Resurrection Power

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Are appearances deceiving? To many observers, the world is coming apart at the seams. Terrorists of all kinds know no restraints. Traffickers elude the most vigilant prosecutors. Honor killings, refugee desperation, gloves-off political campaigns. We might rightly ask, “Is anyone in charge here?” Students of history will admit that it has ever been thus. However, that makes things less, not more reassuring. These are not just appearances, but the all too real marks of a broken world. But is that all there is? Against these sobering actualities, Scripture affirms another, more fundamental reality. Not an escape, but a remedy.

The Christian church in the West has just celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (The Orthodox Churches will hold Holy Pascha on May 1. Occasionally, as was the case last year, the feast is on the same Sunday.) The resurrection is rightly held by all churches to be the central event in redemptive history. The incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas, is only important because it is the necessary prelude to the death and resurrection of Our Lord.

In many churches, particularly the more evangelical ones, sermons will have centered on the historical reality of Christ’s passion and of the empty tomb. This can be through a recital of the abundant evidences and testimonies from witnesses to the first Easter. It can be done much more imaginatively, as Francis Spufford did in his book Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (2012). In this rather pugnacious defense of the faith, Spufford puts readers right there in the dusty, noisy world of Palestine with its rival parties and the very human, as well as divine, Jesus.

“I am the resurrection and the life” is not just a comforting saying at funerals, but truly the promise of a new world order.

 Such defenses of this central doctrine are appropriate, yet they sometimes miss the bigger picture. While the New Testament can certainly be used to mount a credible vindication for the historicity of the resurrection, there is more, much more, in its pages. The resurrection is the inauguration of the most (literally) earth-shattering occurrence of all time. The resurrection is the beginning of the end, the D-Day before the ultimate victory of peace and truth over all rivals. This victory in its grandest terms is presented in at least three ways.

First, Christ’s resurrection is the restoration and the ultimate fulfillment of mankind’s primary calling. At the dawn of creation, God addresses the first human beings and commands them to fill the earth and subdue it in the order of blessedness (Gen. 1:26-30). To use current jargon, we might say that God ordered human flourishing. Despite the horrendous fall of the world, this commandment is still in force. Even in exile, the terms of the original mandate are reiterated (Jer. 29:4-7). The resurrection is the ultimate fulfillment and execution of the original mandate. Jesus, having been made lower than the angels and having tasted death for everyone, now is crowned with honor and glory and has begun to put all things under his feet (Heb. 2:5-9). He now leads the new humanity in the restoration of its original calling. Death itself, the last enemy, the greatest impediment to flourishing, will be destroyed, for all things are to be put in subjection to the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:26-28).

Second, the resurrection is the unleashing of unparalleled power. When Jesus sends his disciples out to make disciples of the nations, he tells them “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). It may strain credibility, but this kind of power is far, far greater than the power of evil. In one of the boldest statements recorded in any literature, Jesus tells his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Do we have to wait until the end of the world to see such power manifested? The judgment, the new heaven and new earth, those are indeed the final culmination of Jesus’ guarantee. But we don’t have to wait. Today, criminals are brought to justice. Health care is saving many. Women are beginning to enjoy their rights. Repressive régimes are falling. Starving children are being rescued. Education is made available to more and more people. Nowhere near perfection. While there is so much more work to be done, great reversals are happening, if we know where to look. They are powered by the resurrection.

Third, reconciliation is becoming a reality. One of the most remarkable Pauline passages compares the two vocations of the one Christ (Col. 1:15-20). He is the primary agent of the creation, “by him all things were made” (v. 16), and he is the great reconciler of all things (v. 20a). He can do this because of the “blood of his cross” (v. 20b). Fragmented families, hateful relations, addictions, guilt, and all that is broken, he is busy repairing. Again, it is inaugural and not yet consummate. But it is real and miraculous. Notice the key point here. Paul affirms that such reconciliation is possible because Christ is the “firstborn from the dead” (v 18). Notice as well that he is reconciling all things to himself. Not random acts of kindness, but nothing less than mending the primary relationship gone wrong-- our alienation from God.

This restoration, this power, this reconciliation are not escapes. There is a cottage industry of such escapist teaching. From the Left Behind series to books on the rapture or on Armageddon, we are invited to leave off concern or compassion for the world and enter a protective bubble. The beauty of the true biblical teaching is that it takes us through the valley of the shadow of death before going in to the banquet table. The spiritual puts it this way, “Lord, don’t move that mountain, but give me strength to climb.” Such strength, individual or corporate, comes from one place: the resurrection.

So appearances are not deceiving. But there is a deeper reality. “I am the resurrection and the life” is not just a comforting saying at funerals, but truly the promise of a new world order. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

- William Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.