On the Third Day He rose again from the Dead. This is the fourth line of the Apostles creed that we as Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday. This event is of infinite value for Christianity.
Without the resurrection of Christ, Christianity is just another religion of works righteousness and moralism that ultimately is of no value for the believer. Christ rose from the dead as the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthian 15:20). His resurrection is the precursor to our resurrection. That is because He rose from the dead we, who believe in Him, know that we too will be risen from the dead to live with Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness just as He is risen from the dead lives and reigns to all eternity.
The whole Christian faith depends on this one event, for as the Apostle Paul says: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:17-19 (ESV). All the truth claims of Christianity rest on the fact that Christ rose from the dead. If Christ had not risen from the dead then we would have to assume that Christ was not who he said he was, that is God. Instead, we would have to assume that He was a lunatic, and we would be better off believing the horoscopes we find in daily tabloids. In other words, we would be better off following our selfish motives and impulses and living for the moment.
These selfish motives are the basis for much of what we do as humans. They are even the basis for many religions. People who believe in Karma for instance don’t do good deeds for others out of the goodness of their hearts, but because they believe good will then be done back to them. And indeed the world seems to operate in such a manner as that. “What comes around goes around” is a popular proverb that often, but not always, rings true. But the selfish motives behind the “good works” make the good works null and void in God’s eyes. A gift given with expectation of another gift in return is not a true gift, but the source of endless angst at Christmas time. But we are talking of Easter and not Christmas. At Easter we see a preview of the gift Christ bought for us with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. That gift is eternal life and victory over sin, death and the power of the Devil. It is a gift received by faith in Christ as our lord and savior. It is a gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it or even to try and pay Him back for it. We are helpless to do so because of our sinful nature. And even the attempt to do so is an affront to God, the gift giver who wants it to be a gift. Have you ever offended someone by trying to pay them back for a gift they did not want to be paid back for? Or have you ever been offended by someone trying to pay you back for a gift you gave him or her? That is what it is like for God, by setting out to pay Him back for the gift of eternal life you are actually trying to take credit, however small, for the gift He has given you.
It is your pride at work. Our pride says we can do it ourselves; we don’t need the charity. So our pride gets in the way of the gift. Pride may admit needing a little help, but it won’t admit helplessness. Pride is the product of selfishness. It wants to take credit for the work it had nothing to do with. Only when pride has been totally crushed by a long look in the mirror of God’s law does one fully understand the gloriousness of the gift Christ gave us with his death. When one sees that his heart is a den of sin, (For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, [Mark 7:21 ESV]) does one see the futileness of becoming righteous on his own. A little help won’t do it. God needs to do the whole thing.
And that is what He did with His death. He atoned for our sins so that we would not have to be accountable for them. For Christ “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 (ESV). Justification is a court term if you have been justified for your actions in court you have been acquitted, as in justifiable homicide. We have been justified in God’s court, not because we were not guilty, but because Christ paid the price for our sins. As proof of this He was raised from the dead on the third day and was caused to be seen, Acts 10:40.
The resurrection was a miraculous event. People don’t come back from the dead. There are a couple accounts of it happening in the Bible, Lazarus for instance. But in every case it was a miracle that pointed to the Divine at work. Christ’s case is no different — it was the work of God the Father that brought Him back to life, never to die again. For this reason we know that He is who He said He was; that is God. God would not have raised a blasphemer, one who claims to be god and is not, from the dead. And since we know that Jesus is God we also know that His promises are true. Therefore our hope is in Him, who was the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. In Him we look forward to our own resurrection from the dead, for as Christians “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 (ESV). A new life that is freed from sin, selfishness and pride allowing us to serve Him and our neighbor with works that are truly good in God’s eyes. So we joyously begin every Easter with the greeting and response: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Because we know that He is the source of our eternal life, and the new life we live even here on earth, that stamps out our pride and selfishness and allows us to live in true love. That True love is the love of God, which caused Him to send his only begotten son to die for the whole world, you included, so that whoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.
Bror Erickson is pastor of the First Lutheron Church at 349 N. 7th St. He is a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary located in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Bible studies and Sunday School start at 9 a.m. Sunday, followed by worship at 10:30 a.m.