It’s the greatest event in all of human history.
There are great debates that take place over the nature of Christology. If one were to think about Jesus’s life in the realm of incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, some of my favorite modern theologians have great thoughts surrounding which might be the most significant. Yes, I can hear you groaning and wondering out loud, “Aren’t they all significant?” Yes, they are. And yet our theology is shaped by which of these three we view it through.
Much of evangelical Christianity clings to the idea of substitutionary atonement (in short, that Jesus died your death; more on this later in our series), and in this, the obvious conclusion is in the work of the crucifixion. While an obvious conclusion for followers of this theory of atonement, it raises very important Christological questions about the life of Jesus, let alone the resurrection. If “dying was his reason for living” (a claim made by Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ), then was everything else just “filler”? Was the resurrection just a neat magic trick at the end to say, “Tah Dah! Look, I really AM God!”
Greg Boyd, one of my favorite thinkers, loves to argue for the preeminence and centrality of the crucifixion. His idea is that God, His plan and His nature, is revealed perfectly through the work of the cross. Everything we see in the world of theology should be seen through the lens of the crucifixion. I have had some good-natured banters with Boyd on Twitter over this idea. Another of my favorite thinkers, and one of Boyd’s good theologian friends, Tony Jones, comes from the school of what I will call “solidarity Christology,” and loves to raise points about the preeminence of the incarnation. There is an idea that God came to join us in solidarity. He came to join the struggle — the cross being the ultimate end to that work of solidarity. It is the idea of God joining us that drives theology.
I, however, like to believe in the preeminence of the resurrection.
Since the very beginning of this story of God, we have been in an intense and vivid struggle between empire and shalom — between falsehood and truth. We have experienced the struggle between two orders: the Order of Death and the Order of Life. We know these two orders well.
The Order of Death: Cancer, greed, adultery, selfishness, disease, disasters, corruption, fear, and the like.
The Order of Life: Love, mercy, forgiveness, hope, joy, healing, redemption, second chances, and the like.
Since the very beginning we have found ourselves in the tension between which order is most true, or which order gets the last word in the end. And as we look at the world around us, it would seem that the Order of Death is winning. It would seem that cancer has taken far too many family members, the greedy are the ones with all the power, disaster cannot be thwarted, and death ultimately wins.
I mean, what is more finite than death? What is more real than the idea that in the end, you die?
In the beginning, we are invited to trust the story. At its core, the invitation of Genesis was an invitation to believe in the reality of the Order of Life. The great fall of humanity happened (and happens) because we choose to live in fear, insecurity, and doubt. We begin to see the wind and waves and believe that in fact, the Order of Death does get the last word.
And all throughout Tanakh, we are posed this question. Moses set before the people in Deuteronomy life and death. Joshua invited the Israelites to follow Adonai, and if not, pick whichever gods from the Order of Death they would choose. The prophets pleaded with their brothers and sisters to repent and put their trust back in the Order of Life.
Ezekiel was asked about hope, about death, and about life. He was shown a valley full of dry bones and asked, “Can these bones live?”
Ezekiel was a man of hope. “Sovereign LORD, only you know.”
What do we truly believe about life and death?
Understand that the resurrection changes everything. On that fateful morning when the tomb was found barren and empty, God finally answered the question that He had allowed only Ezekiel to see in a vision.
Apparently, death isn’t as real as we thought it was. And that changes everything.
Paul does not say in the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians that without the crucifixion, their faith is in vain. As enamored as he and the other authors of the New Testament were with the incarnation (an incredible truth!), he did not give such an idea the place either. Instead, Paul says the following:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
I have stood in a lot of tombs during my time in Israel. I have stood in a few that claim (directly or indirectly) to be THE tomb. There is one thing that is true about all of them. They are empty.
Resurrection is God’s affirmation that the Order of Life really does get the last word. The way of generosity really is the best way to live. Forgiveness is worth paying the price for, and love really does win.
Resurrection is God’s way of saying hope is worth it, and the story really can be trusted.
I choose to be a person of hope.
He is not here. He is risen.