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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The True Story of Jesus' Resurrection
Text:LD 17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-07-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 91:1,5                                                                                          

Ps 89:1,3  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Matthew 27:57 - 28:20

Ps 16:1,3,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 17

Hy 24:1,2,3,4,5,6

Hy 31:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord, did the Catechism forget something? When it deals with Jesus’ resurrection, you might think so. For with almost every other event in Christ’s life, the Catechism first speaks of the fact of what is described. “What do you confess when you say… He was conceived… He suffered… He was crucified… He died… was buried?” It begins with what happened—and then looks at its meaning.

But in Lord’s Day 17, the Catechism jumps straight to the result of the resurrection: “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?” It doesn’t address at all the actual event of Christ leaving the tomb on the first day of the week. It’s like the Catechism is saying: “Everyone knows Christ came back to life. Everybody knows that He arose from the grave—so how does his resurrection help us?”

Yet isn’t that a big jump? Shouldn’t it do more to establish the history of the event? For today there are many who say it never really happened, that it couldn’t have happened. “It’s a reassuring story,” they say, “one that was made up by the disciples, to deal with the disappointment of the cross and Jesus’ death. It’s a nice tale, but that’s all. For no one comes back from the dead—it’s impossible. It breaks all the laws of nature, and it contradicts the findings of science.”

When the Catechism was first written, you can be sure there were doubters around too. But Lord’s Day 17 doesn’t use up any space responding to the skeptics. After all, it’s a confession of faith—this is what we believe, these are the things of which we are so certain. And from this perspective of faith, the Catechism insists that:

Christ has risen from the dead!

  1. a true story
  2. a powerful story
  3. a continuing story

 

1) a true story: Christ’s resurrection is a fact—of that I probably don’t need to convince you. They call that “preaching to the choir,” when you bring a message to the very people who’ve already been persuaded. Even so, let’s take a few minutes to consider some of the standard arguments against the resurrection of Christ.

Some will say there was no resurrection from the dead, for the simple reason that Jesus didn’t actually die! He was seriously wounded, to be sure. But the disciples, and the women, and the Romans, were all mistaken when they thought Jesus had finally passed away. Because He’d merely lost consciousness. He fainted, due to loss of blood. Then a few days later, in the coolness of the tomb, He regained his strength, and He walked out into the sunshine.

Once in a while, there’s even a story in the news about this kind of thing happening. A typical example is about the man who suffered a major heart attack, was declared dead by the attending paramedics, and then was brought to the morgue. But then, several hours later, he woke up! He found himself locked in the morgue refrigerator, and he started yelling to be let out. He hadn’t died, he’d merely slipped into a deep coma, where his heart was still beating, but too faintly to be detected. It’s a true story!

Could the same thing have happened to Christ? Was He really dead? There could be little question about the fact of his death. Jesus was assaulted terribly for those two days of his life: He was beaten, flogged, crucified, then stabbed deep in the side with a spear. On its own, a Roman flogging was sometimes enough to kill a person, as it shredded skin and flesh, even to the point of exposing the internal organs!

What’s more, the slow suffocation of being  crucified was well-designed for killing. And medically speaking, the blood and water that flowed out of Jesus’ side was a sure sign that his heart had been punctured. Even before that, Jesus’ own words testified to his impending death: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus was dead, there could be no doubt about it.

Trying to discredit the story of the resurrection, others say that Christ was only thought to have arisen, because everyone went to the wrong tomb! If you’ve ever become disoriented during a really stressful time in your life, maybe you can relate to this. You’re not sure where you’re going anymore, or where you’ve come from.

According to some, in all the trauma of those days the disciples lost their hold of reality, and they forgot important details. So on Sunday morning, what did the angel say to the disciples? He said, “He is not here”—meaning, “He’s in different tomb.” In all their distress, the disciples couldn’t find Jesus’ body, so they just naturally assumed He’d come back to life!

