While Easter TV movies and films always seem to focus on the blood-drenched agony of Christ’s lashing, torture and horrific crucifixion, the real story of Easter is the rest of the story — the part we don’t see. It’s reunion with God. The whole purpose of God coming down to earth in his man-suit was to reconcile us fallen humans with God the perfect Father so we can spend eternity with him in a heavenly reunion.
It seems passing strange that the God who created the heavens and the earth is so crazy about us that he arranged things at great personal expense so we could have an intimate relationship with him, forever. The longing of the Almighty for face time with us not-in-the-least-almighty makes Christianity totally unique, a religion unlike any other.
The Bible mentions heaven more than 700 times. In the Old Testament, God creates the heavens and the earth, he speaks to his prophets from heaven, and sends the Israelites manna from heaven. In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his followers how to pray starting, “Our Father who art in heaven .” Christ says quite a bit about heaven, including, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:20, 21).
So as believers we are to have our hearts set on heaven, the treasure waiting in our future. Though Jesus never describes heaven as a vacation in the clouds playing harps in the angel choir, many times he becomes very specific about who will be with him in heaven: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:1) That is, those who follow the Father’s instruction to put their faith in his son. Probably the best-known qualifier for heaven is in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
But how can we know there’s really a reunion in heaven? The most convincing proof may be the dramatic change in the disciples, who had fled the gruesome scene of Jesus’ crucifixion, their world torn apart. But after they saw him raised from the dead they were transformed in a twinkling from sniveling cowards to bold evangelists. For several weeks they talked and walked with the risen Christ, ate with him, and saw the wounds on his hands and his side. Their emotions turned from despair and mourning for their murdered Lord to joy at his resurrection.
They heard his last instructions to preach the gospel to all nations, and watched as he ascended into heaven. Convinced that Jesus was the son of God, this tiny band of believers became a determined army that spread the gospel throughout the ancient world as Christianity ultimately grew to become the leading religion on the globe. All but the Apostle John died for their faith: some were stoned, some crucified, and at least one of them was set afire as a human torch at Nero’s garden party. It defies reason to think the 12 would give their lives for a resurrection they knew was a fraud. They may not have been as educated as Ivy League professors (who every Easter pen screeds against Jesus’ divinity), but they weren’t stupid or crazy. The testimony of their lives, fiercely devoted to spreading Jesus’ message of redemption, forgiveness and eternal life with God, is proof of heaven.
Even as he was dying, Jesus was thinking about his own reunion with the Father. Christ had gone from rock star to loser in just a few weeks. One day he was speaking to adoring crowds of tens of thousands, then he was betrayed, humiliated, tortured and killed on a cross with criminals hanging on either side of him.
When one of them said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” Jesus replied, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-3).
Easter is the time we celebrate, not death, but the gift that God offers us for an amazing reunion with him in eternal life.
Joy Overbeck is a Colorado journalist and author.