The Resurrection: Good News for the Undeserving

Mark A. Winder

New Horizons: April 2024

The Resurrection: Good News for the Undeserving

Also in this issue

The Women at the Empty Tomb

Priming the Pump for Prayer

The first recipients of the news of the empty tomb provide a vivid demonstration of how the Holy Spirit transforms sinners through the power of the resurrected Christ. In Mark 16:6–7, the angel announces, “He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.”

We might think this news would first be delivered to those who condemned him or the crowds that had shouted “crucify him!” Christ would have been vindicated! But this is not Christ’s concern, for he is vindicated by his Father (Eph. 1:20–21). He delivers the message first to his church, even to those who seem like unlikely prospects: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1).

We may be surprised that all four Gospels mention Mary Magdalene as present because by all accounts she should not be here. We meet her back in Luke 8 where we learn that she had been delivered from the power of seven demons. By our accounting, she deserves judgment, not good news. But she had met Jesus. He had cleansed her and had looked upon her with compassion. She had turned from sin and followed Christ, and now she is here with her friends at the empty tomb.

But perhaps most surprising is the particular recipient of this news: “tell his disciples and Peter.” Why Peter? The Gospels record that all Christ’s disciples “left him and fled” (Matt. 26:56), but Peter did more than that. Peter had violently denied even knowing Christ (v. 74). At just the time that the Savior was going to the cross for his church, Peter was abandoning both his Savior and his church. If Christ were like you or me, he might have said, “except Peter,” not “and Peter.” But it is Peter’s sin that makes this news so vital. There is no possibility of repentance, restoration, or rest if there is no resurrection. Peter desperately needs to know that the Savior he denied is alive and has conquered death just as he said. And because his Savior lives, there is living hope for Peter.

Peter Witnessing to Christ’s Resurrection

Mark and Luke mention Peter again after he denies Jesus, both relating to the empty tomb. Luke records that the disciples initially believe the news to be idle gossip. Peter knows that only a Savior who can overcome death can overcome his sin. So while the disciples debate, Peter runs. Arriving at the tomb, he finds it empty and returns home “marveling at what had happened” (Luke 24:11–12). Peter was amazed, having yet to grasp the significance of the empty tomb. In time, however, Peter not only grasps the significance of the resurrection, it becomes the cornerstone of his ministry.

Luke begins Acts with a prophecy of the coming Spirit and Christ’s mandate to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). Witnesses to what? Peter answers that whoever is chosen to replace Judas “must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:22, emphasis added). For Peter, the most important aspect of apostolic witness is the resurrection.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the first sermon of the New Testament church, which marks the gospel age initiated by the Spirit’s arrival. Correlating Joel, Isaiah, and the Psalms, Peter shows how Christ’s resurrection and ascension are the focus and conclusion of the Old Testament (Acts 2:14–40). His Old Testament survey concludes: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (v. 24). It was not possible because Psalm 16 demanded it, and Christ must fulfill it. Peter preaches, “[David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (vv. 31–32).

It is not only Peter’s message that testifies to the centrality of Jesus’s resurrection, but also his miracles. The dead legs of the lame man come to life as he leaps for joy. When people stare in astonishment, Peter proclaims that although they had killed the author of life, God raised him from the dead, and by faith in his name this man is made strong (Acts 3:1–16). The Sanhedrin becomes “greatly annoyed” at the preaching of Christ’s resurrection. And when Peter is challenged by the high-priestly family, he again declares that it is “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:2–10).

In Acts 9, two incidents of healing take place, beginning with Aeneas, a paralytic. In saying “Jesus Christ heals you” (v. 34), Peter indicates that his ministry is not only linked to Christ but is directly the work of Christ. This miracle authenticates Peter’s ministry and the message of the gospel he is preaching. We see the effects of the gospel as “all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord” (v. 35). Then, in Joppa, we meet Tabitha, who is described as a disciple. She is full of good works that flow out of her faith in the risen Christ. When Tabitha dies, her fellow disciples send for Peter, about twelve miles away in Lydda. Peter arrives, prays, then speaks to the dead body: “Tabitha, arise.” Her response is immediate: “She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up” (v. 40). In both miracles, Peter is mirroring the ministry of Jesus. The raising of Tabitha mirrors Christ’s raising of Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8:40–56). The healing of Aeneas mirrors Christ’s healing of the paralyzed man in Capernaum (Mark 2:1–12).

In Acts 10, Luke links the healings of Joppa with Peter’s message when he reaches Caesarea: that God raised Jesus on the third day, that Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead, and that all who believe in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name (vv. 40–43). These miracles show that the power of resurrection life provides an inseparable connection between what Peter does and the message of the resurrection that he preaches. Peter’s message and miracles demonstrate that through his resurrection Jesus brings salvation life to sinners. The resurrection message angers the religious leaders, and thus Peter repeatedly suffers persecution and imprisonment. The one who once denied Jesus, fearful of man and unable to go with Jesus to the death, now takes up the cross and boldly proclaims Christ’s resurrection. This is an astounding transformation in Peter’s witness.

