The Difference the Resurrection Makes

The Bible makes it plain and experience confirms that we are all of us, sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Rom 3:23). Elsewhere we are told that Christ “died for the ungodly,” and “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” In Romans 3 we’re told that no one is righteous and no one does good. Perhaps that sounds strange to you but compared to the righteousness of God it is absolutely true. My best good works are filthy rags compared to the matchless righteousness of God.

In Ephesians 2 we’re told that because of our sin we are under the wrath of God. For people like this the great need is not simply a good moral example or a good teacher. What we need is a Saviour! What we need is one who is able to justify us before the eyes of a holy God. And this is precisely what Jesus accomplished through his perfect obedience, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. Referring to Jesus, Paul writes “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25).

The greatest dilemma in the universe was how a perfectly holy God could have fellowship with sinful people. We did not simply need help from God. We needed to be reconciled to God. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5:10-11).

Three important ideas connected to our being saved are connected directly to the resurrection of Christ.

We have release from guilt.
By Christ’s dying and rising we are released from far more than guilty feelings. In Christ we are released from real, objective guilt. You see apart from Christ we are lost in our sins. We are guilty before the bar of God’s righteous justice. Our problem is that we do not tend to understand ourselves as sinners who must give an answer to God.

Our tendency is to dumb down sin. So instead of calling sin, sin we use euphemisms like “mistakes”. We imagine sin to be something as nebulous and hard to define as “failing to live up to my full potential,” or “letting myself down,” or “not living in accord with my value system.” And while sin is, in one sense, a way that we fail ourselves, first and foremost sin is rebellion against God. Jesus did not come to help the flawed but to justify the guilty. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

We have hope for eternity
Eternal hope is really the only thing that can give meaning to present existence. The apostle Paul bears witness to this reality.
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:17-19).

Paul’s conclusion is that if Christ has not been raised then we are still in our sins and we have no hope beyond this life. If the sum of our existence is found in this short earthly existence then we are to be pitied. If this is all there is then the Apostle Paul’s prescription is to do anything and everything to medicate the meaninglessness.

The fact is, we live in a kind of Romans eight world.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:22-25).

In this life we groan just as all creation groans. Things are not as they should be. There is sin and suffering and injustice. So we wait with longing for all that was lost and damaged by sin to be fully restored. The most visible reminder of this groaning that Paul writes about is death. Death is the great and terrible reminder that we live in a fallen world. And Christians do not need to act as if death is not anything other than an enemy. But for those who know the risen Christ death is a defeated enemy. And that makes all the difference in how we face death.

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?”

(1 Corinthians 15:51-54)

About the year 125 A.D. a Greek by the name of Aristeides was writing to one of his friends about the new religion, Christianity. He was trying to explain the reasons for its extraordinary success. Here is a sentence from one of his letters:
“If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”

John Knox, the great Scottish reformer of the 16th century said while dying, “Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear dying.” The great Puritan Richard Baxter when he was dying said, “I have pain; but I have peace. I have peace.” The last two thousand years is peppered with examples such as these of men and women who faced the grave in peace through the Lord Jesus.

What a stark is the example of the notorious French atheist and philosopher Voltaire. On his death bed he said, “I am abandoned by God and man. I will give you half of what I am worth, if you will give me six months’ life.” The doctor replied, “Sir, you cannot live six weeks.” Voltaire replied, “Then I shall go to hell, and you will go with me.”

None of us escape our appointment with the grave. Christians are not joyful because we miraculously escape death. So long as we are south of heaven we will, to use Paul’s words, “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons.” The difference is that we know this groaning lasts a comparatively short time.

Of his awesome vision of heaven the apostle John writes: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Rev 21:1-4)

We have comfort for today
The resurrection of Jesus is a down payment on our own resurrection. Because Jesus has risen He will raise us up also. Christ took death and the grave and made a public spectacle of them. As already mentioned, this does not mean we escape death. We still live in a fallen world in fallen bodies. But consider this – what is the true power of death?

The true power of death is the power to hold. And once the power to hold has been stripped of it, death becomes a 90 pound weakling. Paul tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The Lord Jesus promised the repentant thief who hung next to him dying, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The grave could not hold our Lord and as a result the grave will not hold any of his people. And this not only puts our own death in perspective but it ultimately puts all our suffering in perspective. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).