In light of Easter, I'd like to set forth the following essay I wrote some time ago. The rightful place of the resurrection in the gospel message is something I believe we need to give its proper place, instead of making it an "oh, by the way...."
###The Risen Lord###
by Jimmy Humphrey
The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said..." (Matthew 28:5-6)
I believe with all of my heart that if we could grasp this one thing, it would absolutely revolutionize our lives as Christians. There is perhaps no greater truth in all of Scripture than that of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet for many within Christianity, that which was the crowning message of the gospel and the thrust of all apostolic preaching, has become nothing but a mere footnote and tagline to our preaching and our living. I firmly believe if we were to re-read the Scriptures again with new eyes and ears, and hear the gospel message afresh, we would never be the same again. Indeed, if we could grasp again the doctrine of the risen Lord, I believe our preaching would forever be changed, and we would live radically different lives. The greatest need of the Church this hour is to experience a renewed knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.
Put yourself in the place of the women who came to tend to the dead body of Jesus three days after His crucifixion. Think of all the thoughts that ran through the minds of those women. Here they had followed this man named Jesus around for some time. They heard His teachings, and they saw His miracles. There was much talk about Him being the Messiah the Jews had been expecting to come for many centuries.
Indeed, in their time Messianic hopes had reached a feverish boil. For centuries, the Jews had been living in the land God had restored to them as theirs, after having experienced Divine judgment. But, God in His grace brought the Jews home to the land promised to their fathers. But after that restoration, they again became trampled upon by super power after super power, and became occupied by a foreign and oppressive army. Again, God's people felt like they were slaves living in Egypt, living under bondage, and being unable to fulfill their destiny as His people.
These Jewish women, like so many other Jews, thought they had found the king and prophet God had promised them. They had utterly fixed their hopes on Him being their man. And God seemed to be doing great and mighty things through this man named Jesus. He performed countless miracles and declared God's kingdom with power and boldness. Yet their hopes were dashed to pieces when Jesus was taken away, and like so many would-be Jewish Messiahs before Him, He was arrested, tried, and crucified. Rome had a zero tolerance policy when it came to claims of somebody other than Caesar being king.
So, these women made their way to the grave of Jesus of Nazareth, the man whom they had hoped would be their Messiah. Can you imagine the pain and despair these women must have felt? They were so sure that this man was what they were looking for. They had never seen or heard anybody like Him before. Their hearts must have been absolutely broken. The hope they had must have been absolutely crushed. They must have hardly known which way was up and which way was down. Their belief that He was the king that God had sent them, and that He was the king that they had hoped for, was absolutely destroyed the moment the Romans took Him away and crucified Him. He who would be their king was dead.
Yet, even though Jesus was not who they thought Him to be, these two women still made their way to His grave site, to pay honor to the man whom they had put so much stock in. Yet when they arrived there, things were quite different than what they had expected. When they arrived, they discovered that the Roman guards appointed to oversee Jesus' grave were gone, and that an angel sat at the tomb where the stone that covered Jesus tomb had been rolled away. Then the women heard an announcement from the lips of the angel that would forever change the world: "I know you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen just as He said."
Can you hear what these two women must have heard that day? Can you imagine how the message that the angel gave them must have absolutely floored them? This message forever changed their lives. Jesus of Nazareth, whom they knew to be crucified and dead, was brought back to life! He was no longer dead! He is now alive! Oh to God that we could hear this again and again and again, and go away with the same "great fear and joy" (Matthew 28:8) that gripped these women, as they ran to tell the other disciples that Jesus was no longer dead, but was actually alive!
Have you really thought about this? Do you really believe this report? In your modern mindset which is programmed to be secular and devoid of God, have you really thought about the radical and startling claim of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you heard what these women heard that day, and have you believed it? Jesus Christ was beaten to a pulp at the hands of the Romans, and brutally executed for everybody to see. He died on a cross. He really died. He stopped breathing and His heart stopped beating. He became cold and stiff. He smelled really bad. He was placed in a tomb and left there, because that's what you do with dead people. Yet in spite of all of this, after three days, God raised Him up from the dead.
