Why Jesus Being Raised From the Dead Matters Theologically
This is the third and final post in a series about the resurrection of Jesus.
The claim of the New Testament writers that God raised Jesus from the dead was on my mind in April for several reasons. The most obvious is that it was “Easter” month; yet “Easter” (apparently named after the sex goddess Astarte) has never been a particularly big day for me. Like most of our Christian “holy days,” I find it difficult to disassociate from its pagan backgrounds, foolish church fights over dating, and its modern co-opting by our business world. I wish we would reconnect it with the Jewish Seder dating – I think the very Jewish Jesus might appreciate that nod to his roots.
Acts 2:22-24 states: “But, God raised this very Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.” Now THAT I find tantalizing and exciting. In fact, I would argue that Christianity has no right nor reason to exist unless that statement is a reflection of an act of God in real human history.
Much of what I am going to mention today has appeared an earlier blog, but I want to reiterate the points as a part of this current three-week series – the moral issues, the historical issues, and today the theological issues surrounding the New Testament writers claim that God raising Jesus from the dead is “Good News.”
1) GOD’S CHARACTER IS FAITHFUL/TRUSTWORTHY
The early believers experienced God’s raising Jesus from the dead as “Good News” about God’s character. This act of God vindicated God as a God who could and would keep God’s great promises to the human race. Every believer dies without seeing many of God’s promises completely fulfilled. Only if God has an answer for human life that is victorious over death is it true that God is a faithful and trustworthy God.
2) GOD CARES ABOUT JUSTICE
We either personally or vicariously experience unrequited injustice daily. Mothers and children, courageous dissidents, misled patriots are crushed by the wheels of power all over the world. And, that does not even include all of the injustices humans experience as participants in a broken “natural” world – babies and young adults dying because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trayvon Martin (and others like him) dying because they walk somewhere someone else considers “out of bounds” for a young black man. Abu Ghrev, death row for someone else’s crime, torture – Jesus experiences this human tragedy, but it is NOT the last word about justice. Life, victory, exaltation, blessing – that is God’s last word of justice for Jesus and now we can trust that it will be God’s last word in addressing other injustices as well.
3) GOD CARES ABOUT INDIVIDUALS & ABOUT HUMAN SOCIETIES
As the quotation above from Acts 2 indicates, it was very important to the early believers that God raised “this very Jesus of Nazareth” from the power of death. Not just a “Christ-spirit,” not just an immortal soul, not just a wonderful memory, but “this very Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus is still Jesus and Jesus is still the Jewish “son of David.” In raising Jesus, God demonstrates that God cares about the individual and about the specific contributions of specific human cultures. The specifics of human personality and of human cultural achievements are not to be absorbed into the great eternal ether, but to be sustained as a part of God’s future age.
4) THIS STAGE OF GOD’S CREATION WAS NEVER MEANT TO LAST – but, GOD WANTS ONE THAT WILL
But, though Jesus remains a bodily Jesus, it is also true that Jesus’ body needed to be transformed and glorified if it is to last and act forever. Our current creation is not sustainable — including Jesus’ body and ours. It was never meant to be permanent. This age is one of God’s steps toward God’s great future for the human race. As wonderful, exciting, amazing, and beautiful as it can be, this age of creation is one that has death and decay in its very fabric. It was never meant to be ultimately sustainable without an intervening transformation or glorifying that recreates, heals, and moves forward to a higher level. (I am very much for wise ecology and for preserving the planet as stewards of God’s great gifts of creation. Please do not hear this otherwise.)
5) GOD’S PURPOSE IS THAT THE BEST OF HUMAN HISTORY IS YET TO COME!
The early believers were willing to go out an risk their lives for the faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, not because they did not love life and living, but because they believed the best of life and living is yet to come for those who pursue God. Jesus being raised to a better and fuller life was their guarantee that there is nothing to fear – the best is yet to come. How did they know? “But, we do see Jesus!” (Hebrews 2:5-18), and as powerful as his life in Israel was, the best was yet to come.
So, for moral, historical, and theological reasons, I do not think that it is at all irrelevant whether God raised Jesus from the dead within the realm of human historical experience, or whether it is just a nice tale to model one’s life by. For me personally, if God had not vindicated God’s self by vindicating Jesus’ faithfulness to God and Jesus commitment to the best for the people around him, all Jesus’ death would model for me is “If you are good enough and courageous enough to stand for right at all costs, it will often get you killed.” True, both then and now, in the best societies and religions, not just the worst.
Thank God there is a better challenge: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of faithfulness; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)