Why the Question of Easter Paganism Is Irrelevant, Part II

Last week, I argued that it does not matter whether or not Easter traditions like dying and hiding eggs and the Easter bunny are pagan in origin.

Now I would like to extrapolate on that point using three main passages from the New Testament.

Sin Originates in the Heart

The first is from the gospel of Mark. In the passage some Pharisees criticize Jesus’ disciples for not washing ceremonially before eating. In response Jesus says to these Pharisees, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9).

The ceremonial washing referred to in this passage is not part of the Law of Moses but rather a tradition passed down through the generations (Mark 7:3). The Pharisees were focusing on man-made rules, rather than on the things that really matter.

Ironically this could be used by skeptics as evidence against practicing Easter traditions like hunting eggs. The argument is that eggs and bunnies are traditions that we practice at the expense of God’s commands. Is there any legitimacy to this?

From the skeptics’ point of view these traditions violate the first and second commandments. And they would be right if those traditions supplanted the meaning of the holiday—if those traditions became more important than the actual purpose of Easter.

I do not doubt that that happens in our culture, but usually this is not the argument that they make. Instead they argue that if you follow these customs at all, you sin against God.

(For one example, check out “The True Origin of Easter” from the Reformed Church of God’s website. Here is a snippet: “Hundreds of millions keep the rank idolatrous pagan feast known as Easter, believing themselves to be honoring Jesus Christ! Most are in complete ignorance of what they are doing.”)

These people are crazy.

Look further in the chapter for the essence of Jesus’ meaning. He explains it to His disciples:

Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? . . . What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come . . . All these evils come from inside and defile a person. Mark 7:18-23

Sin originates in the heart, not from some external event.

Therefore it does not matter if others used Easter traditions to honor false gods.

If you practice these things—even if you are aware of the pagan connections—you are not in sin unless you practice them with ill intent in your heart (since the actions themselves are morally neutral).

Modern Day Judaizers

The next illustration is a narrative from the book of Acts.

In the ninth chapter of Acts, the LORD gives Peter a vision which opens up the kingdom to gentiles. Peter says:

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. Acts 10:34-35

It is at this point that God removed the barrier between the Jew and gentile. But it wasn't long before Jewish believers began trying to tell gentiles how to live for Christ:

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the Law of Moses.” Acts 15:5

This is, essentially, the equivalent of the argument that dying eggs on Easter is a sin against God.

Yet Jesus said that His yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30); we are not bound by human ordinances. Why put the yoke of the Law of Moses on believers?

But where do we draw the line?

I think the 19th Century theologian Albert Barnes explains it best in his Notes on the New Testament:

Once the barrier was removed that separated the Jews and Gentiles, all the laws which were founded on such a distinction, and which were framed to keep up such a distinction, passed away.

The Judaizers—those who insist that Christ followers live by Jewish customs—obviously did not understand the full meaning of Peter’s vision. And even Peter himself struggled with it. Paul recounts in Galatians how Peter backslid into a habit of separating himself from gentiles because he feared the circumcision group (2:12)--they were trying to rely on their heritage to save them.

But Paul had this to say:

All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” Galatians 3:10-11

So it takes faith to be right with God.

It is important to frame the Easter argument in this context in order to see the larger picture. Remember, the gentiles were the pagans.

In the eyes of the Jews, the problem had little to do with faith. No, the problem was that the gentile converts were not Jewish enough.

Those yelling at others to stop coloring eggs are the equivalent of the Judiazers: their problem is that egg-dyers are not Christian enough.

But eggs and Easter bunnies have no bearing on the kingdom.

What matters is your faith in Christ.

Nothing Else Matters

Last I want to revisit Colossians:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Verses 16-17

The reality is in Christ. 

Nothing else matters.

Jesus suffered on a cross, offering Himself up as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins. After dying, he was buried in a tomb and was raised to life on the third day. That is what Easter is about.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Colossians 2:20-22

The question of Easter paganism is completely irrelevant, because human teachings will perish in time, but God's Word will never pass away (Mat. 24:35).


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