This sermon was preached at Jubilee Church on Easter Sunday 2007. The audio is available to download or you can read an edited transcript below:
Let’s turn in our Bibles to the book of 1 Corinthians. As you are turning there, you need to know that right now you are in the best place you could possibly be this Easter morning.
You are right where God wants you to be. God has made an appointment with each and every one of us this morning. Some of you might be thinking, “Why did I come?” Well, at this moment you have come here to have this book, the Bible, explained to you. You need to know that this is the most important book in the world. If there is one day of the year that is the most important of the Christian year, it is Easter Sunday. You are here on the most important day of the Christian year. If there is one message that is central to this book it is the message of the Gospel. If there is part of the message of the Gospel that is so vital it simply cannot be ignored, it is the good news of the resurrection. We are going to look together today at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. He is risen indeed!
We celebrate the resurrection every Sunday — for that is the reason why Christians from the earliest times switched to meet on Sundays rather than Saturdays like the Jews. They would gather early every Sunday before the dawn because Christ was risen early on a Sunday morning. Today, this is a meeting WITH Jesus, this is a meeting FOR Jesus.
1 Corinthians 15 — Verses 1-6 and 12-22
There are two groups of people — those who are standing firm in the word of their salvation and those who Paul warns might have “believed in vain.” If I was a “politically correct” preacher, I would begin my message by being inclusive, and perhaps speaking about the brotherhood of man. The trouble is, Paul doesn’t do this. Instead he distinguishes between people, and claims only some of them as his brothers. As a messenger, I have to be true to God’s Word! Paul is clear that there are certain things that are true of those who he can truly call his brothers. You have felt something of the “family feel” of this place, I’m sure, and afterwards you will be most welcome to join us. But I suspect that for some of you right now, you are thinking — what is it about those people — do they have something I don’t? The answer is, “Yes, you are right — we do!”
Some of you right now are thinking, “At least I am a Christian — I might not go to church much, I might not practice my faith much, but I am here today — what more does he want?” The truth is — a recent survey revealed that the majority of adults in the UK still think they are Christians. Paul would have one thing to ask us all this morning, “Are you holding fast to the word preached to you?” For many, sadly, they have not really had the Bible explained or preached to them. Perhaps you are one of them — you go to church for christenings, weddings, and funerals — hatch, match, and dispatch! Perhaps some Christmases and Easter, too.
I want to draw a clear line this morning — not so much between the Christian and the non-Christian, but rather between the Christian who is standing firm in his faith, who is walking with God, who is confident of his salvation — who knows God is pleased with him and he is on his way to heaven. On the other hand, there is everyone else. Paul issues that warning right at the beginning of our passage — “unless you have believed in vain.” Look, as James says, even the devils believe in God. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19)
I want to give you a chance this morning to cross that divide and make your faith sure. There is one place to do that more surely than anywhere else, and it is the place we are gathering this morning. You might expect me to say we will come to the cross — and we will, of course, speak about the cross — but, in fact, we are coming to the empty tomb. For it is at the empty tomb that we meet Jesus — He is not dead, He is risen!
The good news is the story of Jesus and how the events of his life 2000 years ago still have a major impact on us today. What does Paul say is the most important thing?
What is the “good news” or “gospel” according to Paul?
There are three aspects:
- Christ died
- He was buried
- He was raised from death.
Historians are very clear about two things about Jesus — He existed, and He was crucified. There are no serious thinkers who doubt those two facts. Indeed, the whole edifice of history comes tumbling down if you claim that they are not true for there are no events of history that are better attested to than those. If we cannot be sure Jesus lived and died, then we cannot be sure of any event in history.
But the fact that there was a man who lived 2000 years ago, then died, is not a “hold the presses” news story. The fact that He was a great teacher is not even a major news story. The fact that He was reported to work miracles is not even as totally unusual as you might think. The fact that He founded a religion does not even make Him unique — although, admittedly, fewer people manage that one! Actually the fact that he hung on a cross and was crucified through no fault of His own is not even unique to Jesus — thousands of people were crucified.
- He really died – a professional executioner saw and confirmed it — the spear demonstrated it . . . THERE WAS NO BACK-UP HEART = “Drat! One has gone, just as well I have got another one spare” — He’s not Doctor Who!
