The Essential Jesus: His Life & Teaching

2 Lessons from Jesus' Death & Resurrection

Teaching t10182

Introduction

Jesus death and resurrection is the climax of biblical revelation. Studying it is like examining a fine gem and discovering its multi-faceted depth and beauty. Look at it through Old Testament prophecy, and you will be struck by God’s sovereignty. Look at it through Jesus’ words on the cross, and you will be struck by God’s holiness and love. Look at it through the events accompanying it, and you will be struck by its power.

I want to conclude this series by looking Jesus’ death and resurrection through the eyes of Jesus’ disciples. What did they expect to happen on that first Good Friday? How did they interpret Jesus crucifixion? How did Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday change their interpretation of his death? What lessons can we learn from this?

The disciples’ perspective

If you read the four gospels’ coverage of this period of Jesus’ ministry, you will discover a very clear progression in the disciples’ perspective.

First, Jesus was very clear with them about what would happen. Over and over again, he told them that it was God’s plan for him as the Messiah to be rejected by the religious leaders, be betrayed by one of his followers, suffer unjustly, be crucified--and then to be raised from the dead three days later (read Lk. 9:22,44).

But his disciples steadfastly refused to accept this. In fact, Luke says they were unable to accept it (read Lk. 9:45). This was partly because they understood the Old Testament messianic prophecies to speak only of a victorious King, and partly because of they wanted him to be King so they could have comfort, fame and power. This was their “grid”--and it filtered out Jesus’ repeated prediction.

Therefore, when Jesus was arrested, condemned and then crucified, they were shattered. Like the onlookers at Calvary, they expected God to dramatically deliver his Messiah from this fate--but God did not deliver him. Because God was absent and inactive during Jesus’ crucifixion, they concluded that Jesus was not the Messiah as they had hoped (read Lk. 24:19-21). This conclusion ran so deep that even when the women reported that his tomb was empty and that angels had told them he was risen, they regarded this as nonsense (read Lk. 24:11).

But when the risen Jesus appeared to them and convinced them he had conquered death, they were stunned and astonished. The events of Good Friday looked totally different from the vantage point of Easter Sunday. They had concluded that since God let Jesus be crucified, he must not be the Messiah. But the resurrection proved beyond all doubt that Jesus was the Messiah (read Luke 24:26). They had concluded that God’s plan had been thwarted by Jesus’ crucifixion. But the resurrection proved just the opposite--that God’s plan had been fulfilled by Jesus’ death (read Lk. 24:46,47 excerpt).

It is difficult for us to be surprised and stunned about Jesus’ death and resurrection like the disciples, because Americans (even most unchurched Americans) look at it through the grid of New Testament teaching. “Of course Jesus had to die for our sins. Of course Jesus had to be raised from the dead after he paid for our sins. Of course Good Friday was followed by Easter Sunday. Of course this was God’s plan all along.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the way God saves us. If you come to God through Jesus’ death for your sins, he will forgive your sins, reconcile to himself, and give you eternal life. But Jesus’ death and resurrection is more than this. It is also a pattern of the way God works in our lives after we believe in Jesus. And because of this, there are some important ways that we can identify with the disciples, and there are some important lessons we can learn from their experience. Let’s look at a couple of these lessons . . .

God is often most present & active when he seems most absent & inactive.

The disciples’ expectations about Jesus formed their experience during his death. Their experience told them that God was absent and inactive during Jesus’ crucifixion--but his resurrection proved that their experience was wrong. God had been present and active in a hidden and mysterious, but powerful way to forgive sin, defeat Satan, conquer death, etc.--just like Jesus had said. Their mistake was trusting their experience instead of Jesus’ word.

Can you relate to this? All of us to some degree, and some of us to a great degree, live our spiritual lives like the disciples. We expect that following Jesus will yield certain positive results. But then things don’t turn out like we expected. Our experience tells us that God has forsaken us, that our faith in Jesus was useless after all. Will you trust your experience, or will you acknowledge that your experience is not entirely reliable--and instead trust God’s Word?

I’m not saying there is no value in our experience. Positive spiritual experience (SENSING GOD’S LOVE & GUIDANCE; EXPERIENCING QUICK ANSWERS TO PRAYER; HAVING GOOD CIRCUMSTANCES & GOD’S JOY, PEACE & HOPE) is good and healthy. This is the fruit of God’s Spirit, and if it is chronically absent from your life, something is wrong.

