Easter is where the real story gets told. Without Easter Good Friday is the sad story of the crushing weight of the world upon the shoulders of an incendiary Jewish Rabbi. Without Easter Jesus is merely a martyr.
Of course many think of Jesus as a martyr. In popular culture people often think of Christianity as “that religion that was started by that martyr Jesus.” But many scholars as well have recharacterized the gospel narratives as martyr stories.
There is a major problem with that, however. Martyrs die at more powerful hands. They speak truth into the world despite not having control over their mortal life. Martyrs aren’t resurrected. Martyrs are dead. That is their point. They believed what they said so much they were willing to die for it. But Jesus isn’t dead. He had control over it all. His point is himself. He believed what he said so much he wasn’t just willing to day, he was willing to raise from the dead to prove it.
In the case of Jesus the one who did the dying also had the power to stop his death. The fact that he willingly withheld the legions he could have called in his defense makes it all the more meaningful. Which again is why Good Friday demands Easter–or else we celebrate the mere memory of a martyr, rather than worship the presence of a living Messiah.
My grandmother used to say judgmental things like, “Catholics keep Jesus up on the cross all the time… there was a Good Friday, but don’t they know there was an Easter?”
Well, my politically incorrect grandmother likely didn’t understand the Catholics much, but she has a point. We dare not “keep Jesus on the cross” for longer than necessary. He is much more than a martyr. Everything rides on that fact. I’ll take my Messiah over a martyr any day.