This week I found it necessary to do some of my research and preparation for this Easter message in a nearby dime store. I went there to learn how the average person attempts to celebrate Easter. That’s right, the dime store. One of the best sources of material on the theology of Easter is to be found in the “Easter” section of the greeting cards. I found a fairly good sized selection of cards on display, the vast majority of which were entirely secular. They ranged from the “thinking of you at Easter” variety to the ones which had pictures of fuzzy teddy bears, rabbits, and Easter eggs, and some kind of inane holiday greeting. Frequently there was a “Spring is Here” motif with Easter somehow associated with the coming of Spring, and the happy thought of leaving behind a dreary winter and looking forward to the fresh new life which signals the coming of Spring.
There were three or four cards which might loosely be called “religious” cards. For example, one had a picturesque church on the cover, another had “an Easter prayer,” and another had a religious word or two. Not so much as one card contained a cross, an empty tomb, not even the name of the Lord Jesus.
If the greeting card displays of most stores are like the one I visited, we would have to agree that the resurrection of Christ is not considered very significant by the marketplace. Easter bunnies and eggs have won “hands down” over Christ, the cross of Calvary, and the empty tomb.
The significance of Easter is often overlooked or distorted by churches in America. All too often, Easter Sunday is more of a “coming out” ritual, a part of the celebration of the commencement of Spring, than it is an observance and celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. Ladies can show off their new hats and outfits. Once a year church attenders can show up to shock the preacher, and to give him his annual “shot” at them as they attend.
Typically, many evangelical preachers take this occasion to give an apologetic sermon, seeking to show that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is a proven fact of history–and that it is. I am convinced, however, that many of the non-Christians who attend Easter Sunday services accept the resurrection of Christ as a fact. They simply have not come to recognize and act of its significance. It is for this reason that I am addressing this message to the religious unbelievers who believe in the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, but who fail to grasp its significance in a personal way. I will seek to demonstrate the significance of the resurrection of Christ by focusing on the uniqueness, the necessity, and the urgency of the resurrection.
The significance of resurrection of our Lord is first to be seen in the uniqueness of His resurrection from the dead. There are several facets of the uniqueness of the resurrection of our Lord which we shall focus on:
(1) The resurrection of our Lord was unique because of His deity. The significance in the event of the resurrection is intertwined with the significance of the person who was raised. It was no mere mortal who rose from the dead on that Easter morning, it was the Son of God. Throughout His life, Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, for which reason the religious leaders sought to put Him to death (cf. John 8:31-59). At the sight of our Lord’s death, a soldier standing nearby declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Beyond this, the resurrection was proof positive that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God, even as He had declared (cf. Rom. 1:3-4).
In his message on the resurrection of Christ, one of Peter’s arguments was that if the Lord Jesus was indeed God, it would be impossible for God to have remained dead, to decompose in a tomb (cf. Acts 2:24-32). For anyone to have been raised from the dead would have been significant; for the Son of God to have been raised is all the more so. One therefore cannot take the resurrection of our Lord too seriously.
(2) The resurrection of our Lord was unique because of the death which preceded and necessitated His resurrection. The death of Christ was the death of one who was sinless, on behalf of those who were sinners. Over the years there have been some who have sought to show that the death of Christ was less noble than it is. A few have thought that it was our Lord’s own folly that brought about His death. After all, they might say, He made ridiculous claims to be God Himself, and He persistently offended the religious leaders by publicly attacking and ridiculing them. No wonder He died, some would say, because this “man” did not have the sense to recognize his own humanity or the diplomacy to pacify the power structure of that day.
Most men would not dare to go so far, but would rather look upon the death of Christ as a great tragedy. It was not our Lord’s folly, but the “fickle hand of fate” or the “evil plots of a few threatened men” which brought about the premature death of Jesus, before He could establish His ideal kingdom on earth.
The death of Christ was unique, however, because it was a part of God’s eternal plan that Christ would die as an innocent sacrificial lamb, as a substitute payment for the sins of men. The sacrifices of the Old Testament system anticipated Him who was to come as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29; cf. I Cor. 5:7). From eternity past, Christ was designated as the perfect sacrifice, without spot or blemish, whose death could thus atone for the sins of others (Is. 53; Heb. 9:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; 2:21-25).
(3) The resurrection of our Lord was unique as an event which had no precedent.1 Never before had anyone been raised from the grave in such a way as to be completely transformed and thus beyond the icy fingers of death. Our Lord’s resurrection was the first genuine resurrection in the history of man. His resurrection is referred to as “the first fruits,” for there will be many who will follow after Him (1 Cor. 15:23).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is significant because of its necessity. There are several reasons why the resurrection was necessary, and we shall consider some of them below.
