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Scripture Reading: Psalm 113
Easter: Human Holiday - Not Holy Day!
1. Today is Palm Sunday on the Catholic and Protestant calendar, and begins the celebration of “Holy Week”, with Maundy (Holy) Thursday (from Latin, Mandatum or washing of the feet), Good Friday (marks the crucifixion of Jesus) and Easter Sunday (celebrates the resurrection of Jesus).
2. Why is it that we do not have special Easter services? Don’t we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Don’t you want to honor Him for that great event?
I. WHAT EASTER IS TO MANY PEOPLE.
A. To “Christendom”, Easter is the Celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
B. Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus and the Celebration of Easter are not the Same Thing.
1. Early Christians firmly believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ: So do we, 1 Cor. 15:4, 12-20 (Matt. 28:6; Rom. 4:25).
2. But, an “Easter” celebration was unknown to the early Christians.
a. Not instituted by Christ or His apostles: Easter is not in the NT (silent). What about Acts 12:4?
“There never was a more absurd or unhappy translation than this. The original is simply after the Passover.” (Barnes Notes on Acts 12:4)
b. Not mentioned in history until 155 A.D.
“There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. The sanctity of the special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians.” (The Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th ed., II:859)
C. First Day of the Week Worship Honors the Resurrection of Christ.
1. Resurrection occurred on the first day of week, Mark 16:9.
2. Resurrection proclaimed (gospel preached) and His church established on first day of week, Acts 2:1, 24-32, 36, 41, 47.
3. First day of week worship, Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2.
4. The Lord’s day, Rev. 1:10.
“The ‘first day of the week,’ the Lord’s Day, was the regular, weekly commemoration of our Lord’s resurrection. It is more than doubtful if there was an annual commemoration (‘Easter’) in Apostolic times.” (James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, Grand Rapids: 1973, Vol. 2, p. 133)
D. Question: Is Easter from Heaven or From Men? Matt. 21:25
II. THE HISTORY OF EASTER AS A RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY.
A. Easter Represents the Convergence of Three Particular Events.
1. Jewish Passover (month Nisan, first month on Hebrew calendar – always during so-called “Easter season.”)
2. So-called “Christian Passover” (commemoration of crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, which occurred during Jewish Passover).
3. Pagan festival of Spring (goddess Eastre) which fell on the vernal equinox (March 21).
B. An Historical Addition to Worship. (Jno. 4:23-24)
1. “There is no trace of Easter celebration in the NT.” (H. Porter, ISBE, II:889)
2. First definite reference in 154-155 A.D.:
“While there is reason to suppose that Easter had been honored from early in Christian history, the first definite record of its celebration is in connection with a visit of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, to Anicetus, bishop of Rome, in 154 or 155.” (Williston Walker, A History Of The Christian Church, New York: 1950, p. 64)
3. When would the so-called “Christian Passover” be celebrated?
a. Council of Nicea (325 AD) decided it should be on Sunday, but did not fix a particular Sunday.
b. Rules adopted in 7th century on establishing annual date. Differences in Julian and Gregorian (adopted in 1583) calendars mean there are still different dates in Eastern and Western Churches. (ISBE)
c. Easter now falls between March 22 and April 25. (The Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after March 21. If the full moon occurs on a Sunday, then Easter is on the following Sunday.)
C. Using the Name “Easter”.
1. First called the “Christian Passover” (Philip Schaff, History of the Church, II:206). NT completely silent re. “Christian Passover”, Col. 2:16-17 (cf. Gal. 5:3).
2. “Originally a Saxon word (Eostre), denoting a goddess of the Saxons, in honour of whom sacrifices were offered about the time of the Passover. Hence the name came to be given to the festival of the Resurrection of Christ, which occurred at the time of the Passover.” (Easton’s Revised Bible Dictionary)
D. Blending of Pagan Tradition Produced Modern-day Easter.
1. Men often merge secular festivals with their religious observances. This was done with Easter.
a. Eastre: Saxon goddess of spring and fertility. Worshippers celebrated her festival on the vernal equinox (first day of spring).
b. Customs incorporated into “Christian Passover” to (1) help new converts more easily adapt to their new faith in the face of pressures from their old religious practices, and (2) offer a corresponding incentive for people to convert.
c. Blending of paganism and apostate observance produced modern-day Easter.
“Modern-day Easter is derived from two ancient traditions: one Judeo-Christian and the other Pagan. Both Christians and Pagans have celebrated death and resurrection themes on or after the Spring Equinox for millennia. Most religious historians believe that many elements of the Christian observance of Easter were derived from earlier Pagan celebrations.” (Easter: Origins, Meanings, and Current Practices, religioustolerance.org/easter.htm)
“How this pagan festival came to be supplanted by a solemn Christian holiday attests to the ingenuity of second century Christian missionaries.
“These missionaries traveled among the Teutonic tribes north of Rome. Whenever possible, they transformed local pagan customs to harmonize with Christian doctrine. On a practical basis, this prevented local converts from being persecuted by the pagan traditionalists. Since the Eastre festival to celebrate spring coincided with the time of the Christian observance of the resurrection of Christ, this crossover was achieved smoothly. Some doubt remained as to the exact day of the celebration.” (Mani Niall, The History of Easter and Its Custom)
III. THE PROBLEM WITH THE RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY CALLED “EASTER” IS ONE OF BIBLE AUTHORITY.
A. Easter is a Man-made Religious Holiday, cf. Gal. 4:9-11.
1. It is from man, not from God (Matt. 21:25).
a. If man can institute religious observances on the basis of human tradition, then man’s authority is higher than God’s authority.
b. No NT pattern for the religious observance of Easter, Heb. 8:5; Col. 3:17 (2 Tim. 1:13).
c. The pattern it follows is human tradition, Gal. 4:10-11; Col. 2:20-23; Matt. 15:8-9.
d. Religious celebration of Easter is a perversion of the gospel, Gal. 1:6-10.
B. Easter is an Attempt to Call on the Name of the Lord without His Approval.
1. Example: Acts 19:11-17…
a. Apostles called on the name of the Lord with divine approval and blessings, 19:11-12.
b. Imposters tried to invoke the name of the Lord without approval or success, 19:13-16.
c. The name of the Lord Jesus was magnified (celebrated), 19:17.
2. First day of the week worship is approved and true worship, Acts 20:7; Jno. 4:24.
-It celebrates the name of the Lord Jesus
3. Easter worship is vain worship (approved by men but not by God).
-It does not celebrate the name of the Lord Jesus.
1. We must be content with God’s will in God’s way (1 Pet. 4:11).
a. Worship in spirit and truth, Jno. 4:24.
b. Distinguish between religious traditions of men and the divine will of God. (Prov. 14:12; Jer. 10:23)
2. Uphold all the truth (incl. the resurrection of Jesus and true worship), and oppose every innovation of men. 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:2-4
By: Joe R. Price
Posted: March 21, 2013