A Fact Upon Which the Faith Rises or Falls

With Resurrection Sunday on the horizon, many Christians are thinking about the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We are moved by the scenes of the love of Christ laying down his life to save us from our sins. We grieve with the disciples as we think of their loss at the sight of the sealed tomb. And we rejoice in wonder as we think of our mighty Savior walking out of the grave to physically live eternally.

As we think about these glorious truths, may we also remember that God, in his holy word, tells us that this truth, the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, is a truth upon which our faith either stands or falls. If Jesus is alive, Christianity is true. If Jesus is not physically alive right now, our faith is empty and meaningless.

1 Corinthians 15:17-19 – 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

In this chapter, Paul is clearly responding against some in Corinth who are denying the physical resurrection of the dead. Part of Paul’s logic here is that, if indeed the dead are never raised, then Jesus was not raised. If Jesus is not raised, then we have lied about God and we have no eternal hope. If Jesus is not raised, Christianity is a farce.

Again, see the power of that language. If Jesus is dead, there is not a shred of hope. If, as some would claim, the resurrection of Jesus must be a figurative truth, a metaphorical truth, an in-your-heart truth, then there is no truth in the faith. If the body of Jesus lies in a grave, then claims of life in Christ are lies.

Christians, our faith stands or falls on the objective reality of the resurrection of Jesus. This is not an opinion question. This is not a morality question. This question is a factual and historical question of eternal significance.

So, let me proclaim truth to you today: Jesus is alive! He is not in the grave. His resurrection is not an imaginary wish or a figurative claim. The Son of God stood up, walked out of the tomb, and lives right now. Were Jesus still dead, a body would have been produced in the first century when claims of the resurrection began to spread. Were Jesus dead, his disciples would not have willingly gone to their own martyrdom to continue to proclaim Christ. The claim of resurrection would have fallen away nearly two millennia ago but for one thing: it is true.

What one believes about the resurrection of Jesus is a thing that impacts one’s eternity. If you believe in the resurrection of Jesus so as to run to him for grace, you have eternal life. If you reject the resurrection of Jesus or turn your back on the resurrected Jesus, you have no hope before God. Look at how Paul closes his letter to the Corinthians in the next chapter.

1 Corinthians 16:21–24 – 21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Love Jesus, and you have life. Do not love Jesus, and you are accursed by God. All this begins with a genuine belief in the fact that Jesus walked out of the tomb. Without a living Jesus, our faith is worthless. With a living Jesus, with love of the living Jesus, with grace from the living Jesus, we have eternal hope and eternal life.

Our Hope: Resurrection

The world we live in is maddening. Christians have conflict with each other over politics, policies, masks, social media posts, ministry strategies, and so much more. The cancel culture makes our society look like a bad joke made in a poorly written dystopian teen novel. Society embraces evil. Some believers are misled with bad doctrine or no doctrine at all. And our own personal sinfulness is clear.

Where do we find hope? In a recent reading, I was reminded of hope in something that should never be outside of my field of vision. Sadly, sometimes it takes a reminder to put my mind back where it belongs.

Think with me to the upper room discourse. Jesus has just had the last supper with his disciples, and he is teaching them to prepare them for his coming suffering. And, though the disciples are barely ready to receive it, Jesus points not only to his coming death but also to his resurrection.

John 14:18-19 – 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

Jesus knows that his death on the cross will be a terrible discouragement for the disciples. They will feel that they have been orphaned. They will feel alone and afraid. They will feel like the years of ministry that they have done and the hope they put in Jesus has somehow all gone wrong.

In some ways, the disciples will feel like Christians today can be tempted to feel. When your body does not do what it is supposed to do, you feel alone. When your children remind you of your shortcomings as a parent, you feel alone. When you realize that you have never lived up to being the husband or wife you promised your spouse you would be, you feel alone. When you want a spouse or you want children and this seems like it is just not on the way, you feel discouraged. When you see the nation slide toward self-destruction, you feel overwhelmed. When you see Christians show little grace and much nastiness in how they write to and about one another in public, you feel like there is nothing you can do to fix things.

Hear both what Jesus says as well as the huge biblical marker that he gives you for hope. Our Savior says to you, “I will not leave you as orphans…Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus promises us not to leave us as orphans. He will not leave us alone. He will not leave us without him. He will not leave us to ourselves. He will not leave us to the hopelessness of this world.

