We always need a good dose of reminders of the type of people we have been called to be, lest we exalt ourselves, rather than God exalting us. God is the exalter of men, not men themselves. And this is a good principle to keep in mind. We need to constantly return to the root of our faith; to the events of human history that propel us to move forward as a people. This is one purpose of the liturgical calendar: to never outgrow the life of our Lord from his birth to his ascension.
The Resurrection is the foundational piece to our lives as Christians. In evangelicalism, we have tended to view the Resurrection of Jesus merely as a validation or proof that the crucifixion accomplished what it was supposed to. In other words, the Resurrection is wonderful because now the death of Jesus means something and we get to spend eternity in heaven. But how does the Bible navigate us through Jesus’ life? The Four Gospels navigate us through the life of Jesus and gives us a little glimpse into the Resurrection. But if we simply build our thinking around the Four Gospels we will have an incomplete view of who we are and who Jesus is. The Four Gospels are not enough. We need the entirety of God’s Revelation. In other words, “If our gospel begins and ends on Good Friday, it is impoverished.” Though we glory in the cross, though we preach the cross, though we love the old rugged cross, the cross is not enough! And I make that statement very carefully. As one scholar stated, “If the story of the prodigal son was only based on cross-theology, there would have been only forgiveness, but no joy and feast.” The message of the cross is incomplete without the resurrection. The cross and the resurrection can never be separated. The resurrection not only validates the cross, but it is a sure sign that we are shadows of our future selves. We are now partly what we shall be. This is very clear as we enter into Acts of the Apostles: the early Church began to live out their resurrection among the nations. In fact, “the preaching of Jesus’ resurrection is arguably more pervasive than the cross in the book of Acts (Acts 2:31; 3:26; 4:2; 33; 10:41). The Psalms most quoted in the New Covenant are Psalms 2 and 110, which speak directly of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation. Cyprian once wrote: “I confess the Cross, because I know of the Resurrection…since the Resurrection has followed the Cross, I am not ashamed to declare it.” This is back to basics! We are a cruciform people, but if we overemphasize the cross, we will lose an enormous part of our identity.
So, let us consider a few implications of the resurrection, keeping in mind that the Resurrection is more than a confirmation of the cross, but it is the foundation of our faith. Paul makes this point when he says that without the resurrection we are of all people most to be pitied. He does not say this about any other event in the life of Jesus.
First, the Resurrection is the objective grounds of salvation. We tend to look merely at the cross as the grounds of our salvation, but we are saved by, in, and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul makes this explicit when he says in Romans 4:25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” In I Corinthians 15:17, Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins.” But aren’t we justified and forgiven on account of Jesus’ death? Of course! Romans makes that clear! But what Paul is saying elsewhere is that the unique event of the Resurrection is the vindication of Jesus as the Faithful Son and as the righteous sin-bearer. “So God’s raising of Jesus from the dead was the act in which the justification of all God’s people was contained in a nutshell. “Resurrection is the creative power of God that imparts life to soul and body.” This is who we are. We are nothing more, nothing less than saints united to the Resurrected Christ. This is the objective ground of our salvation.
Secondly, the resurrection is not only the source of our justification, our right-standing before God, but the resurrection is also the power that drives our sanctification; that is our growth in King Jesus. Some theologians have referred to this as anastasity, from the Greek anastasio, meaning resurrection. Anastasity is the way the resurrection flows into our lives. Now listen carefully to what I am about to say. This is in many ways is revolutionary to Christians who have never considered the Resurrection in this light, and I dare say this might change the way you look at everything. What the cross of Jesus does for us is to bankrupt our pride, it sobers our minds when we become full of ourselves, and it pulls the plug on any naïve triumphalism. When we are tempted to be proud of any accomplishment, we need look no further than the cross of Jesus to give us an enlightened view of what Jesus had to suffer to take our sins.
But, the resurrection is the other necessary and prominent part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and part of God’s people. We cannot only have a theology of the cross. Why? Because a spirituality that meditates only on the cross could potentially reduce us to self-loathing, spiritual insecurity, and an unhealthy fixation on our own pathetic wormliness—as if we remain pathetic lowly sinners, miserable wretches, unable to do one good thing for God.
But is this the whole story? Or is this simply a pietistic simplification of the Christian life? Or should I ask “Is this simply the Christian life without the Resurrection? Is this what we are? Is this our basic status before God?” Anglican scholar Michael Bird summarizes best our status:
Because of the resurrection, we are “saints,” the “elect,” the “church of God,” and the “bride of Christ”—and this is a big deal. In what can only be described as the greatest reversal of fortunes since Cinderella, believers have gone from condemnation-death-poverty-grief-shame to righteousness-life-riches-joy-glory.” Some Christians might feel humble when they tell everyone how pathetic they are; a form of self-deprecation. Rightly so, we should be the first ones to share our struggles with others, but let us not think less of ourselves that how God thinks of us. “If God thinks well of his Son, He thinks well of you. If God loves His Son, He loves you, for you are partakes not just of his sufferings, but also of his glory, and you are—as we shall see next week on Ascension Sunday—raised to the heights of his throne with Him.
Finally, the resurrection calls us to a new way of living. Paul says in Colossians: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things.” Some have interpreted this to mean that we are to be so heavenly minded, that we ought to abandon our earthly concerns. After all, this world is simply passing by. But I think this interpretation lacks a fundamental understanding of the role of the Resurrection and the Ascension in the mind of Paul. Who are we? We are resurrected saints. This is the most basic foundation of our humanity as Christians. And if we are resurrected saints, where does the resurrected Christ now abide? He abides at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Where Christ is we are. What Paul is saying is that we are to act and live as if we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We are to have a heavenly perspective on our earthly life. This is then to have an impact on our present. Our status is Jesus Christ is to be our motivation to press on toward the goal for which Christ has called us.
Easter is the most basic fact of our humanity. It is who we are. It is because of the bodily resurrection that we live, breathe, and have our being in a Christ who shows mercy, rather than a Christ who condemns us. Why? Because at the Resurrection Jesus was vindicated as the sin-bearer; the One who looks at us and sees nothing but beauty. We can never take that for granted. And this position before the Father then should cause us to love one another more fully, to serve one another more sincerely, to embrace a more robust view of hope, to feast more abundantly, and to worship the Risen Christ with greater passion. This is the abc of our faith; this is resurrection basics. If it is anything less we are most to be pitied, but thanks be to God, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
- Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology, 436. (back)
- Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology, pg. 445 (back)