The Biblical Origins of Easter

To understand the biblical origins of Easter, it is necessary to start with the Christmas story, because one Holy Day is meaningless without the other. Christians contemplate the history of Christ’s life in total, and the biblical origins of Easter can only be appreciated in that context.

The Jewish community at the time of Christ was extremely oppressed. They were seeking a Savior, whom they pictured as a great warrior who would redeem them from the injustices they had suffered. Instead, God sent a babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths, into the humblest circumstances imaginable: a dirty cattle stall. God did this because He gives all of us free choice. Had He sent a warrior, people would have had no choice but to follow or be killed, which was pretty much the theory under which Caesar operated.

Not much is recorded in the Bible about the first 30 years of Jesus’ life, other than that He was gifted in teaching, and spent at least some time discussing Jewish law with the leaders of the church. Once He reached adulthood, He was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, then set out preaching and teaching, gathering believers as He went.

For three years, Jesus traveled the lands around the Sea of Galilee, preaching the word of God and demonstrating what has now become clichÃ?©: “What would Jesus do?” His twelve closest followers, the Apostles, traveled with him and assisted him in his teachings. Some of them subsequently recorded the stories and letters that now make up the New Testament.

At the end of the three years of teaching, the story of the biblical origins of Easter begins. The leaders in Rome had become frightened because of Jesus’ great popularity with the people. Afraid He would wrest power from them, they plotted to have Jesus arrested. The Apostle Judas met secretly with Roman soldiers. He sold Jesus out for a few pieces of silver and later hanged himself. This is why a person today who betrays us is labeled a “Judas”.

Jesus and His Apostles ate dinner on the day we now call Maundy Thursday, and Jesus, who knew the end was near, asked his Apostles to remember Him each time they ate the bread and drank from the cup. This dinner is what is now known as the Last Supper. In a very real sense, Christians now believe that the host (bread) and wine served for Communion are the Body and Blood of Christ.

After dinner, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. During His time of prayer, Jesus told God that He didn’t want to die this way, but that He accepted that God’s will had to be done. His words were, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” He then spoke to the Apostles, telling Simon Peter that it would come to pass that before the cock crowed, Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times, out of fear of persecution. Peter, of course, refuted this.

Soldiers soon showed up in the garden, and Judas kissed Jesus’ cheek, as a sign to the soldiers of which man they were to arrest. One of the Apostles took out his sword and cut off the right ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus immediately healed the soldier’s ear and went away with them because he knew that God’s will had to be fulfilled. This is the part of the biblical origins of Easter that ties back to the Christmas story. Jesus was created with free will, just like the rest of us. He made a conscious choice to follow His Father.

Jesus was jailed, but King Herod was afraid to kill Him because he wasn’t sure whether or not Jesus was truly the son of God. He feared the retribution of an angry God, but he also feared what Emperor Caesar would do if Jesus became any more powerful than He already was. To try to absolve himself of the guilt, Herod put the question to his people.

According to Jewish custom, one prisoner was released from jail during the Jewish feast of Passover. Herod asked the crowd gathered outside of his palace whether the released prisoner should be Jesus or one of the others being held. The crowd responded that they wanted Jesus killed, not released. Herod countered, asking, “but isn’t He your King?” to which the crowd responded, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Jesus was ridiculed, called “King of the Jews”, and asked to prove his divine abilities by turning water into wine. He was made to wear a crown of thorns. He was whipped 40 times with a knotted lash. As the crowd milled around Herod’s courtyard, Peter was asked three times if he had been with Jesus. Each time, he denied knowing Him. Just after the third denial, the cock crowed, as Jesus had foretold.

As was the custom, crosses were built from large trees, and the three prisoners condemned to die that day were made to carry the heavy crosses through town, down the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Suffering), and up Golgotha Hill. The two thieves who were being executed were tied to their crosses, but Jesus was nailed to his. A nail pierced each hand, and one nail was driven through both feet. The crosses were then hoisted up into position, and the prisoners were left to die in the hot sun. Soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing. His mother asked if she could give him a drink, and raised a cloth moistened with hyssop to his lips to moisten them.

Because God could not bear to be near sin, He abandoned Jesus on the cross, causing Jesus to ask, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” However, Jesus persevered, knowing that His eternal reward lay in heaven, and He could get there only by choosing to do God’s will, no matter the cost to His body and His dignity.

Apparently, Jesus was not dying fast enough, as his side was pierced with a sword. Once He was dead, soldiers took down the cross and removed Jesus’ body, breaking His legs in the process. The day of Jesus’ death is what Christians now celebrate as Holy Friday or Good Friday, even though it is undoubtedly the blackest day in the history of Christendom.

Because it was nearly sundown on Friday, and the Jewish Holy Day begins at sunset, Jesus’ body was hastily lain in a borrowed tomb. A large rock was rolled across the opening to the small cave. The Sabbath was celebrated on Saturday, and on Sunday, Mary (Jesus’ mother) returned to the tomb to more properly prepare the body for burial. Jewish custom demanded that the body be anointed with spices and oils and wrapped before being laid to rest.

This is the most exciting part of the biblical origins of Easter. As Mary approached the tomb, she noticed that the rock had been rolled away, and someone was sitting near the entrance to the tomb. Thinking that it was the gardener, she asked what he had done with Jesus’ body. Jesus then identified himself to her, and she was in awe. She ran back to tell the Apostles, then Peter and John ran to the tomb in Jerusalem to see for themselves. The tomb indeed was empty. Jesus had conquered death, and risen back to walk among the living.

When Jesus later appeared to all of the Apostles, “Doubting” Thomas did not believe it was truly Him. As proof, Jesus showed the nail wounds in His hands, and the stab wound in His side, and they were truly amazed.

The significance to Christians of the biblical origins of Easter cannot be overstated. When Jesus’ blood flowed from the wound in his side, it represented a washing away of all sins, past, present, and future, for everyone who confesses that Jesus is their Savior. Because He took all of our sins upon Himself and subsequently died for them, we can be assured that God forgives our sins and will take care of us always, regardless of whatever terrible behavior we have perpetrated. Simply by accepting that Jesus died for our sins, we can have the eternal, loving presence of God in our lives every day. When Jesus rose from the dead, He conquered death for all of us. We can now know that whatever the future holds, we will end up in heaven because death is not the end for a Christian.

Most Christians know that each of us sins every single day. It doesn’t have to be the big sins, like murder, but rather the small things, like not helping someone who we know is in need. It can be losing patience with your children, or maybe “checking out” someone who isn’t your spouse. The cool thing, though, is that we don’t have to be perfect to be Christians. We do, however, have to ask for forgiveness, and accept that Jesus gave us a perfect gift when He died for our sins. We can wipe the slate clean each and every day simply by praying and believing that God hears us and wants only the best for each of us.

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from the biblical origins of Easter is that even though Jesus didn’t want to die, he followed God’s will. Each of us needs to make the decision that we will follow what God sets out for us to do. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard God speak directly to me ~ after all, he sent an angel rather than telling the mother of his only Son directly that she would have a baby ~ but I do know that God has a plan for my life.

When we pray and ask for things, God only answers in one of three ways:

1. Yes.
2. Not yet.
3. I have a better plan.

If we follow the way we are led, God will reveal His plan to us when it is time for us to know. Like Christ, we need to accept that God may ask us to do some things that we may not particularly enjoy, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing shelter to the homeless, or visiting the sick. However, if we are faithful to do God’s will, He will repay us a hundredfold, just as He did when he raised Christ from the dead.

He Arose! He Arose! Hallelujah! Christ Arose!

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