Grammar and the Gospel

(Ok.  Let me just preface this by saying that yes, I know the modern translations of the Bible have made adjustments for this grammatical issue.  So please don’t consider racing down to the comments to inform me that the NIV, NASB, ESV, etc. read differently, grammar-wise.  That kind of misses the whole point of this post.  Thanks in advance.)

Today is Easter.  The greatest day in the calendar year of a Christian.  We pull out our Bibles and flip to the end of our favorite Gospel and relish in the truth and victory of an empty grave and a risen Savior.  And at some point throughout the day, you will inevitably hear someone quote, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, He is risen!”  (cf. the beginning of Luke 24).

He is risen.

Confession time: as a certified grammar junkie, this has driven me crazy.  For years.  I could not understand why in what is unarguably one of the most important, climactic moments of the gospel account, why incorrect grammar would be used.  A past participle form of “to rise” coupled with the present tense form of 3rd person “to be”?  Pass me my paper bag, I need to hyperventilate.  Didn’t the editors of Old & New King James realize they were placing a huge stumbling block at the feet of all grammar lovers?  (I kid, I kid.  But you get my point.)

For years I have had to be gently reminded by God to, in essence, quit missing the forest for the trees.  I needed to just set aside my red pen and revel in the glory that is a risen Savior. (“Risen” and “is” being correctly used in that previous sentence because the participle risen is functioning as an adjective and not a verb phrase… blah, blah, blah…).

So I did.  And every time I heard someone say, “He is risen!” I would refrain from retorting, “Has.  Not is.  It’s ‘He has risen.’ Simple helping verb-participle agreement.”  Yeah, that would have won me lots of friends, not to mention completely sucked the joy out of the whole moment.  Seriously, how much of a jerk can I be?

This brings us to the other day.  I was scrolling through Pinterest (my favorite mindless time-waster), and I saw a beautiful collection of printables with “He has risen!” written on them in different, typographic styles.  They were stunning, and I repinned them and breathed a sigh of relief at the same time.  Wahoo for correct grammar!

It was at that point God shook me by the shoulders.

Ever notice how God seems to ask questions that cut to your core and He (obviously) already knows the answer?  He started with Adam in the garden and hasn’t stopped since.  As soon as that breath of relief exited my lips, He spoke up.  “Can you please tell Me what’s so wrong with the wording of, ‘He is risen,’ that you have to sigh with relief when you see it written otherwise?”

Not surprisingly, my whole rhetoric on verb tense agreement seemed to fall completely flat when confronted by God.  And then I was smacked in the face with the reality of the resurrection.

Because the truth is Jesus has risen.  But Jesus also is risen.  And both verbs have huge implications on what the resurrection means in our lives.

Past tense:  Has.  That day, Jesus had risen from that grave.  The tomb was empty, our Lord was up walking around in His very real, very abused body.  He put sin and death to, well, death.  He said, “It is finished,” and He meant it.  Just like the nails were driven into Him, He drove the nails into the coffin of sin, death, and eternity apart from God.

But there’s a present tense here, too:  Is.  Jesus is risen.  He remains in a state of being risen.

Why is this important?

Because if we’re called to take up our crosses daily, we need a Savior who remains in a state of being risen.

What hope do we have outside of Jesus and the resurrection?  What hope to I have to love others, love my husband, parent my child, walk through tragedy and trauma, outside of Jesus?  I’ll tell you the answer: none.

We need the past tense resurrection for our justification.  We need that past tense to cover our sins, to set us right before a holy God, to give us hope in an eternity with Him instead of apart from Him.

But we desperately need the present tense resurrection.  For those moments when sin embeds deep, when the devil prowls growling, when we are drowning and our only rescue is that bloodstained, pierced hand reaching out to us that says, “I have overcome.”  We need the present tense resurrection when we’re on the mountaintop, pouring out to others, walking alongside a brother or sister, sharing the Good News with the downtrodden and defeated.  Would the Good News even be complete without a present tense resurrection?  We can have victory because He remains victorious!  We overcome because His state of overcoming the world never changes!   He is Alpha, and He is Omega.  He was there in the beginning (cf. John 1 and Hebrews 1) and He will remain to the end of the age (cf. Matthew 28).  And He imparts His life to us!  Praise be to God, He didn’t just rise and then leave us to navigate this world alone.  Praise God, He transcends time and our meager, nit-picky verb tenses.

I’m sure to most of you this is a “duh” moment, but to me it was a fresh word on the cusp of Easter.  And I might just get out my red pen and write a small “is” above the “has” in my old NIV.  Because I need both.  Past and present tense.  And I pray this weekend you will be made aware of the fullness of the resurrection and fall more in love with Jesus than you were before.

I’m linking this song because a, I love it; and b, it speaks of His resurrection.  Present and past tense.  Jesus is Lord of all.


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