Some events in our lives change us forever: the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one, or winning the lottery. Sometimes a single phone call can alter the course of our lives in dramatic ways, which we could not have imagined the moment before the phone rang.
One cannot read the Resurrection story in the Bible without realizing that it dramatically changed things for the followers of Jesus. That entire weekend was a horrible wrenching back and forth for Jesus’ 12 disciples. Imagine how they must have felt as they stood at the foot of the cross and watched the One they had supposed to be the Messiah being taken down and carried to a tomb carved from the side of a cliff. Imagine, if you will, the Sabbath that followed. The followers of Jesus were filled with shock, grief, and fear. No doubt some were ready to assign blame for a course of events gone badly awry. If only Peter had not denied Him! If only Judas had not betrayed Him!
But then came news that He had risen from the dead! Unbelief marked their first responses. Then, as they began to grasp the meaning of the Resurrection, those who had been fearful became fearless; those bewildered by the cross now realized that a divine drama had played out before their eyes. They were never the same again. Their understanding of the past, their security for the present, and their hopes regarding the future were radically transformed. The growing awareness that Jesus was alive gave them new hope, energy, faith, and courage.
The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) do not explain the Resurrection so much as the Resurrection explains the reason for the Gospels. The first witnesses to the Resurrection were filled with energy and urgency. Their lives were infused with joy.
When we come to understand the meaning of the Resurrection, we, too, shall be possessed by a joy that activates and motivates our Christian life. Christ’s resurrection has impacted our lives in the following ways.
1 The Resurrection changes the meaning of the Cross from awful defeat to awesome victory. Through the centuries, prophets within Israel had spoken about a Messiah who would one day solve the problems of Israel and the world. When Jesus died on the cross, His followers, who believed He was the Messiah, experienced bitter disappointment. Their hopes were shattered. In the light of the Resurrection, they understood the life of Jesus and the prophecies of the Old Testament in a totally new way. Jesus had won a victory over sin and evil. His resurrection opened a whole new worldview to them.
The experience of the disappointed travelers on the Emmaus road reveals something of the drama that was taking place. Jesus said to them, “ ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27).
The Resurrection changed the meaning of the Cross, and it therefore changes the meaning of all suffering, pain, injustice, and catastrophe. They are robbed of their ultimate power. The final outcome of the cosmic controversy between good and evil is settled.
2 The Resurrection affirms that this physical world, our physical bodies, and our earthly life, are significant. The work of God in Jesus Christ is one of restoring the order of Creation. Our destiny is not to be found in a different kind of life—some nonphysical existence out in space. Jesus’ victory over death reveals what kind of life is to follow.
The Resurrection reaffirms Creation. Is this not why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)? True, life after the Second Advent will be markedly different from what we know now. But make no mistake about it—following the millennium that we spend in heaven, you and I will live here on the earth. Our world will become the Grand Central Station of the vast universe.
John the revelator describes a new heaven and a new earth with these words: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’ ” (Revelation 21:3).
3 The Resurrection assures us of God’s presence in the journey of life. The angelic messenger at the garden tomb was right, but he was also wrong. In the morning when the women approached the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, they wondered who would roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb.
“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here’ ” (Mark 16:4–6).
Yes, the angel needed to say to those women, “ ‘He has risen. He is not here,’ ” but the truth of that statement illumines and proclaims its very opposite also—He is risen, He is here!
And herein lies the secret to joy in the Christian life, the realization that Jesus Christ is with us here and now. In our triumphs and our tragedies, in the presence of our enemies, in the loneliness of defeat or the celebration of victory—He is here!
During the centuries before the Resurrection, the assurance of God’s presence was an anchor to people of faith: Jacob, a refugee from family conflict; Moses, an exile from the court of Egypt; and David, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah. Each of these found comfort and strength in the words, “I am with you.” The promise of God’s presence brought stability in every kind of uncertainty.
And this same promise marks some of the final words of the risen and departing Lord, “ ‘I am with you always, even to the very end of the world’ ” (Matthew 28:20).
Think of these things the next time you stand at the edge of an open grave. Remember this assurance when the storms of life are raging. Anchor yourself to this promise, and you will not be shaken though the earth tremble and the mountains be moved out of their places.
We need not seek God’s presence in exotic and faraway places. The message of the Resurrection is that the presence of Jesus can be expected— yes, experienced—in the common course of everyday living: on the job, in the marketplace, along life’s pathway in the mundane and the momentous.
4 The Resurrection secures our citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom. The shadows of death fall everywhere in this life. Just when everything seems to be coming together, it falls apart. It’s a cycle that seems to happen over and over again. This life never allows us to grasp all that it seemingly offers. But that is not the end of the story.
The Resurrection assures us there is more. We know the truth of Paul’s assertion: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19, KJV).
There is one kingdom that endures. All earthly empires, kingdoms, principalities, and powers are transitory. The destiny of the world is not entrusted to the strength of some human political system. All will ultimately fail to establish peace and prosperity on earth. The Resurrection announces that the King of kings and Lord of lords has entered the arena of human history and His kingdom will never end.
5 The Resurrection summons us as agents of God’s restoration of the earth. The angel said to the women who came to His tomb on Sunday morning, “ ‘Go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you” ’ ” (Mark 16:7). The story of the Resurrection contains an invitation to discipleship. He is going ahead of us, and He invites us to follow. The risen Lord does not set up a secure command center from which He dispatches His servants on lonely and dangerous journeys. No! Instead he goes ahead of them. They are merely to follow where He leads.
The risen Lord beckons us to a life of service to the poor, the afflicted, the downtrodden, the ignorant, the proud, and the rich. For there is room in His kingdom for everyone, and the message of grace and inclusion is for all. He calls us to our various places of ministry—at times in the big cities, at other times in remote and lonely places. Our chief concern is not success, but faithfulness. He makes Himself responsible for the success of His work. He only asks that we be available and follow Him.
We must come to understand that the Resurrection is not something that happened just to Jesus. It is promised to all His children. And we are called to be not just its subjects, but its agents, citizens of a heavenly kingdom who carry on the work of Jesus for justice, peace, healing, and wholeness. Nor does He call us only to the large scale issues of society.
We are also called to a personal and intimate resurrection life of holy living, marked by new values, new purposes, new goals, and new behaviors (see Romans 6).
In short, we are called to live the life of joy.