Again, not to sound redundant, but do you believe this very thing? Jesus Christ who was crucified was really brought back to life! Stop and pause if your mustthink! Meditate on this truth. Roll it around in your modern head. A dead man was brought back to life! I can think of no claim in all of history more radical than this one. Dead men don't come back to life. Oh, through the marvels of medicine today, we might manage to resuscitate a dead person from time to time in the back of an ambulance or at a hospital. You can give them a little CPR, and place two paddles on their chest and zap them with a jolt of electricity, and if you are lucky you might be able to revive a man whose vital signs are no longer detectable.
But never before in all of history has a man who was dead been brought back to life, and to live forever more. Yes, Jesus Christ who was crucified 2,000 years ago and brought back to life, He is still alive today. He's just as alive as He was at that first moment He took His first breath. Though He's 2,000 years old, He's not aged one day. Nobody has had to tend to His wounds. Nobody has had to take Him to the hospital for a quick fix. He's not had to lay down and sleep or take a nap. He's not even had anything to eat in 2,000 years, yet, behold He lives, and lives forever more!
Can you see just how radical this claim is? A dead man named Jesus was brought back to life, and lives forever more! Do you believe it? Does it not stun you? Does it not grip you? Does it not take your breath away? Does it not fill you with utter joy? Are you not in total amazement? If you believe this claim, how can your life ever be the same again? How can you ever again look at this world and not see things in a totally different light? How can you ever think the same way again? How can you ever value things the same way again? How can you fall prey to the same old lusts and temptations day after day and week after week? How can you be silent when it comes to sharing your faith? How can you not rather share your faith with a fresh boldness and power? Jesus Christ is alive! This is the good news of Jesus Christ, and this is the gospel message.
###A Different Gospel###
Yet as central as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is to the proclamation of the gospel, it grieves my heart today to hear most gospel presentations these days. I'm convinced we are preaching a different gospel message than what was preached 2,000 years ago. Instead of centering around the death AND resurrection of Jesus Christ, most gospel presentations these days are almost entirely devoid of preaching about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is seldom mentioned. And when it is mentioned, its truth is almost entirely glossed over, and simply stuck on the end of some lengthy presentation on another topic. Even where there are men who preach "Christ and Him crucified," I've noticed most these preachers still leave Jesus Christ practically on the cross. At best many preachers will mention one or two sentences about the risen Lord at the end of their sermon, or stuff it as a tagline at the end of the sinners' prayer. The truth of the resurrection has become an "...oh, by the way" sort of statement that is merely mentioned because the preacher feels it is somehow theologically necessary, but doesn't really know why.
The same goes with every major evangelism program I've ever studied and have been trained in. Whether it be Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion, or Ray Comfort's Hell's Best Kept Secret. As many redeemable qualities as these programs and methods might have, I've noticed every one of them fall miserably short in preaching a full gospel message, and training preachers to truly convey the thrust of the gospel message. I say this in utter humility, but none of these programs or methods quite understands what the gospel is.
Oh yes, some of them may show a lot of truths about the gospel. Some of them even manage to show the rightful use of the law, and how to show man that he is a sinner in need of a Savior, and encourages them to flee from the wrath to come. But in all of their preaching that man is a sinner, that hell is hot, that man needs to repent of his sins and be born again, and that Jesus Christ loves them and died for them, the resurrection of Jesus Christ comes oddly in at a distant last place in importance. No doubt, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is mentioned. But if you were to study these programs, and think them over, far more time is spent trying to convince man that God is angry with him because of his sin than trying to convince men that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ gets a mere honorary mention, and has been reduced to simply a small part of the salvation formula. Truth be told, in reality, hell's best kept secret is not the proper use of the law in evangelism. The best kept secret in hell is that that Jesus Christ triumphed over the powers of death and hell, and is risen from the dead!
