More often than not, Easter messages focus on the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, and rightly so. These are historical accounts narrating the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Less frequently do messages arise from the various New Testament letters and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke, Paul, Peter, James, and John take up the historical event of the resurrection and bring its significance to bear on the life of faith.
One cannot read these letters without recognizing the resurrection’s strong strand. It weaves through the message of the authors as they show how this historical event proclaims liberty to the captives and “the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1) as Jesus announced (Luke 4:18).
One of the great truths of the resurrection is freedom. Before the resurrection of Jesus, His disciples failed to understand such freedom. They viewed it in terms of a material kingdom rather than spiritual life. Tradition dictated their view of the external rather than the internal. However, afterwards, they could not hold back this lofty truth.
A walk through the New Testament reveals narration of the historic event of the resurrection and its application to a life of faith. Truth stands on history and not fiction. History builds a mountain of evidence on which biblical faith rests. Without historical evidence, faith would be futile and freedom would be a mirage or relative to how one defines it. Biblical faith leads to freedom because God intervened in history, interacted with humanity through Jesus, and brought Jesus from death to life through His unsurpassed power. Freedom stands on this mountain of evidence.
What then is this freedom? The gospels narrate the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus also left traces of the meaning of freedom through His sermons (Luke 4:18-19). However, the apostles expanded at length on this freedom arising from Jesus’ resurrection. Throughout their letters, resurrection dominates. It is the center of their messages. However, how does resurrection link to and bring freedom?
In the middle of presenting the gospel to the Church at Rome, Paul gives a sublime example. He takes the reader from an intentional self focused to a resurrection focused excursion. This self focus serves to make a point at the conclusion of the chapter,
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
What death? The death to which Paul refers is that which prevents him from living upright, good, and pleasing to God. This body of death is that which sin rules. Notice the number of times Paul uses “I” and “me” prior to crying out this statement and question. Immediately following these, he pivots from the “I” and “me” to gratitude for the resurrection. He boldly pens,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
He crowns his declaration of freedom with the following statement,
If the Spirit of a him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11).
Resurrection is the pinnacle of the argument Paul applies and the foundational doctrine for living the Christian life. The resurrection means no longer being in debt to the flesh but living by the teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Resurrection life now is a mere taste of the glory reserved for us when we meet our Savior face to face. The song “Blessed Assurance” highlights this taste in its lyrics:
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!
The resurrected Jesus imparts to us the resurrected life to whet our appetite for all God has prepared for us in His presence.
Resurrection brings life and liberty. Easter is an everyday occurrence and not just once yearly. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead brings about a different life than the self-focused one. The old life bound us to the disdainful beatings we may give ourselves of hopelessness, despair, shame, dread, and trash talk under which we bury others and ourselves. At times, the old life also attempts to elevate us above our peers through boasting, smugness, strife, anger, envy, greed, and division. This, too, is bondage to fantasy and self. However, Paul claims that the same power that raised Jesus from death enables us to be free from those things that hold us in bondage.
When we cry out like Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” the answer immediately registers, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ out Lord!” (7:25). The answer does not stop there, just as the Easter message does not stop with one day,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (8:1-3).
How often do we live under self-condemnation, ripping others and ourselves apart when others or we fail, fall, or falter? Christ’s resurrection took care of this condemnation and corresponding way of life. While in this present body, we continue to struggle with these burdens of our existence. However, hope in the Easter message illustrates faith in Him for continued deliverance and assurance that Christ paid the price for all our sin. The Easter message proclaims that through the new birth we possess resurrected spiritual life from God. Consequently, the power of resurrection and its corresponding new life increasingly energizes and spurs us to live for Him. “Increasingly” suggests missteps along the way, but these missteps do not stop God from conforming us to the image of His resurrected Son.
Freedom begins with salvation. Salvation is almost a lost word, because many have lost sight of what precedes it: the gravity of the human condition. Humanity is in bondage. We understand bondage from looking out on our world. It exists visibly in human slavery that still prevails in many nations. People take others into captivity and strip them of everything they have.
A more insidious bondage survives that of human slavery: bondage to internal evil we afflict on ourselves and others resulting from spiritual death due to natural rebellion against God. This natural rebellion results in known and seen characteristics in everyone throughout the world: hatred, greed, rebellion, immorality, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness. The Bible calls this sin. It all begins from within us.
Salvation is deliverance from all this sin and the power to live right with God. This is a liberty greater than freedom from human slavery, because it is spiritual freedom exceeding the material and lasts for an eternity. The power God gives to live in freedom is the same power God exercised for raising Jesus from death. When God imparts a new spiritual life (resurrection) from spiritual death within us, He gives the power to live that new life. Freedom begins for us with that power.
Good Friday precedes the resurrection, just as our good God existed from eternity before He pronounced His created works good. Goodness in God precedes the greatness of His works, especially the grand finale of the resurrection. The Apostle Paul declared this resurrection arrived at the proper time, in the proper place, and through the proper Person – Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Goodness does not stand alone, but it is bound to our good God.
On that first Good Friday, the tragic circumstances of the death of Jesus left the disciples in deep despair. All they could think about immediately following Jesus’ death was themselves, their predicament of being a dead man’s disciples, and their own prospects of death. That despair festered like an ulcer. They initially saw no good in Jesus’ death but certain bondage to chains and ultimately the grave. They forgot their good God and His sovereign hand. They cast aside all they heard from Jesus. Fear ransacked their spirits. They could not fathom how Jesus’ words could ring true: His return, His Father’s house, His kingdom. Good Friday was not good for them. They later discovered the truth of resurrection.
God’s goodness transcends despair, tragedy, hopelessness, weakness, tears, fear, failure, and frailty. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead the third day, His power also raises us up from the bondage of emotional turmoil, doubt, dismay, and unbelief. Liberty means God refocusing our eyes off ourselves and on the resurrected life He gives when He raises us from spiritual death to new life He promised in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Easter celebrates the resurrection life and turns despair and dismay into hope and joy:
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5)
Easter is that morning that took the disciples ( and us with them) from mourning to joy. God wakes us up through a new life to smell the freedom air of the resurrection.