Not every story continues to be relevant. I can think of many people that have simply faded from our memory. So, as my family worshiped together for a strange stay-at-home Easter last week, my mind again pondered the reason the resurrection is still such a celebrated moment. And of course, there are a thousand reasons for this preeminence. Why do we continue to consider this important? Did the earliest Christians consider it important? If the resurrection is true, how does it change the way we live?
Have we forgotten that our theology is primarily a narrative? The resurrection only makes sense when compared to the unfolding epic of the Bible. God created life, but Man destroyed their chance to experience the eternal. God then chose Israel to give the world one final hope. This culminated in God in his fullness coming in the Jewish person of Jesus to take on our brokenness and death. The hope that was promised through Christ was—from the beginning of his ministry—eternal life: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”¹ Jesus, who himself was eternal life, came fundamentally to offer the end of our sin that kept us from life, and to offer the hope of a renewed creation, or the “kingdom of heaven.” The point of Jesus’ life on earth then was to open the way to “life in Himself.”² It was all to climax in the resurrection. This was the declaration (although the disciples weren’t always aware of it) that Jesus’ new way had been opened to eternal life. This wasn’t just a happy ending to a tragic death. It was the most powerful statement ever made: God’s kingdom, the sole place where life reigned over death, had come down to earth and now included humans.
The Resurrection to the First Christians
But would pinning this much on the resurrection sound excessive to the early Christians? Did Paul and the others just preach godly living and quietness on this earth? Quite the contrary. Of all the diverse sermons in various locations that the disciples preached in the book of Acts, almost all included the fact of the resurrection. It was the fundamental reason they were utterly convinced that Jesus was Lord and the reason why they took that message to the whole world. It is so crucial that Paul claimed that Christians would be the sorriest people alive if it were proven false.³
It was important to them not only because the resurrection indisputably proved that Jesus was sent from God and had all authority, but also because the resurrection of Jesus was now a guarantee of another resurrection for all who joined themselves to Him. The claim of Paul in Romans 8 is that now we are people defined by the resurrection, headed for a new creation which is defined by life and beauty instead of pain and decay. Paul speaks of the resurrection of all things as being “the hope [in which] we were saved.” It’s what all the Christian hype is about! Paul saw that unless the resurrection really happened, our faith was useless and all our hope was empty.⁴
N.T. Wright, in Surprised by Hope, powerfully explains the early Christians’ view on the resurrection:
“The resurrection isn’t just a surprise happy ending for one person; it is instead the turning point for everything else. It is the point at which all the old promises come true at last: the promises of David’s unshakable kingdom; the promises of Israel’s return from the greatest exile of them all; and behind that again, quite explicit in Matthew, Luke, and John, the promise that all the nations will now be blessed through the seed of Abraham.”
They saw it as the culmination of everything, not a welcome sidenote.
How it Changes Everything Now
Because of the resurrection, not only we but this earth itself will be redeemed and given eternal life. And so, in Christ, we can do His work steadfastly, knowing that it will not be wasted. That is Paul’s conclusion after his lengthy discussion on the resurrection and proof of its truth in Jesus and ultimately in us: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” “Therefore”—that is, because you know for a fact that the resurrection is true—serve the Lord and do it with energy! Paul is telling us that all our work for Christ should find its impetus in this hope. Of course, we can find other reasons to do good things. But this is the Christian reason for our doing. If we are headed toward an eternity of restored creation with God, then why not go through all kinds of “present sufferings” if that’s what it takes to get there?
I wrote a message to myself on a little paper and put it where I’ll be sure to read it often: “If the resurrection really happened, how should I live today?”
Let it define your story. That’s the point.
¹ John 3:14-15, NIV
² John 5:26
³ 1 Cor. 15:19
⁴ 1 Cor. 15:14,17
⁵ N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, p. 236
⁶ 1 Cor. 15:58, NIV