Easter island

Easter is not an Island

March 9th, 2012 at 10:36 am

They average thirteen feet in height. The largest of them weighs as much as 165 tons.  There are 887 of them on the island. And no one is sure why.

In 1722, a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen discovered their island. It happened to be Easter Sunday, so he named his discovery Easter Island. Here he found the famous moai, giant statues that guard the beach and dot the island. You’ve undoubtedly seen them in pictures—huge stone figures, mostly faces, standing mute and stoic across the centuries. We’re not sure how the people of Easter Island made them or how they moved them. Theories abound, but no one is certain.

Easter Day can be like Easter Island for us—a miracle isolated from the continent of life.  An annual religious observance, but little more. When I was pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, we typically experienced a 50% decline in worship attendance from Easter Sunday to the next week. Clearly many people see Easter as an island unconnected to the rest of the year, a religious event with little relevance to our daily lives.

But we need more. You and I were made for a transforming daily relationship with the Christ who rose on Easter Sunday. God intends Easter to be more than an island we visit each spring.  How can we make it the home where we live each day?  Why should we?

Why does Easter matter?

First, it is important that we understand why Easter is the singular event in human history. Paul was blunt: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).  Why?

Jesus began his public ministry with the proclamation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). He taught us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). He instructed us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (v. 10). When he returns, his name will be “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).

If Jesus is your king, you’re wearing his clothes and breathing his air. He is your king on Monday, not just on Sunday. He is king of what you do in private, not just what you do in public.  He is king of your attitudes, not just your actions. He is king of the money you keep, not just the money you give.

In our culture, God is not a king but a hobby. He is for Sunday, not Monday. We separate the “spiritual” from the “secular” and reserve him for “religion,” not the “real world.”  Why?

The inhabitants of Easter Island were not the first or last to build monuments to the transcendent. The spiritual DNA of western civilization can be traced to a mountain named Olympus where the gods of ancient Greece made their abode. The Greeks identified a deity for every element and eventuality of life.

Then they made business arrangements with these gods—they would build temples in their honor and make sacrifices to them, if the gods in turn would grant their prayers and meet their needs. If you were going to sea, you’d sacrifice to Poseidon; if you were going to war, you’d sacrifice to Ares. Theirs was a transactional religion—do your part and the gods will do theirs.

You and I have inherited this approach to the divine. Go to church on Sunday so God will bless you on Monday. Give financially so God will bless your finances. Start your day with Bible study and prayer so God will bless your day. We don’t choose transactional religion consciously—it’s the spiritual air we breathe, the worldview we take for granted.

But we were made for more than a business arrangement with our Maker. He created us for personal intimacy with him. Pascal was right: there’s a God-shaped emptiness in each of us. He intends for us not a transactional religion, but a transformational relationship.  He seeks the kind of life-giving connection with us that cannot be experienced one hour a week or one Sunday a year.

How do we know that he’s a King and not a hobby? Because of Easter.

On Easter Sunday, Jesus of Nazareth did something no one has done before or since—he rose from the dead, never to die again. Before Easter, his disciples were a frightened band hiding behind locked doors for fear of the authorities (John 20:19). After Easter, they preached the risen Christ to the very men who crucified him and could execute them as well.

People don’t die for a lie, but more than a million Christians died for their risen Lord in the first generations after Easter.  There is no reasonable explanation for their changed lives or the explosion of apostolic Christianity except that Jesus rose from the grave.

Without Easter, Jesus would be another in a long line of religious teachers and prophets.  Because of Easter, he stands alone as the King of the grave and Lord of the universe.

How can Easter matter?

How can you make the risen Christ your king? First, make sure you’ve trusted him personally for your salvation. Do you remember the time you asked Jesus to forgive your sins and become your Lord? If you’re not sure, be sure today. Take a moment now to ask the risen Christ to forgive your mistakes and failures, and turn your life over to him as your Lord and Master. Then tell a Christian what you’ve done.

Second, crown Him your king every day. There is a single throne in your heart, with room for only one King.  Because we are sinful people living in a fallen world, our “default” position is to sit on that throne. Friedrich Nietzsche was right: the “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature.

So we must begin every day by making Jesus its Lord. Take a few minutes at the start of the day to meet alone with him. Ask his Spirit to show you anything hindering his rule in your life and confess what comes to your thoughts. Then pray through your day, giving him control of every event and decision you anticipate. Ask his Spirit to “fill” and empower you to serve his Kingdom (Ephesians 5:18).

As you walk through the day, stay submitted to your King. When you face a decision, turn it over to him. When you face a temptation, give it immediately to him. When you face an opportunity or problem, ask him to redeem it. Stay close to your King, surrendered to his Spirit and rule in your life.

Easter can be an island you visit every spring, or it can be a reality you experience every day. The choice is yours.


Today the risen King is calling you to serve his Kingdom. To that end, I offer you my favorite confession of faith outside Scripture. It appears online in a variety of forms and is attributed to various authors. The version I treasure was written by an African Christian later martyred for his faith. I recall his words often and seek to make them mine:

I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.” I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.

 My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of compromise, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until he comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he stops. And when he comes for his own, he’ll have no trouble recognizing me—my colors will be clear.

Will yours?

By James C. Denison, Ph.D., Texas Baptists Theologian-in-Residence and President of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture

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