- The uniqueness of the Christian message, that our rightness with God is secured not by our efforts, but by those of God Who, makes us right with Him as a gift to all with faith in Christ
- The deity of Jesus Christ
- The death of Jesus Christ
- The resurrection of Jesus Christ
But in the last installment, I promised (or maybe, threatened, depending on your perspective) to engage in an excursus to explain what Jesus' resurrection means for the follower of Jesus Christ.
First and most obviously, the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope. Before going to the cross, Jesus comforted His followers:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" [John 14:2]The greatest fear that we have as human beings is the fear of death. But the follower of Jesus lives with the confidence that even beyond death, God will welcome us to eternity with Him. The resurrected Jesus is God's proof that He can give us eternal life.
Secondly, the resurrection of Jesus gives credence to Jesus' claim that one day, He will return, setting all right. In that same good-bye to His first followers, Jesus said:
"And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also." [John 14:3]Thirdly, the resurrection of Jesus gives us courage. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, like the rest of the human race, imperfect. Since his death, it's been learned that he was guilty of numerous extramarital liaisons. Unfortunately, some of his most ardent supporters scoffed and laughed when he expressed a sense of guilt for his actions, deeming such concerns as quaint. I bring all of this up to say, first of all, that the basic trajectory of King's life was that of an imperfect man imperfectly seeking to follow Jesus. (Not unlike me or any other Christian.)
I also mention it to say that the reason King was able to keep up his peaceful fight for equality in America was because he lived in the certainty of a resurrection offered by a gracious, forgiving God.
On the night of his assassination, King spoke to a Memphis gathering and gave his famous, I've Been to the Mountaintop speech. The thirty-nine year old pastor revealed that like anyone, he would like to live long years. But he had a confidence about his future whether he lived on earth or not.
That's the confidence in which Jesus-Followers can live. They know that Jesus' resurrection victory is their resurrection victory.
Because of the courage that Jesus' resurrection imparts, Christians like King have, over the centuries been incited to fight for justice and "speak truth to power."
This is the same courageous confidence in which the apostle Paul lived back in the first century and about which he wrote:
Who will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For Your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35-39]I knew a man once who was a regular church-attender and was in fact, actively involved in his congregation. He surprised me one day when he told me, "I'm a Christian in the sense that I go to church and I like the good things that church does in people's lives. It seems to make them nicer. But I don't buy all this baloney about a resurrection. When you die, you die."
I told him that I completely disagreed. "A Christianity without a resurrection is impotent, irrelevant, and a waste of time," I said. "I simply wouldn't be interested in it."
You see, the time-orientation of authentic Christian faith isn't to the past or the present. Christians are people of the future. We're in the orbit of eternity and each day we're moving toward it. The closer Christians align their lives with their resurrection futures, the easier it becomes for them to jettison things like old sins, bad habits, reticence about rocking the boat to advocate for justice, and fear of being different or of loving our enemies. When you know that God has given you a forever future, it's easier to follow the Bible's advice:
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God. [Second Corinthians 7:1]In the New Testament, Paul addressed a group of people who thought like that man did, that the resurrection was a bunch of hooey. Paul wrote:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain...If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins...If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. [First Corinthians 15:12-19]Don't settle for a resurrection-less faith. Ask God to help you trust in the promise of Jesus' resurrection and your life will be imbued with greater and greater quantities of hope, the certainty that Jesus will one day return and set all right in the universe, and courage.