The Meaning of Christ's Resurrection
Topic: Holy Week
THE MEANING OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION
An Exposition of the Biblical Meaning of Christ’s Resurrection
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: April 1, 2018
Series: Holy Week 2018
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
My brothers and sisters, on this day we celebrate the joy of our Lord’s resurrection. Every other day ought to be lived in the light of this day. Our whole life ought to be conducted on the basis of Christ’s resurrection and all that it means – all that it means for this present life, and all that it means for life in the world to come. What I want to do in this sermon is to unpack the significance of the resurrection – what it means and how it ought to shape our lives.
In the vast majority of my sermons, I focus on one particular passage and take time to walk through it. This sermon is going to be different: instead of focusing on one passage, I’m going to refer to several passages which will help us understand the biblical meaning of the resurrection. In reality, what I will be doing is introducing four interrelated lines of thought: each line of thought could easily be the basis for an entire sermon, but – if you can imagine standing in a giant palace atop a great mountain with good views on all sides – today we must find joy in momentary peaks out of different palace windows which, taken together, start to convey the panoramic beauty of resurrection truth.
Without further ado, let’s walk over to one of the windows and start taking in the view.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION MEANS THAT THE POWER OF SIN HAS BEEN BROKEN
First, Christ’s resurrection means that the power of sin has been broken, because death can only be reversed if sin is defanged. What I am talking about here is the unbreakable connection between sin and death, and it is exceedingly important that everyone understand that these two realities rise or fall together. Twenty-first century mankind doesn’t understand this sin-and-death dynamic. For example, some people may think that death is just a natural fact of life: what’s new – people die – deal with it! But why do people die? Is it some vague circle of life-and-death that just is because it is? Is it because a cosmic accident brought together complementary molecules that somehow produced life, and that cosmic laws dictate the breakdown of these molecules until that which was alive suffers death?
The Bible doesn’t dodge this question, but explains it clearly from the beginning:
- “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Genesis 2:16-17)
- The Lord said to Adam after he sinned: “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.” (Genesis 3:19)
- “… the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)
- “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12)
- And in the familiar words of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…”
All this makes it clear that sin is the cause of death, and that death is the consequence that God has imposed upon sinners. Death entered into our world through one door and one door only: the door of sin. This death that came into our world is an awful thing: physical death, in which the soul-body union is severed and the body becomes a corpse; spiritual death, in which a human being is alienated from God; and everlasting death, in which an unredeemed sinner is sentenced to everlasting misery in hell. How shall we be rescued from this perilous condition?
Well, biblical logic demands that the only way death can be reversed is for its underlying cause – sin – to be removed. Death is only the symptom, but sin is the root problem on account of the fact that God’s righteous judgment stands against us because of our sin. God the Father sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, on the ultimate rescue mission – and this rescue mission was aimed at overcoming the fearsome grip of sin-and-death. Why did Jesus die upon the cross? He didn’t die because the Jewish religious leaders outwitted Him or because the Roman authorities overpowered Him. Jesus declared:
“… I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 10:17-18)
So, Jesus laid down His life, but then we should immediately ask, “Why did He do that?” Jesus again gives the answer: “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus gave His life in order to redeem us from slavery to sin-and-death and turn us into sons and daughters of righteousness-and-life.
The Father “loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) – to die in our place as a sacrifice for sin, to experience the full weight of death that we deserved because of our sins. On that cross, our transgressions and iniquities were laid on Jesus, the Lamb of God. With all of our sin upon Jesus, the Father lowered the bar of holy justice upon His Son, and thus the Lamb was slaughtered. He died because of sin. His death made atonement for our sin and perfectly satisfied the justice of God.