This theory is shaky, too. It’s hard to believe that the right tomb was completely forgotten by everyone, by friend and foe alike. For when the disciples (in their confusion) began to say that Jesus had risen, we can be sure that the Jews would’ve helpfully reminded them of where his body lay! “There it is—it’s still in that cave.”

So then, another theory goes, perhaps the disciples stole the body of Christ. In Matthew 28, we hear that this was the story circulating in the days just after Christ arose. For after the bitter disappointment of the cross, the disciples didn’t want to see the end of the movement that Jesus had started. So they removed Jesus’ body from the tomb, and they began to spread the message that He’d arisen! That would keep the excitement alive!

Yet from the four Gospel accounts, we know that in the minds of the disciples there was little thought of resurrection. Jesus had told them about it more than once, yet they were always slow to accept it. That’s why when we see the disciples on the evening of Good Friday, they are men without hope. This was the darkest day. The cross has left them discouraged and defeated, hiding behind locked doors. There was no wishful thinking about resurrection, and no desire to go body-snatching! And even if they wanted to steal the corpse, what would they’ve done about those armed guards, standing at the tomb? They didn’t steal the body.

Another suggestion about why the tomb was empty is that Jesus’ enemies removed his body. Conspirators like the scribes or the chief priests stole it away. Perhaps they did it in the fear that the disciples would beat them to it. Or in the fear that his followers would later turn his body into some kind of sacred relic, and charge people a dollar to see it.

But it’s hard to imagine that the Jewish leaders would want to take the body. Why risk starting all kinds of rumours about a resurrection? If the body was gone, it would only stir up those troublesome disciples once more.

And if the Jewish leaders had really taken the body—again, why didn’t they simply produce it, once the disciples began preaching that Jesus was risen? Bringing out the body from its hiding place would’ve stopped all the nonsense about the resurrection, then and there. Yet the leaders were silent, and had to stay silent, because the body really was gone. So where was it?

A final argument against this article of our creed—the argument that actually underpins all the others—is what we said before: that a resurrection from the dead is impossible. Logically, scientifically, realistically, it can’t happen! Not for Jesus, and not for us. A person, once dead, cannot spontaneously come back to life—it only happens in zombie movies, which aren’t known for being realistic. So people will refuse to accept this teaching.

Think of when Paul was preaching on the Areopagus in Athens, in Acts 17. The Greeks listened to him politely enough, as he talked about the Creator and about mankind and even about Jesus. They were interested. But it’s when Paul started to talk about the resurrection that he lost them. It’s only then that the philosophers and deep thinkers start to mock him, and many leave. Who could believe these fairy tales?

And against this point of flat denial, there’s little that we can say. For like with so much of God’s Word, it’s a question of faith. Do you believe that God can raise the dead? Do you believe that Christ has power, even over the grave? Do you believe that with God, nothing at all is impossible? That the LORD can give life to the lifeless? That’s what it comes down to. Either we accept the testimony of the Word of God, or we don’t. The gospel is either true in all that it affirms, or it’s false.           

Another layer of certainty is added, however, when we think about all the witnesses. The Scriptures tell us there were many people who saw the risen Christ: the women, the twelve apostles, 500 brothers, James, even the apostle Paul. Remember that not all of them were believers at the time; certainly Paul was no friend of Christ when He appeared to him on the Damascus road. Yet somehow all became absolutely convinced that Jesus was alive!

Looking at the evidence of Scripture, and the testimony of all those witnesses, and discarding each of the arguments against Christ’s resurrection, we find a message that we can believe. We’re certain of it, because God says it happened. And we’re certain of it, because God says that it had to happen. It had to happen, if we’d ever be saved: “By his resurrection He has overcome death, so that He could make us share in the righteousness which He has obtained… by His death” (Q&A 45). That brings us to our second point,

 

2) a powerful story: When we talked about the theory that the disciples stole Jesus’ body, we said that it was most unlikely. It’s unlikely, also because of what the disciples were like. They were a lot like us! According to Jesus himself, his followers were men of little faith, people who were prone to doubt and wonder. They were inclined to surrender at the first sign of trouble—think of how quickly they scattered in the garden on the night Jesus was betrayed.

