The Resurrection Difference
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, April 11, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
"They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead."
What is the resurrection difference? It is the power we experience as Christians, as those who have crossed from death to life. We appropriate it through the preaching of the gospel, for faith comes by hearing the word of God. This transforming power is available to us only because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Not everyone will experience this resurrection power, for not everyone believes in the literal resurrection of Christ. For instance, the famous theologian Karl Barth, author of the multi-volume Church Dogmatics, held this view of resurrection: "After this life, man will eternally exist in the mind of God, not in reality." But I believe my mother was wiser than Karl Barth. She believed in the literal, historical resurrection of Jesus Christ; and, thus, she was transformed by its power. As a Christian, she believed that she also would be raised from the dead literally, as Jesus was, and lived in the light of that belief.
The Christian View of Resurrection
The Christian view of resurrection differs from all other views. To Hindus, resurrection consists in endless cycles of reincarnation. The ancient Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, but not of the body, for they considered matter to be evil; to them, salvation consisted in the soul's deliverance from the material body, and there would be no resurrection of the physical body. The Jews believed in the resurrection of the physical body, but they believed it would be identical to the one placed in the grave. To them, resurrection was merely being restored to life as Lazarus was.
The Christian view of resurrection is that the body raised from the grave will be identical in essence to the body that was placed in the grave, yet it will also be transformed. Our resurrection body will be a deathless body like unto the body in which Christ now lives in heaven forever. It will be an incorruptible and glorious body, a body full of light. It will be a powerful body with new capacities. And it will be a spiritual body, which does not mean an ethereal or non-corporeal body, but a physical body engineered by the Holy Spirit to exist in the new sinless history.
The Greatest Miracle in History
The resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the central fact of Christianity, is the greatest miracle that has taken place in the history of the world: Jesus Christ is the only person who has been resurrected thus far. But he is called "the firstborn from the dead," because the Bible guarantees that all who believe in Jesus Christ and are united with him by saving faith will also be raised from the dead and transformed at his second coming.
Jesus Christ himself predicted his resurrection in Matthew 12:40, saying, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." In Mark 8:31 he taught his disciples "that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again."
The Jewish Sanhedrin was well aware of Jesus' predictions. In Matthew 27:62-64 we read, "The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 'Sir,' they said, 'we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, "After three days I will rise again." So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.'"
By predicting this most important miracle, Christ was saying, in essence, "Watch for my resurrection. If I am not raised from the dead on the third day, do not believe me and my teachings. But if I am resurrected, then you must believe me and all my teachings." Thus, all the gospels record eyewitness reports of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the central point of the apostolic proclamation.
Evidence of the Resurrection
The Bible contains a great deal of evidence attesting to Christ's resurrection. There was the evidence of the empty tomb and abandoned grave clothes, though the tomb had been sealed and carefully guarded since Christ's body had been laid in it. There was the testimony of the angels at the tomb: "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay" (Matthew 28:6). There were the appearances of Jesus to his disciples, including to five hundred at one time, during which times he demonstrated that he was not a ghost by inviting them to touch him and put their hands in the nail and spear prints, and by eating and drinking with them.
Some have denied the resurrection by claiming that Jesus' body was removed from the tomb, either by his disciples or by his enemies. But if the disciples of Jesus stole his body, why would they risk their lives to boldly proclaim the gospel before the Sanhedrin? What would account for their willingness to suffer martyrdom for the sake of Christ? People do not die for lies, and lies do not transform people. And if Jesus' enemies stole the body, why would they not then produce it to refute once for all the apostolic proclamation of Christ's resurrection that turned the world upside-down? The answer is clear: Jesus was raised from the dead.
We see evidence of the resurrection also in the transformed life of Saul of Tarsus. A brilliant rabbi and graduate of universities in both Tarsus and Jerusalem, Saul was once a fervent enemy of Christianity. Yet after he came to believe in the resurrection of Christ, he boldly and unashamedly proclaimed it until he was martyred for his faith.
The practices of the early church also supply evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Why did the Jewish Christians change their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday? Their Lord rose from the dead on the first day of the week. The idea of resurrection is also found in two sacraments: baptism, which speaks about our identification with Jesus Christ into his death, his burial, and, above all, his resurrection; and holy communion, when we remember him who is raised from the dead and is seated on the right hand of God the Father.
The evidence is conclusive: Jesus was raised from the dead. Christ the Lord, who lives in his resurrected, glorious, physical body in heaven forever, is seated at God's right hand, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion. Even now he exercises authority in every sphere of the universe, for God has placed all things under his feet.
What Christ's Resurrection Proves
What, then, does the resurrection of Christ prove? If this greatest miracle in the world, which was predicted by Jesus himself, came to pass, then all the other claims and teachings of Jesus, including the following, are also true.
