The Vital Importance of the Resurrection

I could be wrong, but I think it would be fair to say that most evangelical Christians, if asked to give a very brief description of what Jesus accomplished, would be initially inclined to say something like “he died for our sins.” This hunch is supported by the fact that the universally recognized symbol of our faith is the cross, the very instrument of death on which Jesus forfeited his life. And there is nothing inherently wrong with this perspective. After all, the Bible itself sometimes points to Jesus’ death on the cross as a summary of the gospel (see, e.g., Mark 10:45, 1 Cor. 2:2 etc.).

But while I don’t think we as Christians can overemphasize the cross, I wonder if we sometimes fail to appreciate the significance of the resurrection. That statement might seem ridiculous at first glance. But ask yourself this: if you had to explain to a friend why it was important for Jesus not just to die, but also to be raised to new life, what would you say?

For help with all of this, we’d do well first to turn to the apostle Paul, particularly his extensive treatment of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Consider first his startling statement in v. 14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” He continues in v. 17-19: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Make no mistake, says Paul, the resurrection means everything. If it didn’t happen, the whole game is up. His preaching is meaningless and those who believe it are all living a tragic lie.*

*As an aside, Paul’s assertions form one of the most powerful reasons why it’s simply not tenable for someone to say, “No, I don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection, but I don’t need that for my Christian faith to be meaningful”—a statement commonly originating from scholars (and others) in the inevitable throng of TV and magazine treatments of Jesus during the Easter season.

Why is Paul so exercised on this point?:

1. The resurrection the open declaration by God that Jesus is who he claimed to be, including that he was the Messiah or Christ (the two words mean the same thing in Hebrew and Greek respectively), titles that point to his status as God’s agent of salvation on behalf of his people. This is why Peter, after a long discussion of Jesus’ resurrection, says, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36, my emphasis). Why listen to Jesus? Why pay attention to what he did? Because he was once clearly dead, but now he lives again.

2. Related to this is Paul’s assertion that Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Tom Schreiner, in his commentary on this verse in the ESV Study Bible, explains succinctly: “When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, it was a demonstration that he accepted Christ’s suffering and death as full payment for sin, and that the Father’s favor, no longer his wrath against sin, was directed toward Christ, and through Christ toward those who believe. Since Paul sees Christians as united with Christ in his death and resurrection (6:6, 8-11; Eph. 2:6: Col. 2:12; 3:1) God’s approval of Christ at the resurrection results in God’s approval also of all who are united to Christ, and in this way results in their ‘justification.’”

3. Returning to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul also notes, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ “ (vv. 21-22). Because Christ has been raised, so also will those who are united to him by faith (i.e., those who are “in him”) be resurrected to a new life. This is why Paul describes Christ as the “firstfruits,” the first sampling of the full crop and thus an indication of what was to follow. The resurrection is a witness to the fact that all Christians will one day taste what Christ experiences now.

4. And what is that? Paul give us a tantalizing glimpse. Our bodies, now perishable, dishonorable, weak, and merely natural, will one day be raised imperishable, in glory and power, enlivened and directed by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:42-45). Our frailties, fears, and frustrations will all be gone. Paul continues: “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (vv. 51-56).

Doubtless more could be said. But hopefully the above will help us to remember, particularly in this Easter season, why an empty tomb witnessed nearly 2000 years ago is such a big deal indeed.

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