Why does the resurrection matter?
Christians believe Jesus really and truly, bodily, rose from the dead. Many today are skeptical of such a claim, but may appreciate other aspects of Jesus’ life: The way he treated the poor and powerless, his wisdom and teaching, etc. So what’s the big deal? Can’t we still just follow the good in his teachings without having to believe something that is, frankly, difficult for many to believe? Why make such an issue out of believing that Jesus really did rise from the dead? Christians make an issue out of the resurrection because the universe would be a fundamentally different place without it, and that ought to lead us to live fundamentally different lives.
Let me begin unpacking that by describing some features of what a universe without resurrection looks like:
- The fate of such a universe is at least uncertain. Many, if asked where such a universe is heading ultimately, would have to admit they don’t know. On the other hand, some have answers. A naturalist’s vision of the universe’s fate, for example, has it all ending ( through a big freeze, big rip, big crunch etc.) in non-existence.
- The fate of people within such a universe is similarly uncertain. The age old question of “What happens after you die?” also renders an, “I don’t know.” Or, in the naturalist account of things, there is no consciousness after death. Other forms of spirituality have their own theories: the soul’s reincarnation in another body, the soul’s release from material existence to a state of nirvana.
- Even for those who believe in a real God who will judge us after we die, a resurrection-less universe means their fate is uncertain, because they do not know what verdict will be given.
If this resurrection-less universe is the one we live in…
- It’s hard to see why we ought to work for justice. If the forces of death and destruction win in the end, reducing our universe to nothingness, why fight them now? You may want to, but why should anyone? Isn’t doing so just delaying the inevitable? Even if I believe my soul may go onto nirvana, why fight to make the material world a better place?
- I’m going to be much more tempted to look after myself, rather than sacrifice for others. If upon death my conscious self ceases, or even if I’m reincarnated but without any consciousness of my former self, this life is really all I have. Why lay down anything, let alone my life, for others, unless I perceive a good return on investment for myself in this life?
- I’ll always be looking for someone to render a positive judgment on my life, since I don’t ultimately know whether God will render one. That could be my boss, friends, parents, or even the person in the mirror, and I’ll become a slave of their expectations.
But if Jesus did rise from the dead, here’s what the universe looks like:
- The fate of such a universe is like the fate of Jesus: Though it will be destroyed, it will also be resurrected in glory. Jesus’ resurrection is described in the Bible as a “firstfruits,” the first of more fruit to come (1 Corinthians 15:20). “All the sad things will come untrue,” as C.S. Lewis puts it.
- The fate of people within such a universe is similarly certain: Though we will die, we will also be resurrected bodily. As Jesus says in John 5:28-29, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
- As the verse I’ve just quoted alludes to, this does involve a final judgment. But Christ came to bear such judgment on himself, and the sentence for sin is death. The evidence that a prison sentence has been carried out is that the prisoner walks free. Jesus is the only one who paid the death penalty in full, only to then walk free. As Tim Keller puts it, “The resurrection was God’s way of stamping PAID IN FULL right across history so that nobody could miss it.”
If this universe is the one we live in…
- Jesus is Lord. His rising from the dead proves that he is who he claimed to be: the very God of heaven (e.g. John 5:18, 8:58). If Jesus was not risen, he was a liar or a lunatic, not a good teacher. But if he is risen, He is Lord. Again, quoting C.S. Lewis, “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
- How can we not fight for justice? God fought to conquer the forces of darkness and destruction, God fought to redeem the material world, and he has already won the decisive victory! How can we claim to follow him and not engage in the battle? We can even do so with confidence, because we know justice wins in the end.
- What can’t we lose? There is nothing we must hold onto, not even our lives, and we are thus free to pour ourselves out in service of God and others. As Jesus said, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time…and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
- The verdict is certain. For those who do not acknowledge Christ Jesus as Lord, there is a “resurrection of judgment.” But for those who do fall at his feet, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). You don’t have to prove yourself; the debt is PAID IN FULL.
Believing in the resurrection makes a world (a universe, even) of a difference. Do you believe this yet? We’d love to invite you to explore it with us on Easter Sunday.