The words of the angel to the two Marys, ‘He is not here; for he is risen’ (Matthew 28:6), changed everything. Despair was vanquished by hope, faith triumphed over doubt, and weakness gave birth to strength. As then, so now.
We rightly emphasise the centrality of the cross to our Christian faith. At Calvary, the Lord Jesus Christ took our place, paid the penalty for our sins, and reconciled us to God. Having lived our life, he died our death.
The empty tomb, however, is perhaps neglected. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus as both historical fact and doctrinal necessity, but subconsciously at least, we relegate its significance to second place behind the cross. That couldn’t be more wrong.
Cross and empty tomb
What if Jesus had not risen from the dead? Born of the virgin, he could have lived a sinless live and died in the sinner’s place, but without the resurrection it would all have meant nothing. No resurrection, no gospel.
As Christ’s death was unique — dying not for his own sins, but for those of his people — so Christ’s resurrection stands alone. True, others had been raised, by the Lord, from the dead before, but had immediately begun to die all over again.
Jesus rose from the dead. Having laid down his life, because no one could take it from him, he took it up again. Every man-made religion takes you to the grave of its hero, but Christianity points to an empty tomb.
Our Saviour has ‘the power of an endless life’ (Hebrews 7:16) and we live forever through faith in his name. One-by-one, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead quickens us deep within and makes us alive in Christ.
Alive in Christ
Paul the apostle writes that Jesus our Lord ‘was delivered for our offenses and was raised because of our justification’ (Romans 4:25). The resurrection is central to saving faith. We trust not in a dead Messiah but a living Christ.
Similarly, the resurrection points forward to the Christian hope. ‘If Christ is not risen’, quoting Paul again, ‘then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished’ (1 Corinthians 15:17-18). But Christ is risen, and the dead shall rise.
This means that there is the ‘already’, but also the ‘not yet’. On the one hand, we shall never be more saved than at the moment of our justification. On the other, we shall be finally saved when the morning of glorification dawns.
In the moving words of the much loved, nineteenth-century Scottish preacher and hymn-writer Horatius Bonar, ‘All that I am while here on earth, all that I hope to be, when Jesus comes and glory dawns, I owe it, Lord, to Thee’.
Stuck in the middle
The Christian life, as we know it, is our pilgrimage through this world from spiritual birth to physical death. Having trusted in a risen Jesus at conversion, we await our own resurrection at his appearing. Presently, however, we often struggle.
No one ever promised that the Christian life would be easy. At least the Lord Jesus never did. And yet, it would be surprising if, beginning and ending with such resurrection power, it were nothing more than a limping exercise in between.
It was Paul who desired to ‘know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection of the dead’ (Philippians 3:10-11).
The great apostle knew that being glorified in the future meant sharing Christ’s sufferings in the present. But he was also convinced that it was both vitally necessary and wonderfully possible to experience Christ’s resurrection power right here, right now.
The Lord does not simply get us going in the Christian life and then leave us to our own devices. We couldn’t save ourselves and we can’t keep ourselves either. Both are the fruits of God’s grace and Christ’s resurrection.
It took Christ’s resurrection power to save us and it takes the same to keep us. The glory of the Christian life is that we can experience that power in the day-to-day realities of kingdom life in a fallen world. Feeling our own depravity and inability, we trust in a risen Saviour.
Yet, often we pursue our pilgrimage as if Christ was still dead, looking to ourselves for a strength we cannot find, instead of drawing on his resurrection power.
Unsaved friends say they can’t become Christians because they could never keep it up. We tell them they’re exactly right; it takes resurrection power to come to Christ, and the same to continue. But do we live what we preach?
The message of the resurrection is not only that we do live (through justification), and that we shall live (by glorification), but that we can live (in sanctification). Whatever we may face, we can meet it, in the strength of our risen Lord.
The Lord who resolutely refused to take away Paul’s mysterious thorn in the flesh, despite his persistent pleading, is the same who said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness’. This is why the apostle could say, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
The resurrection was never meant to be just past history or future hope, but present reality. Live as if Jesus is alive — because he is!
Jeremy Brooks is pastor of Welcome Hall Evangelical Church, Bromsgrove. He chairs the Dudley Reformed Ministers’ Fraternal, teaches ethics at the European School of Biblical Studies, and is vice-chair of EP Books. Married to Lydia, they are blessed with eight children