Easter Sunday 2015
[Note: The audio for this sermon is available here.]
Before His death, Jesus told His disciples that He was leaving briefly and they would be sorrowful, but then He would return and they would receive a joy that no one would ever be able to take from them (Jn. 16:2-24). And when the first disciples realized that Jesus had risen from the dead, they were filled with joy (Mt. 28:8, Lk. 24:52). This joy is why the announcement of the resurrection is called “good news” (Acts 13:32-33). This is why the apostles preached and wrote: that our joy might be full (1 Jn. 1:4). And now for centuries, it has been this announcement that Jesus is risen from the dead that still gives people an unshakeable, unexplainable, unbreakable joy. And so on this Easter day, we ask: Why does the resurrection give us joy?
According to the Scriptures
The resurrection of Jesus gives people joy because it is the center of a vision of the world that all people long for but are afraid to hope for. If the resurrection is true, then all of the Scriptures are true because the resurrection happened according to the Scriptures. When Jesus walked with the two disciples to Emmaus on that first Easter morning, He explained from the Old Testament Scriptures how the Messiah had to suffer and then enter into His glory (Lk. 24:25). Paul underlines this fact in his summary of the gospel to the Corinthians: “that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). A reasonable question would be which Scriptures? We have a clue in the sermons of Acts where Peter proclaims the resurrection as fulfillment of Psalm 16:8-11 and Ps. 110:1. Later, Paul proclaims the resurrection as a fulfillment of Psalm 2:7, Is. 55:3, and again Ps. 16:10. But the point is that every human being knows that this world was created unmistakably good, and yet something terrible and awful has happened. And the center of that horror is death. All of the Scriptures proclaim this goodness and this evil, this potential and this unbearable problem. But they also promise a solution, a way out of the mess, a way out of the darkness, a way out of the grave. This is what the Exodus pointed to, what the Day of Atonement meant, Samson’s victory over the Philistines, David’s killing the giant, Jonah’s “death” in the fish, the three friends in the fiery furnace, and so much more. The resurrection of Jesus is the down payment, that everything that has gone wrong is coming undone. And everything that we most long for is now coming true.
The Forgiveness of Sins
Secondly, the resurrection of Jesus gives people joy because it is proof that their sins are forgiven. The Scriptures insist that the central problem of death is the result of sin. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Sometimes people suggest that God’s promise was empty when He told Adam that in the day he ate the fruit he would die, but death is more than the cessation of a heartbeat or brainwaves. The Bible teaches that death is separation from God, and every sin is death in miniature, going our own way, turning away from the One in Whom all life and joy is found. Sin promises freedom and joy and pleasure, but it never delivers. What it actually delivers is guilt, shame, confusion, dislocation, and ultimately, physical death. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). But God’s forgiveness is the objective proclamation and the subjective realization that justice has been served, and now you can go free. This is why David says: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart” (Ps. 32:10-11). “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come… that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them… For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:17-21).
This is the objective legal ground for the forgiveness of human sin. But this ground only holds if Jesus truly was completely innocent. This is because another sinner is implicated in the charges. One criminal cannot stand in the place of another criminal. It’s not true substitution if Jesus is not innocent. But this is simultaneously the reason Jesus rose from the dead. He rose because He was sinless. He did not rise from the dead on account of being God (though He certainly was). Rather, it was the justice of God that raised Jesus from the dead. Death is the justice due to sin, but after Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and exhausted it entirely, death could not hold him any more (Acts 2:24). Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is proof that the penalty for our sins has been satisfied. If the penalty was still on the books, Jesus would still be in the grave. If Jesus is not risen, we are still in our sins. But if Jesus is risen, then the power of death has been destroyed. “that through death, he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15). The reason the devil had the power of death is because he is the Accuser. If you are guilty, Satan brings the charges. But if Jesus has taken your place and paid the penalty for your sins, then he has nothing on you and you are not afraid of death or anything anymore.
Putting all of this together, we cannot help but rejoice and sing at the news of the resurrection of Jesus because it proves that the Scriptures are true and our sins are forgiven. When you hear the news that “Christ is risen” it should well up within you as the most wonderful thing in all the world: God is true and we are free; God is real and we are His; God is alive and the world is ours. The Scriptures are true, and therefore we live in God’s world, a magical world, a world of possibilities, potential, glory. And what shall we fear? Nothing can separate us from His love. Christ is risen, and now everything is becoming new.