The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Importance of the Resurrection

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, All fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living just because He lives
. – Bill and Gloria Gaither

St. Paul, writing to the Corinthian Church, declared the Christian Gospel to be the message that:

Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.

In thinking and talking about the Gospel we often focus upon the first event, Christ’s death for our sins, because this is the effective atoning sacrifice by which our sins are taken away and we are reconciled to God. The resurrection is just as much a part of the Gospel, however, and apart from the resurrection there would be no Gospel, i.e. no good news. It is by rising from the dead that Christ triumphed over death and hell. Apart from this triumph, Christ’s death would have seemed an ultimate defeat, as it did to His disciples prior to the resurrection, and it is through the resurrection that we are able to see Christ’s death for what it actually was, His laying down of His life as a sacrifice for our sake.

Christ’s resurrection is the evidence that Jesus Christ was the Son of God as He claimed. It is the sign Jesus Himself pointed to when asked for proof of His authority and divine identity. Early in His ministry, shortly after the wedding at Cana where He performed His first miracle, the turning of water into wine, Jesus went down to Jerusalem with His disciples to celebrate the Passover. There, He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple, an act He would later repeat in the week before His crucifixion. St. John records that the Jews then asked Him “What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” His response was “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” These words would later be brought up against Him when He was brought before the High Priests on the eve of His crucifixion (Matt. 26:61), but, as St. John tells us, He meant “the temple of His body”, a meaning that became clear after His resurrection (Jn. 2:21-22).

Later in His ministry, some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him “Master, we would see a sign from thee”. His answer, as recorded by St. Matthew, was:

An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt. 12:39-40)

Later, the Pharisees came to Him with the Sadducees and asked this same question and received the same answer (Matt. 16:1-4).

In each of these cases, challenged by the Jewish leaders and asked for a sign to prove His divine authority, He pointed to the resurrection and said that it would be the only sign they would be given. St. Paul wrote that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4)

The resurrection is still our evidence that Christ was the Son of God as He claimed. While some, like 19th-20th Century anthropologist Sir James Frazer have argued that Christianity adopted the Gospel from myths of a god such as Osiris and Dionysius, who dies and comes back to life, C. S. Lewis pointed out that the pagan myths all take place sometime and somewhere outside of history, whereas the death and resurrection of Christ were events that took place within history, in a specific time and place. (1)

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ took place in Jerusalem, when Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judaea during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. The credibility of the resurrection as historical fact is strong enough that a number of well-known conversions have taken place because someone set out to investigate or even disprove the historicity of the resurrection and ended up convinced that Jesus Christ had risen indeed. The American Civil War General Lew Wallace, author of the novel Ben-Hur, was converted after he accepted a challenge to investigate the historicity of the resurrection. Albert H. Ross, who as an unbeliever researched the life of Jesus, ended up writing under the pen name Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone? a classic apologetic for the historical truth of the resurrection.

The church historian, Philip Schaff wrote:

The Christian church rests on the resurrection of its Founder. Without this fact the church could never have been born, or if born, it would soon have died a natural death. The miracle of the resurrection and the existence of Christianity are so closely connected that they must stand or fall together. (2)

This was the way St. Paul saw things too, and after his declaration of the Gospel in his epistle to the Corinthians, he proceeds to set forth proofs of the resurrection. These include the testimony of over 500 witnesses who saw the risen Christ and most of whom were still alive when the epistle was being written and the testimony of St. Paul himself, who was initially hostile to Christianity but was converted through an encounter with the risen Christ.

It was not just to provide evidence that Jesus was the Son of God that He was raised from the dead. The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that Christ’s resurrection is vital to His role as high priest and intercessor. In the Jewish religion, established in the Old Covenant which God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai after delivering them from bondage in Egypt, the Levite priesthood was to regularly offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant, pointed towards the true sacrifice, the only sacrifice which can effectively take away sin, the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. It was not just the offerings, however, which prefigured Christ, but the priesthood, for Jesus is not only our true sacrifice but our true high priest.

As the author of Hebrews explains the various ways in which the high priesthood of Christ is superior to the Aaronic high priesthood, he states:

And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:23-25)

Jesus Christ is our high priest, Who is “set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” where He is a minister “of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (Heb. 8:1-2). Having offered Himself as the once-and-for-all effective sacrifice upon the cross, He has entered the holy-of-holies in heaven, with His own blood, where He makes intercession for us, pleading the merits of His death and blood on our behalf. For Him to fill this role He must live forever – which means, of course, that He had to be raised from the dead.

The resurrection, therefore, is not just divine testimony to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, although it is that, but is itself an essential part of salvation. The resurrection makes possible the intercessory work of Jesus Christ as high priest. It is also through the resurrection that the everlasting life Jesus promised to those who believe in Him comes.

St. Paul, after explaining to the Roman Church that we are not justified before God by the works of the law, i.e., our own efforts to meet God’s requirements, but rather that God by His grace, justifies all who believe in Jesus on account of His work of redemption and propitiation, goes on to explain that God’s grace is not an excuse for us to sin but provides, along with justification, liberty from the bondage of sin.

This liberty, St. Paul describes as a spiritual union between the believer and Christ which makes the believer a participant in Christ’s death and resurrection:

How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:2-4)

Justification by grace is not an excuse for sin because those who have been so justified have died to sin. What does this mean?