Jesus is who he declared himself to be. Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), thereby claiming to be equal with eternal God. He declared that he was without sin by asking, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" (John 8:38). He also declared under oath that he came from heaven and would return again from heaven, as we read in Matthew 26:63-64: "The high priest said to him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.' 'Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied. 'But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.'" The resurrection of Christ proves to us that Jesus is God and he is man; he is the God/man.
Jesus provided a perfect atonement. By his life and by his death, Jesus satisfied the justice of the Father. The resurrection was God's "Amen" to Jesus' cry from the cross, "It is finished," referring to the work of atonement. Now God can be just and justify those who believe in Jesus.
Jesus conquered all his enemies, and, therefore, all our enemies. The world, the flesh, the devil and his demons, and the last enemy, death, have all been destroyed by Jesus' death on the cross. No wonder the Scripture can tell us, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
Jesus will come again, just as he promised. In Matthew 24:30 Jesus said, "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." In Matthew 25:31 he said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory." And in Matthew 26:64 he said, "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Heaven and hell are real. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that there is a heaven and there is a hell. In fact, in the gospel accounts Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven, describing it as a fiery furnace, a place of darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; and 25:30, among others).
Eternal life and eternal death are real. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves there is eternal life for believers, and eternal death for those who will not believe in him.
God's word is authoritative. First Corinthians 15:4 says of Jesus, "He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." And John 2:19-22 says, "Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.' The Jews replied, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?' But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken." The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves the authority of the Scripture and of Jesus' own words.
What Christ's Resurrection Provides
What, then, is the resurrection difference that sinners like us can now experience in our lives? What blessings are linked in the Scripture to the resurrection of Jesus Christ? There are many.
Power. We who are sinners are invited to experience the incomparably great resurrection power of the Lord. In Ephesians 1:18 Paul says, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened. . . ." No one will believe in the gospel and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ until his eyes are enlightened. The Bible tells us that our eyes are blinded by the god of this age, so God must perform a mighty miracle to enable a sinner to believe. But he does so "in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you." The unbeliever is without God and without hope in this world. But the believer has a hope, which is "the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." This resurrection power of Jesus Christ is for us who believe. Verse 19 continues, "That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms." Elsewhere, Paul says, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:10).
Brothers and sisters, I want to introduce you to this incomparably great, supernatural, resurrection power. Christ rose from the dead to raise you up also, that you can know and experience that power. Jesus said, "Because I live, you also will live" (John 14:19).
Spiritual resurrection. We believe in the moral inability and total depravity of man. Man cannot save himself, neither can he do anything to achieve a benediction from God. Man is not merely sick; he is dead, spiritually, toward God.
But Ephesians 2:1-6 reveals the resurrection difference, how God's incomparably great power manifests itself dynamically in our lives. Paul begins, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts." As a slave to sin, an unbeliever can only sin. Paul continues, "Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms." And in verse 10 he says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared for us in advance to do."
First Peter 1:3 is another verse which links Christ's resurrection with our regeneration: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
What is the resurrection difference? It is the application of the resurrection power into our lives so that we are raised from the dead. Now we are made aware of God and we understand reality. Now we humble ourselves, repent, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. Now we love the word of God and delight in his law. That is why I must ask you if you have experienced that resurrection difference. If not, you can experience it even now. As I proclaim the gospel, God can save you.
Divine justification. Romans 4:25 says, "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." Romans 5:1 continues, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." And Romans 8:33 tells us, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."
Because of the resurrection of Christ, we are given nothing less than his perfect righteousness, which is exactly what we need to be justified in God's sight. (PGM) This is not self-righteousness, but an alien righteousness, a divine, unimpeachable righteousness, granted to us the moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Christ takes all our sins and gives us his own perfect righteousness, so that God the Father can then declare to us, "You are not guilty." This justification is irreversible; we are justified forever.
Romans 10:9 tells us, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Here we see that our salvation is vitally linked to the historical, literal resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. If we do not believe in his resurrection, we cannot be saved.
Sanctification. The resurrection of Christ is not a theoretical idea or a mere historical event that has no implication for our lives today. If we are believers, it affects our lives every day by bringing about our sanctification and enabling us to holy lives.
All antinomians, libertines, Gnostics, and others who believe in "Jesus and fornication," "Jesus and dope," or "Jesus and lies" should read Romans 6, which speaks about sanctification. There we clearly see that our sanctification is linked to Christ's resurrection. In verse 4 we are told, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father"-that is, through the omnipotence of the Father-"we too may live a new life." Not only did we die and were buried with Christ, but we have been raised with him. We live on the resurrection ground throughout our lives as his mighty power functions dynamically in our lives, enabling us to say "No" to sin and "Yes" to Jesus Christ and his moral law.
Verse 5 continues, "If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." And verse 8 says, "Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." In both of these verses, the word "if" is more properly translated "since," for there is no question about it. If anyone believes in Christ, then he died with Christ, was buried with Christ, and was raised with Christ, never to die anymore. We died to sin and live now to Christ, living for the glory of God by his resurrection power.
