How Important Is the Resurrection?
© 3/26/2016 C. O. Bishop
1st Corinthians 15:13-19
Frequently we avoid an argument by “agreeing to disagree”, and there is perhaps nothing wrong with that practice, in principle. But we have been trained to avoid conflict, and to compromise, hoping for a peaceful resolution of any difference, to the extent that we don’t know where the limits are. We don’t know where to draw a line and say, “Here I stand; I can do no other!”
The Apostle Paul was savagely beaten on many occasions, left for dead after being stoned, imprisoned several times and finally executed for his faith. We fidget uncomfortably, and say, “Well, yes, that is wonderful, how he lived for Christ, preached his faith, and died for it, but we live in a safer world today, don’t we?” Well, I wonder: do we?
We have the same three enemies today: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil: Which of those three do you imagine to have changed? Satan certainly has not changed in the least. The Bible tells me that the flesh also has not changed—and in fact, if anything, it can only get worse. Has the World changed for the better? While it is true that for the first three centuries the Church existed, the Roman government viciously persecuted it, mercilessly torturing and murdering those who clung to the Name of Jesus, there are many nations today in which it is either illegal to be a Christian, or illegal to talk about it, or both. And in several of those nations it is quite common for a Christian to be either murdered for his or her faith or persecuted by the governments of those countries to the extent of confiscation of property, imprisonment, torture and even execution. We have been lulled to sleep by the relative peace and safety that we have enjoyed in this country for the last 200 years, so that when someone says something like “All religions serve the same God, and it doesn’t really matter what you call Him, or what you believe about Him”, we are only a little uncomfortable, because we have been taught that “Our way isn’t necessarily the only way…how can a billion Muslims all be wrong? Or, how can a billion Buddhists all be wrong?”
How Do We Know Our Way is Right? Isn’t that “Narrow-minded?”
In the first place, it isn’t “our way.” We are just following the instructions given and responding to the invitation given by Jesus Himself. Part of the answer to the implied question was given by Jesus, when he taught in Matthew 7:13, 14— He said, “Enter ye in at the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: Because narrow is the gate, and narrow the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it.” If there seem to be relatively few who respond to the invitation of Christ, and believe His Words, it actually proves Him correct. He told us ahead of time that this would be the case.
In the second place, the way is not “narrow” because of the caprice of an angry God, or bigoted people, but because of the simple fact that, throughout History (beginning before the Creation) God has provided only one means by which sinners may approach a Holy God without fear of condemnation. We see the first promise in Genesis 3:15, the first book of the Bible, and can trace both the promises and the growing clarity of doctrine regarding the death and burial and resurrection of Christ all the way through the Old Testament. We finally see the fulfillment of all those promises, prophecies, and teachings, in the person of Jesus Christ, in the Gospels. But in the Book of the Revelation, the last book of the Bible, (Revelation 13:8) we find that Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth.” So we see that the provision for our salvation was actually made before the first human was even created.
This “Way” that has been alternately blessed and cursed by humans for the entire history of the Human race, is, in fact, the Way laid down by God before the creation. Jesus identified Himself as being that “Way”: In John 14:6, Jesus stated, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” (That sounds narrow!) As modern Christians we are uncomfortable with things that are “narrow”. We are afraid of public opinion that labels us as “narrow-minded.” We are taught to think that the number of our choices dictates the quality of our life. And yet, I cannot remember ever hearing anyone complain about the “narrow” choices afforded by the reality of our dependence upon oxygen.
No one rebels against reality and declares himself free from the tyranny of breathing, unless he intends suicide. Why? Because it is simply a fact of life that mammals all have lungs and breathe air, while fish all have gills of one sort or another, and get their oxygen through water. We accept that fact, and no one says how “unfair” it is that we cannot choose to live in a pure nitrogen atmosphere, or to breathe water, as do the fish. We embrace the reality of our dependence upon oxygen, and no one complains about it. Why? Because it does not require conscious submission to an external authority. We are built to crave air, and cannot do otherwise. But we do rebel against the fact that we need a Savior!
