How often do you celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ? On Easter Sunday? On the first day of every week? As you read what Paul says in Ephesians 2:4–7, how about every day? And what is the best way to celebrate it?
You were dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is worth celebrating! The New Testament Scriptures (unlike Israel’s worship in the Old Testament) do not require the observance of holy days – with the exception of the example of the one weekly holy day, the Lord’s Day. This isn’t the place to get into a discussion of the Christian Sabbath, but remember that the Fourth Commandment has not been abrogated. Christians are not under obligation to observe Lent (think of Zwingli and the affair of the sausages) or other days. But what about the resurrection of Christ?
The resurrection of Jesus is worth celebrating because it actually happened. The accounts of all four Gospels are clear: Jesus of Nazareth was put to death on the cross. Further details are mentioned in one or more. Joseph of Arimathea laid the body to rest in his own tomb. The leaders of Israel had the tomb sealed with Pilate’s permission. All four Gospels tell the news that early on the first day of the week women came to the tomb and found it empty. Angelic messengers informed them that Jesus was not there, but that he had been raised. Jesus appeared in person to the women before, later in the day making himself known to the disciples. Paul, who met the same risen Lord years later on the road to Damascus, describes the bodily resurrection as being of first importance. It is an event worth celebrating every week as the body of Christ gathers in God’s presence.
The resurrection is an actual event that happened in real history. And if formed the heart of the message that the early church proclaimed.
“The great weapon with which the disciples of Jesus set out to conquer the world was not a mere comprehension of eternal principles; it was an historical message, an account of something that had recently happened, it was the message, ‘He is risen.’”J. G. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p. 24
You need to be raised from death. That is why the resurrection is such an important event. Ever since the fall of Adam, your natural state is one of death–not physically, but you are lifeless in your relationship with God, and as unable to initiate a correction of that as someone who is dead. The theological term we use to describe this is “total depravity.” Paul’s language of “walking” in sin describes a life which, step by step, rebels against God. God is faithful to his covenant. But we, by nature, are covenant-breakers, rebels against God. Notice that Paul speaks not only of “you” in verse 1, but also of “all of us” in verse 3. None of us are off the hook. By nature we tend to lead misguided lives, following the ruler of the kingdom of the air (a description of Satan). There is no neutrality. You cannot simply ignore God. Your total depravity is part of the problem of sin that affects you from birth and even before, Psalm 51:5. We come by sin naturally. The problem has a long history. It traces back to our first parents, to their first sin, the guilt of which is imputed to us, Romans 5:12, and the corruption of which permeates us. (Don’t forget that your salvation flows from the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to you.) Denial of total depravity leads to a denial of grace. The Reformation included an emphasis on man’s sinfulness, not just as a human theory, but recognizing that this was the teaching of Scripture (see Luther’s Bondage of the Will). Even in the Old Testament, believers understood (though not as clearly as you know it) that it was vitally important that their Redeemer be alive, Job 19:25.
It is against the background of man’s sin that Paul paints the picture of God’s grace. God has made you alive in Christ! You have been raised with Christ. God has made you alive. God is the one who is active. The Father is the specific person of the Trinity in view. He makes you alive in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the agent, see verses 18, 22. God does not simply help you. He makes you alive. The change in you is no less dramatic than that of Lazarus as he heard the command of Jesus to come out of the tomb. This change affects your whole person, including your mind (making you aware of what you once denied), and your will (making you desirous of doing what you once avoided. And it includes the resurrection of your body at the last day. Christ was raised from death to be your Savior. Paul does not say that because Christ was raised you will be raised (two separate events). Rather, you have been raised with him. His resurrection is yours as well. Your salvation, your calling, means that God has united you with your risen Savior. Your justification, adoption, and sanctification flow out of your union with your risen Lord. Christ’s resurrection is the Father’s public declaration that the Second Adam (though humbled for your salvation and who had been made sin for us) is not guilty! His sacrifice has been accepted, 1 Timothy 3:16. As you are united to him, you too are declared just. The resurrection constitutes Jesus Christ as “Son of God with power,” Romans 1:3, 4. As you trust in that risen Lord, you too are adopted as God’s child. Christ, by his resurrection, is set free from the domain of sin. He is liberated from its power, Romans 6. As you are buried with Christ and raised with him, you too are sanctified.
“It is also because the people of God were in Christ when he gave his life a ransom and redeemed by his blood that salvation has been secured for them; they are represented as united to Christ in his death, resurrection, and exaltation to heaven (Rom. 6:2–11; Eph. 2:4–6; Col. 3:3, 4). ‘In the beloved,’ Paul says, ‘we have redemption through his blood’ (Eph. 1:7). Hence we may never think of the work of redemption wrought once for all by Christ apart from the union with his people which was effected in the election of the Father before the foundation of the world.” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 172–173)John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 172–173
You have been seated in the heavenly realms. The power of God has seated Jesus Christ at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms, Ephesians 1:20. If you are united with Christ, if you have been made alive with the risen Lord, then you have been seated there with him. His glory belongs to you now, even though its full expression will become evident only in the coming ages, verse 7.
There are everyday consequences to the resurrection of Jesus. You live your resurrected life by grace. God’s grace is a free, undeserved gift. Paul underlines that by contrasting your former way of life in transgressions and sins with the glory that is yours in Christ. You cannot earn what you have receive. You do not deserve what has happened. It is all of God’s grace.
“This union with the exalted Christ is such that his death and resurrection in their saving efficacy from sin and all its consequences — that is, basically, from its guilt and power — are mine. Or, put even more elementally and integrally, by union with the exalted Christ, all that he now is and has secured for believers by virtue of having been crucified and raised is mine, whether presently or in the future.”Richard B. Gaffin Jr., By Faith Not By Sight, p. 47
Notice the double use of the phrase “it is by grace you have been saved,” verses 5, 8. They reinforce and explain one another. Grace is free, undeserved favor. Your union with Christ in his death and resurrection is a union that takes place by faith. Faith is not just trusting God for something, it is a living relationship with a person—Jesus Christ. The Catechism puts it well when it speaks of enabling you to “embrace Jesus Christ.” All boasting is removed. The glory goes to the God in whom you trust. The God whose thoughts and ways are higher than yours calls you to turn from your sins to the salvation he offers. A basic change of direction is crucial.
You were dead, but now are alive. You were lost, but have been found. God has raised you up in Christ Jesus! That is the very best news possible in a hurting, sin-cursed world.