A common objection to belief in God goes something like this: If God really exists, why doesn’t he care about all the evil and suffering in the world? Why doesn’t he do something about war, starvation, and child abuse? As a Christian, maybe you feel hamstrung as to how to respond to these kinds of attacks.
But I think the apostle Paul would say this: God has done something. He raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31).
The resurrection changes everything. Jesus Christ crushed the darkness of sin and death when he got up from the grave. The resurrection is not an add-on to our gospel message; it’s the heartbeat and the lifeblood of it. We plant churches to announce this message to a dark world.
We do the hard work of planting churches because God did the impossible work of raising a man from the dead.
When Paul unpacks the gospel for the church at Corinth, he reminds them that Christ was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). Jesus commands us to fill the world with churches because he emptied a grave. We do the hard work of planting churches because God did the impossible work of raising a man from the dead.
Without the resurrection, there’s no good news. If Christ is still dead, then we have nothing to preach and nothing in which to hope (1 Cor. 15:14–19). If Christ is still dead, then our faith is futile, our sin is all-consuming, and our death is final; indeed, our guilt remains and our judgment is sure. If Christ is still dead, then we have no reason to plant churches. The work of church planting would be impossible—and pointless—without the empty tomb.
But the tomb is empty. Hope lives, and he stands on nail-pierced feet. What we announce to the world, then, is that there’s only one thing left in the tomb: death itself. Death died when Jesus rose. As Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215) wrote of Christ’s resurrection, “Christ has turned all our sunsets into dawns.”
Death died when Jesus rose.
For people in the first-century Roman Empire, preaching “good news” meant ascribing power and authority to the emperor. Yet when Christians preach the good news—whether to our neighbors or the nations—we announce that the ultimate Emperor has shown unrivaled power by emptying his tomb.
No wonder the earliest Christians gloried in the resurrection and celebrated Jesus’s victory in dramatic language. One of the oldest recorded sermons outside the New Testament is from Melito of Sardis (c. AD 175). Melito pictured the resurrected Christ as a warrior declaring his victory:
[Jesus] arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried, he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: “Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed. Who is my opponent? I,” he says, “am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I,” he says, “am the Christ.”
We plant churches because we have a Savior with whom no one can contend. He sets the condemned free, gives life to the dead, and rules on high. It would be foolish to propagate a message that claims a dead man can liberate other dead men. But the man at the center of Christianity is not dead.
It would be foolish to propagate a message that claims a dead man can liberate other dead men. But the man at the center of Christianity is not dead.
The resurrection of Christ is more than a happy ending to the Easter story. In a world marked by sin, suffering, and death, it is the hope, promise, and guarantee of a new beginning.
We approach Easter with great anticipation. We revel in the good news, and we celebrate the announcement that Christ is the supreme ruler over all. So announce the good news of the resurrected Christ—this weekend, yes, but also throughout the year.
Your church exists, after all, because the tomb is vacant.