Back in 1981 I acquired and read Josh McDowell’s The Resurrection Factor. It is a great book in which McDowell offers credible evidence after credible evidence for the historicity of the resurrection. I came away from reading that book with wonderful renewed confidence in the undeniable reality of the gospel. McDowell helped me to understand that the gospel is true.1
The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves Jesus’ claims to be true—including His claim of ability to save the lost. The resurrection proves that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.
The resurrection further proves the truth of Jesus’ prophecies. Since He rose from the dead, as He said He would, we can be sure about everything else that He promised.
The resurrection also proves that Jesus is both good and God. When the rich young ruler addressed Jesus as “good Teacher,” Jesus replied, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (Matthew 19:16–17). Jesus’ was not denying that He was good but was instead claiming to be God. The resurrection affirms this claim.
The resurrection proves the reality of the gospel. The gospel is the good news of what God has done for believing sinners in Jesus Christ. And what has He done? He has provided the means by which believing sinners can be raised from death to life. The resurrection of Jesus proves that this gospel is real.
The resurrection empowers believers for glory. In fact, it promises and provides such glory. And it is this reality that Paul has in view in our text for this study: Ephesians 1:19–20. Believing the resurrection empowers us to change.
The resurrection is not merely the “third point” of the gospel but is, in a very real sense, the point of the gospel. Paul summarised the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 as the death of Jesus according to the Scriptures, the burial of Jesus (proving that He had died), and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead according to the Scriptures. This—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, according to the Scriptures—is the full gospel. When we share the gospel, we can become so focused on the death that we virtually ignore the resurrection—or at least just tack it on as some form of conclusion to the main body of the message. But we need the full message if we will benefit from the gospel.
On Good Friday this year, I was in Cape Town with my wife. We decided to attend the good Friday service at Goodwood Baptist Church. I googled the church to see what time the service was. The church website informed me that the service started at 10:30 AM. It seemed a strange time for a Good Friday service in South Africa, but we figured that it afforded the opportunity to sleep in and organise our day before heading to church. When we arrived at the church at 10:15 AM, it seemed that people were leaving the building, not entering it. In fact, just about the time we arrived, the last person left and the building was locked.
I was certain that I had checked the time correctly, but I once again googled Goodwood Baptist Church on my phone. When I opened the website, I showed my wife that I was correct: The website advertised the Good Friday service at 10:30 AM. My wife then pointed out that I was looking at the website of Goodwood Baptist Church in Ontario, Canada. Because we did not have all the information we required, we missed out on Good Friday worship.
The same is true of the resurrection as it pertains to the gospel. Without the resurrection, you do not have the full gospel message. A resurrectionless gospel is impotent to do what God designed the gospel to do. We need the full gospel if we will benefit from it.
Without the resurrection, the gospel is nothing more than the message of a martyr. There is no good news of reconciliation with God apart from the resurrection. Apart from the resurrection, we are still in our sins for we are still in Adam. Apart from the resurrection we have merely an example, not an expiation.2 Without the resurrection, we are left with a tragic comedy rather than a triumphant Saviour.
But because the resurrection is true—because it really happened—there is much good news: the good news of forgiveness, reconciliation and transformation.
This appears to be Paul’s point in the passage before us. The apostle appears to be struck with the power of God as displayed in the gospel—the full gospel. And in this study, originally prepared to be preached on Easter Sunday 2016, we need to spend some time appreciating three major and encouraging results of the resurrection. An appreciation of these truths will lead us every Lord’s Day to cry out, “Thank God it’s Sunday!”
Appreciate Your Ability
The first thing to appreciate from this text is the ability that is ours because of the resurrection. Paul speaks, in v. 19, of “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
The word here translated “power” is a Greek word that speaks of the ability to do something. A different Greek word, which is also often translated in the New Testament as “power,” speaks of the authority to do something, but this word emphasises ability rather than authority (although ability carries with it the implication of authority).
This particular Greek word is used in Luke 5:17 to describe the ability of Jesus to heal the sick. It is used in Luke 8:46 when Jesus spoke of the “power” that was drained from Him when the woman with the issue of blood touched His cloak so that she was healed. Paul uses the word in 1 Corinthians 1:18 to describe the ability of God to provide salvation and again in Romans 1:4 to say that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with “power.” The word ascribes “power” or ability to the Lord in Revelation 19:1.
