The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.
If death had the last word at Golgotha, then we’re left to scratch our heads about what Jesus’s sacrifice really accomplishes. So what if his death does this or that, if he is gone for good then we have no reliable grounds to think any of it’s true. If Jesus is still in the grave, then all the significance drawn from his death is pathetic well-wishing.
But, on the other hand, if Jesus is alive, then his inextinguishable life confirms that his death really did something. The resurrection means that Jesus’s death served a purpose he now will see to its maximal success. And therefore, the resurrection is the foundation to how the death of Jesus can impact our lives.
The implications of the resurrection are massive. In fact, you could say that the entire New Testament is an implication of the resurrection that’s packed with more implications of the resurrection. But what about the resurrection’s impact on the biblical story? How does Jesus being raised from the dead affect the message of the gospel?
The resurrection of Jesus makes clear that the gospel story is more than just a story.
Not for Mere Readers
The Christian gospel is a story to be read, but it’s not a story for mere readers. Intrinsic to the nature of this story is its demands that readers not dispassionately observe its content, but affectionately respond in the right ways. One theologian explains that the Bible functions as a kind of script that “calls not only for responsive reading but for responsive action and embodiment” (Drama of Doctrine, 115). Nothing makes this clearer than Jesus’s resurrection.
If this is just a good story — simply a tale like all the others — then we have the option to assess its elements with no consequences. If it’s just a story, then it doesn’t matter much what we think about it. We can enjoy it for entertainment, pat it on the head, and get on with our lives. But if it’s more than a story, if it’s actually a storied insight into the heart of unchangeable reality, then our actual reading the story gets swallowed up in the story itself.
We’re the ones chasing glory and seeking pleasure, but we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
If it is more than just a story, we find ourselves to be more than neutral bystanders eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation. We’re actually kin to the characters described. No, wait, we’re fallen just like they are and in the same predicament. We’re the ones chasing glory and seeking pleasure, but we still haven’t found what we’re looking for. We read and realize that we’re not just being talked about; we’re being spoken to.
Not Your Ordinary Fellow
The fact that Jesus is raised stands forever at the height of this story, waiting for us to respond, giving us a chance to say something. And one way or another, we are always saying something, whether we’re compelled to embrace the gospel or disregard it. Even the refusal to comment is, of course, a kind of comment nonetheless.
The early leaders of the church grasped this implication. The sincere fears that made them cower behind closed doors on Friday and Saturday had disappeared when they realized Jesus was alive. We see this in how they talked. The biblical author Luke wrote a sequel book to his Gospel called the “The Acts of the Apostles.” Similar to the Gospels, it’s a historical narrative, but rather than cover the life of Jesus, it gives a glimpse into the life of the early Christians. Over and over in this narrative we see that the resurrection propelled and shaped their message. In fact, one criterion for being an early messenger of the gospel was that you were a witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:22).
In the first sermon recorded by Luke, the apostle Peter addresses a restless crowd with an unremitting focus on the resurrection. He puts the resurrection of Jesus in the context of the ancient Jewish prophesies about God’s Messiah, boldly asserting that Jesus is who they have long been waiting for. “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses,” he says (Acts 2:32).
And then, inseparable from the resurrection, is that Jesus is exalted, his identity as God the Son is vindicated, he is now reigning, he has sent his Spirit to empower the telling and hearing of this story (Acts 2:32–35). And then, to wrap up the whole sermon, Peter ends with the most obvious inference:
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36)
As one paraphrase puts it, “There’s no longer room for doubt — God made him Master and Messiah” (The Message). The point is that Jesus is the Messiah promised from ancient times, and that he is also God. Death couldn’t hold him. He’s not your ordinary fellow.
The response from the hearers makes complete sense. After Peter says these last words, Luke tells us that those around who heard him were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). That is the literal expression in the original Greek. Conceptually, it means that things got real.
The deep rumblings of their souls, the complexities of their lives, all the things that swirl in the minds of people just trying to make it in this world — it all became exposed, the real laid raw, the fluff set aside. What really matters now mattered to them, and they asked, “What do we do?” They knew something had to happen. Something now had to be different.
The resurrection of Jesus shows up consistently in the teaching ministry of the apostles. Proclaiming Christ crucified always meant proclaiming him risen, even when it got them into trouble (which it did, Acts 3:2), even when their listeners couldn’t handle it (which some couldn’t, Acts 17:32). But in every case, the reality of the resurrection presses into those who hear about it, and in a particular way.
Proclaimed to You
We see this again in the apostle Paul’s sermon delivered in the city of Antioch, a first-century metropolis located at the border of modern-day Turkey and Syria. In that sermon, after retracing key points in the biblical storyline, Paul claims that resurrection of Jesus guarantees the fulfillment of God’s promises. Like Peter, he links the resurrection to past prophecies about God’s Messiah, and then, he extends it to what it means for us.
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39)
Once again, the message spoken extends to the lives of its hearers. The resurrection of Jesus means that we can be forgiven for our sins. It’s not just a story for entertainment or advice or religious musings disconnected from the real world. Jesus is raised. This is news. He is alive.
Forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.
And that means forgiveness is proclaimed — and proclaimed to you. It means that every listener is invited not merely to listen, but to believe. Here is where the resurrection calls for our response. Here is where neutrality sheds its skin. We are called to embrace this news and participate in its wonder. Or reject it and perish.
Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice for your sins, and then he was raised from the dead. Jesus is alive. Forgiveness is proclaimed to you. This is freedom held out for you. Receive him, believe him, embrace him.
That is what an early messenger of the gospel would be saying to you right now. That’s what is being said to you right now. The question is how you respond.