So, in light of all this, what does Christ’s resurrection from the dead mean – what does His reversal of death’s power mean? It means that Christ dealt a death-blow to sin itself. It means that the death of Jesus was totally effective in removing our sin; that a full atonement has been made; that He has “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Which means that if by faith you receive the gift of Jesus’ death and resurrection for your salvation and peace, then you don’t have to walk around in guilt and shame and fear anymore. How many people walk around with so much fear, so much guilt, so much regret, so much shame, and why? Because the only thing that you can see is your sin. It is good and necessary to see your sin, but it is better to see the One who loved us and gave Himself for us so that we could be cleansed from our sin. Believers are forgiven and cleansed, not because we got moral, not because we got smart, not because we started reading our Bibles or going to church, not because we beat ourselves up enough and then made a few resolutions to not be so stupid next time, not because of anything that we bring to the table, but rather because the Lamb died for our sins and then rose again in victory over sin-and-death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).
Christ’s resurrection means that the power of sin has been broken. Walk in the joy of this free gift!
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION MEANS THAT THE PHYSICAL WORLD IS GOOD
As we take leave of the first window, a second window beckons us and sets before us another beautiful truth: Christ’s resurrection means that the physical world is good, and that God intends to redeem it. Now maybe this lands on your ears with an underwhelming sense of disappointment. We were just speaking about the glory of Christ’s triumph over sin-and-death, and now we’ve dropped down several notches to the goodness of the physical world. Really?
Yes, really, except I wouldn’t call it dropping down several notches. Too many people in too many places have been duped by a philosophy that renders the physical world as something less than good. At times people have adopted the unbiblical notion that our bodies are actually the problem, and that what our souls really need is to be released from their bodily prison, and then our disembodied souls could soar upward into the heavens and live in the eternal joy of spiritual contemplation forever and ever. When people make so much of the intellectual and the heavenly that they denigrate the physical or treat it as unimportant or consider it an obstacle to a healthy spiritual life, they have actually drifted far and wide from biblical teaching.
The truth is that the physical world was God’s idea. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) All things, including this physical world and everything in it, were made through Christ and for Christ (Colossians 1:16). After the Father made all things through His Son, He scanned the creation from one end to the other: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Then, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.” (Galatians 4:4) And as the apostle John put it: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
Redemption comes to us not in some ethereal non-physical world somewhere across the galaxy, but it comes to us here in the context of our embodied existence within this physical world. The God-Man Jesus became enfleshed here, grew up here, ministered here, lived here, and died here – and His death wasn’t an abandonment of this world in favor of an alternative non-physical reality. He rose again bodily, and thus we celebrate the physical resurrection of our Lord. To be sure, His resurrected body was a perfected body no longer subject to death, but it was a real physical body. As the risen Lord Jesus told His disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39) Then “he showed them his hands and his feet.” (Luke 24:40) Christ’s bodily resurrection is a strong affirmation of the goodness of the physical world.
The risen Christ isn’t in the business of saving people and then immediately translating them to glory. Instead, He is building His Church and transforming our lives here and now. The believer’s body is sacred space: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The body is not an obstacle to glorifying God, it is a vehicle for glorifying God: “I appeal to you… brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
And yet, it isn’t just our bodies that are good, the whole creation is good. Paul had harsh words for super-religious anti-physical heretics:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
All this to say that this embodied life, which takes place in physical bodies and involves the physicality of marriage and households, food and drink, seedtime and harvest, property and wealth – and all this in a world of beauty where birds sing and flowers bud and rivers flow – this embodied life is good. In 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul tells us to glorify God in our bodies, he actually connects this instruction to the truth of the resurrection:
“… The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” (1 Corinthians 6:13-14)
