On this day of resurrection, be glorified God in the rising of the sun and in the rising of this worshipper. Thank you for the treasures of the gospel: forgiveness, life, peace, joy—and most of all Yourself. You are forgiving and good. Turn my heart from temptations and distractions, and give me a passion to proclaim your glory today. Be glorified in the church, and in this heart of mine—Amen.
Holy One, thank you for your constancy in an inconstant world. Thank you for the blessings of the day and the quiet of the night. Teach me the lesson of peace, and the depth of my need to rest in you. You entered our humanity, and lived our righteous life, and died for us a sacrificial death, and rose for us victorious over the grave. Teach me the mystery of faith that unites a man to his Savior, and let me rest in you—Amen.
When the apostle Paul was dragged before the Sanhedrin to give an account of his teaching, he expressed the core of the Christian faith with profound simplicity: “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6, NIV).
Now, in the context we are shown that this was a very savvy move given his situation. He observed that the assembly included both members of the party of the Pharisees (who affirmed the resurrection) and of the Sadducees (who did not) (v.6). Declaring that he was on trial over this contested doctrine was a cunning way to turn the united opposition against him into a body divided against itself–as immediately followed (vv.7-9).
Nonetheless, it was not only a rhetorical technique; it was also a fair statement of the Christian hope. When Paul was later brought before Governor Felix, he spoke of his faith in terms of the Scriptures, God, and “a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (24:15). Then, presenting his faith before King Agrippa, Paul quickly puts the resurrection at the center (26:6-8). Indeed, his faith is the story of his encounter with the risen Christ (vv.12-23). The centrality of the resurrection is further evident at various places in Paul’s letters, as well as other New Testament writings.
The Christian faith is a resurrection faith, a resurrection hope. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and in the coming resurrection to eternal life of all who belong to Him. Indeed, these two are inseparable: for salvation is union by faith with the Son of God, such that His death is our death to sin, and His resurrection our new life. The resurrection is inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ; death has been dealt a mortal blow; our sins were paid for on the cross, and we were declared justified in the resurrection. This is the faith of the Christian church.
And this means that watered-down Christianity can be no more acceptable to us than it would have been to the apostle Paul. “Faith” has no value unless it is faith in the risen Son. Vague theism offers no hope. Liberal theology that sees the resurrection as a poignant myth is utterly bankrupt. Only the boisterous supernaturalism, the potent scandal of orthodoxy, holds the secret of hope–resurrection hope.
And resurrection hope is stronger than all the tempests of life. The terror of death itself is overwhelmed in the mystery of resurrection life. The apostle’s confession is the perennial and world-shaking witness of the Christian faith: “I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
The first heralds of the resurrection were the women who went to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday. Having seen the empty sepulcher and heard the declaration of the angels, they returned to share the news:
“When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:9-11, NIV).
This is still the Christian proclamation, and it is still the crux of faith. If it was hard for the disciples to believe, if the message of the resurrection seemed like nonsense to them, we shouldn’t be surprised when it seems like nonsense to so many others.
And we have the challenges of our own time and context. 21st century people think of ourselves as sophisticated and enlightened, and there is a strong tendency to think of the people of former times as rusticated and benighted. And so when the evangelical faith is proclaimed, that Jesus actually rose from the dead, to many it seems like nonsense.
But it is the word of hope and victory. It is the proclamation of sinners justified, death undone, and the door of paradise flung wide. It is the fulfilment of the primordial promise and of the prophecies of millennia.
The free gift of God comes by faith in this risen Savior. Those whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit see the truth and wonder in what the world calls nonsense; those who have the courage to believe receive. Those who hope and wait for His return will be rewarded.
I have written before on troubling statements to come out of Union Theological Seminary, an institution that would at one time have been called a Christian school, but can hardly be given that label these days. Earlier this month, journalist Nicholas Kristof did an interview with Union’s president, Dr. Serene Jones, for the New York Times.
Dr. Jones’s views highlight just how far the school has strayed from its original vision and from anything resembling Christian orthodoxy. Her statements are also illuminating as yet another example of where we end up when we stray from the truth.
The interview might be characterized as a brief list of key Christian beliefs that Dr. Jones denounces. She doesn’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ, the atonement (at least not in the biblical sense), the virgin birth, or even in the God of the Bible.