Where then is our hope? Here is the familiar doctrine that comforts and motivates us if we will remember it. Because Jesus lives, all of those who have come to him for grace will live too. The resurrection is our hope. The life of the Savior after death is our hope. The Savior’s conquest of the grave is our hope.

Jesus died. Jesus died the worst death any person has ever faced. This is not because of the physical horrors of the cross, though those were great. No, Jesus’ death was horrible because as he faced it, he bore the wrath of Almighty God for every sin God will ever forgive. Jesus took upon himself a sentence worth several eternities in hell, one for every sinner he will save. And—get this; don’t miss it—Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus took the ugliest death in eternal history and walked out of the tomb on the third day. Jesus truly conquered death.

And Jesus, who conquered death, Jesus who broke the power of death, Jesus who proved God just and merciful, that same Jesus says to us that, because he lives, we too will live. His resurrection is our hope. Jesus defeated a darkness that none of us could ever imagine. None of us has ever seen or felt the type of death that Jesus died. And Jesus got up. And Jesus tells us that we will live with him.

I cannot over-sell this. Christians, your hope is in the resurrection of the Savior. Without the resurrection, the cross is hopeless and empty. With the resurrection, we know that Jesus has defeated death, perfectly paid the price for every sin he will forgive, and opened the way for all of us to live well beyond this broken life. Jesus reminds us that our hope is not in our government. Our hope is not in the masks we wear or the masks we hope not to wear. Our hope is not in the civility of Christians on-line. Our hope is not in our skill as parents, spouses, money-managers, or coworkers. Our hope is built on the perfect life, sacrificial death, and gloriously powerful resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian, let yourself reflect on the hope you have in the resurrection of Jesus. Do not stop at the cross as if that is all there is to our faith. Oh, the cross work of Christ is glorious, do not get me wrong. But the cross only gives us life if the Savior walks out of the tomb victorious. And the Savior says to you, “Because I live, you also will live.”

And if for some crazy reason you are reading this and do not know Jesus, let me tell you that the resurrection of Jesus is your only hope too. If you want to live, you must find yourself in the grace of Jesus. Stop battling against God. Stop living for yourself alone. Stop thinking you are the boss of your life and the one who determines true and false, right and wrong. Surrender to Jesus. Ask him to pay for your sins with his death. Ask him to give you credit for his perfect life. Ask him to give you life in his resurrection. Believe and Jesus and ask him to be your Savior.

Believe in Jesus Because of His Resurrection

Matthew 12:38-40 — 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Prove it! Have you ever been challenged to prove something to somebody? That kind of challenge can be terribly frustrating. A wife gives her all to love and partner with her husband. He comes home one day, she’s had a rough afternoon, and he foolishly asks if she really cares about how she makes him feel or how the house looks. Parents care for, provide for, feed, entertain, and reshape their lives for their kids. Suddenly, when the kids want something they do not get, they challenge their parents to prove they love them. They are nuts. A pastor prays for the church, visits members, preaches the word, and spends himself for the good of the congregation. Then, when a church member has something happen they do not like, they want the pastor to prove that he is really committed to God, His word, and the people. Prove it can be very hard.

Right here, Jesus is challenged by the religious scholars to prove who he is. The Pharisees and scribes approach Jesus and demand to see from him a sign that will convince them that he really is the Messiah, the promised one from God.

Now, stop and think with me for a moment. What is wrong with the religious leaders’ question? They want Jesus to impress them with a miracle. What are they missing?

How about the fact that Jesus has already performed multiple miracles in public that should be enough. Let’s just consider the miracles that we have seen from chapters 8-12 of Matthew:

  • Healed a leper (8:3)
  • Healed a centurion’s servant (8:13)
  • Healed Peter’s mother-in-law (8:15)
  • Healed and drove out demons from many brought to him (8:16)
  • Calmed a storm (8:26)
  • Drove demons out of the demoniac and into the pigs (8:32)
  • Healed a paralytic carried to him. (9:6)
  • Healed a woman with a discharge of blood (9:22)
  • Brought a girl back from the dead (9:25)
  • Gave sight to 2 blind men (9:29)
  • Drove a demon out of a demon-possessed and mute man. (9:33)
  • Healed a man with a withered hand (12:13)
  • Healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (12:22)

That, my friends, is a list of 13 miracles if my count is correct. None of those are things that an ordinary person has the power to do. Jesus had already done enough to prove himself. The problem is, the religious leaders just do not want to believe.

