“[Christ] was raised again for our justification.”
Concerning the festive day of Christ’s mighty resurrection from the dead, it is truly our great privilege to declare with the Psalmist: “This is the day which the Lord hath made! We will rejoice and be glad in it!” (118:24). For not only does the happy event we celebrate on Easter Sunday lift our spirits to lofty heights of exultation after the somber season of Lent; not only does the resurrection of our Savior completely vindicate Him as the very Son of God, whose doctrine is the unassailable truth; but the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead is absolutely central to the Christian faith, basic to the forgiveness of our sins, and essential to our hope of everlasting life with Him in heaven!!
Scoffers and skeptics who either deny outright or cast doubt upon the resurrection of Jesus are merely ignorant fools who can’t recognize a simple fact when it stares them in the face! Why, the evidence is so overwhelmingly in favor of the resurrection that anyone who objectively examines it and puts the bias of unbelieving skepticism to the test of evidence invariably comes to the conclusion: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” —And those so-called “theologians” who masquerade under Christ’s name and yet play “fast and loose” with the Holy Scriptures, question their authenticity, inerrancy and authority, and deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on Easter morning— they are doubly ignorant fools! For the Apostle Paul says in no uncertain terms, as we read in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain! Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:14-15). Whom do such “wolves in sheep’s clothing” think they are jerking around??
No, my dearly-beloved, rejoicing Christians, our preaching is not “vain;” our faith is not “vain” or useless! Our confidence in Christ, our risen Savior, is not misplaced in Him! Our hope in Christ is not “in this life only,” but in that which is to come! And we have the firm assurance that, for Jesus’ sake, all our sins and iniquities have been forgiven and are buried in the tomb where our Redeemer lay because, as we learn from the title-text of this article, “[Christ] was raised for [better translated, because of] our justification.”
To be sure, if Jesus Christ had gone through all the vicarious anguish and mockery and torture and death He endured “because of our offenses,” as St. Paul writes in the first portion of the verse before us, and then, as the scoffers and so-called “modernistic theologians” dare to claim, was left by God to rot in His grave, Paul says in I Corinthians 15:17, “our faith [would be] vain,” we would be “yet in our sins,” and Jesus would have been the biggest fraud and failure the world had ever seen!! Nothing would have been “finished” or “accomplished” at all, despite Jesus’ triumphant cry from His cross (John 19:30)! And we would be plain fools for clinging to His cross, for trusting in the merit of His atoning sacrifice, for believing that “the blood of Jesus Christ, [God’s] Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”
But, my dear fellow-sinners and rejoicing believers, have no fear that God suddenly “trashed” His eternal decree of redemption, “wrote off” the suffering and the death of His only-begotten Son as having been a “bad idea,” was somehow “disappointed” with Jesus’ active and passive obedience in the place of sinners, deemed His vicarious sacrifice to have been insufficient on “second thought,” “called the whole thing off,” and took back the forgiveness which He granted “in Christ” to all mankind—yea, rescinded the reconciliation of the world unto Himself (II Corinthians 5:19) which He effected in eternity already (II Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; I Peter 1:20) in view of what His Son would accomplish in time (Revelation 13:8)! —God is not the “fool” that unbelievers make Him out to be! “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!” — And why?? Why did God raise Him from the dead on the third day? — Not only to prove that Jesus is the Son of God …not only to prove that His Word is the truth …not only to show that He is capable of raising our bodies from the grave on the Last Day; …but “[Christ] was raised again for [i.e. because of] our justification,” Paul writes in our title-text.
“Justification” is forgiveness, put in its simplest terms. By raising Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, from the dead, God the Father testified to all the world that His plan of redemption had been carried out to His full satisfaction; that He accepted the sacrifice of His Son as payment-in-full for the sins of the world; and that His perfect justice had been satisfied— both as to its demands and as to its penalties.
