At the center of the Gospel, at the center of Christian faith, we find the death and resurrection of Jesus. Of course, it doesn't take an unusual amount of faith to believe that Jesus actually died on a cross. There is ample historical evidence for this and no reason to doubt it. But the resurrection presents significant challenges because, though there is strong historical evidence in its favor, we quite naturally have a harder time believing that it happened. After all, most of us have experienced people dying, but resurrections are not quite so common. We can understand death as a natural event. But rising from the dead requires a power outside of nature.
It's not surprising that people who are not Christians do not affirm the historicity of the resurrection. But sometimes even believers in Jesus deny that he rose from the dead. This was true, for example, of some of the Christians in first-century Corinth. It's likely that they bought into the common Greek notion of the immortality of the soul but not the Jewish-Christian affirmation of the resurrection of the body after death. Thus, they claimed that Jesus had not really risen from the dead. Rather, they probably believed that his spirit had achieved immortality. Some contemporary Christians affirm something similar to this, using the language of resurrection to refer to "the rising of the spirit of Jesus in the church" or some such thing.
The Apostle Paul vigorously opposed the Corinthian denial of the resurrection. "If there is not resurrection from the dead," he stated, "then Christ has not been raised" (15:16). Moreover, "And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins" (15:17) .The resurrection, you may recall, was central to the Good News of which Paul reminded the Corinthians a few verses earlier in this chapter (15:3-4). Take away the resurrection, and we have no reason to believe that the death of Jesus actually took away our guilt.
To phrase this more positively, the resurrection of Jesus was an essential element in God's breaking forever the power of sin. When Jesus rose from the dead, the work of salvation was complete. Sin and death were vanquished. Additionally, the resurrection demonstrated to the world that the cross was effective, that God had been victorious through Christ. The resurrection assures us, not only that our faith is valid, but also that our sins have been wiped away.
Finally, the resurrection also demonstrates the power of God available for us as we live our lives for God's purposes and glory (Eph. 1:19-20). The same God who raised Jesus from the dead will work in and through us as we seek to serve him in every facet of our lives.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever wonder if the resurrection of Jesus really happened? Why? What helps you to believe that the resurrection actually occurred? How does the resurrection impact the way you live? If the power of the resurrection were available to you today, what would you do differently?
PRAYER: God of power and might, how I praise you today for the resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead, sin and death were defeated. A new day had begun, the beginning of the restoration of the cosmos. Hallelujah!
Thank you, O God, for the way the resurrection assures and encourages me. Yet you know, Lord, how I can wrestle with doubt about the resurrection. Even though the evidence encourages me to believe it really happened, I still need to have faith for what I cannot understand. By your Spirit, strengthen that faith in me.
I pray today for people who desperately need the power of the resurrection in their lives. I think of those who are weighed down by sin, discouragement, suffering, and skepticism. Stir up faith in them, Lord. Help them to affirm and to experience the reality of the resurrection.
All praise be to you, God of power and might, heaven and earth are filled with your glory. Amen.