Articles

What It Means to Say, “Christ Is Risen!”

For Christians, despair is a sin because hope is not a feeling, it’s a reality made alive in the resurrection of Christ. 

03/29/24

John Stonestreet

On Sunday morning, Christians will gather in houses of worship around the world—like they have since the very first century—and make a proclamation to one another. It’s the central claim of the Christian faith: “Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!”  

It’s tempting to think of this claim in a highly personal and privatized way, along the lines of “I believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” While I certainly hope that if you make this proclamation that you truly believe it, that sentiment doesn’t quite catch the full effect of what this proclamation meant throughout Christian history. When the first Christians said, “Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!” they were making a public statement in a context where everyone had seen Jesus die. It was more than a statement of personal conviction and carried incredible implications for how to think about all of life.  

This Easter, it won’t just be American Christians who say, “Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!” Our brothers and sisters in various parts of the world who, by saying these words, risk great harm, will, too. For example, Christians in Nigeria, for several years in a row on Easter Sunday morning, have been attacked in their houses of worship. Yet there, in the most dangerous place on the planet to be a Christian, they too will say, “Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!”  

The Apostle Paul wrote an epistle to the church at Philippi. It’s all about what it means to have joy. Interestingly, Paul wrote Philippians from prison. There’s also a book that’s all about what it means to have hope. First Peter also was written in an unexpected context, to a group of early believers in Jesus facing an increasingly intensifying persecution. We know from history that he is speaking of the persecution of the Early Church under the Roman Emperor Nero. Just as the context of the book of joy in the Bible is prison, the context of the book of hope is persecution.  

To these new believers facing an imminent and incredibly difficult situation, Peter does not say that they ought to feel hope but that they have hope. For Peter, hope is not a feeling. It is a certainty.  

We tend to use the word hope as a way of expressing wishful thinking. We “hope” that a situation causing us distress or worry would change; that the next election may turn out as we “hope”; that the Supreme Court would decide a very important case how we “hope”; that our team would survive and advance in March Madness.  

But for Peter, hope is not for a situation to change. It’s hope in a situation that’s already happened and will never change. For Peter what has already happened and will never change, that which solidly grounds our hope no matter what the future holds, is the proclamation we’ll say to each other this Sunday morning: “Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!”  

The resurrection not only happened in human history: It is the defining moment of human history. For the Christian, this is not just a personal belief: It is the clearest statement of reality possible. Death is defeated. The Son of God is alive and sits on the throne of heaven and earth. No matter what happens in the history of the world, what will always be most true is that “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” 

Easter always makes me think about Chuck Colson. Chuck spent many, many Easter Sunday mornings visiting “the Church behind the walls” by joining Easter services in prison. Chuck had a wonderful explanation of why he believed in the resurrection, an explanation connected to his experience in Watergate. Year after year, that quotation of Chuck Colson is shared widely around social media in a rare example of a meme both truthful and helpful:  

I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.  

Every Easter, I remember something else Chuck often said to Christians as a way to encourage them to stay engaged in the cultural moment with their feet firmly grounded in the hope Peter described: “For Christians, despair is a sin because Christ is risen.” 

Perhaps as our culture seems increasingly challenging, it may help to think of hope as the complete opposite of despair. Hope is not optional for the believer. Our hope is secure because, as we all say again, “Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!” 

For the Colson Center. I’m John Stonestreet with Breakpoint. Have a blessed Easter. Thanks for listening to Breakpoint.  

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