Jesus Is Risen! What Now?

It may sound a little strange or morbid, but I enjoy preaching at funerals. Of course, I hate seeing friends, family, and church members leave us behind. But some unchurched family members and friends may hear about God’s love and the reasons for the hope that is in us. In these raw moments, mourners tend to consider their own mortality and give serious thought to the claims of Christ.

Jesus expressed a similar sentiment when Lazarus died and his disciples saw the resurrection and the life in action: “Lazarus has died. I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe” (John 11:14–15, CSB). We cannot know the joy of resurrection without experiencing the pangs of death and loss.

Funerals are opportunities to rehearse the drama of our eschatology, to practice the experience of hope before others. When I stand before a coffin or an urn, I proclaim that the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of our own future resurrection. Jaroslav Pelikan’s aphorism always comes to mind: “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen—nothing else matters.”

Books on the Resurrection typically emphasize questions about the historical credibility of the Gospel accounts, and with good reason. The apostle Paul staked everything on this one event happening in time and space: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17, CSB). Academic studies usually try convincing readers that Jesus was raised from the dead while having little to say about why we should care.

Regent College theology professor W. Ross Hastings flips this script in his newest release, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Exploring Its Theological Significance and Ongoing Relevance. Presuming that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of all the biblical and historical evidence, Hastings launches into a book-length exploration of its practical and theological implications.

The linchpin of salvation

No serious Christian questions the importance of the Resurrection for the gospel, but its significance for other areas of theology is often ignored. For example, Martin Luther once suggested that justification is the article of faith on which the church stands or falls.

Hastings offers gentle but helpful pushback to these sorts of claims. Justification may have defined the Protestant Reformation, but there is no justification without Jesus truly being raised from the dead. Nor can we understand what the Bible teaches about justification apart from what it teaches about Christ’s resurrection. Hastings contends that the same is true for other doctrines like Christology, creation, salvation, and the last things. For Hastings, the Resurrection is the true center of our theological universe.

The first and largest portion of the book explores what the Resurrection means for our salvation. One of many “Aha!” moments I had while reading came from Hastings’ observation that, in the Book of Acts, apostolic proclamations of the gospel mention the Resurrection far more than the Cross. What does this mean for how we think about and talk about the gospel? Evangelicals are accustomed to saying that Jesus died for our sins and then rose again on the third day, but Hastings challenges us to think deeply about the ways Jesus rose again on the third day for our sins. His resurrection is just as vital to our salvation as his death (Rom. 4:25).

Hastings insists that the Resurrection must be central to our understanding of the Atonement. Of course, theologians have been debating their relationship for nearly two millennia. Those in the penal-substitutionary camp contend that Jesus died in the place of sinners, taking on the punishment for sins we so rightly deserve. Advocates of the Christus Victor theory contend that Jesus died not to placate the wrath of an angry God but so he could have victory over Satan, sin, and death. Hastings advances a creative proposal that preserves the strengths of both theories without succumbing to either-ors.

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