(1) The resurrection of Christ was necessary to prove that Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be. Our Lord had clearly claimed to be the son of God, which was the reason why the religious leaders conspired to kill Him (cf. John 19:7). The resurrection was God’s proof that the Lord Jesus was Who He claimed to be: the Son of God:
Who was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:4).
(2) The resurrection of Christ was necessary to prove that Jesus Christ had accomplished what He had promised. The death of our Lord alone would not have sufficed, since it is by our identification with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection that we are saved.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom. 5:9-10).
In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, that great resurrection chapter of the New Testament, Paul argues that apart from Christ’s resurrection, we would have no hope:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. . . . For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (1 Cor. 15:13-14; 16-17).
In his message at Pentecost, Peter taught that the resurrection of Christ by the Father (through the Holy Spirit) was God’s vindication of His Son, His message, and His work:
“This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its powers. . . .
This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. . . . Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:23-24, 32-33, 36).
(3) The resurrection was a necessary in order to fulfill biblical prophecy. In Acts chapter 2 Peter argued that the resurrection was biblically necessary, citing David’s words in Psalm 16:10:
“Because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay” (Acts 2:27; cf. 13:33).
Peter argued from Psalm 16 that David could not have referred to himself, but rather to his Son, Messiah, whom God would raise from the dead. The Old Testament Scriptures were understood by the apostles to foretell the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ was thus a biblical necessity.
(4) The resurrection of Christ was also a logical necessity. In his message in the second chapter of Acts, Peter also contended that the resurrection of Christ, the Messiah, was a logical as well as a biblical necessity.
“And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).
Peter argued here that it is impossible for God to remain in the grave and to decay, as men do. By virtue of being God, Christ could not have been left in that tomb, dead.
(5) The resurrection of Christ is vital because it is a necessary element of a saving faith. In both the Old and the New Testaments, a saving faith was a faith in a God’s who could and would raise men from the dead. A careful study of the 11th chapter of Hebrews will indicate that the faith of Old Testament saints was a resurrection faith.2
Allow me to use one Old Testament figure to demonstrate the resurrection dimension of faith, the faith of Abraham. The initial absence of this kind of faith is apparent from Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his wife’s purity in order to save his own skin. As Abram and Sarai approached Egypt, he said to her,
“See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and it will come about that when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I might live on account of you” (Gen. 12:11-13).
This was far from a resurrection faith on Abraham’s part. He was so fearful of dying that he was willing to sacrifice his wife’s purity to save his own skin.
As God continued to work in Abraham’s life, a resurrection faith resulted. When God promised Abram and Sarai a son in their old age, Abraham believed God because he had come to possess a saving, resurrection faith. Paul writes about Abraham’s faith in his epistle to the Romans:
And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Romans 4:19-20).3
Abraham’s resurrection was put to its most crucial test, once again pertaining to his son. The writer to the Hebrews tells us,
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Thus we can see that the faith of the Old Testament saints was a resurrection faith. So, too, the faith of the New Testament believer must be a resurrection faith. Jesus said,
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
The apostle Paul wrote:
. . . if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Rom. 10:9).
Personal faith in the resurrection of Christ is therefore necessary because it is a vital element in a faith that leads to salvation.
The Urgency of our Response to Christ’s Resurrection
Up to this point there is probably little that I have said which is new to you. Hopefully this is true. But in spite of the fact that many believe the things which I have spoken about, a number of them are not genuinely born again. Belief in the resurrection of our Lord alone does not necessarily save a man.
I am reminded of Matthew’s account of the resurrection of our Lord. He tells us that the soldiers who guarded the grave in which our Lord was buried were terrified by the things which accompanied the resurrection of Christ, and were terrified by the sight of the angel, who rolled away the stone:
And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men (Matthew 28:2-4).
In spite of all this, there is no evidence that these men came to faith in Christ. Instead, they were paid off, and became a part of a conspiracy to cover up the resurrection:
And when they assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while they were asleep.’ . . . And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day (Matthew 28:12-13, 15).
The resurrection of Christ is not just a matter of fact, which can be taken lightly–it is literally a matter of eternal life or death. The resurrection is not simply a fact to be believed or rejected, it is a fact to which our response will determine our eternal destiny. The resurrection of our Lord was a kind of watershed event in the New Testament. It was an event which brought about some significant, but seldom considered changes. Here, I wish to underscore two changes which are the result of our Lord’s resurrection. These will be of particular concern to those who are not really born again Christians, and yet who falsely find the resurrection a source of hope.
