In Presidential Anecdotes, the late Paul Boller tells a story about then New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson. Shortly after receiving news that one of the state senators (who happened to be a close friend) had died unexpectedly, Wilson got a phone call from another important state politician. “Governor,” the man declared, “I would like to take the senator’s place.” Woodrow Wilson replied, “It’s perfectly agreeable to me – if it’s agreeable to the undertaker.” That is not what the aspiring politician was thinking of at all.
I tell this story for two reasons this morning. One, there is an old tradition started in Bavaria in the 15th Century where at the end of the Easter service, the priest would come down and tell joke after joke. It was called “Risus Paschalis,” which means “the Easter laughter.” The priest would do this because Easter is the celebration of the great joke that God played on Satan when God raised Jesus from the dead. Satan thought he had won, but the one who had won was Jesus and in that resurrection, he defeated Satan, sin and death for us.
The other reason I tell this story is because a lot of people have a really narrow view of what the resurrection means. For most people, Jesus’ resurrection means we will someday be bodily in heaven with Jesus. But as gloriously wonderful as that is, there is far more to Jesus’ resurrection than just that. The resurrection, which we celebrate today, changes everything already now. It certainly changes our eternal future but it also changes our lives right now. In Romans 8:9-11, Paul talks about the importance of the resurrection in the lives of believers.
The first thing we celebrate today is the fact that Jesus is risen! Now some have decided that it is impossible for Jesus to have been raised from the dead. Several years ago, German New Testament theologian Gerd Ludemann was a visiting scholar at Vanderbilt University. According to Newsweek magazine, he maintained that the resurrection of Christ was “an empty formula” that must be rejected by anyone holding a “scientific world view.” So what happened to Jesus? Jesus’ body rotted away in the tomb and the appearances to the disciples were merely subjective visions to guilty and remorseful people. Others believe that Jesus “swooned” or just passed out and appeared to be dead.
Jesus really did rise from the dead even though resurrections aren’t supposed to happen. How do we know that? The Bible says it and we believe it! And so have millions of people throughout history in spite of all the arguments that supposedly prove that Jesus did not rise.
But what is more important is the fact that Jesus is alive now! It is one thing to believe that Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago. But many fail to believe, or at least live as though they do not believe, that Jesus is alive today! That fact brings us beautiful results and benefits. But there is a condition that we must realize and understand first.
II. What is the condition?
The main requirement for anyone to receive the benefits that are available from Christ’s resurrection is that we must believe in Him. We must believe that what the Bible says about Jesus is true. And as we have seen in our study of Isaiah 53 this Lent, we must believe that it is true for us! Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin. Jesus rose again to give me the victory over sin and death.
If we believe this then, in the words of Paul in Romans 8:1, we are in Christ. “In Christ” means that we are living in the new situation, or the new age that Christ has brought about because of his death and resurrection. The old age was the age of sin that Adam brought into being. The new age is the age of Christ where sin no longer controls but Christ controls.
That which makes it possible to be forgiven, to have our guilt removed, which makes it possible for us to receive our life back again, is the power of God’s grace in the cross of Jesus Christ. This is great, but if we stop here with only our guilt removed, we have an incomplete picture. Being a Christian means more than believing in a risen Christ out there who forgives us; we must realize that we have a risen Christ who is living in us right now!
We must have Christ living in us through the Holy Spirit. Verse 9 says the proof of Christ living in us is in the way we live our lives. If we do not live like Christians, then we do not have the Spirit and we do not belong to Christ. There is more to our Christian lives than only being forgiven. We need to live the kind of life Jesus Himself would have us live. Now that makes things a lot more difficult for us. We know how hard it is to live a good life. We know how challenging it is to overcome those things that can hurt our walk with God. We know the thoughts that creep into our minds. We know the selfish motives and desires that taint our actions. We know how easily sin can gain the upper hand in our lives. Still we know that we must walk as Christ walked and lived. However, there are two beautiful results of Jesus’ resurrection that help us in this ongoing struggle.
III. The present benefit is described in verse 10.
First, Paul says, “Your body is dead because of sin.” It is because of sin that we still must face death. We still experience the sadness of death of loved ones. We all grow older and draw closer and closer to death. That will not change yet, but it will be different in the future.
But right now our spirits are alive because of righteousness. Verse 9 says, “You are no longer controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.” Even though we still suffer the effects of sin, we also have power and hope for the present. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is making our spirits alive because of righteousness. When Jesus died, sin lost its death grip on our lives.
We now have the Spirit who helps us overcome the sin in our present lives. I think Christians often have a defeatist attitude in their lives. “I know that I have improper attitudes toward others. “I know I am motivated more by selfish ambition than love for Christ. I know that I have a hard time with my inner thought life. I know I have all these struggles that I continually fight with. But I guess that is just the way it’s going to be.”
But we don’t have to be defeated in our struggle with sin. We have the power of the risen Christ in our lives! We have the Spirit Himself living in us, helping us to overcome the sins that trip us up. Jesus did not come to die and rise again just so that we could go through life feeling guilty. There are times when we need to feel guilty because we still sin. But I am talking about a constant state of guilt where we know we should do more and live better but we just don’t. That is unnecessary!
If the Spirit can raise Jesus from the dead, the same Spirit can certainly give us victory over sins that keep on tripping us up. We continue to struggle with sins as they keep tripping us up. The good news today is that those sins are not only forgiven, but that the power of the resurrection means that we can gradually more and more put those things behind us. We have present power! Let’s live in the present resurrection power!
IV. The future benefit is that we will be raised from the dead.
As we saw earlier, we still suffer from the effects of sin in that we still die. But in verse 11, Paul makes the point that if we have the Spirit living in us, we have the same Spirit in us that raised Jesus from the dead. If that Spirit can raise Jesus from the dead, it can also raise our bodies from the dead as well when Jesus comes again. Jesus’ resurrection is our assurance that we too will be raised. If our lives show that we have the Spirit living in us, then we can be absolutely certain that we will be raised as well when Jesus comes again.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead! If we are in Christ, His resurrection is our resurrection. Let’s thank God that we do not need to fear death and let’s live in the knowledge that the risen Christ is in us today! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!!