The Resurrection: God's victory, our hope
The Centrality of the Resurrection
TURN to 1 Corinthians 15
What we’re about to read is a response: a response to a problem that the Apostle Paul has encountered with the Corinthian church.
Here’s a somewhat oversimplified summary: Both the OT and the NT talk about how at the end of time, God will resurrect people from the dead on what’s called the Lord’s Day: a day of judgment and salvation. He will separate those who are in Christ and those who are not.
Some people in Corinth were essentially saying that this was some sort of spiritual resurrection, and not a physical one. That is, it was a spiritual ascension into the heavenly realms that did not include the body at all. There was a separation between body and spirit. But Paul has some serious problems with that. And so he corrects them in 1 Cor 15.12-19. Read it.
Verse 17 jumps out into plain view: if Christ has not been raised, then we are wasting our time! If Christ is not actually alive, then we have no hope; we are truly to be pitied. Paul goes so far as to say that if Christ is still dead, then we are still in our sins. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel uncomfortable.
For so long the church has so wonderfully emphasized (and rightly so) how our sins are taken away at the cross. Jesus died for our sins, right? But here, Paul makes it quite clear: Jesus was raised for our sins. Our sins are not taken away unless Jesus is alive. Therefore, we can say that for Paul, and for the rest of the NT authors, the resurrection was just as important as the death. Everything stands or falls with Christ’s bodily resurrection.
James Dunn says: “If the cross of Jesus stands at the centre of [NT theology], so also does the resurrection of Jesus. Christ crucified is also he whom God raised from the dead. More to the point, the significance of the one cannot be grasped in isolation from that of the other. Without the resurrection, the cross would be a cause for despair” (Dunn, Theology of Paul the Apostle, 235).
And so I want to dig this out and ask the question, What’s the big deal? What exactly happened at the resurrection? And why is the resurrection significant?
The Nature of Christ’s Resurrection
I want to begin by saying that Jesus is not the first person who has ever been raised from the dead. There are 5 resurrection stories that took place before the resurrection of Jesus:
Two in the OT: a son of a widow and a son of a Shunammite; three in the Gospels: Jairus’ daughter, the man from Nain, and Lazarus. And there were even two other resurrection stories after Christ had resurrected: Acts 9, 20. So its important to mention that Christ’s resurrection was not something out of left field in the Bible. Though it certainly was not common, it was still present. It was and is completely within God’s infinite power to bring a person back to life.
However, with that said, Jesus’ resurrection is not like any of those other ones. It entirely unique: All those others who were raised died again. Though they were given new life, they were still mortal. But not with Jesus. The resurrection body he was given was still physical, but it was what Paul called a “spiritual body.”
Caution here: He DOES NOT mean that Jesus became a spirit—not at all. Jesus is alive and he has a body. What Paul is getting at is a body that has been transformed, one that has been given a life-giving spirit. Paul talks of this resurrection body: “What is sown is perishable (a.k.a the bodies we have now); what is raised in imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. This is the body that Christ has: an incorruptible and perfect body that will go on forever. He cannot get sick; he cannot get injured. The glory of his body makes the comic characters sound like a bunch of wusses.
Also, it is worth mentioning that though it was still very much Jesus, people had a hard time recognizing him at first. Some of the disciples and Mary Magdalene were unable to recognize him. But it was only for a time: they did eventually know it was Jesus: they saw his hands and his feet. They saw the scars of the cross. They also saw him eat real food. Therefore, though there was some sort of difference in his appearance, there was also a noticeable amount of continuity between his body before he died and his body after he was raised.
The Meaning of the Resurrection
Now we want to shift and get to the center of it all: What does the resurrection accomplish?
Crucial to this part of today’s teaching is that we are dangerously flirting with separating that which shouldn't necessarily be separated. The cross and the resurrection are two aspects of the same event. Salvation is intricately wrapped up in what happened on Good Friday AND Easter Sunday. So we enter into this section carefully: the things that I am specifically saying were accomplished at the resurrection also belong to the achievements of the cross. Vice versa!
Last week: we said that when Jesus died on the cross, he accomplished the defeat of sin and death. And we can hang our hats on that truth. What we need to acknowledge then is that if Jesus took the sins of all the world upon himself, if he was truly our substitute, bearing our burdens, carrying our iniquities, then God completely laid upon his own Son all the curses of that sin. The penalty was overwhelmingly severe: it was excruciating damnation. Jesus took upon himself, with our interests in mind, the very death we were supposed to die.
