Christmas day may be the biggest holiday of the year around the world, but much of its greatness is centered on materialism rather than the one it’s named for. Sure there are some that still put the “Christ” in Christmas, but to many it has no real spiritual significance. It’s a great time of celebration, sharing gifts, gathering with family, and taking some time off. There is nothing wrong with those things, but for Christians it carries a different meaning.
The origins of Christmas actually stem from both the pagan and Roman cultures. The Romans actually celebrated two holidays in the month of December. The first was Saturnalia, which was a two-week festival honoring their god of agriculture Saturn. On December 25th, they celebrated the birth of Mithra, their sun god. The celebration of Christmas on the same day was really a spin off by Christians trying to use the pagan holiday as a way to spread Christianity. It took centuries for it to become the juggernaut that it is today. Some have speculated but no one knows for sure exactly when Jesus was born.
While Christmas is the biggest holiday around the world and some use it to celebrate Jesus birth, Easter is what the Christian faith really hinges on. Jesus virgin birth and God incarnate or coming to earth in the flesh was indeed miraculous, but without the resurrection there would be no Christianity. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we are making a whole lot of fuss about nothing. If Jesus was just a great teacher, thinker, philosopher, humanitarian, warrior, statesman, political figure, or all around good person, we might remember Him. We would recognize His contribution to humanity. We would read about Him in our history books, maybe even study His teachings like Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and others. Would we have a national holiday, a “Jesus day”? Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates don’t’ have national holidays, at least not in this country, so we probably wouldn’t have a “Jesus day” either.
We may not have known when Jesus was born, but we have a pretty good idea of when He died. According to John, the writer of the Gospel of John, Jesus is crucified just as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed. This would have occurred on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan, just before the Jewish holiday began at sundown. This would be March or April on our modern calendar. Eventually as Christianity grew and spread, Easter gradually would become a Christian reinterpretation of Passover.
Jesus death on or slightly before Passover is significant because the Passover is the remembrance of when the angel of death “passed over “ the homes of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt during the death plague sent by God to take out all of the first born of Egypt, which included Israelites that didn’t have painted lamb’s blood on their doorways. If lamb’s blood was present on the doorway, the angel of death “passed over” or skipped it saving the first born inside. It’s kind of like God planned it that way. I’m being sarcastic. Of course God planned it that way. The significance of Jesus death and the Passover happening at the same time was and is symbolic of Jesus blood saving us from sin and death, Jesus being the sacrificial lamb fit perfectly into the Old Testament narrative and sacrificial system. Forgiveness was not possible without blood atonement. The price for sin could only be paid in blood.
However, Jesus “taking one for the team” isn’t enough. While Jesus’ passion and sacrifice are incredible and commendable, it’s still not enough to base an entire belief system. What if He would have stayed dead? While some may, we don’t worship dead people as god’s. If they haven’t overcome death and risen from the grave, there is nothing supernatural or miraculous going on. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to worship a god who is dead. I’ve met a lot of really nice people in the world and studied about great people who did great things, but they are dead. In the end they are no greater than you or I. If death is all there is, then there is nothing to look forward to. There is no after life. In order to have afterlife, there has to be someone or something in control that has already conquered death. So far, no one in recorded history has cheated death, except one. Confucius, Mohammed, Moses, Aristotle, Socrates, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and all the great kings and world influencers have all passed away.
I don’t know how many of you have watched the “Passion of the Christ” produced by Mel Gibson, but it is very powerful. It’s realistic depiction of Jesus suffering and crucifixion is like no other movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve only seen it once, and I’m not sure I could see it again. If you haven’t seen it, I would encourage it, but it’s hard to watch. It’s brutal. I literally cried during the whole movie. It really tore me up. Mel Gibson wanted this movie to be an accurate depiction of what really happened. Well, he succeeded. Of course, he used passages in the Gospels as a reference for the movie, but he also used passages like this one from Isaiah 52.
13See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. Isaiah 52:13-15 NIV
This is a prophecy about the “suffering servant” that much debate was actually Jesus, but who else could it be? There have been many martyrs who died horrible deaths, but regular people don’t “sprinkle”, as in with blood, many nations. Regular people don’t shut the mouths of kings. There is more to this servant than dying a gruesome death. “For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.” Isaiah isn’t prophesying about a mere mortal. This “servant” is going to shake things up like no one ever has. I believe the “servant” is Jesus.
As powerful as the sacrifice, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus are, it’s not the “BIG EVENT”. It’s not the climax of the story. Jesus was buried and mourned. He was dead. All of the disciples accept John had gone into hiding. The journey with Jesus was over. It’s Friday. Jesus is suffering. It’s Friday. Jesus is crucified. It’s Friday. Jesus dies. It’s Friday. Jesus is buried. It’s Friday, but it’s not over. Sunday is coming! I get goose bumps just typing it.
“It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!” is one of the greatest lines in sermon history. The title of the sermon was actually “Amen, That’s my King!” by Shadrach Meshach Lockridge. He was the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego, California from 1953 to 1993. He spoke all over the world. It has and is still inspiring people all over the world. This sermon is considered by some to be one of the best sermons ever delivered, especially the last six minutes. Click here to watch it.
Jesus resurrection is THE POINT of all this. He’s not dead. He has risen! He conquered death and reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords because He wasn’t just a man. He was and is God. As I’ve said before, there is no Christianity without a living Christ. A dead Christ renders Christianity un-miraculous, un-spectacular, un-supernatural, and meaningless. God is not dead. He is alive!
Our study of Daniel will be back next week. Read chapter 1 & 2.
Love y’all! Have a great Easter weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC