The resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
It changed the course of history. It changed the lives of millions of people. It changed people’s beliefs and hopes about the afterlife. It changed people’s beliefs and hopes about the present life. The resurrection of Jesus continues to change things today. To quote N.T. Wright once again,
Easter has a very this-worldly, present-day meaning: Jesus is raised, so he is the Messiah, and therefore he is the world’s true Lord; Jesus is raised, so God’s new creation has begun- and we, his followers, have a job to do! Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven!
When the angels announced early in the morning at the tomb of Jesus, “He is not here! He has risen!” the world would never be the same again. This claim of resurrection is the very heart and center of the Christian faith. Paul doesn’t beat around the bush when he tells the Corinthians, “”If Christ is not risen your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1Cor. 15:17). Simply put then, if you deny the resurrection of Jesus, you are not a Christian.
Some Christians will try to get around this by saying that Jesus was only resurrected in a spiritual sense. In other words, Jesus is alive in me: his teachings and way of life did not die along with him. Some preachers will claim that Christians don’t have to actually believe in a bodily resurrection, in fact, that it is ridiculous to do so in this enlightened day and age, but that the true message of the resurrection is a liberation to a new life, freed from the shackles of legalism and the backward ideas of the Dark Ages, and able to discover that spark of life or identity hidden inside each of us.
We can understand why non-Christians would want to deny the bodily resurrection of Easter, but why would those who claim to be Christian want to do it? Really, it’s for the same reason. Their human reason cannot accept it. Dead people do not rise from the dead. And that, for them, is enough to put an end to all this resurrection talk. Reason and experience cannot support this claim, so out it goes. Many “reasonable” arguments have been brought against the claim of Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples faked it. The disciples simply made it up or had visions of a “resurrected” Jesus. Jesus never actually died; he was just really close but made a recovery. There are many more theories out there. N.T. Wright in his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, covers all of the alternate theories out there in great detail and shows how weak they really are. In fact, the “evidence” for Jesus’ actual bodily resurrection is far more convincing than any arguments to the contrary. Perhaps in a separate I will go into more depth on the arguments for and against. But I will not take time to do that now. I will simply quote how he sums up his arguments (from Surprised By Hope, which is sort of a shortened version of The Resurrection of the Son of God which is really freaking long):
Far and away the best historical explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth, having been thoroughly dead and buried, really was raised to life on the third day with a renewed body (not a mere resuscitated corpse, as people sometimes dismissively say), a new kind of physical body which left an empty tomb behind it because it had ‘used up’ the material of Jesus’ original body, and which possessed new properties which nobody had expected or imagined but which generated significant mutations in the thinking of those who encountered it. If something like this happened, it would perfectly explain why Christianity began and why it took the shape it did.
What I do want to talk about for the rest of this post is what Easter means for us. Easter is more than just a validation of Good Friday, that is, the approval by God the Father that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient. Easter does more than prove or validate that Jesus is who he claimed to be: God incarnate. (Although it certainly does mean this as well)
But there’s more to it. For a great explanation, I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Gibbs in an article he wrote entitled “Our Faith, Our Funerals, Our Future”
Think first about the meaning of death. Why do people die today? There is only one ultimate reason; people die because they are sinners. Before they fell into sin, Adam and Eve were immortal. Death only entered in on the day that they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree. Every time you read an obituary, every time you attend a funeral, there is only one thing that you know for certain about that person: he or she was a sinner. That’s why he or she died.
Now, hold on to your hats. Jesus died! Why? He died, not because He was a sinner but because He came to be in our place, to take our place, to receive the punishment from God that we deserved and so to save us. That means that He also has to die. He died in our place.
But if Jesus came to be our substitute and to save us from all the effects of sin, then that also means that He had to rise in a bodily resurrection. Victory over sin and all of its effects must also mean victory over death – the undoing of death. Since Jesus was our substitute, He had to rise in a bodily resurrection. For through Him, God planned to undo sin and all of its effects – even the mortality and death of our bodies.
So, Easter means that in Jesus, God has now overcome even the death of our bodies. He has a plan and a certain hope for us and for all the creation. This creation is the only one we’ve ever known, and, in so many ways, it is a wondrous, beautiful creation. But the apostle Paul reminds us that this creation is still subject to futility, still groaning like a woman in labor, still waiting for God’s final redemption and salvation to appear on the Last Day (Romans 8). God has a plan to restore the creation and make it again a place upon which He can look down and say, “It is very good.”
Jesus’ resurrection was the ultimate coming of God’s kingdom to earth. Easter marks the beginning of a fallen creation becoming new again. Jesus’ resurrection has started that process. That is why Paul calls Jesus’ resurrection the “firstfruits.” What happened to Jesus is what will eventually happen to each of us and the entire creation. Jesus’ defeat of death means that we too will defeat death. This does not happen when we die and go to heaven. It will happen on the Last Day when we will be resurrected and restored. Easter is our future! From Dr. Gibbs again,
Most important, we can rejoice in hope, in a certain hope that Easter reveals to us our future in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we can speak with joy the familiar words of the Nicene Creed: “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!