At Christmas time we tend to think of the great change which took place when our Lord came to the earth in human flesh, in His incarnation as the babe in the manger in Bethlehem. Seldom, however, do we think of the changes4 which took place at the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. We make the mental distinction between Old Testament times and the time of Christ, and rightly so. Yet there are certain changes which occurred at the time of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, which are seldom observed, but have great significance. Allow me to draw your attention to the changes which occurred as the result of our Lord’s resurrection.
In the first place, there are the changes in the physical make-up, appearance, and outward manifestation of our Lord, as a result of His resurrection and ascension. When our Lord came in human flesh, He had laid aside the outward manifestations of His splendor and glory, so that men were not attracted by His outward appearance. His lot was suffering and the rejection of men. Outwardly, none would have immediately concluded that He was, indeed, the Son of God:
Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Isa. 53:1-3).
The same humiliation which Isaiah foretold in his prophecy is described by Paul as history, in the life of the Lord Jesus:
Who, although He existed in the form of god, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).
This bodily humiliation, however, was set aside when our Lord was resurrected. The gospel accounts emphasize the change in our Lord’s body after His resurrection. Jesus could appear and disappear at will (Luke 24:31). He could enter into a room that was sealed off by a barred door (John 20:26).
And, after His ascension, the Lord was highly exalted by the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). We are thus in error to think of our Lord as remaining on in the present exactly as He was at the time when He walked on the earth among men. John, with whom our Lord seemingly had the most intimate relationship, describes Him in the Book of Revelation in terms very different from those found in the Gospel of John. Likewise, John responds very differently to the Lord in His heavenly appearances:
And in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:13-18).
The One against whom John used to recline (cf. John 21:20), is now the One before whom John falls as a dead man. In outward appearance, our Lord has greatly changed from the days of His earthly life among men.
In the second place, the resurrection of our Lord has changed His response to sinners.5 All of us (sinners) find great comfort in the words of our Lord, spoken to the woman caught in the act of adultery,
“Neither do I condemn you; go your way; from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
The accusers of this woman were right in understanding that the Law condemned such persons as those who were guilty of adultery. While every other person there was guilty and thus could not have taken up a stone to cast at this woman, Jesus could have, and the Law would demand that He do so.
Why, then, did our Lord not condemn this woman? The answer is really quite simple: JESUS DID NOT CONDEMN THIS WOMAN BECAUSE HE HAD COME TO BEAR THE CONDEMNATION OF THE LAW HIMSELF. The purpose of our Lord’s first coming was not to judge, as much as it was to be judged:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17; cf. 8:15; 12:47).
Some have mistakenly sought consolation in these gracious words of our Lord to the adulterous woman as recorded in John’s gospel. They believe that because Jesus was raised from the dead, they, too, will be raised. And, to whatever degree they envision a judgment, they wrongly suppose that the resurrected Lord will respond to them in a way similar to our Lord’s response to the woman who was fallen in sin. This is indeed a deadly error, for things have changed now that our Lord has been raised from the dead, and things will be very different for those unbelievers who someday will be raised from their graves.
The resurrection of our Lord assures all men, saved or unsaved, of being resurrected from the grave, but it in no way assures all men of experiencing the same blessings:
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. . . . And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13, 15).
And He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:6-8; cf. 22:13-15; Acts 5:31).
While the purpose of our Lord’s first coming was not to judge, so much as to be judged, the purpose of His second coming will be to judge all those who have rejected Him, and who have sought to establish themselves with God on the basis of their good works, rather than on the basis of His death, burial, and resurrection. It was not the repentant sinner, who cast themselves on our Lord for mercy who were condemned, but those who proudly trusted in their own religious self-righteousness who were so soundly rebuked (cf. John 8:6-9; Matthew 23; Luke 18:9-14).
The resurrection of our Lord means that the sacrifice for sinners has been paid, once and for all, by the Lord Jesus Christ, and that this sacrifice has been accepted. Those who would persist in their sins, and who would not cast themselves on Christ for salvation must look for Him to return as a righteous judge, who will judge all unbelievers. To reject the Lord Jesus as the Savior is to expect Him as Judge. The resurrection of our Lord from the dead should not bring comfort, but dread, to the hearts of all unbelievers.
If our response to the resurrection of Christ is of such significance, what keeps some, who sincerely believe in His resurrection, from the salvation which His death, burial, and resurrection are promised to provide? I believe that there are several reasons why some who believe in the resurrection are not saved.
First, we fail to grasp our own true condition as it relates to the death and resurrection of Christ. Since our Lord was the innocent, sinless Son of God, His death was on our behalf, and not for His own sins. Peter put it this way:
Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. for you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:22-25).