Peter’s Living Hope

What enables Peter now to speak and act with such boldness? Between the empty tomb in Luke 24 and Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, we know of only one significant conversation between Peter and Jesus: by the sea of Galilee, as recorded in John 21. Burned into Peter’s memory must be Christ’s look of conviction and compassion that had sent Peter weeping. As they finish breakfast, they embark on that heart-wrenching conversation: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter responds simply, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you” (v. 15). It is a simple answer from a humbled sinner. The gist of the conversation: “Peter, you have been restored through my cross and resurrection. Now take up your cross.” And this Peter does, just as Jesus prophesies: “You will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (v. 18). A generation later, Clement writes of “noble examples” of faithfulness even unto death, citing Peter as his first example.[1]

Roughly a year before his death, Peter picks up his pen, writing to give hope to Christians facing the reality of going to the cross under Roman persecution. We must read Peter’s letters remembering the transformation that has taken place from one who fundamentally misunderstood the cross and denied Christ to one who embraces the cross and preaches the newness of resurrection life. Through the resurrection, Peter has found hope for the hopeless and restoration for the repentant. Peter writes to communicate the living hope that they—and we—have in the resurrected Christ.

Once-tearful Peter begins his letter with a burst of joy directed toward the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. His elation is sourced in the resurrection and the subsequent life believers have in Jesus.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (1 Pet. 1:3–4)

Peter not only embraces the reality of the resurrection but also the fact that the resurrection was not merely out of the grave, but unto the throne room of God. The risen Christ has ascended! Thus Peter has a “living hope” through Christ’s resurrection. Peter can go to the cross and give hope to us because he now understands that his resurrection is certain because of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. When Christ arose, he secured the salvation of the elect, and thus our hope is a living hope. The reality of salvation is ours in this life. It is even now a possession sealed by Christ’s resurrection, even as we look for the full revelation of that salvation when the living Christ comes again in glory. We rest our hope “fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13). We joyfully surrender the comforts of earthly security for the reality of an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance kept in heaven for us.

Holiness and Service—Even to the Cross

Peter continues to draw us back to this perspective. The reality of Christ’s resurrection and ascension enables those united to Christ to follow him to the cross with the certain assurance of their own resurrection. It is the reality of this resurrection, not just as a past event—Christ’s—and not just as a future anticipation—our own—but the reality of our present resurrection life in Christ (Eph. 2:6), that enables us to live unto righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24). We are therefore not to be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance, but as he who called us is holy, so we too may be holy in all our conduct (1:15).

Peter demonstrates that the resurrection of Christ produces in his people, united to him in his death and resurrection, a life of holiness and service to him—even to the cross. Indwelt by the same Spirit who indwelt Christ, God’s people live not according to the flesh and its earthly impulses, but according to the Spirit. As Geerhardus Vos paraphrased Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus dwells in you, then God will make the indwelling Spirit accomplish for you what He accomplished for
Jesus in the latter’s resurrection.”[2] This resurrection life is not merely a future anticipation but a present reality that results in a life that bears fruit in each of us as it did in Peter. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit constitutes the future reality brought into the present life of the believer, resulting in resurrection works. These resurrection works, being the product of the believer’s Spirit-wrought union with the glorified Christ, are the reflection of the glory of God reproduced in his creatures.[3]

We love Peter’s story because he’s just like us—subject so often to acute swings of sentiment. At one moment he boldly confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). In the next moment he wants Christ to avoid the cross, saying “Far be it from you, Lord!” to which Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:22–23). He rashly declares, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33), and then cowers, “Woman, I do not know him” (Luke 22:57). He valiantly stands in the face of adversity in Acts but then receives a rebuke for withdrawing from the Gentiles out of fear (Gal. 2:11–14). Which of Christ’s sheep isn’t just like Peter: in one moment, courageous as Daniel in the den of lions, and in the next, pitiful weaklings who offer no resistance to temptation and succumb to sin with hardly a moment’s thought? We go from marveling at our great faith to marveling at our gross failure.

But we marvel also that our loving Father would extend to us forgiveness and embrace us with grace. We acutely identify with Peter’s glorious hope as he runs to the tomb, finds it empty, and goes home marveling at what happened: Jesus lives! And so will I. Impulsive Peter is radically transformed by the grace of God. It gives us great comfort to know that by his resurrection Christ transforms our lives from being bound to fear and sin to being set free to love and serve him.

As we reflect on Mark 16, we have now the answer to why a formerly demon-possessed woman is to tell the news to a former Christ-denier: not only to provide proof of the resurrection but to be a powerful portrait of resurrection life—what Peter would call the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you.


[1] Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in
The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (1885), 6.

[2] Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (1994), 164.

[3] See Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 313, 314.

The author is pastor of Wolf River Presbyterian in Collierville, Tennessee. New Horizons, April 2024.

New Horizons: April 2024

The Resurrection: Good News for the Undeserving

Also in this issue

The Women at the Empty Tomb

Priming the Pump for Prayer

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