One of the main concepts we associate with death is that of separation. When someone dies, his family and friends hold a funeral in order to say a final good bye to a loved-one whom they will never see again in this life. Death separates even those joined by the most permanent of human bonds. Before governments set out to destroy the institution of marriage by introducing no-fault, penalty-free, easily attainable divorces, marriage was a union between man and woman that was to last “so long as you both shall live”. The Book of Common Prayer in the order of Holy Matrimony prescribes that the bride and groom pledge their troth by vowing to each other “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.” This union was so important, that only death was to dissolve it.

When St. Paul wrote that the believer, justified in God’s eyes through grace, is “dead to sin”, this is the imagery he was evoking. All people are from their birth “under sin”. This means that our relationship sin is a master-slave relationship. Sin, which has dwelt in our flesh since birth, is our master, and we are its slaves. This is the estate of fallen mankind. The believer in Jesus Christ, however, has been set free from this bondage through death. He has died, terminating his term of slavery to his indwelling sin.

The death of the believer to sin is not a death that the believer has undergone in himself, in his own body. It is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, in which the believer has been made a participant through his union with Christ in baptism. (3) Just as Christ, Who was without sin Himself, identified with us sinners in His own baptism, then took our sin and bore it to the cross, where He suffered the death penalty we had incurred for us, so we are identified with Him in baptism, in which His death becomes our own. This breaks our relationship of slavery to indwelling sin. Our sinful nature, which St. Paul calls “the flesh” (4), remains with us during our lives on earth, but we are to consider ourselves to have died to it in Christ.

It is not only Christ’s death which we participate in through our union with Him, but His resurrection as well. Our participation in Christ’s death would do us no good if we were not also joined with Him in His resurrection, for that would mean we have been liberated from a condition of slavery to be left in a condition of death. St. Paul makes it clear, however, that the whole point of our having been baptized into Christ’s death is that we would also “walk in newness of life”.

For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. (v. 5)

There is a double meaning in these verses. The believer will one day be raised from the dead in the literal sense of a bodily resurrection. The believer also possesses a new life in the here and now. These two senses are both present in the passage:

Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him (v. 8)

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (v. 11)

St. Paul then goes on to write that because we have been released from slavery to sin through our participation in Christ’s death, we are not to serve sin, but are to present ourselves as servants to God. Grace, therefore, is not an excuse for us to sin, but the foundation of a life of righteousness. The resurrection is central to St. Paul’s argument, because we possess the new life in which we are to serve God in righteousness through our union with Christ and His resurrection.

The resurrection is God’s testimony to the world that Jesus Christ is His Son and that His death paid for our sins, it is Christ’s triumphant victory over sin, death, and hell, it is the risen Christ Who is our ever-living high priest interceding for us in the heavenly tabernacle, and through our union with Christ we partake of His resurrection life, both in the new life in the here and now, and in the resurrection of the just on the last day. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that the Christian faith is pointless apart from the resurrection:

And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor. 15:17-19)

Our faith, as the Apostle immediately goes on to point out, however, is not in vain because Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed!


(1) C. S. Lewis “Myth Become Fact”, in God In the Dock:Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970), edited by William Hooper. My review of this book can be found here:

(2) Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, Apostolic Christianity A.D.1-100 (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002) p.108.

(3) Some have maintained that a spiritual baptism is what is referred to in Romans 6. They believe this interpretation is necessary in order to avoid two common errors. The first is that of those who tell a person who believes in Jesus that faith in Jesus is not enough and that he also needs water baptism in order to be saved. The second is that of those who think that the water of baptism confers grace in a mechanical fashion. It is, however, water baptism that St. Paul was referring to in Romans. This should not surprise us. Baptism was the initiatory rite by which people became members of the Church, the visible body of Christ. In the New Testament, after the Apostles preached the Gospel, they baptized those who believed. Thus baptism is identified with the beginning of the Christian life in the New Testament. This does not mean that someone who believes in Christ but for some reason has never been baptized is going to hell. St. Mark quotes Jesus as having said “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” not “he that is baptized not shall be damned”. Nor does it mean that baptism confers salvation mechanically apart from faith in Christ. St. Paul wrote “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom. 2:28-29) If this can be said of the initiatory sacrament of the Old Covenant, it is reasonable to conclude that the same is true of the initiatory sacrament of the New Covenant.

(4) In Greek this is the word sarx. This word means “flesh” in the ordinary sense of the term, the physical substance of which our bodies are composed. It has the extended meaning of “human nature” and as such is used in passages about the Incarnation which speak of Christ having become flesh. When St. Paul uses it to refer to the fallen, corrupt, sinfulness of human nature he typically does so by contrasting it with the spirit. In Platonic philosophy, the spirit is said to belong to the world of perfect forms and to be trapped in the corrupt body of flesh until death. This concept clearly influences St. Paul’s choice of imagery here, but it is also clear that he does not accept the Platonic dichotomy between a corrupt physical world and an incorruptible spirit world in full, for he speaks of evil in the spiritual world, and goes on in the passage in Romans 6 to urge his readers to present the members of their physical bodies as “instruments of righteousness” to God. Those who did embrace the full Platonic dichotomy and tried to incorporate that with Christian thought, ended up denying the Incarnation, and became the antichrists of whom St. John warned his readers, the Gnostics whose false teachings the orthodox Apostolic school had to contend with in the early centuries of the Church.

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