If I was to ask you of all the truths that the bible teaches, which is the most important, what would you say? We could say the proof of the existence of Almighty God and His act of creation. We could say His love for that fallen creation and sinful humanity. We could say the doctrine of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin, teaches us, and empowers us to live holy, God-honoring lives. We could say the teachings regarding eschatology (end times) including the believer’s future in heaven and the unbeliever’s torment in hell. We could say a lot of different things and I’m not so sure we could narrow it down to one that is greater than all of the others because they are all connected in one way or another and work together. But as we are in the Easter season, one doctrine (teaching) of the bible that is absolutely essential for us to apprehend (although it may be difficult to comprehend) is the teaching of the resurrection. This is one of the key tenets of the Christian faith.
The Early Church
This month is a new month, so I have moved on to a new book of the bible that I will focus on by reading and re-reading as much as possible in the next 30 days or so. That book that I have chosen is the Acts of the Apostles. What a great book! If you have ever wondered what it means to be pentecostal, I would point you to Acts. If you have ever been curious what happened after Jesus ascended to the Father on the Mount of Olives, read Acts. If you enjoy church history, it begins with Acts.
One of the marks of the church that is stressed in Acts, is that they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to be God’s witnesses to the world. They were instructed to begin in Jerusalem, move on to Judea and Samaria, then even to the remotest parts of the earth. They were given the authority through Christ to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, healing the sick and lame, casting out demons and unclean spirits, and teaching and preaching as they went. They were powerful. They were steadfast. They were effective.
What was the message they preached that caused them to be so effective? Resurrection. Time and time again Acts testifies that the early church were zealously spreading the word of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.
In the very first sermon preached on the Day of Pentecost, Peter spoke of how David had prophesied and predicted the Messiah’s resurrection:
“…he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” Acts 2:31-32 (NASB95)
It was this topic of resurrection that led many to believe and was also the cause for John and Peter’s imprisonment:
“…the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” Acts 4:1-4 (NASB95)
A little further in Acts 4, we find a general statement concerning the apostles and the first church that says this:
“And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” Acts 4:33 (NASB95)
Later, towards the end of the book of Acts, we find that Paul also took up the mantle of preaching resurrection. For some of those among the Greek philosophers this topic sounded foolish but for others it moved them to hope.
“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “‘We shall hear you again concerning this.'” Acts 17:32 (NASB95)
The controversial nature of this topic often followed Paul as he boldly spoke the word of truth. While he was on trial before the Sanhedrin Council, he pointed out that:
“‘…I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!'” Acts 23:6 (NASB95)
As we can see, resurrection was a central theme of the preaching and teaching of the early church. Sometimes it resulted in bringing faith and hope to people while at other times it was a source of contention, criticism, and imprisonment.
Another one of my favorite sections of scripture is 1 Corinthians 15. This great chapter of the bible outlines for us Paul’s argument and testimony of the resurrection of Jesus as well as some insight into the mystery of our own future resurrection at the second coming of Jesus. This chapter has brought me great comfort during some pretty dark times in my life because resurrection for the followers of Jesus means hope. No matter how difficult, how wearisome, how heavy this world gets, we know that in Christ, this corruption shall inherit incorruption; this mortal shall inherit immortality; this weakness shall be raised in power. In the life to come, it will get better.
So What’s the Big Deal?
So maybe you’re wondering what’s the big deal about Jesus’ resurrection? Why did the early church spend so much of their focus preaching about His resurrection? Why did Paul dedicate an entire lengthy chapter (58 verses) to this topic? Why should the church today revive this subject in our pulpits and small groups and evangelism methods? We could offer a lot of thoughts and opinions to answer these questions, but I want to answer the way Paul wrote it in 1 Corinthians 15. He said this:
“…if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 (NASB95)
In this passage, Paul is confronting the argument of those who were saying (and are still saying today) that resurrection is a lie. There are those who would say this today by their actions as well as their words. Some (even in the church) live and act in such a way that they don’t believe there are any future consequences to the life they are living here and now. They don’t believe in a future resurrection so they “eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die.”
But Paul gives us a solid argument and defense (apologia) for the resurrection. He points out that if resurrection in general is false, then it would also mean that Christ’s resurrection was false. If this were true, it would have enormous ramifications.
First, it would make us out to be sinister liars and devious false witnesses of God because we would be claiming that the Lord did something which He never did. Now, if you are not a follower of Jesus or if you are skeptical of the bible, then maybe you already think this about those of us who are church goers. Actually this is fairly common. In fact, I was accused of this just a couple of days ago. Of course the cross of Christ is foolishness to those who are perishing.
Secondly, if the bible’s teaching about resurrection is false and Christ’s resurrection is false then it means our faith is useless and we are still in our sins. It is interesting how closely Paul ties resurrection with our forgiveness. If there wasn’t a resurrection then there isn’t forgiveness of sin. We often preach that our justification is based on Christ’s crucifixion and stop there. But that’s not the end of the story. Nor is it the end of scripture because we are told that:
“Now not for his (Abraham’s) sake only was it written that it (faith) was credited to him (Abraham), but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:25 (NASB95)
Sure, His sacrifice and crucifixion are essential to our forgiveness and justification but so is His resurrection. This was the signature at the end of the contract that sealed the deal for us. This was the period at the end of the sentence that completed the chapter of our salvation. His resurrection means justification for all who believe. Many throughout history have died for good causes but only One has been raised for our justification.
Thirdly, if Christ is not raised, then those followers of Christ and His word who have fallen asleep (died) believing in a future resurrection, have truly perished. Their faith is empty and they are gone forever to the grave. We will never see them again.
Finally, Paul sums up this bleak picture of those who disbelieve the resurrection by saying that if we have hoped in Jesus in this life only, because without resurrection that’s all there is, then we are of all people most to be pitied! Poor foolish people. How vain! How empty! How rash! How silly! If this scenario were true, then the church truly would be fools and chumps. But instead, we are the boasters of the glory and witnesses to the power of God put on display for all to see through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the first fruits of those who are asleep. Jesus Christ is risen!
“…I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell…” Matthew 28:5-7 (NASB95)
We MUST resurrect the doctrine of resurrection in our churches and bible studies and evangelism. It is a foundational fact of Christianity and is essential to our hope. As our country and our world continues on it’s downward spiral, we will find ourselves more and more in need of hope. Resurrection is the answer because Christ is the answer. Our God is a risen God who has the keys of death and Hades in His hand. What a mighty God we serve!