He is Risen! So What?

This past week me and the kids have been having this discussion about Jesus’ resurrection. Of course we all know that Christians, all over the world, will be celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth this weekend. And there will be a plurality of ways in which Christians will be doing this, whether Catholic or Protestant or Eastern Orthodox, or whatever in between, they will be celebrating God’s raising of Jesus from the dead. This morning we climaxed our week long conversation with why Jesus’ death and resurrection has significance. My kids understand the basic outline of Christ’s passion and resurrection, but when engaged in that ‘so what?’ I got blank stares. Which is quite indicative of my discipling skills as a Christian father. But I pressed them on about it. Which led us to some thinking about scripture. I told them the key to understanding the significance of Jesus’ resurrection lays in how they understand his life and his death.

What was his life in the gospels about?

In the gospels Jesus preached about the coming kingdom of God. He proclaimed repentance and trust to be requisite for entrance into this kingdom. And in the gospels Jesus lives out the implications of this coming kingdom. He engages in many things in the gospels that point to and were an embodiedment of that kingdom. In the gospels Jesus is presented as a coming king proclaiming the good news of victory of his coming kingdom. But his kingdom was of a very different nature and character from other kinds of kingdom. To get a picture of how his kingdom is different read the Gospels.

Why did he die?

Typically Christians will give the short, easy, and lazy answer “he died for my sins.” That’s too easy and it doesn’t require one to think hard about the very deep reason why Jesus died. We don’t want to unpack what it means to say that Jesus died for our sins. Jesus was killed primarily because of the kind of kingdom he preached, taught, and lived about. There was something about this kingdom he so much talked about that it got those in power very scared. They were somehow threatened by his message of the kingdom of God. So what do all ‘sincere’ rulers and kings do to people they feel are a threat to the established ‘order’ or ‘kingdom’? They get rid of them. Jesus was killed because of the message and life he lived. A life that pointed to a heavenly order that transcended the order of men and would-be kings. The present age, as it is ruled by the flesh, the world, and the devil, killed Jesus. Jesus was killed by spiritual forces of wickedness, as embodied by Jewish sympathizers to the Romans and the Roman Empire. Jesus was killed by a political/social/spiritual order (Rome) as it was possessed by demonic forces. Why? Because Jesus presented a different order that simply said your time of rule is almost up! Jesus was essentially saying, “there is a new Sheriff in town!” But what do you do to a new Sheriff that wants to change things, get people to live differently than the older order, challenge the legitimacy of the older order? You kill that nuissance of a Sheriff. In that day, you crucified nuissances. So they did. That’s is why we celebrate Good Friday. The new Sheriff in town was killed by demon possessed outlaws.

“so what?” my kids asked. The new Sheriff was killed. And?

But something strange happened. The Sheriff is killed, yet he re-appears again. They can’t seem to get rid of this new Sheriff. Which is even more scary because of what this new Sheriff represented. This new Sheriff represents a new order, a new kingdom, a whole new way of living in God’s world, a way of life that is not determined by the deceptions and illusions of the older order or sheriffs. So it wasn’t just that this new Sheriff was somehow brought back to life that was scary, but what this new Sheriff represented…the coming of a new kingdom and city whose builder and maker is God.



7 thoughts on “He is Risen! So What?

Add yours

  1. hi anthony,

    happy easter from one pomo negro to another.

    glad to meet you in the blogsphere, as it certainly need more color.

    also, check out the blogs of rudy carrasco (cali) and todd smith (france)

    peace, from karen ward at submergence.org

  2. hi karen,

    I have visited the coa site before. Very encouraging. I am just gaining my legs with this whole conversation. any wisdom you wanna spit my way will be most welcomed. I will definitely be checking out the blogs you suggested.

    grace & peace,


  3. Hi Anthony,
    In your parable of the sheriff I’m not sure I understand your answer to the question ‘Why did he die?’ I see you answered the question ‘why was he killed?’–that is, you explain the motivation behind the killers. They were threatened by the kingdom of God teaching. But I think most people want to know why Jesus HAD to die (as he clearly did–see the dialogue in the garden of Gethsemane.) There was no other way to save the world. So what did his death accomplish? How does it help us? To me that doesn’t come out in your parable.
    Tim Keller

