I encountered two significant mistakes this Easter season that cheapen and distort the resurrection of our Lord beyond recognition. I list them here in the hope that I never hear them again.
1. Emphasizing the Principle of resurrection over the historical Person who arose.
Here’s the quote: “We are stuck with Jesus, and he won’t go away. Yes, we can try to tie him up or cage him in…we can crucify him with Roman power and bury him in a rich man’s tomb…we can seal that tomb…we can post armed guards…we can do all these things, but Jesus cannot be contained. He rises again. He keeps coming back.”
The resurrection is not about an uncontainable principle that keeps coming back but about an actual historical person who came back. Jesus is not like one of those weighted clown balloons we had as kids that keeps popping up after our haymaker. He doesn’t continue to rise from the dead. He arose once and for all.
2. Emptying the Reason for the resurrection
Even those preachers who apparently believe that Jesus bodily arose from the dead can still dramatically undersell the reason why. I heard one say that resurrection means that every good thing we do will be remembered in the next life, so keep your chin up when you are down and life isn’t breaking your way.
This is an important application, but it’s only true for those who receive the forgiveness of sin by trusting Jesus’ death and resurrection. The reason Jesus arose was to forgive and free us from our bondage to sin. Paul does not say that Jesus arose to give a bounce in your step and remind you that the sun will come out tomorrow, but he arose “for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Paul adds that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). This is far worse than being down on your luck.
Every time we preach on the resurrection we must emphasize three things:
1. The historical event of the real person of Jesus.
We cheapen the resurrection when we turn it into an inspiring concept of hopeful turnaround. Many things may need a “resurrection,” such as your marriage, my finances, and the WNBA, but Jesus did not primarily rise again for any of these. We don’t merely believe in resurrection but in THE resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is an actual event that does a specific thing.
2. Jesus’ resurrection supplies the foundation for the forgiveness of sin.
Everything else is icing on the cake. And you can’t fill up on icing (you shouldn’t fill up with cake either, but this is America).
3. Jesus’ resurrection is not good news to everyone.
What struck me about the Jesus-arose-to-put-a-spring-in-your-step message was that it equally applied to Oprah and Deepak Chopra. We must never reduce the defining moment of special grace to a gift of common grace.
The resurrection does give an indomitable spirit of optimism to those who have been saved by the power of Christ. But those who reject the gospel will receive the force of the resurrection as judgment. The resurrection means that Jesus is Lord of the world, and that is not good news to those who want to play that role.
Just as a President’s Day Sale cheapens the life of Lincoln (Lincoln gave his life to free slaves, and so Discount Furniture frees you to buy this sofa by paying your sales tax), so anyone who reduces the resurrection of our Lord to the principle of brighter days ahead has forsaken the gospel. Jesus did not die and rise again for this.