He is Risen!
This holy week I’ve been talking about how the events marked during this week change everything. Jesus instituted a different kind of revolution, a different kind of covenant relationship, and revealed himself as a different kind of king. The resurrection confirmed all of these things, and so much more. The resurrection, it turns out, changes everything.
I’m not going to take the time to argue about the historical veracity of the resurrection of Jesus. Those arguments have been made and will continue to be made. I will say a brief word about it, though (apologies if I get too technical, I’ll try to resist). Personally, I like the arguments for the historicity of the resurrection made by Wolfhart Pannenberg, but considering I’m doing my thesis work on him I’m probably not impartial. Nevertheless, Pannenberg seems to really understand the historical impact that the resurrection makes, and he makes two statements about it. First, the veracity of the Christian faith rises or falls with genuineness of the historical event of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Second, the resurrection of Jesus is the most historically verifiable event in all of history. Why is it thrown into question, then? Pannenberg astutely notes that the problem is not the evidence for the resurrection. Where the actual point of disagreement lies, whether acknowledged or not, is in the presuppositions. Simply put, there is a built in bias against the resurrection because it is assumed a priori (prior to any evidence) that people simply do not rise from the dead. If you have that as your starting point, then no amount of evidence will convince of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. This, it seems, may have been the primary problem with the Jewish leaders and the resurrection.
To be clear, it is not that, aside from the relatively small group of Sadducees, the Jewish leaders denied that a resurrection would ever take place. Instead most Jews in the first century fully expected a resurrection of the dead to occur. They simply expected it to be an eschatological resurrection, one that Jesus himself preached. In fact, this may have been behind the early church’s anticipation that the end of the world was about to occur. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, along with certain other people, then the early church seemed to draw the conclusion that they were in the last days. This is also why it came as something of a shock when members of the congregation started to die and not immediately come back to life. What Pannenberg argues, though, is that the resurrection of Jesus is actually an eschatological event., despite the continuation of history long after it. In short, he says that at the resurrection, God interrupted the flow of time and brought the end of the world into the midst of our history. At the resurrection we see a glimpse of the world’s end, and it is overwhelming. The resurrection, then, means a number of things a few of which we can immediately identify and I will discuss, from this and from the gospel accounts.
He is Risen Indeed!
1) The resurrection changes death. While it is still appropriate to mourn for those who have died and to long to see them again, for the Christian, this mourning takes on a different meaning. In some ways mourning for a deceased loved one is more powerful and meaningful for the Christian, and in other ways it less brudensome for the Christian than the non-Christian. For the committed atheistic materialist, they may mourn for a loss, but their sorrow can only be selfish in nature (if they deny this, then they are not committed to materialism). In materialism there is no value in the person objectively, only in the value that the mourner perceives them to have selfishly. For the Christian, however, because a person’s death is not the end, it is appropriate and can be unselfish to mourn their death. Why? Because they are not temporary, but eternal, and they are valued by an eternal God. This can only mean that every person has objective value. Thus we can mourn out of a sense of longing, but in an appropriate manner (such as someone may long for justice or some other objectively valuable thing). And this longing will one day be fulfilled and so the sorrow felt at death is also somehow less burdensome.
On the flip side, our mourning isn’t as burdensome as the non-Christian because death does not have the same finality that it does for those outside the faith. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15, we do not mourn as those without hope. Instead death is “swallowed up in victory” and has lost its sting. This is very powerfully put, I think, in the final line of John Donne’s poem “Death be not Proud.” Donne has said that despite the fact that death has many weapons in its arsenal and all people succumb to it, death is temporary. He concludes his meditation with the line: “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” There will come a day when death is no more and all will be life.
2) The resurrection changes life. Jesus said he came that we would have life and have it abundantly. This is a life that begins in the here and now. This isn’t for “someday” yet to come, but now. The truth is, until you meet Christ you are already dead. The majority of the world is walking around not living. They have not yet grasped the life that is truly life. They are still dead in the trespasses and sins, without freedom and without hope. But in Christ, who allows us to truly love, we are able to move from death to life. This is only possible because our deaths are somehow thrown on to his death. By uniting ourselves to Christ in his death, so we are united with him in his rising again. And that resurrected life begins now. We put to death our sinful nature, that binds and traps us, and put on the holiness that only comes from a resurrected and living God. The resurrection changes life here and now.
3) The resurrection changes the world. If the resurrection is the entrance of God’s future into the midst of human history, then the very nature of time is turned all around. That means that God’s future, is not only assured already, but is in some way already here. The kingdom of God has already been established. The time of us meeting God and having him as the light of our city is now. God in Christ has risen victorious over the grave not only to assure us of a final victory, but to actually win that final victory. As Jesus said multiple times “a time is coming and is now here.” The reign of Satan, death, and all kinds of evil is over. The reign of God has begun, and with it his transforming power. The resurrection is a call to take part in that transformation of the world and to tell others about its impact.
While the death of Christ may be met with somberness and quietness appropriate a personal encounter, the resurrection is too public to be ignored. The gospel account of Matthew leads directly into a commissioning. King Jesus is sending out his ambassadors into the uttermost parts of the world. There are given a single task: make disciples. It is an interesting juxtaposition to put the language of a royal commissioning up against the term “disciples.” Jesus does not say “make subjects” on one extreme or “make believers” on the other. He declares that true resurrection power is found only for the disciple, the one who follows, not merely agrees with a statement of facts, but one who does so willingly, not because they are somehow forced into it. This is the way that King Jesus will change the world, through his disciples. And it is a different kind of war, not one that tries to subjugate others, but seeks them as a friend to journey and learn alongside us as we follow Jesus. This is how the world is changed: through the church, through you and me, through the resurrection, and finally by the return of the resurrected Jesus. This is because Jesus, through the resurrection, changes everything. This post has only begun to scratch the surface of the lasting impact because Jesus’ resurrection is the point on which all history turns and on the other side of it we can see a different kind of everything.
What do you think? What other things does the resurrection change? Has the power of the resurrection been present in your life?