A matter of death and life
Jesus’ disciples experienced a contrast of emotions over that first Easter weekend. On the day we now call ‘Good Friday’ they were in utter despair as Jesus died on the cross. But then came ‘Easter day’, the day of resurrection, and their despair turned to joy as they saw that Jesus had risen and had conquered death.
Reflecting this contrast, the apostle Paul wrote: ‘as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15:22). The first part reminds us of the gloom and solemnity of Good Friday; the second of the promise of resurrection. Let us look at both in turn.
Dead in Adam
Take those last two words first – ‘All die’. How stark they are! Everyone dies. That’s true, isn’t it? Medical help may delay death, but we cannot finally escape it – each one of us has to die. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a millionaire or a pauper, an invalid or an athlete. You are going to die.
But Paul also tells us why we die. The physical cause of death varies, of course, but these words give us a more profound reason. We die because we are ‘in Adam’. What does that mean?
You may wonder when a baby is born with ginger hair when both parents have brown hair. Then you learn that a great-grandparent had ginger hair, and you say, ‘Ah, that is where it came from.’ Well, when we ask the question ‘why do we die?’ we can trace it all back to one relative, the first man, Adam.
God made Adam and Eve and placed them in a perfect world. They knew God and walked with him. But God set them one test – they could eat the fruit of every tree of the garden except one. If they ate from that tree they would die.
Adam was the representative of all mankind, so that whatever he did would have consequences for all who descended from him. And we know what happened. The serpent persuaded Eve that if they ate this fruit they would become like God. So in spite of what God had said, they took and ate. In that fateful moment, sin entered the world and with it came mortality.
That is why death is inevitable – we share the humanity and sinfulness of the first man (we are ‘in Adam’). In another letter Paul puts it like this: ‘Through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned’ (Romans 5:12).
Alive in Christ
Here, then, we are reminded of the solemn reality of death as a punishment for sin. But there is also hope. The verse continues, ‘Even so in Christ all shall be made alive’.
These words introduce the great theme of resurrection. They bring us from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
In the same Bible chapter Paul affirms: ‘Christ died for our sins … He was buried and … rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’. Paul knew this for certain because he had actually seen the risen Christ.
But not only has Jesus risen from the dead, he has also conquered death and now promises eternal life and resurrection to all who trust in him. He said,
‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die’ (John 11:25-26).
What a promise! The Bible speaks of the certainty of death, but it also speaks of a glorious resurrection for those who put their faith in Christ. And the great hope for everyone who believes in him is that though their bodies must die and decay, yet on that last great day they will live again. Death’s hold will be broken and, like Christ himself, they will rise with glorious new bodies.
In fact those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God already possess new life. Trusting in him, we are given what the Bible calls ‘eternal life’. That is, we receive spiritual life and are saved from sin and brought to know God. We begin to enjoy a relationship with God that will never end. This is what Jesus secured when he died for sin and rose again from the dead.
How can you ensure that you are ‘in Christ’ and no longer just ‘in Adam’? By believing all that the Bible says about Christ Jesus – that he is the Son of God; that he died upon the cross to atone for sin; that he was raised from the dead to declare us justified; and that he is now in heaven with God the Father, where ‘he ever lives to make intercession’ for those he has redeemed (Hebrews 7:25).
But believing in Christ means more than believing things about him. It also involves trusting in him. It means seeing your own need of him to save you from your sin. It means understanding that only he can save you and give you eternal life. It means to cry to him, to seek him, to pray to him and ask him to save you.
The message of Easter is a message of great hope. Christ is risen and, for all who trust in him, sin and death have been defeated and eternal life is ours.