In Catholic parishes throughout the world this coming Sunday, the words “He is risen, alleluia!” will be proclaimed.
But what will most Catholics have in their minds when they mutter, or speak, or even shout with joy, those words? Probably something along these lines: “Jesus Christ rose from the dead and now in him we have the forgiveness of sins. Thank you, Lord!” Or maybe, “Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This is a fact of history. Christianity isn’t a cleverly devised story but really true!”
These are both good and appropriate responses. But I want to add something here. When we look at the teaching of the New Testament, the resurrection isn’t only about the forgiveness of sins or evidence that Jesus was who he claimed to be and who the earliest believers claimed him to be. In the New Testament, the resurrection is about power to become holy.
Let me explain by taking you on a brief tour of Scripture.
Way, way back in the book of Deuteronomy, before the Israelites had even crossed into the Promised Land, speaking to a people who had shown themselves incapable of living in trusting obedience to God, Moses looked to a future day when
The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live (Deuteronomy 30:6).
One day, Moses said, God will act to change his people so that they will love him and walk in his ways.
Some seven or eight centuries later, the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah of a New Covenant he would at some point in the future make with his people. When that time comes, the Lord said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). God’s law will not be something merely etched on stone tablets. Instead it will be etched on human souls.
A little later the prophet Ezekiel, speaking in God’s name, described this same mysterious distant event in some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture:
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean . . . and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statues and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:25-28).
Scroll forward another five hundred years.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, and our Lord speaks words that seem to him incomprehensible: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). Now, this poor Jewish scholar was completely bewildered. But he shouldn’t have been. If only he had read Deuteronomy 30 and Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, he would have understood what the Lord was saying to him. Jesus asks Nicodemus, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”
So when was this New Covenant put into effect? And how does it come to be effective in each of our lives?
Well, the New Covenant the prophets were pointing toward is the covenant Jesus established at the Last Supper when Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup saying, “This is my blood of the covenant . . .” (Matthew 26:28).
After this, he died, was buried and was raised from the dead on the third day. He ascended to sit at the right hand of power and on the Day of Pentecost he poured forth into his Church the promised Holy Spirit. St Peter stood and preached the first sermon of the Christian era and when the crowds were cut to the heart by his words and cried out, “What must we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized . . . and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” What’s Peter saying? He’s saying, “Repent and be baptized and you will receive what Moses talked about, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and our Lord as well! What Ezekiel described in detail will happen to you!”
We know this is what Peter had in mind because in the first letter he wrote to the early Christians, he says in chapter 1, verse 3 that the “new birth” Jesus told Nicodemus about takes place “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (in other words, through the power unleashed by the resurrection) and in chapter 3, verses 21-22 he intimates that this takes place through our baptism.
And baptism . . . now saves you . . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers made subject to him (1 Peter 3:21-22)”
Notice how Peter repeats those words “through the resurrection” when speaking of both the new birth and baptism. Peter is telling us that it is through the power of the resurrection that we are born again in our baptism.
One final witness. In Romans 6, St Paul says that in our baptism we were united with Christ in his death and in his resurrection in order that we “might walk in newness of life.” He says that in our baptism our bondage to sin was broken and that we no longer need to be slaves to sin. He’s saying that something actually happened to us in our baptism. He’s saying that God was acting and that he changed us! Two chapters later Paul says that in Christ the Holy Spirit has been given to us “in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
Ah, sounds just like Moses and Jeremiah and Ezekiel!
Connect the dots. Do the numbers. And this coming Sunday, when you shout out, “He is risen, alleluia!” here’s what I want you to be thinking: “Lord, it is the power of your resurrection that became active in me through baptism, granting me the new birth you told Nicodemus about, removing my heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh, giving me your Holy Spirit in order that I might love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and walk in faithful obedience to your word. To this I commit myself this Easter Sunday. God, help me!”
Now there’s a way to celebrate Easter.
About the Author
Ken Hensley is a former Protestant minister and convert to the Catholic faith. He’s an author, speaker and teacher.
“Having worked in the field of Catholic apologetics for nearly 30 years, I’ve been privileged to know and collaborate with many talented, inspirational, and effective teachers of the Faith. It’s no exaggeration to say that my friend Ken Hensley is among the very best of the best of the Catholic apologists serving Christ and His Church today.” Patrick Madrid
“Ken Hensley is a truly remarkable apologist, especially when it comes to Sacred Scripture, Reformation history, and taking complex theological issues and making them accessible to the average Catholic in the pew.” Tim Staples
“As an apologist, Ken Hensley has three secret qualities that, thankfully, aren’t so secret anymore: he’s an exceptionally engaging teacher who brings to the craft his own curiosity and love of the subject; he knows how to distill deep content for the average person; and he’s evangelically Catholic. And did I mention his relentlessly off-beat sense of humor?” Patrick Coffin
“I want to recommend my good friend, Ken Hensley, who is a very effective speaker on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from Scripture and Apologetics to Church History and the New Atheism… Ken is an expert pastor, with a pastor’s heart, who can make the Bible come alive. I’m looking forward to more of his teaching in the future.” Scott Hahn
Ken Hensley – http://www.callingallconverts.com