Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
The New Year has come and with it the Christmas season of 2016 has passed. For many this marks a transition from celebrating the birth of Jesus to preparations for celebrating His resurrection from the dead after being crucified.
While I am all for observing Easter as part of the Christian calendar, I want to propose to you that the Bible provides a practice for us to celebrate the birth, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and imminent return on a regular basis.
This Sunday, Jan. 15, the church I serve will observe The Lord’s table/communion as part of the regular worship service. In the service, I will read from 1 Corinthians 11 at various stages. At the end of the service, I will read verse 26: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
It would be difficult to participate in such a service if the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus were not real events. In order to explain the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the Christian faith, it is necessary to present the historical facts of His death, His empty tomb, His post-mortem appearances, as well as the transformation of His disciples.
In the interest of prudence consideration will also be given to alternative naturalistic explanations to include a determination of which of these offers the greatest challenge to Believers with a proposed response to this particular challenge.
Although there are some who propose alternate hypotheses to the results of the cross, the death of Jesus by crucifixion is normally held to be a well-established historical fact. In support of this conclusion are the issues of there being enough chronological time for Jesus to expire on the cross, that the weakened state of the Lord physically would contribute to His death, and that the desired result of crucifixion was the death of the one crucified.
In addition to agreeing that Jesus indeed died from crucifixion, scholars likewise agree He was buried in a known location, namely the unused tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. This known location is important as it allows for the disciples to later make the claim the same tomb was empty and allow for investigation/corroboration by others.
Further, it allows that the authorities would have been able to present the body of Jesus as a refutation of His resurrection if it still remained in the known tomb. Finally, there are hundreds of eyewitnesses of Jesus following His death and burial. The Apostle John makes reference to at least three post-mortem appearances of the Lord to the disciples in his Gospel (John 20:19-23; 20:26-29; 21:1-25).
The Apostle Paul gives what may be the most comprehensive account of these appearances of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 which includes an appearance by Jesus to 500 of His followers at one time! The significance of Paul’s claim is that he goes on to say many of these eyewitnesses remain alive to the time of his writing, thus he supplies ability to check his story.
Following the resurrection and subsequent ascension of Christ there is a marked change in the attitudes and activities of His followers on earth. There seems to be a pair of symbiotic reasons behind this change, especially in those followers who were also apostles.
The first of these reasons is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit indwelling the disciples as was promised by Christ specifically in Acts 1:4-5. The second is the ministry activities of not only these men but apparently those who might be counted in the 500 of 1 Corinthians 15:6. This second aspect is readily reviewed in that any student of history is able to trace a change in activity to the extent that these men proclaimed Jesus as Lord/Messiah/Christ to the detriment of their mortal lives.
So what we have is an opportunity of sorts to have Easter each and every time we take part in The Lord’s Table/Communion. It may not come with egg hunts, baskets of treats, fancy dresses and little boys in bow-ties; but it was commanded by Jesus before His crucifixion.
We can know this is true by looking to the Holy Bible in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-23 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. That, my friends, should be a reason to rejoice not only His birth, but that He lived in perfect obedience, died a horrible death in our place, and then refused to remain in the tomb, resurrected Himself, and sits at the right hand of the Father until His return.
You don’t have to wait for Christmas and Easter to worship the Triune God; it can happen any given Sunday or any day for that matter — and it should.
Andy Lynch is pastor at Stansbury Park Baptist Church.