There is, however, one fact about Jesus that makes Him unique. There is only one thing that marks Him out as totally different from every great figure in history. That is the fact of the empty tomb! Again, even secular historians admit that there was an empty tomb. So we have seen, there is no doubt Jesus lived, there is no doubt He died, and we can be sure He was buried. We can also be sure that there was an empty tomb and a movement was born in the months and years after His death that claimed He had been raised from the dead and was now worthy of worship.
Something dramatic happened to transform a timid group of good Jewish boys who knew very well that there was only one God and they must worship Him or go to hell. They became a bold set of preachers who would turn the world upside down and do so with a message that said “this man who you crucified God raised him from the dead, and we are now to worship him.” Not exactly a message that is easy to believe is it? Not something that you would make up.
One thing is for sure. If the Jewish or Roman authorities could have lead us to the body of Jesus, they would have done so. It simply is untenable to believe that explains the empty tomb.
So what other options do we have — that the disciples stole the body and knew all along they were lying? That simply doesn’t make sense psychologically — for people lie to gain some kind of benefit; if these guys lied, they got killed for it — not one of them broke ranks and said, “Oops, we were only kidding.” YOU CANT SCARE ME WITH DEATH — Jesus already conquered it! No, Paul could point to 500 people who were willing to say “I saw Him.”
Could it have been a hallucination? No, hallucinations don’t happen to a crowd all at once like that.
We also have to explain the amazing phenomenon that has been the Church of Jesus Christ. No religion ever grew more quickly, and no religion today is as widespread. And the one thing the Church agrees on is this — Jesus rose from the dead. Millions of people have claimed to have met Him. Paul is very clear — if this didn’t happen, every Christian who has ever lived is to be pitied more than anyone. Everyone who has, at a funeral, believed their loved one had gone to be with Jesus is deluded if He is still buried somewhere in Israel. The apostles and every believer has falsely testified about God that He raised Jesus from the dead.
And if He is not risen, every great transforming work of the Jesus is somehow a delusion. Every great social reformer like Wilberforce or Newton who claimed to be driven by a call from Jesus should be locked up rather than revered as a great historical figure.
- Without the resurrection, the Christian religion comes tumbling down — like taking the bottom piece out of jenga.
- Christianity is the meanest cruelest HOAX if Jesus is still dead — it is cruel and sadistic. Here we are singing to a dead man, praying to a dead man, preaching about a dead man, worshiping a dead man, trusting in a dead man! If Jesus is dead, everything is changed.
- The resurrection is crucial. If it wasn’t for the resurrection, we would still be in our sins. How could Jesus work in us to forgive us and make us like Him if He is still dead?
- “BUT,” as Paul simply says here, “IN FACT, CHRIST HAS BEEN RAISED!”
- Jesus is NOT dead – He is alive. Every other religious leader is dead — no one else conquered death — only Jesus.
The resurrection was Jesus’ justification — it was God’s stamp of approval that He still loved His Son, and that the work had been done. Jesus had died for our sins; now He was being raised up for our justification (as Romans 4:25 puts it). It is not just that our sins are dealt with and that we are made morally neutral before God. It is not only “just as if I’d never sinned,” but also “just as if I’d lived a perfect life for eternity and was as pure and righteous as Jesus!”
Jesus still had merit left after the cross — it is not as if sin swallowed His merit up — quite the opposite! His goodness and merit swallowed up sin so that, although on the cross God couldn’t look on Him, God simply couldn’t abandon His perfect Son to the grave!
THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS! “All the love and acceptance which perfect obedience could have obtained of God, belong to you because Christ was perfectly obedient on your behalf.” (C. H. Spurgeon).
“Remember God has accepted us. The gospel of grace is a message of breathtaking freedom. It must be embraced with faith and thanksgiving. You are thoroughly accepted just as you are. Jesus Christ is your righteousness, and He is never going to change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. When you wake tomorrow, He will still be your righteousness, before you have done anything to enjoy God’s favor. You have to earn nothing. Your spirit needs to bask in the brilliant sunlight of this reality. You need to know it inwardly and celebrate it on a daily basis.” (Terry Virgo).
