The Resurrection – Why it Matters
This time last year the BBC carried a striking headline on its online news service: “A quarter of people who describe themselves as Christians in Great Britain do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.” During February 2017, a telephone survey solicited the religious views of over two thousand members of the general public. Many respondents denied the resurrection altogether; others suggested that the biblical account should not be taken literally in every part. Of those who identified as “Christians”, a sizeable number rejected the scriptural record, thus indicating that, for them, the resurrection was not a vital part of the Gospel.
Such a position is not new. Leading churchmen of various denominations have, for decades, disputed the physical resurrection of Christ. They are like the scribes and Pharisees of New Testament times who denied that Christ died and rose again. But the bodily resurrection of Christ must not be viewed as something that can be rejected without consequence. The apostle Paul underscored how vital it is when he addressed the Corinthians: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain…ye are yet in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). For this reason, orthodox theologians have rightly asserted that the resurrection is the cardinal doctrine of our Christian religion. If Christ’s body remains in the tomb in Jerusalem and our Lord is reduced to dust, the Christian message is null and void. The Saviour’s resurrection matters.
Reliability of God’s Word
The resurrection proves the absolute reliability of God’s word. The Old Testament contains more promises and prophecies concerning the resurrection than we often realize. Almost from the beginning of time, God promised a Saviour who would live, die and rise again for his people. These divine promises are Christ centred. In Psalm 16:10 the assurance is, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” According to Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:31) these words relate to Christ’s resurrection from the grave. Isaiah was just as clear when he said that Christ would know humiliation, grief, judgment, sorrow and would make His soul an offering for sin by pouring out His soul unto death, but that He would also see His seed and be satisfied and that He would divide the spoil with the strong (Isaiah 53). In Acts 8:34, 35 Philip confirmed that these words refer to the person and work of Christ. God promised that Christ would rise. His Word is reliable for, as Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15:4, “Christ rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” If Christ had not risen, God would have proved unfaithful to Him and to His own Word, but such unfaithfulness can never be true of God.
Deity of Christ
The resurrection proves the perfect deity of Christ. In Romans 1:4 Paul presents the resurrection as an unassailable proof that Christ is truly God. It testifies that He is who He claimed to be. During our Lord’s earthly ministry He stated that, “He would destroy this temple (a reference to his body) and in three days raise it up again” (John 2:19). He confirmed that, “He had power to lay down his life and power to take it up again.” (John 10:17, 18). Christ was speaking as the God-man. No mere human has power over life and death. But Christ who is a unique person, having a divine and human nature at the same time, is able to raise Himself from death. Death could not hold the eternal Son of God. His resurrection proves his deity.
Victory of Christ for his people
The resurrection proves the victory of Christ for His people. Christ died as the substitute for sinners. He took the sins of His people and suffered in their place. His work on the cross was a sacrificial and judicial work. He was paying the penalty for our transgressions. His was an atoning sacrifice; simply yet profoundly explained by the words of Romans 5 “Christ died for the ungodly.” Had He remained under the power of death: death, sin, Satan, hell and the grave would have conquered Him and we could have no Saviour. A dead Christ cannot save. Calvin summarizes the dilemma, “For how could He, by dying have freed us from death if He had Himself succumbed to death? How could He have acquired victory for us if He had failed in the struggle?” But Christ arose. Colossians 2:15 records the note of victory when it records of Christ, “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” By dying, Christ destroyed the devil that had the power of death. He overcame him. He finished the work that His Father gave Him to do for the redemption of His people and to testify that it was accepted He was raised from the dead. The resurrection is vital for our salvation. Without this triumph there can be no justification for guilty sinners, for He was delivered for our offences and raised for our justification (Romans 4:24, 25). Christ, our surety has fully satisfied all of God’s demands on behalf of His people and His victory and sufficiency is attested by His resurrection. As far as God’s people are concerned there is not one sin, not even part of one sin for which satisfaction has not been made and therefore believers in Christ are free from all condemnation. The risen Christ is the exclusive, exalted and therefore effectual Saviour.
The present and future ministry of Christ
This leads to another reason why the resurrection matters: it proves the present and future ministry of Christ. Scripture asserts that Christ continues to be active for His people. He gives gifts to His church. He prays for His saints. He reigns and rules over all things. He abides with His people as they fulfil His great commission. He builds and sanctifies His church. None of this would be possible without the resurrection. A dead Christ cannot pray, build or bless. The doctrine of Christ’s session at His Father’s right hand is meaningless if He did not rise from the dead. And there could be no hope of Him returning to earth in power and great glory, to take His people to Himself and be the Judge of all men, if He still lies in the tomb. The truth of Christ’s continual ministry unravels if the resurrection never took place.
Denying the resurrection involves denying the entire person and work of Christ. Of course, if Christ did not rise from the dead then there can be no hope of our resurrection. Borrowing from nature and a scene from an Old Testament harvest, Paul reminds us that “Christ is the first-fruits of them that sleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), signifying that since Christ rose from the dead and entered glory, all those who are in union with Him, will rise also and be with Him. His resurrection guarantees the resurrection unto life of all His people. This was the consoling message given to the Thessalonians, and it remains full of comfort for all of God’s people.
The resurrection of Christ was no conjuring trick with bones. It was not imaginary or mythical. It was physical, literal and in accordance with all the divine promises. The church does not serve a dead Christ. The church’s sole King and only Head lives in the power of an endless life. He will one day return to this earth as the King of King and Lord of Lords. Then, at last, every eye shall see Him and every tongue shall confess that Jesus lives and is Lord of all!
Rev. Colin Mercer.