Easter Sundayter Sunday
The Importance of the Resurrection
Text: 2Tim.2:8 "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,"
Let’s face it, the resurrection is an important part of the Christian faith. It is not a secondary matter. So it really does matter what you think, understand and believe about it.
But why is this the case?
Well to start with it is important because the Bible teaches it. The OT refers to it somewhat but it is when we turn to the NT that we find the doctrine to be more fully developed and here it is a teaching that surges to the fore, it pervades the whole of the NT. Without the resurrection our NT would be a very different document indeed!
As we read the NT we should note that resurrection is something that Jesus himself clearly taught. Indeed if his own resurrection had not taken place then Jesus’ own honesty and credibility would be shaken to the core. And where would Christianity be if the God/man at its very heart could not be trusted? I’ll tell you where we would be: we’d be up the creek without a paddle!
The resurrection is, and always has been, a foundational teaching of the Christian church. It is of such importance that the apostle Paul wrote a long chapter all about it in his first letter to the Corinthians and in that chapter he made a series of blunt assertions:
1Cor.15:14 "And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain."
1Cor.15:17 "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."
1Cor.15:19 "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
Now it follows that if the resurrection is such a fundamental truth then we really must be clear about just what the Bible means when it addresses the matter. So this morning we are going to consider together what the Bible teaches us about the resurrection of our Glorious Lord Jesus Christ who is truly risen from the dead!
Two Major Uses
If we were to look up every reference to the word resurrection in the NT then we would find that the word is used in two distinct ways. Context usually makes it very clear which particular meaning is in view.
On the one hand resurrection is the word used to describe what will take place immediately prior to the final judgment. The Bible consistently teaches that God holds men and women morally and spiritually responsible for their thoughts, words and deeds. Justice will be carried out as all mankind will be raised in order to face this end of time judgment at the bar of God.
Some may be tempted to think that they can escape God’s judgment because they have observed how many evil people have managed somehow to seemingly "get away with it" but think again! While some may succeed in avoiding the judgment and justice of men on earth none will succeed in avoiding the heavenly assizes – the resurrection of the last day, the raising of men and women from the dead, will see to that.
The other main use of the word resurrection is the one that will occupy our thinking today. It describes what happened to Jesus on the famous third day. It refers to Jesus rising from the dead and we are going to use our time considering just what this means.
(One of the fruits of Christ’s resurrection points us to the assurance that the Christian believer has of being himself raised. This "resurrection" is not however with a view to end of time judgment but to life and salvation but more of this later.)
A Literal and Physical Event
During his ministry and particularly as it was drawing to a close Jesus taught his disciples what was going to happen to him before it happened. They however didn’t grasp what he meant until after those events had actually taken place. As far as they were concerned Jesus was thinking the unthinkable and they simply couldn’t cope with what he said – to them that the Messiah should be on the end of such treatment was genuinely unthinkable!
Yet Jesus’ teaching was clear. Just listen to what he said – the words are recorded in Mt.20:18-19
"See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day."
Jesus spoke about betrayal and being handed over to hostile forces; he spoke about being condemned to death; before he would be put to death he spoke of being exposed to mockery and other forms of suffering; the death he would experience would be the outrageous and shameful death of crucifixion. And then he added that this would not be the end but that he would be raised to life.
When the time came and the events that the disciples refused to envisage actually unfolded, it became clear that what Jesus had spoken about literally came to pass:
He was betrayed – Judas Iscariot sold him to the Jewish authorities for thirty pieces of silver and these authorities quickly passed the death sentence on him
He was handed over to the Gentile Romans who would carry out the execution
He was mocked first by the Jewish authorities who spat in his face and slapped him while calling on him to prophesy as to who had done it. He was later mocked by Roman soldiers who dressed him up as a king and feigned honour before roughing him up with their cruel horseplay
He suffered scourging too, a type of flogging under which many strong men died
And then he was crucified. That is, he was nailed to a cross of wood and lifted up until he had breathed his last. To be crucified meant to be executed – he left the cross a dead man, at the end of Good Friday he was taken down from the cross a lifeless corpse. The soldiers made sure he was well and truly dead and then he was hastily prepared for burial and laid in a borrowed tomb
Let us pause for a moment and reflect – each of the things that Jesus had declared beforehand would take place did take place and they did so literally. Jesus had not used extravagant picture language but had simply predicted the historical reality of real events before they happened.
And so when it comes to what he said about being "raised from the dead on the third day" there is not the slightest reason for us to imagine that Jesus expected anything other than a literal fulfilment of that too! And that is exactly what happened. The resurrection of Jesus on the third day was that of a literal physical resurrection and in a number of places the Biblical record goes out of its way to insist upon this: see, for example,
Acts 2:31 "Seeing what was ahead, (David) spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay." (NIV)
Acts 13:34+37 "God raised him from the dead, never to decay... the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay." (NIV)
Do you see the relevance of this? Jesus had died on the cross and there was a corpse. In the normal state of affairs a corpse would progressively decay. Do you remember what Martha said to Jesus when he ordered Lazarus’ tomb to be opened before he raised him to life? She said:
Jn.12:39 "Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!"
That was a result of corruption, decay and it was natural. If Jesus’ resurrection had not been real and physical his body would have continued to rot in the grave and decay would have set in but the repeated testimony of Scripture is that he didn’t. His resurrection was real and physical!
