There was once a man who went on holiday to the Holy Land with his wife and her elderly mother. During the holiday, his mother-in-law unexpectedly had a heart attack and died.
The local undertaker explained that it would cost $1500 to fly her body home, but that they could just as easily bury her in the Holy Land for only $150. The man said, "No, we’ll pay to ship her home." Surprised, the undertaker asked, "Are you sure? It’s much cheaper and we can do a good job, you know."
The man said, "Look, 2000 years ago they buried a man here and three days later He rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance!"
Jesting aside, we do well to remember that all humanity will one day likewise rise from the dead wherever we are interred (Rev 20:12, cf Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2). Jesus’ words and physical resurrection guarantee this – see John 11:25-26; 14:19b and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.
The centre of our Hope
Christianity, unlike any other faith or worldviews, is predicated on the on-going historical and universal effects of an outstanding miraculous event that is utterly unique to it – an empty tomb. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” (Luke 24:5b).
Every other historical figure of note is dead and buried. Gone!
That Jesus was once dead but was raised resplendent to live forever is the epicentre and ground zero of our faith and hope. It underpins and augments every aspect of the Christian experience. It is the hook on which the veracity and authenticity of our Gospel hangs.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” (Luke 24:5b).
As Tim Keller argues, ‘If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that He said; if He didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what He said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like His teaching but whether or not He rose from the dead.’ 1
Without a resurrected Jesus, the Gospel narratives would be no more than an inspired collection of moralising stories and true-to-life propositions from a remarkable but long-gone figure. Thank God, there is so much more to it than that. The four Gospels make much of Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb. In fact, they present a resurrected Jesus that the disciples saw, spoke with, touched and ate with.
The Apostle Paul is clearest on this when he writes, of first importance, what was passed onto him in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. That is, what the Hebrew Scriptures prophesied, then-contemporaneous people attested to: that Jesus of Nazareth, put to death by crucifixion and buried in a tomb, was seen alive three days later and subsequently another forty days, by at least 500 of His followers, including 12 disciples and a number of women followers that were closest to Him, and finally by the Apostle Paul himself.
The great antidote for sin and death
Jesus’ resurrection was historical yet transformational for all who believed (and believe) in His name and saving work.
The events of His death and resurrection were the profound outworking of God’s plan to reverse the death-sentence of sin and hell that was over us by taking our place on the cross. In what John Stott calls ‘the self-substitution of God’, 2 Jesus redeemed us from the dominion of sin and death. And He who was raised to life, was raised justified and fully able to save.
Jesus’ victory through death remains the only true panacea for the ills of all humanity. By this He forgives our past sins, transforms our present sinfulness and will one day resurrect us in glorious perfection. Past, present and future simultaneously effected!
As has been said, this Gospel or good news is not merely the ‘ABC’ of our faith but the ‘A to Z’ of it.
And the resurrection is a central part of that good news. Apostolic preaching centred on it – every recorded evangelistic sermon in the book of Acts mentioned the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus Himself predicted His resurrection would be a sign to unbelievers (Mt 12:38-40). It witnesses to the unique saving work of Jesus to those who are receptive (Acts 10:40-43). It is at the heart of our confession of faith until salvation (Rom 10:9) and fuels our on-going life of faith and hope (Rom 8:9-11, Phil 3:10-11).
We are freed from the fear of death because of Jesus’ rising (Heb 2:14-15). And the same power with which God raised Jesus, works in us today and will likewise raise us up to the same resurrected life (1 Cor 6:14 and Eph 1:19-20)
This too shall pass
I will always remember the profound sadness of the first funeral I ever attended. It was of a schoolmate who had played in the same school band as me. He died unexpectedly at only 15 years of age. At his Buddhist funeral, I witnessed and heard, in the cacophony of noise of chanting monks and funeral band, the heart-wrenching wailing of his parents, so suddenly bereft of their child.
Their belief and worldview offered little comfort, since in the inevitable cycle of death and rebirth, they would never see their child again as they knew him. Their expressed grief and sorrow were understandable. That is in contrast with many subsequent Christian funerals I attended, including that of my own father. Amidst the grief of bereavement which even Jesus was touched by (John 11:35), the hope of resurrection pervades like the waft of some far-off fragrance of irresistible fruit, reminding us that because of Jesus, death is not the end. This too shall pass.
In 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23, Paul uses an agricultural analogy, calling the resurrection of Jesus as a kind of first fruits. When a farmer has tended his plants to maturity, he looks for the earliest fruits to show. Once the first fruits show, he knows there will be many more - a harvest to come. The first fruits are a promise and guarantee of what is to come. Since Jesus rose from the dead, Paul argues that it is a sign and guarantee that we ourselves will rise with Him.
This changes our perspective on death profoundly- so much so that the New Testament simply calls ‘dying’ as a falling asleep. We will be woken up to eternal life in Christ!
Contrary to the Greeks’ popular thinking on death and the afterlife, we will not exist as ephemeral spirit-beings finally bereft of our frail bodies, but will eventually be gifted new bodies that will never again know pain, disease or death. We will be then as He is now (1 John 3:2).
A fairy-tale ending come true
In the halcyon days of our childhood, many stories ended in those blissful terms: ‘and they lived happily ever after…’ Growing up in the school of life, such a myth is easily dispelled. We live in a sad, mad and bad world.
History is a litany of ills and wrongs repeated over and over again. ‘All news is old news happening to new people.’ (Malcolm Muggeridge). And the news is almost always bad.
Against such hopelessness and helplessness, the Gospel and the resurrection of Jesus mitigate. They sing us a new song of hope and usher all who would turn in repentant faith to Jesus into a new dawn of hope. In God’s new kingdom, we will indeed live the happy-ever-after He always intended. He has left us the witness of an empty tomb to guarantee it.
His resurrection changes everything. We are a resurrection people.
So this Easter and every day, let us proclaim to the lost and hopeless far and wide: “He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!”
Revd Manik Corea is the Global Executive of NAMS, a disciple-making, church-planting society working in 15 countries on five continents. After 13 years on the mission field in Thailand, he and his family returned to Singapore in 2021 to establish a base for NAMS for their work in the region. In his spare time, he enjoys the fortunes of Arsenal football club with his son Josiah.
1 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton: New York, 2008). 202.
2 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Intervarsity: Illinois, 1986). 133.