For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.—1 Thessalonians 4:14
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.—1 Corinthians 15:19
…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead…—Ephesians 1:19,20
Did Jesus really rise from the dead? And does it really matter if He did?
Well, let’s imagine two worlds. In one world, Jesus was just a good man who taught about love and morality, and the died tragically at the hands of evil people. Because He was just a man, he remained in the grave. In the other world, Jesus was the Son of God who died on the cross for the sins of humanity according to the plan of God, and then rose from the dead because all the power in the universe is His.
What would be different between these two worlds? Among other things, in the first world, death would rule. Death would always have the last word, which means hope would be hard to come by. It would mean that bad marriages ended in divorce, and good marriages ended in eternal separation. It would mean that when our loved ones died, there was no hope of an eternal reunion, because there would be no hope of eternal life. They would simply be gone forever, and then someday so would we.
In this world, every aspect of human life would be tainted by the reality of death. Romance would be like a flower that has been cut from its plant, beautiful but already fading. Friendships and family would be bittersweet, because always in the background there would be the reality of the ticking clock, the knowledge that someday it would all be over. Our bodies would reach their peak in our 20’s or 30’s, our minds in their 40’s or 50’s, and from there it would be the process of slow deterioration that ends in the grave, every single time, without exception.
Because of this, life would become a desperate scramble to enjoy the world around us as much as we could before time ran out. We would need to get as much money as we could to buy all the things and experiences we wanted before the opportunity was lost forever. Some people would realize that without eternal consequences, there is very little reason to live a moral life, and begin to take advantage of others in their quest for pleasure at all costs. It would also be hard to convince people to serve others, because giving away time and money would mean we could no longer spend those things on ourselves. I know that if I lived in this world, I might never live somewhere long enough to develop deep relationships, because there are so many cool places on the planet I would love to visit before time runs out. The hopelessness of a world without resurrection would bring out the worst in all of us.
On the other hand, in a world where resurrection is reality, hope changes everything. If I know that I will have all of eternity to explore God’s creation, I can use this life to invest in the things He says are important. (Preach, pastor, and parent now, hike and travel later). If I know there are eternal rewards for living generously, I can resist the temptation to be selfish. If I know that I will be with my loved ones in the presence of God for all of eternity, I can release them to follow His plan for their lives, wherever it takes them. If I know that Jesus has defeated death, then I can have joy in the face of illness and loss. I can live for different goals, and be more concerned with the person I am becoming than the stuff I am accumulating. The resurrection of Christ sets me free to love God, love others, and love life.
But to be fair, it’s slightly more complicated than that. In the first world, where there is no hope, there is also no Lord. There is no One who has conquered death and thus proven that He has the right to tell me how to live my life. There is no One who has purchased my loyalty with His sacrifice and victory. If there is no life beyond this life, no judgment, no consequences, then the teachings of Jesus are nice suggestions, and there’s no real motivation to live by them. So while there is no hope in this world, there is the illusion of freedom. For as long as we have opportunity, while the clock is still ticking, we can tell ourselves that it’s okay to live for ourselves. For this reason, many people choose to believe that they live in a world without resurrection, doing their best to enjoy life as much as they can in the face of certain death.
In the second world, Jesus is the Victor, and Jesus is the King. Life is eternal, and it does not belong to me. I can have love, joy, and peace in this life and for all of eternity, but those things come with the understanding that Jesus will be my Lord now and forever. He tells me how to live. He teaches me how to love. He guides my steps and He requires my obedience. He has the right to do this, because He is the only One who has conquered the grave for me. He died for me and rose for me, and so I live for Him.
Which world do you live in? A world where death rules, the clock is ticking, and everyone lives with the false freedom of permission to be selfish? Or a world where Jesus rose from the dead, and His resurrection makes it possible for us to live like Him, eternally? This Sunday, let’s come together and celebrate the reality that Christ’s victory has changed our world. May your Easter weekend be filled with reminders that Life has triumphed over death.