This reminds us of the very beginning with Adam and Eve. God says to Adam: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3.19).
God guaranteed death for those who rebel. And as we discovered last week, every human in history rebels. Therefore, all of us must die. This is the reason for death. But Jesus takes that death, he takes that punishment. He takes the debt that we owe upon himself and pays it. His death is the payment for my sin; his death is the wage of your sin. So why the resurrection? Why is it needed?
Well, here’s one answer: God raising Jesus demonstrates that God accepted his sacrifice.
By raising his Son, God the Father was “in effect saying that he approved of Christ’s work of suffering and dying for our sins, that his work was completed, and that Christ no longer had any need to remain dead” (Grudem, Systematic, 615).
What do we mean? We mean that the resurrection is the “divine YES!” Yes, Jesus, your sacrifice is enough. Yes, Jesus, your death counts. Yes, Jesus, your obedience is sufficient. Yes, Jesus, your righteousness substitutes for the world’s unrighteousness. So resurrecting Jesus from the grave is what we could call the Divine Ratification. God the Father expressing an eternal consent or sanction of what His Son has achieved. The Triune God unanimously embraces the voluntary action of Jesus Christ.
But it doesn’t stop there. Within that divine approval of Christ’s sacrifice is the victory over sin and death. We saw a little bit last week that sin and death belong together. Death is the result of sin; sin brings death. Our lives are riddled with sin, and the consequence is our bodily death.
As Paul writes in Romans 5, “Sin reigns in death.” We can see sin’s dominion over the world through what it does to each one of us: we die. Death has a grip on everyone: death cannot be avoided; it cannot be overlooked. Everyone dies, no matter who they are. So in a sense, death is always victorious. No matter how hard someone tries: whether it is eating well, exercising, whatever it is, it cannot prevent death. In that sense, we are mortal beings. There’s no way of getting around it. That is what sin has done.
However, because death is the payment for sin, once someone dies, he or she is no longer trapped by sin. This is what Paul says in Romans 6.7: For one who has died has been set free from sin. But the Bible goes even further. It also tells us that it is an eternal death: it is a death that keeps going and going. This is the eternal punishment for our sins—what we call “hell.”
But what if…what if the good news about Jesus is true. You see, when he died, he attacked sin. When he died, as the obedient Son of God, he was personally taking on the battle against the reign of sin. In his voluntary death on the cross, Jesus was at war with sin and death.
And the Bible says that through his bloodshed, he was victorious. That is what we see in Revelation, when at the end of time, the slain Lamb, the crucified King is the one who is worthy to unfold the plan of God for all the world (Revelation 5).
But we cannot forget that completely wrapped up in the death of Christ is the necessity that he would rise again. The logic is fairly plain: one cannot be considered victorious over sin and death unless he is able to overcome death itself. And the ONLY way to overcome death is to be raised up again. Therefore, it is implied everywhere: when a particular passage of Scripture says that Jesus is victorious in his death, it is absolutely taking into account that he rose again.
Christ’s death BEAT sin and death BECAUSE he rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the verification for the sufficiency of his death.
Therefore, my friends, when Jesus got out of that grave on Easter morning, he was decisively and eternally victorious over sin and death. No longer did sin have control; no longer does an eternal damning death have its reign. As Paul says so gloriously in 1 Corinthians 15, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The Resurrection Extended: Our Union with Christ
In order to understand the resurrection even more, we need to skim the surface of two important biblical truths: the doctrine of regeneration and the doctrine of union. They belong together and go something like this.
The Bible says that we are dead in our sins—that we come into this world as ‘spiritually dead.’ As humans, we have no natural inclination to follow the will of God. We are rebels by nature; we have no ability to please God.
But then according to God’s electing love, he draws us to himself. He, in a sense, breathes life into dry bones: Paul writes, ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…(Eph 2.4-5).
We are regenerated; we are made alive. And as those who are made alive, we are perfect joined, we are united, to Christ, who is life.
