Ques. 46. What doth the resurrection of Christ profit us?
Ans. First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of that righteousness which He had purchased for us by His death; secondly, we are also by His power raised up to a new life; and lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.
Lord’s Day 17, Heidelberg Catechism.
Up from the grace He arose,
With a triumph o’er His foes.
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
This song of victory, which we sing with all the exuberant joy that fills the church of the new dispensation, strikes the keynote of this Lord’s Day.
“By His resurrection He overcame death.” That fact of Christ’s triumphant resurrection stands out as one of the great events, one of the mightiest wonders of God in all of history.
Three such events live before our consciousness. In six successive days God spoke and by the word of His power created the heavens and the earth. At each word of His command a new creature came into being, until man, the highest of the earthly creatures, was formed from the dust of the earth. Let unbelief deny this. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:2).
As if this were a small thing with God, the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves to be an even greater wonder. When our Lord arose, God did not merely create a new life, but brought forth life from the dead. The Son of God entered into our death when He took on Himself our human nature from the virgin Mary. He met death as His enemy in a final combat during the three hours of darkness on the cross. He challenged death by surrendering Himself to its power, and thus destroyed that power, first by bearing the torments of hell, then by dying our physical death and arising as Victor on the third day. In our stead our Lord overcame death and merited for us eternal life. He opened the way for us to pass through death into heavenly perfection, both as to body and soul. Therefore He is now ascended to heaven and seated at the right hand of God to prepare a place for us and to prepare us for that place, that we may be where He is in His glory.
From this follows that we expect still a third wonder, the resurrection of our mortal bodies and life eternal with Christ in the new creation.
Christ is the mighty Conqueror. His resurrection is His and our eternal victory.
That is the sole point of view in this Lord’s Day. One may wonder why such an important subject receives such a brief treatment in our book of instruction, one short question with a very short answer. The fathers might have discussed the fact that Christ arose and the events related to the resurrection. There are many today, even in “Reformed” circles, who openly or deviously deny this wonder. The fathers might have referred to the evidences that God gives to explain the wonder. (I prefer to speak of evidences rather than proofs. Unbelief accepts no proofs. Faith needs no proofs, for “It is written.” But we do need evidences that interpret this wonder for us.) Our Catechism passes these by in silence to focus all our attention on the profit, or benefit of the resurrection for us. And now we marvel that so much is said in such few words. Three benefits are mentioned: our justification, our spiritual renewal, and the pledge of our blessed resurrection. Every Sunday we begin a new week by celebrating the resurrection of our Lord as our victory over sin and death and as a pledge of the rest that remains for the people of God.
We are partakers of Christ’s righteousness.
Christ “overcame death that He might make us partakers of that righteousness, which He had purchased for us by His blood.” Unbelief may sneer at that. Boastfully they declare that all things remain as they were from the beginning of the world. Christ has come and gone, but nothing is changed. What benefit does anyone derive from a “risen” Jesus? Even our flesh questions the power of the resurrection in our daily lives. We are still in this body of sin and death. Sin still wars in our members and death lurks wherever we turn. The believer, as well as the unbeliever, suffers pain, sickness, diseases, loss of dear ones, and the anguish of death. We have gained nothing; misery is still our lot. Faith refutes that vain language with a very definite: Nay! “Nay, but in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:27). And how we enjoy being refuted!
How do I know? If you should ask me, “Were you there when they crucified our Lord?” I would answer, “Yes, I was there, not as one who deplored His bitter suffering, but as one who was in Him, one with Him as completely as if I had atoned for my sins in my own body. In God’s eternal mercy I belong to Jesus. There on the accursed tree, almost two thousand years ago, my Savior paid the stupendous debt of the guilt of my sin and merited my righteousness.”
Righteousness! Blessed word. How can we guilty sinners ever be righteous in the sight of God? The answer lies in the fact that, in a sense, righteousness and Christ are synonymous. Christ is our righteousness. God delivered Him over to the accursed death of the cross because of our transgressions. God raised Him up because He merited for us our righteousness (Rom. 4:25). The living Savior Himself assures us through His Word and by His Spirit in our hearts that we are righteous in Him. Just as emphatically as when He was among us on earth, He now from heaven declares to us, “Go in peace, thy many sins are forgiven thee.” Who can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God Who justifies. Who is the condemner?
A new life.
There is a second benefit of Christ’s resurrection. “We are by His power raised unto a new life.” This new life stands in contrast to the “old life” which we received at birth from our parents. We were spiritual still-births, born in sin. That accounts for the sins that incessantly arise within us, character sins, cherished sins, deliberate and inadvertent sins, evils that arise within me, evils that result from my failure to do my duty. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). Yet how wonderful that we may add, almost in the same breath, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vs. 25). That thankfulness, as well as the consciousness of our depravity, arises from the new life which Christ implants in us as our resurrected Lord. This new life has become a spiritual reality for us. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Powerful Word! I am crucified with Christ. The guilt of my sins was nailed to the cross. When Christ died I died. I died to sin, the power of sin is broken. Yet, amazingly, I live! No, it is no longer I that live. I have the new life within me, and that new life is Christ. Christ lives in me! He is the power, the directive of my life, even the goal. Clinging to Him, relying on Him, I find all my salvation in Him. It is true, I still have my old life, my old nature. That old nature does not improve with age, as one might think or hope, but it becomes, like a weather-beaten tree, old and gnarled. But grace abounds, so that I am driven to seek my strength and refuge ever more completely in Christ. Like a tempest swept tree I drive my roots ever deeper into Christ. The powerful, risen Lord teaches me to confess, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
As a pledge of our blessed resurrection.
This is the third benefit of Christ’s victory over death, dying with Him we rise with Him. Christ’s resurrection was a bodily resurrection. The tomb stood vacated. Nothing remained except the grave clothes that had enveloped His body. The undisturbed grave clothes are a mute evidence of that bodily resurrection.
It was the same body that had been placed in the tomb, but now risen. Besides the fact that the grave clothes were left intact, Jesus showed to His disciples the nail holes in His hands and the wound of the spear thrust in His side. No doubt was left in their minds but that Jesus was no longer dead, but lived.
It was a real body. Their first impression was that they saw a spirit taking form before their eyes. But Jesus assured them, “I is I.” He proved this by eating food. We may wonder about the fact that the resurrection body still bore scars and could partake of earthly food. Part of the solution lies in the fact that this was an appearance. For the rest, this must remain a mystery for us.
Jesus arose in the same body, a real body, yet changed. Mortality had put on immortality. The earthly had become heavenly. Death was swallowed up in victory.
This is a pledge of our blessed resurrection. How could it be otherwise? We already have the beginning of eternal life within us. Every time the sacrament of holy baptism is administered in the congregation we are reminded that we are buried with Christ in baptism. We die to the world in Christ. And God raises us up in newness of life within God’s church and covenant. We are new creatures in Christ with our citizenship in heaven. Our hope is fixed on our heavenly home and perfection. When finally this body sleeps in the Lord and is laid away like a seed in the earth, our souls go to be with Christ in heaven, and we wait for that moment, when at the sound of the trumpet Christ will appear to change our vile bodies into the likeness of His glorious body by that power whereby He subdues all things to Himself! (Phil. 3:21).
At Jesus’ tomb God says: “Behold, I make all things new!”
Within our hearts He testifies, “Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:17).
Soon we shall see the new heaven and the new earth, in which we will be with the Lord in His glory, and that forever and ever! Hallelujah! Christ arose!