Art by  Andrey Mironov, 2011

Art by Andrey Mironov, 2011

One of our traditions on Easter misses much of the point of the early preaching of the gospel. It has become tradition to say, "Christ is risen" and the people respond, "He is risen indeed." I'm not saying that is wrong; it's just not the profession that the earliest Christians lived and died for.

Perhaps nothing reveals that better than the very first Christian sermon ever preached a mere 50 days after the resurrection. Peter, on the day of Pentecost and under the clear influence of the Holy Spirit, never once mentioned "Christ is risen." Not once.

What he did proclaim--and it made all the difference in his world, their world and should make all the difference in our world--was not Christ is risen, but Jesus is risen.

"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs... This Jesus was handed over to you... and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him [this Jesus] from the dead...because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." Acts 2:22-24

"God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear." Acts 2:32-33

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Acts 2:36

The original and only complete Easter proclamation is "Jesus is risen," not "Christ is risen." Why is this important? Am I just splitting hairs? I don't think so. Here's why.

There were other people in and around this time period who claimed to be the Christ. There was a Simon of Perea who was "so bold as to put a diadem on his head, while a certain number of people stood by him, and by them he was declared to be king," according to the historian Josephus. After burning down a few of the king's houses, Roman soldiers caught him and separated his head from his body. If things had gone his way we might be worshiping Simon Christ today.

Acts 5:35-39 records Gamaliel's words about other revolutionaries making messianic claims, like Theudas and Judas the Galilean. That's why it was important for Peter to be pointing to "this Jesus." He even added "of Nazareth", because there were other people named Jesus. He had to make sure everyone knew his Lord was this Jesus of Nazareth.

The good news was not that Christ is risen. "Jesus of Nazareth is risen", because that proves he is the Christ. No one else. All the others who claimed to be the Christ had been killed and stayed dead. But Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, and that's how he and all his disciples could know and proclaim that he is the one and only true Christ.

If any of them were to visit our churches today and heard our Easter Sunday responsive liturgy, "Christ is risen... He is risen indeed," I think they would be shocked(?), disappointed (?), worried (?) and they might rise up challenging us to clarify, "Christ who!?" Because they lived and died for one unshakable commitment: Jesus is the Christ.

Let there be no mistake. Proclaiming the person of the Christ was their passion. Christ was only a title. Jesus was his name. "Salvation is found in no one else," Peter declared in the face of frightening threats, "for there is no other name given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Years later the apostle John penned the concluding purpose of writing his gospel with the same unwavering conviction: "Jesus did many other miraculous signs...But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).

The apostle Paul--in his pre-Christian days as Saul-- went around persecuting Christians for making the claim that Jesus was the Christ. And then, one day a blinding light knocked him off his horse, and he heard a voice saying, not "I am the Christ whom you are persecuting" but "I am Jesus."

I know it's 2000 years later, but I would prefer to step in line with the earliest Christians and take my place among those who chose to live and die for the one called Jesus at whose name every knee will one day bow.

But there's one more reason why I choose not to say "Christ is risen." Read about that in Part Two. (Coming May 1).