Is Easter an outdated religious holiday, or is it something more? Why is Jesus' death such a big deal?
Bunny suit—check. Basket of candy—check. Egg hunt—check. Elegant dress or fancy suit—check. Reservations at favorite brunch spot—check.
Sounds like Easter, doesn’t it?
But while all these traditions might be fun, do they really tell us what Easter is all about? Is it more than a work holiday or an excuse to gather family for an annual picture? Is it just an outdated religious holiday? Or is there more to it?
The History of Easter
Christians believe that Easter is central to their faith. In fact, one of the earliest followers of Jesus declared that without Easter there is no Christianity.1 So what exactly does Easter celebrate that’s so important?
Simply put, Easter is the day when Christians commemorate Jesus’ resurrection. Resurrection, as you may know, is the name given to the process by which one who is dead comes back to life.2 On Easter, Christians remember that Jesus, who they believe died some two thousand years ago, rose from the grave and lived again.
The Significance of Easter
Well, that’s fascinating, for sure. Someone dying and coming back to life is certainly noteworthy—even unbelievable. But—and I mean no disrespect—so what?
Other than being a stunning display of magic or even a miracle, what’s the big deal about it? Why is Jesus’ resurrection so widely celebrated that it has become a national holiday in many cultures around the world?
Christians believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection are not only important but are central events in all of history. Let’s examine why they think this.
A Broken World
If you look around today, it’s not difficult to see brokenness in the world. But according to both Jewish and Christian tradition, it wasn’t always this way.
When God created the world, it was good.3 God and humanity dwelt in perfect harmony, enjoying one another’s intimate company. However, in giving humanity the freedom to choose his will or their own, God took a great risk.4
In the end, we chose our own path, turning away from his in the process.5 In doing so, our relationship with God was broken, and we’ve been reaping the consequences ever since. The world is not as it should be, as evidenced by the strife, disappointment, and discontent in our lives.
The Story of God’s Restoration
OK, so the world’s not the way it’s supposed to be. What does that have to do with Jesus dying?
Well, according to Christian theology, since God is holy, he cannot be in the presence of unholiness; the two cannot mix, much like oil and water. Consequently, humanity’s broken relationship with God has caused lasting alienation from him. And the only way to overcome that alienation is for humanity to choose God’s perfect way—to live the way we were meant to in the beginning.
Unfortunately, because we’re infected with a terminal disease called sin, we’re incapable of living in perfection.6
So if we’re alienated from God and cannot live the way we’re supposed to, how can we overcome this brokenness? Put plainly, we can’t.
Because we’re infected to the core, no amount of human effort can reconcile our broken relationship. Remember, oil and water—perfection and imperfection—cannot mix. In fact, because of our inability, only God himself—who is able—can overcome our alienation. God must initiate reconciliation because we cannot.
Jesus’ Role in God’s Plan
Enter Jesus. The Bible suggests that Jesus was one with God.7 And though he was God, he wore human flesh and experienced what we experience. But there was one major exception: Jesus lived a completely holy and sinless life.
Therefore, when Jesus died, he satisfied God’s requirement of perfection. By living a holy life and dying on our behalf, Jesus reversed the consequences of death.
In a children’s parable written as a metaphor for God’s grand plan of restoration, C. S. Lewis suggested, “When a willing victim who had committed no [sin] was killed in [someone’s] stead . . . Death itself would start working backwards.”8
Through this act, Jesus gave humanity a supreme gift. Sent by God, his father, he lived the perfect life that we humans could not live. Then he died on our behalf. In so doing, he gave his perfect life to us, so that we could be reconciled to God and experience life as it was meant to be.9
The Logic of Jesus’ Death
That’s a lengthy narrative to consider. So, at the risk of oversimplification, here’s an abbreviated, logical explanation for Jesus’ death:
- God is holy; humanity is not.10
- Holiness and unholiness cannot coexist.
- This opposition causes infinite brokenness in humanity’s relationship with God.11
- Because we’re incapable of holy living as a result of sin, God must satisfy that requirement on our behalf.
- Jesus—who is one with God—lived a holy, sinless life.
- Jesus died on our behalf, and by satisfying the requirement of holiness, he reversed the effects of our broken relationship with God, making reconciliation and connection with him possible forever.12
This is the beauty of Christianity—humanity does not have to pay the debt for its sin because God himself has done it through Jesus. This is what Christians mean when they say that Jesus paid it all for their sins.
Observance of the Easter holiday is done in recognition and celebration of the fact that God himself—through the person of Christ—loved us enough to enable humanity to experience restored relationship with its creator, now and forever.