Christians make a big deal about Easter, and rightly so.
Everything we hold dear, as followers of Jesus, depends on his resurrection being an actual historical event, rather than just wishful thinking. As the apostle Paul admitted centuries ago, “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins” 1 Corinthians 15:17
In other words, if the resurrection didn’t happen, then we might as well give up this whole church nonsense and sleep in on Sunday mornings—or at least go out to brunch instead of gathering as misguided believers!
But we have some compelling reasons to believe that Christ was raised from the dead, not the least of which is the transformation of Paul himself. Before he became a committed follower of Jesus, he actively opposed the Christian faith, rounding up as many believers as he could, with the goal of ridding the world of this crazy new religion. But then he met the risen Jesus, and became, well, a life changed by Christ!
From that moment on, Paul understood that the resurrection of Jesus was not the end of God’s story, but rather the defining event for God’s whole rescue operation, which will culminate in everything in the world being made right again—something that Jesus directed us to pray for with the simple plea, “May your kingdom come soon” - Matthew 6:10. The apostle was captivated by this wonderful kingdom vision, and we should follow his lead.
To put it another way, unlike Paul, But, we don’t always make an equally big deal about what happened after Easter. It’s as if everything leads up to our annual celebration of the resurrection, but then, when we’re done, we often go back to living how we always have. We are perhaps confident that we will be with the Lord when we pass from this life, but that begs the question, “What should we be giving ourselves to in the meantime?”
After being raised from the dead, Jesus hung out with his followers for almost six straight weeks, appearing to more than 500 of them at one time, preparing them for the work to which he was calling them. Specifically, Luke, who was a dear friend of Paul’s, revealed how the risen Jesus encouraged his closest friends: “During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the kingdom of God” - Acts 1:3
There’s that “kingdom” thing again. What does it mean?
To put it simply, the kingdom is God’s people in God’s place, enjoying God’s rule and blessing. If you know how the Bible begins, that perfectly describes the world God created - Genesis 1-2. But then we squandered that world through our failure to trust him, or fully enjoy his rule and blessing - Genesis 3. Ever since then, God has been at work to restore what was lost, and the resurrection of Jesus is the key.
Think of it this way: a dead Savior is no Savior at all. But because Jesus was raised, “death no longer has any power over him,” having “died once to break the power of sin” - Romans 6:9-10. More than that, and catch the kingdom language here, God, through the risen Christ, “has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sin” - Colossians 1:13-14.
There’s that rescue operation at work, and it involves changing our citizenship from this world, “the kingdom of darkness,” to the kingdom of Jesus! However, this wonderful change is not automatic, but is experienced when we trust Jesus as the king of our lives. And once we do that, he commissions us to serve as his ambassadors to this world, living out the values of our new home country, the coming kingdom of God.
Paul put it this way: Jesus “died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ who died and was raised for them” - 2 Corinthians 5:15. What should that look like, exactly?
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry ends dramatically with what are often considered the most important words spoken by the risen Savior. They bring clarity to what we should specifically be doing until Jesus returns. From this passage, we can draw five encouragements to apply to our own lives.
Encouragement 1: Settle the matter of who gets first place in your life.
Having told his disciples to meet him on a particular mountain in Galilee, Jesus finally arrived, and, as Matthew wrote, “When they saw him, they worshiped him” - Matthew 28:17a. Before Jesus called them to do anything, they expressed their love and devotion to him, and that’s a great reminder for us. Jesus, after his resurrection, asked the apostle Peter a question that he is surely asking each one of us: “Do you love me?” - John 21:15. There are many things that capture our hearts; is Jesus first? That’s the place to start.
Encouragement 2: Realize that it’s normal to experience doubts
Matthew finished that first sentence by admitting, “When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!” v. 17 We have to remember that resurrections are mind-blowing, and, just like the disciples, we may struggle at times to make sense of the things we hear about or experience—especially when they are fresh. But that’s okay. Doubting is part of the life of faith. Keep learning and growing alongside others who are farther along in following Jesus.
Encouragement 3: Be confident in the gracious leadership of Jesus
Matthew continued: “Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth’” v. 18. There are many voices that are seeking to impact our decisions and drive the direction of our lives. But if what Jesus said here is true, we will find freedom and courage in listening to him above all others who would seek to lead us. As one pastor put it, “When somebody predicts their own death and resurrection and pulls it off, we should go with whatever that person says!”
Encouragement 4: Make these words your mission in life
Matthew then quoted the heart of Jesus’ challenge to his followers: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching these new disciples to obey all the commandments I have given you” (vv. 19-20a). We’ve adapted these words in our mission statement as a church, which is “To introduce people to Jesus and together fully follow him.” But however one puts it, this is what we get to do as ambassadors of God’s kingdom! There is no work that is more meaningful.
But let’s be honest: This sounds like a monumental task, and it is! The place to start is to be vitally connected to a local church, where you can establish the rhythms of gather, connect, serve, get out, and live generously. And, at the very least, you can invite people in your life to your church to learn more about Jesus and perhaps join us in following him.
Encouragement 5: Know that Jesus is with us in this work!
Jesus then ended his charge with a wonderful promise: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (v. 20b). Our Lord is not looking down from heaven, waiting to see if we can pull this off on our own. He is right here with us, empowering us and guiding us as we introduce more and more people to the one we have come to love and serve as our king.
But don’t miss the last part of that sentence. There will be an “end of the age,” when Jesus returns and fully restores his kingdom on this earth. And that hope is what keeps us faithfully pressing on in our mission!
So, this Easter, we celebrated the resurrection, as we always do. But let’s not forget what happened after Easter, and give ourselves fully to the wonderful work of seeing more and more lives changed by the risen Christ!