You only live twice
As we approach Easter, Ben Jack looks at what the resurrection means, why it should shape our lives and how we can share this hope with the children and young people we serve alongside
As a huge James Bond fan, I’m massively excited about the upcoming release of the new James Bond movie No Time to Die. In one of my favourite Bond movies, Skyfall, James Bond takes a shot at the ego of villain Raoul Silva by dryly dismissing his evil schemes with the line: “Well, everyone needs a hobby.” Annoyed, Silva asks: “What’s yours?” “Resurrection,” Bond replies.
Those who have seen the film will know that Bond appears to fall to his death at the start of the movie, only to be back in action by the time Adele has finished warbling her Oscar-winning but slightly annoying theme song. It’s no real surprise of course – there’s still two hours of movie to go and a real-time presentation of Bond’s funeral would be a bit of a downer.
The hero ‘back from the dead’ trope is almost as common in movies and literature as the happy ending, and they often go hand in hand. Recently the entire plot of the highest-grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame, hinged on trying to reverse the deaths of half the universe. Why? Because death just seems so unfair, it feels like defeat, so what better way to ensure a happy and victorious ending than to bring back the good guys?
But the most famous of all back-from-the dead stories is not found in the pages of a Marvel comic or at the local cinema, but in the Bible. And this story is no fantasy, but the single most significant event in all of human history.
NO TIME TO DIE
Know the resurrection story
The resurrection of Jesus is absolutely central to all that Christians believe. For one thing, who wants to follow a dead guy? Dead guys can’t help you. Heck, even living ones will come up short a lot of the time.
But a living God? Well, that’s a different story. A living God can take your sin upon himself on the cross, taking the death that you deserved for your rebellion against the perfection of your loving creator. A living God can win victory over death through resurrection because he is the source of life itself. A living God can know, love, forgive, empower and be with you always. A living God can be the source of our true fulfilment as we rightly worship him.
The living God, Jesus Christ, can give you true life. 1 Peter 1:3-4 says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
If the resurrection is so important, how do we make sure that we live in and explain the reality of it to the children and young people around us, so that they may share in its hope?
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN
Dismiss the resurrection doubt
People have understandable objections to the resurrection of Christ – after all, it is a remarkable claim (even the apostle Paul faced sneers about it – Acts 17:32). But we should take time to get to know the facts and realities around the resurrection so that we can explain why it stands up to historical scrutiny and can be taken seriously.
Despite efforts, no one has managed to offer a credible and lasting alternative to accepting the historical event of the empty tomb as the result of Jesus being raised from the dead.
For example, ‘swoon theory’ suggests that Jesus merely passed out on the cross and was taken down before he died, only to recover afterwards in the tomb. But the Romans were professional killers, they didn’t make mistakes when it came to matters of death. Even if we grant that unreasonable possibility, it’s too much of a stretch to accept someone surviving the catastrophic wounds inflicted on Jesus before recovering alone in a cold tomb, let alone that he could then roll away the huge boulder that trapped him inside and evade the guard outside.
Some argue that Jesus’ tomb was empty because the disciples stole his body (this suggestion is even employed by the chief priests – Matthew 28:13), but this makes no sense as the tomb was secured by the Romans, making theft virtually impossible. Even more inconceivable is the idea that these disciples, who would therefore know that Jesus didn’t really rise from the grave, went on to suffer violent deaths to maintain a lie that offered them zero benefit.
Others have suggested that the resurrection appearances were just a big-old hallucination, but unless all 500 of those who saw Jesus resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:6) were drinking the same Kool-Aid for 40 days, this is hardly a convincing argument.
And so it goes on, objections are raised, but none hold up to serious scrutiny or are backed up by any historical evidence. The simplest answer is often the correct one, and it is surely reasonable to accept that the same God who acted in history through the miraculous conception of Jesus, also acted to bring him miraculously back to life.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS
Speak resurrection hope
It is one thing to help our children and young people realise that an event actually happened, but another still to help them see why it matters.
Paul states that if the resurrection did not happen, our faith is a waste of time, there is no hope and believers are to be the most pitied people on earth (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). Without the resurrection, we can’t know hope because death still wins.
