In the Easter season, there is a joy we feel as Christians that transcends just about everything. That joy is grounded in the definitive difference of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is what I mean by the definitive difference.
First, Jesus Christ is the only Lord who was resurrected from the dead and lived to tell about it into eternity. Of course, there are other resurrections in Scripture with Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarapheth (1 Kings 17:17ff) and Elisha did the same with the son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:16ff). Jesus himself resurrect three known people including Lazarus (John 11). However, Jesus alone conquered death in history and did not die again. This includes other religious leaders in history. As Steve Brown has suggested, you can go to the tomb of Confucius where it is clearly “occupied.” You can go to the tomb of Buddha and again find it “occupied.” The same is true for Mohammed – “occupied.” But if you go to Christ’s tomb you find it “vacant.” That is a definitive difference.
Second, Jesus’s resurrection was more than an empty tomb. It was visible to all including more than 500 eyewitnesses. (1 Cor 15:6) The written version of those accounts comes in the four gospels as well as the apostle Paul’s own encounter with our living Lord. (Acts 9) In the apostles’ time, preaching and even writing about the resurrection was their way of saying – “I was there. I saw it with my own eyes.” Add to that the other 500 and it’s almost like the apostles were daring their hearers to go, find one of those witnesses and ask them if Jesus was really alive. If you go to any trial in court today, the testimony of two or three witnesses is pretty convincing. What about 500 with 12 plus Paul proclaiming the resurrected Christ even unto death? What about 500 saying – “Yeah, I saw him!” That’s a definitive difference too.
Third, Christ’s resurrection clearly made a life-changing difference in the lives of the apostles. They talked with him (Mt 28) and walked with him (Lk 24) and even ate with him (John 21) for 40 days after the resurrection (Acts 1). Notice, they were not eyewitnesses of the resurrection itself – that is Jesus leaving the tomb. It was all about being with the living Christ. It was about interacting and experiencing him in such a way that, after his ascension, they preached the gospel with such boldness that they took on the Jewish authorities and, yes, even the Roman Empire. They died for the gospel or, better stated, out of love for Christ. That is a definitive difference.
Of course, this definitive difference has implications for our lives. The first implication is this – God makes dead things live. If God can resurrect his Son from the violence of a Roman crucifixion, there isn’t anything he cannot conquer as the Sovereign Lord of all. When your doubts are stirred and you waver in what looks like death to you, remember the resurrected Christ is Lord of all – of everything. He is the ultimate lifegiver for marriages, for wayward children, for broken stories and even for broken bodies. Need I mention, he resurrects the soul in new birth as a taste of things to come for us and as hope that God can change our unbelieving friends.
The second implication of the definitive difference of the resurrection is that one day Jesus will return and make everything live. Scripture says Jesus will return and will enact the great resurrection of all men and women, and he will resurrect the world in a new earth. Of course, this means we get a new body and a new home with the presence of God residing here – with Jesus showing up so we see him face to face. That future resurrection is merely Christ’s resurrection writ large – Christ’s resurrection affecting everything in creation once and for all – with our bodies being the pinnacle of creation dignity once again (see Gen 1 and 2). Not only that, theologians talk about continuity in the resurrection – that is how our works and labors now continue on into the new earth in some form. (Rev 14:13…their deeds follow them.) That makes a definitive difference in how we live our lives now. Think about it, your deeds done now may be resurrected as it passes through the fire as spiritual gold. (1 Cor 3:10-15)
The third implication of the definitive difference of the resurrection is that we can have real hope that Jesus keeps us walking with us as a living Lord. When we struggle with hardship and with pain in life, when we struggle with despair, when seasons of life are dark, we have the hope that a living Lord is actually walking with us and sustaining us. He isn’t dead. He is alive. We are in him and he is in us. (Jn 15) Because we are in him and he is in us, as Andrew Purves says, resurrection hope helps us to daily live like “third day Christians” who live like we’ve died and been resurrected with him. (Rom 6:1ff) That is a definitive difference in daily living and our hoping.
What does living as if the resurrection of Christ is the definitive difference look like? What is the shape of resurrection hope? Imagine you are walking with Christ on a winding trail on a mountain. Imagine walking along parts of the trail where there is sunshine and beautiful views. Then imagine walking along following Jesus on the trail and a fog bank rolls in. It is a thick fog bank so that it is hard to see – so hard to see you cannot see Jesus on the trail in front of you. While you are in the fog bank, you are tempted to stop and turn around. The trail gets so scary with steep climbs and sheer cliffs that you even think about creating your own trail to avoid the challenges. Yet, you hear Jesus calling with his Word – “Follow me. I’m here though you cannot see me.” Faith is what helps you walk on the trail with Jesus in the beginning. Resurrection hope keeps you on the trail with Jesus when the fog bank rolls in. That is how the resurrection of Jesus makes a definitive difference for you and for the kingdom.
Author: Rev. Dean Faulkner