Nothing has changed the world more than the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ; nor has anything filled our ordinary lives with more meaning.
The climatic events began with a sham of a trial. Jewish leaders — threatened by His popularity, tired of His withering criticism, and sick of being foiled every time they set a theological trap for Him — were fed up with Jesus. So they brought Him to Pilate, explaining to the Roman governor that He claimed to be king of Jews.
Pilate’s not interested in internal Jewish squabbles, but if Jesus claims to be their ruler, He’s a possible (if minimal) threat. So Pilate poses the question bluntly: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus refuses to give him a yes or no answer. Instead, He replies, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
It’s clear, says theologian N.T. Wright, that Jesus wasn’t talking about geography. He wasn’t describing where His kingdom would come, He was explaining how. “If my kingdom were of this world,” Jesus continues, “my followers would fight to prevent me being handed over.” That’s how it works in this world: the strong overpower the weak. But here, Christ is telling Pilate that His kingdom is not from this world. His authority, He says, comes from God, which means His kingdom is real, but doesn’t advance by force. Instead, His people will permeate the world from the inside out. Slowly, peacefully, and lovingly they engage in Christ’s battle to restore the created order.
The Reservoir of His Power
And we’ve made an enormous difference — in science, education, human rights, and health care. We’ve planted churches, started schools, and built hospitals. We’ve cared for the poor, disabled, and infirm, and for the aged and unborn. The world is different — and much, much better — by the benevolent work of God’s people.
And yet we’re frustrated by childish political campaigns, squabbling local leaders, and heated debates on topics like sexuality, economics, and immigration. At times, we wonder if we’re the light of the world and salt of the earth.
Perhaps we could tap more from the reservoir of power He’s provided.
So many Christians treat Christ’s resurrection as little more than fire insurance. We understand that His atoning sacrifice is the key to our eternal security, but we don’t always see that it has much to do with the policies, practices, and habits that shape our communities. And yet, when we miss that connection, we miss the most liberating part of what He’s done for us in the here and now. When we miss that link, we lose sight of what Christ wants to do through us. We overlook the reality that Christ has inaugurated a new era in human history; when He stepped out of the tomb He launched God’s new creation, and thereby filled our Monday through Friday lives with all sorts of startling possibilities.
When He stepped out of the tomb Jesus launched God’s new creation, and thereby filled our Monday through Friday lives with all sorts of startling possibilities.
It’s possible that we’ve miscalculated the magnitude of Christ’s resurrection; that we’ve shrunk it down to some weird event in the world we’ve always known, when in reality, Wright says, we’re to see it as the first normal (and utterly groundbreaking) event in the world as it had — at the moment — begun to be.
Christ’s resurrection, then, puts our day-to-day lives day in a radiant new light. If a man actually rose from the dead, then business, politics, education, law — these are now saturated with a glorious new purpose. No other conclusion makes sense, because in this world, dead men don’t rise. There are biological realities, anatomical truths, and physical laws — and we’re painfully aware that they must be obeyed. But if God, by the sheer power of His will, repealed these inviolable laws, then our frame of reference must change. If Jesus was dead and then became alive, we have to view everything in light of that single reality. If Jesus defeated death, then a new kingdom has come. And if we now reside in that kingdom, there’s a new way to think about what’s real, true, and possible.
When we come face-to-face with the world, it’s hard to imagine new possibilities. Our political process is so unmoored from God’s wisdom it’s practically impossible to believe we might redirect it. Big business and finance have lost touch with middle-class reality. Movies and TV shows glorify destructive values.
Confronted by such forces, what are we to do? And what facts should inform our actions? The Apostle Peter, in the days leading up to the first Easter, provides a lesson.
Something New is Certain
We hear the story every year, about how Peter denied that he knew Jesus, and that he did it three times. So long after the fact, and so far removed from the anguish he must have known, it’s easy to criticize. In a tight spot bold Peter turned timid. Confronted by powerless slaves he cowered, making a mockery of his boast: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:35).
To be fair we should admit that his response, while cowardly, wasn’t groundless. Prior to Christ’s resurrection, Peter lived in the only reality that anybody had ever known—where tyrants wielded power and almost always prevailed. This was the only frame of reference he had, and all the evidence testified that the fight was over; the Roman state and Jewish establishment had won.
But on Easter Sunday, just two days after his spineless denials, everything Peter knew about power was suddenly transformed. That morning, when he saw the risen Christ, Peter got a glimpse of a new world.
But on Easter Sunday, just two days after his spineless denials, everything Peter knew about power was suddenly transformed. That morning, when he saw the risen Christ, Peter got a glimpse of a new world, and was drawn into a realm—a whole new frame of reference — that had never existed; one that was, at that precise moment, renewed with hope and redefined by a measure of love no one had ever imagined.
Today, when we’re confronted by threats to religious liberty, hard-hearted officials, or hostile organizations, our first reaction can look a lot like Peter’s. We may have professed allegiance to Christ, claimed to be His disciples, and acknowledged His power and sovereign rule. And yet, when faced with overwhelming odds, we deny Him—if not by our words then by our acquiescence.
But it’s precisely then, when we’re overmatched, that we’re to embrace the spectacular hope of the resurrection. It’s then, when we’re demoralized, that we’re to recall: Christ’s kingdom has come, reality has changed, and something new is certain.
Such thoughts don’t square with the evidence before us, and that’s the point. If, given all we “know” about the laws of anatomy and biology, Christ overcame the power of death, then – says Wright – He also handily prevailed over the power of brute force. By His resurrection, Christ flicked aside the power of wealth and influence. He even deposed the false gods of materialism, envy, and lust.
Turn to Revelation 21, the end of the Christian story. There, Jesus declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He’s looking forward to His final, all-encompassing work of cosmic renovation, but we need to see that it began at His resurrection. And notice it’s a work of restoration. He isn’t making new things; He’s making all existing things new. For us, living in this era between Christ’s first and second coming, that’s the key. If our hope were for some gauzy and formless forever, then our daily lives would hardly matter. And if salvation were only about life after death, then our time here would be of little consequence. But if the kingdom has come, and if we look forward to an abundant life on a new and redeemed earth, then our daily lives overflow with eternal consequences. If the kingdom has come, then salvation isn’t something we have to wait for; we get a glimpse of it now.
When Jesus walked out of the tomb, His work of redemption, renewal, and restoration began, and we—every waking hour—are now the primary tools He employs. We’re to be inspired by our hope for eternity: by the certainty that at a new era of redemption has begun and our lives are to anticipate its glorious consummation.