God did it
A further indication of the fact that Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible is to be understood in this literal and physical manner is the way the Bible attributes it to divine intervention. If by resurrection or rising from the dead nothing more was meant than some sort of continuation of the Jesus’ ideal or a continuation of his life and example it would be unnecessary to insist upon such divine activity. After all we have plenty of examples of people’s ideas and influence continuing long after their death (eg. Marx and Marxism or Confucius and Confucianism) without needing to resort to a God-hypothesis!
The Bible however does insist again and again upon God’s direct involvement. Of course he would have to be if a real and physical resurrection were in view and it is! Listen to what is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles:
Preaching on the Day of Pentecost Peter declared:
Acts 2:24 "God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it."
Acts 2:32 "This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses."
Witnessing in the temple precincts a little later Peter spoke and said:
Acts 3:15 "you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses."
Then speaking before a hostile Sanhedrin, the chief Jewish Council, Peter and John explained how they had been able to heal a lame beggar:
Acts 4:10 "let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well."
And so the references go on.
It all fits together
A simple straightforward reading of the gospel accounts shows us that the gospel writers believed that, in describing Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, they were describing a real event that genuinely took place. The early church’s belief that it was God who raised Jesus from the dead reinforces our conviction that something very much out of the ordinary had taken place.
A literal and physical resurrection also fits in seamlessly with various other details that the Bible supplies us with:
The empty tomb – all four gospel writers refer to the fact that Jesus was no longer in the tomb on Easter Sunday morning
Personal encounters and conversations – it began with the women but subsequently included the disciples and other followers. Sometimes these meetings were one-to-one; sometimes in small groups; and at least once in a mass gathering of more than 500 people – not much social distancing on that occasion I’m sure!
Visual sightings – do you remember what the disciples said to Thomas who hadn’t been with the other disciples "We have seen the Lord" they said. Poor old Thomas – he wanted to touch and to see before he would believe and then a week later he did see and he believed and he worshipped!
Physical contact – he invited his followers to touch and verify that he was not a ghost! The risen Jesus had flesh and bones
The ability to eat – a piece of broiled fish (Lk.24:42-43)
All of the Biblical evidence points in the same direction. The same person who suffered and died on the cross on the evening of Good Friday was alive again early on Easter Sunday morning. And he was alive not as a crippled survivor who had just managed to cling onto life by the skin of his teeth but as the Victorious Conqueror who had overcome the last enemy, death itself. He was alive with the power of an indestructible life and he is alive today seated at the right hand of the Father in glory where he makes intercession for his people (Rom.8:34).
What is the Significance of Jesus’ Resurrection?
We have already seen that the Bible regards the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a vitally important, foundational doctrine and we have seen that this doctrine involves nothing less than a literal physical rising from the dead of our Saviour. Now we must consider for a few minutes just why this doctrine is so important.
As we look carefully through our Bibles we’ll find that the resurrection of Jesus is directly linked to a wide range of blessing for the Christian believer.
Perhaps the best place to start is with the greetings that the risen Lord issued to his followers and to note the way in which they reacted. Having done that then we will be able to move on to think about how the NT makes Christ’s resurrection so integral to the gospel of God’s grace.
Peace. As the risen Jesus met his followers he greeted them and told them not to be afraid. He spoke peace to them though he also rebuked them for being slow to believe!
(Mt.28:10; Lk.24:36; Jn.20:19, 26.)
Joy. None of Jesus’ followers were expecting to see him alive again and meeting him for the first time caused a right mix of emotions – fear, trembling and astonishment were there but so too was joy, great joy (Mt.28:8) and gladness (Jn.20:20)
Salvation. Paul writing to the Romans put it like this:
Rom.10:9 "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."
Other Scriptures describe this resurrection-salvation as a rich and multi-faceted one:
Deliverance from God’s wrath:
1Thess.1:10 "his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."
Sin dealt with:
Acts 5:30-31 "The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins."
Lk.24:46-47 "it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
It is only by the resurrection of the Saviour that men and women can be declared to be right with God:
Rom.4:25 "(righteousness) will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification."
Have you responded to the proclamation of the gospel of a risen from the dead Saviour with repentance? Have you put your trust in Jesus? Have you received the forgiveness of your sins? You may be able to repeat every significant detail of the Christian faith but unless you repent of your sins you will have failed to understand why there is such a faith at all.
And sin can only be resolved and defeated by a risen Saviour, in a verse we have already quoted from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
1Cor.15:17 "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."
Life flows from the risen Saviour and he gives us life!
Life is one of the major themes of the gospel and in the teaching of Jesus and it too is closely related to the resurrection of our Lord:
In writing about baptism Paul said to the Romans:
Rom.6:4 "just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."
Later in the same letter Paul added:
Rom.8:11 "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."
Hope. The new life the Christian believer now enjoys is one that brims over with hope – a hope which looks ahead to the believer’s own resurrection!
1Pet.1:3-5 "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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
What blessings are showered upon the Christian by virtue of their Master’s resurrection! And we haven’t finished!! Let me mention just one more:
Purpose in life and fruitful service.
Do you remember how the risen Lord Jesus met with Peter after the resurrection? In an interview which must have involved a degree of pain and regret for Peter it ended with the Lord commissioning and re-commissioning his apostle. Peter was to serve the Lord by feeding Jesus’ sheep, his followers, and Peter was to do this as he himself followed Jesus!
Let us hear one final word from the apostle Paul on the type of life the Christian believer is to live:
Rom.7:4 "Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God."
How important Jesus’ resurrection is! How important that we understand it and respond properly to it! Let us make sure that we do:
Repentance – peace and joy – a life of fruitful service characterized by hope – and a life marked by worship.
To God be the glory.