What will Easter Sunday mean to you—and those who hear you preach? Choose carefully: How you celebrate Easter indicates your priorities of faith. This “Holy Week” is filled with powerful images of the Christian life: Jesus gave us a covenant meal on Thursday night—the very night he was betrayed. He suffered torture and death on Friday—a substitutionary death that paid the price for the sins of humanity. On Saturday, he descended into the depths of Hades and kicked in the gates of Hell itself. And, of course, on Sunday he was resurrected with power, receiving the vindication of the Heavenly Father.
We can (and should) celebrate his death. His death on the cross is unique because of who he is—the sinless perfect Son of God: the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. No one else could accomplish what Jesus accomplished on the cross, because his perfect sacrifice came by virtue of his identity as God come to earth. His sacrifice was for the sin of all people, in all times and in all places. His death was unique. One time. Once. For all. But I would like to ask a difficult question: Is Friday’s sacrifice enough?
When we concentrate on the substitutionary death of Jesus to the exclusion of his life and teaching, we limit his ministry to a divine rescue mission—a rescue mission that only becomes effective for us when we die. Many Christians understand that they have no hope of heaven apart from the price Jesus paid on their behalf. But apart from gratitude for his kindness, there is little connection between what Jesus did then and how we can live today. Our appreciation for what he did does not empower us to fulfill his teaching. Our gratitude for his suffering does not release the wisdom, insight or strength for each one of us to live as a new creation, a new kind of person.
Here is one of the secrets of the resurrection: On that first Easter Sunday, Jesus opened not only the tomb, he opened new possibilities for everyone who would follow him. The resurrection was not only a supernatural event for Jesus, it also opened up the resources of heaven for all who would follow him. Jesus opened the womb of heaven. Picture him emerging from the garden tomb: Something new came forth that day—the power of resurrection life operating in a human being. Resurrection life flowed into Jesus that day, but the Scripture reveals that it is now available to us as well: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Roman 8:11). This verse is not about being raised up after we die, it’s about the power of the resurrection working in us now. Jesus was not only our model during earthly life, he is also a model of new creation operating in us even now: The nature and power of the resurrection dwell in each new child of God. This is no mere formality. The womb of heaven has been opened by Jesus and each believer has the potential to bring heaven to earth. Those who are born from above receive heaven’s DNA in them here and now. First Jesus, then us. Not only in resurrection from the dead but also empowerment for ministry.
Our ability to see Jesus as the firstborn among many is more than a Bible-study lesson. Once we see him in this light, our role as children of God takes on new meaning, new possibilities and new responsibilities. He opened the way for us to continue his Kingdom mission. Heaven’s resources poured into us. Jesus relied upon the Holy Spirit to walk in obedience, and he sent the Holy Spirit to help us do the same. He relied upon the Holy Spirit to do powerful works that authenticated his message, and he sent the Holy Spirit to do the same for us.
Jesus indeed came to save us from our sins; he also came to empower us to live godly lives that can look substantially like his life. That empowerment burst forth from the grave on Easter Sunday. His mandate to disciple the nations is not possible apart from the power of the resurrection. The Book of Acts reveals what happens when students of Jesus operate in the power of the resurrection.
We must choose wisely during this Holy Week. Are we celebrating sacrifice apart from empowerment? Are we celebrating history without receiving the gift of the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead? The open grave stands as a portal through which heaven flows into earth—not only on that first Easter Sunday, but every day.