Jesus Rises to Life and Promises Us Life after Death
On the third day after he died, Jesus’ human body came back to life and left his grave. This was not a “once-in-human-history” sort of event. Jesus’ rose first, but the rest of us will follow. We are happy that Jesus is alive. We are glad to have him back. But the promise this all holds for our own return from death gives us a fuller reason for joy.
Should it? Do we really want to live forever? More and more people, it seems, are happy to hasten death. They are ready to make an early exit from a life that is so painful, so depressing, so broken. As scary as death may be, the prospect of suffering day after day is more dreadful. Would we, do we, want to rise from an unconscious death to a conscious life that is more of the same?
Of course, even death is not so “unconscious” as many have been led to believe. And the Resurrection promises life like it was meant to be to those who follow Jesus. It offers us a whole new perspective on what it means to be alive.
The Resurrection’s Promise for the Life to Come
It should be obvious that Resurrection means a complete change of life for those who are raised. And that is the first promise the Resurrection makes for our coming life–we will be instantly changed. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Change is often difficult for us. We have seen change moving in the wrong direction.
Sometimes, even change for the positive has been slow and painful–overcoming a serious addiction, fixing a broken relationship, repenting of our own faults and failings. We are tempted to adopt a position that blindly says, “If it means change, I am against it!” But then we would be closing ourselves to the God whose call to repentance calls us to change every day.
But when we see our lives in light of the resurrection, our Lord shows us a change to which we can happily agree. Nothing slow or painful here. It all happens “in a flash.” For “flash” Paul uses the Greek word from which we get our word “atom.” It refers to something so small that it can no longer be cut or divided. It is as small as can be conceived. In this briefest moment in time we will be changed instantaneously. You can run the slow motion video, but you will look in vain to see any series of transitions. One moment dead, the next alive. One moment corrupt and earthly, the next moment pure and heavenly. No years of purgatory to suffer through to get there, either. It all happens “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”
Nor is there anything negative to fear about this change. The life that is coming is the very opposite of decay. “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
Seeing your life in the light of the Resurrection means to know that you will be imperishable. Every trip to the doctor or dentist reminds me how much I am like the spoiling fruit sitting on our kitchen counter. In my case, the pace is just much slower. Comparing photos old and new reveals lines that didn’t used to be there, hair that has gotten silver in places. At least the hair is still hanging in there! Now we are perishable, mortal, and the evidence is all around us all the time.
But we will be raised imperishable, immortal! More amazing than going out to the compost pile behind my garage, picking out what used to be an orange, now covered in green and white mold, the fruity flesh now a brown, stinking, oozing mush, and making it somehow firm and sweet and edible again; God will pluck our bodies from their graves, in whatever state of decay, and instantly we will be stronger, healthier, more beautiful, and more intelligent than we were at the peak of our youth and the height of our earthly powers. More than that, our hearts and souls will be so saturated with holy love that we will be capable of nothing but goodness and kindness for the eternity of life the Resurrection brings.
Why? How? Paul explains, “‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why should youth turn to age? Why should strength fade to weakness? Why should life give way to death? A research scientist I once knew said that human science still cannot explain why cells, that once repaired and replaced themselves so efficiently as our bodies grew and we matured, lose their ability to keep us at the top of our powers as the years pass.
But Paul knew. “The sting of death is sin.” Sin is the poison that infects us and brings us bitter death. Sin is the sting, even if it doesn’t look the part. It camouflages itself as pleasure. But like the shiny red apple the witch-queen brings to Snow White in the fairytale, the pleasure is only an illusion. Death is the reality, a reality that overtakes us all.
Sin itself gets its power from the law. Where there is no command, no law, there is nothing to break, no sin to commit. But wherever God reveals his law, sin sees its opportunity. We break the command, God imposes the penalty, and we die...
Until God himself gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Easter Day, the Day of Jesus’ Resurrection, is the day of Christ’s victory. His body drew all the venom, all the poison of every sin committed by every sinner into itself. He died a thousand deaths, a million deaths, billions and billions of deaths, when he died the deaths of all humanity for the sins of all humanity at the cross. All the venom, all the poison was spent on him until sin and death themselves were spent, at the very end of their power, and he died.
But he took his life back again. Sin and death have nothing left to stop him. He is the victor! Then, incredibly, the Lord of all, the Easter victor turns around, and he hands his victory to his people. He promises the same life from the dead to every one of us. His Resurrection means a victorious life for us is coming after death.
The Resurrection’s Promise for the Life You Now Have
So that means our current life is horrid, useless, not really worth living, right? Not at all! It may not look like the happy, clappy, “victorious Christian life” some claim. It may be filled with a healthy share of suffering. But as much as we may struggle, the Resurrection promises new things, good things, for the life we live now as well. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm, Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
The Lord we serve is immortal. More than that, he has made us immortal. If that is so, what can anyone one earth do to us? Kill us? And then what? We just come back to life later anyway. They haven’t done anything! Ridicule and persecute us? And what do we care? For our Friend we claim the Giver of life and the Destroyer of death. Do they know more than the One who made everything, who proved himself by dying and taking his life back again, and now rules all from heaven? Here at Jesus’ Resurrection we have strength for all our trials. Here at Jesus’ Resurrection we have the answer to all our skeptics, every crisis of faith. When they dig up Jesus’ dead body, we will be afraid. But since we know the tomb is empty, “...stand firm. Let nothing move you.” The one who puts his trust in him will never be put to shame.
Instead of fear, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.” Isn’t that what the life of faith looks like in light of the Resurrection? Martin Luther once said it this way, “Faith...makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.”
Why live such an active life doing the work of the Lord? Because, when you see your life in the light of the Resurrection, “...you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” It may be a labor at times, that is true. The work may be hard. But it is not in vain. It is never empty or useless, even if it seems hard or frustrating. The power that raised Christ from the dead, the power that someday will raise each one of us from the dead, stands behind it all. The victory is all on our side.
Maybe the game keeps going because there is still time on the clock, but the score is infinitely out of reach for the other side. We have won. Our service to the Lord only helps to expand the count of souls who will share in our Savior’s victory.
I still remember the day 30 years ago when I got my first pair of glasses. Suddenly a world which had gotten a little blurry and fuzzy was sharp and clear again. The detail in the leaves which were just turning yellow and orange that fall was astounding.Today, you and I can’t see straight if we look at our lives without the light of Jesus’ Resurrection. This life will be blurry at best, and we won’t see the next one at all. But Jesus’ Resurrection brings it all into focus. We are going to live in undying love and joy forever. And even the life we live now is worth the effort, because Jesus is alive, and he has made his victory our own.