The resurrection and the gospel of salvation

March 28, 2012

For several hundred years now, one of the favorite topics for biblical scholars concerns the gospel message. Is it just about salvation? Are we not called on to imitate Jesus? Indeed, we are commanded to take up our crosses and obediently join Jesus on the road to Golgotha. The gospels announce the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a social gospel within the message. Once we hear the gospel, the needs of others take on a new significance. As we enter into the time when Christians recall the great acts of Christ’s final days, this question takes on a special necessity.

Some of us who follow the Daily Office from one of the old lectionaries are reading Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church in which there are some definite ideas about resurrection. If you went speed reading across chapter 15, as some of us are prone to do, you might miss the way Paul ties the gospel proclamation and the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.If we are going to think about the gospel and salvation, it might be good to flip back to another key passage (I hate doing this, but we probably should consider a little background before jumping into a conversation about salvation and the resurrection). The letter to Roman believers, however, states what is probably the strongest definition of the “good news.”

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
(Romans 1:16-17 ESV)

The power of God is no small thing. By that divine word, the entire universe was spoken into existence. The power of God delivered the Chosen People from Egypt and thundered from the mountain. Walking among fallen humanity, God in our flesh healed the sick, raised the dead, taught the disciples, and gave the promise of a Helper. By the power of God, an executed criminal walked out of his tomb.The power of God visited the church in hiding on Pentecost with an earthquake, miraculous speeches, and flames of fire. We are waiting for the power of God to restore all things and subdue everything under Jesus Christ. When Paul connects the gospel message with the power of God, we cannot take that lightly. .

There are two types of righteousness in this passage; that which is associated with God and the righteousness of humankind. As you can imagine, there is a tremendous gulf between these two conditions. God is so very righteousness, his ways so far above our ways, that he is holy. In the gospel, “the righteousness of God is revealed  from faith for faith.” That is, the gospel, from beginning to end, reveals the righteousness of God, which is available to mere mortals through faith. Do not for one minute discount the importance of faith, or grace. This is God’s gift. This is the Gospel preached Paul preached to the believers in Corinth.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Cor 15:1-5).

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are of first importance. That act of reconciliation is the very most important aspect of the good news. Christ died as a sacrifice, as satisfaction for our sins. This is hard for modern ears. Why would God be so harsh? If Jesus were just another human being, that would be a perfectly reasonable question, but God put on human flesh and personally bore the penalty for our fallen condition. Since Christians believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, we know that God took the shame and the pain on himself. Because Jesus is fully human – and a perfect human, the offense of our rebellion has been removed.

This is a very rich passage. Paul not only mentions the death and resurrection, but he also notes burial. Jesus really died a full human death, just as you and I will someday. All of this was “in accordance with the scriptures.” This refers to the Old Testament, of course, and Paul makes the observation twice. Jesus is the suffering servant of Isiah (53: 3-12). In following verses, Paul is very clear that, without the bodily physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, our faith is absolutely futile and we have no hope for anything beyond this material life.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. (1 Cor 15:20-27)

The entire gospel message, and our eternal hope, is tied to the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord. He is the firstfruits of the dead and already risen in a glorified body, and that is our expectation as well. And this brings us back to the faith which believers (all of us lawbreakers!) express for the great acts of salvation.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:21-26)


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