One of the things I have found fascinating recently is the difference between Eastern and Western forms of Christianity.
If you’re not familiar with this, basically the Roman Catholic & Protestant Church in the west and the Eastern Orthodox Church have been going their separate ways for 1000 years. And as you can imagine, in all that time, different traditions and images and even beliefs have developed.
Well, I recently read a book all about the differences between Eastern and Western artistic depictions of the resurrection - how the resurrection of Jesus is depicted in carvings and paintings.
And as I was thinking through this sermon series, I thought it was really fascinating to consider how the way we understand Easter morning is so often depicted in our art.
For example, in Western depictions [image: roman 1], the focus is usually on things like the empty tomb, the sleeping soldiers, and the women who visit the tomb (the things the gospels talk about). In a lot of them, Jesus is nowhere to be found.
Or if he is depicted [image: roman 2] he’s usually zipping off to heaven, peacing out.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the focus of this art is about what isn’t. He isn’t dead, he isn’t in the tomb, he isn’t here.
Which is fine. It’s all true. But I think it’s interesting that here in the West, many of us have a strong sense of the life of Jesus, we have a very clear understanding of his death… but when it comes to his resurrection, things get a little more fuzzy.
What exactly happened on Easter morning and how does it affect me and why should I care?
The tomb is empty. Got it. But so what?
Well, that is what this series is all about. The resurrection. What happened, why it matters, and how it affects our lives.
Oh, and yes, I’m going to show you some Eastern Orthodox depictions of the resurrection later and you’ll see why I find the difference so fascinating.
Before we dive in, let me give you a bird’s eye view of this whole series.
Last week, Tim kicked us off by talking about the resurrection itself. What actually happened on Easter morning.
Today I’m also going to talk about what happened, but more in the theological and cosmological sense.
Next week, we’ll talk about our own resurrection. What does it mean that we are going to also rise again one day?
Finally, on Easter, we’ll bring all these threads together and talk about how we live as resurrection people. In this world. Today.
I’ll admit. It’s a lot to think about. It’s pretty dense, pretty deep… But I think these ideas are crucially important if we want to understand what our faith in Jesus is really all about.
So before we dive in, let’s pray.
Alright, go ahead and grab a Bible and turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15.
A quick bit of context about this letter. Corinth was a prosperous Greek port city down the road from Athens. The Apostle Paul essentially started the church there [Image: Corinth Map] and he wrote this letter while he was across the Aegean Sea, in Ephesus.
[map from my recent Ephesus class - gracechurch.us/ephesus]
Anyway, the reason he wrote the letter was to answer some of the Corinthian church’s questions.
“Can we eat food that’s been sacrificed to idols? How do spiritual gifts work? You said the dead will be raised… what is that going to look like?”
And so when we come to chapter 15, Paul is about to address their questions about resurrection. But before he does that, he wants to remind them of the basics - the Good News - the gospel that he preached to them in the first place.
To Paul, this is the core of what it means to believe in Jesus and the starting point for understanding resurrection. Let’s read.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.
So there we go. That is Paul’s gospel. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was raised from the dead… just as the Scriptures said. And he was seen by many. Jesus the Messiah is alive.
Now, those ideas may not seem particularly noteworthy to us - they’re probably pretty familiar. But I want to draw your attention to something Paul says twice in this passage.
He says this all happened, “Just as the Scriptures said.” Or, more literally in the Greek, this happened “according to the Scriptures.”
Now, it’s important to remember that when Paul talks about the Scriptures, he’s talking about what we would call the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament was still being written.
So according to Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus happened perfectly in line with what the Old Testament said.
Jesus himself believed the same thing. There’s a moment in Luke 24 when the resurrected Jesus meets some of his disciples who have no clue what’s going on.
And to explain it all to them – his death, his resurrection - Luke tells us,
Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
The death and resurrection of Jesus happened “Just as the Scriptures said.”
