By Anne Jeffers, Assistant Professor of Ministries
How do you say the last goodbye to your 16-year-old granddaughter? Where do you find hope as you stand by your mother’s fresh grave? As I reflect on these and other life changing questions I’ve faced, I realize the answers are found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet, despite its profound impact, we as Christians rarely give it the attention it deserves.
As followers of Jesus, we know that His death paid the penalty for our sin. He was, and is, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. We speak often of His death, but not too often do we speak of the resurrection—at least not until Easter rolls around.
Author Eugene Peterson observes, “It is interesting that the world has had very little success in commercializing Easter—turning it into a commodity—as it has Christmas. If we can’t in our phrase ‘get a handle on it’ or use it, we soon lose interest. But resurrection is not available for our use. It’s exclusively God’s operation.”
During this Easter season, I believe it is important to ask, “What does it mean to me personally that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, died and rose again? And, how does it affect the way I live, each and every day?”
The apostle Paul declared the resurrection to be of utmost importance. “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved … For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:1-4) In verse 14, Paul goes on to say that if there is no resurrection, then our preaching is vain and so is our faith. We need the resurrection. Verse 19 states, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
The resurrection impacts our faith both now and for eternity. Through it, the Lord offers assurance of His promises, hope to dispel the fear of death, and power beyond ourselves.
Assurance that God keeps His promises
The reality of the resurrection proves that God keeps His promises. Jesus had explained that when He died, He would rise again. He would not stay in the tomb. In Matt. 12:40 He said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” He kept that promise. Friends and family may not live up to what they have promised, but I can have confidence in the Lord. His resurrection means I can face the future with assurance, knowing He keeps His Word.
I find it interesting that although Jesus told His followers He would rise again, they did not understand, and perhaps did not believe, it was possible. The women who came early that first day of the week found the tomb empty of His body and inhabited by dazzling angels. The angels reminded them of Jesus’ words, “He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered His words.” (Luke 24:5b-8)
The story continues in verses 9-10. “When they (the women) came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the eleven and to all the others … but they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
It’s easy to question the disciples’ faith and wonder why they didn’t believe what Jesus told them, but I think most of us experience similar doubts and questions. Even after we’ve followed Christ for many years, and studied the promises of Scripture over and over again, we still struggle with fear and anxiety. But the resurrection clearly demonstrates that the Lord does keep His promises, and we are to believe Him.
Jesus also showed this truth through His interaction with Mary and Martha in Luke 11:17-44. When they had lost their beloved brother Lazarus to death and were weeping in sorrow, Jesus came to them, sharing in their grief with His own tears and reminding them that death was not the end. Martha was upset that He had not come sooner and said, “Lord … if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus responded, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, who knew the Scriptures, replied, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha responded, “Yes Lord.” What a promise and what a consolation Jesus gave her. He then acted on the promise, and raised Lazarus from the tomb.
Hope to dispel the fear of death
The reality of Jesus’ declaration was cemented in my heart on an unseasonably cold January day in Kentucky some forty years ago. Several inches of snow covered every marker in the church cemetery. Due to the frigid weather, our circle of relatives and friends was fairly small. But our immediate family—including my dad—stood at my mother’s grave awaiting the final words. The comfort expressed by Jesus to Martha rang out as my brother-in-law proclaimed the Scripture noted above, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”
I often wonder how people who do not have hope in Jesus Christ stand by the grave of a loved one without the hope that only He can give. For me, the confidence that He lives and we, too, shall live means I can face whatever comes, no matter how painful or devastating it may be. I am confident of the words of Bill Gaither’s classic song, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”
The truth of the resurrection means I do not need to fear death. It is not the end. There is much more beyond this life. Heb. 2:14-15 tells us that through Christ’s sacrifice, He destroyed the one who holds the power of death and frees those “ … who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” The fear of death is a paralyzing fear, hindering each of us from living fully and freely.
Power beyond ourselves
The resurrection also means that the power used to raise Jesus from the dead is available to us. In Eph.1:19-20 Paul prayed that we might know, “… His incomparably great power for us who believe … like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him in the heavenly realms.” In their book, Experiencing the Resurrection, authors Henry and Melvin Blackaby state,
The resurrection is the best and clearest demonstration of an astounding power that comes from God’s presence. That is the power that gave new life to Jesus once He had been publicly crucified and had His physical life taken from Him. Life is the essential nature of resurrection power that comes from God’s presence. The same is true today … and God has placed this exact same power within every believer. He intends to bring life through those who have come to abundant life in Christ.
In Phil. 3:10 the apostle Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings …” Are you and I experiencing the resurrection, or are we living defeated lives? I am with the apostle Paul in this. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, even if it leads through the fellowship of His suffering.
Strength amid suffering and loss
Even Job, who suffered more than anyone I know or have known, seemed to have had some understanding of the resurrection. He said, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27a)
I personally witnessed an amazing example of resurrection hope in the midst of suffering through my precious granddaughter Jessica. When she was a sophomore in high school, she began to experience some tiredness and pain. She was a healthy teen who had not been to her pediatrician for a long time, so her mother took her to the doctor. When they received the call with results of her examination, the news was devastating. Jessica had acute lymphocytic leukemia. The prognosis was not good.
At the time of her diagnosis in May, Jessica was raising funds for a summer mission trip to Mexico. She continued with her plans, even as she began treatment at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon. The treatment was effective and she went into remission very quickly, while still making regular trips to the hospital for tests and continuing therapy. As summer approached, however, she suddenly began having problems again and was admitted for medical care. Her immune system had been drastically compromised, resulting in an infection which swept through her body and was resistant to antibiotics.
When Jessica was diagnosed with leukemia, she knew that death was a possibility. She had to face the prospect that at age fifteen, her life might be cut short. Yet the hope of resurrection was clear in her testimony, as expressed in the Oct. 13, 1995, entry of her journal:
God is in control of all things!
He has a plan for me that is being carried out as I write this.
Angels are watching over me.
What have I to fear? Death?
That is only one more step to HEAVEN!
GOD IS IN CONTROL!
Jessica’s struggle with leukemia lasted eleven months. Finally, after eleven days in pediatric intensive care, the doctors said nothing more could be done. She was disconnected from all life support, and at age sixteen, her earthly life ended. The date was April 5, her mother’s birthday. It was Good Friday.
The tears we shed while we stood around Jessica’s hospital bed as she departed this life did not ease the pain. But through it all, the promise of the resurrection was real. Good Friday was not the end. Hallelujah. Yes, we grieved when Jessica’s earthly life ended, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13) The promise of Easter and the resurrection of the Savior gave us hope.
Maybe our lack of attention to the resurrection is due to the fact that getting there requires going through death and the grave. The road to Easter must go through Good Friday, and it does. I like how author Billy Sprague says it:
Life is a journey toward eternal delight. It is a bittersweet recipe for a delicious future that first requires crushing, sacrifice and dying … We are being turned and blended, prepared for eternity with our Maker in whose presence is a fountain of endless pleasures. And in that place no one goes away unsatisfied, grows fat, old, or weary of sweet perfection. There will be a reunion of loved ones.
In its final pages, the Bible leaves us with a picture of resurrection, “ … God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:3b-4)
As I reflect on the question I asked early in this article, how the resurrection affects the way I live my life, I realize the answer is in my granddaughter’s journal. To quote Jessica, “What have I to fear?”
 Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 13.
 William and Gloria Gaither, “Because He Lives,” Words and music, 1971.
 Henry and Melvin Blackaby, Experiencing the Resurrection (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 2008), 149.
 Billy Sprague, Ice Cream as a Clue to the Universe (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2000), 18.