Every Lord’s Day we have the opportunity and privilege to celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour. The first day of the week is the day Christ rose from the dead (Matt 28:1)! The resurrection was a decisive factor when the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to transition from honouring the Sabbath on the seventh day to worshipping the Lord on the first day of the week. The resurrection made it the day of the Lord, that is, the day that belonged to the Lord and was therefore to be used for holy worship. The resurrection also made it a festive day! It was a day of great joy for at least three interrelated reasons: because of the resurrection we as believers can share in Christ’s righteousness, can experience a resurrection to new life, and can anticipate our own bodily resurrection.
“Raised to life for our justification”
These words from Romans 4:25 highlight an important fruit of Christ’s resurrection. The complete verse reads: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25). There are especially two things to notice so that our joy in the resurrection may be full. First, consider how the passive is used in the passage just quoted: “was delivered” and “was raised.” Although the Son of God came willingly to save us (Heb 10:9), the Father delivered Christ up to death to pay for our sins (John 3:16; Rom 8:32). For that matter the Spirit was also engaged. He enabled Christ (Matt 3:16). In other words, the triune God was involved in Christ’s coming, and the same can be said of his resurrection. The Father raised the Son (Acts 5:30; Gal 1:1), but the Son himself rose from the dead (John 10:17-18) and the Spirit was involved as well (Rom 8:11). The work of Christ in his death and resurrection can never be isolated from the work of the Father and the Spirit. God in three persons active for our salvation!
Second, although Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath and judgment for sin (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2), Christ’s resurrection was needed for our justification. The resurrection showed that the Father had accepted Christ’s death on the cross as satisfying his justice for sins committed. As we read in 1 Corinthians 15:7, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Furthermore, only as resurrected Lord could our Saviour continue to apply the fruit of his sacrifice. As risen Lord, Christ ascended into heaven, entered the Most Holy Place “by his own blood” (Heb 9:12), and there he continues his work on our behalf, interceding with the Father as our only high priest (Rom 8:34; Heb 4:14).
Much reason for resurrection joy! We are right with God. Our sins have been forgiven and Christ’s resurrection is proof of that! We have a living Saviour, a real human like one of us, who intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand, knowing exactly what we need. But the resurrection event has even more significance. Because of his resurrection, Christ also raises us up to a new life.
A resurrection to new life
As believers we can never regard Christ’s resurrection as spectators. After all, we may share in his death and also in his resurrection (Rom 6:1-11)! As believers and therefore as those having the Spirit, we are “in Christ” and share his anointing so that the apostle and every true Christian can say: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). He has raised us up to a new life so that we are a new creation. As God’s Word tells us: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).
All of this has enormous consequences. Christ’s resurrection is an event in the past, but it must daily impact our lives for we were united with him in his resurrection (Rom 6:4-5). That means that we must daily be raised to a new life. Daily we need to say “no” to sin and our sinful selves and affirm our bond to Christ and experience the new life in him. It must be evident that Christ has made us a new creation, even though we are still living in the body of the old creation. We must, as the Apostle Paul put it, “know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3:10).
That sets off a struggle in life for we daily need to assert our identity as a new creation and experience Christ’s life working in us. The Apostle enjoins us that if we have been raised with Christ “set your hearts on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). Our life as believers, energized by the Spirit of the risen Christ, has a completely different focus from those who do not believe. As those who share in Christ we may know that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21). That prospect gives a joy that cannot be extinguished by the momentary trials of our present life.
Our own bodily resurrection
“We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:16-18).
As the reality of Christ’s resurrection impacts our life, our current earthly existence is put in the correct biblical perspective. The life with Christ which begins here is a life that can never be interrupted. Our Saviour said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 10:25-26). Nothing can separate the believer from Christ. On dying in the body, he or she is with Christ (Phil 1:23-24).
The benefits of Christ’s resurrection however go much further than being with Christ in glory as the body is placed in the grave. We are not meant to be with Christ without the body and only as soul. For when Christ makes us a new creation, he will finish the work he started. That will include a new body. He comes to make all things new, including our body! Our flesh will be raised incorruptible, a new creation. Or, if we are still living, we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:51-53). Our being a new creation today is but a small beginning of the new life to come. The price for sin has been paid and the new creation will come. New bodies on a new earth!
That will surely happen, for Christ’s resurrection is the first of many resurrections! When Scripture speaks of the resurrection of Christ, then it calls Christ “the first fruits” of those who are to be made alive (1 Cor 15:23). More will therefore follow. More graves will be broken open. First fruits – that speaks of sowing and harvest. By a true faith we know that a funeral of a believer is a sowing of the body as a seed, for the day of harvest – the day of resurrection!
And so when there is a funeral, we sow the bodies of our beloved, whom the Lord calls to himself. We sow the body in quiet triumph. We do not cremate or burn it. A practice like cremation does not testify of the hope that is in us. We do not seek the destruction of the body, but we sow it for the day of harvest, the day of resurrection (1 Cor 15:42-44)! And therefore at a Christian funeral, it is even possible to sing jubilant praises to God because of the reality of his promises. They are a sure guarantee of our own blessed resurrection!
What reason for joy and worship, every Lord’s Day again! What a privilege to begin each week with celebrating the day of his resurrection! It puts all of life in focus. Christ has taken the curse of death away. He established peace with God and now nothing can undo his work of the new creation. The small, but real beginning as a new creation which believers may now have, will find fulfilment in the new world in new bodies someday, with no more tears or sorrows (Rev 21:4). There we can serve him in the body on the new earth to enjoy his favour forever! As a well-known hymn puts it: “Christ has risen! Hallelujah! He is our victorious head!”
Previously published in Clarion, Volume 63, No. 7 • April 11, 2014, pp. 170-172