Early on a Sunday morning faithful, grieving women went to a tomb outside Jerusalem to serve their rabbi in a final act of respect and reverence by anointing his body with spices. You know the story, the true story, that they found the tomb empty and angelic messengers proclaiming the good news that he was not there, but was risen, as he had said. The Gospels tell you of the resurrection, but the theme runs throughout Scripture. Paul’s letters emphasize what Christ’s resurrection means for him and what it means for you, his church, as you see in Colossians 3:1–4. You are the church of the risen Savior.
What does Christ’s resurrection mean for him? Jesus emerged triumphant from the grave. Over the centuries the church has grown in understanding what the death of Christ means. He died, not simply as an example, not as a martyr, but as the substitute for his people. The whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed forward to him. He is the Lamb led to the slaughter, the One on whom our iniquities were laid in Isaiah 53. But, as important as the death of Christ is, it is secondary to his resurrection. Don’t overlook that note of triumph at the end of Isaiah 53. He is alive. He sees his offspring. As the Victor he is given the spoil. The resurrection is his triumph. “The death of Christ is not an end in itself. It is subordinate to a great purpose that can be achieved only through resurrection. . . . To be a Saviour, Christ had to pass through resurrection. It was an integral part of the experience and task assigned to him in the economy of redemption. The resurrection power exercised by the Father in the raising of Jesus, and the resurrection power with which, in virtue of that fact, Jesus is endowed are necessary facts in the plan of salvation. But if so, there needed to be death. For without death resurrection has neither existence nor meaning.” (Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 4, p. 88).
Christ has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. No only has Christ been raised, he has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. His exaltation is the triumphal reward the Father bestows on the Son who has done his Father’s will. The exaltation of Christ gives hope and confidence to his body here on earth—his church. That church may suffer and be persecuted, but she is united with her exalted Lord. She will not perish. As the risen Lord, about to ascend to his Father, he claims all authority in heaven and earth and commands his church to go into all the world with the good news. His exaltation gives hope and confidence to individual believers. Where do you get the strength to put to death the sins that cling to you? How can you do the difficult work of growing in grace, of being conformed to Christ? Only because you are united with your risen, exalted Lord.
What does Christ’s resurrection mean for you, his church? You died with Christ. Look at Colossians 2:12. Christ’s death means that as you trust in him, you died with him. Paul is dealing with the grand indicatives of the Christian life. The penalty for your sin has been paid. The curse against you has been borne by him. Christ died as a substitute in your place. He died for your sins. His death was vicarious. See Romans 4:25; 5:6–8. Your death with him means that you have been set free from the enslaving power of sin. But Christ’s death with nothing to follow is not good news.
You are united with Christ in his resurrection. There is no fact more basic for the church or for you as one who trusts in him. Note how the resurrection forms the core of apostolic preaching (Acts 2:24,32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:32–37; 17:31; 26:23). Read Paul’s letters, and note the frequent references to the resurrection. Join in celebrating his resurrection each Lord’s Day! The resurrection does more than prove that Jesus is truly God. In his resurrection, no less than in his death, Jesus Christ is the second Adam. You are untied with him and are raised with him. “The resurrection of Jesus is just as thoroughly messianic and adamic as are his sufferings and death. His resurrection is as equally representative and vicarious as his death. Believers no longer live to themselves but to the Christ, ‘who for their sake died and was raised’ II Cor. 5:15.” (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection, p. 66). When is your resurrection? In the past? Yes, you were raised with Christ. In the future? Yes, your bodily resurrection will be completed at the last day. You live today as one who has been raised with Christ.
Your life is hidden with Christ in God. You really belong in heaven, where the exalted Christ dwells, Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 2:6. Focus on the heavenly things. This is where your life really is, since you are united to your risen, ascended Lord (even though God still calls you to walk here below). The things which belong to heaven ought to be your concern. Your priorities are different from what they were before you came to Christ. Your life no longer focuses on you. Paul’s indicatives imply imperatives. There is bound to be tension in your life. You, who belong above, you, who are focusing your thoughts on the things above, are called to live in a sin-cursed world. Paul will list specifics which must be removed from your life. They must be put to death. See verses 5–11. He also describes characteristics to put on, verses12–14. These are very practical ways of celebrating Christ’s resurrection.
Look forward to glory! Christ’s appearing is your goal, for his appearing is also yours. For Paul, Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming (which includes your bodily resurrection) form one complex of events, one great event taking place in different time installments. You do not know the day of Christ’s coming, but you must live in the light of that day. Then, at his appearing, you will enter the eternal celebration of Christ’s triumphant work! How rich your joy and praise as you look at Christ’s completed work, at the union with him in his resurrection of all of those for whom he died.
What is the church? The most basic thing you can say about the church is that she is belongs to the risen, ascended, and returning Lord. Live that way this week.