Easter is here again and with it a holiday weekend, chocolate eggs and enough shopping sales to tempt any credit-card carrying buyer. What’s it really all about? All around the world, around two billion Christians will take time this weekend to reflect on and give thanks for the work that Jesus Christ accomplished through his death, burial and resurrection. That’s the real meaning of Easter. Followers of Christ believe that Jesus is ALIVE!
The Living Jesus
In his excellent book The Living Jesus, New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson notes that whether a person is dead or alive really matters – not only to the person but also to other people relating to that person. If someone is dead, you can still learn about them and their influence may continue to live on but their life is complete. There are no new actions being done or new words being spoken, only echoes from the past. We can talk about who they “were” but no longer who they “are”. However, when someone is alive, the situation is completely different. New data is coming in. We can have a conversation with them and as a result our knowledge of them grows and changes.
The most important question concerning Jesus is this: “Do you think he is dead or alive?”
If Jesus is dead, then there are a number of ways we can relate to his life and accomplishments. We can study the “historical Jesus” and learn about him but we cannot learn from him anymore. If Jesus is alive, however, everything changes. We are not just relating to a memory but to a living person who we can continue to learn from.
There is no middle ground between dead and alive. If Jesus is dead, his story is completed. If he is alive, then his story continues. To be a Christian means to assert that Jesus is alive. Christian faith begins with the resurrection (1Cor.15:14). To pray to Jesus is to address a real, living person who is capable of answering us and manifesting his presence. To declare “Jesus is Lord” is not only a statement of belief in a certain reality but a declaration of how we live our lives in relation to the living Jesus (Rom.10:9).
Evidence for the Resurrection
Critics of Christianity try to explain away the resurrection of Jesus as mere myth. Some say Jesus never really died, suggested he merely fainted then later revived in the tomb (the swoon theory). This is highly unlikely, as nobody survived death by crucifixion and the Roman soldiers declared Jesus dead. Even if he did, imagine the condition Jesus would have been in – one that would have attracted pity from his disciples not faith to launch a worldwide movement.
Evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is found in the empty tomb (Jesus’ enemies would have loved to have produced a body if they could) and the numerous post-resurrection appearances to his disciples (to over 500 people who were still alive at the time of their testimony – see 1 Cor.15:1-3). Sir Lionel Luckhoo, the most successful attorney of all time, said this after investigating the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ: "I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt."
The best explanation of the rapidly growing Christian movement is the resurrection of Jesus. How else could a small group of marginal people grow with such power and impact as to eventually overcome the might of the Roman Empire without something supernatural bringing about transformation to their personal lives? A living Jesus is the most sensible explanation.
Experiencing Jesus Today
Where can Jesus be known and experienced today? There are a number of ways:
• The Scriptures, especially the New Testament writings, speak to us about the person of Jesus, revealing his values, priorities and mission. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The written Word reveals the Living Word to us.
• The Holy Spirit can choose to reveal Jesus to any person seeking Him. No one can say that “Jesus is Lord” without the Spirit (1 Cor.12:3). Ask the Holy Spirit to show Jesus to you.
• Jesus himself said that he would be uniquely present amongst the community of believers (Mat.18:20). The church is the body of the risen Jesus. As we gather, Jesus is there in unique and profound ways. Jesus is manifest in the church at worship, in prayer, and through the sacraments of communion and baptism.
• We can see and encounter Jesus in the lives of those who have been changed by His presence and power. Followers of Jesus become his “letter”, to be read by all people (2 Cor.3:2-3). There is no greater witness to the reality of Jesus than a transformed life.
• When we minister to the “little ones” (Mark 9:36-37), the poor, the needy (Mark 9:41) and the outcast in Jesus’ name, He says we are ministering to Him (Mat.25:40, 42). We can find and experience Jesus in the ones we serve in love.
One of Jesus’ last promises was that he would be “with us” until the end when he returns (Mat.28:20). Jesus is Emmanuel = “God with us” (Mat.1:23). We don’t lack his presence. What we need is a greater awareness of his presence. Right here, right now, whether we feel like it or not, Jesus is present. He is alive – the Living One – who was and is and is to come!
Sample Discussion Questions
1. Share about the first time you heard about Jesus. What were your thoughts, feelings or impressions about him?
2. Compare your relationships with two family members OR two influential people in your life – one who has passed away and one who is still alive. How are these relationships different?
3. When did Jesus first seem real or alive to you?
4. The apostle Paul tells us that we are all “called to be saints” (Rom.1:7; 1Cor.1:2), which means to be transformed into the image or likeness of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor.3:17-18). In doing so, we become examples for other people to imitate and we literally can show Jesus to them. Share about some people in your life who you saw Jesus in. In other words, their life was a display of the living Jesus at work.
5. Saul learned that in persecuting followers of Christ he was persecuting Jesus (read Acts 9:3-6). Jesus tells us that in serving those in need, we are serving him. Discuss the reality of the fact that we encounter the living Jesus in other people.
6. Read Mat.28:20 slowly. In what ways can we live our lives with a greater awareness and faith in the living Jesus? How can we do life with him each day?