But let’s imagine for a moment that it was the disciples who stole Jesus’ body. Say they decided to swarm the guards at the tomb. They got the strength to roll the stone away. Then they picked up the corpse, took it away and perhaps laid it in a quiet cave in Galilee. Then they returned to Jerusalem, spent a day getting all their stories straight, and they started preaching to everyone that the crucified Jesus was alive—after all, his body was gone.

We know from the book of Acts that there was an immediate reaction. Many people opposed the disciples, and even tried to prevent them from preaching any more. Within weeks, the Sanhedrin ordered that some of the apostles be thrown into prison.

Ultimately, the apostles’ message about the risen Saviour was a message that got many of them killed. It’s a fairly reliable history from the first century that of the twelve apostles, perhaps only one or two of them died of old age. The rest of the apostles were martyred: beheaded, crucified, thrown to the lions. Being an apostle, a preacher of Christ in the first century, was not a job for the faint of heart.

Which invites the question, doesn’t it? If they had really stolen the body, would these characteristically timid disciples have suffered all this persecution and danger for something they knew to be a lie? Would they have held on to their counterfeit claims, even as they were being dragged to the place of execution? Endured persecution for something false? So easily, at any moment, the disciples could’ve said, “OK, joke’s over. Here’s the body. We’ll be quiet. Now leave us alone.”

What about you: would you die for something that you knew was false? We hold things with conviction if we’re totally sure of them, and we’ll pay the price if there’s an idea or principle that really means something to us. But most of us will give up an argument once we’re convinced that we’re wrong. Or we’ll give it up once the cost of maintaining our position becomes too high.

Yet what do we see? We see the disciples dramatically transformed. On Good Friday and the day after, they’re a discouraged and disheartened crew. They tremble behind locked doors. Scared stiff, and at a loss: where do they go now?

It took them a bit, but by early the next week, they’re energized! Suddenly their outlook on everything is completely different. Something fundamental has changed. Now they can’t say enough about their master, who once was dead, but now is risen. And now they preach the empty tomb wherever they go, from Jerusalem to Rome, and to the ends of the earth.

Yes, they were violently opposed. The Jews attacked them for bringing this message about a so-called Messiah. The Greeks laughed at them for spouting off such silly ideas like resurrection. The Romans persecuted them for saying that the risen Christ demanded total loyalty and devotion. Yet the disciples continued to preach that Jesus Christ was alive and well, and reigning in heaven.

Do you wonder about what changed? What brought on this reversal in their behaviour? People don’t take risks like this, unless they’re very sure of what they’re doing. And the disciples are completely convinced that Jesus was alive—so convinced, they’re willing to die for him!

It’s all because of who He is. With their own eyes, they have seen the Lord risen from the grave. And now the disciples are new men. Not just because they’ve seen Christ in the flesh, but because now they understood who He was. He wasn’t just a friendly bloke from Galilee. He wasn’t just a good teacher. He wasn’t even someone who came to die, so others might live.

No, this Jesus of Nazareth is the great King! He’s God and Lord. He’s the triumphant Warrior. By his death and by his resurrection, Jesus showed there’s nothing, and nobody, that can ever stop him. For Jesus paid the penalty for sin by his death on the cross. This most-needed and most-precious price was handed over—and God accepted it in full. The blood was enough! By raising Jesus from the grave, God showed his perfect satisfaction. Jesus had done it, once and for all. What a gospel!

And with that victory, Christ destroyed Satan. Though the devil tried to make Jesus fail, he could not. Though Satan tried to frighten him with the thought of his coming death, Jesus stayed on course. By his resurrection, our Saviour showed that He broke the power of the evil one, and took away death’s cruel sting. This was the final enemy: death—unnatural, unrelenting, unavoidable. Yet now even death is defeated by the obedience of the one man, Jesus Christ!

This is the earth-shattering message that Jesus entrusted to the apostles, and which now needed to come from their lips, for all nations. Christ overcame Sin. He vanquished Satan. He conquered Death. So now sinners have everlasting peace with God! Christ has set us free from all the power of the devil, and He claims us as his own.

