What benefit do we receive from the “resurrection” of Christ?
“First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by His death. Second, by His power we are also now raised up to a new life. Third, the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.” (HC 45)
The Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 3, is for us a great statement of the need for blessings that accrue to God’s people because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. “Where do you know your misery? Out of the law of God.”
One of the most important aspects of the fact of the resurrection is that it happened in history. It is not a myth, a fable or other fiction. Our Lord Jesus Christ was murdered by crucifixion, was buried and rose from the dead on the third day. This event (death, burial, and resurrection) is the basis for our redemption, because through it our Savior has accomplished redemption for his chosen ones.
The message of this saving work in history is what is called the Gospel. It is significant that the preaching of the Gospel is the primary means through which Christ gathers his church out of the world. The Apostle Paul also makes clear the primacy of the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1-4, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
In reviewing this text we immediately understand that this Gospel is so vastly different from what is being called the ‘Gospel’ today. There is nothing here about asking “Jesus into your heart,” or “letting Christ into your life.” The Gospel is an event which took place in history and objectively, that is, outside of us. We ought not to be ashamed of this truth, however, people do get a bit touchy if you tell them that the “ask Jesus into your heart” Gospel is not the Gospel at all. At the risk of sounding negative, if the inspired Word tells us what the Gospel is with certainty, then, we’ll go out on a limb and say that if the Gospel being preached does not match up with this, it is another gospel. We cannot play fast and loose with the truth, and we must not be moved by the “niceness” of the people who preach these false ‘gospels.’ It is at this point that the powers of darkness seek to overthrow the truth. Get the people to believe something other than what they should, but be nice about it. The anti-Christ doesn’t come around wearing a red suit with horns and carrying a pitchfork. He works through people who look and sound like they’re “nice.” Anyway, we don’t determine truth on the basis of how, what, or whom we like, but what meets the standard of God’s Holy Word.
Since these redemptive events are so critical to our salvation, we are extremely jealous for their preservation. The centrality of the death of Christ for sinners cannot be missed. Here is one of the most difficult truths to communicate. We confess that the first thing necessary for us to know is the greatness of our sin and misery.
How are we to compete with the charlatans who are promising health, wealth and other earthly ‘blessing’ if you just have enough faith? There is no acknowledging the greatness of my sin and misery. Therefore, redemption is no longer about being redeemed from sin and misery but in finding the fulfillment of the so-called ‘American dream.’
What is totally good news is that Christ has positively fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law, and even bore the penalty that our failure to do so demands. Jesus didn’t die so that I would be rich in earthly goods or even healthy by earthly standards; he died so that we would be counted righteous in God’s sight through faith in him. It means the forgiveness of our sins, an imputed righteousness, and the promise of eternal life. The Gospel preached and applied to his chosen ones by the work of the Spirit delivers us from the death state in which all sinners live by nature. Your problem and mine is not so much about money and mansions and jets and yachts, but about the fact that we are estranged from God because of sin. To put it bluntly, we are lost and dead in sin apart from Jesus Christ.
The death of Christ was indeed an atoning sacrifice by a willing substitute; Jesus gave himself over to death to fulfill what the Father sent him to do for us. It may be said that this is old news for us and that we need something new. The Apostle never suggests that anything about the Gospel is old news. The weakness of evangelicalism in our own society, of which we are a part, is that we have lost the conviction of the primacy of the Gospel. Paul writes “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received. . .” The text says here, “as of first importance.” This is not a Gospel cooked up by men, but something which he received via revelation. It is of this message that Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” [Romans 1:16] So what is the message of first importance? It is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. . .”
The death and resurrection of Christ was necessary so that we might be partakers of his righteousness. It is because of his resurrection that we are able to be justified in God’s sight. The redemptive events stand of necessity together, and the Scriptures assure us that they do. “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” We can partake of his righteousness only because of what he has done. What a comfort this is to us as we see the remaining effects of sin in our own hearts and lives. That’s why the Gospel is to have primacy in the church. It isn’t only for evangelizing those outside the church, but is the only source of comfort for those who are members of the church.
As the Catechism teaches, we are also because of his resurrection raised up to newness of life. We are to live by faith, and as Paul writes, “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” We are no longer under the power and dominion of sin because Christ has broken those bonds. While believers are set apart as saints, they are in this life still sinners. We now are enabled by his grace to “make a small beginning of obedience to all the commandments of God,” even as we struggle against sin during our whole life. It is in the death of Christ that death was overcome by him in the resurrection and because of it, we have the promise of our own resurrection on the day of his return in glory.
We should be refreshed by the history of God’s mercy to us in his Son. Let us be the true evangelicals, believing and proclaiming a Gospel which actually changes lives, and which causes us to look away from ourselves to Him. Good Friday and Easter are reminders of the history of the Gospel event. We do not merely mark off days that appear on the calendar, but we rejoice in the redemption which God has accomplished in our Savior Jesus Christ.
Rev. George Syms
Covenant RCUS, Watertown, SD