Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Because He Lives!

By Roy Ciampa, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

As we approach Easter Sunday my thoughts go to a few key passages about Christ’s resurrection and what it means for our own present and future.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ takes us to the heart of the gospel. It is the climactic event to which all four gospels lead us to look forward as we read along. And other New Testament authors also make it clear that Christ’s resurrection is at the heart of the gospel message. In Romans 1:2-4, Paul refers to “the gospel [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (NIV). That Christ now reigns as “the Son of God in power” is established by his resurrection from the dead. The long-awaited time has finally arrived when, rather than being merely a bit player in the politics of the Ancient Near East as was the case throughout , God’s anointed Davidic king now reigns over all creation to bring righteousness, peace and joy to all those who recognize him for who he is. The resurrection of Christ is the promise of our future and that of creation as a whole, and gives meaning to our present life in the midst of the sufferings and challenges we face in this world. As Paul says in light of the resurrection in Romans 8:18, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Here are a few more thoughts on the meaning of Christ’s resurrection, mainly in light of Paul’s discussion of it in 1 Corinthians 15 and drawn from the new Pillar commentary on 1 Corinthians (Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians [The Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010], pages 737-9):
For Paul, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is at the heart of the gospel message (1 Cor. 1-15), gives meaning to our life and service to Christ in this present age (vv. 16-19, 29-32) and serves as a fundamental basis for perseverance in Christ (v. 58). It also clarifies (as do some other NT texts) the relationship between protology and eschatology (the beginning and the end of the human story, vv. 24-28, 45-49) and the relationship between Christ’s experience of resurrection and glory/reign and God’s intentions for the rest of his people (vv. 20-28). The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, more fully expounded here than in any other part of Scripture, makes it clear that God’s purpose has never been simply that of “saving souls” for a disembodied existence in heaven, as though creation itself was of merely temporal usefulness and significance. Creation turns out to be not simply the context in which God is working out his redemptive work, but reflects instead the breadth of God’s redemptive concern and plan. Physical, earthly and bodily existence have to do with the nature of creation as God made it and, in a completely redeemed and transformed version, are part of the nature of the context and existence that God has in mind for us and the rest of creation throughout eternity. Our life in this world matters, in part, because it turns out to be not merely a waiting room in which we pass our time until being invited into the rest of the building where we will really live. Our life in this world establishes the starting chapters for a story that will continue and flourish in radically new ways (and not merely begin for the first time) upon the resurrection of the dead.
As Oliver O’Donovan has argued (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline of Evangelical Ethics, 13), “Christian ethics depends upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”:
In proclaiming the resurrection of Christ, the apostles proclaimed also the resurrection of mankind in Christ; and in proclaiming the resurrection of mankind, they proclaimed the renewal of all creation with him. The resurrection of Christ in isolation from mankind would not be a gospel message. The resurrection of mankind apart from creation would be a gospel of a sort, but of a purely Gnostic and world-denying sort which is far from the gospel that the apostles actually preached.[1]
O’Donovan also points out (p. 56) that “[t]he resurrection of Christ, upon which Christian ethics is founded, vindicates the created order in this double sense: it redeems it and it transforms it.” The proclamation of the resurrection of Christ “directs us forward to the end of history which that particular and representative fate is universalized in the resurrection of mankind from the dead… (15:23). The sign that God has stood by his created order implies that his order, with mankind in its proper place within it, is to be totally restored at the last” (O’Donovan, 15). This message gives meaning and significance to this present life, making it clear that our “life on earth is important to God; he has given it its order; it matters that it should conform to the order he has given it. Once we have grasped that, we can understand too how this order requires of us both a denial of all that threatens to become disordered and a progress towards a life which goes beyond this order without negating it” (O’Donovan, 14-15).
Although I’m not a big fan of Gaither music, I can’t argue with their famous chorus. It is because He lives that I can face tomorrow without fear, and life at this present moment has meaning in light of the fact that He lives and holds the future.

[1] O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, 31. “The work of the Creator … is affirmed once and for all by this conclusion [i.e., the resurrection]. It might have been possible, we could say, before Christ rose from the dead, for someone to wonder whether creation was a lost cause. If the creature consistently acted to uncreate itself, and with itself to uncreate the rest of creation, did this not mean that God’s handiwork was flawed beyond hope of repair? It might have been possible before Christ rose from the dead to answer in good faith, Yes. Before God raised Jesus from the dead, the hope that we call ‘gnostic’, the hope of redemption from creation rather than for the redemption of creation, might have appeared to be the only possible hope. ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead …’ (15:20). That fact rules out those other possibilities, for in the second Adam the first is rescued. The deviance of his will, its fateful leaning towards death, has not been allowed to uncreate what God created” (Resurrection and Moral Order, 14)

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