How Can Jesus Be the Only Savior?
Interestingly, the book of Job was evidently written before the books of Moses, the Pentateuch. And, in his book, in the middle of a frustrating, tangled, verbose argument with his three friends, Job made a fascinating statement: (Job 19:25-27). He stated that his redeemer already lived (give that some thought!), and that he (the Redeemer) would stand upon the earth at the latter day. He definitely declared the eternality of the Messiah, and that he is coming…but the following statement is really astonishing: he says, “…though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet, in my flesh, shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another”. Job predicted his own resurrection, based on the Eternal life of His Redeemer. And, in so doing, he established which “coming of Christ” he was addressing. It was not the earthly ministry of Jesus, but the second coming: Job’s resurrection is still yet to come, but: when Jesus stands upon the Earth at the latter day, Job will be in his resurrected body, and his prophecy will be literally fulfilled. He will see God, face to face, with his own eyes.
Jesus was the Redeemer for whom Job was waiting, and he was the promised Seed of Woman in whom Adam trusted. He was the Judge of all the Earth with whom Abraham pleaded for the life of Lot. He was the literal Rock of Ages that was Cleft to bring forth the water for the two and one half million Children of Israel, and all their livestock in the desert. He was the Passover Lamb, under whose blood those same children of Israel had huddled, to escape the judgment on Egypt. He is the only Savior because He has always existed as the Savior of the human race.
How Important Is the Resurrection in the Bible?
The fact is; if Jesus was not resurrected, then He was not any of those things. The person in whom Job trusted had to die. Isaiah 53 predicts the suffering of the Savior, and clearly states that it is for our sins that He was killed. Psalm 22 describes the crucifixion in stark terms and it is clearly a prophecy of the Christ, as nothing even remotely similar ever had happened to David, the human writer of that psalm. But Isaiah 53 also claims that this suffering savior would not remain dead, because it says that after his death; after he “made his soul an offering for sin”, he would see his offspring (us!) and prolong his days.
Psalm 16:10 is also prophetic of the Messiah: Peter alludes to it in Acts 2:27 and points out that it is definitely not regarding David, the human writer of that psalm. You see, it stated that the person involved, though he would die, would not be allowed to decompose, and that his soul would not be left in Sheol, the place of the Dead. David died, and had been in the grave for over one thousand years when Peter was preaching there in Jerusalem. His body was thoroughly decomposed, and mummified, and his soul was still in Sheol, to that day. Peter declared that this psalm was specifically in reference to the resurrection of the Messiah, and testified that he and the other (hundreds of) disciples were all eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. He concluded that this was final proof that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Redeemer.
Paul wrote, in Romans 1:4, that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God, with Power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the Resurrection from the dead.” The Resurrection was God’s stamp of approval, showing that Jesus was really who He claimed to be. Without it, he was just another one of the victims of the Jewish leaders, and the iron fist of the Roman law. He would have just been a poor, deluded, poverty-stricken, pathetic Jewish carpenter who had overstepped the bounds of the society in which he lived, and it had cost him his life.
You see, those are the choices: either he was who he said he was, or he wasn’t. There is no real middle ground. If he was not the Messiah, then he was either crazy enough to think he was, or he was an incredible liar who ensnared millions of people with his false teachings, and who died the death a false prophet can expect, and his followers have simply duplicated his folly. But, there are a couple of problems with both of those scenarios:
In the first place, he didn’t act like or talk like a crazy man. He used very clear logic, analogy, and the authority of God’s Word to teach the people. And even His enemies recognized the power of His words. He was by no means incoherent, or illogical, nor did he teach anything that was in conflict with the existing scripture. He did teach things that contradicted the traditions of the Jews, and that is partly what caused the trouble. They hated Him for that.
In the second place, false teachers virtually always have an agenda: They are the “hallelujah hijackers”, and religious charlatans of history, who made grandiose claims and seized honor and/or wealth for themselves, availing themselves of privilege by one means or another. They usually eventually showed their true colors by vile immorality or treachery and violence, too, though there have been exceptions.
