The resurrection of Jesus Christ is arguably the most consequential event in human history – certainly as consequential as the death of Jesus and His second advent (see Heb. 9:28). As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Cor. 15:17-18, 20 NRSV).
However, as the Christian world celebrated Easter this past weekend, I was reminded that God has given Christians a better way to celebrate the resurrection – and it’s not a Sunday celebration once a year (or even every week, for that matter).
The Lord’s Supper – a Commemoration of the Death of Jesus
On the eve of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt, God instructed Moses that each family was to take lamb for each family and place “some of the blood… on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.” (Ex. 12:3, 7 NRSV). That night, when the angel would pass through the land of Egypt and bring deliverance to the Israelites, God’s promise was that “the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 12:13 NRSV).
The Israelites were to remember this event by celebrating the “Passover of the Lord.” (Ex. 12:11). “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” (Ex. 12:14 NRSV).
Fifteen hundred years later, Jesus celebrated this same Passover event with His disciples in the Upper Room. Knowing that His death was imminent, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a commemorative event that replaced the Passover. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26 NRSV). His disciples have taken the bread and wine “in remembrance” of His death ever since.
On that Passover Friday afternoon in A.D. 31, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, cried out in a loud voice “It is finished!” (John 19:30). His work was done – our redemption had been purchased! “Christ our Passover” was sacrificed for us, and thereby fulfilled the Passover service. (1 Cor. 5:7). When Jesus hung His head and died on the cross, it was 3:00 in the afternoon, the time of the evening sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem not far away. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matt. 27:51-53 NRSV).
Before the sun set that Friday evening, the grieving disciples laid the body of Jesus in a tomb where He rested for the Sabbath day. What they forgot, was that Jesus had said “I am the resurrection, and the life.” (John 11:25). The disciples also didn’t know that on Sunday morning Jesus would come forth from the grave “on the very day when the wave sheaf was to be presented before the Lord.” (Desire of Ages, 786).
Ellen White describes how Jesus perfectly fulfilled the offering of the firstfruits, a ceremony held during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, right after the Passover (see Lev. 23:9-14):
“For more than a thousand years this symbolic ceremony had been performed. From the harvest fields the first heads of ripened grain were gathered, and when the people went up to Jerusalem to the Passover, the sheaf of first fruits was waved as a thank offering before the Lord. Not until this was presented could the sickle be put to the grain, and it be gathered into sheaves. The sheaf dedicated to God represented the harvest. So Christ the first fruits represented the great spiritual harvest to be gathered for the kingdom of God. His resurrection is the type and pledge of the resurrection of all the righteous dead.” (The Desire of Ages, 786).
That Sunday morning, a mighty angel came down from heaven and rolled away the stone. Jesus, the divine Son of God, came forth from the tomb a conquerer over death and sin!
Baptism – a Celebration of the Resurrection
How do the Apostles Paul and Peter indicate we should celebrate and commemorate this momentous, earth shaking, history-dividing event that we call the resurrection?
- “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6:3-5 NRSV).
- “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col. 2:12 NRSV).
- “And baptism.. now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21 NRSV).
Whenever a believer is immersed in the waters of baptism, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated, commemorated and honored!
Whenever a believer rises from the watery grave to live a new life, we honor the resurrection of Jesus!
Ellen White, agreeing with Paul and Peter, wrote the following:
“Christ rested in the tomb on the Sabbath day, and when holy beings of both heaven and earth were astir on the morning of the first day of the week, He rose from the grave to renew His work of teaching His disciples. But this fact does not consecrate the first day of the week, and make it a Sabbath. Jesus, prior to His death, established a memorial of the breaking of His body and the spilling of His blood for the sins of the world, in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper, saying “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” And the repentant believer, who takes the steps required in conversion, commemorates in his baptism the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He goes down into the water in the likeness of Christ’s death and burial, and he is raised out of the water in the likeness of His resurrection—not to take up the old life of sin, but to live a new life in Christ Jesus.” (The Spirit of Prophecy 3:204)
“The resurrection of Christ is commemorated by our being buried with him by baptism, and raised up out of the watery grave in likeness of his resurrection, to live in newness of life.” (1SG 112)
The biblical scholar J.N. Andrews commented:
“Would you commemorate the burial and resurrection of the Saviour? You need not keep the first day of the week. The Lord ordained a very different and far more appropriate memorial. ‘Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.’ Romans 6:3-5. ‘Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.’ Colossians 2:12.” ESRS 8
Of course, we can celebrate the resurrection anytime and in a multitude of ways. But it’s unfortunate that Easter Sunday and weekly Sunday observance have essentially become a substitute within the Christian church for baptism, which was the original biblical celebration of the resurrection. It’s also unfortunate how celebrating the day of the Resurrection has ultimately detracted from the day of worship that the God of creation and resurrection tells us to “remember” (see Exodus 20:8-11). Just as unfortunate is that many churches have either forgotten baptism completely or changed the symbolic act to sprinkling or pouring, so as to diminish the potency of the symbol of baptism by immersion.
All that being said, a celebration of the resurrection that coincides with the weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday could be appropriately used as an evangelistic opportunity to share the good news with a world that is thinking about the death and resurrection of Jesus on that weekend. (Perhaps several baptisms on that weekend would be a great way to celebrate the resurrection at a time when many are focused on the resurrection!) However, Christians who wish to follow the Bible should be careful not to let Easter Sunday eclipse the biblical way to celebrate the resurrection. Instead, we should celebrate and emphasize the resurrection of Jesus throughout the year every time a new believer is baptized. In this way, every believer will be able to identify with the resurrection of our Lord and Savior each time they experience baptism or see someone they have led to Jesus being baptized.
Why don’t I personally celebrate Easter as a religious holiday? Because I believe God has given Christians a better way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ: baptism by immersion – something tangible that can be experienced by every Christian every time a believer begins a new life in Jesus. That’s why I like to call baptisms “Resurrection Celebrations”.