Making the Resurrection Real Today (Romans 6:1-14)
Scott K. — Making the Resurrection Real Today (Romans 6) — 4/4/21
Early on Sunday morning nearly two thousand years ago, a few women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body. Jesus was supposed to be the hope of Israel and of the world. And yet, he had been falsely accused and murdered. Now, this wasn’t the first time something like this happened. In these days, plenty of Jews picked up swords and claimed they were going to overthrow the enemies and usher in new age of peace and devotion to God. They amassed hundreds of followers. But then Rome would always squash the leader and the followers would all scatter. And now, like the “messiahs” before him, Jesus had been crucified and his followers scattered. Israel knew nothing of a dead Messiah.
But as these women approached the tomb they saw that the stone had been rolled away. Jesus’ body was gone. They were perplexed, scared, and sad. Was someone playing a sick joke? Where had they taken his body? But, suddenly, two men stood there in dazzling clothes. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” they asked. “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise?” He had said that. In fact, he had said it many times. Their eyes started to open. After this, the resurrected Lord Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, the twelve, and many others — including one group of five hundred at once.
The news of Jesus’ resurrection broke out in and around Jerusalem — the city that killed Jesus. Consider the insanity of this. The people who hated Jesus wielded so much power that they pushed Pilate to execute a man he knew to be innocent. And now the apostles were going to blame these same powers for killing an innocent man? And that he had somehow risen from the dead?That’s precisely what they did. The news spread around Jerusalem like wildfire. Overnight thousands upon thousands of Jews professed all over Jerusalem that God had raised up Jesus.
The priests and Sadducees were greatly annoyed that these apostles were pinning this imposter’s blood on them and actually claiming that he had risen. Priests and Sadducees were the rich and powerful who insisted that the kingdom had already come and that there would be no resurrection from the dead. They were in bed with Rome and these uneducated fishermen needed to cram it and go back to Galilee before they ruined it all. So, they threw the apostles in prison. But an angel of the Lord released them and they preached more. So they beat them. They didn’t stop. Then they started killing them. The followers scattered everywhere preaching the good news. Jews chased them across the Roman empire, but they kept spreading the news.
Empty Tomb. But before the news went anywhere else, the news of Jesus’ resurrection spread all around Jerusalem. And despite the fact that Jesus’ tomb was just a short walk from the temple, do you know what these powers never did? They threatened, beat, and killed the followers — but not once did they walk down to that tomb and show Jesus’ dead corpse to everyone. That would have shut everyone up in an instant — no Jew ever followed a dead messiah. It was antithetical to what it meant to be the Messiah. But they never produced a body because there was none. Everyone could look in the tomb and plainly see for themselves — it was empty.
Stolen. Ever since the day Jesus rose some have said that Jesus’ apostles stole the body. And that’s worth considering. None of us should be interested in rushing through a claim this massive. There were frauds before then and there have been frauds since then. And yet, the story that these powerful men could track this criminal down when he was alive and on the move but they couldn’t turn up Jesus’ corpse after it had stolen by some fishermen is suspicious. The fact that this claim has been around since day one and yet tens of thousands of people immediately waved it off as a lie that the priests paid for is suspicious.
In fact, the more you look at this claim the more it smells like the phony explanations we hear from politicians. Were the apostles really able to sneak past the guards — who were there to prevent his body from being stolen — move a large stone, and steal Jesus’ body all while these soldiers were sound asleep? Furthermore, what would have motivated them to lie in such a way? The apostles were all murdered for their testimony — except John who was exiled to Patmos. It is completely logical to create a lie if you benefit for it. Some crazy people will tell lies all the way to their deaths. But do the cogent, theologically rich, carefully crafted sermons, accounts, and letters in the New Testament sound like the musings of crazy people?
The story that a virgin miraculously conceived a son of the gods wasn’t new — and neither is the story that a god was raised from the dead. The claim that a true Israelite had come to rescue Israel from her enemies had been repeated many times over. But the fact that the apostles had likely heard of such myths and frauds before and yet insisted through beatings, hunger, imprisonments, exile, and death that this was indeed reality needs to be grappled with.
Apparition. Others say the apostles went to their deaths proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection because they really believed they saw the resurrected Jesus. But all they saw was an apparition, a ghost, a vision. It was real to them, so they were willing to die for it. This sounds plausible at first, but the problem is that this demands the existence of mass visionary experiences. Jesus appeared to groups. Two people do not see the same apparition or daydream at once — let alone 500 people.
Furthermore, Jesus emphasized that he was no spirit. In fact, the apostles were terrified at first because they thought they say a spirit. But Jesus showed them that he indeed had flesh and bones. Then he proceeded to eat broiled fish before their eyes. Were their minds still deceiving them?
