Resurrection: Rediscover the Heart of the Gospel

Resurrection: Rediscover the Heart of the Gospel March 25, 2024

 

The first chapter of Raised With Christ, How the Resurrection Changes Everything is now available free online for the first time. I offer a revised and expanded version of that chapter from my first book now it in the hope this will be a blessing to us all as we prepare our hearts for what is often the most important service of the year, Easter Sunday.

 

God . . . made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him. (Ephesians 2:5–6)

This chapter begins our journey to uncover the personal, historical, and theological implications of Jesus’ triumph over death. We will learn in all the following chapters how only Christ’s resurrection can offer hope, transformation, and purpose to all who will believe. We will discover why the resurrection is central to the Christian message and how it can ignite a renewed passion for sharing the gospel.  We will explore the transformative power of Christ’s resurrection and its profound implications for believers today. Why is the resurrection so often overlooked when it has such a vital role in shaping Christian faith and mission?

This book is about the resurrection of Jesus and its effects on us today. If, like me, you have wondered why Christians often seem to talk more about the events of Good Friday than Easter Sunday, this book is for you. Although we talk about the death of Jesus often, for some reason we have tended to only mention the resurrection at Easter time. Christians sometimes even say Jesus died to save us without mentioning that he also rose for our salvation. It’s time to redress the balance a bit and talk more about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

For Christians all over the world, every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday. We meet each week, among other things, to celebrate the glorious, wondrous fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection really did change everything. It changed the cross from a tragedy into a triumph, and it changed the Roman Empire into a Christian state. This was the most powerful divine event in the history of creation, and it ushered in a new age of the Holy Spirit’s activity and power in saving and transforming lives.

When considering if Christianity is true, it all boils down to whether Jesus rose from the dead. The lives of Christians today demonstrate that the resurrection is still changing people. The resurrection changes fear into love, despair into joy.  It takes Jesus’ resurrection to raise the spiritually dead so they become alive to God. The resurrection wipes away guilty condemnation replacing it with a celebration of forgiveness and freedom. The resurrection can remove anxiety and replace it with a hope that goes beyond the grave. Resurrection power can change our sinful hearts so they want to follow the Lord Jesus. The power of the resurrection is relentlessly killing sin in every true Christian. Because we neglect to emphasize this truth, many Christians have a meager expectation of the extent to which we can today experience resurrection life and victory over sin. The resurrection is far from being something we only benefit from in the future!

John MacArthur[1] explained:

The Resurrection is the ground of our assurance, it is the basis for all our future hopes, and it is the source of power in our daily lives here and now. It gives us courage in the midst of persecution, comfort in the midst of trials, and hope in the midst of this world’s darkness.[2]

It is no accident that many of these things that MacArthur credits to the resurrection are elsewhere also attributed to the activity of the Holy Spirit—namely assurance (Romans 8:16–24), a source of power in our daily lives (Romans 8:4), and a comfort (John 14:16, 26). Through his resurrection Jesus became “a life-giving Spirit”  (1 Corinthians 15:45), a whole new kind of human being, and enabled us to share in his new life. Also, it was only because of his resurrection and ascension that he was able to send the Holy Spirit into the world to carry out his special work in Christians (John 7:39; Acts 2:33). What the Spirit does for believers today is only possible as a result of the resurrection.

In addition to all this Paul tells us in three places that Christians have already been raised with Christ:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

God . . . made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him. (Ephesians 2:5–6)

Christians have therefore already been changed by Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus really is alive today. Because of this Christians are also alive in a whole new way. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is living in every true Christian.

God wants us not just to believe in Jesus’ resurrection but to be transformed by it and to receive the power we need to live the way we know we ought. If you already follow Jesus, then this book aims to help you love him more. For all of us, the questions, did Jesus rise from the dead? and what are the implications of his resurrection? are the most important ones we will ever answer.

My hope is that you will not find this a complicated book. I write as an ordinary Christian, and not a theologian. My goal is that each of us can explore what the resurrection means and how we are affected today by what happened two thousand years ago.

