Resurrection

It’s essential to show that the Resurrection of Jesus is historically credible and believable after all the gospel depends upon the historical truth of this event. However, sometimes around Easter it can seem that this is the only thing worth considering.

As well as the many sermons that focus on the eye witness evidence for the resurrection there are often articles in news magazines or discussions with panellists at this point in the year which focus on whether these accounts are believable.

Part  of the reason for this is because we are rational beings and if we are going to believe something as magnificent as a bodily resurrection then we want evidence.

But what if the resurrection was as much a reality to be lived in as a fact to be proven?

The early church was made up of people who actually saw the risen Jesus and people who  often knew people who had seen the risen Jesus. So the facts of the resurrection were more readily accepted even though the initial response from the disciples was one of confusion and fear and uncertainty.

The American pastor Tim Keller put it well in sharing this online;

“The early Christians did not believe because they wanted to believe. They didn’t believe just because it was an inspiring story. They believed because the evidence was so overwhelming they were forced to believe it in spite of everything they actually thought.”

So in the bible we move quickly from the events surrounding the resurrection to the benefits of the resurrection. Benefits that flow directly from God himself into people’s lives. Here are three.

A New Status

In Romans chapter 4 verse 25  to chapter 5 verse 2 Paul speaks of a new status for those who believe the gospel  and this is a direct result of the resurrection of Christ;

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

As a direct result of the resurrection the Christian is justified before God through faith in Jesus Christ.

This means that if you’re a Christian God has already delivered a verdict on your life and the verdict is one of approval and acceptance. You stand in God’s courtroom and are declared not guilty.  God has reached into your future, past the point of death where we will meet our Creator and has pulled the final verdict into the present.

Aside from Christ that verdict would be impossible after all we all sin and are worthy of God’s judgement. Yet the good news is that right now the verdict has been delivered and it’s favourable for those who believe.

This is where the gospel is doubly pleasing. On the one hand God forgives sin through Christ’s work at the cross. He remembers sin no more as our sin dies at the cross with Jesus. The cross is the locus of Jesus’ sin bearing work on our behalf.

On the other hand God also makes a declaration of approval upon the Christian’s life and the evidence and basis that the declaration is valid and trustworthy and can be counted on is the resurrection of Jesus Christ for it demonstrates that the last and greatest enemy of humanity (death itself) has been defeated in God’s perfect sinless son.

As death came into our world because of sin  it shows that God is well able to cancel all other sins for if even death, the ultimate result of sin cannot beat Christ and those who are with him, then nothing else can.

In life we will probably find that at some point in some way we doubt  that verdict. You may look at your present imperfections and wonder how you could call yourself a Christian. You may listen to people who speak falsely about your faith in light of your struggle with sin.

So we do well to remember this declaration and to keep in mind that this is not a moral declaration but a legal one. As a work in progress Christians are not perfect people. This legal declaration made in God’s cosmic court room in relation to the righteous requirements of His law ensures that even as the moral struggle continues the legal matter is settled.

As Paul says in Romans 8:38-39

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

To take it a step further the implications of this are far reaching for our daily lives.

For example living in the reality of the resurrection means that it’s possible to step off the conveyor belt of life and disengage from the rat race. The Christian doesn’t have to live with the same pressure that is sometimes felt in life.

The pressure of progressing in the workplace, gaining other people’s approval and building up your credentials as if the value of your life depends upon it are less pronounced for the Christian. The most important declaration has been made that in Christ you are eternally forgiven, valued and accepted by God.

Furthermore, if we’re living in the reality of the resurrection we’re also given an answer to human isolation. A common issue as people travel through life is that feeling of being on the outside looking in and not really fitting in anywhere.  A feeling of distance between one another is part of the great human problem which reflects the greater problem of the distance between us and God.

As a result of the resurrection intimacy and fellowship with God is real;

‘you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father”. The spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”‘(Romans 8:15-16)

Living in the resurrection also gives us a context in which to understand suffering.

Speaking of the future renewal of all things in Romans 8: 18 Paul states;

‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.’

