Last time I talked about why the sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross was necessary. Timothy Keller offers a simple analogy: A friend borrows your car. He backs it through your fence, ruins your hedge and your home insurance won’t cover it. One of two things will result. You’ll either demand your buddy pay for all or some of the mess his poor driving caused or you’ll pay it yourself. Keller wrote, “Notice that in every option the cost of the damage must be borne by someone. Either you or he absorbs the cost for the mishap, but the debt does not somehow vanish into thin air. Forgiveness, in this illustration, means bearing the cost for his misdeed yourself.” His conclusion was that God could demand we pay for our sins out of our own pockets (which are woefully empty) or He could forgive us by refusing to make us pay for what we’ve done. He paid the debt He knew we could never cover – by dying on Calvary Hill.
But the blood-stained cross wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus Christ is alive. The Resurrection isn’t a myth. It happened and it means everything. In John 11:25-26 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Well, that’s the million-dollar question, ain’t it? Because if there’s no Resurrection, there’s no Christianity. Period. Karl Barth said, “Without the physical resurrection of Christ there is no salvation.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. …And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). I know for sure that if my sins aren’t forgiven I might as well pack it in right now. There’s no hope for me. Or any of us, for that matter. But thank God that’s not the case. Jesus told us, “…Because I live, you will live too” (John 14:19). He lives. God’s Word speaks of the Resurrection as something verifiable by the physical senses. The remaining eleven disciples not only touched Him but heard His voice, walked beside Him, engaged in conversations with Him and even broke bread with Him. He appeared to individuals as well as to a crowd of 500 as a man, not some wispy, translucent ghost. It was no hallucination those people saw, it was the same Jesus they positively knew had suffered a horrible death only days before. Here’s the bottom line: The basis for a Christian’s belief in the bodily resurrection of our Lord has more evidence to support it than for any other event of that era, secular or religious.
Most of the world’s religions are anchored by some kind of philosophical reasoning with the exceptions being Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Those four are based on personalities. But only Christianity claims its founder is still alive. Abraham passed away about 3,900 years ago. Buddha died around 500 B.C. Muhammad left this mortal coil in 632. Not one of those three rose again. Jesus not only predicted He would, but did. Since someone returning to life after being pronounced dead as a doornail defies a fundamental law of nature, skeptics are prone to doubt Christ was truly deceased when He was entombed. Some think He was merely unconscious. But that’s preposterous. The soldiers (highly skilled experts at killing) didn’t bother to shatter Jesus’ legs because they could tell it was unnecessary. Remember, it was His enemies that pronounced Him dead, not His followers. Still, just to make sure, they stuck a spear through His heart. It’s all documented. One scholar commented, “We know more about the details of the hours immediately before, and the actual death of Jesus, in and near Jerusalem, than we know about the death of any other one man in all the ancient world.”
So we know for a fact Christ literally died. We also know for certain He was buried. Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy Jew who admired Jesus greatly. After boldly asking Pilate for the body he removed Him from the cross and respectfully wrapped Him in a linen sheet. One of the remorse-filled religious leaders, Nicodemus, provided an expensive mixture of myrrh and aloes, as well. Then Christ’s lifeless corpse was placed inside Joseph’s private tomb. A huge stone completely covered the opening and the application of Pilate’s seal designated the site officially “off limits.” Still, lingering concerns that covert shenanigans might be in the works convinced the authorities that ordering a unit of burly, no-nonsense Roman soldiers to stand guard would be a good idea. Those guys would rather fall on their swords than fail in their duty. Nothing on earth could get within fifty yards of Jesus’ body on their watch. And nothing on earth did. The rest of Friday went without incident and Saturday was uneventful. However, Sunday morning was anything but. The ground shook and the sky opened as an angel of God descended and rolled away the heavy stone like it was a cheap stage prop. Saying the hardened Roman goon squad was terrified is an understatement. The Bible says they turned pale as death itself. It’s implied they didn’t stick around to see what happened next, either. They ran like rabbits. When Peter and John showed up to check out what Mary Magdalene had witnessed firsthand at the empty tomb there was nobody around – including Jesus. He was out and about His Father’s business. He’d been resurrected, a fact later attested to by hundreds of eyewitnesses. The Scriptures record 13 different appearances of Christ occurring in a variety of circumstances.
However, Jesus was no longer exactly the same. A normal person’s body can’t pass through locked doors or disappear like vapor. Christ was part physical and part spiritual now. Don’t try to figure out what that looked like because His resurrected body was as unique as He is and we won’t see the likes of it this side of the Pearly Gates. Luke, a physician, didn’t even try to explain it. He simply wrote in Acts 1:3, “…after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs.” C.S. Lewis commented on those “convincing proofs” when he wrote, “The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe this ‘gospel’ no gospels would ever have been written.” Thus Jesus’ coming back to life is essential. The very core of the truth Christ taught and exemplified implodes and dissipates if we omit His resurrection. Paul said in so many words, “Without it, we got nothin’.” But Paul’s faith never faltered. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 he confidently wrote, “Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…”
Keller preached, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead. That is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection. They knew if it was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.” If you’re the kind of person who relies solely on logic you’re still on solid ground concerning the Resurrection. Why would the disciples subject themselves to incarceration and inhuman persecution in defense of what they knew was a lie? In the first century other “messiahs” came and went with regularity but nowadays they’re all insignificant historical footnotes because they died and stayed dead. N.T. Wright wrote, “In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better. Resurrection was not a private event. Jewish revolutionaries whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest themselves, had two options: give up the revolution, or find another leader. Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, he was.” The point Wright makes is that Jesus’ disciples would never have come to the conclusion their Master’s crucifixion was a triumph instead of a defeat unless they’d seen Him risen from the dead with their own eyes.
