Overheard at a New York City cabstand between two drivers: Resurrection Sunday, big deal! Even if I believed that he rose from the dead what difference would that make to me?" Ever hear a conversation like that? How would you answer? Here is what I would say:
"And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (1 Corinthians 15:17). The Resurrection is a big deal. This month Christians all around the world celebrate it as THE central truth of the Christian faith. If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, a lot of us have taken on a lot of theological and moral baggage which would be better left for the trash man.
Most of us understand the necessity of Messiah's Resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. His triumph over death proved that His sacrifice was acceptable. Perhaps less easily understood is the promise that we who believe in Him will be resurrected as He was.
The promise of resurrection and the life to come is a very big deal. It may seem elusive and mysterious to some believers in Jesus—but it is certainly elusive for most of my Jewish people. This is not only tragic but ironic, since resurrection from the dead (techiat ha-metim in Hebrew) is a decidedly Jewish concept which grew out of the Messianic hope of the Hebrew Scriptures. "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:2-3). This hope has faded into oblivion for my people today.
In a conversation I had with an Orthodox rabbi's wife, I asked if she knew where she was going when she died. She replied, "Down the street to the cemetery." She had no hope of resurrection and neither do most Jewish people today. While this was not always the case for my people, the older Jewish views of the resurrection have been largely dismissed. Regarding those Jewish writers who did believe in the resurrection, the authors of A Rabbinic Anthology say, "They thought about it in terms and conceptions most of which have become obsolete and remote for us today, and so their ideas are of small interest or profit."1
In Bible times, resurrection was hotly debated among the Jewish leadership. Paul used this conflict to his advantage when he stood trial before the Sanhedrin. "But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, 'Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!'" (Acts 23:6). As a result the Sanhedrin became divided as they contended over resurrection.
The Pharisees believed in a resurrection while the Sadducees did not, primarily, the latter argued, because it was not taught in the first five books of Moses. That is exactly why Jesus quoted from Exodus 3 when addressing the Sadducees concerning the resurrection: "But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him" (Luke 20:37-38).
I wish that my people thought enough about resurrection today to fight over the issue. Unfortunately, most just don't see what the big deal is. In fact, one Orthodox rabbi, Pinchas Lapide, went so far as to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus. In his book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Lapide states, "I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as an historical event."2 This is an astounding admission, especially from an Orthodox rabbi. Yet it did not cause Lapide to embrace the resurrected Jesus as Messiah. He makes no personal connection to this event, nor does he see any relevance for his own life. Another Orthodox group, the Chabad Lubavitchers, invoked the idea of Resurrection when their beloved rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, passed away. Many who insisted that he was the Messiah were not daunted by his death because they believed (and some still believe) that he will return from the dead. Most of the rest of the Jewish community dismissed their claim as the offbeat belief of a fringe group.
Paul knew very well the relevance of Jesus' Resurrection. He taught that Jesus was "…declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the Resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). In other words, Jesus' Resurrection proved everything He had said about Himself to be true. Every promise, every miracle, every claim He ever made was proven true when Jesus conquered death.
That is a very big deal indeed. Whether we be Jewish or Gentile, His Resurrection means we owe Him our allegiance, our worship, our very lives, because we are no longer dead in sin. Because He rose from the dead, as Jews we can stand against the centuries-old tradition of unbelief among our own people. We can have the courage to declare, "The Messiah has come and his name is Y'shua." Because He rose from the dead, as Christians we can stand against the rising tide of secularism, political correctness and forced "tolerance" to proclaim with Peter and John, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Because He rose from the dead, all those who believe in Him can be confident that we too will be resurrected to live with Him in glory for all eternity. I can't imagine a bigger deal than that.
So as we look to this coming Resurrection Day celebration, let us draw strength from this greater reality of our resurrected Lord, strength to live for Him, strength to proclaim His name with boldness, strength to intercede for my Jewish people and so many others who have yet to experience the power of the Resurrection. I know that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. But until that glorious day, we have the privilege of declaring this timeless life-altering truth to all who will listen. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, and that is not only a big deal but the best deal!
- 1. C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology, Schocken Books, New York, 1974, p. 580.
- Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, p.15