Happy Easter! Let me greet all of you with the same Easter greeting that has been offered by generations upon generations of Christians before:
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
(And you respond with:)
Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Now I don’t know how many of you have grown up saying that or have eventually settled into traditions that do, but I wonder how many of us have noticed the grammar of that statement. Why has it never said, “Alleluia, Christ rose”, or “Alleluia, Christ has risen”?
There is an extremely important and immensely practical aspect of the Resurrection that, as I’ve moved in more and more church circles, I’ve realized has either become de-emphasized, forgotten, or never known in the first place:
Jesus did not rise from the dead.
Nowhere in the Bible (that I could find, at least) will you find any reference to Jesus dying, being dead three days, and then getting himself up.
Instead, he is always the one that is raised by the Father. He doesn’t raise himself. He is the passive object of his Resurrection, not the active agent of it.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. (Eph1:20)
[A letter from] Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead (Gal1.1)
But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. (Acts3.14-15)
This may seem like I’m nit-picking. I can hear some people say, “Isn’t Jesus God, and so when it says ‘God’ raised him, isn’t that the same thing as Jesus raising himself?” But not only are those not the categories/articulations in which the authors of Scripture were thinking when they wrote, but this distinction is important and helpful on so many levels.
You turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (1Thess1.9-10)
One of the most encouraging things that I keep in mind in my own doubts and weaknesses is this: God is committed to and concerned with my sanctification more than I am.
God has moved in costly ways towards us in each of his persons. It isn’t just the case that God the Father dispassionately watches as Jesus dies, gets up, and judges. No, he Himself raises the one that conquers our darkness; His Spirit applies this to us.
Also, it means we can trust God the Father. For some of us, there can be a sense that God the Father is the angry one while Jesus is the one that tells him to chill. This truth of God raising Jesus shows us that God in all His persons is infinitely interested in our salvation.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures (1Cor15.3-4)
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel (2Tim2.8)
According to these verses, Paul relegates the truth of Jesus receiving Resurrection as one of those few essential parts of Christian doctrine–or, as he calls it, The Gospel.
What is this Gospel? It’s news. A story that has been set in motion that is to be proclaimed and lived in light of. I remember Old Testament scholar Peter Enns telling me once that the “problem” that the rest of the story of the Bible tries to solve is found in its first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. In the beginning, heaven and earth are separate–the rest of the Bible is about bringing those two things together.
Our doctrine is earthy, objective and involves the coming together of heaven and earth. It’s not just that the “human side” of Jesus died and the “God side” of him raised himself up. It’s that God the Son died and was buried deep in the earth, and God the Father reached down from heaven–bridging the divide between heaven and earth, life and death–and breathed life into Christ once more.
In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.(Col2.11-14)
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.(Rom6.4)
These verses emphasize that our Baptism is similar to Jesus’ resurrection: it’s more done to us than us doing it to ourselves. It’s something we receive, not do.
Yes, this is the basis of the idea of infant baptism: it is a material instrument of God’s grace to us. It is the outward sign of being the visible covenant people of God; a reality that is placed upon us from the outside, not casually walked in and out of by ourselves.
But this is helpful regardless of your view on baptizing babies. It helps our assurance as Christians. Something spiritual is actually taking place in baptism, it’s not simply a “symbol” or “public declaration”. And so, we can cling to our baptism in times of doubt and struggle, to know that we are God’s. We were raised from the water by God just as surely as Jesus was raised from the grave. Martin Luther said in his moments of doubt:
Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say: “But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in body and soul.”
We can rest on this as well.
It’s not up to us. We can relax.
Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. (Jn5.21)
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.(Mt10.8)
In all my research into the words for “raise” and “resurrect” in the Bible, I could find no instance in the whole Bible of a raising that was actively done by the person that was dead. In every case of a resurrection (or “resuscitation”–whatever you want to call it), it is always received from the outside. It’s always mediated through the presence and volition of another, not initiated by the individual that’s dead.
And so, the only requirement to experience Resurrection is not anything inherent to us. Rather, it’s simply trust in the one with the power to raise. We will not be responsible for our Resurrection–the God that raises us is. May we trust him.
Trusting & Dying Well in the Beauty of the Gospel
In Jesus’ final word from the cross–“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”–Jesus shows us how to die well. This may sound heretical to some degree (and perhaps it is), but I sort off think Jesus actually had to trust God in this moment.
What I mean is that I wonder if Jesus didn’t necessarily know for sure what would happen three days later. In the same way he doesn’t know when he is to return, I wonder if this was knowledge kept from Jesus. Or maybe in that moment of divine forsakenness at the cross, moments before he committed his spirit, that sweet communion with the Father in which he could rest in assurance was also broken.
Yes, Jesus knew (and proclaimed) that his resurrection was what was “supposed” to happen. Just like us. We “know” that we are “supposed” to be raised. We “know” that’s the plan, the Story. But don’t we still, in spite of our “knowledge”, experience moments, seasons, lifetimes of broken assurance–a rattling of our rest?
Something in me wants to believe that Jesus actually had to exercise trust in that moment; that when he died, he–like us–was descending into something that was fundamentally unknown. And terrifying. It would make sense of his agony, of Gethsemane, of the beauty of the cross, and of the beauty of Gospel.
I can trust a Jesus who also had to trust. I can believe a little more in a Resurrection that is given to me by a Jesus who had to exercise belief in the face of so much doubt, forsakenness, and a world that screams that it will never come. And yet it did.
We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. (2Cor4.14)
It was common Hebrew practice in Jesus’ day to say one line of a Psalm in order to refer to or bring to mind the entire Psalm. When Jesus says that final word of committing his spirit to his Father, he is quoting a line from Psalm 31. Therefore, it seems that in that final moment, Jesus was using a shorthand to pray all of that Psalm.
If this is the case, it is incredibly encouraging, because it shows the darkness and uncertainty into which Jesus was descending in his death. The same uncertainty we will all know. God Himself went ahead of us into it.
But it also shows us the trust into which Christ dove ahead of us as well. And he is the evidence of what trust colliding with death brings about: Resurrection.
The saying is sure: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” (2Tim2.11-13)
This Easter season, may we dwell in this Psalm 31 prayer of Christ that he prayed as he descended into death. And may it help feed in us the same trust he exercised in order to be raised again. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me….
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God….
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress…
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away…..
But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord,
for I call on you….
Love the Lord, all you his saints.
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.
One thought on “Our Easter Hope: Jesus Didn’t Rise from the Dead”
Very well put together, Paul. It’s a beautiful piece. Thanks for writing it. Keep up the good work.