Verse 11 exhorts us, "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin." It is a command-not that we must become dead to sin, but that we must count ourselves so, for we are already dead to sin. We died to sin when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, sin no longer exercises dominion as a master over us; how can it, if we are dead? It is as if we owed money to the Internal Revenue Service, but we died. What can they collect from us? Nothing! Or suppose we murdered someone, and then suddenly died; how could we be prosecuted? In the same way, we are dead to sin.
Verse 11 continues, "but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Here again, we are not making ourselves alive; we are already alive to God in Christ Jesus, and we are alive forever. We cannot die again, because Jesus Christ does not die again (John 14:19).
In verse 13 we are commanded, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness." The resurrection difference means we live a holy life right now.
What, then, are the implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ concerning sanctification? By faith in Jesus we died to sin once for all. We therefore have no obligation to our previous master; sin is no longer our lord. By faith in Christ, we are also raised with Christ to live a new life. We live to serve God in the resurrection power of Christ, and we shall never die and be slaves of sin again, because Christ shall never die again. We are united with Christ in his resurrection; thus, we are raised and seated with Christ, and now present ourselves and all our faculties and members of our bodies as instruments to accomplish righteousness. Christ's resurrection power has once for all liberated us from the bondage to sin! As believers, we no longer live in the realm of sin, but with Christ in the heavenly realms, and Christ's power enables us to hate sin, love God, and keep God's moral law.
Physical resurrection. The same resurrection power that brought about our spiritual resurrection will also raise our physical bodies from the dead, and we will receive a physical body like unto Christ's-incorruptible, resplendent with glory, powerful, and spiritual. That is why my mother was wiser than theologians who do not believe in the Bible. She believed the promise of 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him." There are many other passages that state the same idea. In John 6, Jesus himself made this promise four times, that he would raise up believers from the dead on the last day (vv. 39, 40, 44, and 54).
Jesus Christ Is God's Appointed Judge
The Bible declares that Jesus Christ is God's appointed Judge, and that God raised him from the dead as proof that he would be the Judge of every man. We read in Acts 17:31, "For [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." John 5:22-28 also clearly links the resurrection of Jesus with the fact that he is Judge. Therein we learn that all men will be raised up to face this Judge.
Death is not the end of our existence. Those who believe in Jesus will be raised to everlasting life, while those who do not believe in Jesus will be raised to everlasting punishment. This is the reality. Do you say the resurrection of Christ does not make any difference? It makes all the difference in the world-in our lives here and now, and in the hereafter.
Jesus Christ Is Lord
The Bible undeniably proclaims this resurrected Jesus Christ to be Lord. In the first apostolic sermon, Peter declared, "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). In Acts 5:30-31 he proclaimed before the Sanhedrin, "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead-whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior." God appointed the resurrected Jesus as Lord and Christ, Prince and Savior, and there is no other.
The Great Hope for Believers
Why don't all people believe in the resurrection of Christ? The reason is very simple: Satan, the god of this age, "has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4). Even the apostles did not believe in the resurrection until Jesus Christ opened their minds (Luke 24:45). But God is able to remove the blinders from our minds so that we may believe in Jesus Christ and be saved. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life"; "I am the light of the world"; "I am the resurrection and the life." He predicted his own resurrection and was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures and according to his own prophecy. He alone is Lord. He alone is Prince. He alone is Savior. He alone is Judge. He alone is the soon-coming King.
In John 6:37, Jesus says something that should give us great hope: "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." There is One who will receive us when we come to him. He will hear our prayers and heal us, save us, and make us children of God. Jesus continues in verse 40, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Jesus does not have to receive us, forgive us our sins, or save us. But he does.
In John 6:47, Jesus begins his statement with the phrase "I tell you the truth," which means, "Listen! I am saying something of great importance for you." What is the great statement he is about to make? "He who believes has everlasting life." Everlasting life! This is the word of Jesus, and we have proved that he is true. In John 3:36 we read, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." Either you must atone for your own sin, or you must trust in the One who atones for you. There is no other way to be saved.
When Voltaire, the famous French philosopher and atheist, lay dying, he said he would give half of his great wealth to his doctor if only he could prolong his life for six months. Voltaire had no hope for resurrection, and he died a miserable man. But he will be raised up by Jesus Christ, only to face judgment.
Consider another person, the great American evangelist, D. L. Moody. As he lay dying in 1899, his son Will heard him exclaim, "Earth is receding; heaven is opening; and God is calling." His son asked, "Father, are you dreaming?" Moody responded, "No, Will, this is no dream. I have been within the gates and have seen children's faces." Moody continued, "Is this death? This is not bad. There is no valley. This is bliss. This is glorious!" and he died in Christ.
We also will die. There is no question about that. The only question is, how will we die-in despair, like Voltaire, or in living hope, like D. L. Moody? I pray that you will make certain today that you will die in hope by placing your trust in Christ, who by his death destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light. Amen.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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