The Day that changed the world
The day that changed the world
Why Jesus’ resurrection means nothing can stay the same
“… I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
And as he was saying these things in his defence, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind…!” (Acts 26:22-24)
The impossible heart of Christianity
The death and resurrection of Jesus stand at the centre of Christianity. As the Apostle Paul said here in this public defence before King Agrippa and the Roman Governor Festus, this is the thing that Christianity has proclaimed from the very beginning; Paul says that he spoke of nothing else. And for that reason, there have always been many who have dismissed it. Just as Festus said on that occasion, to believe that a man could rise from the dead is surely a mark of insanity. What is more impossible than that? If there is one thing of which all of humanity has always been absolutely certain, it is that death is final. Nothing can bring back the dead.
But that is the whole point. No Christians in any age have believed that Jesus rose from the dead because it is ‘possible’. As if it were the sort of thing which, though unlikely, given the right set of circumstances and a healthy dose of luck might just come about – even if only once in the history of the world. Rather, Christians (and the Jews before them) knew better than anyone else that death is ultimate and irrecoverable. The early chapters of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, make that point with a shuddering finality. The history of mankind is a history of death. No-one ever escapes from its clutches. Man always returns to the ground from which he came.
So for life to come to a dead body requires something which is, absolutely, impossible. Something which simply cannot be done according to the laws by which this universe normally functions. Only a power quite outside of and above this world, one quite beyond the reach of science or any other human attempt to understand, could do this. Indeed, it would have to be a power of the same scale as that which brought the universe – and us – into existence in the first place.
The impossible has happened
And that is exactly why the Resurrection of Jesus had (and still has) such an explosive impact. Because what happened on Easter Sunday was an event on the same scale as the creation of life in the first place. Only the one who designed the galaxies and who first organised lifeless matter into bodies with breathing lungs and beating hearts could have taken a lifeless corpse and made it alive again. God did something on that day on the same scale as the day the earth came into existence.
I said the same scale; but actually it was a greater scale. Jesus’ resurrection was not a resuscitation, a return to the same life as before, which would inevitably lead back to the grave in due course. Although the risen Jesus had the same body (his friends and family recognised him; his voice sounded the same; he still had the wounds from his crucifixion), it was also dramatically different. He appeared in a locked room. He disappeared from sight while eating with two people who knew him well. Most clearly, he ascended into heaven and was hidden by a cloud; but there is no suggestion that he asphyxiated or went into orbit. His body was transformed into a new kind of body
The beginning of a new world
It was a body which had passed beyond the grave, and had now been re-created by God to a whole new level of existence. One in which death is not just no longer inevitable, but is now impossible. A body which will never again experience suffering, pain, or tears. He has risen to a life from which the influence of all that is evil has been removed. A life which fulfils all that human existence is supposed to be, was designed to be, and which we so often in our lives know that it should be and yet never is. Most of all, he has been raised to a life of complete and perfect relation to God. For he is God’s eternal Son, who took on our human nature in all its weakness and suffering; and having obeyed God perfectly, even when it meant death on a cross, God has now raised him to sit at his right hand in heaven.
So Easter Sunday marked the beginning of a new creation. A new universe, we might say, in 21st century language. God on that day did something even more stupendous than making the universe in the first place; he began the remaking of everything, free from all that spoils this world, beginning with the human body which his Son had taken as his own thirty years before in the womb of a virgin.
That is the significance of the resurrection. That is why those who met the risen Jesus could not do anything but tell the world about it. Because on the day they met him all questions about where the world came from were settled: only the one who made the world could raise beyond the grave. The God who raised him is beyond doubt the one who created all things. And on that day all questions about where the world is going were settled: The God who raised Jesus has begun, with him, the process of making all things new, undoing the power of the grave, liberating the world from the corrosion of evil and sin.
The first to rise from the dead.
“By being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles”
Note what Paul said. Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. The whole of Christianity is about how God shares Jesus’ resurrection life with the rest of us. The ‘our people’ Paul is speaking of is the Jews (he was Jewish and so was King Agrippa, whom he was speaking to); ‘The Gentiles’ means everyone else. The message of Christianity is that in Christ God now offers resurrection life to all.
It works like this. Jesus has revealed that the one God, who made all things, is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God the Father sent his eternal Son to become human, taking the name Jesus. He lived a perfect human life and died condemned not for his own sins but in the place of many others. God the Father raised Jesus from the grave by the power of the Holy Spirit, and lifted him to heaven to sit at his right hand. And from there the Father and the risen Jesus have now sent the Spirit to earth to share Jesus’ resurrection life with all who will trust him. This is at the heart of what Jesus meant when he called people to follow him; for when he said that he had just announced that he was going to die and rise (Mark 8:31-38). To be a Christian is to follow Jesus to the grave, dying to all that defines this life, so that we can also, like him, be raised by God to eternal, perfect life.
This tells you what the Christian church is. They are the resurrection people: the people the Holy Spirit has raised from death to life, by sharing Jesus’ resurrection life with them. The church is, despite all its problems, this new world beginning to be rolled out across the human race.
New life inside, new life outside
For every Christian, this happens in two stages. First, the Spirit raises them to life on the inside.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him. (Ephesians 2:1,4,5)
The grip of death on us is not only on our bodies; it is also on our souls. Naturally, we are slaves to our passions and desires, which (since they are warped and spoiled, and we can’t help following them) lead us to destruction. This is the root of all that is wrong in the world. The Christian good news is that the Holy Spirit applies the miraculous new life of Jesus to our hearts, transforming them in a way we could never have produced ourselves, any more than a corpse can raise itself to life. Christians are people who have been brought from death to life in their innermost being. People in whom the Holy Spirit has created and goes on forming a character which is holy: profoundly, completely different to what they naturally were or would be otherwise.
And second, the Spirit will raise us to life on the outside.
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. (Romans 8:11)
The grip of death on our bodies is not yet released for Christians; they still get sick and die. But for them death has become temporary. The Holy Spirit – who already has raised them on the inside, and lives inside them as God’s life-giving presence right now – will certainly do the same for them as he did for Jesus on the first Easter Sunday. All Christians look forward with a certain hope to the day when Jesus returns and will call each and every one of us out of our graves. And at that point we will stand with him, sharing his remade, resurrection life for ever.
Indeed, the Bible goes a step further than that. Jesus spoke of how all things would be reborn or remade (Matthew 19:28). The Bible ends with God declaring that all things are being made new (21:5). Easter Sunday will turn out to hold the same significance for all of creation in the future as many cosmologists think the Big Bang has for all of creation today. It was the beginning of making all things new. Jesus first, then all those who belong to Jesus, and then creation itself.
Easter Sunday was the day a whole new world began. God raised Jesus from the dead. And in so doing, made him the first of countless numbers more, who in him would be raised from death too.