Every year followers of Jesus gather to celebrate the resurrection. Churches circle this day on their calendar as “the day.” They hold it as one of the most important and significant days of the entire year. Some go so far as to say that Easter is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar.
I think that’s a fair question. Let’s assume that we believe that Jesus did rise from the dead over 2,000 years ago. I wrote here arguing that I believe the best evidence does point to a literal bodily resurrection. However, that in and of itself doesn’t make it important. There are a number of other people who claimed to have been risen from the dead – in fact, there are at least 10 resurrections recorded in the Bible. There are others who have written books about dying and coming back to life. But we don’t celebrate their resurrection with liturgy and pageantry on an annual basis. What makes the resurrection of Jesus different? Why should we care about this Galilean man walking out of the grave on that first Easter morning?
The Scriptures give several reasons Jesus’ resurrection changed everything:
While there have been a number of others who have been raised from the dead, there haven’t been any other people who have predicted that they would be crucified and then raised – and actually pulled it off (Mt. 16:21). The fact that Jesus was able to predict his own death and come through on his promise, puts his resurrection in a different category. The resurrection declares that Jesus is validated as the Son of God that he claimed to be. Now, we must accept his teaching as authoritative and binding.
The Apostle Paul reasoned about the implications of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 19 writing, “14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If the resurrection didn’t happen, then our faith is in vain and we are to be pitied. On the contrary, if the resurrection did happen, our faith should be anchored in Jesus.
The resurrection makes the clear claim that it’s God’s design for us to have faith in Jesus. His teaching is validated. His way is vindicated. His life is victorious.
The Scriptures use an interesting term when they discuss the Jesus’ bodily resurrection – ‘firstfruits.’ “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) Firstfruits were the earliest crop of the year. It was the grain or wheat that sprouted and came to fruition before the rest. But, here’s the important part – it was the same type of that which was coming after it. The firstfruits weren’t a different kind of crop, they were simply the first of the type. After the rest of the crop had ripened, there would be a flood of the same kind of ‘fruit’ that followed.
When the Scriptures state that Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (died), they are claiming that those who are dead will one day be resurrected in the same way that Jesus was resurrected. He is the prototype or the first of a kind, but there are many to follow. And we will be just like him. With a body. On this (renewed) earth. Immortal.
The fact that Jesus is the firstfruits of resurrection reality and destiny, should breathe hope into the collective soul of humanity. John, one of Jesus’ disciples and good friends, drives the hope home for the early followers of Jesus by writing, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3) Notice what John was arguing. First, we shall be like him. Secondly, this should give us a renewed sense of hope. Because his resurrection changes everything.
The anthem of the early church was not simply that Jesus rose from the dead accomplishing some crazy, other-worldly stunt. They believed that Jesus’ resurrection had done something for them. Once again, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” If the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth never happened, then forgiveness is an unrealized hope. One of the most fundament human needs would remain unmet and unattainable.
However, if Christ has been raised, he has done so with forgiveness in his hand! Forgiveness is the deepest, truest, most life-altering reality. The great author, Ronald Rolheiser, accurately states, “The world contains only one thing that is truly novel, forgiveness. Everything else is an old tape repeating itself endlessly over and over again.” This forgiveness, the slate being wiped clean, is new… and it changes the way we live and move and have our being. John the Baptizer claimed that Jesus was the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus was the God-man who, instead of killing his enemies, laid down his life for him. He walked out of the grave and into a new world. A world where sin had lost its grip on humanity. A world where death was no longer king. A world where guilt and shame no longer got the finally word.
A world swimming in forgiveness.
Jesus walked out of the grave only after purchasing forgiveness through the shedding of his blood. It is one of the central reasons Christians celebrate his resurrection. Unlike any other rising, he did so for us, and his resurrection was effective in securing forgiveness for all of humanity (1 Tim. 4:10).
Who cares about Jesus’ resurrection?
You should too. It changed everything. Your faith is not futile. Your destiny is sealed. Your sins are forgiven. All because Jesus went into the ground on Friday, and walked out of the grave on Sunday. That’s why we celebrate.
I invite you, join the anthem of the redeemed.