I never liked that crucifix. It hung suspended over the altar at the front of the church I grew up in. I cannot tell you how many times as a little girl I sat in the pew and stared at that crucifix. Every time I looked at it, I wanted to scream, “Get down, Jesus! Get off of that cross!!!” Sometimes I thought I was very near to breaking through my shyness and the thick silence of the big gothic sanctuary and belting those words out. I even envisioned myself getting a ladder and taking care of it myself. It just didn’t seem like He should still be up there, after all of this time. As a Catholic, I had certainly become accustomed to this image. It was plastered on the walls of my school, in the pictures of my religion books, and, of course, in our crucifixes at home. It was a familiar image. But even though it was familiar to me, it was never a welcome image. Death, staring me in the face in all of its ugliness, in all of its defeat. I still remember when the metal body of Jesus came off of one of our crucifixes at home. Apparently, even the glue that held His body to the cross knew better. Even though I felt a little guilty about this, I remember feeling secretly relieved. I liked Jesus off the cross. I liked the cross empty. It felt right.
After all, I was thoroughly sick of death. Death had characterized my life. You see, my father died when I was five. So there was not one single time I talked about my parents that I didn’t have to mention death. After awhile, I just got sick of talking about death. I got sick of it being part of who I was. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like that crucifix. I hated death. I wanted it gone…forever. I wanted life. I wanted to meditate on life, breathe it in as oxygen for my soul. I was tired of death. I longed for life. I longed for resurrection.
At some level, I think all of us long for resurrection. We want life to last as long as possible. What we really long for is for it to last forever. We hate everything about death…its ugliness…its permanence…its ability to tear us away from those we love…its ability to cause the heart wrenching grief that never goes away. I know, “hate” is a strong word. But I think it fits. Yes, overall, we as Christians are called to love, not hate. In fact, I’ve always hated the word “hate” (pun intended). As parents, we have always taught our kids not to use this ugly word. It’s a strong word to be reserved for only a few things in life. Yes, there are some things for which we have given them permission to use “hate.” Evil, for instance, is allowed to be hated in our family. Sin? Yep, hate away. And while we haven’t yet discussed this one, I think it is fair game to allow the kids to use the word “hate” with death. Why? Because I think this is how God feels about death. In fact, God calls death his “enemy.” It is something He set out to destroy and to abolish. God, too, wants death to be gone. He too longs for resurrection.
Resurrection is certainly a strange concept. Too often, this word is used on Easter Sunday then packed up with the plastic eggs and cellophane grass and stored on the shelf until the following Easter. But I think that we as Christians are missing something here. The resurrection of Christ is too vital an event to be talked about only once a year. And not only do we as believers tend to minimize the importance of the resurrection, it can also be a tough pill to swallow for those who wrestle with the idea of miracles. You probably are fully aware of this if you spend any time in the newspapers around Easter. In fact, there are many today who want to explain away all the miracles in the Bible. Creation? Certainly not. It must have been some random mutation that brought life into existence. The flood? Nope, nothing more than a fun little myth. A virgin birth? Impossible! Just a silly story and a regular old baby. A man rising from the dead? No way. Must have been a scam. Yes, in many segments of our culture, the spiritual has been boiled to the top and scraped out into the trash bin. And those who are absorbed in this worldview have a hard time with these things. After all, if they believed in miracles, they would have to believe in God. And the idea of God makes them uncomfortable on a number of levels. For example, God can certainly be a pretty inconvenient person to have around when you want to run your own life.
But, for us who call Jesus “Lord,” the resurrection is of utmost importance. It is part and parcel of the gospel. If someone says they believe in Jesus but not the resurrection, what they are believing in is not the gospel at all. In 1 Corinthians 15:3, Paul says, “For what I received I passed on to you of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures….” This is the gospel, friends. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ is as important to our faith as His death is. In fact, as the Bible declares, we would have no Christian faith if it wasn’t for the resurrection.
Perhaps what was ringing in my heart and soul even as a young child was this reality that the death of Jesus is inseparable from the resurrection of Jesus. And not just as a ray of sunshine after the storm of death, but as a core part of what He did for us. The resurrection was critical in the work of salvation, and more than simply the fact that it pointed to Jesus being something more than a regular man. This God in the flesh risen from the dead made our salvation complete. We could not have been saved through an un-resurrected Messiah. His resurrection was just as important as His death in saving us and bringing us into the family of God.
For not only did Jesus die for our sins, He also rose for our sins. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” In another place, Paul says Jesus was “delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom. 4:25). It may take a little brain power to grasp the theology behind this concept, but it is a theology worth understanding. By the Father raising Christ from the dead, He was essentially saying that Christ’s work was done. The penalty was paid, sin had been atoned for, and His death for our sins was completed. The resurrection signified this completion of the atoning work of Jesus, and told the world that a new age had dawned. God’s Kingdom had come.
Furthermore, the final enemy, death, was defeated. Christ reigns victorious over death. If Christ had not been raised from the dead, death would not have been defeated. If death had not been defeated, then there would be no hope for eternal life, for death would reign victorious over our lives as well. Christ conquered death through His resurrection so that it would not conquer us. Take a look in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Death did not conquer Jesus. To the contrary, Jesus conquered death. By His resurrection, He defeated death…forever.
But not only is Jesus’ resurrection important in the work of our salvation, it is also important in assuring us of our own future resurrection. As Paul states in verses 20-23 of 1 Corinthians 15, “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.” Adam sinned and caused death to enter the world. But Christ defeated death through his resurrection, and His resurrection serves as a model for ours. As Christ was brought to life after death, we will be brought to life after death. As Christ received a new resurrected body, we will receive a new resurrected body. We know a little about what life will be like on the other side of death because of Jesus’ resurrection. But more than that, we have confidence that we will have this eternal life, for Jesus’ resurrection not only provides a model for ours, but it also provides the hope. We can know that Jesus’ words about our future resurrection are true, because He proved his power over death and the reality of our future in eternity through His own resurrection.
Not only is Jesus’ resurrection important for our future, but it is also important for the way we live our life here in the present. In fact, it was a key motivating factor in Paul’s life as this rich truth compelled him to live for God. We see his heart concerning this in verses 29-34. He says, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (vs. 32). Eat, drink and be merry, in other words. Live it up in this life, because it’s the only one you have. As Paul makes clear, if there is no resurrection of the dead, there is no point in living for the world beyond this one. If there is no resurrection, there is also no point in sacrificing and suffering for the sake of the gospel. If there is no resurrection, there is no point in doing anything for that future world beyond this one. If there is no resurrection, there is no point in living for eternity, for there is no life beyond this one to live for. In all honesty, if there is no resurrection, there is really no point to anything at all.
Jesus’ resurrection is indeed a powerful concept…a concept that should soak into our minds and hearts as we contemplate the richness of what Christ did for us. It is a truth that should permeate our life with its power and undoubtedly, change the way we live it.
Perhaps, as a girl, I missed the power to be had by staring at the crucifix. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate the power of that image in communicating the reality of what Christ did when He suffered and died for our sins. But on the other hand, perhaps equally powerful in our lives would be to have an image cemented in our minds of the empty tomb…the stone rolled away. An image of the miraculous…of life…of resurrection. After all, it wasn’t death that characterized Jesus. To the contrary, it was life. He even called Himself, “The Life.” In fact, He called Himself, “The Resurrection.”
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-16)