And as part of the same line of thought;

 ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28)

Paul is speaking of all manner of suffering that Christians will face from living in a broken world throughout their lifetime.

This helps to digest suffering and deal with it because it highlights that suffering doesn’t have the final say upon the Christian’s life. It can be faced without falling apart because the Christian can fall back on the grander explanation of what God has done and will do through  the resurrection of Christ as the firstfruits of what is to come. So suffering is time limited for the Christian.

A New Strength

Paul also speaks of a new strength  on offer to the Christian  by living in the reality of the resurrection.

In Ephesians 1:18-20 he says;

‘I pray also that they eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.’

The Christian has a new power at work in their lives. A new strength to live for God. Louis Berkhof describes it like this;

 ‘That gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which he purifies the sinner, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works.’

We sometimes say that a leopard can’t change his spots but it’s only half true at best for the Christian. The Christian may be stuck with their personality and their own particular habits but we’re not stuck with our particular sin. People can change. Even the habits of a life time can change. The resurrection tells us so.

If this seems like a lofty idea we can be thankful that Paul takes the implications of this power at work in the Ephesians and brings it right down to earth.

For example later Paul says to the Ephesians that they are to;

‘put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:24)

Living in the resurrection means that the Christian can choose a new path and avoid anger and bitterness which can consume people’s lives and become a real barrier to contentment and peace;

‘In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.’ (Ephesians 4:26)

Living in the resurrection also means that the Christian can choose a new path and avoid the mistake of careless and insensitive talk which often damages people and relationships as well as the individual who speaks this way;

‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ (Ephesians 4:29)

Living in the resurrection also means that the Christian can choose a new path and do the thing that culturally and emotionally seems to be counterintuitive but is in fact right. The Christian can forgive;

‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’ (Ephesians 4:31)

None of this is necessarily easy but it is possible. The surprising truth is that for all the lofty talk of resurrection power in the bible, the implications for day to day to living are often very down to earth and simple and straight forward.

A New Story

Lastly Paul speaks of a new story for the Christian.  Our life story is important to us as we well know from the volume of biographies printed and bought each year. In 1 Corinthians 15 verses 35-44 Paul speaks of the state of glorification that the Christian will experience in the future as the Christian’s new story unfolds;

‘But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come? How foolish! What you sow does not come to life until it dies.  When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.’ (1 Cor 15:33-34)

He goes on to draw the parallel with the human body in verses 42-44;

‘So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.’

Evidently some people at Corinth could not understand how a material body could inherit eternal life. This was especially difficult in Greek culture where the physical or material was thought to be inherently corrupt and could in no way come into contact with the spiritual or divine.

So Paul points out that in the Christian story the decay of the body is not an indication of the worth of the person or the final state of affairs. Instead it is because of the resurrection that death becomes the process through which a new and better story will begin.

Paul explains that in the same way that a seed is placed in the ground and becomes a plant so to the body will die and be raised to something far better and more glorious. In the same way that a seed dies to it’s existence as a seed so to the body dies to its existence as a mortal body.

So the process of death becomes the manner in which new life springs forth and a transformation takes place. One where resurrection life is given in its fullness and a new body is given that is imperishable and is far more robust than a mere mortal body.

So the new story that the Christian is given is that your death leads to your life and therefore living in the resurrection transforms our view of death.

Contrary to the way we tend to think in our world,  growing older and heading toward death is a good thing not a bad thing for the Christian. You might say it’s the best thing for the Christian is not rushing toward the end of the story as they grow old but instead they are rushing toward the beginning of the story.

The gospel takes our biggest problem and what is often our greatest fear and completely turns it around so that death can be viewed as the pathway to life.

For those who believe in Christ’s death and resurrection there is a new status, a new strength and a new story. The early church couldn’t keep it to themselves. It was so real that they were willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives for the sake of the gospel as they shared it with others and defended it. They really did understand that death leads to life.

Perhaps my worldly concerns and my own struggles to do that is a reflection of the fact that even after many years as a Christian I have yet to fully absorb that the resurrection is more than a fact to be proven,  it is a reality to live in.