So they are still demanding a sign. I wonder what they thought would be enough to really prove who Jesus is. Perhaps they wanted him to make the sun go backward, or make the moon turn red, or write his name in the stars, or cause the walls of Jerusalem to fall down, or cause the city of Rome to collapse. What would have been enough?

Take note, by the way, that people love to say that they would believe in Jesus if he just proved it to them. However, people seldom establish what it would really take to prove it. They never say what kind of proof would suffice. Why? Most people are not failing to believe because of a lack of evidence. Instead, most people who do not believe refuse to believe because they do not want to be required to submit to the Lordship of Christ.

Jesus responds to the demand of the teachers by telling them that their demand for a sign is an evil and adulterous thing. They are evil, sinning against the Lord in their desire to disprove who Jesus is. They are also adulterous, a strange-sounding way to talk about their lack of faith. But, remember, the teachers of the law of God were supposed to be faithful to God. Jesus, God the Son, was fulfilling the prophecies about the Messiah that these teachers should have recognized. But, instead of being faithful to Christ like a bride being faithful to her husband, the religious teachers were turning away from God to give themselves to another lover, their own power and authority in the nation.

Then Jesus told them that their generation would receive only one sign to prove the identity of Jesus. They would receive the sign of the prophet Jonah. AS many of us learned as children in Sunday School, Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish and lived for 3 days in its belly. Jesus says that, in just the same way, he would be 3 days in the heart of the earth. That would be the ultimate sign for this generation.

Can you tell what Jesus was saying to these men? He was actually being very subtle. The Jews at that point had no idea of the cross and resurrection to come. Only after Jesus did his work would those who heard this prophecy about the sign of Jonah be able to realize that Jesus was talking about dying, being buried over 3 days, and then rising from the grave to live both physically and eternally. As Jonah was 3 days in the fish and lived, Jesus would be 3 days in the grave and live. This would be the only sign that Jesus would actually give to that skeptical generation to prove that he is exactly who he claims to be.

So, what is the proof of Jesus’ identity? The Savior tells us that the ultimate proof is his resurrection from the dead. The Son of god went to a cross to die as a perfect sacrifice for every sin that God would ever forgive. The Son of God was buried on Friday, day 1, through Saturday, day 2, and rose on Sunday, day 3 as the Jews would have counted it in their culture. And then the Son of God would live again, defeating death and offering the ultimate proof of every one of his claims about himself. Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. He claimed the authority to forgive sins. He claimed that he would one day return to earth as king. And his resurrection is the proof of it all.

Throughout the New Testament, it is always the resurrection of Jesus that stands as the perfect and final proof to every claim of the Lord. It is the resurrection of Jesus that proves he is God in flesh. It is the resurrection that proves that his sacrifice was enough to cover our sins. It is his resurrection that proves that those who trust in him and surrender to his lordship will have life everlasting. It is his resurrection that proves to us that we will live again after we die. It is his resurrection that proves that Jesus is not just another religious teacher like the prophets of the Old Testament or the false prophets of later years. It is the resurrection upon which all our confidence in Christianity rests.

The point that the Savior is making in his words to the teachers in this passage is simple: Believe in Jesus because of his resurrection. He will not bow to the wishes of the skeptics by giving them extra signs to suit their fancy. He will not dance whenever they play a tune. He will not offer them a circus performance to see if he might win their approval. No, all Jesus will do is the work that he came to do. But, when he rises from the dead, he will have done enough to prove it all.

Something Impossible for God

Is there anything that is not possible when we think of God? On the surface, we think not. But a little further delving tells us that there are things God cannot do. God cannot be not God. God cannot lie, as lying is against his nature. God cannot sin. God cannot go from greater to lesser or lesser to greater, as God is already utterly perfect.

In Acts 2, we find another impossibility for God.

Acts 2:22-24 – 22 “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— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

This little 3 verse section shows us the cross and resurrection work of Jesus. Evil men thought they were accomplishing something, but they only served to do what God had foreseen and foreordained that they would do. Lawless men sinned against God even as they were used by God to accomplish the saving work of Jesus. The Savior died. HE was buried.

