I Corinthians 15:1 - 20
On Easter Sunday it is traditional in many churches, including this one, to proclaim the resurrection of Christ with a simple statement. The pastor or worship leader declares, “Christ is risen!” And then the people respond, “He is risen indeed!” Typically, that is repeated three times.
When we lived in Moscow we learned that the Russian churches do this as well. The worship leader announces, “Christos voskres!” “Christos” is “Christ” and “voskres” means “is risen.” And the people respond by saying, “Voictinu voskres! (He is risen indeed!)”
It was fascinating for me to discover as I labored at trying to learn Russian that the word “voskres – is risen” is the root of their word for Sunday. In Russian, the word for Sunday is made up of voskres and the ending enya. So it comes out Voskresenya.
Isn’t that great? Literally the Russian word for Sunday means “He is risen!” But what is really interesting is that of all the languages spoken on the planet, it is the Russian language for which this is true. For just think of all those years of communist rule. For more than 70 years the communist authorities tried to stamp out all forms of religion. Thousands of churches were closed or destroyed. Thousands of priests were murdered or sent to exile in Siberia. Atheism was taught in the schools as official doctrine. “There is no God,” was the message from the state. And yet, the truth of the gospel could not be silenced. One day each week the resurrection of Christ was proclaimed by believers and atheists alike by the very name of the day – Voskresenya! “He is risen!”
Ps. 75:1 states: “We praise, You, God, we praise You, for Your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful deeds.” The works and deeds of the Lord will be proclaimed. We, as His disciples, have both the privilege and responsibility of declaring who God is and what God has done for us in Christ. This is part of our calling as His followers.
But the works of God are so wonderful, the word of God is so powerful, the truth of the gospel is so captivating that they will be proclaimed even by those who are not His disciples. Even when a human government tried to forbid the telling of the gospel, the works of God could not be silenced. During those dark years of communist rule, every time a person spoke or read or wrote the word for Sunday, Voskresenya, the resurrection of Christ was proclaimed. And rightly so. For without a doubt, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the most significant event in all of history. Not only is it the central tenet of the Christian faith, it is the most important thing that ever happened.
For the past couple months we have been studying the basics of the Christian faith, using the Apostles’ Creed as our guide. Today we come to the phrase: “On the third day he rose again.” This affirmation is based solidly in the teaching of the New Testament. All four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – as well as other references in the New Testament boldly declare that on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. To the amazement of His followers, on Sunday morning the tomb was empty, and during the course of the next 40 days Jesus appeared a number of times to various ones of His followers.
As I said, the resurrection of Jesus really is the central tenet of the Christian faith. According to Rom. 10:9, believing this is what leads to salvation, for it states: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because of this, the resurrection of Jesus was at the heart of the preaching of the early church.
For instance, Acts 4:33 says that “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” And if there is any doubt as to the importance and necessity of the resurrection as it has to do with the nature of our eternity, Paul wrote in I Cor. 15:14 “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
So, according to the New Testament, the affirmation that Jesus was raised from the dead is that by which the church, our faith, and our eternity stands or falls. If it is not true, all our faith and all our obedience is in vain. We have been deceived and are without hope. But if it is true, then our faith is firmly based in the reality of what God did for us to win our salvation.
Today, I want to share four results of the resurrection, four benefits we enjoy because of the resurrection, four things the resurrection means for us. We may ask, why is the resurrection so central? After all, our salvation is rooted really more in the cross where Jesus died for our sins. On Good Friday the debt was paid for our sins and we were justified before God by the atoning death of Christ. So why is our faith in vain if the resurrection never happened instead of if Jesus never died on the cross?
Well, obviously both the cross and the resurrection are essential. But it’s the resurrection that validates Good Friday. The resurrection proves that the One who died really was God the Son, the sinless One who thus was qualified to die for us. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus could have died on the cross for our sins, but it would not have been effectual because no one would have believed it. Why would we believe the One dying was God the Son and that He was dying for our sin? There would have been no reason to believe that. Jesus would have been just another man being crucified.
But the resurrection makes us look at the events of Good Friday in a different light. Through the lens of the resurrection we can see that Jesus was not merely an ordinary man dying, but someone totally unique – God the Son.
There have been lots of wise teachers through the centuries. There have been many spiritual leaders. They have been numerous religious martyrs. But there has been only One who was raised from the dead, and that authenticates the identity of Jesus as God the Son. Rom. 1:4 says it clearly: “(Jesus) was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” And so we know that His death has meaning for us – our sins were forgiven and we have been reconciled to God – for the resurrection proves the identity of Jesus as God the Son.
