One Easter in the 1950s, in a rural Russian town, the entire community gathered for a public debate on Christ’s resurrection. The debaters were a communist intellectual and the maligned local Orthodox priest. The communist debater completed his arguments, turned triumphantly to the old priest and asked him–if he could–to “prove” the resurrection of Christ to the listening crowd. The priest pronounced the great words of the old liturgy: “The Lord is risen!” and received the overwhelming response from the people, “The Lord is risen indeed!”
The debate immediately ended.
The Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus. But the resurrection of Christ is not merely a doctrine to be defended. True, if Christ did not rise, then, as the Apostle Paul says, “We are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19) because we would have been deceived and in turn we would have been deceivers of others, not to mention having lived and perhaps suffered for a lie.
But there is even more to it than that, as Paul (who himself had once derided the idea that Jesus had been raised) makes clear in his next breath. If Christ did not rise, we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). Christ’s resurrection and our salvation are inseparably linked to each other. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus makes a vital practical difference to the Christian life.
How exactly? Here are five of the New Testament’s answers:
The resurrection of Jesus means that He can be trusted absolutely.
Jesus promised His disciples that He would be crucified, would die and then rise again (Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; John 10:17-18). His resurrection means, among other things, that His Word can be trusted.
If Jesus has spoken truthfully with respect to this–the greatest of all miracles–then we can be sure that all of His other teachings are reliable.
The resurrection of Jesus means our sins have indeed been forgiven.
Christ’s sacrifice for sin has been accepted by God.
For Old Testament believers, this was foreshadowed as the high priest went into the Holiest Place once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make the great sacrifice for sin.
The people knew that if God did not accept the sacrifice that the high priest offered, he would be struck down. For that reason, the priest had little bells on the hem of his garment so that those outside the room would be able to hear his slightest movement and know that he was still alive. A rope was tied round his ankle to pull his body out if he were struck down.
The moments were full of tension when the high priest was praying behind the heavy curtain that hid the Holiest Place. But oh the joy when he reappeared and pronounced Yahweh’s benediction of peace on them! The sacrifice had been accepted for one more year.
Jesus’ disciples had hoped He would be the Redeemer (Luke 24:21). But the Lord had been buried behind a great stone, and for nearly two days the disciples had no sign that His sacrifice had been accepted. But on the third day, Jesus rose again. Just as the high priest’s reappearance from behind the temple curtain showed that his sacrifice had been accepted, Jesus’ reappearance in His resurrection proved that His final sacrifice for our sins had been accepted by God.
This is what Paul means when he says that Christ was resurrected for our justification (Romans 4:25). Through faith in Christ, I can stand before God as righteous as Jesus Himself–because the righteousness in which I stand before God actually is Jesus Christ’s own righteousness given to me. Now sin is as powerless to condemn me as death is now powerless over the Lord Jesus!
The resurrection of Jesus means that Satan has been defeated.
The New Testament teaches us that the death of Jesus was a conflict with Satan. Our Lord described His experience on the cross as the hour of the power of darkness (Luke 22:53). There He battled with the one who has the power of death, the devil (Hebrews 2:14). He disarmed the evil rulers and authorities, and He triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15).
In this respect, Jesus was like a deep-sea diver who disappears into the dark depths of the ocean leaving little sign that he will re-emerge. We wait, and wait, and wait. Suddenly the diver reappears with the precious item he has been searching for raised triumphantly in his right hand. His work is accomplished! So said Peter on the Day of Pentecost: “God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). In death Christ has defeated the one who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).
Every day, as I face a sometimes-hostile world, I need to say to myself: “Remember Jesus . . . risen.” He has conquered all of our enemies; we have nothing to fear.
The resurrection of Jesus means that new life is possible.
The Christian life is more than believing certain things about Jesus–it is fellowship with Him, a friendship, a growing knowledge and intimacy with Jesus as risen Savior and Lord.
Paul’s favorite way of describing what it means to be a Christian is the phrase “in Christ.” That expression means that through faith we are united to Christ, the Spirit of Christ indwells us, and all His resources are ours.
Because Christ is risen, we can live in Him–dependent on His living presence, drawing from our union with His glorious Person!
The resurrection of Jesus means that the last enemy–death itself–is defeated.
We are familiar today with the fear shared by many scientists that we are in danger of doing irreparable damage to the ozone layer around our planet. We have created a “hole” that we may not be able to reverse or repair.
Jesus did something much more devastating in His resurrection. He created a hole in death that death can never repair. He broke its power, once and for all. Its ability to hold in death those who belong to Christ has been irreparably damaged.
Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Of course, a time lapse exists between His resurrection and ours. But His resurrection is the firstfruits of the final harvest, and it guarantees that it will be brought in at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:23).
No wonder Simon Peter could write: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”
(1 Peter 1:3).