The Power of Christ’s Resurrection
For a long time liberal scholars, so-called, denied that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Their justification for their denial was the theory of evolution. Moses lived in the fifteenth century before Christ, a time when human communication had not yet evolved much beyond the squeaks and grunts of our simian ancestors. Since Moses could barely talk at the time, writing was completely out of the question. Thus, when Exodus 24:4 says, Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, we must conclude that Moses wrote none of the Lord’s words.
One of the benefits of archaeological research and study is that it brings to our attention some of the contradictions in the thinking of those who oppose the gospel of Christ. The liberals claimed that Moses could not write, but archaeological expeditions over the past century or so have unearthed entire libraries and law codes far more detailed than what we find in Scripture that were written not during the time of Moses, but a thousand years before Moses was even born. Modern liberals still deny the Moses wrote the Pentateuch, but no one in his right mind would deny nowadays that Moses could have written it.
Unbelievers change their theories rather frequently, just as the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God abides forever.
The Historicity of Christ’s Resurrection
Another event recorded in Scripture is denied even more vociferously than Moses’ ability to write. Yet, the historical support for this event is even greater. I’m talking about the resurrection of Christ, which was prophesied in the Old Testament, foretold by Christ himself several times during his earthly ministry, affirmed as a historical fact in each of the four gospels, witnessed by more than five hundred brethren at once and interpreted throughout the rest of the New Testament.
There can be no doubt that Christ’s resurrection, like Moses’ ability to write, it is a matter of history. In our text, Paul assumed its historical accuracy. He made no attempt to prove it or defend it. He just affirmed it as a matter of fact. Further, he expected his readers to do the same. As Christians, we also believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But most of what the New Testament says about Christ’s resurrection goes beyond the historicity of the event and into the realm of interpretation or meaning. In other words, the Bible gives us a theology of the resurrection. For example, Romans 4:25 says that the Lord was raised again for our justification. According to the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians, Christ’s resurrection is the sine qua non, i.e., the indispensable foundation of our own future resurrections. And in our text Paul says without hesitation that the same, identical power that raised Jesus from the dead now works in those of us who believe.
In order to appreciate all that Paul meant in our text, however, it is crucial that we study it in the context of chapters one and two. What we find in these chapters is that we are needy people and that God has satisfied our needs beyond our imagination. We need the love of God and the mercy that can be found only in the blood of Christ. We need to remember that God’s harshness, if we may it such, is gentler and sweeter to our souls than the mercy of men. We need redemption from sin, forgiveness and the enlightenment of God’s Spirit. Chapter two zeroes in on our natural condition. We were dead in our trespasses and sins (v. 1; cf. v. 5), unable to contribute anything of worth to contribute to our own salvation.
A sick man can drive himself to the pharmacy to buy over-the-counter medication. If his condition is bad enough, he might try to make it to the doctor’s office for a professional evaluation. A sickness does not prevent him from doing these things. But Paul did not say that we were sick or that our condition was possibly terminal. He said that we were dead. Dead men can do absolutely nothing to better their condition. They cannot look for a doctor or a pharmacy. Drugs cannot cure them. Physicians are of no help to them. And so it was with us. We were dead in our rebellion against God. Apart from the kindness of God, we had no hope. And it was precisely at this point that God himself raised us up to new life in the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 6).
Note what Paul did here. He used the language of resurrection to describe what the Bible elsewhere calls our regeneration, our rebirth or the impartation of new life through Jesus Christ. God made us alive when there was no hope that we could ever find life anywhere else.
And this is exactly where we find the difference between believers and unbelievers. Unbelievers are still dead in their sins and can do nothing about it. Believers, on the other hand, have been revived by omnipotent power of a God who has chosen to call us his own. Do you understand what a privilege that is? Do you appreciate the great blessing that God has given you?
Back in the 70s there was a song popular among many Christians that said, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” In one sense, the difference between believers and unbelievers is imperceptible. We don’t walk around with halos on our heads. Although we might reign as kings with the Lord Jesus Christ, our crowns are not visible. We sin, we suffer, we bleed and we die just like everyone else. And because we bear the name of Christ as Christians, our sins and failings stand out even more than the sins and failings of those around us.
The Lord Jesus appeared weak in the eyes of the world, too. I suspect that he was probably rather strong physically. The gospel writers report that he was a carpenter by trade. In English the word carpenter suggests that he worked with wood. But the Greek word is not that specific. It can mean anything from lumberjack to a stone mason to a blacksmith. But whatever it was, it was hard work. Three years of public ministry probably wore him down some, but not enough to make him look as emaciated as in many of the so-called pictures of Christ that are common in Roman Catholic and evangelical circles. But when we say that the world considered Jesus weak, we’re not talking about his physique. Rather, we’re talking about the fact that as a man he placed himself under the unjust judgment of men and the just judgment of God. In the eyes of men, he was a convicted and condemned felon, worthy of death. But looks can be, and usually are, deceiving. Why? Because God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wisdom of the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty, so that no flesh might glory in his presence (I Cor. 1:27–29).
But Jesus had one thing that the world lacks: he had the power of God. Three short days after he surrendered his life in our behalf, he demonstrated that power by raising himself from the dead. After that he ascended into heaven, was seated at the right hand of the Father and was given all authority over all creation, so that he now reigns gloriously over all his enemies for the good of his church.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians that that same power, the power that raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the Father’s right hand, is at work in everyone who believes. In fact, it is that same power that causes us to believe, as he says in the next chapter.
