What’s The Big Deal With The Resurrection?

Why did Jesus have to rise bodily from the dead? Why not just return spiritually to the Father?

Of course the song of resurrection inspires us. It harmonizes beautifully with all our other commonplace choruses, “It’s darkest before the dawn,” “Spring follows winter,” and “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” I once even heard a preacher conclude his Easter sermon with, “So Christ rose in our hearts.” The idea of resurrection feels good.

Such choruses are simply sappy, sentimental attempts to feel good in difficulty. But Paul claimed, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). If Jesus didn’t really, physically, bodily rise from the dead, our faith is just horse manure.

The resurrection is a big deal. But why? Isn’t the real gospel that he died for our sins?

When I was twelve or thirteen, I went on a church retreat in the middle of The icy plungeJanuary. The temperature was below zero. With friends I crossed a low bridge that spanned a three-foot-deep stream. We wrestled a bit, and I accidentally fell off the bridge into the stream.

I was plunged into a pool of stabbing cold; I gasped in shock; the bitter chill astonished me. The icy water began to suck all heat from my body (though technically, I’m told, my tiny body tried to heat hundreds of gallons of ice cold water). We later measured the water to be just above freezing. It felt unbelievably cold. And so did I.

That is the condition of humans after sin; our life is being sucked away in an icy river of death. Sin is not just bad behavior (“I lied,” “You cheated”). Sin is the power of death that ceaselessly, relentlessly, inexorably drains every unit of warmth of every cell from every human being.

Total Depravity

It’s not just our bodies that are dying. Theologians use the term Total Depravity to express sin’s ruthless corruption of the entire nature of humanity so that every part about us is dying. Nothing of our true selves is left undamaged:

  • Of course our bodies are dying; we used to see great and now we need bifocals.
  • Yes, we love others, but even our best love is a bit selfish, slightly “What about me?”
  • Our few moments of genius are mere ghouls taunting us with what we cannot grasp.
  • Our most profound thoughts and feelings frustrate us as we feebly fail to express them.

We have been plunged into the icy river of death, and every part of our nature is being sapped of life. Great artists admit that even their greatest masterpieces are mere drafts of what might have been. Everything in our lives—from life to love to art—is disfigured, spoiled, and dying.

God’s hatred of death

Dylan Thomas wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night / Old age should burn and rave at close of day / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He was absolutely right. Death is a monster to be hated.

And God does hate death. His white-hot wrath burns against the wanton cravings of a Death that slurps every morsel of life from his creation. Make no mistake; God’s dreadful anger at death is a blazing furnace of heated hatred.

So why isn’t the crucifixion enough?

If Jesus had only died for us, it means he was plunged into our same icy river of death until he succumbed. But we would be left freezing in the glacial grip of that life-sucking stream. If Jesus had simply died for us—unbelievably loving as it seems—we would still be slowly freezing.

After I fell in the stream, my friends dragged me from the water, immersed me in a steaming shower, and let it bathe me with its warmth. My tiny body simply couldn’t heat the hundreds of gallons of icy river on its own.

The crucifixion means Christ was plunged into the icy-cold river of death. But the resurrection means he absorbed into himself all the freezing evil of that icy river.

Let’s linger here a moment longer

Jesus alone endured to the very end. You and I have only withstood suffering to a degree. Maybe we endured a marathon, or survived a painful divorce, or persevered through the death of a child. Our endurance may have been horrific, but none of us have had to endure with every fiber of our being until ever fiber is spent.

We all eventually reach our limit and we can run no more. We reach the boundary of our will and are saved by sleep, a conversation with a friend, a movie, or a glass of wine.

Jesus alone endured to the very end. And he did it alone. Jesus gave all, not just his body. He absorbed in his spirit the torment, suffering, and shame of every bully, deceit, rape, pillage and oppression of millions of people for thousands of years. Having suffered it all, he stayed fast.

But he didn’t stop there

Jesus didn’t simply suffer death. He conquered it. He absorbed in his body the billions of gallons of wintry sin, oppression, and selfishness; and then Christ’s eternal goodness boiled the oceans of cold indifferent sin inflicted on creation by all of humanity through the centuries. (My tiny body couldn’t heat up a hundred gallons.) Then he rose, exploding from within the tomb.

Death didn’t overcome him. Jesus absorbed it all and overcame. Jesus didn’t come simply to forgive sin. He came to wage unlimited warfare and so subdue—and conquer—sin and death.

