On Good Friday Jesus was crucified between two criminals, brought down from the cross before nightfall, and placed dead in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. He rested in the tomb on Saturday, the Sabbath. Then, on Sunday, the first day of the week, he rose from the dead and lives. He is risen!
All this was foretold from the beginning. It begins in Genesis 3:15 after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. Their sin brought separation among humanity, between humanity and God, and between humanity and the rest of creation. We see that in Genesis as Adam and Eve are ashamed to be naked, as they attempt to hide from God, and how the ground no longer willingly yields up its fruit to them. We also see it now in our own lives as we experience tension in our relationships with other people, a nagging conscience which tells us all the things we’ve done wrong, and difficulty at work. Things are not as they were meant to be due to the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. We may not always recognize sin in the world, but we see its effects on the news and in our own lives.
So, to undo this fall and to restore these broken relationships, the Lord promised a Savior, the “seed of the woman,” who would crush the head of the serpent. The serpent Satan had brought sin and death and evil into the world, and so the Lord promised a Savior who will defeat Satan and remove sin, death, and evil from the world. Everywhere else in the Scriptures, genealogy is traced through men, but here in this Genesis promise the Lord calls the Savior the “seed of the woman” to point forward to the virgin birth of Christ (cf. Genesis 3:15).
And then this promise of the Lord of a coming Savior, or Christ, was carried through generations of the Church, beginning with Adam and Eve, down to Seth, down to Noah, down to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and many others. The Church begins in Genesis and is carried throughout the Old Testament as the Lord gathers a people for Himself around this promise of the Christ.
So, we see that the Old Testament is our story as well, because it tells the story of the Lord’s actions for His people, and we are united with the Old Testament saints through Christ, just as we are united with all the New Testament saints as well; all believers all the saints of God united in Christ. For, in the fulness of time Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to the Virgin Mary to fulfill the Lord’s promise of a Savior. He is the “seed of the woman” come to defeat Satan and death and to die for our sins. He is the Christ, the one anointed by the Lord to bring salvation to His people.
And that’s exactly what Christ has done on his cross and empty tomb. The Christian message does not end at Good Friday. It doesn’t end with “Jesus died for your sins.” It continues beyond the cross to the empty tomb. God’s promises do not end at death. And so the Christian message continues with the good news that Jesus rose for us. He rose to justify us before God; he rose to give us eternal life; he rose to defeat sin, death, and the devil. He rose to reconcile us to God, to each other, and to the rest of God’s good creation, thereby undoing the effects of the fall.
Now, these enemies of sin, death, and the devil are still in the world, but they’re on the losing side. They’ve already lost, and when Christ returns on the Last Day they will be cast out so that only the Lord and His people will remain. So, the Church Israel continues to span the Testaments, now in the New Testament, until the day when Christ returns. And on that day we won’t be like angels on the clouds; we’ll be real people, resurrected people, living on a real earth that’s been fully restored to the perfection in which God originally created it, before Adam and Eve sinned and brought decay and death into the world.
That’s the whole arc of the “Christian story.” By story, I don’t mean a fictional account or something made up. Instead, what I mean by the “Christian story” is that all of the Scriptures are the account of God’s actions for us and His creation through Christ. He created all things through Christ; Christ is there in Genesis 1 as the Word through whom the Father spoke all things into existence. Christ is there throughout the Old Testament, being promised as the anointed Savior who is coming. He’s also there as the holy “angel of the Lord,” the messenger who speaks to Abraham, wrestles with Jacob, calls Moses to redeem His people, leads Joshua’s armies into battle, calls Elijah to be a prophet, and in many other places.
And then he comes in the flesh to accomplish his promised salvation for us. And by “us” I mean all the faithful of the Old Testament and the New Testament; God has revealed Himself to us and saved us all through Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus Christ is born of the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary to save us from eternal death and eternal separation from God by dying and rising for us in order to reconcile us to God, to each other, and indeed to creation itself; this is what salvation means. And what grace means is that God does what we could not do, and He comes in person to do it.
And all throughout this Christian story which spans both the Old and New Testaments, there is, in addition to Christ, the Church, his people. Christ and his Church were made for each other, just as man and woman were made for each other in the beginning. And just as man and woman join together to be one flesh in marriage, so too are Christ and his Church one body. This is why the Church is often called the bride of Christ and the body of Christ; it’s saying the same thing, because Christ has redeemed us to be his own and shares all things with us, covering our sins with his righteousness.
