The Power of the Resurrection
Scripture: Philippians 3:7–11
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
My atheist friend leaned over to me as we shared a meal and said, “Ben, let me ask you a question. Would it make any difference to your faith if you knew beyond any doubt that there was life on other planets?”
I answered him, “No, it would make no difference because I’m a Christian. I believe in God, so I already believe in extra-terrestrial life.” But then I said to him, “Now let me ask you a question. What if you knew beyond any doubt that Jesus of Nazareth, having been crucified, three days later rose again? Would that make any difference to you?”
My friend hesitated less than I did with his question. Chuckling he said to me, “It would make all the difference.”
My concern is that my atheist friend grasped the significance of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth more than many Christians do. If it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead, then everything has a new meaning. There is a new power that has invaded this world. It is a power that is stronger than death itself, a victorious power, indeed.
I would invite you to consider with me some questions. First, what do we believe about Easter Sunday? What do we believe happened on that day? Second, what does this belief mean for us in the future, in the days after we have died? Third, what does this belief mean for us now? What, if any, are the implications of Easter Sunday in our experience of life?
Resurrection is the hope that empowers the Christian life from beginning to end. To see this, we must be clear about the claim of Easter Sunday. Then we will know the goal of the Christian faith and find a power, a motivation for daily living.
The Claim of Easter Sunday
First, resurrection is the claim of Easter. This question about what we believe happened the first Easter may seem so easy to answer that we do not see the significance of even trying to answer it. What we believe about what happened on Easter Sunday is that Jesus of Nazareth, having been crucified by the Roman government three days prior, came back to life. He was crucified, his body was laid in a tomb, and on the first day of the week, he came alive again, and that same body walked out of the tomb in which he had been placed.
Truly, Fully Dead
But let’s be sure we are clear about something here. The claim of resurrection depends first on the reality that Jesus of Nazareth was really dead to begin with.
In the Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the East is killed by Dorothy's house dropping on top of her. The Munchkins are ready to celebrate, but the Munchkin judge reminds everyone:
But we've got to verify it legally
To see, if she
Is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely
Undeniably and reliably dead!
Because, of course, we might explain Easter Sunday by saying that Jesus merely swooned, that he was not actually dead. We might want to say that Jesus experienced a near-death experience, something like what we sometimes hear others saying they’ve experienced. And as amazing as it would be for someone who survived Roman crucifixion to be able to walk out of a sealed and guarded tomb just days later, this will not suffice for the Christian claim.
Or perhaps we can say that Jesus came back from the dead like we might think a spirit or ghost of someone who has died makes an appearance. Perhaps what Jesus’s disciples saw was an apparition or a phantom. This would also be amazing, the kind of stuff that would capture our attention. But it would also be the end of Christianity. No, this is not what is meant when we speak of Jesus being raised from the dead.
Ok, so Jesus died and came back to life. But didn’t other people in the Bible go through the same experience? Both Elijah and Elisha brought back people from the dead, according to the Old Testament. Jesus restored life to the son of a widow (Lk 7:11-17) and to the daughter of Jairus (Lk 8:52-56) and to Lazarus. Peter and Paul each did something similar in the book of Acts. Was there anything different about what happened to Jesus that first Easter?
Embodied Life Again
Yes, there is something very different about Jesus’s resurrection. While the other events are spectacular, this event is unique. Jesus did not just come back from the dead, later to die again. Jesus’s resurrection came after he not only died but also after he overcame death.
The same body that was buried in the tomb came out of the tomb. But that same body that came out was also different. It has been transformed.
This body that was raised was a body, a full, human body. But what was different about it is that it was now ageless. Immortal. The resurrected Jesus was fully embodied, but this was a body that could not die any more. That’s what we mean by Jesus being raised from the dead.
And this is also why Paul says he wants what Jesus has. “If by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.” He’ll trade everything to have “the resurrection from the dead.” How about you?
I know it sounds like wishful thinking, the idea that your dead body could come back to life and be immortal. But if Jesus rose from the dead in this way, just as he said he would do, then what if what happened to him could happen to you?
This is the Christian hope. It is the Christian promise. It is the heart of the good news. The Christian message is not “don’t worry about death; you can go to heaven in a disembodied soul.” The Christian message is, “there is a way to beat death. To come out of it, alive, embodied, never to die again.
The Goal of Christian Faith
Once we are clear about what it is that we claim about the resurrection of Jesus, we can be clear about what it is we are after by believing in him. What is the goal of the Christian faith? What are we hoping for? The answer: resurrection!
This is what Paul clearly says in verse 11. He wants to attain, by any means possible, the resurrection from the dead. And in the verses that follow he explains how he strives toward that goal.
But the following verses, read outside the context of what happened to Jesus on Easter Sunday, are often misunderstood. For example, when Paul says in verse 14 that he presses on toward the goal, which he calls “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” it is tempting to hear him saying he is striving toward the goal of going “up” to heaven. And then, incorporating the clear statement of verse 11 that his goal is “resurrection from the dead,” the conclusion is often drawn that “resurrection” simply means life after death, going to heaven when you die.