As we begin, I pray that God himself will help each of us to better understand this wonderful subject and to live in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“What! Did Jesus come back to life again?”This was the surprised reaction when a young Englishwoman heard about the resurrection of Jesus. She was drinking coffee with other mothers, in London. It seems almost impossible to believe that she had never heard that Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead. She hadn’t rejected the gospel. No one had ever told her about it!

How many other people do you or I know who would have a similar reaction? It is much more comfortable for us to assume that our relatives, friends, neighbors, and coworkers have dismissed the gospel instead of to realize they have never heard it, and we could have told them.

Without Jesus’ resurrection there is no good news at all. John Stott[3] said,

“Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.”[4]

Some today would be surprised by Stott’s comment. The church often tells the gospel story without any reference to the resurrection of Jesus, but assumes it is true. In a relatively recent development, however, some in the liberal movement of the last century or so have even denied the resurrection, making them the first significant group in history to claim to be Christians without believing Jesus rose from the dead.

Reflecting on this led me to suggest the following definition of a Christian, with which almost any member of any church denomination throughout history could identify:

A Christian is someone who believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and lives in light of the implications of that event.

Historically everyone understood that you cannot be a Christian without believing in the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, there are other things necessary to be a Christian. But that they all arise as necessary deductions from the historicity of this miraculous event. Even being born again is only possible because Christ was himself born again from the dead. Christians do tend to disagree with each other on precisely what the implications of the resurrection are. The definition above will sound vague unless they are carefully identified. It is critical, therefore, that we discover precisely why the resurrection is so important, in what ways we can be changed by it, and what are its consequences in our thinking and behavior. That is the theme of this book.

My definition is supported by Paul’s description of the gospel response:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

One implication of the resurrection of Jesus is his lordship and hence divinity. Since before his death he claimed to be God, we cannot consistently believe he is risen without also concluding we must worship and follow him. Certain changes in our lives must occur if our faith is genuine.

Our belief in the resurrection also changes our understanding about the meaning of the death of Jesus and what it accomplished. Since Jesus was raised from the dead, and we understand that all death is a punishment, we can deduce that he didn’t deserve to die on the cross and ask, why then did he die? His resurrection helps us understand that he died in place of us. To say Jesus rose again so he could share his life with us eternally would make little sense unless he had died on our behalf so we will not die eternally. The cross and resurrection are, in one sense, two sides of the same coin.

We may disagree with Christians from other denominations about the implications of the resurrection, but all genuine Christians agree that this event, together with the cross of Christ, defines our lives.

 

HOW THIS BOOK CAME TO BE WRITTEN

I was asked to preach on Easter Sunday in 2007. Usually I enjoy preaching, but I was busy, weary, and to be honest, on this occasion I was not initially thrilled at the prospect. I politely made my excuses but promised to pray about it.

Preachers don’t often talk about how they decide what to speak about. Sometimes, however, they do experience a strange compulsion to preach on a certain subject. Martyn Lloyd-Jones[5] described his own experience in this way: “One morning while dressing, quite suddenly and in an overwhelming manner, it seemed to me that the Spirit of God was urging me to preach a series of sermons on ‘spiritual depression.’”[6]

Something remarkably similar happened to me that night. Having prayed halfheartedly before bed, I woke suddenly in the night. A simple phrase was burning in my mind: Adrian, preach about the resurrection. I could not ignore this thought. I agreed to preach after all and began to study Jesus’ resurrection.

I realized that resurrection is not discussed in detail often today. I found, however, that all of the sermons recorded in Acts focus on the resurrection of Jesus. It might initially seem like there is one exception in Acts 7, but in fact that sermon was interrupted when the risen Jesus himself opened heaven and appeared to Stephen while he was preaching! I was deeply struck by this, and realized that I had not given Jesus’ resurrection the attention it deserved.

Later I discovered how Charles Spurgeon,[7] early in his outstanding preaching ministry, was also struck by his own neglect of the resurrection:

Reflecting the other day upon the sad state of the churches at the present moment, I was led to look back to apostolic times, and to consider wherein the preaching of the present day differed from the preaching of the apostles. . . .

