Commentary: The resurrection of our Lord



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Commentary: The resurrection of our Lord

An e-Review commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker | April 3, 2009 {0995}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

On Easter day the church everywhere celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our faith. The apostle Paul said, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

The God in whom we place our belief and trust is the God who raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. There is no Christian faith without belief that God raised Jesus from the dead.

This is not blind faith, as if we could not see any evidence that the resurrection happened in history. There is the testimony of those to whom the risen Jesus appeared, not only the 11 disciples (Acts 1:21-22), but also James, the brother of Jesus (I Corinthians 15:7), Saul of Tarsus or Paul (Galatians 1:15-17), the women who had known Jesus (Matthew 28:1-6), and a multitude of others — the 500 at the same time (I Corinthians 15:6), which may have included Andronicus and Junia, who settled in Rome (Romans 16:7).

Jesus appears to disciples en route to Emmaus. By Eugene Girardet. Courtesy of Christian Theological Seminary.

There were many people who were alive for decades in the first century who testified they had met the risen Jesus. There is also the evidence of “the empty tomb,” or that Jesus’ corpse was not available, which is mentioned in the Gospels, and, contrary to the assertions of some, something that was assumed by Paul when he wrote, “that he was buried, and that he was raised” (I Corinthians 15:4). If this were not so, then Peter’s scoffers could have produced the corpse when, in his public speech a few weeks after Easter, he proclaimed that Jesus was raised, rather then lying in a tomb like David (Acts 2:29-36).

The best historical evidence of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection is that nothing else can explain the origins of the message of the Gospel and the sudden emergence of the church.

Belief in the resurrection does take into account historical reasoning, but it is ultimately a matter of faith. Our faith has as its object the God of Israel, who created the world out of nothing and who raised Jesus from the dead. This faith is given to us by the Spirit of God if we ask to receive it.

There are many today, as there were then, who assume that the resurrection of Jesus is impossible. It does not fit into their worldview, which assumes there is no reality transcendent to the universe itself, and that, in this universe, resurrection from the dead cannot occur. For them, the universe, although marvelous, is a domain of death since everything in it perishes. Actually, thinking like this is a good place to start in order to take Jesus’ resurrection seriously, for you grasp how the message of the resurrection challenges the assumption that the universe exists by itself in a domain of death. In this realm is heard the news that something has happened to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). Once you acknowledge the reality of Jesus’ resurrection by the power of the Creator, you begin the adventure of looking at the world with new eyes, as you doubt your former belief in a worldview based upon ignorance of God.

What is the resurrection about? Often in churches on Easter day it seems that we have overlooked whose resurrection we are talking about. Easter is not, first of all, about our resurrection, but Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus, who had been rejected and crucified. By raising him from the dead, God declared that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the Lord of the world (Acts 2:36).

Early Christian tomb in Bethlehem. Courtesy of Christian Theological Seminary.

It is the resurrection of Jesus that explains his death. Because he is shown to be the Messiah of Israel, then his death is revealed as a redemptive act for the forgiveness of sins (Isaiah 53:4-5). The crucified Messiah summed up the whole story of the suffering of sinful Israel and disclosed that God’s way of making things right would not be by vengeance, but by forgiveness. However, his death and resurrection was not only an end to the story of Israel so far, but also a new beginning. In the Messiah God would raise up a renewed Israel to complete its original mission to be a light to the nations. That is why the risen Messiah appears to his disciples to give them a mission: “As the Father sent me, so I send you … . If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them … ” (John 20:21-23).

The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that he is the Lord of the world. His authority is not only over all people, but also all other spheres of authority and rulers (Colossians 2:15). This is not a situation that rulers and authorities are going to like, and that is why Christians in Rome in the first century risked their lives to confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). Confessing Jesus is Lord is not only learning to resist the sins of greed and adultery, but also the evils of war and economic injustice.

We cannot overlook the cosmic dimensions of Jesus’ resurrection. His risen body is a sign of a new nature, a glimpse, as it were, into the ultimate future when God transforms the creation into a new creation. God’s plan is not to destroy the creation, but to transform it into a new creation (Isaiah 65:17, Romans 8:18-25, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:1). Because God’s purpose is transforming the world, we cannot behave as if it is being “left behind” with our practices of damaging the environment and other species of life.

Yes, there is hope for us, too, in our dying. Paul linked our resurrection to Jesus’ resurrection in his important statement, “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:21). Our hope is not in “life after death” as a kind of survival of consciousness, but in sharing in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead in a mode of real existence like his.

Easter is not just hope in our dying, but hope in our living now. Christ is risen, and we participate in the power of his resurrection today by faith, for “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, ‘we now’ walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

Christians are an Easter people all year long, but we look forward to Easter day when we are able to join with others to publicly exclaim to the world: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.




Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011