The resurrection is also the one thing that gives us hope. For if Christ has been raised, then as Paul says here — we, too, shall be raised if we trust Him.
The Bible is not very complementary about us without Jesus — it says we are “without hope and without God in this world.” (Ephesians 2:12).
- We are born spiritually dead.
- As we go through life, false hope simply makes us more desperate because every disappointment is like death to hope — “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
- We go through life feeling something is missing. “There must be more to life than this.”
- We are so far from truly living life to the full as God intended it that we are effectively dead already — we are dead men walking.
- We spend our lives trying not to talk about death, but knowing it is coming.
- When we come face-to-face with the man whom death could not hold, we have a hope. For the Christian, what Peter says in chapter 1 of his epistle, verses 3 onwards, is true.
“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 . . .
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3–5).
Is that true of you this morning? If not, it can be! You can meet Jesus. You can be born again because of the resurrection. Your spiritual death can be swallowed up
- Sin does not win — Jesus does!
- Death does not win — Jesus does!
- He really did die for our sin and rise for our salvation, and we can sing to Him today, and can confess our sins to Him because He is alive.
He said — I am God. I have come to take away sin. I will die, and three days later come back to life again to prove it. He did prove it!
Solidify your faith this morning — dwell on this resurrection of Jesus, let it give you a firm foundation. Start with this issue when talking to the unbeliever about the message of the Bible — this is the big one!
What is the outcome for us of the resurrection?
- Our sins are dealt with and we are declared righteous.
- Born again — a new beginning, with the old behind us, including our fears and our guilt.
- A hope for the future that goes beyond the grace.
- A hope for now that transforms our lives.
- A relationship with Jesus — we can know and love Him even though we don’t see Him with our eyes.
I have come to the end of what I want to say to you, but let me give Jesus an opportunity to speak. This is what he once said, and I believe He would say to us today:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
Do YOU believe this?
How do we become a Christian? It is a matter of becoming united with Christ — of putting our trust in Him. Of taking a public stand — “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Baptism is the way we publicly demonstrate what has happened — we die with Christ, we are buried with Him, and we are raised back to life. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus — it really is good news. Do you believe it?
“If the Lord Jesus Christ had not literally risen physically from the grave, we could never be certain that he had ever really finished the work. And what was the work? It was to satisfy the demands of the law. The law of God demands that the punishment for sin shall be death, and if he has died for our sins, we must not only be certain that he has died, but that he has finished dying, and that there is no longer death. He has answered the ultimate demands of the law, and in the same way he has answered all the ultimate demands of God. The argument of the New Testament is that when God raised his Son from the dead, he was proclaiming to the whole world, I am satisfied in him: I am satisfied in the work he has done. He has done everything. He has fulfilled every demand. Here he is risen—therefore I am satisfied with him.
Not only that. The Resurrection proved that he has conquered every enemy that was opposed to him, to God, and to us. He has not only satisfied the law and conquered death and the grave, he has vanquished the devil and all his forces, and hell and all the principalities and powers of evil. He has triumphed over them all, and he proves it in the Resurrection. The devil cannot hold him; death and hell cannot hold him. He has mastered them all; he has emerged on the other side. He is the Son of God, and he has completed the work which the Father had sent him to do.
And all this, of course, is of vital importance to us. It is only in the light of the Resurrection that I finally have an assurance of my sins forgiven. It is only in the light of the Resurrection that I ultimately know that I stand in the presence of God absolved from guilt and shame and every condemnation. I can now say with Paul, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1) because I look at the fact of the Resurrection. It is there that I know it.
You notice how Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:17 when he says, ‘If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.’ If it is not a fact that Christ literally rose from the grave, then you are still guilty before God. Your punishment has not been borne, your sins have not been dealt with, you are yet in your sins. It matters that much: without the Resurrection you have no standing at all.”
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Assurance of Our Salvation: Exploring the Depth of Jesus’ Prayer for His Own: Studies in John 17 (Originally published separately in four volumes, 1988-89, Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway Books, 2000), p. 492.
