Many Christians will arrive at Easter this year celebrating only half of what the holiest day in the Christian calendar signifies.
"Easter Sunday is not only a most appropriate occasion for celebration, but it also serves as a yearly sobering reminder of a topic that many people work hard to avoid – the harsh reality of death," said C.J. Mahaney, president of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Mahaney was speaking to hundreds in Orlando, Fla., this past weekend at Ligonier Ministries' annual national conference, which concluded Saturday.
Death is a topic most people like to distance themselves from, Mahaney told the crowd on Friday, including during the Easter celebration. On Easter Sunday, when churches expect fuller pews and higher attendance numbers than usual, people expect to hear messages that are cheerful in tone.
But that's not what Easter is only about.
"If we don't understand the harsh reality or theological significance of death, we will never truly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ," Mahaney stressed.
Just ahead of the start of Holy Week, which marks the last week of the earthly life of Jesus and is considered the most important week of the year for believers, speakers at the Orlando conference spent three days expounding on Scripture passages that spoke of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
Bluntly stated, the cross is bloody, it's an offensive message and it's a shameful death in the ears of the world, said Steven J. Lawson, senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., during the Ligonier conference.
The word of the cross is foolishness. In other words, it's nonsense, pointless, idiotic, and mindless. "That is what the cross is to the natural man," Lawson noted.
Even though foolishness to many, a straightforward delivery of the message of the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus is power to those being saved, and it is desperately needed in the church today, he added.
"It is a distasteful announcement that the herald brings and yet, he is responsible to God to discharge his duty to bring the entirety of the message," Lawson said, noting that heralds are marked by the straightforward delivery of the message regardless of what the results may be.
"We need heralds. We need to come back to the foolishness of preaching," he emphasized to hundreds as he denounced modern trends of replacing theology with theatrics and expository preaching with entertainment.
Ligonier Ministries president and founder R.C. Sproul believes many churches are following modern trends and that the church has failed to preach the biblical Gospel.
"Instead of preaching about mankind's depravity and the truth that citizenship in the kingdom of God comes only by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, we hear about a powerless and insipid Creator and the cheap grace He lavishes upon all," he said in an introduction statement for this year's conference, which was aptly themed "Evangelism According to Jesus."
And the result of failing to preach the biblical Gospel is evangelism that introduces people to the wrong Jesus, Sproul noted.
So as Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday approaches, Mahaney reminded believers about the significance of this holy week.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ "is not merely a point of doctrine," he said. "It's the most gracious divine solution to the problem of sin and death and judgment.
"Easter reveals the divine provision for sin and death and judgment. Easter proclaims that sin and death and judgment don't have the final words because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death."
"The forgiveness of sins has been secured and salvation has been secured," he highlighted. "That's what Easter announces."
The annual Ligonier Ministries' conference was held March 13-15. Ligonier Ministries produces teaching series covering Bible study, apologetics, theology, Christian living, philosophy, and church history and holds conferences throughout the year.