READ : John 2:18-22
Today David Bast focuses our attention on the resurrection of Jesus. A special Easter message highlighting the crucial saving importance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
The eighteenth-century French skeptic Voltaire is reported to have said, “It would be easy to start a new religion to compete with Christianity. All you would have to do is to die and then rise again from the dead.” Voltaire was no friend to the Christian faith and I’m sure he meant his comment to be ironic, but I think it’s also very perceptive. Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of our faith. Christianity stands or falls on the factual nature of this event. Christian faith is really Easter faith because it’s all based on what happened that first Easter. If I didn’t believe that Jesus really rose from the dead, I wouldn’t be a Christian at all.
The second chapter of the Gospel of John tells how on one occasion early in his ministry Jesus went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. When he came to the temple and found the temple courts choked with people buying and selling things, he became angry and drove out all the merchants and moneychangers. Some of the onlookers wondered at the way that Jesus assumed responsibility for what went on in the temple and they challenged him about it. After all Jesus was neither a priest nor a temple servant and yet he acted as if he personally had the right to decide what happened there. John records the confrontation between these onlookers and Jesus.
Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The Jews replied: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
(vv. 18-22, niv)
What the Resurrection Did
Let’s think first about what Jesus’ resurrection did. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ miracles are called signs, for their chief purpose is to point to Jesus’ true nature. But the greatest sign of all was Jesus’ own resurrection. According to the New Testament record, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead did two things that nothing else could have done.
First, it confirmed Jesus’ identity. Notice that when the leaders challenged Jesus for a sign to prove his authority, he declared, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Of course Jesus was speaking metaphorically, not about the literal temple but, as John explains in his note, about the temple of his body. Nobody really understood what he was saying at the time. It’s obvious from the way they mistook him that everyone was quite mystified by this remark of Jesus. But Jesus’ disciples somehow recalled what he had said and realized what he meant after he actually did rise from the dead.
The key point is that the resurrection is the sign Jesus offered both to establish his true identity and to prove his very real authority. Jesus predicted his own death. There’s nothing very unusual about that; many men have had premonitions of their own end. But Jesus also predicted his resurrection from death, and that isn’t usual at all, especially when it actually happened.
I believe that it did happen, for good reason. And because it did, Jesus is revealed to be the Son of God. The resurrection is God’s validation of Jesus and all of his claims. The New Testament says that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh, but he was “designated the son of God in power . . . by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Modern skeptics have a great deal of trouble with the story of Jesus’ resurrection. “This is simply impossible,” they cry. “Everyone knows that dead men don’t rise.” Of course they don’t! Christians agree with that. But that is exactly the point. We don’t believe that a mere man rose from the dead.
When Jesus Christ rose again on the third day, he was shown by that to be the very Son of God. So this is the sign, the supreme sign, that points to his true nature and identity. The real question to ask is not which religion is true, whether it’s this one or that one. The real question is: Did Jesus Christ actually rise from the dead? Because if he did, that changes everything.
Here’s another thing that the resurrection did. It created faith in Jesus’ disciples. I think it’s very important to observe the fact that Jesus’ resurrection is based on the testimony of skeptics and doubters. Listen again to what John writes:
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (v. 22, italics added)
Now that statement is an insertion into the story. It’s an editorial comment by John, the Gospel writer, who is speaking there from a post-Easter perspective. When Jesus talked about his resurrection during his life and his ministry with his disciples, they seemed neither to have understood him nor even to have paid much attention. A lot of the things he said must have sounded just off the wall to them. And this was simply another one of those cryptic statements that Jesus was always making. It was only after Easter, after the resurrection that the disciples even remembered all the things he had told them, let alone understood them.
The point is that they were not expecting Jesus to rise from that grave where he was laid on Good Friday evening. They weren’t prepared for it; they weren’t even inclined to believe it at first on Easter morning. The story of Jesus’ whole life and ministry, including his death and his resurrection, is told just the way it happened in a way that is natural and artless, not invented.
Some of Christianity’s critics say that Jesus’ resurrection was a story that the disciples made up to keep their faith alive. According to this view, Jesus’ followers were heartbroken and desolate after his crucifixion as no doubt they were. But then something strange and wonderful happened. As the disciples sat together and commiserated, somehow the memory of Jesus rekindled their excitement. They began to talk and act as if he were still alive and the next thing you knew, they were writing as if he were still alive. And that’s how the story of the resurrection came into being.
But the historical record is exactly the opposite of that critical supposition. The apostles’ own testimony is not that they invented the story of the resurrection but that they themselves had to be convinced of the fact of it. Listen to this. This puts it in a nutshell: Faith in Jesus did not create the story of the resurrection. Rather, the event, the story of the resurrection created faith in Jesus.
Think now about what we believe if we do believe that Jesus really rose from the dead. Christian faith, as I said earlier, is Easter faith. I am a Christian today because I believe that, just as surely as he died on the cross, Jesus also rose physically from the grave. And because he rose again, Jesus is revealed to be God incarnate. He is not only to be trusted. He is to be worshiped and obeyed.
But Easter faith is more than just faith that Jesus rose again. It’s also faith in the things that his resurrection proves. Let me share with you some of the things that I believe because I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
Here’s one: Because Jesus rose again from the dead, I believe that right will triumph over wrong in the end always and everywhere. The death of Jesus Christ was a monstrous wrong, one of history’s greatest crimes. Jesus’ death was the supreme example of how life can go wrong in a world where the innocent are done in by the guilty, and the weak are ground under by the strong, where good people suffer, where truth is so often overcome by lies, and where the poor are always the ones to be victimized.
But Jesus’ resurrection says otherwise. In raising him, God has reversed human judgment. God has established the truth, vindicated the innocent and exalted the righteous, as he will do everywhere some day. Because Jesus rose from the dead, every last wrong is going to be righted in the end, all evil overthrown and goodness rewarded. In the face of the world’s injustice, Easter faith produces not cynicism but hope.
Here’s another. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I believe that life can be full of meaning and purpose. I recall reading some time ago a story in a news magazine about the meaning of life. The writer asked a number of people to respond to this question, “Why are we here?” One of the answers that really stuck with me was from a well-known musician. His response: “No why, just here.” If death is the end of everything, then that man is right. There really is no answer, no point to anything, no hope. We live for a while, then we die and that’s all there is to say. No why, just here.
But if Jesus has risen from the dead, then there is something else to say. Then we have a future, and because we have a future, our present has meaning as well. In the face of the emptiness of earthly existence without Christ, Easter faith tells us not to despair but to hope.
Finally, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, I believe that for Christians death leads to everlasting life. Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul offered this word of encouragement to his young friend Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” It’s not just that Jesus rose from the dead long ago, but that he is risen. He is here, alive, now. He is with us, and because of that, even in the face of death, Easter faith produces not fear but hope.