But with the rest of our time I want to ask — why did Jesus do that? Why did God bodily raise Jesus and why did he ensure people saw he was bodily raised? If God wanted people to understand that Jesus wasn’t really dead but spiritually alive somehow in heaven, he could have done that. He could have thundered from heaven to all that it may seem like Jesus is dead but actually his spirit has been caught up into heaven and he is reigning over all the creation. Why not do that?
Let’s take a step back. We tell stories about reality all the time that impact how we live in objective reality, even if we know those stories are part myth and part reality. I know our home isn’t the only home where vegetables have powers of mythical proportions.
But what happens when the stories and myths turn out to be observably and objectively true? Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause” is a great demonstration of this. Tim Allen plays Scott — the dad of Charlie. Santa Claus unfortunately falls off Scott’s roof and dies, so Scott has to take up Santa’s coat. He hops on the sleigh with Charlie and the reindeer take them all over the world delivering presents. But when Scott wakes up, he thinks it was all a strange dream. Meanwhile, Charlie knows it wasn’t a dream. The well-crafted story he had been told his whole life was confirmed to be objectively and observably true — his life would never be the same. Scott tries to live as if this never happened, but he finds it impossible. He half-way accepts it, but this makes his life an ugly mess. Is he Santa or not? Eventually, reality forces him to accept that the myth is an objective reality — he is Santa Claus. But something striking happens. All the adults think Scott and Charlie have lost their minds — the story was meant to make Charlie a little nicer around the holidays, not reorganize his whole existence; on the other hand, the children in the movie always believed the Santa story was reality and they geek out when this was confirmed.
Let me suggest that a similar thing happens with Jesus and those who were willing to believe in him. For hundreds and for thousands of years, God had told the fathers and the prophets that everything was wrong because of sin. Things are objectively bad and people objectively die in the real world because they sin and because of Satan’s reign of darkness over creation. But they continued to be told this story of how one day God’s kingdom would come. A king would rule in righteousness and the wicked would be slayed. God would raise his people from the dead, forgive them of their sins, and put his presence among them forever. People from all nations would join up with the family of God and enjoy the same inheritance as Israel in a new land that was restored to be like the garden of Eden.
And while this sounds like a nice story, it had been long awhile since people had seen evidence that this was more than just a fairytale. There were certainly “children” who lived as if this story would soon be an objective reality. There were those like Anna who never left the temple — worshipping, fasting, and praying day and night — begging God to redeem Jerusalem. Bring the resurrection, forgiveness, restoration, the temple, the garden.
And then one day the fairytale became flesh and blood. Jesus observably healed people and objectively changed their lives. His teaching made a tangible difference in people’s lives. Then they killed him and all hope was lost. But John tells us that in the place where Jesus was crucified and buried there was a garden. And three days later Jesus was raised from the dead in that garden on the first day of a new week. The new creation had begun in Jesus. Instead of raising everyone from the dead at the end of time, God had raised up one man in the midst of time. And this wasn’t some mere spirit-like reality that was better felt than told. Jesus was observably and objectively standing before them munching on fish. The same wounds that killed him three days before had no power to kill his resurrected body.
Make no mistake, Thomas insisted that he had to touch this reality to believe it. Why? Because in that moment an ancient story, myth, fairytale that so many had wanted to be true had actually been confirmed in the real world and it blew his mind. Pre-crucifixion, Thomas accepted the story until it reached heights of mythical proportions: the God of Israel had been murdered before his eyes and now he was supposedly walking around again? Eating bread and fish? He couldn’t just accept someone’s testimony. He had to touch this fairytale.
So, why didn’t God leave Jesus’ body in the tomb and boom with his voice from heaven: I know his body is in the grave, but I promise, Jesus is spiritually alive and here’s a vision of his spirit floating around the clouds with a crown on his head? Why bodily raise Jesus?
It is because Old Testament promises told a story of epic proportions of how dead people in a dead world would be actually raised to life into a world that was alive, and that story must not be fulfilled in some sort of feelings based “spiritual” way that is better felt than objectively observed. The story must become as tangible as a flesh and bone body raised from the dead in a garden, then walking into your home and eating fish with you.
What does this show us? Let’s conclude with two learnings from Paul in Romans 6 and 8.
- It teaches the baptized about their new lives now (Romans 6:1-4, 9-13).
