In one of my meandering Web searches, I happened across James A Fowler’s Christ In You Ministries site, which had several excellent and uplifiting sermons about the Resurrection.

Revd Fowler, a pastor of the Neighborhood Church in Fallbrook, California, has also had a teaching ministry in several countries around the world and is now online.

As we are in Eastertide, it seemed apposite to take a closer look at the Resurrection outside of an historical context.  What follows are excerpts from Fowler’s Easter sermon from 2003, ‘Living Reality of the Resurrection’ — well worth reading in full. He would like to see more of a ‘Resurrection theology’ in our churches, with which I agree. Emphases below are mine.

I observed a sign outside of a local church building this last week. That seems to be the “in-thing” in ecclesiastical circles these days – to post trite sayings on a display sign so the world can observe their superficiality (or stupidity). This sign read, “The CROSS – That’s My (God’s) final answer.”

What do you think of that statement?

As a take-off from the contemporary television program, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” where each contestant must verify, “That’s my final answer,” I found the statement cute and catchy. Theologically, I found the statement inaccurate and misleading …

If the cross is an end in itself, i.e. “God’s final answer,” then all the gruesome execution of Jesus can do is create a martyr figure that allows people to focus on the death of this individual in order to perpetuate a particular ideology. Granted, that is how much of the Christian religion operates in our day, but is that what Christianity was intended to be?            

What happened on the cross, the death of Jesus, represents a remedial action

The original sin of the original couple (who represented all humanity) allowed death to reign (Rom. 5:17) in the human race. The resultant deficiency of divine life in mankind (fallen man is “devoid of the Spirit” – Jude 19) disqualified humanity from being man as God intended. That is why remedial action was necessitated – so that man could enroll again in the course of life!

The Son of God, who was incarnated as the man, Jesus, was willing to enroll in the remedial course of death on man’s behalf – as an alternative representative man for humanity. He was willing to submit to death, though personally undeserving of such for He was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15; II Cor. 5:21), so that representatively He might substitutionally assume the death consequences of mankind’s sin, and allow His divine life to overcome the “power of death” and make His life available to humanity again.

It makes a difference how we interpret the death of Jesus. Was God the Father an offended deity demanding that a penalty of death be paid for sin before He would forgive mankind? A popular view of the crucifixion seems to cast God as an angry, bloodthirsty, death-dealing God who poured out His punitive wrath and judgment upon His own Son, Jesus, because “somebody’s gotta pay!” Jesus, the Son of God, is often portrayed, on the other hand, as a loving and forgiving side of God who was willing to express divine grace in order to redeem man instead of demanding justice and judgment. What does such a perspective do to God? It divides and divorces the intents of the Father and the Son. It severs the Trinity asunder. The Father is against us; the Son is for us. The Son is acting as our legal advocate attempting to convince the Father, the Judge, to let us off the hook. What a tragic mangling of the oneness of the Triune God.

On the contrary, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had a unified intent to restore humanity to the divine intent. God was wholly for us in His divine love and grace, and was desirous that death, and “the one having the power of death” (Heb. 2:14) be defeated by assuming death undeservedly via the Son’s assumption of mortal humanity. The restoration of God’s life to man required the assumption of death for man. God’s affirmative “Yes” to man’s redemption and restoration, required the “No” to the death invasion of sin. Via the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross, God said “No” to the misuse and abuse of humanity by the diabolic death-dealing antithesis to the living God, “the god of this age” (II Cor. 4:4). God would no longer tolerate the “one having the power of death” (Heb. 2:14) to hold man hostage (II Tim. 2:26) …

From the cross, Jesus exclaimed, “Tetelestai – It is Finished!” He knew that in the death He was dying, He would “accomplish what the Father had sent Him to do” (Jn. 17:4) as a mortal man. He knew that He would “finish” the death captivation of man by the death-dealing destroyer (I Cor. 10:10) of man. He knew that His assumption of death would inevitably allow for the rising forth of divine resurrection life made available to all men for their restoration.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was God’s “Yes” to the restoration of His divine life in humanity. If our theology does not go beyond redemption in the death of Jesus on the cross, to the restoration of God’s life in humanity by the resurrection, then it ceases to be Christian theology. God’s “final answer” was not the cross. God’s final answer was (and is) the resurrection! In the resurrection of Jesus divine life overcame death, God overcame Satan (I Jn. 3:8; Heb. 2:14). That was historically enacted on that third day when Jesus arose from the dead and exited the tomb, but it was for the purpose of resurrection being personally and spiritually enacted in those receptive to Christ by faith.