Here’s why I think this is important to pay attention to. The earliest followers of Jesus were flabbergasted by the resurrection. They didn’t understand initially how and why Jesus rose from the grave.
Now today, the resurrection of Jesus is old news to us, it’s familiar. We celebrate it every year at Easter. So maybe we don’t share the same shock and confusion of those early disciples. But I do think we do share a similar risk.
If we don’t understand the death and resurrection of Jesus in light of the whole of the Bible, we too might miss the full truth of what actually happened when Christ rose from the grave.
If we think the resurrection is just a weird little happy ending to the crucifixion story, we don’t have the whole picture.
If our idea of who Jesus was then is crystal clear - teacher, healer, all around good guy - but our idea of who he is now is kind of fuzzy - as resurrected Lord… then we’ve got some work to do. Because I believe
The resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of our faith.
It happened “just as the Scriptures said,” and if we claim to follow him, we should probably understand what that means.
So let’s dig into it. We’ll keep reading what Paul has to say here.
In the next few verses, Paul addresses the doubts of some in Corinth that resurrection is even possible. And he says, essentially, “Guys, if resurrection isn’t possible, then Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and our whole faith is pointless.” Again, it’s the focal point of our faith.
And then he says this. Verse 20.
1 Corinthians 15:20-23
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.
So Paul says the resurrection of Jesus happened “just as the scriptures said.” Here, he’s beginning to talk about how. He goes all the way back to Genesis. Verse 22. “Everyone dies because we all belong to Adam.”
In the theological imagination of the Old Testament, the first human, Adam, made a choice which brought death into the world. Instead of trusting in the commands of his Creator, Adam decided to rebel and do what he thought was right. He sinned.
And that sin - that departure from God’s desires - began a cascade of death and pain and abuse and injustice and violence that rippled through every human generation that came after. Because we all seem doomed to make the same choice as Adam. We rebel, we sin… We all belong to Adam.
Humanity has broken God’s good creation and death is the consequence. That’s the narrative conflict of the Old Testament.
But - and I’m going to cram a TON of Scripture into a very brief statement – there’s another narrative at work… even as humanity is spreading death in the Hebrew Bible, God is on a mission to bring life back to us.
By the time you get to the end of the Old Testament, you see the Israelites were holding onto hope that one day the death that began with Adam would be overcome.
They believed that when God’s people died they would sleep or rest in the hands of God and then in the end God would make a whole New Creation and those righteous people would be given new bodies. They’d be resurrected. There would be no more death or crying or pain.
That was their hope for the end of time. But look at what Paul says in verse 20. “Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”
In other words, this future hope of a resurrection for God’s people isn’t future anymore. It’s started.
Death came into the world through Adam. But new life has come into the world through Christ.
Verse 21. “The resurrection from the dead has begun.”
This is the first key idea we’ve got to grasp if we want to understand how the resurrection of Jesus happened “just as the Scriptures said.”
Easter wasn’t some one-off event. It was the beginning of New Creation.
It was the first resurrection of humanity, but there are many, many more resurrections still to come.
You with me so far? Let’s keep reading and think about what else the resurrection began.
1 Corinthians 15:24-26
After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Now, destroying rulers and humbling his enemies… this seems a bit militaristic, doesn’t it? Even violent? Is this, “Jesus was killed on the cross and now he’s getting his revenge?”
No. What Paul is doing here is continuing to explain how the resurrection happened “just as the Scriptures said.”
Because in these three short verses Paul is evoking images and ideas from all over the Old Testament.
If you continue the story from Adam onwards in the Hebrew Bible, you see that human sin gets tangled up with dark spiritual powers that are opposed to the purposes of God.
Wealth and sex and power become gods that rule over humanity and people keep worshipping them. These gods empower human empires to spread violence and injustice and pain.
You can look it up. Every time a human king tries to become the master of the universe, it only leads to more death, more sin, and more destruction. And it just… keeps… happening.
