My oldest child just turned 20, but I remember his 8th birthday like it was yesterday.
It was unique because I took him on a mission trip with me to Mexico. His birthday happened while we were there, so it was, of course, the perfect opportunity to get a piñata and a “genuine” Mexican birthday cake from Walmart.
The highlight for me, however, was not beating a papier-mâché goat until it spilled forth its bounty of candy (although that was fun!), or having the pastor trick him into the “Mexican tradition of smelling the cake” (quite fun!). The highlight for me occurred long before anyone else was up in the morning, when it was just he and I enjoying a delicious birthday breakfast of Cheerios.
I asked him, “What have you learned so far in these 8 years?”
He listed off a bunch of things like walking, talking, snapping, soccer, baseball, etc.
Last of all, he said, “and about God.”
Then I asked, “What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned?”
At first, he said, “talking,” but then much to my delight, he changed his answer to “God.”
“Why is that important?” I asked.
He gave the typical Sunday school answer: “So that my sins can be forgiven, and I can go to heaven when I die.”
So, I pressed him. “Is that all it matters for… when you die?”
We then had a great little conversation about why knowing Jesus matters for this life and for us being in Mexico.
It was one of my all-time parental highlights!
Jesus is Risen! So What?
As I ruminate on that delightful conversation with my then eight-year-old son, I wonder at how many Christians have not progressed beyond eight years old in their faith.
If I asked the typical church person (and I have), “Why is the Resurrection important? What difference does it make?”
I’d probably get a lot of good Sunday school answers like:
- So that we can go to heaven.
- It shows that Jesus is God.
- It shows that God can do miracles.
Those are all true answers.
But, is that all the Resurrection matters for? When you die? Or, for solid doctrine?
Jesus is risen!
A New Era Begins
The Bible (see John 20:27) and orthodox Christian doctrine emphasize a physical bodily resurrection – that Jesus wasn’t a disembodied spirit hovering around – but that he had a transformed material body that could be touched and clung to.
This distinction is important for at least three reasons:
- The physical resurrection of Jesus shows that he is the Messiah. Not even the oppressor’s greatest weapon, death, could hold him. He does not just live on as a spirit or a legend, but in a physical transformed body. JESUS IS RAISED! He is the world’s one true Lord! Therefore, Caesar is not Lord. The government is not Lord. The military is not Lord. Jesus is Lord and he lives and reigns forever over all the world!
- The transformed physical resurrection body of Jesus demonstrates that the reign of God has begun! JESUS IS RAISED! Therefore, God’s new creation has begun! Heaven has come to earth and the work of God’s Kingdom transforming the kingdoms of the world has been inaugurated. This means new resurrection life for those who put their trust in him, but also new life for all of creation.
- Because Jesus’ resurrection was bodily and not simply spiritual, it is rooted in this world. Easter is not just about life after death. It is very much so about life before death. Easter is not about some other world, but about this world. It is not simply just something that points to the future, but it is the future crashing into the present; heaven coming to earth. JESUS IS RAISED! Therefore, his followers have work to do! We must be his heralds announcing his Lordship to the world and helping bring His Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.
Look at the way 1 Corinthians 15 ends. Paul has given this long treatise on the resurrection of Jesus and what it means for our resurrection in the future (57 verses!). Based on this teaching, you might expect him to end by saying something like,
“So, don’t bother with this corrupt world because a better world awaits you in heaven.”
Instead, he says,
“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (v. 58).
That’s how he concludes what Jesus’ resurrection means for us.
“Don’t give up. Keep on passionately ushering in our Lord’s new creation. Because everything you do here matters for the future.”
The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation and source of hope for this world.
The resurrection is not just some freak anomaly in history, but an earth-shattering triumphant event that completely turns the world upside-down.
The Resurrection is the beginning of a new world – a new way of viewing, living and redeeming this world. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t just point to some new heightened spiritual awareness, religious ethic, or even salvation, but to a new creation.
The old is gone. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Hope for Today
Famous psychologist William Marston (d. 1947), who invented things so diverse as the DISC profile, polygraph and Wonder Woman (polygraph = lasso of truth!), once interviewed 3,000 different people and asked each, “What have you to live for?” He was shocked to discover that 94 % were simply enduring the present while they waited for the future. For most people, “hope for tomorrow” is the only thing that helps them deal with today.
Hope is a powerful motivator. But true hope is not the idealistic optimism, like that of political pundits.
True hope is rooted in the Easter event – the Resurrection of the world’s one true Lord, Leader, King, Savior, Jesus Christ.
And the truly surprising thing about this hope is that it is not just “hope for tomorrow,” but hope for today! It is hope for this world! We have hope for life before death!
(I have N.T. Wright’s work, Surprised by Hope, to thank for broadening my understanding of the Resurrection many years ago. If you want to delve deeper into this topic, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better source.)