Why is it important to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord? This is not only the purpose of Easter, but from the beginning this was the purpose of gathering weekly on the Lord’s Day – it is called the “Lord’s Day” precisely because it was on this day that our Lord rose from the dead. So the celebration of the resurrection of Christ is not just an annual event for the believer, but a weekly one. Indeed, it should be a daily one as well.
Thus Paul calls on Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead.” But so often events like this over time seem to take on shades of meaning they were not meant to have. Too often we turn the great redemptive events of history into Hallmark-greeting-card sentimentalism. Remembering the resurrection becomes for many a reason to think that “all will be well in the end,” which is of course true for the Christian, but is frequently misinterpreted in terms of the goods of this life and earthly comfort and safety. But if this is all “Easter” is good for, then it is really nothing more than a psychological palliative. It is just another holiday, a reason for people to think positively about life because they are supposed to, a religious placebo.
If that’s all Easter is, then we had better stop celebrating it immediately. And it doesn’t make any sense in the context of the New Testament. Think about the historical context of this letter. Paul is in prison. In these verses, the apostle alludes to himself as he was perceived by his enemies: a “criminal” (“evil-doer,” KJV). The only other place this word is used in the NT is in Luke 23 where it refers to the criminals who were crucified with Christ (ver. 32, 33, 39). This is how Paul was viewed, even though he was an innocent man and even though he had done nothing wrong. He was considered to be in the same category as convicts worthy to be crucified. In fact, in the latter part of this epistle, we come to realize that Paul’s death sentence has already been signed, for he tells Timothy that, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Tim. 4:6). How in the world is the message of Easter as a feel-good moment going to help Paul as he is staring into the face of death itself?
And yet that is what Paul does. And that is what he exhorts Timothy to do. “Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead.” For Paul the message of the resurrection was something that enabled him to endure all things, to suffer and to face death for the sake of Christ. That is a powerful message. But it was not just something for Paul to remember, but which the apostle encourages Timothy, and through him us, to remember. This is an exhortation for you and me.
And what it says to us is that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we can endure suffering and die with Christ to the world. It gives us the reason and motivation to do this, and it gives us the power to do this. The resurrection is not there so we can go on with our lives blithely forgetful of the age to come. The resurrection is there because this life is not the endgame. Our treasures are supposed to be in heaven, not upon the earth. The resurrection is there because there is no hope if this life is all there is to it.
Let me say it again, the resurrection is a call to suffer with Christ and die to the world. Paul links the resurrection in verse 8 to his own suffering in verses 9 and 10, and then in verses 11-13 to the call of every believer to endure suffering with Christ. That is radically different from the way most people today – even people in the church – think about the meaning of Easter Sunday. So what I want to do this morning is to consider how the resurrection can call us to hope in the midst of suffering and why it is important for us to make this connection between resurrection and suffering.
Now before I go on, let me say that I do not believe that the resurrection calls us to go out and look for suffering or persecution. Nor do I think that suffering is necessarily always directly linked to persecution on account of our faith. We live in a world that is broken and filled with suffering and pain. Suffering, in one form or another, will inevitably come to you. The question is then, how will we face the varied trials of this life in a way that is consistent with our faith in Christ? How will we bear up under duress, however that comes, in a way that does not betray the worthiness of Jesus Christ? And, how is this linked to the resurrection of Christ?
How the Resurrection can call us to suffer well
When I say “suffer well” I mean what Paul says in verse 10: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect” and what he says in verse 12, “if we endure, we will also reign with him.” To endure in this context doesn’t mean to merely get by, with grinding teeth and clenched fist. It means to endure with joyful confidence that the suffering we are enduring is not for nothing.
Throughout the NT, we are called to endure suffering in this world with joy. For example, to the Romans Paul writes, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation” (12:12), and “we rejoice in our sufferings” (5:3). Our Lord himself exhorted his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
How can we do that? To rejoice in suffering is one of the most counterintuitive things you can call a person to do. It is the very opposite to what we are inclined to do.
The reason the resurrection of our Lord can call us to rejoice even in the face of trial is because the resurrection is the seal of Christ’s redemptive work and the sign that God the Father has accepted the sacrifice of his Son. What makes this all the more certain is that our Lord himself faced his own death with joy knowing that resurrection was to follow: “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). In like manner, we can endure our own crosses for the joy that is set before us by virtue of our Lord’s death and resurrection. Our Lord himself has shown us the way. For the resurrection reminds us of what God has promised as well as what he has not promised.