It is a sad indictment of contemporary Christian religion to observe how the resurrection is regarded and taught in the churches today. It has become but a token recollection in the annual church calendar …

The need of the hour in Christian preaching and teaching is to proclaim the resurrection as a living reality wherein the living Lord Jesus is presently indwelling Christians and living out His resurrection life in Christian behavior. Though Christianity has historical foundations and theological explanations, the vital dynamic that validates Christianity is that Jesus Christ is alive today by the Spirit to indwell the spirits of receptive individuals who will allow Him to live out His life and character in their behavior.

In declaring the purpose of His coming, Jesus said, “I came to give My life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45). He came to die and to allow His death to take the death consequences for all men, releasing them from the grasp of the death-dealing devil. He also said, “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). He knew that His death would result in resurrection, life out of death, for the sin-source and death-dealer would not be able to capture Him, the Sinless One. His resurrection would allow God’s life to become operative in mankind again as each individual with freedom of choice was willing to receive such life.

The power to bestow and restore God’s life to sinful and fallen mankind was given to Jesus upon His resurrection. Paul explains, “He was declared the Son of God with power (the power to convey life out of death) by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). “Christ is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:24) for the re-lifing, the spiritual regeneration of humanity …

This spiritual life that the Spirit of Christ makes available to mankind is not a detached package of “eternal life” that is but a “benefit” of believing in Jesus. The life that the living Lord Jesus makes available to mankind is Himself. “I AM the resurrection and the life” (Rom. 11:25), Jesus said to Martha, identifying Himself with the I AM of God (Exod. 3:14). “I AM the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), Jesus explained to His disciples. Jesus is the modality (way), the reality (truth), and the vitality (life) of God Himself. The need of fallen mankind is the restoration of the presence of God’s life in their spirit to energize their behavior in soul and body. The Spirit of Christ is that life. Life is a Person. “I AM the life” (Jn. 14:6), Jesus said. Divine life, spiritual life, eternal life, resurrection life are all the life of the risen and living Lord Jesus. The Apostle John explained, “He that has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I Jn. 5:12).

How does man partake of the life that is the resurrected Jesus? The apostle Peter indicated that we are “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3). The resurrection of Jesus was the prerequisite to the restoration of divine life in man. Using the metaphor of birth for the initiation of life, Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (Jn. 3:7). “Unless one is born from above” (Jn. 3:3), receiving the spiritual life that is God’s life, an individual will not be restored to God’s intent, for God so designed man that it requires the presence of God’s life in man for man to be man as God intended man to be. While still speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus made that most familiar statement, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). To believe is more than just mental assent or affirmation to historical or theological data. To believe is to receive. John wrote, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12,13). There are no proprietary procedures for an individual’s reception of the life that is Jesus. It doesn’t have to happen in a church by walking an aisle, or raising one’s hand, or repeating a “statement of faith.” It doesn’t have to happen by consenting to “four spiritual laws” and praying a “prayer of faith.” An individual simply has to get real with God and desire the life that only God can give

The Christian life is the Christ life dwelling within us and operating through us. “Christ lives in me,” Paul exclaimed, “and the life that I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). “Do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (II Cor. 13:5), Paul asked the Corinthian Christians. “For me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21), Paul explained to the Philippians. The power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is the living power that is now working in us (Eph. 1:18-21), Paul revealed in his prayer for the Christians of Ephesus. Christianity is Christ – living His resurrection life in us

Christianity is not just another ideological option that one can stack up against other ideas, and by human reasoning “take it or leave it.” Christianity is not an epistemological belief-system – a “believe-right” religion. Christianity is not a morality system of right and wrong – a “do-right” religion. Christianity is Christ. Christ is life

Tomorrow: Are we bypassing the Resurrection?