Here’s what it comes down to: all who have breath in their lungs exist, but only those who know the resurrected Jesus live. You were not created for rebellious existence which leads only to death, but for life, and life eternal in relationship with the King of the universe.
Jesus doesn’t offer forgiveness for our rebellion only to leave us in the same mess we were in before. He offers us hope for a new life by sharing in his new life. The resurrection hope we have and the message we must speak to our children and young people is that no matter how broken, messed up, difficult or painful our lives may be today, there is hope! One day Jesus will make all things right, there will be no more sorrow, pain or suffering, and those who seek forgiveness and trust in his resurrection will themselves be resurrected into the fullness of the perfect new life yet to come. Suffering and death do not win, the love and life offered by Jesus do.
“If you openly declare that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, NLT).
LIVE AND LET DIE
Live resurrection lives
Christianity isn’t a weird death cult that only obsesses over what happens when we die. As much as we look forward to the perfection of heaven, we (and the families we work alongside) also have lives to live right now. Lives that are to reveal God to a world that does not yet know the hope of the gospel.
The power that resurrected Jesus from the grave, the Holy Spirit, is the same power that God blesses believers with that we may grow into the people we were always supposed to be. Resurrection people are people of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT). Imagine if those were the only character traits in the world, rather than their frequently seen opposites like pride, greed, malice, bitterness and so on. Well, the world would look more like God’s perfect kingdom.
If you want to reveal the resurrection and its hope to people, let God work its powerful effects in your life. Go into the tomb with Jesus and come out the other side as a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) – a child of God. And encourage your children and young people to do the same.
The best evidence that Jesus isn’t just a pile of bones rotting in a tomb somewhere and that the resurrection actually matters is that he is transforming your life and your young people’s lives today. Just like he transformed those first believers, who moved from despair over the death of Jesus to being willing to give up their lives to speak of his resurrection hope in the world. How does such a change happen? You meet the resurrected Jesus, and nothing is ever the same.
Where we were once part of the problem, we are increasingly part of the solution. Where we were once chaos bringers, we are increasingly peacemakers. Where once we brought death to the world, now we can bring life.
There isn’t space here for an exhaustive list of what that might practically look like, but how about starting with something simple, like creating a prayer culture that sees children offering to pray for their not-yet Christian friends at every opportunity as a normal activity? One of the reasons people struggle with the resurrection is that it is an abnormal event, and they might struggle with our faith for the same reason – it seems strange to them. The best thing we can do is show how normal it is for us to trust in the ‘supernormal’ power of God by offering its effect to them whenever possible. “You might not believe this, but I do and I believe it can help you, Jesus is alive and he is listening, so let’s ask him to help” type approaches show care and compassion to a world in need, show that we actually believe in the power of God and, crucially, put that power where it belongs – in the hands of our resurrected Lord.
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
Invite the resurrected Jesus
Invite people to put the resurrection to the test. Just as Jesus has moved us from death to life, so he can transform others if they will trust in him as resurrected Lord and saviour.
We don’t ‘test’ God by saying: “I’ll believe in you if you do X, Y and Z for me” and then wait for the signs to align before signing up. Instead, God invites us to investigate what he has already done, the claim of the resurrection and its implications for the world, then apply it to our lives through faith and see what happens.
As good and important as it is to encourage your children and young people to invite their friends to events as evangelistic connection points, better yet is to instil in them a desire to invite their friends to know and trust in the resurrected Jesus himself and equip them to do so. This can be done through thinking through everyday conversation that reveals his effect on their lives (ongoing testimony), developing a willingness to offer prayer to friends in all situations (and persevering in this, not just as a one-off activity), and cultivating a boldness to point people to, investigate and journey through the Bible for themselves (perhaps via a great resource like Bible Project).
As we trust in the empty tomb as the marker of the resurrected Jesus, we can take a step of faith to trust him as Lord, inviting him to help us live accordingly by his grace. The invitation is to new life, and life eternal, and once received by us, must be extended to the world.
The fictional character James Bond claims resurrection as a hobby, but the historically authentic Jesus claims it as the real event through which he secured victory over darkness and death. Now those who trust in him can know, speak, live and invite people to share in the hope of Jesus’ resurrection – God’s promise and provision of the ultimate happy ending.