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Easter: Why it’s a big deal


This is the week leading up to Easter. That much is clear, known to everybody in our purview — secular neighbors, mainstream media, national retailers, and more. However, what is unclear to many secular people is what Easter means and why it’s a big deal.   

To understand Easter, let’s look at the first time Easter was ever preached. It was during Pentecost, a Jewish feast celebrated for thousands of years. Peter, a disciple of Jesus, preached the first Easter sermon ever recorded. Here’s what Peter said:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

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Notice three things in Peter’s Easter sermon. There’s a sovereign God with a hidden plan, a foreboding power that threatens to destroy, and a strong Savior who defeats that power. 

A sovereign God with a hidden plan

The context for Peter’s sermon was the greatest evil ever perpetrated in world history. Indeed, on a dark Friday preceding Pentecost that year, Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified. The cultural elite of that day — religious, political, and military—had conspired to strip Jesus naked, torture him mercilessly, and slaughter him publicly. Yet, a short while later, Peter treated this great injustice as happy news for the world. 

Why on earth would Peter be joyous about such a heinous event?

Because Peter knew that God was implementing a hidden plan — unbeknownst to the cultural elite — that would unfold through this great injustice. While powerful men were conspiring to humiliate and execute the Son of God, God the Trinity was acting to break the power of evil and save the world from itself once and for all. 

Think about what Peter says. Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” even as he was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” What a fascinating declaration. Even while lawless men were committing the greatest evil in world history, God was working to bring about the greatest good the world has ever known: he was creating eternal life out of earthly death.

A dark power that threatens to destroy

Unlike other religions and philosophies, Christianity teaches that each of us is born with evil in our hearts. Like Adam and Eve, we refuse to recognize God as King of the world, and we break his law repeatedly. However, because God is, in fact, the universal King and ultimate Lawgiver, our sins are treasonous: they represent an attempt to unseat the King and nullify his laws. Therefore, we deserve death as the painful penalty for our treachery and transgressions. 

Yet Peter says that, through the resurrection, Jesus loosed us from the “pangs of death.” A pang is a sharp pain or painful emotion, and death plays both roles for each of us. It represents the sharpest of physical pains, the cessation of life as we know it; and it evokes a painful array of emotions, from anxiety to depression to dread. 

Indeed, for the secular person, there is no objective way of dealing with the specter of death. Death is the ultimate reminder that without a sovereign God, our lives have no inherent meaning or purpose. We live for a while, and then we die, and that’s that. But for the Christian, death’s grip is temporary, and light is borne from its darkness.

A strong savior who defeats death and distills light from darkness

Unlike other religions and philosophies, Christianity traces the origin of death to the evil in every human heart. Yet, it also separates itself from the pack by teaching that God loves us — despite our treachery and transgressions — and provides a way to escape the pangs of death. Peter’s sermon says that God raised Jesus from the dead to “loosen” us from death’s grip. 

What is the logic of this claim that Jesus is able to loosen us from death’s grip?

In God’s sovereign plan — hidden from the world for so long, but now revealed at last — God came to earth and took on human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. He did so to “trade places” with us, his mutinous subjects. He lived the sinless life, free of treachery or transgression, that we should have lived, and he died the punitive death that each of us deserves.

This is the great exchange celebrated by Christians on Easter. Through Jesus, God took the treachery and transgression on our docket, died for it, and offered us his perfect record in return. 

That is why the apostle Paul could declare that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). And it is why Peter could rejoice that we have been loosed from the pangs of death. 

The point of Easter, the reason for its celebratory tone, is that Jesus Christ stared down death, destroyed its power, and distilled light from the darkness. In God’s sovereign plan, the greatest evil perpetrated in world history was transformed into the greatest good the world has ever known. Through Christ, the pangs of death have been loosed.

We have nothing to fear and everything to celebrate! 

Dr. Robert J. Pacienza is Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, President of Coral Ridge Ministries and Founder of the Institute for Faith & Culture.

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