Every Easter Sunday Christians all around the world turn their attention to what the Scriptures say about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and with good reason. Without the resurrection of Christ on the third day, there really is no Christianity.
In 1 Corinthians 15:17 Paul goes so far as to say, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”(ESV) Faith in a dead Savior is useless because a dead Savior is no savior at all, and saves no one!
At Easter we often spend time thinking about the historical fact of the resurrection of Christ, which is a good thing – Paul says that it is one of the truths of the Christian faith that is “of first importance” (v.3-4). The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are essential to the gospel itself.
In his book, Christianity & Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen wrote the following:
“What was it that within a few days transformed a band of mourners into the spiritual conquerors of the world? It was not the memory of Jesus’ life; it was not the inspiration which came from past contact with Him. But it was the message, “He is risen.”” (p.42)
It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the resurrection of Christ.
But have you ever wondered how Christ’s resurrection actually benefits you as a believer in Christ? The Scriptures actually have quite a bit to say about that too. One of the best examples of this is found in Romans 4:25 where Paul says that Christ was “raised for our justification.” (ESV)
What does this mean? What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ have to do with the justification of believers? And what else does the resurrection of Christ mean for us as believers?
The Heidelberg Catechism has a really helpful question and answer on the resurrection of Christ in its section going through the Apostles’ Creed:
“Q.45. How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us? A. First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that He might make us partakers of that righteousness which He had purchased for us by His death; secondly, we are also by His power raised up to a new life; and lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”
Partakers of Christ’s Righteousness – Justification
What is the first benefit that we as believers in Christ enjoy by God’s grace because of the resurrection of our Savior? It is because of Christ’s resurrection that we are made “partakers of that righteousness” of Christ that “He purchased for us by His death.”
In other words, in some sense we are justified because of Christ’s resurrection.
And isn’t that what Paul says here in Romans 4:25? For there he tells us that Christ “was raised for our justification.” No less a theologian than Charles Hodge (1797-1878) calls this verse, “a comprehensive statement of the gospel” (Romans [Geneva Series of Commentaries], p.129).
Now Paul is not saying that it was Christ’s resurrection on the third day that atoned for our sins – that is properly said only of His sufferings and death on the cross.
So why (or in what sense) does Paul link Christ’s resurrection from the dead to our being justified in Him, and so having all of our sins forgiven and being accepted by God as righteous in His sight?
Hodge himself offers two (2) reasons: First, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was just as necessary as for our justification as His death was, because it was the “proof that His death had been accepted as an expiation for our sins.”
In other words, Christ’s resurrection was the proof that the penalty for or sins was paid in full, and that Christ’s atonement had been accepted by God as the payment for our sins. Christ was “raised for [or because of – dia] our justification.”
The second reason is that Christ’s resurrection was “in order to secure the continued application of the merits of his sacrifice . . . .” In other words, no resurrection would also mean no ascension, and no ascension of Christ to the right hand of God the Father Almighty would then mean no intercession of Christ for us!
Most of us probably do not fully appreciate the importance of these things. We think of Christ’s death, but don’t give much thought to Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God. But Hebrews 7:25 says,
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (ESV)
Why is the Lord Jesus “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him”? Precisely because “he always lives to make intercession for them.” Christ’s resurrection and ascension are vital to His intercession, which is vital to both the application of the benefits of His redemption to believers, even to our perseverance (or preservation) in the faith!
And so Christ’s resurrection on the third day is just as important to our justification in Him as is His atoning death on the cross. There is no justification for sinners without the resurrection of Christ!
Raised with Christ to New Life– Sanctification
The second way that Christ’s resurrection benefits us as believers is that by it “we are also by His power raised up to a new life” (HC Q/A 45). The Scriptures clearly link Christ’s resurrection from the dead to our new life in Christ.
In other words, in some sense we are sanctified because of Christ’s resurrection.
Is that not precisely what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:1-4? There he writes,
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.” (ESV)
Baptism is the sign and seal of union with Christ; being united to Christ by faith into both His death and into His resurrection. And that means that our new life in Christ (both regeneration and the ongoing work of God’s grace in our lives in sanctification) is a part of sharing in the resurrection power of Christ!
Paul goes on to spell this out for us in the very next verse. In Romans 6:5 he writes,
“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (NASB).
This is why Paul says elsewhere in Ephesians 1:19–20 that he prayed that believers might know:
“ . . .what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” (ESV, Italics added)
See how often the Scriptures link Christ’s resurrection to the power of God at work in us as believers! In fact, if you read through the book of Romans (Paul’s magnum opus on the gospel of Christ), you may be surprised to find just how often Paul brings up the resurrection of Jesus Christ – it is practically throughout the letter!
- In Romans 1:4 he tells us that Christ was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead . . . .” (ESV)
- In Romans 4:25 he tells us that Christ was “raised for our justification.” (ESV)
- In Romans 6:4 he tells us that we were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (ESV)
- And finally, in Romans 8:11 he tells us that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (ESV) In other words, the resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of our own future resurrection in glory!
Clearly the resurrection of Jesus Christ really is one of the things that is “of first importance” to Paul’s preaching and teaching of the gospel.
A Sure Pledge of Our Own Blessed Resurrection– Glorification
And that leads us to the third way that the resurrection of Christ benefits us as believers that the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us of in Q/A 45, that it is “a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.” As the old hymn puts it, “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I.”
Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our own future resurrection in glory!
If you are a Christian, does that not bring you great comfort? Does that not give you real hope for the future?
In 1 Corinthians 15:20–23 Paul writes,
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (ESV)
Christ’s resurrection was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection of all His people. The idea of “firstfruits” is a farming term of sorts. To offer the firstfruits of your harvest to God is to trust that the rest is sure to come. As Proverbs 3:9–10 says,
“Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.” (ESV)
The firstfruits is connected to the rest of the harvest, and is the sign and pledge of it! In the same way, our Lord Jesus’s blessed resurrection is the guarantee of our own future resurrection in glory!
And notice what else Paul says about the sure hope of the resurrection there in that passage at the end of the chapter. In 1 Corinthians 15:51–58 he writes,
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (ESV)
The sure hope of the resurrection is rooted in Christ’s own glorious resurrection, and it is because of that sure hope that we can “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v.58).
The resurrection means our labor is not in vain. If by faith in Christ we labor for the cause of Christ, we will not be disappointed.
So let the resurrection of Christ that we celebrate every Easter (and really every Sunday!) cause you to “abound in the work of the Lord,” for He is risen indeed!
And so our salvation in Christ – past (justification), present (sanctification), and future (glorification) – are all connected not only to the death of Christ Jesus, but also to His blessed resurrection as well!
O how many benefits and blessings we share in because of Christ’s resurrection!
He is risen. He is risen indeed! – Amen