  4. Tim,

    Good question. We could get into some very interesting theological discussions about why Jesus ‘had’ to die. Of course answering such questions would run us into various ways Christians have explained the death of Jesus over the centuries. Typically these are called atonement theories. And we can get into that, but I would say off the jump that Jesus’ death saves us in that Jesus’ death makes all things new. Jesus’ death and resurrection open up new possibilities as far as how we live in God’s good creation. Jesus’ death and resurrection created a new world or creation. So I would say his death saves us in this way by opening up the possibility for people to live lives oriented to the kingdom in which he faithfully embodied. That’s one way in which Jesus’ death saves us…I believe. His death shows us the Way to go in God’s world. His death also saves us from the power of death because Jesus conquered death. In following Jesus we can have a certain level of confidence that death doesn’t have the final say or word on the matter, but that the God that raised Jesus from the dead does.


  5. Anthony, You are absolutely right that to answer the question ‘why did he have to die?’ gets you into an atonement theory. But that is what those who don’t believe (and who are trying to figure out Christianity) want to hear. I get pushed on this all the time by those exploring whether they can embrace the faith or not.

    You propose ‘Jesus’ death shows us how to live in the world for others.’ That’s one atonement theory–the moral example theory. The problem with that theory is that Jesus’ death for me is not a good example if he didn’t really have to die. (That is, it is no demonstration of sacrificial love to my family if I throw myself in the river and kill myself. But if my family is drowning and I die in the river saving them–then my death is a good example of sacrificial love.) So unless there is some other way in which my death is necessary, it doesn’t serve as a good example of how to live for others.

    If you are saying ‘he died in order to conquer death’ it sounds like the Christus Victor theory of the atonement, but I’ve found my skeptical hearers have trouble with that one. How does Jesus’ death overcome the ‘powers’ of death and evil? Why didn’t Lazurus’ death do that?

    I think narrating the atonement is perhaps the hardest thing we have to do in our culture today

  6. Tim,

    I agree that narrating the death of Christ is extremely difficult today. I think part of the difficulty lays in our cultural context. Coming from a prophetic black theological perspective the death and resurrection of Christ emboldened many African americans to stand against and protest (in diverse ways) social and racial oppression. It was the death and resurrection of Christ that gave courage for people like Martin Luther King Jr. to preach the kind of message he did in his “Mountaintop speech” which turned out to be his last speech. It is the death of Christ that graces us with the ability to live as though death doesn’t have the last word. There are all kinds of ways of living in this world and all kinds of ways societies have organized around the fear of death. Christ’s death and resurrection creates social space where the fear of death should no longer be determinitive of the kind of people we are and the kind of communities we create. So I think part of the reason why it is difficult to sell the death of Christ is because Christ’s death, in its first century context, was amongst a people that were clinging desperately for hope in a world ruled by a vicious imperial power. You say that what I am proposing is bit of the moral exemplar theory and the Christus Victor theory. Honestly, I don’t believe that we have to ‘sell’ these theories to unbelievers. I think that is part of the problem. We feel like we have sell theories to people. Somehow we think that if we get our atonement theory right people will come to the faith. I think that is tricky. Part of my beliefs about Christ’s death come from my historical understanding of the kindredness of the African american religious experience and the political-theological experience of first century Palestinian Jews…the world of Jesus. I think we have to have a more contextual and more nuanced understanding of Jesus’ death. I think part of the sell, if it is lawful to call it that, has to be the way Christians live in community as though death and sin doesn’t have the last word as Christ’s death and resurrection illustrate. Christ’s death was the result of his preaching the kingdom of God in the midst of this present age. His resurrection signifies that God’s world and intent cannot be determined by the powers of death and sin.

    Good thoughts. I appreciate the response. Hit me back.


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