Down through the centuries since the lifetime of Jesus Christ, despite the Bible's injunction against making images of God, artists have depicted probably every scene from the gospels. However, many of them have chosen to portray one of two vignettes from His life: Jesus as a baby in His mother's arms or as crucified Savior. In each case, they depict Him as needy and powerless—either dependent on His mother or dying or dead.
Much of modern Christianity follows the same dual-themed template in its preaching and worship. Each year we are barraged by the imagery of the baby Jesus in the iconography of the interminable Christmas season. While it is certainly wonderful to realize that God came in the flesh to dwell among men (John 1:14), this world's Christianity and its prolonged emphasis on Christmas tends to "freeze" Him in the position of a cute little baby for all time, ignoring His greater purposes and works.
In addition, the constant refrain, especially of the evangelical set, is "Have you been saved?" Again, their question is undoubtedly sincere, and it is hard to fault their missionary zeal. Yet, it seems that their only goal is to call as many people forward as they can to pray the prayer of salvation, accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. "Jesus Christ died to save you from your sins" is a true statement—and thank God that He did!—but He did not remainon the cross any more than He stayed in the manger. With those wonderful works accomplished, He has moved on to even better things.
The apostle Paul is eager to point this out in Romans 5:10: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (emphasis ours). Certainly, the Easter holiday—as paganized as it is with its use of fertility symbols like bunnies and eggs—proclaims the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but its impact on society and nominal Christians is feeble. About the most that those who call themselves Christians get from it—and even this is only partly true—is that Christ's resurrection opens the way for them to get to heaven and enjoy eternal life. So much for the meek "shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5)!
But notice carefully what Paul writes: "We shall be saved by His life." Most people seem to think that we are saved by His death, but that is a false concept! We are justified by His death; our sins are forgiven and we are proclaimed righteous once covered by the blood of Christ. Our salvation, however, hangs on the fact that Jesus Christ is now alive forever!
Imagine that Jesus, sinless and perfect, had paid for our sins through the sacrifice of Himself in our stead, yet He did not rise from the dead. What would have been the result? We would still have payment for our past sins once we accepted Him as our Savior, but that would be all. There would be no hope of a resurrection, no chance of eternal life, because, in this scenario, Christ never opened the way, never having become "the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). He would never have conquered death and never have been crowned with glory and honor to share with other sons and daughters of God (see Hebrews 2:10-16).
Further, had Jesus remained dead in the tomb, never having risen to spiritual life or ascending to heaven to take His place at the Father's right hand (Hebrews 1:2-4; 10:12), mankind would still be cut off from God. We would have no opportunity to enjoy a relationship with the Father. Why? Because the living Jesus Christ is the Mediator between man and God (I Timothy 2:5). The author of Hebrews writes:
But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens. . . . (Hebrews 7:24-26)
Later, he urges us to enter the Father's throne room with boldness and "in full assurance of faith" by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-22) for the purpose of strengthening our relationship with the Father. Paul explains, "It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Romans 8:34).
On the night of His arrest, Jesus tells His disciples, "It is to your advantage that I go away [to the Father]; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send [it] to you" (John 16:7). Among His many duties, Christ is responsible for dispensing the Holy Spirit to God's people, giving them the power to understand God's will and to put it into practice. Hand in hand with this is His position as "head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23). He directs and controls all the works of the church, raising up servants to further God's purpose and prepare a people as "firstfruits of His creatures" (James 1:18; Revelation 14:4).
As Head of the church and our sinless Savior, He is also the perfect Judge of all men (John 5:27; II Timothy 4:8; I Peter 4:5), and now "the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God" (I Peter 4:17). In the book of Revelation, Christ writes letters of evaluation to seven churches, representative of all His people down through the ages (Revelation 2-3). These letters are His judgment of the major attitudes of God's people, especially those in the time of the end, for He makes frequent allusions to His return (Revelation 2:5, 16, 25; 3:3, 11, 20).
He begins the body of each letter with the words, "I know your works." Being alive and in power at God's right hand, He is intimately aware of what we are doing. Since He desires greatly that we attain eternal life in His Kingdom, He warns us through these letters to make the changes necessary to please God. His primary job is to bring each of us into the Family of God to share endless years of loving companionship and creativity with Him and His Father. So we will be saved by His life—because He lives, we will be given salvation. Jesus assures us, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:27-28).
Now that is good news!