The Forgotten Part of the Gospel

I regularly have the chance to ask people who want to become members of The Crossing how a person becomes a Christian.  And I find it both encouraging and interesting that their answers almost always include something to the effect of “you need to believe that Christ died on the cross for your sins.”  This kind of answer is encouraging because it’s biblically true.  In fact, it mirrors the way the Bible itself sometimes summarizes Christ’s work on our behalf (e.g., Mark 10:45). 

On the other hand, it’s interesting that, while people’s answers overwhelming concentrate on Jesus’ death, they rarely mention his resurrection. 

Several years ago, Dr. David Chapman, one of my former seminary professors, penned an article that began this way:

When do you expect to walk into church and hear a sermon about the birth of Jesus? I would venture to guess your answer is, “December.” Rightly or wrongly, the birth of Jesus remains a decidedly Christmas theme. Similarly, we tend to focus on Jesus’ resurrection during Easter. Granted we talk about the resurrection here and there, but have you ever witnessed a resurrection sermon in July? Maybe. Have you ever heard a series on the theological implications of the resurrection and how this truth affects our lives as believers in September? Probably not. On the other hand, we do not confine the events of Good Friday to one time of year. The atoning sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf is rightly proclaimed every day throughout the Church calendar, and thus we frequently speak of the death of Jesus. But how can we so easily divorce the death of Jesus from His resurrection?

In this Easter season, let us set a new trend by considering the implications of Christ’s resurrection for our lives every day, throughout the year.

But how to do that?  Well, it’s safe to say that we’ll find it difficult to apply those implications to our lives if we don’t really know what they are.  So ask yourself another question: what difference would it make if Jesus had not rose on that third day?  What if he was still in the tomb? 

There are surely many things we could say in response.  For example, it would be impossible to separate Jesus from any other compelling historical figure.  After all is said and done, would there be a fundamental difference between Jesus and, say, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, or Martin Luther King, Jr.? 

No doubt for some, this wouldn’t appear to be that much of a problem on the face of things.  Just as the men just mentioned have continued to resonate through history, so even a deceased Jesus can still teach and inspire us. 

It’s worth noting, however, that one of Jesus’ greatest followers failed to share this view:

1 Cor. 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20   But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

The apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church make clear that the whole Christian faith hinges upon Christ having risen from the dead.  If he didn’t, Paul says, we’re without hope and to be pitied above all others.  After all, why should anyone trust a man who repeatedly claimed he would die and rise again but failed to do the latter?  Conversely, Jesus’ resurrection was proof he really was who he claimed to be: Lord and Christ (see Acts 2:22-36). 

Likewise, if the grave could hold Jesus, why should we think we’ll fare any better upon our own deaths?  But Jesus’ resurrection points emphatically to his words in John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Jesus didn’t claim to be merely an inspiring teacher or good example.  He claimed to be life itself, and to be able to give that life to those who trust in him.  His resurrection was a spectacular vindication of those claims.

Moreover, Paul says that Jesus resurrection—being what he calls the “firstfruits”—is a kind of preview or template for our own resurrection.  Since we are united with him in both his death and his resurrection (Rom. 6:5), the new life Jesus experienced will be our own.  That is the sure hope of the believer who trusts in Christ. 

All this (and more) is why Paul, when writing of what he delivered to the Corinthians “as of first importance” included not just the death of Christ, but also his resurrection:

1 Cor. 15:3  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Amen.  And, as Dr. Chapman suggested, may we more fully grasp the significance of his resurrection not only this Easter Sunday, but every other day as well.

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