The Easter Gospel
Easter is about power. But it’s not about the kind of power this world is used to. It’s power demonstrated in weakness, vulnerability, and brokenness. Jesus revealed that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). That’s an important, but mostly misunderstood passage. Jesus wasn’t claiming that the kingdom of God is spiritual as opposed to earthly. The very goal of the kingdom of God in Christ is to transform creation so God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Jesus was saying that the governing principles and the ultimate source of his kingdom are at odds with those of this present fallen world. Jesus didn’t simply fight the great battle against sin, suffering, and Satan for us, he lost the battle for us too.
The Problem. By and large, the Jewish people were ready for a king, a mighty, righteous king, who would overthrow the Romans, deliver the people of Israel, renew God’s covenant with his people, and usher in a period of blessing and prosperity. This is, after all, what Moses spoke of as happening after the time of exile.
The problem is that Jesus didn’t look very much like a king. He didn’t crush the Romans; they crushed him. He didn’t take up arms. In fact, he instructed his disciples to “turn the other cheek” for the sake of the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 5:39). When the people seemed so in love with Jesus’ message (as they understood it) that they were going to make him King by force (Jn. 6:15), he avoided the crowd and slipped away to the mountain side.
This isn’t the way a king acts. And in time people were starting to get suspicious of whether Jesus was really the right horse to back against the Empire of Rome.
Finally, when Jesus was crucified and buried, that made it about as obvious as possible that he was not the Lord’s annointed, the Messiah.
God’s King. But Easter reminds us that the story didn’t end there. Easter is about the gospel. Paul makes this clear in the opening verses of his greatest letter, the epistle to the Romans. We shouldn’t glaze over these verses in an unconscious attempt to “get to the good stuff” starting in 1:16. The opening verses are a summary of Paul’s entire letter, and Easter is at the heart of it. So Paul says,
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-6 ESV)
Easter is about the Messiah as the risen and rightful king of the whole world.
In Paul’s opening words to the church in Rome he wants them to know Easter is about God’s covenant faithfulness. He says Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection was God’s grand YES to Jesus as Lord and King. The resurrection declared openly to the world, not merely privately to the disciples as in the transfiguration, that Jesus truly is the world’s rightful king. Despite the appearance of failure, Jesus was the Messiah. And it wasn’t in spite of the cross, but rather through it that he won the ultimate victory.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:13-15)
So the resurrection isn’t merely God’s stamp of approval that Christ’s Good Friday sacrifice was accepted (though it certainly was that), but God’s public declaration that Jesus is the risen King of Israel and Lord of all the nations.
Resurrection and Our Redemption. Paul brings together the gospel message of King Jesus with the gospel message of our redemption in Romans chapter 10. In verses 9 and 10 Paul writes:
… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
What role does this “confession” play for the Christian? Why is salvation and justification tied to believing and confessing Jesus was raised from the dead? Justification, the confession of Jesus’ resurrection, repentance, and faith are ultimately linked to the messiahship of Jesus. The Fall of Gen. 3 depicts humanity as rejecting the rightful dominion of God, exchanging the rule of the Creator in favor of autonomy, self-rule. But not all expressions of autonomy are equal. It doesn’t just lead to rebellion against God. For some their lust for autonomy doesn’t lead to a simple rejection of God’s rule, but a need to oppress and rule over others. And so the guy with the biggest stick wins. So not only does humanity live at odds with God, but our twisted quest for self-rule leads to oppression, injustice, and tyranny. But, God’s design was that his wise rule would be exercised on earth by humanity and his unswerving commitment to this plan wouldn’t allow him to start a “plan B.”
Our confession of Jesus as God’s chosen king is tied to the whole up-and-down story of the Bible. Easter is about God inaugurating the great second exodus, delivering us from slavery under the domain of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of his beloved (cf. Col. 1:13). The redemption of both humanity and creation is about re-placing us under the rule of God, and if the rule of God on earth is to be implemented by a righteous image-bearer, God will find the right one to rule. And when there is no one perfectly faithful to God’s purposes, God will get his hands dirty, come in human flesh, and do the heavy-lifting himself.
When we confess that Jesus is Lord we’re laying down our weapons, acknowledging the sheer stupidity of our rebellion. When we turn to him in faith we’re looking to him as our Lord and King who will direct our steps and guide our lives.
Resurrection, Kingship, and Mission. And this takes us back to the Gospels themselves, Matthew in particular. If Jesus has been open declared to be the King of the world, what does that mean for us. As we saw above, it means we turn to him in faith and repentance. How should we live if Easter is indeed about power, God’s power to declare the Messiah as having all authority on heaven and earth (Matt. 28:19)? Thankfully, King Jesus didn’t leave that question unanswered. We are sent on mission. Trevin Wax defines the mission of the church in these words:
The church is a sign and instrument of the kingdom of God, a people united by faith in the gospel announcement of the crucified and risen King Jesus. The mission of the church is to go into the world in the power of the Spirit and make disciples by proclaiming this gospel, calling people to respond in ongoing repentance and faith, and demonstrating the truth and power of the gospel by living under the lordship of Christ for the glory of God and the good of the world.
The King sends us out to live in the power of the resurrection, testifying to the power of the gospel of the Kingdom to transform people now and eventually all of creation. Jesus taught us saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).
We obey all that Jesus commanded us.
We herald the risen and returning King.
- For the best single volume on the resurrection, see N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.