If Christ did not die for His sins, but for the sins of men, then we must first acknowledge that we are sinners, and that it was our sins that He bore on the cross. In a very personal way, my sins put Christ on the cross.
I should even go beyond this to say that my sinfulness would have eagerly participated in rejecting Christ and calling for His execution, just as the crowds did as recorded in the gospels. My sinfulness not only made it necessary for Christ to die–it would have willingly participated in the crucifixion of Christ. It is very easy to condemn the fickle crowds, who a few days before hailed Jesus as the King, and then cried out for Pilate to crucify Him, and to release Barrabas, a murderer, instead. Had I been there, I would have called for Christ’s crucifixion.
The greatest problem we face is not accepting the resurrection of Christ, and that fact that “He lives” today. The greatest problem we face as sinners is recognition of the fact that we are dead in our transgressions and sins, and are eternally lost apart from His death, burial, and resurrection. It is our condition of being helplessly dead in our sins which makes the resurrection of Christ such a vitally needed truth (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10).
Second, we fail to properly grasp the majesty, power, and awesome holiness of the resurrected Lord as He presently is, and as He will be when we stand before Him. Not only do we tend to minimize the seriousness of our own condition; we also fail to grasp the majesty, purity, and power of Christ’s present condition. Let me challenge you, my friend, to read the description of the resurrected Christ which the apostle John gives us in the Book of Revelation. If this does not inspire a godly fear of the coming wrath of God, nothing will.
Third, we fail to take the death and resurrection of Christ personally. There are all too many religious unbelievers who have taken the resurrection of Christ to be true academically, but they have not taken this matter personally. Allow me to give you two biblical examples of those who took the resurrection of Christ personally.
In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, we find the church being baptized by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The unusual manifestations of the Spirit caused a great crowd to gather in Jerusalem. Peter took this occasion to explain that this manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power was a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. This prophecy spoke of the coming “day of the Lord” when God would judge the sins of His people. Peter then went on to show that the power of the Spirit was poured forth on these chosen ones because He had been raised from the dead, a fact to which the empty tomb and the Old Testament Scriptures testified. Peter boldly proclaimed that while they had been responsible for the death of Christ, God had purposed to save them by His death, and had also overruled their actions by raising His Son from the grave. The bottom line of Peter’s message was this:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Here we have it in a nutshell. They were guilty of rejecting and crucifying Christ. By the resurrection of Christ, God had overruled their actions, and had proven His Son to be both Messiah (the sin-bearer promised in the Old Testament) and Lord, the one who would come in judgment, as Joel had prophesied. Taking this personally, many in that crowd confessed their sins and professed faith in Christ as their Savior (cf. Acts 2:37-41).
Saul, later known as Paul, also had a personal encounter with the resurrected Christ, as recorded several times in the Book of Acts (cf. chapters 9, 22, & 26). When Saul was intercepted by Christ on his way to Damascus, he acknowledged Christ as Lord, and he came to see the ugliness of his own sins, even though they were religious and outwardly commendable in the sight of men (cf. Philippians chapter 3). It was when Saul saw his own sinfulness and Christ’s majesty and power that he was converted.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most significant events in history. I pray that you, like those in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) and like Saul (Acts 9), will come to recognize the seriousness of your sinful condition, the holiness and awesome majesty of God, and will come to trust in Him as your Savior and Lord. I urge you to trust in Him, in His death, burial, and resurrection, not only in an intellectual and academic way, but in a very personal way, as God’s only provision for your salvation.
1 The resurrection of our Lord was anticipated and prototypes, in a sense, by the numerous instances of bringing men and women back to life after they had died, but none of these “resurrected” individuals received glorified bodies which were immune to decay and death.
2 I strongly encourage the reader to study this chapter in the Book of Hebrews and to note how prominent the term (or the concept of) death is. The author is attempting to show the future dimensions of faith, and the future to which the Old Testament saints looked forward was that which would be theirs after death.
3 Notice that in verses 23-25 of this same chapter Paul likens this incident with Abraham and his resurrection faith to the faith of the New Testament saint:
“Now not for his sake only was it written, that ‘it was reckoned to him,’ but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”
4 In James 1:17 we are told that with God there is “. . . no variation, or shifting shadow.” The point here is that God does not change in His character. There is no vascillation, such as that which is common to men (cf. James 1:6-8). While God does not change, in principle, in His dealing with men (for example, He always deals with men through grace, and by means of faith), He does change in some of the particulars of His dealings with us. It is thus both necessary and legitimate to call attention to those changes which have come about as a result of the resurrection of our Lord.
5 God has always hated sin, and has never changed in this regard. There is a distinct change evident however, in his response to sinners after His death and resurrection. It is this change which I am focusing on here.