“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
I remember reading that line aloud to my boys and pausing to file it away in my mind. We were working through the first Harry Potter book. Following a moving rendition of the Hogwarts’ school song, headmaster Albus Dumbledore delivered the pregnant segue. In a story involving magic, and these being the words of the headmaster — and of a school of magic at that! — I wondered if this would prove to be no throwaway line.
From there on, such striking, carefully crafted statements had me thinking again and again, I look forward to re-reading this someday. I was perceiving more layers than I could enjoy fully on the first read. The author clearly intended not only to capture first-time readers, but to delight second- and third-time readers as well, and perhaps even more.
The best of books, you know, do this. Narnia does it. So does Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And chief above them all, and far beyond them all, is the original source from which Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling took their best cues, however consciously: the Christian Scriptures.
Read, Repeat, and Savor
God himself is the master author of second, third, and twentieth reads. And here in Lent, anticipating another Easter, we remember that resurrection is one of the Bible’s most important read-and-repeat themes. While we taste the ever-increasing delights of finding resurrection across the canon throughout the year, some of us stop to see and savor more each spring. We might prepare our hearts for the glories of Easter through the long 46-day journey of Lent, or the more-pointed focus of “Holy Week.”
For centuries, Christians have found value in imaginatively entering into the waiting, as we do with Advent. Yet as Christians, we do not grieve on Good Friday as those who have no hope, or enter Lent as those who do not yet know, for certain, that the resurrection is coming. So Lent, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, and Holy Saturday serve as opportunities, like re-reading other great stories, to find ourselves caught up in the drama again — to appreciate Jesus’s story, and Jesus himself, in new and deeper ways.
Five Risen Aftermaths
In an effort to prepare our hearts ahead of Easter for the riches of glory in Christ’s resurrection, we dare not limit our celebration of the resurrection to one day each year. Jesus is risen, and alive right now — and every day you’ve ever lived. And so as we observe this anticipatory season (to whatever degree), we do so as those who know, and proclaim, and enjoy that he is risen indeed.
Ponder with me, then, five critical aftermaths of Christ’s resurrection that tend to get short shrift when we move to and through Easter too quickly. Christ’s resurrection is not the end of the story, but his rising from the dead means he is alive to be and apply other precious realities as our living Lord.
1. Alive to Rise
Christ’s new life from the dead began his rising, but was not the end of his rising. Forty days later, on what some mark as “Ascension Day,” he rose yet again, this time ascending from earth to heaven and to heaven’s throne.
“Christ’s new life from the dead began his rising, but was not the end of his rising.”
Luke-Acts and Hebrews are especially conscious of Jesus’s post-resurrection rising. Luke’s Gospel ends with Jesus being “carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). Acts, then, begins with “the day when he was taken up” (Acts 1:2) — that is, “he was lifted up” (Acts 1:9). In other words, he rose (from the dead) to rise yet further (to heaven). And his ascension, then, like his resurrection, is not the end of the line but leads to further glories still.
2. Alive to Reign
Hebrews 1 gives us a glimpse from the other side of the ascension, as it were — from heaven’s vantage, when God brought his risen Son into the world above (“when he brings the firstborn into the [heavenly] world,” Hebrews 1:6; 2:5) to take his seat and be coronated on the throne. In fact, Hebrews 1, in all its vaulted and gloriously verbose celebration of Christ, does not make explicit mention of his resurrection, but assumes it as critical to Jesus being alive that he might be exalted and coronated as King.
What did he rise for? For one, to reign. He is, at present, sovereign over the nations and the universe, and he will be, soon to come, from that same seat, the judge of the nations and all of history. As he announced to his disciples before ascending, by virtue of his finished work, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Right now, as you read — and whether you mark Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, or not — the risen Christ reigns.
3. Alive to Rescue
If Jesus’s human body had stayed dead — and if he did not ascend and does not reign on heaven’s throne — then, as Paul writes, “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But, in fact, “Christ has been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:20), and the reality of Easter teems with a threefold rescue: the saving of our souls, the satisfying of our souls, and the eventual saving of our bodies.
As for the rescuing of our souls, not only did our sins require a reckoning, but we also needed to have access to Christ’s cross-work, to have it applied to us, through the power of his own Spirit, which he pours out for us from heaven’s throne. Potential salvation does not save. We need actual rescue, which comes through the instrument called faith which unites us to our risen, living Lord.
However sufficient Christ’s self-sacrifice might have been to cover our sins, we would have no access to his rescue if he were not alive so we could be united to him. But he is alive. As he says, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:17–18). There is no great salvation for us if we are not united by faith to the living one, so that the benefits of his work are applied to us.
4. Alive to Rejoice the Heart
Jesus not only saves our souls but also satisfies our souls through his post-resurrection life. He is alive to know and enjoy. There is no final good news if our Treasure and Pearl of Great Price is dead. Even if our sins could be paid for, righteousness provided and applied to us, and heaven secured, but Jesus were still dead, there would be no great salvation in the end — not if our Savior and Bridegroom is dead. At the very center of the Easter triumph is not what he saves us from, but what he saves us to — better, who he saves us to. Himself.
“There is no final good news if our Treasure and Pearl of Great Price is dead.”
Our restless souls will not find eternal, and ever-increasing, rest and joy in a Christ-less new earth, no matter how stunning. Streets of gold, reunions with loved ones, and sinless living may seem to thrill us at first — but they will not ultimately satisfy, not for eternity, not on their own. Not then, and not now. We were made for Jesus. He is at the center of true life, and he will be forever. If there is no living Christ, there is no final satisfying eternity. But he is alive indeed — to know and enjoy, now and forever.
5. Alive to Raise Us Too
Our own resurrection may not be in the foreground of Easter, but it is there. Christ’s resurrection has everything to do with ours, and vice versa (1 Corinthians 15:12–20).
When Christians celebrate “the God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9), we mean not only that he raised Jesus, but that he will raise our bodies too. And even now, through faith, we realize the resurrection we ourselves already have experienced, and enjoy right now. Already now, when God “made us alive together with Christ . . . [he] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). If you have been born again, you already have the imperishable life of Christ in you (1 Peter 1:3–4).
And the new life we have now by the Spirit is a guarantee of the full and final resurrection of our bodies to come. “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:43–44). Coming soon, “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Ever-deepening delights await those who re-read with care, already knowing the outcome. However long you’ve known him, you have much more yet to know of this story, its effects, and of the risen one himself. Easter is one month from today. What if you took the next thirty days for a focused season to glory in his life, death, and resurrection?
Credit: David Mathis