Paul insisted one’s personal salvation experience is directly related to an unyielding belief in the Resurrection. Romans 10:9-10 reads, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.” What’s disturbing is that some Christian denominations have tried to water the whole deal down to some kind of mystical, disembodied thing that occurred. They want to remove the physical aspect of the Resurrection from the equation but that’s not Biblical. Billy Graham wrote, “Within the short span of three days both events, the death and resurrection, took place bodily and not symbolically – tangibly, not spiritually – watched by men of flesh and blood, not fabricated by hallucination.” He then added, “The resurrection was also the pledge and the promise of our own resurrection.” Jesus’ rising from the dead had immense implications for all of us. The Bible teaches death affects both personality and body. It also informs us there are three dimensions of death – physical, spiritual and eternal. Christ demonstrated that the body, too, must be rescued from condemnation so His conquest of death had to include His body to be complete. As Jesus rose from the grave, so will those who belong to Him. Like Him, we definitely will be changed but remain recognizable as a unique creation. Christ still bore the scars this world inflicted upon Him and so will we but we’ll no longer be of this earth. How fantastic is that! 1 Thessalonians 4:14 states, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.”
Some a lot smarter than I will beg to disagree but I think death is akin to sleep in that I won’t be aware of time elapsing. When I die my soul and everything that makes me “me” will be in the secure care of God’s angels until Christ returns. At that juncture I’ll “awaken” at precisely the same time as all my Christian brothers and sisters. Why do I think that? In the very next statement (v.15) Paul says, “…we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep.” The implication is that believers who’ve passed away are still peacefully asleep in the everlasting arms. Of course, God is God and He can take whomever He likes directly into His kingdom if He wants to. I got no beef with that. No matter how much time (as it’s gauged on terra firma) passes between my last breath here and my first one in heaven it’ll be as quick as a blink to me so I’ll leave all the in-between stuff to my gracious Lord’s discretion. I’ll be home at last without a care.
Because Jesus lives He actually dwells in the heart of every believer in the form of the Holy Spirit. Technically, they’re one and the same. He promised never to abandon us. He said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Because of the Resurrection, life has new meaning for everyone. Those closest to Christ despaired over His tortured death. In their minds all was lost. When the risen Lord asked the two men trudging home to Emmaus why they were in such a funk they told Him about Jesus and said, “…we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They were crestfallen. Life ahead looked bleak until the very-much-alive Christ they’d been talking to revealed Himself to them as the God He claimed to be. In that instant their lives had purpose again and they excitedly raced back to Jerusalem to let the disciples in on the incredible news. All Christians should be just as elated. Romans 8:34 reads, “Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.” If that doesn’t kick-start your faith nothing will. Graham wrote, “We don’t have to think our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. The living Christ is sitting at the right hand of God the Father. God the Son retains the same humanity He took to save us, and is now living in a body that still has nail prints in its hands. He is our great High Priest, interceding for us with God the Father.”
Because Jesus lives we have the power to live out our lives for our Savior courageously. In John 14:12 Christ states, “I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father.” Imagine that! As we serve God throughout eternity we’ll be able to do things in His name far beyond our ability to comprehend right now. He ain’t done with us yet! Pains, injuries, afflictions and character defects will no longer hold us back. We’ll have new, perfect bodies that’ll never wear out or get flabby. Gravity will no longer pull us down. Lewis got it right when he wrote, “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Philippians 3:20-21 promises, “But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.”
Every nanosecond that goes by brings us closer to the Second Coming of Christ and it’s been that way ever since He ascended into heaven almost two millennia ago. All prophesies about the end times are coming to fruition. Yet what we see happening around us is probably just the tip of the Armageddon iceberg. It’s gonna get worse, folks. Followers of Christ will be ostracized from society and persecuted mercilessly for obeying God’s laws instead of man’s. “It’s in The Book.” If it weren’t for the Resurrection, if our Lord didn’t walk out of that musty mausoleum then there’s no future kingdom awaiting us and no King of kings to take us there. But that’s not the case. After the disciples watched Jesus dramatically return to the Heavenly Father, angels addressed the slack-jawed group, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Christ is not only alive, He’s coming back. No Christian should harbor a single doubt of that. By trusting in your resurrected Savior He’ll abide in you for the rest of this life, through your death experience and then forevermore in the spectacular place He’s preparing just for you. Your job (and mine) is to inform those who haven’t quite grasped the huge significance of the Resurrection yet that it’s everything. They may belittle you, accuse you of being brain-washed and plead with you to shut up already. Don’t be deterred. Jesus is the only chance they’ve got. They’ll either listen or someday they’ll wish they had.