Today people don’t want to hear that they need God’s power in order to believe. Isn’t there a “spark of divinity” in everyone? liberals ask. Others want easy believism and free will, which basically means that they are willing to accept the gospel but only on their own terms. They like to think that they can pull themselves up into heaven by their own bootstraps. But they forget that man is not sick with sin. He’s dead. Apart from God’s grace men cannot even appreciate that it is for their own good that they believe. Therefore, Christianity can only be explained by the power of God working in the hearts and lives of God’s people. The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is necessary to bring even one soul to salvation.
There is a great deal of truth in the song that I mentioned earlier. Jesus once said, By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35). We just need to keep in mind that it’s only the imperceptible power of the Christ’s resurrection that makes that makes this kind of love possible.
The rather long sentence of which our text is part is Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus. It begins in verse 15 and continues to the end of verse 21. He prayed, Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers… (vv. 15–16). And if you read the next few verses, you’ll see the prayer of a man who knew what it means to walk with the Lord in a bond of covenant fellowship.
One commentator, in agreement with his Arminian theology, analyzed Paul’s prayer by saying that Paul prayed for two things: knowledge and power. Knowledge gives the content of a believer’s thinking, and power gives him the ability to perform it. But this isn’t really what Paul wrote at all. If you look carefully at the text, you’ll see that Paul prayed only for one thing, viz., knowledge. He wanted the Ephesians to know something. To be more precise, he wanted them to know three things: first, the hope of God’s calling (v. 18), viz., eternal life; second, the riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in his saints (v. 18), i.e., the great blessings that we enjoy now and will continue to enjoy forever; and third, the exceeding greatness of his power to those who believe (v. 19). Note the superlative nature of this power. It’s not just an ordinary power. The Greek word translated power (δυνάμεως) is the root of our word dynamite, but even this is an inadequate equation. The power that raised Christ from the dead is beyond anything that we can imagine.
But let me emphasize here that these three things are not things that we need to acquire. The simple fact is that we already have them. Paul didn’t pray that the Ephesians would get these things. He prayed that they might know them. You see, the power of Christ’s resurrection can already be found in (εἰς) everyone who believes. Brethren, you and I have this power already. Without it we couldn’t have believed; with it we must believe. Without it we have no desire to walk in the right way; with it we desire to do nothing else. Without it we lust after the things of the world; with it our hope and confidence is set on the Lamb of God.
But you might wonder whether the same power is still with you after you believe. Will it still energize your soul after you’ve been a Christian for fifteen, twenty, thirty or forty years? Well, listen to what Paul wrote in another place. Philippians 1:6 says, Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. In the next chapter Paul wrote, For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. This latter passage, as you might remember, is in the context of Paul encouraging the brethren in Philippi to pursue ever-increasing sanctification. He understood that the power of God not only brings us to life in Christ, but also keeps and preserves us in it as well.
Think about it for a minute: the same power of God that raised Jesus from the grave is still with you. Whenever you face a problem or trial, the power of God guides you through it. When life becomes a burden and your cares are overwhelming, remember that God raised up the Lord Jesus Christ and he also raises you up together with him. He makes you to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). When your children misbehave, you lose your jobs, or friends encourage you to sin, find your rest in your Savior. There is no burden his power cannot and does not bear in behalf of his children. There is no obstacle for which his grace is insufficient. Run to Christ and find in him all you need.
Beloved, we need to understand that the trials God sends our way are opportunities for growth. Jesus did not pray that God would take his disciples out of the world, away from all troubles and adversities, but that he would keep us from the evil one (John 17:15). Likewise, the book of Romans teaches us that we have an obligation to convert the challenges we face into opportunities for serving Christ: And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Rom. 12:2). Nowhere does God promise us that we won’t have any problems, but he does promise to see us through any problems that we have. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (I Cor. 10:13). Is it not the power of Christ’s resurrection that provides the way of escape and causes us to flee to him in every affliction?
No true believer can say he lacks the power to do God’s will. The power of the world is great, but it is nothing compared to the exceeding greatness of the power that raised Christ from the dead and now resides in those who believe. Sin, Satan and death are conquered enemies. The battle is over. Our Savior Jesus Christ is now preparing a home in heaven for his people.
Too many Christians miss the drama of Christian living. Many think of Christianity only in terms of believers doing their utmost best. Of course, believers should do their best. But if this is all we see in Christian living, then we rob God of the power and glory that are appropriately and only his. Again, the superlatives in verses 19 and 20 emphasize the glory and greatness of God’s power, and contrast it with man’s weakness and sin. The exceeding greatness of God’s power, which He worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead, overcomes our inability and empowers us to serve Jesus Christ to his honor and glory.
We might wonder why Paul wrote that the power of God that works within us is the power of Christ’s resurrection. Why not the power of creation? the power of the flood? or the power of the Jewish exodus from Egypt? The reason is really rather simple: unlike the other great acts of God, in the resurrection God defeated all the obstacles to man’s salvation once and for all. The resurrection of Christ guarantees our spiritual resurrection in regeneration and assures us that God will also raise our mortal bodies when Jesus returns.
Question 45 of the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes these truths well. It asks, “What benefit do we receive from the resurrection of Christ? Ans. First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by His death. Second, by His power we are also raised up to a new life. Third, the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”
The resurrection, then, is an important historical event — in fact, it is the most important historical events in the history of the world, standing side by side with Jesus’ death, ascension into heaven and session at the right hand of the Father — but equally as important is its meaning. For this we turn to the pages of Scripture, drawing out the meaning that the inspired writers left for our learning. Unbelievers can understand Scripture to some extent: the better they understand it, the more they hate it. But it takes the power of Christ’s resurrection to believe it. Nothing less than the power of God can convince a man that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. And nothing but the power of Christ’s resurrection can make us to live to his honor and glory. Amen.