His Sacrificial Death and Resurrection.
I certainly will not be exhausting every aspect of the death and resurrection of Jesus in this post. Instead I hope to call attention to two ways it profoundly changes the world.
First, Jesus’ death and resurrection show him to be the Messiah—the anointed deliverer God had promised to send. Many people noticed the prophesies concerning the One who was to come, but few, if any, noticed that the Scriptures also said he would suffer and rise from the dead. Likewise, Jesus himself stated multiple times that he would suffer, be killed and then be raised, but again the few who heard these words could not grasp them.
After the fact, however, and after Jesus opened the minds of his apostles to understand the Scriptures, the death, resurrection, and identity of Jesus as Lord and Christ became central to their message. They proclaimed far and wide that Jesus was the Christ (Messiah), based on his death and resurrection.
As to how this changes the world, the Christ (so indicated by his death and resurrection) brings God’s salvation to the world, just as God promised. One particularly significant and cherished aspect of this salvation is the forgiveness of our sins, by the mercy of God. The very name “Jesus” means “the Lord is salvation,” and is extremely apropos because “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). All who humble themselves, grasp his identity, and pledge their absolute loyalty through faith, repentance, and baptism (see post) are forgiven for all their sins by God’s mercy. Because of this they can be in relationship with God, the source of life. Because this is something available to us even here and now, it is appropriate to use the language that these people “have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5, 8).
Even so, both God’s own people and those who don’t know him, will be judged at the end of the age. If our faith in and loyalty to Christ have come from our hearts and changed our lives, we will enter the eternal kingdom at the end of the age. In this sense it is also appropriate to say we “will be saved” (1 Corinthians 3:15).
In addition to the past and future sense of being saved, however, there is also a present sense. The Bible also says we “are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15). Salvation is more than the above mentioned forgiveness of sins, wonderful though that is. It also includes the process of being saved from the power, deception, destruction, and slavery of sin in our lives right now (Romans 6:6, 17-18; Ephesians 5:6; John 10:10). That is why Paul urges us to “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12-13). God is certainly at work in us but we must work out what he is working in. Likewise Peter urges us to “grow up in our salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). And the writer of Hebrews urges us not to “neglect so great a salvation” as what we have in Christ (Hebrews 2:3). Based on his wisdom and trusting the power of his Spirit, we submit to him increasingly and so experience a broader salvation than just the forgiveness of our sins. We learn to live the way God designed us to live and so enjoy a deep sense of peace and wholeness.
Elsewhere Paul shows that salvation is more than forgiveness when he reminds us that we were chosen to be saved not only through “belief in the truth” but also by “the sanctifying work of the Spirit” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). He also said “he saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Belief in the truth and the washing of rebirth speak to our forgiveness, but the sanctification and renewal of the Holy Spirit speak to actual life change in us. He works these changes in us as we “keep in step with the Spirit” he has given us (Galatians 5:25), though we will still always need his mercy.
Jesus himself also shows that salvation entails more than just forgiveness. The woman who anointed him in Luke 7 had been saved previously. The verb tenses of “have been forgiven” (v. 47) and “has saved you” (v. 50) both indicate something that had happened previously and the results continued into the present. And her salvation did indeed include forgiveness (vv. 47-48). But it also included her showing great love by washing Jesus feet with her tears and pouring perfume on them (vv. 36-38). Indeed, this great love shows that her sins had indeed been forgiven and her salvation was real (v. 47). Her salvation also included the possibility of peace, that profound sense of wholeness that comes from God (v. 50). True salvation includes not only forgiveness but also develops love, peace, and wholeness in a person’s life.
In the case of Zacchaeus, nothing is said about forgiveness, though I certainly believe he was forgiven. But what prompts Jesus’ statement that “salvation has come to this house” is the inner change in Zacchaeus that led to a promise to give half his possessions to the poor and repay fourfold anyone he had cheated (Luke 19:1-10). Salvation includes a change of life. Jesus also taught this in the parable of the sower where those who lose the word cannot “believe and be saved” but those with “a noble and good heart, hear the word, retrain it, and produce a crop” (Luke 8:12-15). The opposite of not being saved is producing the fruit of God in our lives.
If a prostitute or drug dealer goes up on charges, but then the charges are dropped or they are acquitted, they would surely think that is “good news.” But if they end up back on the street the next day, no one would think they had been “saved.” So, too, with us. Salvation includes the wonderful gift of forgiveness but is also worked out in real change in our lives by the power of the Spirit so that we experience other aspects of God’s salvation.
In all this, of course, we must be careful not to think we are saving ourselves by our works. The possibility of living a new and better life comes from God by his mercy and love. And it is possible only by the power of his Spirit. Still, salvation changes not only our status and destination; it changes our way of life here and now. You cannot have Jesus as Savior unless you will have him as Lord. This change of life can be traced back to the death, resurrection and lordship of Christ. These great events and truths powerfully change the world.
I’ll state more briefly a second way Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection change the world. They demonstrate that the pattern for life is suffering and sacrifice now with resurrection and glory in the future. One crystal clear statement of this is the great “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11. The hymn first describes Jesus letting go of equality with God, humbling himself, taking on the nature of a servant, and becoming obedient to death on a cross. It then describes God exalting him to the highest place and giving him the glorious name “Lord” so that it is fitting for every knee to bow before him. But don’t miss the connecting word between these two “stanzas” of the hymn. It is the word “therefore” (v. 9). The word tells us that reason God exalted Jesus (vv. 9-11) is that he humbled himself and gave up his life (vv. 6-8). Both his life and the hymn tell the same story: suffering and sacrifice now; resurrection and glory later.
If we want to change the world like Jesus, then, we must tell the story of his suffering, death and resurrection and explain all the implications of it—not only the blessing of forgiveness and the hope of heaven in the future, but also the various other aspects of salvation that we work out in our daily lives here in how. These other aspects of salvation include an authentic turning away from sin and making the sovereign God the absolute devotion of our hearts (repentance). It entails changing our lives accordingly, including the development of “great love” (Luke 7:47). It includes experiencing the peace that comes by being in a relationship with God, and living according to his truths (Isaiah 48:22).
We must not only tell the story of Jesus, however, we must live it. Recognizing his lordship, we devote ourselves totally to him and follow his example of suffering and sacrifice now, while looking forward to the glory to come. The message about a sacrificial King delivered by sacrificial servants has divine power to change the world.