But this is a misreading of Paul, and a misunderstanding of Easter and its importance to the Christian faith. And such misunderstandings have a costly impact on how we practice and promote the Christian faith.
The “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” in verse 14 must not contradict the aim of “resurrection from the dead” in verse 11. They must not be understood in such a way that point us in different directions. The goal of the Christian faith is to be raised from the dead, to be immortal. Or, to say it another way, the goal, the prize, is “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Now, how do we see these two things in complement to each other?
Enemies of the Cross
We do it by understanding that God’s “upward” call is his gracious invitation for us to set our minds on eternal things, immortal things, things that will last forever. We have become so accustomed to the mortal life that this will not be an easy invitation to which to respond. Sadly many people, including many professing Christians, verse 18 says, “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” And verse 19 explains that these enemies of the cross are those whose minds are “set on earthly things.” That is, on things that are mortal. This is the greatest obstacle in our way as we strive for the prize. The “enemy” is the ever-present temptation to settle for the best mortal life we can have, even making use of Jesus to justify it.
Enemies of the cross determine their priorities based on temporary calculations. They make their decisions based on what will be most beneficial now or in 40 years when they retire. Enemies of the cross are incapable of seeing the immortal realities to which God calls us to strive for. They don’t consider moving to a dangerous place in the world where the gospel is not treasured for the sake of making Christ known to the people there. Their “god” is their belly (v. 19). They live by their appetites. They live only for the present.
God’s call is higher than this. But if you believe that the only life after this is a disembodied life in heaven, then you will also miss the point. Christ did not die in order to purchase for us a different life in heaven. He died in order to save this life from certain death. He died to call us “upward,” to rescue us from the banal existence of knowing we are plunging into the future with no real hope so we try with all our might to make the present as eternal as we can.
Some say this mortal life is all there is. Others place their hope in a disembodied life after death. Without hope in resurrection, both views are in opposition to the Christian gospel and what it means for life now.
The Motivation for Daily Living
You see, if the Christian hope is true, then it makes all the difference for our daily lives. If we believe in resurrection, then there is a certain continuity to our lives now and the immortal life to come. Belief in resurrection adds meaning to our ordinary, mundane lives because it promises that life goes on. Just think of it! When Jesus rose from the dead with an immortal body, he didn’t appear altogether different from how he appeared on earth. He still went fishing and ate food and talked to his disciples. Resurrection means we come back into a new world, but not into an altogether different world. There is continuity with life as we know it. And that means life as we know it has new meaning.
Surpassing Worth of Christ
First, it means that there can only be one thing that is the greatest ambition of life. Paul says he considered every gain he had in life “as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8). Because the prize of the Christian faith is not a place (such as “heaven”) but a person, the greatest ambition is to know this person. “This is eternal life,” says the Gospel of John, that we might know Christ (Jn 17:3).
The “upward call of God” of which Paul speaks is “in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). Christ died and rose again to give us eternal life. God called us “into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9). Because we believe in resurrection, the greatest ambition and treasure of our life is to know this Jesus. As Paul says in verse 9, the greatest ambition is “to be found in him,” to possess his righteousness. How do you have his righteousness? By being in him. How do you get into Christ? By faith: “the righteousness from God depends on faith (v. 9). Believing Christ, knowing Christ, loving Christ—that is the great ambition of our lives, if indeed Jesus has been raised.
Citizens of Heaven
Second, because of resurrection, our lives take on new meaning because Christ makes us citizens of heaven (v. 20). In the ancient Roman world, the point about citizenship was not the hope of one day going back to live in the homeland but the privilege of living this new place by “the rules of the mother city.”[i] To live as citizens of heaven means we live by an entirely different politic than any imposed on us by our local government. We play by different rules. We obey Christ because we love him. He alone has our loyalty and allegiance.
We can expect this to get us into trouble from time to time, but our citizenship does not mean our hope is to escape back to heaven but to wait for our Lord to come and deliver us from all difficulties.
Suffering with Christ
And third, because of resurrection, our lives take on new meaning because all that we suffer in this life will only result in us knowing Christ all the more. To know Christ, Paul says, to know “the power of his resurrection,” means sharing in his sufferings and “becoming like him in his death” (v. 10).
Old people talk about their body aches and pains. I’m finding I’m starting to do that more, and frankly, it’s annoying! It really does hurt to get old. But if the claim of Easter Sunday is true, why would you ever want to go back to your youth? Why would you want to go back when the future ahead of you is knowing Christ more? Let us press on and know this Christ who rose from the dead; let us press on and love him more. Suffering and misery and aches and pains are all worth it, if by them we know the power of his resurrection.
So on this Easter Sunday, remember the claim of Easter, that Jesus came through death, fully alive, embodied and immortal. The goal, then, of all the Christian life is to know this Jesus. And what motivates our lives even in the pain and the suffering we will certainly face is the hope of seeing the riches of his power evident in his resurrection. Let us maintain our hope in the power of the resurrected Christ.