So what does that mean?

If the resurrection is true (and it is), it means that Jesus not only reached the limit of endurance, he pushed beyond it. Bathed in the icy river of death—like some cosmic nuclear reaction—he used his last ounce of greatness to reheat those frigid waters. What once was the river of death has now become the river of life.

The resurrection means the clock is running backwards, warmth is returning, the spoiled is becoming unspoiled, and that death that worked in us is now dying.

The real you—the you that was slowly being drained by death—is returning. All that false you—the you that was failing from exposure—is now dying. The parts of us that we hated are being buried while the truest parts of us—what we always longed for—are being raised.

Someday the final old part of us—our body—will be buried and our true bodies raised. Someday you will write that poem you always dreamed of or that symphony that lies just beyond your grasp. You will be who you always knew you could be. The thief has been robbed.

Out of us now flows a river of life, unstoppable and unbeatable, heating the waters of the world around us with warmth-giving life. We have become emissaries of heat.

Is the resurrection a big deal? More than we can imagine. The resurrection changed everything.


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What do YOU think?

10 thoughts on “What’s The Big Deal With The Resurrection?

  1. BRAH,

    I really do wish God gave me your writing skills this is an awesome piece and I’m envious, wait that’s sin! OK, I’m having an obedience issue, no wait, that’s not right right either. It’s an identity issue, I want to be you. Lord, I want to write like Sam you can do all things and you promise to give me everything my heart desires, OK!

    Yes, indeed the one thing many do not realize is that God did not create death, he creates life but used the ultimate death in order to return us back to HIS purpose and give us life!

    Great post Sam

  2. Sam
    Thank you for this message and reminder of where our focus should be. It brought back something a friend told me when he was sharing the gospel with me and I then accepted Christ. He was talking about how many times in the church all we see and hear about is Christ being crucified. He ask me as I read the gospels to focus on the living Christ and that made all the difference to me. We forget over the years that Christ came to give life and give it abundantly. Beautiful piece of writing and I loved the story of icy water. I am glad your friends rescued you.

  3. I watched the Book Thief the other night with my husband. Although a beautiful movie I did not like it. The narrator of the story is Death. I felt the author of the book exalts Death in the story. It makes death bigger than it really is. As I Christian I believe death has been overcome by Jesus so the story just did not feel right. As you can see I can’t express myself as well as you can. 🙂

    • Tereza! My wife and I just watched that movie last Sunday night, probably around the time you were watching it with your husband.

      I had a similar reaction. The story was fun, but death wasn’t villainous enough. Real death is a monster. The movie just made him … almost nice.

      Thanks for pointing that out.


  4. I think the discussion of jesus’ physical resurrection is interesting. By physical what do we mean? was his heart beating? was it molecular and protoplasmic? Was it literally a dead man who revived and had the physicality of a normal man?

    I’m not sure, some of his post crucifixion appearances were quite particular. He traveled with his followers unrecognized for several days, then when they do recognize him, he disappears (Luke 24). He appears in closed rooms (moves through walls/doors) (John 20). numerous occasions he appears out of nowhere. Those appearances make me question the “physicalness” of the resurrection.
    Any thoughts?

    • Hi Marius,

      Thanks for jumping into the discussion.

      Of course, the first question always has to be, “Is God real?” If so, God will be beyond our understanding. And so any resurrection will not just be a miracle but will also be beyond our understanding or imagination.

      That’s one of the things I like about the resurrection accounts in the Bible. They are unexpected. If we were to make a risen God, he’d be bright, glowing, shimmering, maybe majestic and awe inspiring.

      Instead, the risen Jesus is just ordinary. Who would make a God like that?

      Also, he is physical. Almost every other religion has humans escaping the soul from the prison of the physical body; Jesus returns with real matter, a real, physical body. Who would imagine a God like that?

      Yes, his heart beat, and he had hands and a mouth; and he could eat; but 1 Cor 15 gives us an oxymoron; it says Jesus has (and we will have) a spiritual body. It’s not less than physical. But it’s more than physical.

      Some people disparage physical things (food, making love, and a glass of wine) in favor of the spirit; and some people disparage anything spiritual (knowing a God, true spiritual love, etc.) in favor of the physical. God created and honors both.

      This is the body we were meant for, until we humans ruined the world with selfishness and injustice, and death began to work in us.

      Thanks for the question.