I was surprised to find that I had not been copying the apostolic fashion half as nearly as I might have done. The apostles when they preached always testified concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and the consequent resurrection of the dead. . . .

[This] is a doctrine which we believe, but which we too seldom preach or care to read about. Though I have inquired of several booksellers for a book specially upon the subject of the resurrection, I have not yet been able to purchase one of any sort whatever. . . . It has been set down as a well-known truth, and therefore has never been discussed. Heresies have not risen up respecting it; it would almost have been a mercy if there had been, for whenever a truth is contested by heretics, the orthodox fight strongly for it, and the pulpit resounds with it every day. I am persuaded, however, that there is much power in this doctrine . . . which is capable of moving the hearts of men and bringing them into subjection to the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.[8]

I too have scoured the Christian bookshops, and although there are now several helpful books on the resurrection, there are fewer in comparison to other subjects. And many books on the resurrection do not discuss its implications fully. Why has this vital doctrine been so neglected? Are we therefore missing something doctrinally, experientially, and evangelistically? Personally, I have found that the study of the resurrection has deeply impacted me.

 

THE STATE OF THE CHURCH

The story I told earlier of one woman’s ignorance of the Easter story is a reflection of the condition of the church in the West. Could our neglect of the resurrection be both cause and effect of the alarming state we are in? The success of liberal theology in taking hold of many churches after the First World War led to an increase in the number of professing Christians who denied the resurrection of Jesus. This also coincided with the beginning of the decline in church attendance recorded since then. In the decades since then Christians have become increasingly marginalized by society and many feel uncertain about how to share our beliefs with others in a hostile world.

The vigor of our faith has waned, and church attendance is believed by many to be in a terminal decline. The general level of biblical knowledge among Christians is appalling. In a world where more study material is available in books, software, and online than previous generations could ever have dreamed, the Bible has never been less understood by members of the church, and, in some cases, even by our preachers. Presumably as a direct result for many who attend church today, there seems to be little observable difference from the world in terms of personal lifestyles, values, and beliefs. The old accusation that the Western church is a mile wide and an inch deep has never been more true.

Faced with this overall situation and compared to some periods in church history and the remarkable church growth seen today in other parts of the world, many of us yearn for something more. Terry Virgo[9] explains:

On the whole we . . . have grown up in a generation that has not seen the mighty acts of God as our forefathers did. We have not seen revivals during which thousands flock into the churches to get right with God. Unlike our fathers, we have not known whole towns change, with demonstrations of power and incredible manifestations of the glory of God. The majority of our generation knows nothing of these things.[10]

There is, however, still a silent majority in the general population who claim to believe in God. At the same time, there is widespread ignorance about the Christian message. For example, a supermarket chain issued an erroneous press release to promote their seasonal chocolate and embarrassed itself:

“Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone. But over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolizes the birth of Jesus.”[11]

The company eventually corrected and reissued the statement, but only after consulting the Church of England’s press office. We may be indignant about such ignorance, but it has always been the church’s job to share the good news, so this is largely our fault.

Many are proposing solutions for the challenges that the Western church faces today. Some lack confidence in the message of the gospel, and argue that we should speak less about our beliefs in the hope that the world will be less offended. Others go further and quietly deny core Christian values. Some look to marketing techniques, changes in worship style, or modern management strategies. An industry has arisen offering solutions to struggling pastors in the form of leadership books and programs. We should learn everything we can without compromising the Bible, but no single solution will cure the multiple ailments of the church.

Despite this general decline, there are many encouraging signs. This book is written in the hope that if we will faithfully proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus and work out the implications of that message in vibrant, grace-filled churches, the tide will turn.

Many churches do hold firmly to the truths delivered to them. Some of those churches are growing, and a few of them are growing dramatically. It is encouraging that in at least some growing churches a gospel is preached that would have been instantly recognizable to our Christian forefathers.

