A few days after his death and burial, Jesus came out of the grave. The tomb was empty, and angels were around to tell his followers what had happened. “He is not here, for he has risen!” This was an enormous miracle, with far-reaching consequences that Jesus’ disciples only realised gradually. But it became the heart of their message. From the beginning, the central holiday of the church has been Easter. Easter puts the crown on all that Jesus came to do on earth. It marks the first step of Jesus’ path of glorification. And, as we will see, it is the power source of our entire Christian life.
Throughout history there have been many people who denied that Jesus actually rose from the dead. We could spend time arguing what evidence there is. But the Heidelberg Catechism is not really interested in that discussion. Instead, Lord’s Day 17 wants to know what the meaning of the resurrection is for us. How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us? What do you and I get out of it?
The risen Lord gives life.
1. Righteous life
2. New life
3. Glorious life
Just before Jesus died on the cross, he exclaimed: “It is finished!” In previous lessons we discussed that Jesus’ suffering and death indeed took care of all that needed to be done. It turned God’s wrath away from us, so that we no longer need to fear judgement, death, or hell. But if that is the case, why is Jesus’ resurrection so important?
One reason is that the resurrection vindicates Jesus. He taught that he was the Way and the Truth and the Life, the beloved Son of the Father, and the King of heaven. But could he prove it? There is no greater proof of superhuman power, of divine authority and identity, than the ability to rise out of death. Paul makes this point in Romans 1:4, when he says that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power … by his resurrection from the dead.” This divine miracle proved that Jesus was right.
The resurrection also shows that Jesus is the conqueror. He won the ultimate battle. By his resurrection he has overcome death, says the catechism in q&a 45. The most powerful force in this fallen world was not strong enough to keep Jesus in the grave. In his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:24) Peter said: “It was not possible for him to be held by death.” The open, empty grave, with the folded linen wraps make a triumphant mockery of death. As we discussed before, because Jesus died yet did not stay dead, we no longer have to fear death as the ultimate enemy.
But Jesus did not merely overcome death. Death is only a symptom of the deeper problem of our world. The world is in the clutches of evil, under a curse of futility, and its people in bondage of sin, its master the devil. Jesus’ resurrection proclaims: That is no longer true! Not only death, but the power of sin and evil, and Satan himself, have been defeated. Paul writes: “God disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him,” that is, in Jesus. (Col. 2:15) The “rulers and authorities” mentioned here are clearly spiritual agents of evil, demonic helpers of Satan.
The resurrection was not just the work of Jesus. The Bible often says that God, or the Father, raised him from the dead. This is a clear sign of God’s approval of the work of Jesus Christ. Not only did he say “It is finished” on the cross, but God the Father affirmed it by rewarding Jesus not just with life, but with a new and more glorious life. The Bible makes this link explicitly in Phil. 2: Jesus “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross; therefore God has highly exalted him …” In that exaltation, that “lifting up” of Jesus Christ, the resurrection was the first step.
But that also means that God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, brought on our behalf, covering the sins of the world. He gave himself as an atoning sacrifice, the kinds of sacrifice that would make the offerer right with God. The result of such atonement is righteousness. The catechism points out that Jesus obtained that righteousness for us by his death; and now that Jesus is alive, he can freely give that righteousness to us.
Jesus’ resurrection closes the book on our sins. The sins of the past, which made us guilty before God, have been carried away by Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, and it is clear that God has accepted his sacrifice. He will not hold our sin against us, if we belong to the risen Christ.
During his ministry, Jesus had raised others from the dead: the son of the widow in Nain; the daughter of Jarius; Lazarus of Bethany. They got their old life back, still a life of limitation, still a life full of suffering, and they would die again. But when Jesus rose from the dead, he did not simply continue his old kind of life. He rose into a new life.
Some people talk about Jesus’ resurrection as if he had shaken off the humanity that he had taken on, and returned to being the glorious Son of God. But there is much better news for us: Jesus came out of the grave with a new human body, one no longer hampered by the curse of sin and death, but a human life of perfection, fully supported by the Spirit of God, never to die again.
The Bible holds this new life of Jesus out as a picture, an example, and a promise for us. Paul writes: “… that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 6:4, 9-11)
The catechism echoes the Bible when it says: by his power we too are raised up to a new life. That is a very practical consequence of Jesus’ resurrection. If we belong to Jesus, we share in his resurrection life. That begins today.
Jesus himself had said: “You must be born again,” or “born from above.” To see and participate in the Kingdom of God, we need to start a new life away from sin and powered by the Holy Spirit. That life is made possible and that Spirit has become available through the resurrection of Jesus. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11)
This will be true for you “if Christ is in you,” the Bible teaches. If through faith you are connected to Jesus. If you are like a branch attached to the vine, to use the analogy from John 15. Even though we are still in our old bodies, which can suffer and die, the Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus will fill us with his power, with an energy and wisdom and direction of life that is very different from our old life.