First of all, it reminds us that God has not promised us a pain-free, trouble-free, worry-free life. For resurrection is always preceded by death. The sinless Son of God came into this world to be hated and rejected and crucified on a cross. He died. “Risen from the dead” makes no sense apart from the death. We must remember that Jesus never promised his followers anything different. Though it is true that not everyone is called to be a martyr, it is true that we should not expect our lives to be padded with comforts, or to be mad at God when he takes certain comforts away for a season. After all, remember that Christianity is all about following Christ – a Christ who suffered and a Christ who died. It makes no sense to for us to become disenchanted with the Lord when we claim to be following him and expecting that to mean that our life will be like a waltz through fields of daisies.
The call to follow Christ is a call to die, not only to die with him in terms of participating in the benefits of his atoning sacrifice, but also to die with him to the world. This is what our Lord meant when he said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his own soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angles” (Mk. 8:34-38). As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
The resurrection is in one sense a warning that all who come to Christ to milk the best out of this life, are coming to him for the wrong reason. Now that doesn’t mean that this isn’t his world and we can’t enjoy his gifts. Of course we can and of course we should. But our allegiance to Christ must come before our enjoyment of his gifts or we are not really his disciples. And if he calls on us to give up some of his gifts we should willingly do it.
But more importantly, the resurrection is a reminder of what God has promised, and what in fact is obtained by the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. And these things are reasons for us to rejoice in the face of trial and suffering and persecution. What are they?
Paul mentions four related, yet distinct things which are ours in virtue of the resurrection. They are salvation, glory, life, and a kingdom.
First, salvation. In verse 10, Paul writes, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” The reason why Paul’s sufferings made sense to him was because he saw that they were the means by which the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ were conveyed to the elect. Paul is not saying of course that his suffering is what saved the elect. What he is saying is that his suffering are what made possible the preaching of the gospel in places where it would otherwise never have gone (like Caesar’s court, for example), and it is the gospel of Christ – the good news of what he has accomplished in his death and resurrection – by which men and women are saved.
If you look in the pages of the book of Acts, you will see that almost every evangelistic sermon was a sermon that centered on the resurrection of Christ. The call to faith was a call to believe that God raised Christ from the dead. And Paul writes to the Romans that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
What is the salvation under consideration here? Again, the apostle Paul explains that we believe in “him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25). In other words, the resurrection of Christ secured our justification – by which the apostle meant our acceptance with God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us and the forgiveness of all of our sins.
In the NT, salvation is not about getting our best life now. It is about escaping the wrath of God which we all deserve. The only way to escape that wrath is by having our sins purged and expiated and dealt with completely. None of us can purge our own sins. The only one who can truthfully offer to us the forgiveness of sins is Jesus Christ and the proof that he can do this is found in the fact that God raised him from the dead.
It doesn’t matter how comfortable this life is if you are facing the wrath of God on the other side of death. But on the other hand, if you are justified and forgiven – saved – then in the end it doesn’t matter too much what we have to endure now, knowing that we are accepted in the Beloved and instead of having God as our enemy we now have him as our Father and Friend.
Second, glory. The salvation is described in terms of “eternal glory” (10). This is possible because of what Christ achieved for us by his death and resurrection. One day when we are raised, we will be raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:43). It’s why Paul could write, “For our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). Note the link between the glory of Christ’s resurrected body and the glory of the resurrected body of believers.
But glory goes beyond just having glorified bodies. It is a term which describes every aspect of life in the age to come: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4). And there is nothing in this world than can even compare. When Paul got a glimpse of the glories of heaven, he said they were “things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:4), not because God is trying to keep it a secret but because we just do not have the ability to conceptualize adequately the magnitude of the glory which exists in the very presence of God. The best we can do is to approximate the glory by figures of speech, which is exactly what John does in the Revelation.
Suffering inevitably brings shame. It reminds us of our frailty. But the resurrection of our Lord reminds us that glory follows the shame. One day, the shame will go away, but the glory will remain forever.
Third, life: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him” (11). One of the things that we are prone to fear is death. But Jesus came to give us life and to redeem us from the power of death: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15). And then we have this amazing statement in John 11: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26).
Resurrection helps us in the face of suffering, since the worst thing that can happen, death, has already lost its sting because of what our Lord has done, because he is risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:54-56). Not even death can take away the life that we have in Christ, or can keep us from rising again. That is hope that only Christ can give!
Finally, a kingdom. We see this in verse 12: “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” It is an amazing thing that not only does Christ offer us life and glory in the age to come, but the privilege of sharing with him in his reign in the age to come. Every believer will be exalted to the status of kings and queens in the age to come. Though it is hard to conceptualize what this will look like, yet there is no doubt that what is intended is for the believer to grasp the fact that life in the age to come will not be a menial existence but one of exalted status. In this world, the believer may be, like Paul, considered to be no better than a criminal, the lowest of the low. But in the age to come, there will be no doubt in any part of the universe who privileged are. The first will be last and the last first in that great day.