One example of a pastor that adapted some methods to better fit the modern culture but understood the centrality of the Resurrection was Tim Keller[12], who’s church grew rapidly in cynical New York. He explains:

It’s very, very normal for intelligent, educated, sophisticated people in New York City to say, “The idea of resurrection is fine. It’s a wonderful idea. Renewal, springtime, circle of life, rebirth … that’s all very wonderful. But we no longer can believe in the literal doctrine of the resurrection. We can no longer believe, as was once widely believed, that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead, that he was physically raised from the dead.” Why not? “Because such legends are no longer credible, and therefore, no longer relevant to modern twentieth-century people. We’ve grown up. We’ve come of age. In those days people were rather naïve about such things, but we’ve grown up.”  . . . Don’t attribute your skepticism to being modern, because skepticism was rife then, 2,000 years ago. Whatever your problems would be with the resurrection, it’s the same problem we’ve had for 2,000 years. People have railed against and sneered at the resurrection for centuries . . . in spite of the skepticism, we know the Greco-Roman world was swept by Christianity. It was swept up. People had all of these questions, they had all of this skepticism, and they threw their tests of credibility at the whole idea of the resurrection, but so many people, when they looked at the evidence, became convinced. In such a wide-scale way, so many people, who also sneered and laughed, became convinced when they looked at the evidence, that entire old world was changed. Do you know why? Because the resurrection of Jesus Christ not only can meet the tests of credibility, but it also can answer the deepest needs of the heart . . . Paul says if the resurrection is true, then Christianity is of infinite value, because you have God himself come in the flesh, opening the way to come in freely, not through effort but through reception of a gift of eternal life. But if the resurrection is not true, then Christianity is of no value at all. The one thing it can’t be is of some value.[13]

 

THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH

It sounds clichéd to say that we need to look at our young people when we consider what the future holds for the church, but it is, of course, true. A group of younger people is emerging who are restless. Their upbringing has been in a culture overtly hostile to Christianity. They recognize the ineffectiveness of the church on a broad level. They acknowledge that many churches today are in serious danger of quietly sleepwalking into extinction. An aging population of Christian baby boomers has been presiding over a time bomb, since their children have now largely abandoned their congregations. In some cases, once thriving local churches have no members at all under the age of fifty. In the next few years, unless something dramatic happens, whole denominations and groups of churches will cease to exist.

Faced with this challenging situation, many of the young people who have not deserted church want to rise up and do something different. Statistics and surveys often seem to suggest that they have one chance to get it right or face the annihilation of the Western church within a generation. Unsurprisingly, they are eager to reexamine the message and methods they have been taught. A belief that Jesus willcontinue to build his church does not translate into confidence that the right strategies are currently being pursued.

Two distinct groups surfaced as a result over the last few decades. Both agree that changes in methods are essential. One group, called itself the “emerging church,” and was willing to change everything about church to better fit in with postmodern, informal, twenty-first-century culture. By some, even the message is adapted for an increased appeal.[14]

The second group, the “young, restless, and reformed,”[15] was also willing to change many aspects of church organization, worship meetings, and the style of music. However, they have been looking for, if anything, a more traditional message than their parents, passionately reviving a robust biblical theology of the past. Dr. Albert Mohler[16] elaborates:

This generation of young Christians is more committed, more theologically intense, more theologically curious, more self-aware and self-conscious as believers because they were not raised in an environment of cultural Christianity. Or if they were, as soon as they arrived on a university campus, they found themselves in a hostile environment.[17]

These young Christians, whether they went to university or not, really care about understanding the true message of the Bible. They want their Christianity to be more than an inch deep. They care about authenticity and truth. They are also reacting to the modern culture of apathy and permissiveness. This results in a firm conviction about biblical truths that will not change and are non-negotiable. Many of these young people were deeply committed to studying Scripture, applying it to their lives, and sharing it with an increasingly godless society.

At the time of writing the first edition of this book, I still had a couple of years left before I turned forty, so I could just about claim to be part of that second group! This book is about my own attempts to be sure that I personally am not missing or underemphasizing a vital element of the gospel’s message. It is about a journey that, for me, began more than thirty years ago as a child but came to a head just before Easter 2007 when I felt compelled to begin studying the resurrection afresh.

 

AN OVERVIEW OF THIS BOOK

This book is not written only for pastors or theologians. You will not find a new program or method here. Instead, we will take a fresh look at some old ideas from the Bible. In examining how the resurrection can change us today, we will discover some real answers to the church’s predicament.