So Jesus’ resurrection is not just one special person entering a new and glorified life. He brings many sons (and daughters) to glory.” (Heb. 2:10) The Christian church is the place where this clearly happens. It is the community of people who are rejecting the old life of sin and death, and live more and more the new life of Jesus’ resurrection. This new life becomes visible in sincere worship, in setting Kingdom priorities, in selfless love to others, in a hope that conquers all fears. If we really understand that Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for our Christian life, this will help us greatly in giving morality and God’s law a place in our life. It is no longer about following rules to avoid punishment. It is about putting into practice the glory that God is given us.
This is the aspect of Jesus’ resurrection that is most practical for us every day. It is also challenging. It is all too easy to be dragged down into the old style of life. The temptations of sin, or sheer laziness on our part, can suppress the power of the Holy Spirit. We need constant reminding, encouragement, and empowerment to take off our old self and put on our new self. The greatest encouragement is the risen Lord Jesus himself. Just look at the great glory he received, because he obediently served God the Father through his life of suffering. Meditate on the new life he was given. And then to think that he shares that life, and the Spirit who gives that life, with us today…! How foolish must we be not to lay hold on that life of resurrection!
For the time being, we live this new life of Jesus’ resurrection in our, weak self. “In our flesh,” Paul would say, referring not only to our physical body but also to the ingrained tendencies of sin, its attachment to the earth and the powers of this dark evil age. The Holy Spirit gives us more and more of Jesus’ new life, but that new self is often in fierce competition with the old self. The bodies, minds, and spirits of even the best Christian believer is still far removed from the glory that our Lord Jesus has now.
Even though we have the resurrection life is shaping us, we still need a true resurrection. “This perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality,” Paul writes (1 Cor. 15:53).
And that is where Jesus’ resurrection is also a promise for the future. He is the first human being to attain the highest possible glory, greater than even Adam had before he fell into sin. His is the first, and many will follow. That is the one great outstanding promise from God that we still have. We may look at Jesus’s resurrection and know that the same will happen to us. “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20)
That gives hope, when people around us die, when we face our own death, even if we despair of our current life because of how messed up things are. Jesus was raised from the dead, and if you belong to him, God will do the same to you. No matter how imperfect your body, mind, and spirit are today, one day God will graciously make you more perfect than you can even imagine. It already happened to Jesus. Christ’s resurrection is the sure pledge, a token of a promise that God will certainly keep, a pledge of our glorious resurrection.
This is why it is so detrimental when Christians doubt or deny the resurrection of Jesus. Paul already encountered these people in Corinth. He explains that everything falls apart if we deny the resurrection of the dead, if we don’t believe that Jesus returned to life: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:17-19)
The Christian hope of eternal life is not merely a dream about a future. It is not even merely based on a promise of God. Our Christian hope is based on that key fact in history, that God raised Jesus from the dead—and what he did with Jesus, he will do with us when the time comes.
A lot can be said about Jesus’ resurrection; following the catechism, we have brought out three aspects. First, the risen Lord Jesus has put an end to death, sin, and evil. His atoning sacrifice has been accepted by the Father. No matter what sin we have done in the past, it is now atoned for and forgiven.
Second, the risen Lord Jesus has received new life, which he shares with us. This is practical for today, for our everyday living. The question: “How shall we live?” has as its key answer: “According to the new life of Jesus’ resurrection.”
Third, the risen Lord Jesus shows us what we will receive at the end of time. God will make our weak bodies like Christ’s crucified body. A sure promise for the future.
So you see that the resurrection of Jesus has a powerful meaning. It speaks to the sins of the past, our life in the present, our hope for the future.
- What does the resurrection of Jesus show about him?
- What does the resurrection of Jesus show about evil, death, and sin?
- What does the resurrection of Jesus tell us about our relationship with God?
- In what way does Jesus’ new life affect us from day to day?
- Why is the resurrection of Jesus essential for Christian hope?
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||Mark 9:2-9. In v. 9, note how confused Jesus’ disciples were, even though he spoke plainly.|
|Tuesday||Matthew 28:1-15. What is similar about the responses of the guards and the women (v. 4, 8)? What is different?|
|Wednesday||Acts 2:22-36. The first Christian sermon was about the resurrection. What is the conclusion and application of Peter’s sermon?|
|Thursday||1 Corinthians 15:1-20. Why is faith in the resurrection of Jesus essential?|
|Friday||2 Corinthians 4:7-18. How does Paul apply the death and resurrection of Jesus to himself as a preacher and to his readers/listeners?|
|Saturday||Colossians 2:6-15. What does our baptism have to do with Jesus’ resurrection? (v. 12)|