Jesus wasn't the first to die for someone else, and won't be the last. Plenty of people have willingly laid down their lives to save another. In that regard, there is nothing unique in the death of Jesus Christ. He is however, the first and only one who died for all, and the only one who after dying, arose from death. The significance of Jesus' death is not in the death alone, but in his resurrection. The resurrection is God the Father's seal of approval guaranteeing that the sacrifice Jesus made is effective and adequate for our salvation. If Jesus had not risen, he would have been merely another forgotten victim of cruel Roman justice. We would not revere his name; there would be no Christianity today, no celebration of Easter in song and rejoicing.
The resurrection is more than a guarantee that God is in control, that some day we too, will rise to new life. It is more than a glimpse into the future; it is a present reality for God's people today. Repeatedly, St. Paul says that something has actually happened in our lives because of his resurrection. "We are raised up together with Christ," he claims (Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13, Romans 6:4-14). For people steeped in the importance of the individual and of personal experience, this kind of talk seems foreign. How can people who weren't even born when Jesus died and rose again be raised up with him? And what does baptism have to do with it?
Reformed theology is instructive here. The Reformers and Puritans talked of the Federal headship of both Adam and Christ, referring to Paul's mention of both in Romans 5. Theological Federalism is when what one person does is attributed to all who are included in that deed. Adam's sin is our sin. Jesus' death and resurrection is our death and resurrection. Whether we feel this or not does not affect the truth of these statements. If God says, "As in Adam all died, so in Christ shall all be made alive," that statement is reality, it is truth because God speaks only the truth.
I am in Christ. I died with him and rose again with him. This is true whether or not I feel any different about life. The key factor in this is twofold: What Christ did, and what I believe. As to what Christ did, he has done all that is necessary for our salvation. It's as if he deposited into our eternal bank account all the benefits of his life and salvation. It's there, whether I believe it or not, whether I take advantage of it or not. The only way to access that account is by faith. If God deposits into my account but I refuse to draw upon it, I would still be rich, but I would be living like a pauper. And the only way I can draw on my account is by believing that what God says is true.
In this regard, belief is not a noun. It is a verb. It is not a set of facts to which I give assent. Belief is the act and process of leaning on God and his Word, of choosing the reality of his strength and help even when I feel weak and helpless. It is grabbing hold of all God has placed in my spiritual account by virtue of his placing me in Christ. All that is Christ's is mine, but only that which I choose to believe in makes a difference. Tonight, I am thankful for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and for raising us up with him and giving us eternal life as we trust moment by moment in the effectiveness of his sacrifice.
The work is done, the Sabbath rest observed, and the New has come! Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!