Every Sunday morning, I have the privilege to teach our 7th and 8th grade boys Sunday School class and for the last several weeks we’ve been talking about Jesus’ resurrection. I know it seems like we should be talking about the Incarnation at this time of year, but we covered that back in April. 🙂 It’s just the way the literature happened to fall.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul says about the Gospel, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures….” I have a confession to make. Teaching about Jesus dying for our sins feels a whole lot easier than teaching about Him being raised on the third day. What I mean is, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and the implications of that sacrifice seem much more tangible, more concrete if you will. We understand that we are sinners, that we are cut off from God the Father and that we need our sin debt to be paid for. When we think about Jesus dying in our place, covering our sin and restoring us to the Father, we’re grateful and glad and relieved because we have personal experience of these things. We know what it’s like to let someone down or to be let down. We know what it’s like to be estranged from someone we care about. We know what it’s like to pay a debt or to have someone pay a debt for us, even if it’s just picking up the tab at a restaurant. It’s because of these familiar terms and experiences that we can talk more easily about the importance of Jesus’ death.
It’s a little more challenging when we talk about the Resurrection. Sure, we can talk about a worm building a cocoon and coming out later as a butterfly and we have all watched games where a team is facing certain defeat only to pull out a victory at the last second. But those are largely vicarious experiences. Most of the time we’re not personally involved. So we read the Gospel accounts of Jesus being raised from the dead and we accept them and acknowledge them but we may struggle to understand or apply the importance of His being raised from the dead to our daily lives. When I’m teaching my class, sometimes it feels like the more I talk about it and try to explain its importance, the more surreal it gets.
So I take some encouragement from the accounts in the Gospels regarding the response of the disciples to the resurrected Jesus. Matthew says that when the disciples gathered for their commissioning that they saw Him and worshiped Him, “but some doubted.” (Mt. 28:17) Mark says that Jesus rebuked the Eleven for their “stubborn refusal” to believe (Mk. 16:14). Luke records that the two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Him and that when He appeared to the disciples and showed them His hands and feet “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement….” And of course, John records Thomas saying that he wouldn’t believe until he could touch the nail prints and His side. So if those who actually saw Him struggled to make sense of what they were seeing, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we have to wrestle to make it real to our own hearts and minds. But wrestle we should and must! Because if Jesus is raised the implications are vast.
As usual, I’ve run out of room to fully unpack that last statement so let me leave you with two for now. First, if Jesus is raised, then as Thomas confessed, He is Lord and He is God. He does not come to us as our personal assistant to help us get where we want to go. He comes to take over, to bring us into His life and His kingdom where He rules and reigns and calls the shots. Our response to Him should be surrender rather than a quid pro quo cooperation. Second, if Jesus is raised, we have great hope. We can be confident that this life is not all there is because Death is dead. The life to come is not some sort of compensation for what we missed out on here. It’s a completely new life in a new Heaven and New earth where the results of the Fall are swallowed up into a new and victorious, indestructible, everlasting life! “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”