“Had to Rise”
Dear Members and Friends of our ELS:
Body snatchers! That was Mary Magdalene’s first thought. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2) Her mood shifted dramatically outside the empty tomb later that Sunday as her name “Mary” was spoken tenderly by an assumed gardener.
The emotions of the tomb-visiting women and the disillusioned disciples on the first Easter must have resembled a ride on a roller coaster. A grim funeral procession instantly turned into a stage for the most joyous celebration in world history — “He is risen!” Yet the reactions of Jesus’ followers may leave us a little puzzled. For example, Peter and John are recorded in John chapter 20 as being at the empty tomb, where John says of himself, “He saw and believed.” Then comes a curious statement: “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9).
Had to? Was Christ’s rising absolutely necessary? Definitely yes! — both from divine and human perspectives. Here are just some of the reasons this must be so:
- Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures. The Messiah’s resurrection from the dead had been foretold: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10).
- Another reason: Jesus himself said he would rise. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). On several occasions, he plainly indicated he would rise from the dead on the third day (Mark 10:34).
- Death could not hold him. Jesus has the authority even over this formidable enemy. He willingly gave his life. He willingly exercised his power to come out of the tomb (John 10:18).
- Christ is fully God. This also is why he had to rise. God cannot lie. Since our holy God put forth in Scripture the one-and-only true religion, which hinges on the great events of Good Friday and Easter, this required the resurrection of our Savior’s body. “If Christ has not been raised,” says the apostle Paul, “your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
- The most comforting reason of all for the necessity of Christ’s resurrection is this: It’s God’s guarantee. The resurrection is his “authorizing signature” that we sinners hold for our own personal possession the requisite righteousness for heaven. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins and for the sins of the world met — even exceeded! — the criteria of justice before the throne of the Almighty Judge. We are declared forgiven! “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised for [on account of] our justification,” (Romans 4:25). The payment for sin was fully transacted at Calvary, so the Easter event had to occur.
Enjoy these compelling reasons for a blessed Easter!
Rev. John A. Moldstad, ELS President