While we’ve never seen the risen Christ, his gospel endures. And it remains a message that needs to be accepted in faith. That’s what the resurrected Jesus said to Thomas, who wanted first to see and feel the nail marks in his hands: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We haven’t seen him, but by God’s grace, we believe in him.

And when we believe in him, we’re also transformed—transformed like those first disciples were! We confess in the Catechism, “By [Christ’s resurrecting] power we… are raised up to a new life” (Q&A 45). What does it mean to be raised to a new life? By his Spirit, Christ can raise us out of a miserable life of unbridled sin, and He can free us from our crushing burden of guilt before God. Christ can raise us up, over all his and our enemies.

Instead of doing the things that lead to death, we can start to do what pleases God. Now we can be his faithful servants in this wicked world. Now we can join the apostles in confessing Christ in this world without fear, but with boldness and joy. Even if people oppose us, or mock us, or even threaten to kill us, we can speak of the One who is risen from the dead.

We believe that God can raise the dead—we believe that He can raise us! You see his resurrecting power when you accept the Saviour in true faith. You witness his resurrecting power when you see how God is changing you from within. Apart from the risen Christ you’d still be like those Good Friday disciples: you’d be weak, unbelieving, cowardly, and inactive. But now you believe. Now you’re willing to sacrifice and to serve for something much bigger than yourself—for the kingdom of our Christ.

If you see this resurrecting power, be amazed. Be amazed at what God has done, and go and serve your Lord! Know that Christ’s power is great, and it’s available. It’s available, if you seek it. It’s available, if you ask in his name.

 

3) a continuing story: In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is very blunt. If Jesus is still in his tomb today, we’d have nothing, and we’d be hopeless. Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (v 17). Sounds pretty bleak. But Christ is risen.

So the first disciples preached his resurrection with great boldness. It seems they hardly worried about their enemies’ opposition, with all their swords and whips and tortures. For this is how they looked at it: What was this life, if it wasn’t lived for Christ? And what was death, if Christ had already removed its sting? This is how Paul could write from the Roman prison, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:20). This was the confidence that moved the disciples to spread the gospel. Even if they died, their reward was guaranteed.

And it still is today. This is the final benefit of Christ’s resurrection that the Catechism mentions, “[His] resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection” (Q&A 45). Because Christ has arisen, we will arise. Because Christ has won over the grave, this same victory is granted to us!

When a Christian gets close to the day of death, there still might be some fear—there often is. Nobody still living knows what it’s like, to close our eyes for the last time. But when he dies, a Christian knows that this enemy has been conquered, knows that a body placed in the grave isn’t the end. And compared to eternity, we know that this life is only the blinking of an eye. Today is only a short time of preparation for what is to come. It’s only a prelude to the grand symphony of eternity. As Christians, we know that the best is yet to come.

All that is true, yet this life is more than just a rehearsal. This life is important: what you do here counts! For as long you’re on this earth, you have a part, you have an aim, even a mission. You’re not here for your own happiness, your own pursuits above all. No, you’re here to follow Christ, from childhood, right to the day you die. You’re here to follow the Saviour, from this life, right into the next.

As Paul would say, your Christian faith isn’t worth a whole lot, if this life is all you have. Why serve God, if there’s no future? Why live for the LORD, if there’s no reward and no resurrection? But in Christ, we are secure. In Christ, we have God’s guarantee that we will live with him forever!

And so the marvelous story of Christ’s resurrection isn’t done. His story continues—it continues in us. It needs to continue in us, in our labours for the kingdom, in our devotion to his church, in our love for his Word, when we know it and we also do it.

Beloved, has the resurrection of Jesus changed you? Changed you, like it changed the first disciples? Has his resurrection given you hope? Does it inspire courage in you, and give you a new outlook on life? When you think about Christ’s resurrection, do you realize that you have a new calling? Then do the work that the risen Lord has assigned you. Be filled by his power, and live for his glory—starting now, and continuing forever.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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