The Resurrection is at the very heart of the Christian faith. After Jesus died in our place, bore the penalty for our sin, triumphed over the forces of evil and revealed the humble and sacrificial love of God for the world to win our hearts and our trust, then on the third day he rose from the dead: conquering death, vindicating the sacrifice for sin, and establishing a new hope for us all. What is that hope? Since Jesus is the firstfruits from among the dead, there is the promise of more resurrection to come – ours!
Because of Easter our lives are changed. We are no longer under condemnation, because Jesus was condemned in our place. We no longer fear death, because Jesus has proven that death is defeated. We are no longer living in darkness and confusion about God, because we know just how much he loves us, how far he would go to redeem us and how absolute is his victory over all that is against us.
But as another Easter comes and then fades away, I wonder if the present implications of the Resurrection have gripped me as they should. I can look backward and forward, upward and outward, but are the Easter effects leaving the present me essentially untouched? That is, I can think back to the first Easter, forward to the return of Christ, upward to heaven and outward to the world, but what about me here and now? What difference does the Resurrection make to me, now?
Certainly, Easter is a past historic event with glorious implications for my future experience beyond death in this world. Of course, Easter means that I have the certain expectation of being accepted by God rather than condemned, and it gives me a message to share with a needy world around me. But is Easter all about past and future, heavenly status and evangelistic witness?
In what sense is my moment by moment experience of life marked and shaped by Easter? Is the present effect just gratitude for heavenly blessings and my hope for the future? Has Easter just changed my standing before God, and my ultimate destination beyond this life, but left me essentially a grateful anticipator of a better future? Or has Easter actually done something in me now, something more than just stirring gratitude and hope, important as both surely are?
Let’s briefly chase the present significance of the Resurrection in the New Testament:
When John the Baptist announced Jesus’ arrival he pointed to two aspects of his mission. Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And Jesus was also “he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). This is shorthand for the full expectation of the New Covenant promises in the Old Testament – Jesus was the one who would deal with our guilt, paying the penalty for it and carrying it away that we might be free of condemnation. And Jesus was the one who would bring about an internal change in us by giving us the Holy Spirit to stir a new liveliness to God within us as our hearts are transformed and we enjoy not only the new status of being forgiven, but also the new experience of being adopted into God’s family.
Later in John’s Gospel Jesus makes it clear that his departure would make possible the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7), and subsequently reveals in prayer what eternal life actually is: “that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). To be truly alive we need not only to have our guilt forgiven, but also to experience the very life of God himself, which is only possible through the renewed presence of the Holy Spirit in us.
After Jesus rose and later ascended, we come to Acts 2 and Peter’s explanation of the apparently drunken behaviour of the believers. This was not drunkenness, this was the promised pouring out of the Holy Spirit. How was this possible? Because Jesus who had been crucified did not remain in the tomb, but rather than experience decay he rose and now was able to give the Holy Spirit. For Peter, the giving of the Spirit was only possible because Jesus had not remained in the tomb.
My fear is that I can too easily miss this Easter reality and settle for a past, future and heavenly salvation, while missing the present reality. Yes, Jesus has represented me, died for me, forgiven me, and given me confidence that death will not be the end of me. But more than that, because he rose it means that I am no longer living simply a flesh-life with an added heavenly future. Instead, I have the Spirit of God dwelling in me now. So, Paul could say in Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Is that life that the Spirit gives simply a future grant, or is he speaking of a present tense new gift of life? Doesn’t the fact that Jesus is alive today mean that I am not living my life alone, but in fellowship with him? Do I not get to join Jesus in his mission to the world, and in his relationship with his Father?
When Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote about Romans 8 he referred to our union with Christ as “the ultimate doctrine.” How true this is! When Jesus rose from the dead it was not simply to prove that the offering had been accepted, nor to simply demonstrate victory, nor to just establish hope, also it was also to make possible our present union with him by the Spirit. The Resurrection of Jesus has massive here and now implications!
Because Jesus rose from the dead that first Easter, it means that I can enjoy relationship with him now, not just in the future. Because he rose from the dead I can know not only that my status is changed in heaven’s records, but I can know the love of heaven now, as it is poured out into my heart by the Spirit that has been given to us (Rom.5:5). Because Jesus rose from the dead, I don’t just speak to needy folks out there, I can also see the stirring of my own heart in the daily experience of union with Christ.
This Easter let’s celebrate all that the Resurrection of Jesus means for us, not only in our anticipation of the future, but also in our experience in the present.