One of my favorite books in recent years is The Hole in Our Gospel by the president of World Vision, Rich Stearns. The hole in the gospel is the failure to care for the poor and needy.
I think we have another hole in our gospel. I see this in conversations and in comments and youtube videos posted to facebook.
The resurrection seems to often be missing from any presentation of the gospel.
To be blunt: if the gospel as you present it does not need an empty tomb on Easter morning, it is not the gospel of Scripture.
If we say something like, “you are a horrible sinner but thankfully Jesus died for you and if you trust in him you too can go to heaven when you die,” we do not need the resurrection.
The above formulation focuses on Jesus’ death. Jesus died and presumably his soul went to heaven while his body was buried. Jesus’ death alone may have made a way for souls to go to heaven . But in this formulation Jesus is still dead and so are you. The resurrection is missing.
I am pretty sure that when Jesus was crucified his disciples would have believed that he would have, as a holy person, gone into God’s presence. Simply “going to heaven when he died” was not “good news” (gospel).
The good news came with the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead, conquering death. The tomb was, and remains, empty. That is what will get me out of bed with a shout of joy on the morning of April 8th, Resurrection Sunday (Easter)!
(On that note, why do you think the Christian church meets for worship on Sunday? The Jews were commanded to celebrate the Sabbath day which is Saturday. This change in days of worship, for a Christian church made up of mostly ethnic Jews, is a huge testimony to the resurrection).
The promise of scripture then is not just that we will go to heaven when we die. We die and our bodies are buried while our souls go to heaven (though what exactly happens to our soul upon death is a topic more up for debate among theologians). One day in the future, at the end of time when Jesus returns and creates a new heaven and a new earth our bodies will rise again! Just as Jesus rose in a complete body (consisting of body and soul) so too will our souls be united with our bodies and made new.
That is the goal. Death, the last enemy, is defeated (read 1 Corinthians 15). Jesus dealt death a fatal blow with his resurrection but death holds on for a while. The knockout punch is coming.
Thus, the gospel is not just what happens to my soul when I die. The gospel is that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, paying the price for all of us, and that three days later Jesus rose from the dead, conquering humanity’s greatest enemy, death. The gospel is that new creation is already here as Jesus is risen and one day that new creation will ultimately be here as the old fully is put away.
I had this post idea in mind and then yesterday I came across this post which said what I am trying to say much more creatively and movingly then I am able: The Place of Resurrection in Our Christian Tradition