A generation ago when the deity of Christ was under attack from several directions at once and was being stoutly defended by Bible-believing Christians everywhere, a little aphorism was often heard uttered with emphatic finality: “It’s not the sin question, it’s the Son question!”
This was a short way of saying that the great problem before the human race was not its sin but its opinion of Jesus Christ, and that the disposition of the individual soul on the final day would be based not upon its relation to sin but upon its having accepted the deity of Christ as an article of faith.
If we take into consideration that this saying was a blunt sword forged for the heat of theological battle we can understand its popularity and sympathize with those who swung it so boldly against the enemies of truth; nevertheless we need not overlook its weakness nor accept it as a complete truth, which it certainly is not.
One count against this aphorism is that it is an aphorism. If great truth could be compressed into an epigram we have several hundred pages of Scripture to account for that need never have been written. I shy away from every effort to expound difficult doctrine by means of a pious quip; it’s just too neat and at best can present only one facet of the truth, leaving the other two or ten or fifty facets hidden from view.
We’ll pass over the alliteration, which is of course wholly artificial and only one degree removed from a pun, and state simply that the whole thing is false to the facts. Granted that solid truth might once in a rare while get itself crammed into an epigram, and even that the epigram might conceivably contain a pun, this “not the sin question but the Son question” is still not true. It dismisses too lightly something that God takes mighty seriously; viz., the fact of human sin and the solemn responsibility of every man for the sins he has committed.
It is of great practical importance to us to know that the Christ who lived again still lives. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), said Peter on the day of Pentecost; and this accorded with our Lord’s own words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18), and with the words of Hebrews, “The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (8:1).
Not only does He still live, but He can never die again. “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him” (Romans 6:9).
Finally, all that Christ is, all that He has accomplished for us is available to us now if we obey and trust.
We are more than conquerors, through our Captain’s triumph; Let us shout the victory as we onward go.
In spite of the tomb and the watch and the seal, in spite of death itself, the Man who had been laid in the place of death walked out alive after three days. That is the simple historical fact attested by more than 500 trustworthy persons, among them being a man who is said by some scholars to have had one of the mightiest intellects of all time. That man of course was Saul, who later became a disciple of Jesus and was known as Paul the apostle. This is what the church has believed and celebrated throughout the centuries. . . .
Granted that this is all true, what does it or can it mean to us who live so far removed in space from the event and so far away in time? Several thousand miles and nearly two thousand years separate us from that first bright Easter morning. Apart from or in addition to the joy of returning spring and the sweet music and the sense of cheerfulness associated with the day, what practical significance does Easter have for us?
To borrow the words of Paul, “Much in every way!” (Romans 3:2). For one thing, any question about Christ’s death was forever cleared away by His resurrection. He “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Also His place in the intricate web of Old Testament prophecy was fully established when He arose. When He walked with the two discouraged disciples after His resurrection, He chided them for their unbelief and then asked, “ `Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27).
Then it should be remembered that He could not save us by the cross alone. He must rise from the dead to give validity to His finished work. A dead Christ would be as helpless as the ones He tried to save. He “was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25), said Paul, and in so saying declared that our hope of righteousness depended upon our Lord’s ability to beat death and rise beyond its power.
The celebration of Easter began very early in the Church and has continued without interruption to this day. There is scarcely a church anywhere but will observe the day in some manner, whether it be by simply singing a resurrection hymn or by the performance of the most elaborate rites.
Ignoring the etymological derivation of the word Easter and the controversy that once gathered around the question of the date on which it should be observed, and admitting as we must that to millions the whole thing is little more than a pagan festival, I want to ask and try to answer two questions about Easter.
The first question is, What is Easter all about? and the second, What practical meaning does it have for the plain Christian of today?
The first may be answered briefly or its answer could run into a thousand pages. The real significance of the day stems from an event, a solid historical incident that took place on a certain day in a geographical location that can be identified on any good map of the world. It was first announced by the two men who stood beside the empty tomb and said simply, “He is not here; he has risen” (Matthew 28:6), and was later affirmed in the solemnly beautiful words of one who saw Him after His resurrection:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
That is what Easter is about. The Man called Jesus is alive after having been publicly put to death by crucifixion. The Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross and watched Him till the life had gone from Him. Then a responsible company of persons, headed by one Joseph of Arimathea, took the body down from the cross and laid it in a tomb, after which the Roman authorities sealed the tomb and set a watch before it to make sure the body would not be stolen away by zealous but misguided disciples. This last precaution was the brain child of the priests and the Pharisees, and how it backfired on them is known to the ages, for it went far to confirm the fact that the body was completely dead and that it could have gotten out of the tomb only by some miracle.
In the Old Testament it is recorded that after years of bad leadership had brought Judah to her knees, a new king, Hezekiah, came to the throne. Immediately he called the priests and Levites together and said to them,
“Listen to me, Levites, consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the LORD, the God of your fathers. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary.” The priests went into the sanctuary of the LORD to purify it. They brought out to the courtyard of the LORD’s temple everything unclean that they found in the temple of the LORD. The Levites took it and carried it out to the Kidron Valley (2 Chronicles 29:5, 16).
It took a week to get rid of the junk, but when they had obeyed God there followed immediately a sunburst of revival; and the good effects lasted nearly thirty years.
I do not wish to draw too close a parallel between conditions under Ahaz and conditions in the churches today, but every enlightened soul can see how we languish for fearless leaders and bold reformers who will dare to pass holy judgment upon the unscriptural goings on that are being substituted for New Testament Christianity in the majority of our churches.
Somewhere there may be a freckle-faced stripling as yet unknown who will hear the call of God and go forth in dauntless love to become a conscience to the churches. Too many prophets of Jehovah these days are hiding in their caves, but somewhere there may be an Elijah. The bloodless softlings will say at first that he is uncharitable and harsh, but when he gets the prophets of Baal on the run they will tag along behind him, trying to look as if they had been on his side all the time.
Well, he can’t come a day too soon.