In other words, the Lord’s bodily resurrection – along with the promise of our bodily resurrection in the future – is proof positive that the physical body is fundamentally good and that what we do with our bodies is important to God. In 1 Corinthians 15 the truth of the resurrection is the basis for Paul’s exhortation that we “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Christ’s bodily resurrection is a strong affirmation of the goodness of the physical world and, as such, it teaches us to appreciate the physicality of our life and work and stewardship. The Christian’s proper desire is not to escape bodily life, but rather to experience the transformation of our bodily life by the power of the Holy Spirit. This transformation begins to take place here and now, but the ultimate transformation will take place in the future – and this actually brings us over to a third window in our mountaintop view as we walk through the palace of resurrection truth.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION MEANS THAT WE WILL SHARE IN HIS RESURRECTION GLORY
Looking out of the third window, we come to see and understand that Christ’s resurrection means that one day we will share in the glory of His physical resurrection. The fundamental theological truth here is that every person who savingly trusts in Christ is united to Christ in a profound relational union. The Bible speaks of this union in various metaphors: Christ is the Head of His body (the church), and we are members of His body; Christ is the Vine, and we are branches grafted into the Vine; Christ is the Divine Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride. The point of all this is that we Christians are one with our Lord. Since He is Leader and Lord and we are His followers, He goes out in front and blazes a trail for us to follow after. He is the Pioneer who leads the way, and we walk in the path that He has cut. He has the Preeminence of First Place and He sets the proper pattern, and then we come after and we are conformed to His pattern. We cannot understand New Testament Christianity unless we understand the wonderful reality of our union with Christ. Christianity is not an impersonal set of ideals and duties. Christianity is rather Christ and His people in a close inter-personal union in which we believers are conformed to the likeness of our Lord. This conformity to Christ happens through the Word of God and the Spirit of God, as the Church holds fast to her Lord in love and truth faith.
While our union with Christ has profound implications for our everyday Christian life in the Oxford Hills in 2018, my focus right now is the promise and confident expectation that one day in the future we will share in the glory of our Lord’s bodily resurrection. In Philippians 3, for example, Paul expresses his longing to share in the sufferings of Christ and to “[become] like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:11) This is the Christian’s proper goal: “resurrection from the dead.” Although in Philippians 3:11 Paul expresses this truth as a goal which he longs for and pursues, he is confident that it will come to pass. Several verses later in Philippians 3:20-21 he says, “… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” The idea here is that our lowly physical body will in due course be transformed into a glorious physical body – one that is no longer subject to weakness, corruption, and death.
In the well-known resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that the resurrection of Christ is “the firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). Do you know what firstfruits are? If you are growing a garden, the firstfruits are the fruits that come early in the season – and these early fruits anticipate an abundant harvest later in the season. With respect to the resurrection, the resurrection of Christ is the early fruit that anticipates an abundance of glorious resurrections in the future. This is what Paul writes:
“… Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a 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. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
Later in the chapter Paul describes the powerful resurrection that believers will experience:
“… 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?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 15:51-57)
Our present bodies are good, but they are also weak. On account of sin, we all have fallen bodies in a fallen world. Our present bodies are afflicted and frail, fragile and vulnerable, perishing and dying. In our present bodies we experience fatigue, burnout, disease, cancer, injuries, chemical imbalances, and all kinds of limitations. In our present bodies our sin is a felt reality in the form of sinful desires. Sinful desires originate in the heart, but they are often felt and expressed in our bodies. Furthermore, our emotional stresses, psychological disorders, and poor choices have a way of lodging in our bodies and multiplying the weakness and weariness that we feel. Finally, each and every one of us has an appointment with death, and – unless our Lord returns first – we shall keep that appointment, and henceforth be buried in a grave. Yes, our bodies are good, but they are tainted and corrupted by all these things. And if our bodies remained in this corruptible and weak condition, we could never enter into the incorruptible glories of God’s everlasting kingdom. Which is why Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 15:50) If we would attain to everlasting joy, we must have a resurrected and glorified body that befits the perfection of the renewed creation. And that which we need, God has promised to give to everyone who believes in His Son.