You see, God is not only perfectly merciful, gracious, and loving, although He is all those things —but only in Christ, our Savior. He is also perfectly holy and just. Perfect justice doesn’t simply “write off” our offenses. Perfect justice isn’t satisfied with an “attempt” at righteousness which falls short of the mark of the holiness that God demands! God took His justice out on Christ as our Substitute, demanding perfection of Him in our place, demanding not only that He fulfill the legislative demands of His Law in our place (by His active obedience), but demanding that He pay “the wages of sin,” the punitive requirement, in our stead (by His passive obedience). And, when Jesus did all that, when He “accomplished” [tetevlestai (John 19:30)] that with His holy life and with His innocent suffering and death, God’s justice had been served. His purpose all along, his merciful and gracious purpose “in Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19) was to justify the world, to forgive “all men” their trespasses, to remit their guilt, and to declare them righteous and reconciled unto Himself. This purpose Jesus made possible by His all-sufficient atoning sacrifice, accepted by God in your place and mine in eternity already (Rev. 13:8b), even though Jesus accomplished it in time (Galatians 4:4). You see, God being God (and not some odds-maker in LasVegas!!) did not have to wait to see first whether His Son, in whom He is “well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; II Peter 1:17), would be able in time to make good on the eternal decree of redemption and to accomplish man’s atonement! It was already a “done deal” as far as HE was concerned! That’s why Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and all the patriarchs, yea, all the believers in the Old Testament, did not have to be consigned to some limbus patrem or “temporary holding tank of the fathers,” to wait for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead before they could have the forgiveness of their sins and justification in the sight of God!
“[Christ] was raised again because of our justification,” because God had already granted full and free forgiveness to all the world “in Christ,” because Christ’s sacrifice had earned it, because in the resurrection of His Son, God openly validated Christ’s vicarious atonement and declared it to have fully propitiated His justice! “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,” Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:19, “not imputing [that is, not charging] their trespasses unto them.” God’s act was a “forensic” or legal one, like that of a governor or president who grants a full and free pardon to a guilty person who was already charged under the law, indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by justice. “If Christ be not raised,” St. Paul declares by inspiration of God, “your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17) —for then reconciliation has not occurred; justification has not taken place; God has gone back on His Word; He still charges your sins against you; and “through fear of death” —living in constant terror of eternal death as the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23a) — you and I would “all our lifetime [still be] subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15), looking forward in terror to the prisonhouse of hell!!
“But now is Christ risen from the dead!” (I Corinthians 15:20); “He was raised again for our justification!” —“because of our justification,” because God had unilaterally, on His part, declared the whole world forgiven, righteous, and just in His holy sight for Jesus’ sake, in view of what Jesus perfectly and completely “accomplished” (John 19:30) in the stead of and on behalf of all mankind!!
Believe it! It’s absolutely true! You have God’s Word on it! Cling to it in childlike, simple, and humble confidence, as to the best news ever to strike your ear! “Son, [daughter], be of good cheer! Thy sins be forgiven thee!” Your justification is an accomplished fact as witnessed “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). Now, says Paul in II Corinthians 5, verse 20, “be ye reconciled to God” by laying hold on that pardon by faith, by the confidence of the heart created by God Himself (Philippians 2:13) through the power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16) to reach out, as it were, with an undeserving hand to grasp and to make your very own the greatest gift ever bestowed, free and unencumbered, purchased and won by Christ, your risen and ever-living Savior, “who was delivered because of your offenses, and was raised again because of your justification!” Rejoice, and let the song of your grateful heart of faith burst forth and confidently declare with the hymnwriter:
“He is arisen!” Glorious word!
Now reconciled is God, my Lord!
The gates of heaven are open!
My Jesus did triumphant die,
and Satan’s arrows broken lie;
destroyed hell’s direst weapon!
Oh, hear! What cheer!
Christ, victorious, riseth glorious! Life He giveth!
He was dead, but see, He liveth!
— D. T. M.