On Easter, Christians rejoice the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That much is clear. What is not clear to many people, however, is what the resurrection means to Christians and why we would make such a big deal of it.
The resurrection only makes sense if we first comprehend what the Christian gospel is. In the ancient world, the word gospel was a media term referring to the proclamation of an important or happy event. Christians altered the word to refer to a world event they consider the most important and elated.
What is the Christian gospel? It is the good news that, at a certain point in this worlds history, God became existent to us in the man named Jesus, who we can know, love, and serve.
Through Jesus incarnation (God taking on flesh), life and ministry, death and resurrection, he overcame the worldly powers that repress us, and made a way for we who are sinners to live in unbroken fellowship with God who is holy.
The Christian gospel is a factual statement. You can believe it or not believe it. But as Christians, we believe that it is not merely true; it is the most important fact in the world.
It is one that we cannot relegate to the private dimensions of life; it radiates outward into our public speech and actions. It cannot be hidden within the four walls of our churches; we must make it acknowledged to the world.
In fact, immediately after he rose from the grave, Jesus appeared to his followers and gave them a command that Christians call the Great Commission. In this commission, he reveals three powerful truths about the resurrection:
1. The resurrection discloses Jesus as the ultimate authority in this world.
When Jesus appeared to his followers immediately after his resurrection, the first words out of his mouth were All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). The resurrection was decisive proof of his divinity, of the fact that he was in fact present when heaven and earth were created, and that he retains sovereign authority over them.
This reality is important because all of us need to know who is finally in charge of this world. A great many people think the final authority is the free market. Others think the final authority is the United States, NATO, or the United Nations. Still others think the authority is some sort of deep state.
But none of these entities are final authorities. Jesus is the sovereign authority and greatest power in public life; he is the authority against which even the largest governments and coalitions are ultimately powerless.
2. The resurrection constrains us to tell the world about Jesus.
The second thing Jesus told his followers is that they should tell the whole world about his crucifixion and resurrection, and summon them to follow him, too (Matthew 28:19-20a).
If it is true that Jesus is the worlds final power, and that through the cross and resurrection he has overcome the evil influences that seek to govern us, then for us to abstain from telling the world about Him would not only be a offense toward humanity but a conspiracy with the evil powers.
We must not conspire. We must be witnesses of his resurrection. Our witness must be visionary: a proclamation to the world that Jesus is Lord and the worlds governing powers are not.
Our witness often will need to be sacrificial: just as Jesus comforted as a homeless wandering instructor, we must be ready to witness from a position of cultural feebleness rather than authority, and in the face of disapprobation instead of ovation.
Our witness should be meekly confident: we should be assertive because we work in the service of the worlds final authority, and we should be modest because we are only servants.
3. The rebirth of Christ reminds us that world history will conclude on a jubilant message. (Matthew 28:20b)
The third and concluding thing Jesus voiced his followers is I am with you constantly, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b).
In effect he was saying, I will walk beside of you as you bear witness, and, always remember that at the end of the age, I will return to establish the world aright. I will create a world-wide empire in which righteousness will roll down like the waters, in which my power will be accepted, and in which individuals from all countries, racial groups, and social classes will live together in harmony, love, and union.
J. R. R. Tolkien, author of “Lord of the Rings,” was mesmerized by the Bibles philosophy about the resurrection, and desired to mirror it in his scripts.
He knew that Westerners are inclined to be disappointed with fairy tale finales and favor endings that are more genuine, but he wanted them to appreciate that, because of the resurrection, a profoundly elated conclusion is the most convincing. To derive a saying from “Lord of the Rings,” Tolkien wrote, Everything sad becomes untrue.
And straightaway following this expression, a persistent inquiry arises from Sam Gamgee as he speaks to Gandalf: What happened to the world? To which Gandalf replies, A great Shadow has left.
Christians rejoice the physical resurrection of Jesus, because we are pleased that, in the forthcoming, the great Shadow of death and wickedness will lastly leave (Romans 8:18-25).
Something significant and worthy has occurred to the world, which is why we summon the world to rejoice with us by accepting Jesus as the revived Savior.
Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also assists as Professor of Theology and Culture. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.