Many scholars talk about Paul as the writer whose central theological thought was justification: that we are declared in the right before God because of Christ taking our punishment. But if you read carefully, you might see something else emerge: surely Paul talks about salvation through the lens of justification often, but there is something he uses even more: A PREPOSITION. All over Paul’s writing, and I mean seemingly everywhere you look, Paul uses the phrase “in Christ.”
For Paul, when God breathes life into a person, the very next and real benefit is to be joined to Jesus, to be engrafted into Christ. We become one with Jesus. The language itself is hard to formulate but, when we believe in faith, we are wonderfully thrown into the most intimate possible fellowship with the living and resurrected Christ. Paul was very passionate about this union with Jesus. I’m paraphrasing another author when I say that Paul had an intense feeling of personal belonging and spiritual relationship with the exalted Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Dunn, Theology of Paul, 391).
Turn with me to Romans 6 and listen to what he says. READ Rom 6.3-11.
So what’s the point of all this? Why have I gone on and on with this? It’s to show us that both the death and the resurrection of Christ are fully ours. To be in Christ, means to die when he died and rise when he rose. Albert Schweitzer writes, “Dying and rising with Christ is for Paul not something merely metaphorical, but [it is] a simple reality…For him the believer experiences the dying and rising of Christ in actual fact, not in [mere] representation.”
Therefore, the victory that Christ has he shares. It is my victory. It is your victory. We do not need to despair, for every single ounce of Christ’s work is mine. We fully belong to him; we are in Christ.
And here it becomes truly remarkable: We have, in Christ, acquired his resurrection life. Though we ourselves will still die, we are now able to join so deeply with Christ, that his newness of life becomes our own. What am I getting at? We no longer have sin-and-death as our master. Union with Christ makes us partakers of the divine nature. We are able to live spiritual lives to God right now by virtue of our fellowship with him.
Paul goes so far as to say in Gal 2.20: It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me. That is union language. Paul is willing to say that he has lost his individual existence all together; his personality is replaced with the life-giving and risen Son of God. Therefore, because we are in Christ, we now have the power to overcome sin. This is what Paul says in Rom 6.12-14. Take a look.
Just as Christ has overcome sin and death, so can we because our union with him. He has given us the power to overcome it. Sin is no longer in control. Turn to Titus chapter 2 and read verses 11-14.
This is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Son of God by virtue of his death and resurrection has sent the Spirit of God into our hearts, leading us into lives of progressive holiness.
The union that we have in Christ leads to becoming him with whom we fellowship.
Now one last important note here is a reality check. Paul uses the doctrine of union, of being in Christ, as a reminder and encouragement toward obedient lives. TURN TO Colossians 3.1-5 and read it carefully.
Paul uses the church’s identification with Christ as the basis or ground for putting sin to death. The logic is: if sin and death have been defeated by Christ and we are in Christ, then we should no longer practice sin and death. I bring this up because its important to admit that though we are in Christ, sin still happens, disobedience still happens. And we are constantly encouraged to live into the reality of who are in Christ.
The Final Resurrection of the Dead
One last thing we have to talk about is the end of time: how the resurrection of Jesus relates to what is going to happen when Christ comes back. Back in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by one man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (v 20-21).
And in 1 Thessalonians, a letter written just a few years before 1 Corinthians, Paul writes of when Jesus will come back: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Notice Paul’s language: the dead in Christ. This union that we’ve been talking about is so pervasive that it is not just spiritual, but also one day, it will be physical. The same kind of resurrection body that Jesus has will be given to each one of us. We will be given perfect bodies: bodies that won’t get colds, bodies that cannot get sick, bodies that will not wither away because of cancer. It’ll all be done.
And so I finish by saying that this news about Jesus is one of hope. There are people in this room and there are people all around us that have experienced serious pain, serious physical, emotional, and spiritual setbacks.
But we know a God who is in the business of restoration: a God who took his mutilated Son and brought him back to life. We know a God who is incomprehensibly powerful and restorative: with the resurrection of His Son, he has begun a work—a work to fix this mess. It has begun with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And we await the day when he will come back again to fix it once and for all.
What We Didn’t Get To
The Age of the Spirit: how the HS has already come.
The Deity of Christ Confirmed in the Resurrection
Any questions or comments? (Feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Suggestion: Spend a day this week reading 1 Cor 15: get to know more about the resurrection; make it a vibrant part of your theology and worship.