This Sunday is the central day in Christianity. This Sunday is the day we celebrate the substitutionary death of Christ Jesus on the cross and His resurrection from the grave for lost and broken sinners. Easter is the foundation of our faith. Without the Gospel of the cross and resurrection, we are hopeless, but Christ is risen!
On Easter morning, more Americans will make their way to church than on any other day of the year. Admittedly, many will make Easter their one day to connect with the church, which will be nothing more than a tip of the hat to a faith they knew as children. As a pastor, I always looked forward to Easter and these once-a-year folks, hoping and praying that the Holy Spirit would penetrate their hearts.
These once-a-year folks are not an American phenomenon. The same situation occurs in other parts of the world. I have just returned from an exploratory mission trip with Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma leaders to post-modern Europe. Cathedrals stand as beautiful, yet empty, testimonies to a faith without life. Empty churches are nothing more than an empty shell. While there will be parades on Easter and family celebrations that give vague reminders of a faith once central to these nations, the celebrations are more cultural than religious.
The dominant faiths across Europe are secularism, agnosticism, and atheism. Churches are more museums of a faith once dominant. Spain and Portugal are now less than one percent evangelical Christian. The lostness matches that of Iran, Afghanistan, and China. On Easter, International Mission Board missionaries and a small number of evangelical pastors will declare the simple Gospel of a crucified and risen Savior.
What I saw in Europe stands as a powerful warning. Cultural faith is empty; indeed, it is no faith at all. As Christians, our faith is not to be put on a shelf and dragged down for a one-day holiday. Christ died on the cross and arose from the grave to give new life to spiritually dead sinners. Yes, faith in the risen Savior provides “fire insurance,” for He paid the penalty for our sins; however, true faith is not built on fire insurance, but new birth and new life.
We profess an Easter faith, but that does not mean faith to be practiced only on Easter. Our faith is a living and vibrant faith to be lived every day. We have a faith that gives us hope in the face of our failure, sin, brokenness, and sadness. Our faith lifts us from the depths of an empty heart shrouded in death to a living hope practiced each day. Paul said it right—we who hold an Easter faith face death, not as those who have no hope, but as those whose hope is deposited in the vault of Heaven. Because He lives, we shall live also!
My prayer is that this Easter will be filled with praise, rejoicing, and declaration of the unadulterated Gospel. Easter is not a time for sentimental gospel. Pastors hold in their hands the living Gospel of a risen Savior, a Gospel that demands more than a childhood decision or a tip of the hat. The empty tomb comes by way of the cross. When we embrace the Gospel, the cost to us is more than an emotional walk down an aisle. The cost to us is rejection of the old way of life and a placing of our past, present, and future in the Hands of the Savior, placing our hope solely and completely on Him.
Easter is a celebration of Christ, His death, and resurrection. For those of us who have embraced the Gospel, Easter is a celebration of our own death and resurrection to walk in the newness of life. Our faith is not cultural or sentimental, but a living faith!