“What does Easter mean to God?” Does that question sound odd to you? We are well-trained to ask the far less important question, “What does Easter mean to you?” In an interview in World Magazine, the highly respected PBS journalist Bill Moyers was once asked, “Do you believe that the resurrection actually happened?” Moyers answered, “You can't take the resurrection by fact - you have to take it on faith. You appropriate the story for what it means to you and what it says to you. . .. If it means something to you, that's very important… Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, and all these years since - my faith is based on my experience. This includes being taught to learn, thinking, reading the Bible critically from a historical and journalistic standpoint - I, like you, spend a lot of time reading my Bible - and it can't be justified by any of those measures. It is part of my story and is therefore a necessary part of my faith, but I wouldn't dare suggest it is essential to anybody's faith who doesn't have my experience.” Let me interpret Moyers’ doublespeak for you: He was saying that the resurrection probably didn’t happen, but it doesn’t really matter if it did or not. As long as I find some meaning in the myth of the resurrection, then it’s important to me. According to Moyers, any value in the story of the empty tomb comes from the importance that I attach to it.
Compare Moyers’ perspective to that of the Apostle Paul. In Romans 1, Paul says that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, whose coming was prophesied beforehand by the prophets, who was descended from King David according to the flesh, “and was declared to be the Son of God in power…by His resurrection from the dead.” He is saying that the one true God of the universe made it clear to us that Jesus was His unique, only begotten Son by raising Him from the dead. The empty tomb was proof that all of Jesus’ claims to be fully God and fully man were true, and it proved that He is the ultimate revelation of who God is (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Much more than that, Paul goes on to say in the rest of the book of Romans that the resurrection was our proof that God accepted the death of His perfect Son on the cross as a payment for the penalty that our sins deserved – “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). If Jesus had remained dead in His tomb, it would have shown that His claims to be God and His claims to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” were all false, that He had been a sinner like us and died for His own sins. In I Corinthians 15, Paul says that if Christ is not risen from the dead, then our faith in Christ is in vain and we are still accountable to God for all our sins. “But,” Paul joyously declares, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Easter means to me what God told me that it means – because Christ is risen from the dead, I too will live with Him for all eternity. I am saved by grace through faith. The interview with Moyers ended with this sad statement from Moyers: “I am not a Christian because I can't do what Jesus asks. But, I care deeply about that figure. He has instructed my faith; He looms large in my life. But I can't do what He asks me to do, so I can't legitimately claim to be a Christian.” None of us can do what Jesus asks – that’s why He had to die for us, and to be raised for our justification.