I say this in all humility, that while many of these programs claim the preaching from the book of Acts as their model, none of them appear to have actually read book of Acts, or studied the preaching of the apostles. For the true thrust of apostolic preaching always seems to be taken for granted in every single one of these programs. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! That is the message that runs from Acts 1 through Acts 28. That is the message the Church boldly proclaimed all over the world. And that should be the message that we center all of our evangelism and preaching around.
Many examples could be multiplied, but for the sake of time and space, let's look at only two examples from the book of Acts. I believe these examples are the best sampling of the preaching of the apostles contained within the book of Acts. One sermon is from the ministry of Peter, the other from Paul:
"This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.... Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christthis Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:32, 36)
After having been gloriously filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, opportunity presented itself to the apostle Peter to make the first public declaration of the gospel of Jesus Christ since His death and resurrection. Peter tells the Jews that had gathered around to hear the unusual sounds coming from the upper room, that the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was prophesied of by Joel had finally come. Why had it come? What was the event that triggered the fulfillment of this prophetic expectation? Peter is very clear and to the point. This outpouring is only possible because Jesus of Nazareth, who performed many miracles by the hand of God, was handed over by the Jews to the Romans to be crucified. They didn't like Jesus and thought they could be rid of Him. Yet this Jesus whom they crucified, God raised from the dead, and He ascended into heaven, and now sits at the right hand of the Father as Lord and Christ! And that is what made the outpouring of the Spirit that they saw and heard possible that day.
Can you imagine being a Jew hearing Peter preach on this day? No doubt the ministry of Jesus Christ was still very fresh in their minds. No doubt, stories of His teachings and miracles were still floating around at this time. No doubt, the rulers of the Jews while probably trying to forget about Jesus, are undoubtedly aware and plagued with the thought at this time that the tomb of Jesus Christ lay empty. And in this climate, the apostle Peter stands up before all and announces though Jesus Christ was treated as a criminal and executed, this same Jesus whose tomb is empty has been raised from the grave! To this event, Peter and the group that was with him, claimed to be eyewitnesses to!
"Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37) What is it that pierced the hearts of the Jews who heard Peter's preaching that day? Were they moved by hearing about God's wonderful plan for their lives? Were they moved about hearing about what awful sinners they were, and that the Ten Commandments showed them to be such? Were they moved by hearing that they need to be born again? No, no, and no! They were "pierced to the heart" because they heard that this Jesus whom they crucified, God raised from the dead!
It was the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that gripped their hearts and minds that day, not anything else. The Jews that day were just as startled by the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the two women who first heard it from the lips of the angel at the empty tomb. What a radical and earth shattering concept: a crucified and resurrected Messiah! How could they fail to be gripped by such a message? After all, the Jews just weeks before had conspired together to put to death this Messianic figure who did not fit their bill of what a Messiah should be, and indeed, they thought they had demonstrated Him to be a false Messiah by letting the Romans make an example of Him. Yet this very same One, whom the Jews had Rome destroy, God vindicated and brought back to life, and established Him as Lord and Christ. Peter told the Jews that this One who they crucified, and who now lives, they must answer to. What a shocking thing to hear!
"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:30-31)
Finding himself in Athens, Paul became a center of controversy because of the noise he was making in the Jewish synagogue. This spilled over into the streets, and the temperature in the city began to raise with interest in the apostle Paul and his unusual message. Many thought him a preacher of strange deities, "because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection." (Acts 17:18) So a place was given for him to preach his unusual message.
Immediately in his message on Mars Hill, Paul addresses the religious nature of his audience, but says there is a problem with their religion: they are idolaters who believe in many different gods. So much so that they even made an altar to an unknown god, just in case they missed one. But this unknown god whom they built an altar to, Paul asserts is actually the one God who created all things, and desires that men would seek Him instead of their idols. Indeed, overlooking their ignorance, Paul says God is declaring everyone should repent of their sins. Why should they repent of their sins? Paul says they should repent of their sins because God has appointed a day in which He will judge all of mankind by One Man, whom He raised from the dead!