The spiritual “rulers and authorities and powers of our world” that we keep giving our lives to… are radioactive. They feed on the sin of humanity and they spread death.
But again, there is a counter-narrative. Through all of this death, God is on a mission to bring life. And according to the Hebrew Bible, he is going to do that through a human. A human leader who doesn’t fall into the trap of sin but one who trusts in God’s commands.
A human who can destroy the powers of this world and have true authority given to him by God. Like the “Son of Man” in the vision of Daniel 7.
He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.
To Paul, that “Son of Man” is Jesus. He never gave in to the powers of this world. Which is why he could defeat them.
He’s the one king David wrote about when he said,
The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
making them a footstool under your feet.”
That’s where Paul got the idea in v.25 of Christ humbling his enemies beneath his feet. That’s exactly what the Hebrew Bible said would happen.
Jesus is the one the Scriptures promised could defeat the powers. Even the power of death itself. The “last enemy.”
There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears.
I could go on and on and on. The Hebrew Bible is humming with anticipation of a future day in which God’s chosen servant – a new Adam - will be empowered to overcome the powers of this world - even death itself - and usher in a New Creation where God’s people can live resurrected in a world free of sin.
That’s what the Scriptures said. And according to Paul the very core of the gospel - of the good news of Jesus - is the fact that all of those future hopes have already begun to be fulfilled.
On the cross, as Jesus died, the powers of this world gathered together to do their worst.
· The human empire of Rome – empowered by the gods of violence and greed - flexed its muscle.
· The religious leaders of Israel were led into a murderous frenzy by the evil one.
· And sinful humans, rejecting the very Son of God because we thought we knew better like Adam, were the ones to drive the nails.
Jesus died just as the Scriptures said. The story of humanity’s enslavement to death was summed up as Jesus breathed his last.
But so was the counter-narrative. God raised Christ from the dead, just as the Scriptures said. The long-awaited act of New Creation had finally begun.
In this moment of new life, not only was the authority of Jesus - the Son of Man - confirmed, but the powers of this world were humiliated. The spiritual forces which once had so much control over humanity were de-fanged.
Christ is now on the throne, and his enemies - those agents of death and violence and chaos - are living on borrowed time.
And because Christ’s resurrection has proven the power of God’s life-giving Spirit, his followers can reject the allure of “the powers of this world” – in Jesus we are no longer slaves to sin - and we can live into the truth that this broken world is not the end of the story.
Because Christ rose again, we can trust that we too will one day be resurrected into new life. As Paul says later in this chapter (again, quoting the Old Testament),
1 Corinthians 15:54-57
When our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the new reality we have lived into ever since that first Easter morning.
Earlier I mentioned the differences between Western and Eastern depictions of the resurrection.
Again, in the West, [images: roman 1 and roman 2] we tend to focus on the empty tomb and Jesus flying off to heaven.
But in the East, artwork about the resurrection focuses on how this moment fulfilled the grand story of Scripture.
[image: greek 1] Like in this gorgeous fresco from the 14th century.
What we see here is Jesus standing on the shattered gates of the underworld. There’s bits of locks and keys scattered everywhere. Trampled underfoot is Hades himself, the god of death – humiliated and defeated - the powers of this world have been overcome.
As Jesus is emerging victorious from the tomb he’s dragging limp-wristed Adam and Eve out of the grave with him - he’s bringing humanity back to life - while heroes of the faith like David, Solomon, and John the Baptist look on.
[image: greek 2, greek 3, greek 4] It’s the same in these other depictions. This isn’t just an empty tomb. This is the moment that everything changed. The moment the Scriptures were fulfilled and the mission of God bore fruit.
This is the moment that Christ brought this world back to life and New Creation began.
As we sing I want you to think about the good news at the heart of our faith. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was raised from the dead just as the Scriptures said.
Jesus the Messiah is alive… and now, so are we.