But then comes the impossibility. Jesus rose from the grave. Why? It was impossible, absolutely unthinkable, that he would be held by death.

Why is it impossible for Jesus to be dead? Why could he not remain dead? I would suggest two ideas, though much more could go into this. On the one hand, Jesus cannot remain in the grave because of the nature of death. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death. Death is the right and perfect response from God to our sin. But Jesus, by his very nature and life, is utterly sinless. While he voluntarily died as a sacrifice for our sins, taking upon himself the punishment for our guilt, Jesus remained sinless. HE suffered the effects of eternal death, of hell, on the cross. But once that work was finished, it was impossible that he would remain in the grave forever.

And, Jesus could not stay dead for the simple fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. The grave cannot hold Jesus because of who Jesus is. In John 1, we read that in Jesus was life, and that life is the light of men. Jesus does not represent death to us. His nature is not death. HE is the eternal God who eternally is. He cannot wink out of existence. HE cannot cease to be. And he cannot remain in the grave.

Christians, we should become more and more resurrection minded. We love to talk about the cross, as it depicts for us the perfect mercy and judgment of God. We love to think about the fact that Jesus took our sins upon himself as our perfect sacrifice. But so often we add that Jesus rose from the grave as almost an afterthought. WE explain his life and his sacrificial death with great detail. Then, we throw in, “O, and he rose from the grave,” as if this is a small detail we know we ought not leave out.

But look at Scripture. Look at Acts. Read Paul and Peter. The fact that Jesus is alive is at the very heart of Christianity. The idea that Jesus is alive is proof of Jesus’ identity as God, his perfection, and our hope. Lose the resurrection and you lose Jesus. Ignore the resurrection, and you ignore the faith. Focus on the resurrection, and you include that which led up to it, Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death.

I’d recommend that you take time to ponder the impossibility mentioned in verse 24. I’ve given you a couple of my best guesses as to why it is impossible that death could hold Jesus. They encourage me and call me to worship. Perhaps the Lord will help you see even more reasons why it is impossible for Jesus to have stayed in the grave. Perhaps the reasons I’ve given will call you to praise the Savior too. I would encourage you to let a focus on the resurrection lead you to hope, joy, and worship.

A Resurrection Focus

It seems that, in modern church culture, we focus much on the sacrifice of Jesus, maybe on his life, and seldom on his resurrection. When I hear gospel presentations or apologetic discourses, I hear a good deal about Jesus’ claims and his crucifixion, I even hear a good deal about the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled in his life, but it seems that those are often followed up with the resurrection as an, “O, by the way…,” afterthought.

But the writers of Scripture, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, are most certainly focused on the resurrection. It is the fact that Jesus walked out of the tomb that is the key to their being convinced of the true identity of Jesus and the fact of his promises.

Look here at Paul’s greeting in Romans.

Romans 1:3-4 – 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

How does Paul know that Jesus really is who he says he is? Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power through his resurrection. The fact that Jesus rose from the grave proves that all the other claims about Jesus are true. The fact of the resurrection is at the core of our belief.

 

I wonder, then, why we do not spend more of our energy in modern discussions talking about the resurrection. I have debated with people the morality of predestination, the righteousness of God’s commands, the philosophical rationale for belief in a Creator, the significance of the age of the universe, the historical reasoning for the reliability of Scripture, and so many other things. And in general, I believe those discussions to be good things. But at the end of the day, whether talking to a struggling believer or a disinterested agnostic, there is really one truth that is at the center of our belief. The important question is, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”

 

Did Jesus rise from the dead? If he did, then what do you do with him? If Jesus walked out of the tomb, then he is different than any other human being. In fact, if Jesus walked out of the tomb, he is the very God he claims to be. If Jesus walked out of the tomb, he is the Son of God who gave his life as a sacrifice for the sins of God’s children. If Jesus gave his life as the only sacrifice for sins that can make a person right with God, then we are responsible to get under that grace or be lost. We are responsible to obey God’s command to repent of sin and believe in Jesus. We are responsible to call Jesus our Lord and find our life in him.

 

Perhaps, the next time a friend or family member wants to debate religion with you, it would be good to start with the question of the resurrection. Ask them what they do with the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection is the proof of Jesus’ identity and authority.