Unfortunately, Paul's sermon didn't go over with his Athenian audience as well as Peter's did in Jerusalem. "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said We shall hear you again concerning this.'.... But some men joined him and believed " (Acts 17:32,34) Many people heard Paul, but didn't like what he had to say. Were they upset because he was preaching them a heavy handed message on repentance and the eternal fate of the wicked? No, the thing that troubled most of Paul's audience that day was not his message on repentance, but His message on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Such a message simply did not gel with the modern and enlightened minds there that day, although it is evident from the text that a few heard Paul's message of the risen Lord, and believed.
As we can see from these examples, there was a clear and single focused thrust in the apostolic preaching of the gospel: God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Yes, there are many other common elements that made up their preaching. They also spoke much on sin and judgment as well, amongst other things. But those other things were secondary in comparison to their preaching that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. It was clear that any time the apostles spoke, they wanted their audience to walk away and clearly understand that was the essence of what they heard about that day. People didn't understand the thrust of their preaching to be about how much God loved them. Nor did people understand the thrust of their preaching to be about the wrath and anger of God against sinners, and the need for repentance. No, those who heard the preaching of the apostles would have walked away with one undeniable understanding as to what they heard that day: These men are preaching about a man named Jesus who was crucified, but God brought Him back to life.
But why was the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus Christ the central message they wanted to convey? Why didn't they focus on God's love for sinners? Why didn't they focus on repentance from sin and obedience to God? Why didn't they focus on many of the things that have become the thrust of our modern day gospel? Why was the resurrection of Jesus Christ the thrust of their preaching?
###A Different Theology###
History was forever changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These events served as a watershed in history, dividing it into two clear parts: that which happened before the death of Jesus Christ, and that which happened afterwards. And what you believe happened before then isn't nearly as important as what you believe happened afterwards. Even Jews and most secular historians today will concede that Jesus Christ was a historical person who really died on a cross. No doubt, the Jews of Jesus day believed Jesus was very much dead, as they went through great pains to make sure of it! It is what you believe happened to Jesus after He died which changes everything.
With this said, I believe firmly the Church today is preaching a gospel that is broken, and saves very few of the people who profess to be Christians today. At best, we have only preached half of the gospel: Jesus Christ died for your sins. But my friends, preaching that Jesus Christ died for your sins and getting men to believe that will save no one. There are millions of people in hell today who believe Jesus Christ died for their sins! But that gospel didn't do them any good, nor can it. Rather, the only of gospel that is the power of God unto salvation is the gospel that preaches Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Reading this verse, can you not see how bankrupt and pitiful most of our preaching is? This is a classic verse that because of our familiarity and over exposure to it, we have failed to truly sit and digest its meaning and see what it really says. Indeed, some of you who read this essay probably did nothing more than simply scan over this verse because of its familiarity. But have you really read it? I believe when we understand this verse properly, our eyes will be opened to understanding why it was the apostles preached the message that they preached, with the emphasis that they stressed in their preaching. When grasped, I believe this will revolutionize your understanding, and will forever change how you preach and share the gospel message.
In this statement, Paul says that our salvation is dependent upon two things: A confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, and a heartfelt belief that God raised Him from the dead. Without these two things, we CANNOT be saved. Our salvation is entirely dependent upon faith in these very things. Yet the way the gospel is preached by many today, seldom is the Lordship and resurrection of Jesus Christ given any serious attention or thought. Therefore, if these topics are hardly given any attention in our speaking, how can most of the responses we get in our calls for salvation be real? Does the person breaking down in repentance truly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord? Do they truly believe that God raised Him from the dead? Does he have any consciousness of these things at all?
The fact of the matter is that our gospel has hardly given anybody anything to believe in. People are taught to believe abstract things about God. They are taught that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. They are taught that Jesus Christ died for their sins. They are taught a lot of other things that while true, do nothing but keep God a distant cosmic deity who sits somewhere far away from the rest of the world, and does odd metaphysical things like "love," and "forgive." We speak of God in very ghostly terms.