Paul was persuaded of God’s ability to do what He said He would do in the gospel. And his confidence was rooted in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s power in raising Jesus from the dead is the same power that He displays in us who believe.
The obvious question at this point is, in what way is this power our experience? I think we can note at least two ways.
Raising the Dead
First, resurrection power is at work in raising us from spiritual death. It affects our disposition and our inclinations. The power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave is the power that God exhibits when He saves us by His gospel.
We can sometimes take the faith that saves us for granted. The very context of our verses speaks much of the faith that saves us. Verse 15 speaks of “your faith in the Lord Jesus.” Verse 18 speaks of those who “believe.” Earlier, Paul speaks of those who “trusted” in Christ (v. 13). We know that we are saved by faith alone, but have you ever thought of how difficult it actually is for a sinner to believe?
When the women told the disciples about the resurrection, Luke tells us that “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). One thinks here of the Chronicles of Narnia. When Lucy first tells her siblings about her experiences in Narnia, they do not believe her. Professor Kirke forces them to think about the fact that she is their sister, who is not known for lying: Why should they not believe her?
The early disciples had a difficult time believing the resurrection. Mary believed when she saw (John 20:1–18). At first, the disciples did not believe her testimony, but they likewise believed when they saw (John 20:19–23). Thomas likewise would not believe until he saw (John 20:24–29). Christians believe their Elder Brother, whose resurrection claims are credible and certain. But an unbeliever cannot believe apart from resurrection power at work in him.
Belief requires that those who are dead to the Word of God become alive to it. It requires that those who are of the world turn their back on the world. It requires that those who caused Jesus’ death take personal responsibility for it. It requires that those who love self turn their back on self. It requires that those who are self-righteous come to loathe their self-righteousness. It requires that those who view the gospel as bad or irrelevant news come to see it as the best and most relevant news. It requires that those whose minds are closed to Christ, the Word and the gospel will open their minds (see Luke 24:44–46). It requires those who demand empirical evidence come to believe God without it. It requires, in short, those who do not trust God to come to trust Him. And none of this can happen without resurrection power at work in us. The power at work both to rescue and save is the power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave.
The above leads us to another observation regarding our ability: Christians have resurrection power enabling them to change. As Peter wrote,
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
(2 Peter 1:1–4)
The assumption here is that Jesus is alive (see 1 Peter 1:3–5). That is, this power to change is available to us only because Jesus is alive.
One of our church members was recently interviewed by a camera crew during the Two Oceans Ultramarathon. He was cramping around the 42km mark and was receiving some attention from a physiotherapist when the camera crew came to ask him some questions. They asked him, among other things, if he was running for a particular cause. He told them that he was running for the glory of God.
He later told me that he had been praying for some time for an opportunity to bring glory to God in the race. How can we explain the desire of someone running an ultramarathon to actively give glory to God? Only by resurrection power at work in him.
Resurrection power creates in us a desire to glorify God. I am always blessed when I walk into a restaurant and see other patrons bowing their heads to give thanks for the food. I understand that some may choose not to make a public display by saying grace in a public setting, but I also appreciate it when Christians are willing to publicly show that they are thankful to God for His provision. That is resurrection power at work in them.
Because of resurrection power, Christians can practically hope for change. We can desire to change in such a way that we live lives pleasing to God.
Jesus came to save His people from their sins. His resurrection power is available to enable us to overcome our sinful habits. His resurrection power is available to restore broken marriages and broken homes. His resurrection power is available to restore broken relationships. His resurrection power is available to make us holy. His resurrection power is available to overcome anxiety and unbelief. His resurrection power is available to make a difference.
“The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). That resurrection power enabled the early disciples to turn the world upside down for God’s glory (Acts 17:6), and His resurrection power can, in the words of William Carey, give us the ability to expect great things from God and therefore attempt great things for God.
Appreciate Your Acceptance
The second major thing that we must appreciate from our text is the acceptance we have because of Christ’s resurrection. Verse 19 speaks of “us who believe,” and v. 20 says that those who believe are “in Christ.” The larger context shows the great acceptance that those who are in Christ enjoy: We are raised from the dead and seated at Christ’s right hand far above every authority in this age and the age to come, with Christ as our head (vv. 19–23).
We can say several things about the resurrection and our acceptance “in Christ.”