Suffering can come in a myriad of forms, posing challenges that we never foresaw. And suffering not only brings shame and pain, but also massive uncertainty. How can you rejoice in the midst of that? The believer in Christ can because the resurrection of Christ has guaranteed our resurrection and with it salvation and glory and life and a kingdom. And no one or nothing can take that away. There is no uncertainty here. The promise of God is sure. It’s why Paul could say, “the saying is trustworthy, for: if we have died with him, we will also life with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (11-12). It’s why he was able to say in the previous chapter, “I suffer . . . But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (1:12).
But there is another side to this. There are not only promises for those who endure, but also warnings for those who deny him. That’s the point of the second pair of statements in verses 11-13. The first two are promises and the last two are warnings: “If we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.”
You see, Christ was not only raised as the Savior of the elect, he was also raised to be the Judge of all who reject him. It was this reality that Paul was referring to when he called upon the Greek philosophers there in Athens to repent of their idolatry: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
We are to live life not only in light of the reality that Christ is Savior but also in light of the fact that he is our King and our Lord: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1).
Though we must affirm the freeness of our salvation and the fact that we can never, ever do anything to earn our salvation, yet at the same time we must also affirm that when God saves a man, he makes him different, gives him new desires which results in the fruit of holiness and sanctification of life. Those therefore who deny Christ and remain in unbelief will not find him a Savior but a judge. They may deny his authority over their lives, they may refuse to believe it, yet Christ will not deny himself. He will not be faithless to his right to be worshiped and served and obeyed and trusted by all men. He does not wait for your vote – he is your king whether you accept him or not.
The resurrection of our Lord is therefore not only a promise of life for those who endure, but also a warning of judgment for those who betray the Lord for a few coins of earthly comfort and safety. To avoid suffering by denying Christ is not a very good strategy. On the other hand, in light of our Lord’s resurrection, we have every reason to hold fast to Christ in the midst of trial and to do so without losing the confidence and the rejoicing of our hope firm to the end.
Why we need to connect the Resurrection to our call to suffer well
Now the reason why I think it is so important to connect the resurrection to our call to endure and to suffer well, is that it reminds us of the power of the resurrection and what it has really accomplished. The resurrection means that we can lose everything and yet not our joy. There is nothing on this earth that can do that. The fact that believers in every generation have found strength in the risen Christ, and that they have been able to do this despite the afflictions and trials and sufferings they have had to endure, shows that the resurrection is truly powerful.
And not just as a psychological motivational technique. It could have no power unless Christ really did rise from the dead, unless he really is risen and ascended and seated at God’s right hand. It is the reality that the resurrection is not only theology but history, that this took place in human history and that our Lord is truly reigning in heaven as we speak, that makes the resurrection the source of power that it is. If it were anything less, Christianity would have disappeared years ago. “But,” as Paul put it, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).
It is also important for the sake of our witness. I have been convicted recently that I have not always demonstrated to my coworkers the type of attitude that is consistent with hope in Christ. When we Christians complain and go around frustrated all the time because things aren’t going as we want them to go, what are we telling others? What does that say about our hope? I believe that too often we give the impression that our hopes are really centered on this world, even as we profess to believe in the resurrection and the glories of the age to come. And that is terrible, because it makes our faith look all the less real to unbelievers and undermines our witness. I don’t think it was by accident that the apostle Peter wrote that we are to in our “hearts honor Christ as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). In other words, here was a Christian whose hope was so inexplicable to the unbelievers around him, that they couldn’t help but ask a reason for that hope. It is the doorway to evangelism and disciple-making.
You see this link explicitly stated for us in verses 8-10: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Paul was willing to endure the utmost for the sake of bringing the gospel to God’s elect precisely because of the resurrection. It filled Paul with hope and courage. Though he was chained, he knew the Risen Lord is not, nor ever can be, and therefore what men did to him could not affect the outcome of God’s plan. The word of God was not bound because Christ is risen from the dead. His sufferings, far from being impediments to gospel, were through Christ agents of the gospel.
Let us be like Paul. Let us see all of life in light of the transforming reality of Christ’s resurrection. Let it give us the kind of hope and courage that has set believers apart in every generation and make us brighter lights in our own.
And if you have not yet embraced the risen and reigning Christ, may you embrace him now as your Lord and Savior and find in him salvation, life, glory, and a kingdom in the age to come.