But the Lordship and resurrection of Jesus Christ make it impossible for us to merely talk about Jesus in abstract metaphysical, theological, and ghostly terms. Jesus is a real man. He is a man of flesh and blood like you and me, who really died, who was really brought back to life, and has been living for 2,000 years, and will continue to live forever. Not only does He live forever and ever, but He currently is in charge of the entire world, and will one day hold this world we live in accountable in judgment. But before that time, God has made it possible for men to be brought into a right relationship with Him, if only they submit to Jesus as the risen Lord, so that they can saved from the awful judgment that awaits mankind on that final day.
Do you see how tangible this gospel message is? Can you see how relevant the gospel message is for today? The reason so many preachers and theologians today are in some odd quest to make the gospel message relevant is because they are blind to the central truths of the gospel, and think about the gospel in odd abstract ways, in ways that have nothing to do with real life. But if we were to experience a revival of the doctrine of the risen Lord, all these foolish things would instantly fall away, as we would begin to understand these great truths in a very tangible and practical way. If you believe Jesus Christ was crucified and brought back to life, and lives forever more, while you might not be able to explain all the practical ramifications of this doctrine, you will become very alert and aware that everything is somehow different since you've come to believe this very thing. You've come to believe a startling and radical claim. The world you live in is now different, and how you live your life in this world in light of this belief can no longer be the same anymore.
Indeed, and this is the very thing we see about the men and women who first saw the risen Lord alive from the grave. As discussed earlier, these men and women loved this man named Jesus. They saw him do and say many awesome things, and they had great hopes that He was to be the king they had long hoped and dreamed for. However, all these dreams were dashed to pieces when they saw the Romans destroy Him on the cross. Yet, after three days to their amazement, Jesus stood before them alive! The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed them, and their lives were never the same again.
The same can be said of a small little Jewish man by the name of Saul of Tarsus. As we read about in the book of Acts, and elsewhere in the Scriptures, Saul was one of the leading individuals hell bent on persecuting and destroying the followers of Jesus Christ. He was fanatical about it, and took great pleasure in it. In his eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly not the Messiah He claimed to be, and was nothing more than a criminal and blasphemer that got what was coming to Him! God obviously showed what He thought about Jesus Christ by hanging Him on a tree! You cannot reign as the Messiah if you are nailed to a tree!
Therefore, Saul simply could not tolerate these followers who insisted on propagating a false story that this man whom the Romans so clearly executed was somehow brought back to life. Nonsense! He could not tolerate the blasphemy these people were causing Jews and God-fearing Gentiles to believe. He was bound and determined to put an end to it all! Yet, while on the Damascus road, Saul had a startling encounter with the very One whom He was sure to be dead! His encounter with the risen Lord changed His life, and he was never the same again.
When things unfolded like this in the lives of these individuals, and the encounters they had with the risen Lord, can you really believe these men centered their preaching around anything else but Jesus Christ and His resurrection? How could something as startling as the resurrection of Jesus Christ not shape and mold every aspect of their theology, their preaching, and their life? How could we insist that they did anything but seek to bring men into the same encounter they themselves once had? The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave was their all consuming belief, and it changed their lives.
Therefore, as the apostles knew a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was necessary to change their lives, they knew a belief in it was necessary to change the lives of others. They knew they could not be the same after their encounter, and likewise, they knew those who would come to believe in these things could never be the same either. Therefore, it is my conviction that the apostles consciously shaped their proclamation of the gospel around the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and have left a pattern for us to do the very same thing. Likewise, they demonstrated what it was like to live as a people who believed in the risen Lord, so as to give testimony to the truth of the resurrection
So much more could be said on this important subject matter that I have spoken of only here in brief. This is a subject matter that consumes me every single day of my life, and I hope to write more on this important subject in the near future. Jesus Christ is alive from the grave, and this is my consuming passion. My belief in the risen Lord serves as the center of my life, and is what I attempt to order my life around on a daily basis. Indeed, how can I ever live my life the same way I used to since I have believed the most amazing claim in all of history: God brought a dead man named Jesus back to life after three days. It is my deepest prayer that the Church today experience a God sent revival, a revival that causes us as a Church to return to the fundamentals of our faith, our apostolic roots, and a life that is in step with the faith once and for all handed down to the saints.