Where does such (un)faith lead? Kristof asked, “What happens when we die?” Dr. Jones answered,
I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife...
Theological liberalism is a road to nowhere. Without the cross and resurrection of Jesus–the real cross and resurrection, the atoning death and bodily resurrection of the Son of God incarnate–there is no hope. We are left with only this life and what we can make of it. It is so tragic when people reject the gospel.
But God is real, God is strong, and His promises are good. Christ is risen, and offers life eternal to all who trust in Him. Christmas means light in our darkness, and Easter means hope unshakable.
Dare we speak of the truths of the Christian faith as “myth”?
For some, especially those steeped in a literary background, referring to something as “myth” is not a denial that it really happened, but a statement about its significance. J.R.R. Tolkien is said to have drawn C.S. Lewis to the Christian faith by putting it in terms of “true myth.”
Yet it seems to me this is very dangerous ground. Perhaps Tolkien and Lewis can reckon in these terms, but to the vast majority of people saying something is myth means precisely that it is not true–though it may have some nice lessons. A myth is a fable or parable, perhaps. So attempting to play with this category of myth is very likely to communicate that what we are talking about has no place in reality except as metaphor or symbol for something else.
And even to someone with a more literary bent, who understands myth as a question of significance, there is a strong danger that we will bifurcate truth–that we will give the impression that truth as fact and truth as meaning are different things with no necessary relation to one another. Thus the blogger Christian Chiakulas can stake his claim that because of the mythological significance of the resurrection of Christ, it doesn’t matter if it actually happened. And, unsurprisingly, the end result is that the significance of Christ’s resurrection becomes an affirmation of Chiakulas’s ideologies. Should we be surprised if there is a connection between denying the fact of what Christ has done and turning the work of Christ into support for your own agenda?
The significance of what Christ has done cannot be separated from the reality of what Christ has done. Against error in the church at Corinth, Paul said “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:1-5, NIV).
What was it the apostle thought so important? What did he pass on to the church as the core of his gospel preaching? What did they receive and build their faith upon? What was the foundation of their salvation, from which they must not deviate? What was the received teaching that the apostle passed on, the message of first importance?
It was the facts of the death and resurrection of Christ. Each is elaborated with reference to Scripture and the plan of God, each demonstrated by evidence, the burial that followed Christ’s death and the witnesses who saw Him after His resurrection. The significance of the work of Christ was rooted in the reality of the work of Christ. Without the reality of the work of Christ, there is no gospel.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3)
The apostle brings such a brilliant interplay of life to life. God has done a magnificent thing for us in Christ. He has brought us a living hope–not merely in the sense of a hope that is true and active and valid, but literally a hope of life. We come to this hope by receiving life, a new birth; and this in turn is brought about by the resurrection unto life of Jesus Christ our Lord.
We see how closely the new life and the living hope of future life for all those who are born again is caught up with the return to life of their living Lord. His resurrection means our new birth–our first resurrection. Ours is a birth into a living hope of eternal life. That eternal life will find its fullest expression in the resurrection to come, our bodily resurrection after the pattern of our risen Lord.
It is too wonderful; it is beyond words. If somehow we can be given grace to soften our hearts of stone and firm up our feeble minds, then we too would exclaim with the apostle, “Praise be to God!”
He is risen!
So we greet one another on Easter Sunday. We will be blessed to grasp the joy that truly underlies these words. I’m afraid that too often Christians speak about the resurrection as though it were merely an afterthought to Good Friday, Jesus’ happy ending or the proof that He accomplished His work. It is both of these things, but it is also the very joy of the gospel.
Paul was anxious that the Corinthian believers should understand the place of the resurrection in the Christian faith. Beginning in 1 Cor. 15, he described to them how utterly necessary the resurrection of Christ is: without it they have no hope, no forgiveness, and no future.
For the resurrection of Jesus Christ means new life for all who belong to Christ and are united with Him by faith. His cross and resurrection together make the center of His saving work. Because He rose from the dead, all those who trust in Him are even now spiritually made alive, risen from being dead in sin, and are guaranteed a future consummation of the resurrection life when He returns. Easter is no afterthought; Easter makes all the difference in the world.
He is risen!
He is risen, indeed!