reflections on THE resurrection

I encountered two significant mistakes this Easter season that cheapen and distort the resurrection of our Lord beyond recognition. I list them here in the hope that I never hear them again.

1. Emphasizing the Principle of resurrection over the historical Person who arose.

Here’s the quote: “We are stuck with Jesus, and he won’t go away. Yes, we can try to tie him up or cage him in…we can crucify him with Roman power and bury him in a rich man’s tomb…we can seal that tomb…we can post armed guards…we can do all these things, but Jesus cannot be contained. He rises again. He keeps coming back.”

The resurrection is not about an uncontainable principle that keeps coming back but about an actual historical person who came back. Jesus is not like one of those weighted clown balloons we had as kids that keeps popping up after our haymaker. He doesn’t continue to rise from the dead. He arose once and for all.

2. Emptying the Reason for the resurrection

Even those preachers who apparently believe that Jesus bodily arose from the dead can still dramatically undersell the reason why. I heard one say that resurrection means that every good thing we do will be remembered in the next life, so keep your chin up when you are down and life isn’t breaking your way.

This is an important application, but it’s only true for those who receive the forgiveness of sin by trusting Jesus’ death and resurrection. The reason Jesus arose was to forgive and free us from our bondage to sin. Paul does not say that Jesus arose to give a bounce in your step and remind you that the sun will come out tomorrow, but he arose “for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Paul adds that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). This is far worse than being down on your luck.

Every time we preach on the resurrection we must emphasize three things:

1. The historical event of the real person of Jesus.

We cheapen the resurrection when we turn it into an inspiring concept of hopeful turnaround. Many things may need a “resurrection,” such as your marriage, my finances, and the WNBA, but Jesus did not primarily rise again for any of these. We don’t merely believe in resurrection but in THE resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is an actual event that does a specific thing.

2. Jesus’ resurrection supplies the foundation for the forgiveness of sin.

Everything else is icing on the cake. And you can’t fill up on icing (you shouldn’t fill up with cake either, but this is America).

3. Jesus’ resurrection is not good news to everyone.

What struck me about the Jesus-arose-to-put-a-spring-in-your-step message was that it equally applied to Oprah and Deepak Chopra. We must never reduce the defining moment of special grace to a gift of common grace.

The resurrection does give an indomitable spirit of optimism to those who have been saved by the power of Christ. But those who reject the gospel will receive the force of the resurrection as judgment. The resurrection means that Jesus is Lord of the world, and that is not good news to those who want to play that role.

Just as a President’s Day Sale cheapens the life of Lincoln (Lincoln gave his life to free slaves, and so Discount Furniture frees you to buy this sofa by paying your sales tax), so anyone who reduces the resurrection of our Lord to the principle of brighter days ahead has forsaken the gospel. Jesus did not die and rise again for this.

8 Comments

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  1. thank, Mike.

    this is really good, especially the “spring in my step” part.

  2. First things first, whether the WNBA needs a resurrection is a matter of perspective.

    As for the serious business, one of the many reasons your blog is must read is because I’m so frequently reminded of my childhood. The weighted down clown balloon…I loved that thing! I would wail away at it dreaming of becoming the next Leon Spinks (I was missing my two front teeth and he is from St. Louis, after all). O.k., I guess I was just kidding when I said I was moving on to the serious business.

  3. I think I agree with all of your points above, but just think that they don’t go far enough. Yes it is true, that Christ was raised for our justification, this is Paul’s theological point in 4:25 as quoted above.

    However, what I usually see missing is an emphasis on where Paul goes next with the resurrection which is the relationship between THE resurrection and a Christian’s life now, i.e. Rom 8:11-12, i.e. the resurrection of our dead selves to new life in Christ.

    I’m all for agreeing with the points mentioned above, but it seems that it where most of our conversation stops, and we don’t follow Paul, even within Romans, let alone Pauline theology to where Resurrection is going. Jesus’ resurrection is just the beginning (and it is a HUGE and IMPORTANT beginning) for what God started to do and is doing throughout his people.

    I’m also interested in how the gospels portray the resurrection of Jesus, not saying that they are not in agreement with Paul. But trepidation sets in, when we FIRST go to explain what happened in the gospels with Paul. I’m not knocking Paul, I’m going for a Ph.D and focusing on Pauline lit, so I’m all for Paul. However, I think we need to see how the competent gospels writers portrayed and nuanced the resurrection of Jesus and then see how Paul adopts that and nuances it for his own communities. Once again, not saying that they are not the same, just want to see how each author portrays the event.

    Sorry this is long…I’ll stop🙂

  4. But Rob Bell’s new video says…

  5. Thank you for reminding us of the gravity of our sin and the blessing of the resurrection that allows us to experience grace and forgiveness!

  6. How can you write about the resurrection of Christ without also speaking about Paul’s principle proclamation of 1 Cor. 15, that Christ is the first fruit guaranteeing that those in Him will also be bodily raised, to live forever on the renewed earth, surrounded by the renewed heavens, where God will dwell forever with us (Rev. 21:1-4), as we confess in all the Christian creeds? (Sorry about the long sentence.)

    Because of so much bad preaching and teaching, most people think that they will live forever in heaven. The Bible never teaches that. The people of God will live forever enjoying the new creation. That’s the main thing the resurrection of Jesus promises.

  7. Wait…I thought you said you were not obsessed with Brian McLaren…this is where the quote is from isn’t it? Correct me if I am wrong.

    Nonetheless, the resurrection must be historical and real lest we become the most pitied people in all the world.

  8. Jason:

    You’re right that my post doesn’t go very far, but that’s because it’s trying to correct some very foundational problems. We will never get to where you rightly want to go if we don’t start on the right foot. In other words, we won’t grasp our new life in Christ and our hope of cosmic redemption if we don’t begin with how the resurrection forgives our sin. Unforgiven sinners will neither grow in Christ nor live on the new earth.

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