He is Risen

Today is the day. Christ’s victory over sin and death, which we celebrate each Lord’s Day when we take the Lord’s Supper—that happened today, nearly two thousand years ago. The resurrection of Christ astounded His disciples and brings hope to all men everywhere.

The resurrection of Christ is the pillar of the gospel. Paul writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word 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 in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor 15.1-5). Notice what Paul calls “the gospel,” which he describes as “of first importance”: “that Christ died…, that he was buried, that he was raised…, and that he appeared.”

That’s it. Our message to the world consists in what happened this weekend, culminating in our Lord’s resurrection and appearance.

Luke records that the resurrection was the subject of the apostles’ preaching starting at Pentecost. When Peter proposed that the brothers select an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot, it was for the purpose of preaching the resurrection: “one of these men must become with us a witness of His resurrection” (Acts 1.22b).

When Peter testified about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he centered his message on the resurrection of Christ: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it,” and, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2.22-24, 32-33).

Peter and John were arrested for proclaiming the resurrection (Acts 4.2). After their release, when the disciples came together, the apostles regularly proclaimed the resurrection of Christ to them (Acts 4.33). The growth of the early church in Jerusalem, both numerically and spiritually, rested on the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection.

Paul’s ministry to the Jews outside of Jerusalem likewise rested on the resurrection. “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17.1-3).

Likewise, Paul preached the resurrection to the Gentiles. In Athens, he preached, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17.30-31). Paul said many other things to the men of Athens in that sermon, but it was the resurrection that caught their attention and garnered their response: “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him… because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection,” and, “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’” (Acts 17.18, 32).

Like the apostles, we hold the resurrection to be of first importance. As Paul argued to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. …And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15.14, 17). Twice, Paul writes that our entire faith hangs on the resurrection of Jesus; if Christ is dead, then our faith means nothing.

To underscore the importance of the resurrection, let us note that Paul takes the doctrine a step further than we normally recognize when he says that “if Christ has not been raised… you are still in your sins.” We normally attribute the forgiveness of sins to Christ’s death on the cross (Paul does likewise in 1 Cor 15.3, “Christ died for our sins”), but Paul points out that Christ’s death is only part of His atoning work; His resurrection is also essential for the forgiveness of our sins.

The message of Christ’s resurrection holds a special significance for us this year as we are surrounded by the fear of death. The power of the Gospel is that it casts away our fears through the promise of life in Christ. Hear what the risen Lord told John when he was exiled on the isle of Patmos: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev 1.17-18).  By the power of His resurrection, our Lord has conquered Death and the Grave forever, and we have nothing to fear from them. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23.4).

Dwell on these things today. We serve a risen Lord, who lives in His resurrection body at the right hand of the Father. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we partake of Him who is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor 15.20, 23). Let us remember His promise: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.54).