TEXT: Matthew 28:1-10
If you ask the average Christian what the most significant day in the life of the church is, most will say Christmas or Easter. And you might even get a lively debate over why one is more important than the other. And yet, in my experience the two things that are held up as “most important” are the birth of Jesus (INCARNATION) and the sacrificial death of Jesus (ATONEMENT/JUSTIFICATION). I happily say both are important and central to God’s story in Jesus Christ.
Other than ON Easter, what I don’t ever hear people talking about is the importance of the RESURRECTION of Jesus. We might say Easter is so important, but what we often are thinking about is Easter weekend and the crucifixion on Good Friday in particular.
Ultimately, my goal today is not to assign any kind of relative importance to the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. They are all of greatest importance. What I want to do is try to explain and illustrate why the resurrection is important and the difference it can and should make in our day-to-day lives.
Good Friday: Saving Death
Good Friday and the cross are certainly crucial to understanding and Christianity and salvation. In fact, our word ‘crucial’ comes from the crucifixion; it is a central, foundational, of-greatest-importance thing. On the cross Jesus took the sin of the world onto himself. He took your and my sin, disobedience, unrighteousness, and ungodliness and exchanged his goodness, obedience, rightness, and godliness. In Christ and because of his saving death, your sins and my sins are forgiven! That’s the Gospel, literally “Good News.”
One way I’ve illustrated this before is with a guitar. Any guitarist (or instrumentalist) will tell you that instruments go out of tune. It’s in their nature. Age and environment and physics mean that every instrument is always de-tuning. Human beings are like that. Our imperfections, our surroundings, and our own choices are constantly at work to de-tune our lives. God is like that musician or master-tuner who brings us into alignment, into tune with His holy will. Devices like the tuner on my guitar are kind of like God’s Word, the Bible, showing us what that right tuning is. [I tune my guitar as I’m saying all this.]
In fact, one of my favorite hymns uses the phrase, “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” This isn’t a complete illustration of what Jesus’ death means for us, but it is a helpful one. On the cross God has set us right!
In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains the importance of Christ’s death in this way:
“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death… that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for the one who has died [with Christ] is freed (acquitted) from sin.” (Romans 6:4,6-7, selected)
Jesus died so that our sins might be acquitted, forgiven and set right with God. And then they laid him in the tomb. [I put my guitar back in it’s case and close the case.]
Easter: New Life
But what of Easter? If our sins are forgiven on the cross and we are made right with God, why is Easter so important?
I just read part of those verses from Romans 6. Between those ellipses Paul also speaks of what Christ’s resurrection means for us:
“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would not longer be slaves to sin; for the one who has died [with Christ] is freed (acquitted) from sin.” (vv.4-7)
Through faith in Jesus Christ we are not just joined to his saving death, but joined to his resurrection. Why? “So we too might walk in newness of life.” (v.4b)
That’s great! Newness of life! What does that mean?
It means that when Jesus was raised from the dead, we are raised with him. Forgiveness of sin and being set right with God are not the end-goal, but the preparation for life. [I take the guitar out of the case.]
You don’t tune an instrument for the sake of tuning it. You tune an instrument in order to play it, to make music.
So, too, Christ died to save us – to ‘tune’ us – not simply so we’d be forgiven, but that we make music with our lives to the glory of God. That’s what “newness of life” means!
I am reminded of Ephesians 2:8-10…
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a RESULT of works, so that no one may boast. But we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus FOR good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
When I was given this guitar, it was a great day, a great gift.
Every time I tune this guitar, it is good and necessary so that it will sound right.
But all that is in service to its purpose: making music.
So it is with us.
Newness of Life
This goes beyond our understanding of the major Christian holidays. Many people – and I’ve done this and still sometimes do – treat salvation as the end-goal. I get to go to heaven. I’m covered in the event of untimely demise. But in terms of my life and my purpose, I’ve put it back in the case, tuned-up or not. God’s purpose for us is to walk – to LIVE – in newness of life.
This is why we focus on all that other teaching – in fact why we read and study and proclaim God’s Word in scripture every week.
Living in newness of life looks like the compassion and justice we see in the Old Testament Law and Prophets.
Living in newness of life looks like the heart-level obedience Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.
Living in newness of life looks like worshiping in community like Israel in the Old Testament, Jesus and his followers in the Gospels, and the early church in the rest of the New Testament.
Living in newness of life looks like the Golden Rule of “do unto others” and the Great Commandment of “Love God and neighbor” and the Maundy Thursday commandment of “love and serve others as I have loved and served you.”
Living in newness of life looks like the Great Commission of “Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach.”
It’s tuned-up life out of the case, not packed up in the corner.
We’ll look at this resurrection newness-of-life in the coming weeks and through the end of May. Amen!
Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of God’s unchanging love
Some Music Used
- Salvation’s Song
- Behold Our God
- Easter Song
- Handbells: Jesus Christ is Risen Today
- Christ the Lord is Risen Today
- King of Kings
- CHOIR: Risen Indeed (Pote)
- Is He Worthy (Peterson)
- Lord of the Dance w/choir and congregation