Consider the logic of this passage: you have been saved by grace, but some want to know if that means they can keep giving their body over to sin. But Paul’s response is an emphatic, “By no means!” Why? You (your body) were buried with him by baptism into death, so, just as Christ was raised from the dead we might to walk in newness of life. Jesus died, so we have to consider ourselves dead to sin. We cannot keep allowing sin to reign in our mortal body (vs. 12). We cannot keep giving the members of our body to sin (vs. 13). But rather, since we have been brought from death to life, we must give the members of our body to God as instruments for righteousness. Jesus died and was raised tangibly and since we have joined Jesus in that death and resurrection in our baptisms, the members of our body must tangibly walk in a new life.
In Matthew 5 Jesus called out people for relaxing the law and then he continued to show people how they could be guilty of murder and adultery in a sense through angry insults, lust, and divorce. This is so important, but in our virtual world I am afraid that we can interpret this in the wrong way and start to think that killing sin and living to God is a mental battle that we fight on our couches. Thinking nice thoughts and not bad thoughts is not all there is to walking in newness of life. True spirituality — true union with Christ in his death and resurrection — is not just mental, it’s bodily, it’s tangible.
God is not satisfied with mental obedience. We know this from marriage. Why don’t we just say, “I love you” and “I do”? Why do we put a tangible ring on one another’s fingers? Why are we so hung up on having a bodily sexual relationship? Why are you wives so concerned about real flowers? Why can’t we just sent you a picture of flowers? That’s just not how it works, and we know it. In the same way, when we committed to Jesus we did not simply say “Jesus is Lord” and mentally ascent to belief — our bodies were washed with water. This is why we do not simply sing with our hearts, but with our lips.
I find it strange that I profess to believe that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was an observable spiritual victory in the real tangible world, but so often the power of Jesus death and resurrection often remains an unseen mental battle in my mind. And doesn’t this result in unbelievers often having a hard time distinguishing us from the world? Are we still just as hung up on demanding our slice of the American Dream as everyone else? Are our bodies wasting away on our couches in front of our phones and TVs like everyone else? Are our eyes glued to news updates as if we believe with everyone else that they shed more light on reality than the prophets?
Our minds are being renewed, but the renewal of the mind results in the renewal of our bodily life. As Paul says in Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
The world should be able to tangibly recognize our love for God, for one another, and for them in the truth we speak (not just think) and in the life we tangible walk (not just imagine). They will be able to see that this is a man who is not so fixated on sports, movies, and money-making; this is a woman who is not so hung up on her appearance, her dream home, and her perfect vacation. These are people who are fixated upon knowing and worshipping God. These marriages have been raised from death to life. These people boldly speak truth without fear. All love isn’t love — the love of these people is tangibly different. And so, as Jesus was raised from the dead, let us walk in newness of life. Paul goes on to motivate us to live this life in Romans 6 and 8 by talking about our resurrection in the life to come.
- It teaches the baptized about the resurrection to come (Romans 6:5; 8:11; cf. 1 Cor. 15)
Do we believe that, just as Jesus was bodily raised, we will be bodily raised in a resurrection like his? Our hope is not to become disembodied spirits floating around. Did you know this was a matter of fellowship in the early church? Why? One reason is because when we lose our grasp on our hope to be resurrected to eternal bodily life, we can start to lose our grip on who we are now. We may start trying to hang onto every bit of bodily life that we can. We might use our time, home, and resources selfishly instead of sacrificially. We might live in fear of dying like everyone else, and that fear may prevent us from bodily living as we should. In our minds, we only bodily live once. We are afraid of missing out on this world. And this distracts us from living and dying for the gospel’s sake.
Mark 8:34–35 ESV, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
How can somebody be willing to give up everything and live a life that observably looks like crucifixion and then to even objectively and sacrificially die for Jesus? Because that person has a solid hope in the salvation of their life in the resurrection from the dead (cf. Phil. 3:8-11). In theory, the apostles were willing to die for Jesus before his resurrection. But when the hour of trial came, they ran. But after they saw Jesus raised, their bodies got on board with their minds.
We can fear that if we or our kids die now then we and they will miss out on real life. But the reality is that this fear actually causes us to miss out on the life that will be even more real. Brothers and sisters, this is not to make light of death. It is to say that our fear of death and our fear of missing out makes light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! In Jesus’ resurrected body he walked on a road, talked, ate fish and bread with people he loved. In Jesus’ resurrected body his wounds no longer bothered or hindered him. Does it sound like we will be missing out on anything in the resurrection? Sometimes we I think we fear that the world and body to come are less solid. But what could be more solid than a body that rises after being whipped and crucified?
We must do something with Jesus’ resurrection. If we are going to reject it, let’s reject it outright. And if we are going to accept it, we cannot keep living as if everything is the same. We cannot treat the cross and the empty tomb as a parable or a metaphor by which we merely imagine our lives to be. The cross and the empty tomb are the pattern by which we are must to bodily walk. This is not for the destruction of our lives, but for our joy and for the life that is eternal.