People argue about what Jesus taught, and whether he really meant some of the difficult things he said. We ask if he was “just a good person” or whether he was somehow more special than that. We look for loopholes and inconsistencies to pick apart. But we’re always dodging around the question, “Did he or did he not rise from the dead?”
The earliest Christians weren’t in any doubt. They didn’t understand a lot of things, and they argued endlessly about matters we might not bother with. There was one thing, though, on which they agreed: Christ rose from the dead. The man who they knew had been killed was alive again.
The Resurrection is the foundation of our faith, and, at the same time, it’s the greatest mystery we know. Without the Resurrection, all we have are some nice ideals to talk about and some inspiring feelings to share. The Resurrection of Christ is what makes everything else Jesus said and did make sense, even when his teaching seems foolish; the Resurrection is the final proof, the final stamp of truth. Without it, we will always be in doubt; with it, we can follow Jesus anywhere.
There is not one of the gospels or the other books of the New Testament which doesn’t talk about the risen Christ, or assume the truth of the Resurrection. Every one of them is a record of people who believed, even though many of the books of the New Testament reveal people who, like us, doubted.
The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus’ body died, and his spirit went to heaven. It says that he rose from the dead. And it says that if we are faithful as he was faithful, if we love one another as he loved us, if we accept the same life that was in Jesus Christ, then we can hope to share in that same resurrection ourselves. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus dwells in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you…” (Romans 8:11) That’s what the Resurrection means.
What’s it like? How does it happen? We don’t know. Even Paul, who could usually explain things pretty well, found himself at a loss for words when he tried to explain how we will be raised. “I tell you a mystery…the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and this mortal nature shall put on immortality…” (I Corinthians 15:51-53)
Even though we don’t understand the “how”, we sense what it means to our whole view of life. Here’s one view: before we’re born there’s nothing, then we live for a while, and when we die there’s nothing again. With the hope of resurrection, the whole picture changes. Even before we’re born, God has loved us. We live because God has brought us into being. There is death, but then there’s resurrection, and a life that never ends.
Can you see the difference? Take it one way, and life is something suspended between non-existence at one end and death at the other. Take it the other way, and death is a short and narrow bridge with life on either side of it.
If you find it hard to believe in the Resurrection, you’re in good company. Lots of other people have found it difficult, from Doubting Thomas on down. If, in spite of the mystery, you do believe, don’t feel superior. Your faith is the gift of God. Many good and wise and sincere people have not been able to believe in it.
As a pastor, one of my jobs is to give people hope. At all of the hundreds of graveside services I’ve led, every single time, I read the words of Jesus’ promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, even though they die, will live; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. . .” (John 11:25)
I put my faith in God who promises a life that never ends. And I encourage you to trust God, too.
- Josh Brown