Easter is early this year – today, April 1st, is the day, but next year I am told that it will be April 24th! More than 3 weeks later than this year. Why does the date change from year to year? Well, in 325 A.D. the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. From that point forward, the Easter date depended on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21 for the vernal equinox. Or, as we call it, the first day of Spring.
Regardless of when we celebrate it, Easter is a yearly reminder of the things that happened on the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Resurrection is an interesting word. In the Greek, it is what we call “middle voice” – meaning that Jesus raised Himself from the dead. And there are other verses that say God the Father raised Jesus from the dead – and still another verse that indicates the Holy Spirit raised Jesus. Since all the members of the Trinity are God, we can be assured that God raised God from the dead…
But what changed as a result of that first Easter? Well, many things – both for the disciples and for us as Christ followers 20 centuries later. The main thing that separates Christianity from every other religion is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Many religions maintain that their leaders were sacrificed or martyred, but Jesus is the only one who was dead, buried and rose again – alive for all eternity.
Before the resurrection, this was all conjecture. The disciples who had travelled with Him for more than three years still didn’t get it. Before the crucifixion, Peter denied Jesus three times. And the other disciples weren’t really sure of what to do. At the cross, Jesus turned the care of Mary, His mother, over to John, the disciple who later penned the Gospel named after him, as well as the book of Revelation (a look into the future) and three letters that we refer to as the Johannine epistles, that discuss warnings about deviations from the faith in the late first century.
The disciples were in disarray. They were about to scatter, worried about their own fate and whether the time they spent with Jesus was worth it. They were unsure of the next steps, they had not encountered the Holy Spirit and they didn’t fully understand the teachings at the Last Supper several days before. Moreover, they didn’t understand the mission of Jesus and what they should be doing. They didn’t know that they had any real authority now that Jesus was gone; and they were scared.
Suddenly, something happened that changed it all. Jesus rose from the dead. Regardless of which member of the Trinity (or all the members of the Trinity) was/were involved in the resurrection, there was no denial of the fact that Jesus lived! Yes, in a new body that many people did not recognize, but even then, the wounds were healed; and Jesus had a message to give to His followers. At least those who were still left.
From the tens of thousands that Jesus had encountered during His ministry, we can approximate that fewer than 500 saw Him after the resurrection and only about 120 were present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit made His appearance. Would Christianity die? History tells us that from that small remnant, Christianity would grow at an unprecedented pace and today, more than 2 billion people profess to be followers of Christ. And that’s just those living now! What about all the generations since the resurrection? That’s certainly tens of billions – maybe hundreds of billions of people who were impacted as a result of Jesus being raised from the dead.
So what changed? Well, for starters, Jesus appeared to the disciples and they saw Him and ate with Him – finally believing, knowing for sure that He was alive and had overcome death. He then breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit – the first time that we see that happen. Then, Jesus gave them their commission – we call it the Great Commission – empowering them to spread the word of God to the ends of the earth. Now, more than ever, they had a purpose and mandate to fulfill.
And just when they thought it couldn’t get any better, Jesus forgave them their doubt about His reality and gave them the gift of joy. For the Scripture tells us that they spent all their time in temple worshipping God. In other words, everything changed when Jesus rose. Yes, the effect of Easter was an eternal shift – from skepticism to knowledge, from fear to joy, from followers to disciples with a destiny. And on top of everything else, the apostles knew that they would eventually join Jesus where he was going. It changed everything.
And that also means that we are changed. For we have the assurance of Scripture that Jesus is alive and active today. The verse for this evening is the one that Thomas utters during his encounter with Jesus after the resurrection. Sure, he initially had his doubts, as did the others, but we are privy to the exchange in John 20:26-28, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
My encouragement this evening is that we should all make the same proclamation that Thomas did. My prayer is that on this Easter Sunday we all will take a few extra minutes to consider how the resurrection changed everything – it truly did. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…