The Centrality of the Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus Christ has been so neglected by followers of Jesus that we might wonder whether they are really the followers of the same Jesus Christ of the first disciples. From a casual reading of the New Testament, but especially the Book of Acts, the early disciples not only believed in the resurrected Christ but also made the message of the resurrection along with the death of Christ the centrality of their preaching.
It is the church’s faith in the resurrection of her Lord that makes the Christian faith different from all other faiths. Without the resurrection, the Christian faith is nothing more than a lifeless religion. Everyone who professes to be a Christian must ask himself whether he really believes in the resurrection or is it simply a doctrine that one believes because of tradition. The answer to this question can be found by reflecting on what impact it has had on your life. Do you think and life as though Jesus is alive and coming back to judge the living and the dead?
Let’s take a look at early preaching of the first century church. We can begin in the book of Romans. The apostle Paul in Romans 10:9-11 said that belief in the resurrection is one of two of the foundational beliefs that makes one a Christian and is required for salvation. “That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Rom. 10:9-11).
In his opening remarks in the book of Romans, Paul said that the resurrection of Jesus established His Lordship and His authority for the believer “who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:4). Without the resurrection, Jesus would not be the Christ. For how could a dead man be the Christ and how could a man who was convicted as a common criminal and executed be the Lord and Savior of the world? We will see that it was the resurrection that justified Jesus and all those who believe in Him as their Lord.
During the ministry of Jesus, the disciples felt privileged that they were chosen to be the disciples of the master. However, after his arrest, trial, and crucifixion they were not so proud. In fact, some were ashamed, believing that maybe they had made a great mistake. To them it looked like the political and religious powers had demonstrated that this Jesus they followed was a common criminal, a liar, and a false prophet. They were disillusioned and ashamed of their faith and their commitment to this man. They were perplexed at how they could have been so deceived and so wrong about the one that they had put their hope and trust in.
However, the story was not over yet for God raised Him from the dead. In raising Him from the dead, God renewed the hope and trust of the disciples in their Messiah. Years after the resurrection, the apostle Peter speaks about the renewal of their hope through the resurrection when he said, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3- 4). Note that the apostle speaks of living Hope, a Hope that can never again be diminished by the death of its author. But God did more than that, for in the resurrection God spoke to them confirming everything that Jesus had told them and even more. He revealed numerous new truths through the resurrection event.
One of those truths is that the disciples of Jesus will never be put to shame again. “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame (Rom. 10:9-11). On the Judgment Day many people will be ashamed of what they have said and done. But the resurrection is the believer’s assurance that his sins have been forgiven and that he will never be ashamed before the living God. The apostle Paul said, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25). “Who is he that condemns? He is Christ Jesus, who died and more than that was raised to life where he is now at the right hand of God interceding for us” (Rom 8:34-35). For the apostle Paul, the resurrection is the evidence that the believers’ sins are forgiven and that they stand justified before God. Without the witness of the resurrection we are still dead in our sins. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17-19).
Moreover, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that sets Him above all earthly authorities. It was the religious and political powers that condemned Jesus to death. They said He was guilty of blaspheming and rebellion against Rome. The religious leaders said that His crucifixion would be a witness to the fact that He was accused by God. “Cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.” They said that according to law of God, He must die. But in the resurrection, God reversed their decision and said that the accursed one is the justified one. In this, He set Jesus up over the Old Testament Torah (Law). In this, God demonstrates through the resurrection that Jesus is greater than Moses and the Old Testament law. The Romans sealed His tomb with the seal of Caesar which was the symbol of absolute authority. The seal said, “This man will stay in the tomb.” But over and against all of this, God raised Him from the dead, showing that the authority of Jesus is greater than the authority of Rome or any earthly authority. In fact, His authority is even greater than natural law that says that death is permanent. It was after the resurrection that Jesus said to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto me.” Therefore, for the believer there is no authority or power in heaven or on earth that is greater than the authority and power of Jesus. The resurrection is the witness of His authority and power “who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:4).
One reason why we pray through Jesus Christ to the Father is that we believe that He has special authority in heaven and earth. He himself said after the resurrection, “All power has been given to me in heaven and earth” (Matt 28:18-19). The reason we can believe that He has all power in heaven and earth is because He demonstrated it by raising Himself up above and conquering every power in the universe. The greatest of those powers which stands against God and man was death. In the resurrection Jesus the Christ destroyed death for all those who believe in Him. It is also the resurrection that gives us the assurance that death has been defeated and that life now reigns in the person of God’s son.
It is through the resurrection that we can have the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life. The apostle John says, ” I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (I John 5:13-14). John says we can have the assurance of eternal life through faith in Christ. This assurance comes to all who have placed their faith in the resurrection of Christ. This assurance has nothing to do with one’s goodness. If it did, no one could have assurance for no one could be good enough. How would you know when you completely satisfied the demands of God? The believer’s assurance of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life is based on the authority of Jesus.
The resurrection also defines which God the Christian believes in. In the first century there were a multitude of gods to choose from. There were the Greek gods and the Eastern gods. There were the gods of the heavens and there were gods of the underworld. However, for the Christians there was but one God. That one God was defined as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the God who raises the dead” (Rom. 4:24). Not only does the resurrection define God, it also places Him above all the powers of the universe. For He is the God of life who stands above the deadness of the universe. He is the God of life and resurrection. You see, the most powerful force in the creation before the coming of Christ into the world was death, but in the resurrection God raises Jesus above the forces and power of death. Think about it. Doesn’t science teach the second law of thermodynamics which says that everything is dying? When God raised up Jesus, He set a new law in motion. The apostle Paul calls it the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). If you believe in Jesus, you will receive His Spirit and will live, even in the face of death.
(To be continued)
” Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.”