He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
-- Ecclesiastes 3:11b
The gospel must be central because nothing else even comes close to filling the eternal gap.
We all agree that fallen man has a "God-shaped hole," but then we go on to suggest all kinds of fillers that are not God -- financial success, good sex, promotions at work, healthy relationships, happy spouses and children, community service, outlets for our creativity, etc. All good things but all things you can have and do and still be eternally bankrupt.
Two Easters ago at Element's Sunday evening service, a guy came up to me afterwards and said, "Thank you. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to hear about the resurrection on Easter." I sort of laughed, figuring he was joking. That week I listened to the message podcast from the church service he had attended Easter morning. He was not joking.
In years past, churches have opened Easter Sunday services with AC/DC songs, laser light shows, egg drops from helicopters, and the like. This year the need to outdo last is pressing. One church is giving away automobiles and other prizes.
The simple explanation for all this is that they want people to hear about the resurrection, and these are ways to get people in proximity to hear the message. I am reminded of when Jesus tells the rich man in hell that if his surviving family didn't believe Moses and the prophets, they weren't going to believe a resurrected man. Does that sound backwards to you? The same principle is at stake here. If the message that Jesus died and came back to life(!) isn't compelling enough to draw people, the enticement of winning a car is not going to cut it. Anyone who believes on Christ because they were attracted by "stuff" has been won to prosperity gospel, not crucifixion gospel.
The harder explanation for all this is that the PT Barnum pastoral tribe doesn't trust that the gospel is a compelling message. They don't trust that they can make it sound attractive and exciting just as it is. They've lost trust that it is, actually, power. If they hadn't, they wouldn't feel the need to put it inside the Trojan horse of cash and prizes.
Why do churches treat the resurrection like it's the heartworm medicine you put in a hot dog to trick the dog?
The truth is that all the bombast, the flash, the publicity, the attractions are a waste. They are the offer of mud pies, because we just can't figure out how to sell a holiday at sea. (When, really, the holiday sells itself.)
Our scale is far too small. The Bible speaks to all manner of good things useful to all men, but the Church is starving (starving!) for the glory of God. We too easily forget that the gospel covers the scale of eternity, that it is the division between real life and death, that God is infinite and our sin is a condemnation-worthy offense against an eternally holy God. We preach and we settle for much less than, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"
Every week people file into our church services aching for eternity; in our zeal to provide something they may find comfortable and useful and inoffensive, are we offending the God who wishes to offend us in awe of his glory? Are we dismissing our brother Jesus whose formula for victory includes crucifixion?
The scale is enormous, the stakes are high. This Easter, instead of spiritually dressing up the idols we know people want, let's give them what they need -- God all in all, the filling of the Spirit, the exaltation of the risen Lord.
Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God!
-- 1 John 3:1a
That should be the chief service of our worship services -- beholding. Behold our glorious God and his lavishing of grace on us in his precious Son.
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
-- Romans 11:36