Years ago my husband was leading a Sunday School class when one of the regular attenders spoke up and said, “I believe all the stuff in the Bible except that one thing about the Resurrection. A guy coming back to life after three days is just too much for me.” My mouth literally fell open; I wanted to say, “What? Are you kidding me? Without the cross and resurrection none of the rest matters. It’s all about the cross and the Resurrection!”
Fortunately, I was not leading the class that day. My husband listened patiently to her apprehensions and then shared with her some of the proofs of the Resurrection from a historical perspective. He pointed her to scriptures of prophecy and promises that we too will be resurrected in Christ. It was a good learning experiencing for me that day to be patient with people in their journey. But, if I’m honest, when I hear someone doubt the resurrection even to this day I still want to yell, “What? The Resurrection underlines the goodness of our bodily creation and is our sure hope for eternal life!”
It is not too much of an exaggeration to say we exist as the Christian Church because of the Resurrection. We serve a risen Lord!
In the first three centuries, the church was oppressed and often forced into secrecy and seclusion. And yet it was also working to clarify, for an ever-growing audience, its foundational confessions of faith, especially concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ.
In 312 AD, Constantine ruled the Roman Empire. He elevated Christianity to favored status. In an attempt to reach some consensus regarding its confessions of faith and to bring unity to the church, Constantine convened a council of bishops in the year 325. They met in Nicaea, an important city now part of the modern nation of Turkey. Out of that meeting, of course, came the Nicene Creed, a stalwart guide for the church then and now. In short, it is a summary statement of what is most important. The foundational truths of God from which the church must not deviate.
It’s important to quickly review what it says about Christ up to this point:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
Now consider for a moment, what if the Creed ended here: “He suffered death and was buried.”
Wouldn’t that be tragic?
A remarkable story of creation and sacrifice, but that’s it. If Jesus had just suffered, and was just buried, there would be no hope. But the story does not end there, and neither does the creed.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Read that again – He rose again – He ascended to heaven – and today, right now as you read this – Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father. That, my friends, is everything!
Jesus was a good teacher. He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, and turned H2O into Merlot. He was the Creator’s only child. He died, and was buried. And, that is all awesome! But what happened next is the climax of the story… so far. Jesus got up from being dead. And He has promised us that, through life in Him, we can do the same. This is the main thing!
In the early church, teachings had become skewed. Understanding and embracing the essential message of Christ needed a course correction. This has remained true throughout the centuries. We all need a compass to direct us toward true North. Without accurate tools we are at risk of a false trajectory that, even when we are well intentioned, will lead us into dangerous territory. With the Bible, the great creeds (both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed) are our faithful guides. Sticking close to them is how we maintain our true course. They are the lights to illumine our path in dark times when we personally and corporately become lost or disoriented (“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119.105).
My friend in the Sunday School class was a good woman. She was a regular church attender, she served in a ministry, but she was missing an absolutely critical confession of our faith. Jesus took our sin and chose to die in our places, but then He rose again. That is the promise of eternal life!
The Resurrection of Jesus is one of the cornerstones of our faith. It is not a metaphor or sermon illustration. It is the essence of what we believe. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “ And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (1 Corinthians 15:14). Jesus died a sacrificial death and three days later rose again. He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
by Jennifer Cowart
Jennifer Cowart is the Executive Pastor at Harvest Church, a United Methodist Congregation in Warner Robbins, Georgia; she also a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Council