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Why the Resurrection Matters

If a visitor from another planet were to land among us in the next couple days, he or she (or it) would conclude that Easter is about bunny rabbits, new colorful clothes, eggs, and chocolate. But we know better. We know the gospel, "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, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time...." (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

Why, when St. Paul was summarizing the gospel in 1 Corinthians, did he devote so much space to the resurrection of Jesus? Normally, when we think about the message of Christianity, we focus on the cross. What's so important about the empty tomb?

The empty tomb is important for many reasons. Let me mention just three.

First, if Christ had not been raised from the dead, we would still be in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). In a way, I think of the cross like a semi-colon in a sentence. A semi-colon completes an idea, but you still need a period. Better yet, you need an exclamation point! When Jesus died on the cross, the penalty for our sins was paid in full. But Jesus came not only to pay for sins but also to conquer death and vanquish the power of the devil. The resurrection signaled the death of death and the full acceptance of Christ's sacrifice by the Father. Because the tomb is empty we are assured that "love's redeeming work is done." We who believe are not just forgiven but are positively righteous. Paul expresses this in Romans 4:25 - "[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." The empty tomb is the exclamation point.

Second, if Christ had not been raised from the dead, we would have no power to fight indwelling sin. One of the central truths of Christianity is that we who trust in Christ have been united to him in his death and resurrection. This means sin no longer has dominion over the believer. "Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4). One of the keys to victory over temptation is to remind ourselves that we are new people. We are the kind of people who no longer continue to sin. The resurrection empowers us to say no to sin, to see through the lies of the devil and the empty promises of our idols, and to joyfully obey God.

And third, if Christ had not been raised from the dead, we would have no real hope for the future. The Bible says that all human beings are afraid of death. Death haunts us and steals our hope. But the empty tomb shouts to us that we have nothing to fear. The resurrection of Jesus was a harbinger of our own resurrection from the dead. Even if the worst happens and we die, we will immediately be in the presence of Christ. When he returns, he will give us new, glorified bodies and eternal life upon the new earth. "We eagerly await a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:20-21).

Jesus lives, and so shall I,
Death! thy sting is gone forever.
He who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me with the just:
Jesus is my hope and trust.

Jesus lives, and death is now
But my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul,
For thou hast a crown of life before thee;
Thou shalt find thy hopes were just;
Jesus is the Christian's trust.

(Christian Gellert, 1715-1769)