We live in a day when religion is looked at as a matter of preference or opinion. Many people believe that all religions are fundamentally the same; the differences are only superficial. Simply go about your life and choose what works best for you, and along the way, the question of truth can be completely avoided. Living that way is a huge and costly mistake.
From the earliest days of the church, the Bible tells us that people have worked to cover up Jesus' resurrection. Yet, every proposed explanation has fallen short. If, on the other hand, the resurrection is true, if Jesus did indeed die on the cross and actually rise from the grave, then the implications of these truths are startling. We'll consider some of these implications below.
Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That doesn't minimize anything else Jesus did, especially the cross; however, we can only see the significance of the cross and the rest of Christ's perfect work through the lens of the resurrection. When Matthew records for us the events of chapter 28, he is, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, making claims that change the world. We'll begin by looking at three implications concerning the authority of Christ based on the resurrection.
If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then we don't have to worry about a thing He said, because it was a lie. But if Jesus rose from the dead, then we must accept everything He said, for His authority is absolute. Jesus closes this chapter and the Gospel as a whole by claiming, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (v. 18). Jesus' absolute authority based on the resurrection means that He has authority over life and death. Shortly before His own death, Jesus told His disciples the following:
That's an astounding statement: Who among men determines when they live? None of us decides when we will come into this world, and when we die, none of us has the power to say, "I'm coming back to life." But that's precisely what Jesus did, and if He did rise from the dead, then He has absolute authority over life and death.
If Jesus rose from the dead, then we must also admit that He has authority over sin and Satan. All men die because they sin, for death is the payment for sin (Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23). However, Jesus is one man in all of history who died without sinning; so why did He die? Jesus died for our sins, in our place (1 Pet 2:24). After His death, Jesus rose from the grave, not only in victory over death, but in victory over sin. First Corinthians 15:55-57 teaches us that sin is the "sting of death":
Sometimes it's easy to think of Jesus' authority in an abstract sense without making a personal application. However, the fact that Jesus has authority over life and death, as well as over sin and Satan, leads to one unavoidable conclusion: He has authority over you and me. That is, He is our rightful Lord and Master. Paul speaks to this reality in Romans 10:9-13, what we might refer to as the foundational confession of Christianity:
So what does it mean for Jesus to have absolute authority over you and me? First, it means He reigns over us supremely. Jesus is the sovereign Ruler over our lives. This is the case whether we believe it or not. Just as the grass is green, regardless of whether or not you believe it, so also Jesus is Lord over you regardless of your approval. Many times Christians say, "I've decided to make Jesus the Lord of my life." I hate to break it to you, but you didn't have a choice in the matter. Jesus is Lord365 over your life. Scripture says that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11). The question is not whether or not Jesus is Lord; the question is, "Will you submit to Him as Lord now or when it is too late?"
Second, not only does Jesus' authority mean that He reigns over us supremely, but also that He loves us deeply. Remember that the purpose of the resurrection is grounded in Christ's love for us. God sent His Son to pay the price for our sin, and the resurrection lets us know that our hope of salvation is not some made-up story, some fanciful myth. The resurrection of Jesus validates everything He said, taught, and told us He came to do. In Galatians 2:20 Paul speaks of the Son of God who "loved me and gave Himself for me." Believers should rejoice in Jesus' love demonstrated in both His cross and His resurrection.
Third, Christ's authority over us means that He will judge us eternally. Jesus speaks of His role as judge in John 5:21-23:
For all who believe in Christ, the truth of Christ's judgment is good news. It's good news because you can be saved from eternal judgment if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (Rom 10:9). Christ's role as judge is also good news because the resurrection reminds us that this world is not all there is. If our only expectations are for this life, then we have no hope in the face of tragedy in this world. Furthermore, Christ's judgment means our efforts for justice in this world become meaningful. Pastor and author Tim Keller explains,
All of us have built-in longings and desires for meaning and purpose, and this tells us that this world is not the entire picture. Neither disease nor natural disasters have the last word in this world; because of the resurrection, Jesus does. And He will have the last word in the lives of each of us for all of eternity.
Based on everything we've seen about Jesus' authority, the ultimate question in the universe—Did Jesus rise from the dead?—becomes a very personal question. We can think of this personal application in two parts based on the truth we saw above in Romans 10:9. First, do you believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus? Romans 10:9 says that you must "believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead" in order to be saved. This is a point where the message of Christianity is radically different from every other religion. Scripture doesn't give us a list of things to do, boxes to check off, or rituals to follow. There is only truth to be believed. If you don't believe the truth of the gospel, then the burden of proof is on you to disprove the resurrection.
The second part of this personal application also has to do with Romans 10:9, as there is more involved in salvation than believing in the resurrection. To be clear, there's no work involved on our part, but there is a confession to be made. In the area where I pastor, the overwhelming majority of people would say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but there are undoubtedly many of them who are not saved from their sins. We know that mere intellectual assent doesn't save, for even the Devil himself believes in the resurrection of Jesus, and he is not saved from his sin. I could ask the Devil, "Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?"
He'd say, "Yes."
If I were to ask him, "Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?"
He'd say, "Yes."367
If I were to ask him, "Do you believe Jesus died on the cross and rose again?"
He'd say, "Yes."
If I were to ask him, "Do you believe Jesus is the only way to be saved?"
He'd say, "Yes."
If I were to ask him, "Will you commit to live a moral life and come to church and get involved in leadership?"
He could say, "Yes."
The crucial question is this: "Will you repent of your sin and surrender your life to Jesus as Lord?"
The Devil would clearly answer, "Absolutely not." We would do well to stress this aspect of submission in our own evangelism today.
In our day we urge people to assent intellectually to Jesus, pray a certain prayer, get involved in a particular church, live a relatively good life, etc., all with the promise (either explicitly or implicitly) that they will be saved. That's a lie. Scores of professing Christians have believed half of Romans 10:9, and they think they are saved from their sins, when in fact they are not. They give lip-service to Jesus, but their lives are not surrendered to His absolute authority. That's why we must ask the question, "Do you surrender to the universal authority of Jesus?" This is what it means to "confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord'" (Rom 10:9). To confess with your mouth is not about saying some magic words; rather, it's about a heart condition that says, "Yes, I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sin and rose from the grave as my Savior, and my life belongs to Him as Lord." Eternity depends on our answer to that question.