Our journey together will begin by asking the question, was the tomb indeed empty? What exactly happened in the time between Easter Sunday and the Day of Pentecost? We will see why it is crucial for us to believe in a literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. As Tim Keller said:

If Jesus rose from the dead you have to accept all he said, if he didn’t rise from the dead then why worry about anything he said. . . . If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.[18]

We will explore some of the reasons why Jesus’ resurrection has been neglected and review the teaching about resurrection throughout the Bible. We will consider the implications of Jesus’ resurrection  for our salvation, how it changes us to be more like Jesus and is a model for our own resurrection. We will discover how to become more connected with the same power that raised Christ from the dead and therefore increase our confidence that we are indeed Christians. We will conclude by considering the mission the risen Jesus gave us and how the resurrection will affect the entire universe.

I pray that we will benefit from studying the resurrection together. May an increased confidence in this wonderful truth fill us, may our eyes be opened, our hearts thrilled, and may we experience the transforming power of Christ’s resurrection at work in our lives. May God cause our faith in Christ and his message to grow. May we gain the courage we need to share this message with our friends.

I wonder how many people we know have never heard anyone share with them that they believe Jesus rose from the dead. Please join me in praying that God will raise up an army of Christians who will announce boldly the message of the gospel:

Christ has died!

Christ is risen!

Christ will come again!

REFERENCES ARE FOUND AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE

 


Raised With Christ would never have been possible without heavy use of Logos Bible Software. If you do not yet have this wonderful Bible Study tool or you are due an upgrade, readers of this blog get a 10% discount.


READ MORE

Chapter Two:

The Resurrection Appearances

Chapter Three

Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

Top 15 books on Jesus’ resurrection – ranked by ChatGPT

I believe in Jesus: A Sermon on the Trinity

What is a Christian?

Is your Jesus Strong and Kind? Is He Meek and Majestic?

Spurgeon: “Faith Doesn’t Save You”

 

REFERENCES

[1]Radio preacher, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and the leader of Grace to You ministries; see http://gty.org.

 

[2]John MacArthur’s Preface, in Gerard Chrispin, The Resurrection: The Unopened Gift (Epsom, UK: Day One, 2002), 6.

 

[3]A leading evangelical Anglican minister who many credit alongside Martyn Lloyd-Jones with personally reinvigorating British evangelicalism in the twentieth century. See http://johnstott.org.

 

[4]John Stott, cited in Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 131.

 

[5]Previous minister of Westminster Chapel, London, and one of the most respected preachers and authors of the twentieth century. See http://www.mlj-usa.com.

 

[6]D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 188–190.

 

[7]He led the first modern “megachurch” in Victorian London with some five thousand members. His published sermons number more than three thousand five hundred and remain popular today—you could read one a day for almost ten years! See http://www.spurgeon.org.

 

[8]C. H. Spurgeon, Sermon No. 66, “The Resurrection of the Dead,” delivered on February 17, 1856, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark; http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0066.htm.

 

[9]Founder of Newfrontiers, a group of over a thousand Reformed charismatic churches in more than fifty nations; see http://www.terryvirgo.org/ and http://www.newfrontiers.org/.

 

[10]Terry Virgo, The Tide Is Turning (Chichester, UK: New Wine Press, 2006), 70.

 

[11]The Times, April 4, 2007, emphasis added; http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article
1610495.ece?pgnum=4.

 

[12] Minister of one of America’s most influential megachurches, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City; see http://redeemer.com.

 

[13] Keller, T. J. Sermon preached Easter 1995 , The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. Redeemer Presbyterian Church. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2013).

 

[14]See Kevin Young and Ted Kluck, Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).

 

[15]See Collin Hansen, “Young, Restless, Reformed,” Christianity Today, September 2006; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/42.32.html. Also see Collin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008).

 

[16]President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leading conference speaker, author, and radio show host. See http://almohler.com.

 

[17]Cited by Hansen, “Young, Restless, Reformed.”

 

[18]Tim Keller, The Reason for God (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2008), 202.


 

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