Easter is not simply a holiday that reminds us of something that happened in history. It is a celebration of our personal liberation and new life in Christ. In other words, the Resurrection of Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to new life, not just when we die, but right now.
I take you this morning to Romans 6:1-11. This is a difficult text but it affirms the transforming implications of the Resurrection.
The book of Romans is a carefully reasoned letter from Paul to the church at Rome. Paul begins with the universal condition of man: we are sinful people who do not and cannot live up to God’s standard. We are told that God provided Christ to serve as a substitute for us. Jesus was presented as a “sacrifice of atonement” (in others words, He was offered as a payment for our sin). Our salvation was not because of our goodness or our ability, it was because of God’s action on our behalf.
Because we are justified (made right with God) we now have peace with God. Paul argues that sin entered the world through the act of one man, Adam. He then says we are made right with God through the work of another man, Jesus.
Think about it like an epidemic. Let’s say there is an outbreak of a deadly disease. It all started with patient “0”. This one person, in effect, infected everyone else. His role is similar to that of Adam. Now imagine that there is one person who contract the disease but has no symptoms. He is immune to the disease. This one man makes the cure possible for all those who have been infected who will take the cure. That is the role that Jesus plays.
When God gave us the law it was not to get us to “work harder”, it was given to show us how much we needed Christ. It made us more aware of our sin. When we admit that sin, God gives us His grace that meets us and rescue us.
This is where we pick up Romans 6.
Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? [If God’s grace increases to meet our sin, maybe we should sin more so we get still more grace?] 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. [This is not saying we are saved by being baptized, it is saying that baptism points to the reality that when we embrace Christ, His death to sin, wonderfully becomes our death to sin . . . we, in a sense, die with Him. This is what baptism signifies]. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.
Paul says we died with Christ, so we can also experience the life of Christ because we also live with Christ because of the Resurrection.
Let’s say you are a refugee who wants to come to America. The problem is that you can’t afford to get in and you cannot secure the necessary papers. Now let’s say an American stranger comes along and adopts you and your family as his own. He works through all the legal issues and you are declared a citizen of the United States.
What did you do to get your citizenship? Nothing. It is a gift that is undeserved. And now that you have citizenship you can start living as a citizen of the USA. You are free to enter the country and to start a new life. Because of his gift of citizenship, you get to live as a citizen.
This is what the resurrection does for us: it makes us citizens of Heaven. We no longer have to live as slaves of sin (even though it will take time to start to live with a different mindset and outlook).
Let’s be honest, this all sounds great but it also sounds a little like a fairy tale. How do we know this is not simply a made up tale designed to make us feel better? This is old news for many of you, but just in case you have this questions let’s look at some of the evidence.
- Jesus really lived. History shows that Jesus lived. The record of His life comes from Christian and non-Christian sources. We even changed how we date things from His life. BC stands for before Christ and AD means AD means in the year of our Lord.
- Jesus said he would physically rise from the dead on the third day. He did not say he would only rise spiritually like the false teachers like L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology) (something that is impossible to prove). Jesus said he would rise physically and bodily!
- Jesus really died. He was killed by a professional Roman executioner. Just to be sure, they jammed a spear into his side and into his heart.
- The tomb was empty. All the talk about the Resurrection could have been stopped if someone just produced the body of Jesus. They could not do so because there was no body.
- There were hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. When Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians some of these witnesses were still living. Paul said over 500 people saw him at one time and many were still living. He encouraged people to check it out.
- There is no evidence to the contrary. There is nothing credible to say Jesus did not rise.
- There is the change in the disciples. These men went from running for their lives to standing in the temple courts (risking arrest and death) proclaiming that Jesus was alive and was the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for. Each of the disciples (except Judas and John) died a horrible death of a martyr. They did not die as a group (where they could encourage each other), they died solitary deaths. All they had to do to save their lives was to say, “It wasn’t so”. Not one . . . not one of these men recanted their testimony but went gladly to their death for the honor of Christ. Something changed their lives.
- The original church was made up of Jews. These Jewish believers declared Jesus to be God become man to dwell among us. That is significant because Jews were raised affirming that ascribing deity to a man was blasphemy.
- The Sacred Sabbath was changed to Sunday in honor of the Resurrection.
- The first witnesses to the Resurrection were women. This is significant because at this time the testimony of a woman was not accepted in court. If you were making the story up, you would not have a woman relaying the news.
- The new church started in Jerusalem, any evidence the resurrection was a hoax would have stopped the church dead in its tracks. The church flourished.
- There is the conversion of James the brother of Jesus who had previously believed his brother to be out of his mind. And then there is the conversion of Saul. One day he was arresting and executing Christians, the next day he was proclaiming Christ as His Lord!
I believe anyone who honestly examines the evidence will come to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. This makes Him unique among men. It means His claims were true. It means we can trust Him. We can trust that we are forgiven and that we will live even though we die.
The Impact of Easter on Daily Living
I like the old story about Sherlock Holmes who took a camping trip with Watson. After dinner and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night, and go to sleep.
Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend.
“Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
Watson replied, “I see millions of stars.”
“What does that tell you?”
Watson pondered for a minute. “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.” “Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.” “Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.” “Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant.” “Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.” “What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke: “Watson, you idiot. Someone has stolen our tent!”