But there will also be periods of spiritual darkness (NO SENSE OF GOD’S LOVE; IN THE DARK ABOUT HIS WILL; NO APPARENT ANSWERS TO PRAYER; HAVING HORRIBLE CIRCUMSTANCES & WRESTLING WITH CONFUSION, ANXIETY & DESPAIR). During these times, you will be tempted to trust your experience and conclude that God is absent and inactive--or even that your faith in Christ is useless. Especially since our culture tells us that experience is a reliable guide to reality. Especially if this is your first time for this. Especially if your Christian teachers and friends can’t relate or say your faith is deficient.

It is during these times that you need to trust what God says rather than your experience, because God’s Word is a more reliable guide to reality (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). You need to recall the Cross and the Resurrection. You need to hold on to passages like Job and Paul’s imprisonment. You need to humbly acknowledge that you don’t see the whole picture--only God does, and God can be trusted more than your experience.

If you do this, you will discover what the disciples discovered-- that Good Friday will be followed by Easter Sunday. You will discover that your experience was wrong, that God was indeed present and active when he seemed absent and inactive. In fact, you will discover that he was doing some of the most powerful work in you during these very times. The most formative periods of my spiritual development have taken place during the darkest times of my life. This will help you to trust God’s Word (rather than your experience) the next time you go through a period of spiritual darkness.

There is a second, closely-related but different lesson we can learn from the disciples concerning the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday . . .

A spiritually fruitful life requires “death” followed by “resurrection.”

The disciples expected and wanted Jesus to establish God’s glorious kingdom without any death or suffering. But they learned that Jesus had to suffer and die first--and only after this be raised and glorified. Only through Jesus’ death could humanity be forgiven and made eligible for God’s kingdom.

Jesus told them this in a different way just before he was arrested. Read Jn. 12:24. Jesus was the life of God incarnate, and he came so that we might be indwelt by God’s spiritual life. But before his life could bear fruit in others, he first had to die. Had they accepted what Jesus said about this, they would have followed him through his Passion instead of being stumbled by it.

We may be amazed that disciples were so thick-headed about this--but we make the same mistake when it comes to spiritual fruitfulness in our own lives! But Jesus said this same lesson applies to us--read Jn. 12:26. Jesus wants his spiritual life in us to bear fruit by germinating and growing in others. But for this to happen, we must take the same path that Jesus took--through “death” to “resurrection.” If you want a spiritually fruitful life, it will require a series of “deaths” followed by “resurrections.”

Jesus taught this same lesson when he likened us to vines whose purpose is to bear fruit for his Father. Read Jn. 15:2b. Just as a vine must be pruned to bear more fruit, so God must prune our lives to make us more fruitful for him.

Paul taught this same lesson when he described his Christian life as a series of replays of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Read 2 Cor. 4:8-12 and principlize the sufferings (NAGGING NEGATIVE CIRCUMSTANCES; SPIRITUAL CONFUSION; MISTREATMENT BY OTHERS; SUDDEN & BIG CRISES). In a mysterious way, God works through these sufferings to deepen our faith in him, transform our character, mortify our selfishness--so that his power and truth and love can pour into us and through us in greater measure to others.1 I have never known a deeply effective Christian worker who has not gone through deep sufferings!

This is a difficult lesson to learn, especially since our culture tells us that life is about getting what we want, that we should never have to suffer, that nothing is worth losing comfort for, etc. And tragically, much of the American church teaches the same thing (HEALTH & WEALTH; OMISSION OF THIS EMPHASIS & AFFIRMATION OF PERSONAL PEACE & AFFLUENCE). If you ignore this lesson, you will opt for comfort resulting in a shallow and barren spiritual life.

But if you embrace this lesson, and expect your Christian life to involve an ongoing series of “deaths” followed by “resurrections,” you will eventually reap the benefit of a life of greater fruitfulness and fulfillment than you could ever imagine! Which kind of spiritual life do you want?

Footnotes

1 "We should not be . . . too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Why, simply that God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly. Perhaps He means to strengthen us in patience . . . compassion, (or) humility . . . by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency . . . or undetected forms of pride and conceit. Perhaps His purpose is to draw us closer to Himself in conscious communion with Him; for it is often the case . . . that fellowship with (God) is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross is heaviest. Or perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which at present we have no inkling." J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 86.

Copyright 2005 Gary DeLashmutt