"He isn't here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen." ~ Matt. 28:6
As we approach the tail end of Lent, I’m getting more and more excited about our April 8th resurrection celebration service at Grace Church. Christians enjoy Easter services very much; but based on my interaction with many of these Easter-Sunday-Church-Attending-Christians, I’ve witnessed we typically give much more attention to the death of Christ rather than the resurrection of Christ. Oh, we quickly affirm the resurrection as an orthodox Christian belief, but most Christians have very little reason or rationale behind the belief of the empty tomb.
So why did Christ literally and physically rise from the dead?
The 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s lengthy treatment on the significance of the historical resurrection of Jesus. As you read the chapter you will find it to be full of rational argumentation (reason) for the validity of Christ’s resurrection. For Paul, Christ’s physical resurrection was not wishful thinking. It was actual and enormously significant because the entire Christian message culminates in the resurrected Christ – “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (vs. 14)” and “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (vs. 17).” For Paul, if Christ has not risen, nothing else mattered!
Why? Why is the resurrection of Christ so significant? The short answer is that Christ’s resurrection ushered in the beginnings of the new world and the new humanity (the renewed world and renewed humanity) promised long ago in the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15; 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-9; etc…). A humanity and world where sin, pain, and death are only in our past memories, not in our eternally present reality where peace, justice, and true life reign. According Paul, the resurrected Christ is the “firstfruits” of this new humanity; that we, though currently ailed by sin, suffering, and death, will one day experience a resurrection into a new physical existence much like Christ’s resurrected body (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). Here’s NT Wright’s explanation via Tim Keller:
"The message of the resurrection is that the world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that the healing, justice, and love have won...If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense--[then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world--news which warms our heart precisely because it isn't just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things--and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all. Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzsche probably was right to say it was for wimps." ~ N.T. Wright, from his book Simply Christian; as quoted by Timothy Keller in is his book The Reason for God.
Here's a couple quotes worth pondering from author, pastor, and scholar N.T. Wright on the resurrection:
“For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the heart of the gospel (not to the exclusion of the cross, of course, but not least as the event which gives the cross its meaning); it is the object of faith, the ground of justification, the basis for obedient Christian living, the motivation for unity, and, not least, the challenge to the principalities and powers. It is the event that declares that there is ‘another king’, and summons human beings to allegiance, and thereby to a different way of life, in fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures and in expectation of the final new world which began at Easter and which will be completed when the night is finally gone and the day has fully dawned.” ~ NT Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God
"The work of the church is to implement the resurrection of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final new creation… We are called to be people of new creation now, in the power of the Spirit." ~ NT Wright, from his talk, “Resurrection and the Task of the Church”
And, lastly, check out Rob Bell’s video short, Resurrection. It’s a great summary of the significance of Christ’s resurrection: