The Day Before the First Easter
I want to talk to you about the time before there was Easter. The day before the first Easter was a day before there were any Christians. It was a day before churches. The Bible didn’t exist yet. There was no reason to celebrate that first Easter Sunday, which is worth discussing today.
In the afternoon after Jesus’s crucifixion, two men go to Pontius Pilate and ask permission to remove his body from the cross. This was not an unusual request… It just wasn’t often granted. The point of crucifixion wasn’t just to obliterate you. There were cheaper and more efficient ways to kill people than crucifixion. The reason that the Roman Empire did crucifixion was to wipe people off the face of the Earth. There’d be no history of you, and no grave for the people who loved to mourn.
In this case, the governor agrees to release Jesus’ body to these two men. After retrieving Jesus’s body, they prepare it for burial according to Jewish custom. They placed him in a cave and sealed it with a stone. Both these men, along with many others, had hoped Jesus was who he had been claiming to be. At this moment before Easter, they concluded clearly Jesus was not.
The Jesus Movement Died
There were no Jesus-followers anymore. Nobody believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus couldn’t the Savior; he couldn’t even save himself… Not only did Jesus die, but so did his movement. Nobody was planning on keeping it moving. Why bother? Jesus wasn’t who he claimed to be, which was the whole point of the movement. His followers gave up immediately.
Jesus’s message and his ministry centered on him. This is what drove the religious leaders absolutely crazy. It’s what led to Jesus’s death. It wasn’t just his stories, his parables, and his teachings, but it was who Jesus claimed to be. He declared, “I Am.” He equated himself with God and claimed the authority to forgive sins.
On that first Easter, they were wrong about Jesus because was dead. Everyone watched Jesus die. At that moment, they didn’t just watch him die. They watched his movement die. We know this is true because they write themselves into the story as unbelievers and cowards who are hiding. They are people who followed Jesus and unfollowed him. His followers didn’t expect them to die, but once Jesus died, everyone expected him to stay dead.
There is More to the Story
Early on that first Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved. We might think Mary would conclude Jesus rose from the dead, just as he said he would, but she didn’t. She runs back to Peter and John, who are still hiding, and says something to the effect of: “They have taken our Lord from the tomb, and I don’t know where they’ve put him. They’ve stolen him.”
Nobody in the story assumes there’s a miracle, even though Jesus predicted several times that this would happen. They all concluded that dead people stay dead. This is recorded in Luke 24:11:
“The story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.”
Jesus would later appear to them. It was after seeing the resurrected Jesus that they believed. They had to walk with Jesus again. After they saw him die, they had to walk with him again. And it wasn’t just Jesus that was resurrected, but the movement.
As it turned out, Jesus was who he claimed he was. The Apostle Paul summarizes the importance of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless. And your faith is useless.”
So every year at this time, we pause to celebrate. We remember that we believe not because of something that was written but because of something that happened. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead. We know that Easter happened long before there was a Bible as we have it. There were men and women whose faith was anchored and sustained by the event of the resurrection.
Christianity wasn’t held together by “This I know for the Bible tells me so.” It was that those who walked with him also watched him die. They stopped believing in him. Then saw him again and started to believe again.
What Easter Means To Us
The crucifixion made no sense until Easter, and then it made all of the sense in the world because his claim that he would be a ransom for many was proven true. It validated his authority to forgive us of our sins. And it was motivated by love. If you are a Jesus follower, the resurrection means you can have peace with God. It means that your prayers are heard and answered. Because Jesus is alive, faithfulness matters, and generosity counts.
But if you’re not a Jesus follower, and I know that not everyone reading is, the resurrection gives you a reason to believe and follow. It’s a reason that supersedes your lousy church experiences and Christian encounters. Long before those, an event punctuated the claim of Jesus. You see, Christianity is not faith in faith. Christianity is faith in a person who demonstrated through his life, death, and resurrection that he is worthy of devotion.
If you lost your faith at some point in the past, then you have something in common with Jesus’s first followers because they also lost their faith. It wasn’t until the resurrection that they believed. It was after something happened that they refound their faith in Jesus. I want to encourage, challenge, and invite you today to reengage the God in heaven, who sent His Son Jesus to forgive us of our sins because of His great love for us. This is why we celebrate Easter.