Posted on April 19, 2014
It’s easy to think about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for individuals. It’s especially easy to do this in our time, because we are a highly individualistic society. What’s most important in life is what affects me. I am the sole judge of my “values” and my fate. “No one has the right to judge me.” Or so goes the mantra of postmodernity. So when postmoderns in the church think about Easter, they naturally consider primarily, if not exclusively, its implications for them as individuals: what has the resurrected Jesus done for me. Better: what has he done for me lately. This attitude fits quite nicely with the self-centeredness and the downright narcissism of postmodernity.
To be fair: this is not a modern problem. The Protestant Reformation itself reintroduced a highly individualist element into the Gospel, which in fact had been obscured by the overly collective approach to the Faith in Latin Christianity for hundreds of years. Jesus, after all, did die on the Cross and rise from the dead for individual sinners, who must individually trust in Jesus in order to be saved. In time, however, this entirely valid individualism eclipsed broader dimensions of the Faith, particularly its cultural dimensions.
But if we understand the resurrection, we can’t escape the cultural dimensions of Christianity. In fact, it’s possible that there’s no more culturally significant fact in the Bible than Jesus’ resurrection, apart from the creation of the world itself. Easter is all about culture.
First, Easter culture is corporeal culture. You’d think this would be an “Elementary, my dear Watson” moment for all Christians. Resurrection obviously is about a physical body coming out of the grave. All orthodox Christians understand this. It’s the liberals who tend to deny bodily resurrection, that is to say, resurrection. But too many conservatives have purchased stock in the old pagan Greek idea of the immortality of the soul. Many of the ancient Greeks believed that the human soul was preexistent and was inserted into an earthly body, and when that body dies, the soul will escape back into eternity. Many Christians adapted this pagan view to their religion, and they ended up believing that there’s an entirely separate, non-material part of man that escapes death and goes to heaven. They didn’t deny bodily resurrection, since the Bible so obviously teaches it, but they tended to deemphasize it. In the Bible, however, it’s the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul, however that’s defined, that’s most important (2 Cor. 5:1–4).
Gnostic bad creation versus Easter culture
And it’s important not just for the individual but for human culture as well. Jesus rose from the dead not as a spirit (which is no resurrection anyway), but as a body. In doing this, he verified that the physical world is not somehow inherently inferior to an ideal, non-physical world, as the Gnostics taught. This means that health and food and sex and wealth are not somehow peripheral and sinful. They’re part of God’s good creation. When in “Sympathy for the Devil” Brian G. Mattson exposed Darren Aronofsky’s movie Noah as a subversive, gnostic retelling of the biblical account, he was implicitly defending Easter culture. If God’s created world is truly good, there is no virtue in trying to escape it. Sin, not creation, is the problem.
Physical goodness is culturally significant. Jesus’ resurrection means that politics and baseball and architecture and sculpture and automobiles and computer-generated images and electric guitars are all important to the Triune God. If Jesus was important enough to be resurrected in a body, then the things we do in our own bodies, to the extent that they do not violate God’s word, are important ways of glorifying God.
After God created the universe, he looked at it and said, “It is very good.” By raising his Son from the dead, the Father was verifying that creational verdict: Easter proves, yet again, that the material world is very good. Easter culture is corporeal culture.
Second, Easter culture is redemptive culture. The created world is inherently very good, but that very good world has been polluted by man’s sin. What does Easter have to say to this pollution? Well, Jesus didn’t merely rise; He rose from the dead. Death is the consequence of sin. We die because we sin. Jesus died because our sin was laid on his account.
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, therefore, is a dramatic reversal of the effects of sin. When Jesus rose, he triumphed over the power of sin. Adam failed in the Garden of Eden, but when Jesus rose, he proved that flesh and blood can vanquish sin. Sin happened within history, so redemption must happen within history. In other words, God doesn’t wait until history is over in order to defeat sin. That would get things precisely backwards. Or at least way too late.
Redemption starts right now
Easter means that God is using Jesus to redeem the world right now. This is why Paul writes that even the non-human creation groans and travails for redemption (Rom. 8:22). Man is waiting for the final, complete resurrection redemption, and so is the rest of the world, which has been cursed because of man’s sin. Yet we are not waiting until everything’s over for things to be made right. Easter means God is starting to set things right, right now.
This implies that the power of the Gospel, the resurrection gospel, is redeeming the world. It means that every area of life presently under the sway of sin is a suitable object for redemption. We can’t say of any sinful area of life, “This is too big to redeem.” Politics may be corrupt, but the resurrection is bigger than politics. Popular music may be debased, but the resurrection is stronger than pop music. Modern science may be given over to God-denying naturalism, but science is no match for the resurrection. A gospel that abandons these and other areas of modern life to unmolested depravity is not the Easter gospel.
The Easter gospel is a redemptive gospel and, consequently, Easter culture is redemptive culture.
Finally, Easter culture is vivifying culture. What is resurrection, but life from the dead? But apart from resurrection, death abounds. When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, they began experiencing the horror of death around them. Plants died. Animals died. Their son Abel died, at the hand of his sinful brother Cain. We can only imagine the shock — genuine culture shock — when they first observed death. This wasn’t how things were from the beginning. This wasn’t as it was meant to be. This wasn’t a design flaw. This was a user flaw.
In John 11:33 we read that as Jesus contemplated the death of his friend Lazarus and all of those in the house weeping at his death, he was indignant, angry. He was angry at the dreadful consequence of sin: death. “This is not right,” Jesus must’ve been saying to himself. “I must do something to stop this. All of this sadness, all of this weeping, all of this wailing are not my Father’s intention for this good, beautiful world.” Jesus did raise his friend Lazarus that day, as a sort of down payment on his own resurrection and the Final Resurrection of the redeemed. That day, his “This is not right,” became “I refuse to let this stand.” Jesus was indignant at death culture. Easter culture overturns death culture.
Today’s death culture is palpable. Tragically, it is far beyond sadness over premature death like that of Lazarus. Rather, it is the perverse glorification of death. The slaughter of pre-born children, the mercy killings of the infirm and elderly, pop lyrics about death and suicide all testify to death culture. “All they that hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36). A culture that knows nothing of Easter knows of nothing more significant than death.
But Easter culture is different. It relishes life. Easter culture rejoices when children are born into a family, relishes the laughter of God’s good provision in friends and love and food and wine and planting and harvest and new inventions and discoveries that enhance man’s good life on God’s good earth. Easter culture is optimistic. Easter culture is faith-infused. Easter culture knows that hardships are only steppingstones to future blessings. Easter culture looks death in the face and laughs (1 Cor. 15:50–58).
God’s global redemption operation
When Jesus rose from the grave 2000 years ago, he didn’t simply rise in order to take a few souls to heaven. He inaugurated his great global redemption operation. His goal is nothing short of banishing sin from his good world, a condition that, while not entirely completed in this life, is well underway.
This Easter, while celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, we are equally celebrating our culture’s resurrection.
Our Lord’s resurrection creates a culture: Easter culture.