So first, the resurrection confirms the identity of Jesus as God the Son, and thus assures us of our forgiveness through His death. And second, because the resurrection confirms the identity of Jesus, it also validates His teaching. Why do we believe, or why should we believe what Jesus taught? Why should we follow and obey His instructions? Why should we base our values and center our lives around the teachings of a Man who lived 2,000 years ago? Whether we like what Jesus taught or not, whether we agree with it or not, the resurrection confirms the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, and therefore it validates His teaching as being absolutely true.
Without the resurrection, Jesus was just another religious teacher. But the resurrection proves that this teaching comes from God, so we need to listen to it. All of it. His teaching on love, money, sin, sex, heaven and hell, obedience, all of it is from God.
In this sense, the resurrection of Jesus is not only something to celebrate, and obviously it is something to celebrate and celebrate with great joy, but it also demands something of us. For the resurrection proves that Jesus is God the Son, and thus we must listen to Him. We must listen to Him with open hearts and surrendered wills because His teaching is the teaching of God. And thus, it relates directly to God’s will for our lives in all areas of our lives.
Of course, this means we must not only listen to and obey the teachings of Jesus as it relates to His instructions for living, such as loving others, serving others, and not letting things such as money, pride, lust, and greed rule our hearts. It also means that we can fully trust what Jesus taught regarding God’s love, grace, mercy, compassion, and faithfulness. When Jesus said that He is the Bread of Life, He was assuring us that He will satisfy the deep longing in our souls, and we can find true contentment in Him. We can be sure of all Jesus taught, both His commands and His promises.
Third, the resurrection also assures that is we do not need to fear death. Death is one of our greatest fears. Heb. 2:14-15 speaks of those “who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” We may deny it. We may choose to not think about it. But death is always there on the horizon of our lives.
When we lived in Maine we had a neighbor (Dan Nedo) who was about 40, a doctor, and extremely cautious about getting married. Why? Probably only a middle-aged male could come up with this reason as grounds for not being willing to make a commitment. He said it was because marriage reminded him that he was one step closer to death. Not that he saw marriage as a kind of death. But it was the vows, that phrase “until death do us part.” He didn’t even want to hear the word. We may not take our fear of death to that extreme, but in some ways, to some degree, that fear is present in everyone.
But by means of the resurrection of Jesus we are set free from that fear. In biblical times the Israelites were to give the firstfruits of their harvest as an offering to God. By giving the first grapes, the first olives, the first wheat to ripen to God they were, in the first place, showing their gratitude to God for their harvest. Beyond that, they were expressing their faith that God was going to supply them with more. If nothing came of the rest of their crop, they would be left without anything, for what they first harvested they gave to God. But they believed that more was to come after the firstfruits because God is faithful.
I Cor. 15:20 declares: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus is the firstfruits, the first One to rise from the dead. But He is only the first; there are more to follow later – in fact, all who trust in him. So there is no need to fear death. As it says later in that chapter (vs. 54-57):
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Death has no victory because its power has been removed, defeated through the resurrection of Jesus. It’s like this. Suppose you are walking down the street late at night and several thugs step out from a dark alley way to rob you. They are more powerful than you and they exert their power over you. And so you are robbed and there is nothing you can do about it.
But suppose you are walking down the street with a friend who is an expert in martial arts. This friend can easily take on several attackers at once and be victorious. Then those thugs, even though they are more powerful than you, can do you no harm because you are in the presence of one stronger than they are.
So it is with death. We are no match for the power of death; it will claim us all someday. But if we are in Christ, while we still have to face death, it has no power over us, for we are guarded by the One who has more power than death and proved that through His resurrection. So the resurrection frees us from both the fear and the power of death. For as that passage in I Cor. 15 states, death has been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus over death, and God now gives us that victory through Jesus Christ.
Fourth, not only does the resurrection of Jesus set us free from the fear of death, it also sets us free from all the fears that would plague and cripple us in this life. Following the crucifixion of Jesus, His disciples were so filled with fear that they went into hiding. John describes it this way in the 20th chapter of his Gospel, vs. 19-21:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Having seen their leader be crucified, the disciples were afraid something similar might happen to them. No doubt the thought crossed their minds that the authorities, having put Jesus to death, might want to do the same to His closest followers and thus stamp out the whole movement. And so fearing for their lives, they hid behind locked doors.
Probably nothing keeps us from truly living more than fear. For fear drives us into some kind of hiding, and as long as we are hiding we can’t really live. A person who commits a crime often goes into hiding. The reason is obvious; they have the fear of getting caught. So, they may hide out in the woods, they may flee to another community, they may remain locked up in an apartment or hotel room. Hiding may keep them safe for awhile, maybe even a long while. But as long as they are hiding they can’t really live. They are not free to move about and experience life.
