans-worship.html
 I would suggest to you but a small collection of works: N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003); Gary Habermas, The Case of the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004); Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2010); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017); Peter J. Williams, Can we Trust the Gospels? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018); David Beck & Michael Licona, Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020)
 If you want a more meaty discussion on the historicity of the empty tomb then consider: William Lane Craig, “The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus” https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/the-historicity-of-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus/
 Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.219, accessed from https://lexundria.com/j_aj/4.219/wst
 N.T. Wright discusses the importance of this in Resurrection of the Son of God, pg. 28-31 and all of Chapter Two
 C.F.D. Moule as quoted in John Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (United States: The Good Book Company, 2019). Original work is Moule’s The Phenomenon of the New Testament: An Inquiry Into the Implications of Certain Features of the New Testament (United Kingdom: S.C.M. Press, 1967), pg. 13
 Quoted in Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 108
 Timothy Keller, Hope In Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2021), pg. xxi
 N.T. Wright, For All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church, p. 65-66
Recovering Our Place At Golgotha
We need to de-sanitize Golgotha. By this, I do not mean we need more R-rated visual renderings of the crucifixion narrative (Mel Gibson’s vision is beyond sufficient). Neither do I mean we need more emotional sermonetting of the brutality of Christ’s physical torture and execution (though this is a worthy venture). Nor do I mean we need new cutting-edge scientific and historical documentaries verifying the accuracy of the Passion narratives (though this too is a worthwhile endeavor). Rather by this I mean we need to recover our place in all the hellish bloody cosmic messiness that occurred at Golgotha.
We conveniently (consciously or unconsciously) tend to “sanitize Golgotha” in our minds and hearts when Easter rolls around. We tend to place ourselves in the narrative of the Passion as passive onlookers witnessing from afar what the ominous “they” did to our Jesus that day. We are reminded through song, sermon, and drama of the brutality exacted towards “our” Jesus by the hands of tradition, religion, hate, and power. Tears roll down our faces, the emotions are stirred, and our faces are flushed. BUT THEN the songs fade and the sermon is over. As quick as the image came it dissipates, we shake ourselves and move on. We get back to our daily. We get back to fighting with our spouses and yelling at our kids. We get back to our insecurity, our gossip, lust, greed, envy, pride, and apathy. So, just like going to watch a movie in the theater, we are changed in the moment but afterward go out to find something else to do.
Is there really no difference existentially between our responses to a movie and the message of the cross? Surely there is more?
Do not misunderstand. I am not saying there is no place for us to reflect upon the brutality of the crucifixion or that we are wrong if we have emotional responses to the history of it. In fact, to fail to have emotion in the face of the cross is to fail to have a soul. But that said, what I am challenging and questioning is how we ritualistically go about our reflections and remembrances of Calvary. You must ask, I must ask, has its true message gone deep enough? We are moved by it, it jerks our heart, but does it really, categorically, transform us?
I do not presume to have all the answers and I do not want you to go away from this post thinking there is any form of “ivory tower judgmental preachy wisdom” coming from this author. There is a genuine conviction of thought and reflection in what is posted.
Without going into a long dissertation, I want to propose that for us to recover the true gritty nature of Golgotha, for it to have a real penetrating and lasting effect for our lives beyond Easter Sunday, it requires at least (but not limited to) a reworking of how we process its message in our hearts and minds on the daily.
Golgotha needs to become more than a tourist attraction we visit once a year on Easter Sunday. It needs to become the ever-present witness to just how serious sin is in our daily lives and just how profound God’s love is in those moments. We need to recover OUR PLACE and OUR SIN at Golgotha so that it becomes a living, breathing, memorial that awakens us to be what it achieved – to be a people who do not shrug at sin but crucify it, to be a people who love at the expense of themselves, to be a people whose identity, meaning, hope, and purpose is restored to the intended ends of God’s glory instead of self.
ADMIT THAT YOU DROVE THE NAILS
As I said earlier, we tend to stand as passive onlookers to the crucifixion story. We cry and rage at what “they” did to Him. The problem is there is no “they,” there is only “we.” There is no room for stagnant spectators at the cross. Everyone was actively participating. The masses of Jews and Romans were beating and butchering Christ physically as much as you and I did spiritually. You were at Golgotha and so was I. We all were.
The Romans alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. The Pharisees alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Pilate alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Caiaphas alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. You did. I did. We all did. Our sins did.