“. . . though Scripture, when it treats of our salvation, dwells especially on the death of Christ, yet the Apostle now proceeds farther: for as his purpose was more explicitly to set forth the cause of our salvation, he mentions its two parts; and says, first, that our sins were expiated by the death of Christ, — and secondly, that by his resurrection was obtained our righteousness. But the meaning is, that when we possess the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is nothing wanting to the completion of perfect righteousness. By separating his death from his resurrection, he no doubt accommodates what he says to our ignorance; for it is also true that righteousness has been obtained for us by that obedience of Christ, which he exhibited in his death, as the Apostle himself teaches us in the following chapter. But as Christ, by rising from the dead, made known how much he had effected by his death, this distinction is calculated to teach us that our salvation was begun by the sacrifice, by which our sins were expiated, and was at length completed by his resurrection: for the beginning of righteousness is to be reconciled to God, and its completion is to attain life by having death abolished. Paul then means, that satisfaction for our sins was given on the cross: for it was necessary, in order that Christ might restore us to the Father’s favor, that our sins should be abolished by him; which could not have been done had he not on their account suffered the punishment, which we were not equal to endure. Hence Isaiah says, that the chastisement of our peace was upon him. ( Isaiah 53:5 .) But he says that he was delivered, and not, that he died; for expiation depended on the eternal goodwill of God, who purposed to be in this way pacified.
And was raised again for our justification. As it would not have been enough for Christ to undergo the wrath and judgment of God, and to endure the curse due to our sins, without his coming forth a conqueror, and without being received into celestial glory, that by his intercession he might reconcile God to us, the efficacy of justification is ascribed to his resurrection, by which death was overcome; not that the sacrifice of the cross, by which we are reconciled to God, contributes nothing towards our justification, but that the completeness of his favor appears more clear by his coming to life again.
— John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, chapter 4
Beloved, the dying Christ has purchased for us our justification, but the risen Christ will see that we get it. The risen Christ has come to bring it to us, and herein we rest. Oh, that you would all rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, which is set forth to you in all its brightness by his rising again from the dead! Put the two parts of our text together, “Who was delivered for our offenses,” “and was raised again for our justification.” You need them both, trust in them both; trust in the Savior who died upon the cross, and trust in the Christ who rose again, and is now the living Christ; trust, in fact, in Christ as he revealed himself to John in Patmos: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Lord Jesus, as such we trust thee, as such we trust thee now, and we are saved!
— C. H. Spurgeon, Sermon 235
“Our reflections here on the Resurrection need to be set against a broad historical background. As a generalization – no doubt subject to qualification but still fair as a generalization – we may say that in the history of doctrine, especially in soteriology, Christ’s resurrection has been relatively eclipsed. In Eastern Orthodoxy, if I rightly understand, the accent has been on his incarnation (with a view to salvation understood as theosis or deification). In Western Christianity (both Roman Catholic and Protestant), especially since Anselm (eleventh century) and the ensuing debate triggered, say, by the views of Abelard, attention has been focused heavily and at times almost exclusively on Christ’s death and its significance. The overriding concern, especially since the Reformation, has been to keep clear that the Cross is not simply an ennobling and challenging example but a real atonement – a substitutionary, expiatory sacrifice that reconciles God to sinners and propitiates his judicial wrath. In short, the salvation accomplished by Christ and the atonement have been virtually synonymous.
My point is not to challenge the validity or even the necessity of this development, far less the conclusions reached. But in this dominating preoccupation with the death of Christ, the doctrinal or soteriological significance of his resurrection has been largely overlooked. Not that the Resurrection has been deemed unimportant, but all too frequently it has been considered exclusively as a stimulus and support for Christian faith (which it undoubtedly is) and in terms of its apologetic value, as the crowning evidence for Christ’s deity and the truth of Christianity in general . . .
An unbreakable bond or unity exists between Christ and Christians in the experience of resurrection. That bond is such that the latter (the resurrection of Christians) has two components – one that has already taken place, at the inception of Christian life when the sinner is un
ited to Christ by faith; and one that is still future, at Christ’s return. From this it will be readily apparent how Paul’s teaching on the fundamental event of resurrection reflects the overall already/not-yet structure of eschatological fulfillment in the period between Christ’s resurrection and his return.”
Richard B. Gaffin, Redemption and Resurrection: An Exercise in Biblical-Systematic Theology Themelios, volume 27.2, Spring 2002, pp. 16-31.