Brothers and sisters, do not make the mistake of thinking that your body is destined to decay and be forgotten, for it is not so. Some well-meaning Christians make the mistake of saying that they are going to get a brand-new body, as if the old body is gone and out of the picture. But as the New Testament makes clear, it is precisely the old body that is going to be raised up. This is what resurrection means! The old body is going to be raised up, healed and transformed, upgraded to perfection, clothed with immortality and glory. As Paul wrote in Romans 8, “… we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:23-24) What is our hope? Not the replacement of our bodies – nor the setting aside of our bodies – but the redemption of our bodies. We believers are destined to enjoy a glorified embodied life with our Lord and with all of His people in a renewed creation.
For this wonderful passage in Romans 8 that speaks about the redemption of our bodies also speaks of the renewal of the whole creation: “… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) And on what basis? On the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20) And, as we already saw in Philippians 3, the risen Lord has “the power… to subject all things to himself,” which means among other things that the risen Lord has the power to bring all things to a renewed state of beauty, order, and perfection under His wise and sovereign rule.
TRANSITION TO THE FOURTH WINDOW
Before I proceed to the fourth window, let’s survey the view we have seen so far.
First, Christ’s resurrection means that the power of sin has been broken. Through faith in His name, we are forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God, and now we can walk with Jesus in newness of life and bear fruit for the Father’s glory.
Second, Christ’s resurrection means that the physical world is good. This physical world is not an obstacle to a God-honoring life, but is actually the occasion for it. Offer your embodied life to the Lord as a living sacrifice.
Third, Christ’s resurrection means that creation itself will be redeemed and that one day we will share in the glory of His physical resurrection. Christ will come again, and when He does we will be gloriously raised up and transformed, and the whole creation will be set free. Rest in His promise, and look forward to glory.
With all that in view, we come to the fourth window, in which we happen to see a reflection of the other three, and through it a sea of people who remain lost in sin, alienated from God, blind to truth, and without any solid hope. Which means that the fourth window is a window for mission.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION MEANS THAT WE HAVE GOOD NEWS TO SHARE WITH THE WORLD
Finally, then, we remind ourselves that Christ’s resurrection means that we have good news to share with the world. Without the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there is no good news for the world. Without the gospel, all we have is cosmic accident after cosmic accident, or the whim and fury of unknown gods, or random molecules colliding – and hundreds of millions of human beings dying in the process. Without the gospel, all we have is ourselves to figure it out and make things better. Look at humanity’s track record and see if there is any reason for optimism! But what we have in Jesus Christ is light in a world of darkness, life in a world of death, peace in a world of conflict, love in a world of fickle hearts, and hope in a world of despair. In the resurrection of Christ, death has been reversed because sin has been removed. In the resurrection of Christ, we have access to the Holy Spirit’s peace and transforming power, and thereby we can live the everyday with God-given meaning and purpose. In the resurrection of Christ, we have a steady hope that will outlive the foolish ambitions of men and that will swallow up death itself and bring many sons and daughters to glory.
When the early church went forth to make disciples of all the nations, they proclaimed the good news of Christ’s resurrection wherever they went. On one occasion the apostle Peter preached the gospel to man named Cornelius and to others who had gathered in Cornelius’ house:
“… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:38-43)
It is our responsibility and privilege to continue this faithful proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection. We offer the promise of forgiveness and adoption into God’s forever family for everyone who believes. At the same time, we sound the sober warning that everyone who refuses the offer must bear the guilt of their own sin and face God’s wrath alone, and they will most certainly suffer the judgment of everlasting destruction. Why not rather come to Jesus that you may live? Why not rather entrust yourself to His grace, mercy, and peace? Why not rather join us in a life that will never die and in a hope that will never fail?
Let us pray.
NOTE: My inclusion of a bibliography reflects my interaction with other teachers in the preparation of my sermon. While the main part of my preparation involves my direct interaction with the biblical text, I find it helpful to invite other “discussion partners” into my preparation process. My mention of these teachers (writers, speakers, etc.) does not imply any particular level of agreement with them, nor does it constitute an endorsement of their work. That said, I am appreciative of those – past and present – who are seeking to faithfully teach God’s Word, and I am happy to benefit from their labor.
Ciampa, Roy E. and Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.