Chew on that. Let it sink in. Dwell on it a while. No, dwell on it a long while.
All the soiled sins of the world were affixed to His blinding purity. All the little ones, all the big ones, all the ones you shrug off, all the ones you exact towards family and friend, all the ones you fear others to know, all the ones you still battle with, all the ones you struggle to let go. Every day when you slip back into the old self and allow sin to rear its ugly head, be reminded, that those sins, with myriads of others, are the ones seared onto the bruised body and being of the Infinitely Innocent One. All of them were put onto Him so much so that there was no epistemic distance humanly discernable between His being and sin.
Putting this all into biblical language the Apostle Paul put it like this,
God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
Did you really read this? Do you get this? Do you feel this?
The whole reason, the central driving meaning behind Christ BEING SIN was…FOR US. It is about us. Because sin is personal Golgotha is personal. Golgotha was logically, biblically, unquestionably because of us AND beautifully, gracefully, undeniably for us. The great theologian John Stott (1921-2011) put it like this,
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
It is a totally different thing when you intentionally remind yourself that the only nails that really kept Christ on the cross were the ones you use on your loved ones and neighbors many times on many different days of the week. When you nail them with pinpricks, backbiting, gossip, lust, envy, pride, and the whole slew of 1 Corinthian 6 vices, you actualize in your life the things for which Christ was eaten alive. He died because of those things and for those things to lose their power of keeping distance between you and the Holy One.
THE TERROR, JOY, & BEAUTY OF GOLGOTHA
Despite all the bruising and infinite weight of demonic distress upon Him, Christ still died for us. There is horror and sweetness in this. He died for our daily sins. Think on this for a moment. How insane it is to the human mind to willingly be ripped apart by a people who shrug at Your grace and purity. Yet, in such insanity there resides unbounded sobriety and beauty.
In the face of the vileness of Golgotha, we are also met with the Face of unshakably Love. In the wake of entering Jerusalem with throngs of half-baked worshipers Jesus prayed with anguish to the Father for such a time to pass from Him, and yet without losing a breath said,
“For this purpose, I have come to this hour”
Golgotha was His purpose. Golgotha penetrated everything He thought and did. It was there at the manger, it was there at the Sermon on the Mount, it was there at the Mount of Olives, it was there at the breaking of the fish and loaves, and it was there at the triumphal entry. It was at Golgotha that Jesus’ purpose would be and was actualized into space and time and for all eternity.
And yet with such horror ever-present to Jesus’ mind's eye all His days, the author of Hebrews says,
For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame…
The cross was set before Him. That is, it was always His end goal, His telos, His purpose. And yet He had joy? The words “joy” and “cross” do not go together in any humanly conscionable way. But in and with Christ they do. Such a joyous agent as Jesus did what no other merely human agent could possibly achieve: turning the image of the cross from a symbol of maximal derision and vileness into the symbol of infinite grace and a new identity.
In a real sense, joy conquered the shame of the cross and overtook it. This is why strangely we Christians can and do need to possess a robust balance between glory and humility when we behold the cross on Golgotha.
The terror of Golgotha that we need to ever keep in our minds is that it was because of us, yet the glory and joy of Golgotha reside in the fact that it was for us. John Stott powerful put it this way,
“The essence of sin is man substitution himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.”
The infinity of heavenly-wrath and holy-love crashed upon one another in a moment of space and time on Golgotha. It was in that moment that all our daily sins were vanquished of their potency and chains. This is why we can sing in ecstasy to the degree we mourn in travail over the events that transpired on the Place of the Skull.
May we never forget and readily retain the power of what happened on Golgotha.
O Golgotha! Good Golgotha!
My Lord was slain for me;
His precious blood in mercy flowed
That I from sins be free.
Therefore I pray, my Lord, reveal
So I may know that I am one
With Thee in certainty.
O Golgotha! I praise Thee, Lord,
For death was suffered there;
Released His life, redeemed my sins,
I’m freed into His care.
O Golgotha! I want to learn
All that indwells in Him;
By faith included in His work,
I’ll stand now firm with Him.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), pg. 63
 Stott, pg. 159
 Difficult finding the origin of this hymn, but it seems to be an old early 20th Century Chinese Christian hymn, most likely written by Watchman Nee. Source found in Watchman Nee, Collected Works of Watchman Nee, Vol. 23, The Song of Songs & Hymns (N.p.: Living Stream Ministry, 1993), pg. 174-175
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.