I once read a newspaper article that listed all the major world religions and included information on each one’s founder and approximate date that each was begun. While I knew most of the leaders associated with the various religious orders, this line jumped out at me:
“Christianity: started by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago.”
At first, I wasn’t sure what about that statement bothered me, but I knew immediately that something about it was incorrect.
And then it hit me.
Christianity didn’t start with Jesus’ coming to Earth around 4 BC (the date typically assigned to His birth).
No, Christianity is as old as the Earth itself, founded by God from the very beginning.
The Gospel has been woven through the pages of history, etched on mankind’s heart by a loving Heavenly Father (see Revelation 13:8; Ecclesiastes 3:11). And understanding the Gospel is pivotal to understanding the Easter season and everything it celebrates.
Why the Gospel is vital to Easter
Easter isn’t about bunnies, candy, and egg hunts. While those things are fun and certainly can have their place, Easter - or, rather, Resurrection Sunday - is vastly deeper and more significant than a sugary, Spring celebration. Easter marks the completion of Christianity - the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to mankind throughout the ages. It is the fullness of the mystery of the Gospel, the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Without the Gospel, there would be no Easter. There would be no real hope. We would have no lasting joy. We’d never know true love. There would be no victory over sin and death. And there certainly wouldn’t be eternal life!
The Gospel is the entire reason we as believers celebrate the Easter season. We’re celebrating Christ’s triumph over the grave. We’re rejoicing in the unquenchable hope that His death and resurrection gives us. And we’re anticipating a life spent forever with Him.
What is the Gospel?
But what if you’re fuzzy about what the Gospel actually is? How can you celebrate something that you don’t fully understand?
Simply put, the Gospel is the good news that Jesus came to Earth to die in our place and to rise again, proving His power over death.
As nifty as that short explanation is, let’s dive into it a bit deeper. If you’ve never heard the Gospel explained before, you’ll probably need to know a few more details, and if you’re already familiar with the Gospel, you know how vital it is to go over it again and again lest it become commonplace in your heart.
In the beginning, God created everything, including mankind. We were designed to bring God pleasure and to fellowship with Him forever. But sin - the act of disobeying God’s commands - forever separated us from our loving Heavenly Father. God’s justice demanded (rightfully so) that we atone for our sins.
The problem is that we could never do this on our own. No amount of good deeds, no length of punishment, could ever make up for the debt that our sin heaped on us (and we ALL have sinned, according to Romans 3:23). And so, God promised to send Someone who could rescue us from our pitiful situation - not because we deserved it, but because God loved us enough to save us when we were unable to save ourselves.
For a time, God instituted the sacrificial system, where people would select a perfect lamb to slaughter on their behalf. But it was an imperfect system, designed to show us our need of a Perfect Savior, not to actually save us through that system itself. The sacrificial system merely showed faith on the sacrificer’s part that he believed that one day, God would send that Perfect Sacrifice just as He had promised.
And so, some 2,000 years ago, right around 4 BC, God sent His own Son to Earth. Only Jesus, who lived a perfect, sinless life, could atone for our sin. Because He was both God and man, He was able to accomplish what we could not.
He allowed Himself to be captured and tried by evil men, to be separated from His Heavenly Father for a time, and to be crucified on a cross. He became the Lamb of God, the Perfect Sacrifice we needed in order to have eternal life.
After His death, He rose again from the grave on the third day. And this is where the Gospel becomes vital to our Easter celebration. Had he not risen from the dead, had He not proven His deity over death, we would still be lost in our suffering and sin. It is because of Jesus’ resurrection that we can so joyfully embrace all that Easter is!
How to accept Christ’s work in faith
So, how does Jesus’ death and resurrection save us from impending eternal death? We must - through the enabling of the Holy Spirit - accept on faith that He really did come to Earth and died and rose again for us. Just as the sacrificial system of long ago showed people’s faith looking forward to the cross, we today celebrate in faith looking back to the cross. We are not eyewitnesses of those events 2,000 years ago. We choose to believe that they happened just as the Bible said they did.
And we eagerly look forward - again, in faith - to spending the rest of our lives in Heaven with our Risen Savior.
The Gospel is absolutely vital to Easter. As you celebrate Resurrection Sunday, remember the good news - that Jesus came as a man to die on our behalf and to rise again so that we may one day live eternally with Him. There is no greater cause for celebration than that!