And Christ is a faithful and present groom to his bride. He is still with us now through the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. He’s in the Word that is spoken which proclaims that he died for our sins and rose for our justification. He is in the waters of Baptism which claim us as the Lord’s own, killing our old self and raising us to a new life in Christ. He’s in the Lord’s Supper, whereby he gives us his very own body and blood which was given up and poured out for us. Christ is still with his people, just as he always has been and just as he always will be.
And yet this still isn’t the end. Yes, the Lord is with us now through Word and Sacrament. These are his means of grace whereby he dwells among us and through which we are united with each other in him. But, he’s coming again in glory, no longer veiled through the humble spoken or written words of men, or through the humble waters of Baptism, or through the humble bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.
He’s coming again apart from these means. He’s returning in his full glory on the Last Day when he will raise up all flesh. And on that day, he will cast out sin and death and the devil from his creation. And we will be brought into the promised land which he has prepared for us, a land cleansed of all these evils, a land in which we will dwell directly with the Lord, immediately – meaning, without means – in a land in which there is no sin, no death, no evil, just the Lord and us His people. And we will finally partake of what the Lord’s Supper is but a foretaste of, because we will partake of the marriage feast which has no end in the restored creation.
So, this is the significance of Jesus Christ’s Easter Resurrection. Christ’s death and resurrection is the focal point of all the Scriptures. It’s what all the Old Testament saints looked forward to, even though they beheld it darkly, as through a veil. It’s also what all the New Testament saints, us, look to for our salvation – the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ.
This, then, is salvation. Salvation is more than our soul going to heaven. It’s the resurrection and eternal life. It’s being raised up from the grave or from the dust and being brought back to life, body and soul. It’s being made the people God created us to be, a people in perfect communion with Him and with each other. And it’s all been accomplished for us by Jesus Christ as a result of God’s grace and mercy towards us, and we have it now in part as he gathers us together as his Church and bestows his blessings upon us, even as we await its ultimate fulfillment when Christ returns on the Last Day to complete his baptismal promises to you.
That’s the great grace and mercy in all of this. It’s God Himself who has done all this for us through Jesus Christ who died on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday. It’s all been done and given to us freely by God as a gift. It’s ours. We don’t have to do anything. No altar calls, no sinners’ prayer, no witness to how bad our life used to be before, no making of amends. Just God’s free gift to us, received through faith. As Christ exclaimed from the cross, “It is finished.”
So, you don’t have to wonder if your sins are too great to be forgiven. Christ died for your sins, even the ones you think are unforgivable. You also don’t have to wonder if you are good enough to come to Church. The Church is full of sinners, including me. Yet, Christ died for our sins too, and we are therefore freed from their hold since he has made us God’s children instead. You don’t even have to wonder if your faith is strong enough. It is, because your salvation depends on Christ’s cross and empty tomb, not on the strength of your faith. You can struggle with your faith, you can wonder, you can complain to the Lord (as you see the psalms constantly do). Yet, in all of this, the Lord’s love for you still stands. And it’s a concrete love; it’s a love that you see played out when Jesus hangs on the cross for you. It’s a love that you see as the resurrected Jesus tells the Marys, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28:1-10).
Jesus calls the disciples brothers, just as earlier in the Gospels he refers to his disciples as his family, brothers and sisters. The Lord himself has made you God’s family. And family sticks together because it is united by blood. Your Christian family is united by the blood of Jesus Christ.
So, your Easter hope is not just that Christ died for your sins. Or that Christ rose to justify you before God. Or that you will die and go to heaven. No, it’s all these things and more. Your sins are nailed to that cross with Christ. You stand before the Lord on the strength of Christ’s righteousness. You will die and go to rest with the Lord.
Yet, there’s one more thing that we often forget. It’s also that Christ is returning to resurrect you and bring you into the restored creation to live in eternity. He didn’t remain in his tomb, and neither will you.
This is the Gospel we proclaim, just as the Old Testament prophets proclaim it, just as apostles and disciples proclaim it, and just as we and future generations of the Church will proclaim it until we all sing it together at the resurrection and the Christian story, the arc of God’s salvation, is completed.
So, we rejoice because He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
(Image By Emw (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)