This is what happens to us sometimes at Easter. We talk deeply about the theoretical and even the theological aspects of the resurrection, we talk about evidence and defend against attacks yet fail to see that the Resurrection is meant to change our lives.
Paul argues that since we died with Christ we also now live with Him in the here and now. Practically that means several things.
You don’t have to sin anymore. We died to the old way of life. St. Augustine explains what happened this way,
He used the metaphor of Satan riding a horse. Prior to conversion we, the horse, have one rider—Satan. He has the bit in our teeth. He is in control of the reins. When he turns our head in a certain direction, that is the direction we go. When he says “Whoa,” we stop, and when he says, “Giddyup,” we go, because he is our master, and we are his slave. Augustine went on to say that once we are converted by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is not as if Satan is sent back to the stables so that the only one riding us now is Jesus. Satan gives up the reins reluctantly. He will do everything he can to get that bit back in our mouth and to recover us as a slave. He hates to lose a slave. We have to fight against the enticements of Satan throughout our whole Christian life because he is furious that we have left his design, but something radically new has happened—we have gone through a spiritual resurrection. What does the Bible say? “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). The Spirit of God has raised our souls from the dead.” (Sproul, Romans)
If you are like me, it doesn’t feel like the addiction to sin is broken. My instincts and my thoughts are still used to the sinful ways. It is my default response. It comes so very naturally. But the reality is that we are now free from the enslavement of sin.
Suppose you were sentenced to prison for life. Every day for a decade or better you live in your small cell. You move when the guards say move and sleep when they say sleep. You have learned that life works best if you stay in your cell and mind your own business.
One day you receive a message that your sentence has been wiped out. You are free to go. The door of your cell is no longer closed but you return to the cell anyway. Why? It is habit. You have to learn how to live all over again. You were made free in an instant, but you will have to learn to live free one step at a time.
Here is the good news! You no longer HAVE to sin. The addiction no longer has any real control over you! You can choose to walk the way of the Lord. And not only this, you don’t have to do so by yourself! God has given you the Holy Spirit to walk with you, teach you, equip you, and help you.
We no longer need to fear. We are now children of the King. The Creator of all there is stands by our side. As Paul said in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?”
- We no longer need to fear condemnation because Christ paid for our sin.
- We no longer need to fear the hostility of others because the Lord tells us He will vindicate us.
- We no longer need to fear our greatest enemy, death. Because He lives we to will live. Not only is there life beyond the grave . . . fulfilled life is beyond the grave. Resurrection for the believer is not wishful thinking, it is a fact that is verified by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- We no longer need to fear the death of those we love. If they have placed their trust in Christ, then their death means life. Yes, we will miss them but it is temporary.
Have you see all those videos of soldiers coming home and surprising family members? That picture of reunion tugs at our hearts. If you are like me, these video bring tears to my eyes every time. Those reunions are just a hint of the reunion that await u in Heaven.
We relate to each other differently. Because Jesus rose from the dead we are no longer competitors in life. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus makes us one. We don’t have fight for God’s approval, it is given to us in Christ.
We no longer have to live with guilt, bitterness, and resentment because of things that have happened in the past. We know the Lord is the righteous judge. We can forgive, because we know what it is like to be forgiven. We can love because we have experienced love.
Because of Jesus we now have the heart of the Holy Spirit in us and He changes our hearts. The change does not happen overnight but if we allow it, we will change in ways that surprise the world.
In 2006 Charles Roberts walked into an Amish school and shot ten young girls, killing five. Then he killed himself. The whole world was stunned by what that community did next.
The parents of the children who were killed forgave the killer. They went to his home and grieved with his family for the loss they had experienced. They showed up at the cemetery for the funeral of Charles Roberts. They hugged the widow and her family. The community even donated money to the widow and her family.
How do you explain something like this? These are people who believe the truth that because of Jesus, there is life beyond the grave.
We Live with a different purpose. There is a new owner for our life. We no longer live for ourselves, we live for Him. We no longer have to try to earn His favor, we get to enjoy it.
When a business is under new ownership it often looks the same on the outside. But there are always changes. Some of the changes are subtle, some may be major. It is the same way when we embrace the Lord who rose from the dead. We are under new management. We are different. The changes may not seem obvious at first, but as we begin to live the way He calls us to live, those changes become more evident.
My friend, when you look at Easter, what do you see? Do you see celebrations, church activity, family gatherings? Do you see evidence to use when arguing with your unbelieving friends and relatives? Or do you see the Resurrection as the key that unlocks a brand new life?
Let me conclude by asking a few more questions:
- Do you believe Jesus died for you and rose again physically and fully?
- Have you embraced God’s offer of forgiveness and new life? If you are afraid you are too bad to be forgiven . . . think again. History is filled with accounts of those who were radically transformed by the power of Christ.
- Are you allowing the resurrection to merely make you comfortable about the future or are you allowing it to impact the very core of who you are?
The Resurrection changes everything! Death gives way to life. Futility is replaced with purpose. The temporary is replaced with the eternal. Fear is swallowed up by confidence. So don’t just acknowledge Easter, embrace the new life that is given to us through the death . . . and the Resurrection of Jesus.