When you think about the Good News of Jesus, what is the first thing that comes to mind? That is your lead foot. Today, when a Christian is asked to summarize the gospel, she is likely to camp on the wonderful truth that Jesus took her place of punishment, dying on the cross for her sins. He died so she would not. His death secures her freedom from judgment – the consequences for her sin.
This is marvelous and true! Those who bend their knee to Jesus will forever worship Him for taking their place on the cross. Indeed,
"He (Jesus) who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become (have) the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21
Yet, as one reads the Book of Acts in the NT, there is another aspect of the gospel that seems to consume early Christians as they tell the story of Jesus. They appear to give it equal or even greater emphasis than the Cross. What is it? It is the Empty Tomb. It is the Resurrection. (It's interesting that modern jewelry has captured the cross symbol but avoided the tomb symbol.)
A dear friend of mine used to regularly ask me: "Hey Dan! Have you heard the good news!?" I always thought he was referring to something exciting that had just happened ... someone got engaged, or he got an "A" on an exam, or the Green Bay Packers won. Nope. The answer was always the same, and I almost always got fooled. His answer? "The Tomb is Empty."
Below I list the references in the Book of Acts to early evangelists (like Peter and Paul) who declared the message of a once-dead-but-now-alive-Jesus to their audience. Read on and see the priority they placed on the resurrection of Jesus (if you are pressed for time, simply skim the verses and note the bolded words):
The First Five
- To replace Judas' spot as an apostle, Peter says: "It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning with John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection." (Acts 1:21-22)
- To the Pentecost crowd of thousands, Peter says: "But God raised him (Jesus) from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." (Acts 2:24)
- Peter again: "Seeing what was ahead, he (King David in Psalm 16:10) spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact." (Acts 2:31-32)
- Peter again: "You disowned the Holy and Righteous One (Jesus) and asked that a murderer (Barabbas) be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead." (Acts 3:14-15)
- The religious leaders "were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead." (Acts 4:2)
- Peter again: "Rulers and elders of the people ... know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed." (Acts 4:10)
- Peter and the apostles to the religious leaders: "We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree." (Acts 5:29-30)
- Peter to Cornelius and family: "We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen." (Acts 10:39-40)
- Paul preaches: "...they took him down from the tree and laid [Jesus] in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead ..." (Acts 13:29-30)
- Paul again: "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus." (Acts 13:32-33)
- Paul again: "The fact that God raised [Jesus] from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: ...'You will not let your Holy One see decay.'" (Acts 13:34-35)
- Paul to Thessalonian listeners: "As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead." (Acts 17:2-3)
- In Athens, skeptics said about Paul: "'He seems to be advocating foreign gods.' They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection." (Acts 17:18b)
- Paul to the governmental leaders of Athens: "For [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31)
- Paul at trial before the Sanhedrin declares: "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." (Acts 23:6b)
- Paul testifying before Governor Felix: " ... unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: 'It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'" (Acts 24:21)
- Governor Festus says to King Agrippa about Paul: "Instead, [his accusers] had some points of dispute with [Paul] about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive." (Acts 25:19)
- Paul's evangelistic message to King Agrippa and Governor Festus' court: "Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?" (Acts 26:8)
- To King Agrippa, Paul declares: "... what the prophets and Moses said would happen – that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." (Acts 26:22-23)
He's Alive. No Really, He's Alive!
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion: the resurrection of Jesus was part and parcel of the good news, known as the gospel message. Jesus, who formerly was dead, is now alive – resurrected from the grave. He has conquered death. For all who trust in Jesus alone, it means the death of death itself. Followers of Jesus are subsumed in never-ending life.
When we attempt to tell someone why we are followers of Jesus, is our lead foot to say:
"Well, you see, Jesus isn't dead in a grave; He's alive! And if He's alive, he is knowable. And if he beat death, he is both God and Lord, and I enjoy following Him!"
What's your lead foot?