That’s what fear does to us. It drives us into some kind of hiding, and as long as we are hiding we can’t really live. The disciples couldn’t really live as long as they remained hidden behind those locked doors. They were just stuck in some house, or maybe just a room of the house. That’s not living.
When fear drives us into hiding we forfeit our freedom. We’re not free to move beyond our place of hiding. We may gain a certain level of security, but we miss out on life in the process. Only those who are free can truly live. Only those who are free from fear can truly live.
There are lots of different ways that fear can force us into hiding and thus keep us from living. Some people have the fear of getting hurt in a relationship and so they hide behind a false front of independence, pretending that they are quite content without anyone else in their life. But in reality, they are frightened, lonely, and miserable.
Some people are afraid of stepping out of their comfort zones, and so they hide within their safe, but ultimately boring and unfulfilling routine.
Some people are afraid of confrontation, even though there is a wrong they ought to address, and so they hide behind a shield of complacency. They are stuck living with this wrong they won’t confront.
Some people are afraid of failure as it relates to their career. They fear that if they really stretch themselves they might flop, and so they hide behind a safe but dull and unsatisfying job.
When we are afraid, like the disciples behind those locked doors, in some way we hide. And when we hide we are not free to really live.
But look what happened when the disciples encountered the risen Christ. He said to them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Just as God the Father sent Jesus into the world to proclaim the truth of God and demonstrate the love of God, so Jesus was now sending the disciples into the world with that same calling.
In other words, the time for hiding was over. And the reason they could move out from their place of hiding was that they no longer had to fear. Soon they were out on the streets of Jerusalem, traveling the roads of Judea, and ultimately throughout the Roman Empire proclaiming the love of God made known through the crucified and risen Christ. Talk about living! They lived the most thrilling and fulfilling lives imaginable.
And how was it that the disciples were set free from their fear? First, at the cross God demonstrated the fullness of His love for them as Jesus died for their sins. And second, the resurrection confirmed the identity of Jesus as God the Son, and it revealed the power of God as Jesus was raised to life.
When we are convinced of God’s love for us and that He desires what is truly good for us, and when we are assured of God’s ultimate power, there is nothing for us to be afraid of. We are secure in the One who loves us completely and whose power to bring about good in our lives cannot be thwarted.
Furthermore, because Jesus is alive He is with us always to help us face any situation. As the risen Lord told the disciples in Mt. 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And so fear no longer has the power to force us to hide within our self-made prisons, but rather the love, power, and presence of God sets us free to truly live. We can take risks. We can move out of our comfort zones. We can live lives that are fulfilling, rewarding, and exhilarating for the risen Christ encourages us with His love, strengthens us with His power, and sustains us with His presence.
The disciples were released from their fear and set free from their need to hide when they met the risen Lord. And soon they were boldly proclaiming the gospel of Christ. But note that their circumstances had not changed. The world they awoke to on Sunday morning was no different than the world they ran from on Friday afternoon. Rome still ruled Palestine. The Jewish leaders were still intent on stamping out this new movement centered on Jesus. Opposition still faced them at every turn. Their circumstances did not change.
What did change were the disciples themselves. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, they were set free by courage and confidence. And their courage and confidence were rooted in the reality of the resurrection of Christ. God offers the same to us.
The resurrection of Jesus confirms the identity of Jesus as God the Son, so we can be assured of the forgiveness of our sins through His death. Thus, we have the assurance of our eternal salvation, an eternity of enjoying the love and goodness of God.
The resurrection validates the teaching of Jesus, so we can be confident in His promises all the while we seek to obey His instructions.
The resurrection sets us free from the fear and power of death, for Jesus defeated death itself when He rose from the dead, and He shares that victory with us.
And the resurrection sets us free from all our fears that would limit our lives in this world, for the love, power, and presence of the risen Lord gives us the confidence to live life fully and freely.
The promise of Easter is that we have the assurance of eternal life for the world to come, and the fullness of life in this present world.
No wonder this incredible work of God is the central tenet of our faith and has been proclaimed as such for 2,000 years. No wonder, even in the communist Soviet Union, God made sure that this wonderful news was proclaimed. This is the news that all the earth has been waiting to hear.
So let us hear it afresh. May its truth sink deep into our souls, leading us to true freedom, lasting joy, and the fullness of life. And as Jesus commissioned the disciples to go into the world as His witnesses, may we follow their example, and with our words as well as our lives proclaim: “Christos voskres! Christ is risen!”