As Christians in the United States and elsewhere focus on the festival of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, it is interesting to see what happens in terms of cultural reality with holidays, even Christian holidays.
For instance, NBC News reported that Americans are going to be spending more this year on Easter than in previous years. Spending more on Easter? About 6 percent more according to this story. It’s an all-time high according to this 14-year history of conducting a survey on Easter spending. But furthermore, this is spending that can be traced to particular products, most centrally Easter candy. The quote to note in this NBC News story comes from one identified as a retail expert who said,
“Easter has turned into a popular gift giving occasion which equals a major opportunity for retailers.” She went on to say, “We’re seeing lots of retailers with Easter gift departments online and in their stores.”
Now before we go on to consider other issues related to the festival of the resurrection of Christ, let’s just consider what this tells us. It tells us that the business pages are busily watching Easter, having nothing to do with its theological significance whatsoever, but rather with its commercial opportunities: a 6% increase, its predicted, in Easter sales over the previous year. And then we heard that retail expert say, and it comes down to this,
“Easter is now a big commercial holiday.” “We’re seeing,” she said, “lots of retailers with Easter gift departments online and in their stores.”
Now how do we think about that? Well, first of all, we simply shouldn’t be surprised. In a market economy, this is what happens. We discover that where there is an opportunity to turn anything into an opportunity for gift giving, and that means gift buying. For buying the paraphernalia or, for that matter, for selling Easter candy, well, you’re going to see someone seize that opportunity. And the importance of Easter as a commercial holiday is underlined the fact that you’ve got so many in retail who are watching these numbers very carefully, hoping that this year’s Easter is a bigger commercial celebration than in any previous year.
Christians rightly understand that we’re offended, in a way, by the commercialization of Christmas and now by the commercialization of Easter. But before taking it too personally, let’s consider that what happens is the commercialization of everything. Just consider Valentine’s Day, Halloween, or just about anything else. Commercialization is what happens when there is significant public attention to a holiday. And, in this case, the holiday is commonly known as Easter.
But one of the things we note about the commercialization of Christmas is that even as the society goes into this headlong rush of commercialism, it’s actually interesting in retrospect to notice how much of the Christmas story gets through all the commercialism. This is seen in the fact that the vast majority of Americans, headlong once again into commercialism, still seem to know the basic outlines of the Christmas story, about the story of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That is not to say that these people are believers, that they’re Christians. It is to say that even through the fog of the commercialization, the basic facts of the Christmas story still come through. But that is not true with Easter. Sadly enough, it is evident that the vast majority of Americans also caught up in the commercialization of Easter, in this case, actually do not know the outlines of the story behind Easter. And that is of course of the history behind Easter.
And that means that Christians have to work much harder even at Easter than at Christmas to make clear why we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and to make clear, just as people seem to understand more readily at Christmas that we’re talking about historical events. Just as it was true that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it is also true that he was crucified in Jerusalem, and there raised by the power of God. And these are events in space and time and history.
The other thing we need to note is that when you’re thinking about the two big festivals of the Christian faith, a far larger number of Americans indicate that they believe in the birth of Jesus than in his bodily resurrection from the dead. The Bible is straightforwardly clear in affirming the supernatural character of the birth of Jesus and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. It tells us something about our increasingly secular eggs that it is the resurrection of Christ that seems to be the greater stumbling block.
But I think there’s something more going on here. I think Americans in our own secular age can domesticate the baby Jesus. We do this by imagining the baby Jesus safely in that manger in Bethlehem. But there is absolutely no way that you can tame or domesticate the Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead. We are reminded of what Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures. That he was buried. That he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”
But then note the detail into which the Apostle Paul goes. He said,
“And that he appeared to Cephus, then to the 12. Then he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, although some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” “Last of all,” wrote Paul, “as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Paul proceeds to make very clear the case for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, rooting it in eyewitness testimony of the risen Christ. But then the Apostle Paul also goes on symphonically to let us know the meaning of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ not only as the vindication of his sacrifice and substitutionary atonement on the cross, but also of the fact that his resurrection is the promise of the resurrection of all who are in him, all those who are his own.
Then the Apostle Paul makes clear, “Christ is thus victorious over all his enemies, including sin and death.” Paul then concludes that chapter by writing, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In light of the resurrection, Paul then writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.”
I can only imagine the comfort those words would bring right now to Christians who are being targeted and persecuted all over the world. “Remember,” the Apostle Paul said, “that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.” But that’s not a word only for the church that is persecuted and targeted elsewhere in the world. It is the word for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ whenever and wherever it is found. We stand steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. And that is because we serve a risen Christ.
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, offers a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.