Jesus did none of these things: He sought no audience with the kings of the earth, nor with the rulers of the temple. He taught the poor, and healed the sick. When he worked miracles, both his friends and his enemies were conspicuously present. He seldom, if ever, did things in secret.
When he raised the dead (John 11, 12), proving his authority over death and His authority to give life, his enemies were there, as well…and they plotted to kill both Jesus and the man he had raised from the dead. (What insanity! If someone has proven his ability to raise the dead, wouldn’t you want him on your side?)
Jesus simply didn’t act like either a false teacher or a pathological liar. Even his enemies, well-versed in scripture though they were, could not refute his teachings. They could make no real accusation against Him, though they desperately wanted to do so. The Roman Governor, Pilate, could find no fault in Jesus, and said so, publicly. He eventually agreed to have him put to death only because he was afraid of yet another Jewish revolt, for which he could be held responsible.
How Important Was the Resurrection to the Disciples?
Remember that the eleven apostles had all been hiding in a locked upstairs room when Jesus appeared to them, entering the locked room and appearing in their midst. They were terrified that the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers might not be satisfied to have murdered Jesus: they could decide to mop up His followers as well. That seems a reasonable response, to me. Since their leader claimed to be the Messiah, and they had fixed their hopes on Him, it follows that, when he failed to deliver the kingdom they thought he was to usher in, and was taken without a fight, given a mock trial, a savage beating and a criminal’s execution, they would feel completely devastated and hopeless, besides (possibly) feeling that they had been cruelly duped. They would certainly not feel like “telling people about Jesus”, if they were sure he was dead…and they were sure of that, because they saw it happen, though from a distance.
After He appeared to them (and continued to meet with them and the other 120 disciples and an extended group of 500 followers), they were filled with joy and relief, but were still pretty confused about what Jesus wanted them to do. They actually went back to their old jobs as commercial fishermen, and had to be called away from that error. They were completely convinced of his having been raised from the dead, but…how could they be used by God, as the timid, fearful men they had become?
Jesus’s last words before He ascended into Heaven were that they would be given power (“dunamis”, not “exousia”: ability, not just authority) when they received the Holy Spirit, and that they would be witnesses for him throughout Israel, and to the uttermost parts of the world. And that is just what happened.
Ten days later, at the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in Jerusalem, and the Church was born. The disciples were no longer in hiding. They were openly preaching, and willingly risked death to complete their assignment, the Great Commission. They had been transformed instantly from a terrified group of very confused men to bold, fearless apostles, whose thoughts were supernaturally clear, to the extent that their enemies were amazed that uneducated men could have such insight and wisdom. Apart from their being absolutely convinced, as eyewitnesses, that their Master was alive forever, and, of course apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, the transformation simply could not have happened.
How Important Is the Resurrection to Us?
Paul makes this one absolutely clear for us in 1st Corinthians 15:13-19
“13But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
To summarize: If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then,
- All Christian preaching is futile and wrong.
- All Christian witnesses are found to be false
- All Christian faith is misplaced and hopelessly wrong.
- All of us are still condemned in our sins
- All the millions who have died in faith, trusting in Jesus as the Christ, are utterly lost.
Paul concludes that, if in this life only we have hope in Christ (and not in an eternally living Messiah), then we are of all humans most pitiable…most wretchedly misled, and most miserably lost. And all of that is completely true IF Jesus is not risen from the Dead.
But we have the authority of God’s Word, as well as the historical testimony of transformed lives, and that of all those who have joyfully faced death, knowing their resurrected Lord. We are witnesses of that fact, as well, because He has also changed our lives. With the prophet Job, we can confidently say, “I know that My Redeemer Lives!”
Those who believe in Him are simply embracing the reality that God has provided one way by which we can have eternal life with Him.
Jesus said, (John 5:24) “He that hears my words and believes on Him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from Death unto Life.” We believe His promise, and are secure in Him.
Because…the truth is:
He Is Risen!