First, the resurrection of Jesus assures us of our acceptance before God. Paul speaks in Romans 4:24–25 of Jesus being “raised because of our justification.” He means by that that the resurrection guarantees that our justification is certain, that He had accomplished our justification. Stated another way, the resurrection proves that He had really finished what He said He had finished (John 19:30). The resurrection proves the accomplishment. There has never been a more powerful demonstration than the resurrection that all is well.
On the cross, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), but the resurrection proved that Jesus did not remain forsaken. Jesus was ultimately reconciled to God, and so can we be. The resurrection culminated His cross work, as the ascension crowned it.
Second, the resurrection of Christ activates us because we are accepted. It “activates” us in the sense that it empowers us to a new lifestyle. It moves us to rejoice. It moves us to repent—continually. It moves us to reverence. It moves us to resist sin (see Hebrews 2:14–18; 4:14–16). It moves us to rest in Christ (see Hebrews 4:9; Psalm 118:22–24). The powerful union produced by the resurrection moves us to personal communion. What do you imagine was the relationship between Jesus and Lazarus after Jesus raised him from the dead? I imagine that there was a sweet intimacy between them. So it should be with us.
Importantly, this is a truth of which we must constantly remind ourselves. As Jerry Bridges was well-known for saying, we must learn to daily preach the gospel to ourselves. As we learn to do so, we will surely sing with the hymnist, “It is well with my soul!”
Third, the resurrection of Jesus has incredible power to reshape our identity. This is the very truth that turned Saul of Tarsus into Paul the apostle. And as it produced confidence and joy in him, so it must and will do so in us.
As we grow older, we must deliberately hold before us the power of the resurrection to reshape our identity. It is easy to fall into old habits and think that we are too old to change, but the gospel, rooted in the resurrection, gives us the power to change.
Union and communion are the issue. The resurrection showed that Jesus was right with God, and by His merit, so can we be. What Christ experienced by the resurrection, we experience in and through Him. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1–2).
Where you set your affections determines your assurance. Christian, be happy before an unhappy world—and help others to be so.
Appreciate Your Access
Finally, our text exhorts us to appreciate the access we have because of the resurrection. We have access to Christ who has been “seated … at His right hand in the heavenly places” (v. 20). And, because of the resurrection, “through Him we both [i.e. Jewish and Gentile Christians alike] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (2:18).
Verse 20 is perhaps the grandest verse in the entire section. It is certainly a rich summary of all that has been said until now. This verse serves as something of a royal introduction. It shows us that Jesus Christ, by virtue of His resurrection, was seated in a place of royal and divine authority.
Without the resurrection, this royal introduction would not be a reality. Matthew tells us that, when Jesus died, the veil in the temple was torn in half from top to bottom. Extrabiblical historical sources tell us that the priests tried to sow it back together but they could not do so. The significance of the torn veil is clear: There was now unhindered access to God’s very presence. Under the old covenant, only the high priest could enter the most holy place, and then only once a year. But under the new covenant, our great High Priest has made access possible for all. As the writer of Hebrews wrote, “the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing” (Hebrews 9:8). But all that changed when Jesus died and rose again.
Under the old covenant, Gentiles were effectively barred from God’s presence. But this has all changed because of the resurrection. Paul explains our new covenant privilege in the second chapter of Ephesians:
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
That which had been barred to us is now ours by resurrection power and privilege. We can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), whereas before only the high priest could come with trepidation.
This access provides us with authority. Again, our text tells us that Christ was seated “in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (vv. 20–21). And since we are “in Christ” (v. 20), we are likewise seated in heavenly places (see v. 3). This means that we have authority over the world, the flesh and the devil (see Hebrews 13:6). We would do well to pray for enlightenment and insight into this reality.
All of the above suggests that this is humanly possible. But the resurrection of Jesus, by God’s power, accomplishes this.
Will you believe the full gospel? Will you believe that we are justified, sanctified and will one day be glorified because Jesus Christ rose? That is why Sunday is the day that the Lord made for us to rejoice and be glad in.
At the same time, will you be hopeful for and helpful to others?
Together, let us preach the full gospel to ourselves. And let us never forget the full gospel, which includes the resurrection of our Lord.
- That, by the way, is the ultimate purpose of apologetics: to help believers see the credibility of their faith. Apologetics has limited value in convincing unbelievers of the truth, but great value in helping believers to see the credibility of the gospel claims. ↩
- Expiation means to make amends for guilt or wrongdoing. Jesus died to make amends for our sins, but without the resurrection His death would not have accomplished what God designed it to accomplish. ↩