I read once that reformed evangelicals place a great deal of emphasis on Christ’s death–rightly so!–but not nearly the same emphasis on His resurrection. As I thought about the Christian books I read, and what I say to believers and non-believers, I found that it is true for me. “The death of Christ is what atones for our sins,” I reason. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).” The death of Christ certainly is important, and deserves the focus that we have given it. But the resurrection is just as important, which is why we devote Easter to celebrating Jesus’ return to life. Paul writes,
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:13-14, 17-19)
If Christ did not rise from the dead, all the promises of God are vain. Thus our faith is in vain, because the One we put our trust in is only a man, and is powerless to fulfill the promises of Scripture. Matthew records the following: “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day‘” (Matthew 20:17-19). If Jesus is not “raised on the third day,” as He says He will be, then we have no reason to believe Him. We have no basis to believe Him. He lied, and He is powerless. We have an empty faith.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then first and foremost we have no salvation. Our salvation is contingent upon His resurrection: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). If Christ does not go from death to life, neither do we go from spiritual death to spiritual life. We know that it is “through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). Though Scripture states that Jesus “has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present [us] holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:22), the proof of the efficacy of His death is His rising to life again. If Jesus did not rise, it is because He was not “without blemish” (Hebrews 9:14), and His death was not a successful and complete sacrifice. If Jesus did not rise, He is not God, and He cannot reconcile. This is the first reason we celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday. But there are more reasons.
If He did not rise from the dead, then indeed our lives are in vain–we are to be pitied since we forsook the pleasures of the world for nothing. Paul goes so far as to say that Christians are “most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 5:19), since we refuse everything that our sinful flesh desires. We give up “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21a). These things do bring pleasure for some time, and we miss out on them because we are too busy obeying the words of a mere man.
By corollary, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we have no reason to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other” (Colossians 3:12-13). Without the resurrection, sanctification is unnecessary because the God we aim to imitate is still filled with wrath toward us. There is no point to becoming a man or woman who reflects the Beatitudes because the One who once spoke those words lies silent in the grave.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, our sufferings are in vain. We have no assurance that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3b-4).
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, He is not with us, and neither is His Spirit. He said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He also said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The comfort that God is with us, helping us, is nullified.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, there is no afterlife. We understand that “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14). If He did not raise our Lord, He is powerless to raise us who believe. If there is no resurrection, we believe in a weak, less-than-omnipotent God.
Bottom line: If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we have no hope.
But Jesus rose from the dead.
We have hope. We have everything.
We have salvation, we have a reason to fight sin and to pursue sanctification, our suffering is not in vain, we have the comfort of His presence, we have an eternity in heaven to look forward to, we have an exceedingly powerful God who proves Himself to be omnipotent and worthy of our trust. These things we have, among so many other things. Every promise in Scripture can be trusted, because it will be fulfilled, just as Christ’s promise that He would rise from the dead was fulfilled. We have hope! We have reason to rejoice! We have hope, for He rises! Christian, this is why we celebrate Easter and His resurrection! May you be drawn to hope and worship as you contemplate the resurrection of our Lord!
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet. 1:3-5)