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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:The Comfort of Christ's Resurrection
Text:LD 17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2007
Added:2007-07-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 150
Hymn 1A
Psalm 63
Hymn 29
Hymn 26

Reading: 1 Cor. 15:1-28
Text: Lord's Day 17
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Today is again the Lord’s Day. We find that expression used in Scripture in Revelation 1:10. John says that he was in the Spirit “on the Lord’s Day.” In Acts 20:7, we’re told that it was customary for believers to gather on the first day of the week. We find the same thing in 1 Corinthians 16:2. What was so special about the first day of the week? What is it about the first day that brought the Church to call it “the Lord’s Day”? I think we all know the answer, because it was on the first day, Sunday, that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. This is the day we still come together as believers. One of the reasons we do that is to remember and celebrate Christ’s resurrection, his victory over Satan, sin and death. The Catechism deals with this wonderful truth in the QA we’re looking at today.

Back in Lord’s Day 15, QA 39 of the Catechism asks the question whether it made a difference that the Lord Jesus was crucified. Could he have died in a different way? The answer from Scripture is “No.” He had to be crucified to take our curse on himself. Now, when we come to Lord’s Day 17 we could ask a similar question. Could the Lord Jesus have stayed dead and still be our Saviour? After all, he had paid for our sins hadn’t he? Isn’t that all we need? So, was it absolutely necessary for him to rise from the dead? When he died, he went to be with the Father – he told the criminal on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” His body was dead, but his soul remained alive. So, why did his body have to rise from the dead for him to be our Saviour?

The simple answer is that if the Lord Jesus had stayed dead, then death would have had the victory. The Lord Jesus had to rise from the dead in order to conquer death. Where there is death, there is sin. Sin and death go hand in hand. So, Christ’s redemptive work wasn’t totally finished when he died on the cross. To save us from sin and death, he also had to rise from the dead. That point is made in John 20:9 where it says, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” Literally, it says that it was necessary for Christ to rise from the dead. The Lord Jesus had to rise again so that he could conquer death and show that he is infinitely stronger than dead. And he did that for us, for our benefit, for our comfort. We’re going to consider that comfort today and we’ll see that the resurrection is a:

  1. Certain fact
  2. Sure pledge
  3. Sound motivation

The young man and his friends were excited. There was a new teacher at the school. The new professor was not much older than them, only 32 years old. Finally, there was some fresh, young blood at the school. His name was Professor Rauwenhoff, a professor of church history. In one of his first lectures, he discussed the resurrection of Christ. The young man listened intently. Professor Rauwenhoff pointed out that the Bible spoke very clearly about the resurrection. However, he said, the Bible often uses symbolic language. Moreover, no rational modern man could actually believe that Christ’s body was historically raised from the dead. That would be against all the laws of nature and everybody knows that those laws simply cannot be broken. As the professor finished speaking, the young man and his friends leapt from the seats and started clapping their hands. Finally, here was a professor who understood! Finally, they had a teacher who was with the times. The young man, twenty-three years old, was enthralled with a prof who had the courage to say what everybody else was thinking.

The story took place in 1860 in the Netherlands at the University of Leiden. The students were all men studying to become ministers in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. The young man was Abraham Kuyper. Now eventually, God would grab hold of Kuyper and convert him and he would become a mighty tool in God’s hand to bring Reformation to the Netherlands. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are Reformed today because of Kuyper. But later in life, Kuyper confessed that he was still haunted by the fact that he had applauded the denial of Christ’s resurrection. With this denial, he had grieved his Lord and Saviour and this bothered him immensely.

For the first 18 centuries of church history, the resurrection of Christ was nearly universally accepted by Christians as a fact of history. In the 18th century, however, the Enlightenment came along, the so-called Age of Reason. Many people, including Christians, doubted the possibility of miracles, either today or in times past. The supernatural simply could not be observed. In the 19th century, things went further with the development of what we call Modernism. Professor Rauwenhoff has been dubbed the Defender of Modernism. Modernism says that if we can’t see it, if we can’t run an experiment to prove it, then it doesn’t exist and it isn’t possible. Many Christians in the 19th century accepted the philosophy of modernism and this led them to deny the resurrection as a historical fact. They agreed that there probably was a Jesus and he died, but he could not rise from the dead. That simply doesn’t happen.

Modernism held sway for a long, long time. After the Second World War, however, many people started to move away from modernist thinking and into what we today call postmodernism. Postmodernism says that truth is relative, and when it comes to the resurrection, if it works for you to believe it’s true, then you go ahead and believe it. It can be true for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s true for me. Those of you familiar with these things will know that this is somewhat of a simplification, but that is the basic direction of these ways of thinking.

If we trace the development, it looks something like this: during the time before and after the Reformation, people argued about what God said. The burning question was: what did God say? During the Enlightenment and during the period of Modernism, the issue became: did God really say? Today, we can summarize the attitude of many with the jaded catchword of our era: whatever. Who cares? If you want to believe it, you go ahead.

Christians have reacted to these attitudes in different ways. One of those ways is captured in a popular hymn that celebrates Christ’s resurrection. Part of the chorus goes like this:

He lives, he lives
Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart.

According to this hymn-writer, we know that the resurrection is true because of what we feel in ourselves. Not because it is a historical fact, but because of what I feel. In today’s context, that’s likely to simply evoke a response something like, “Well, that’s nice that you feel that way. I’m glad it works for you.”

That is a dangerous way of thinking about the resurrection. It’s dangerous because we’re basing our faith on what we feel rather than on what has been objectively revealed to us in God’s Word as a historical fact. And what happens when I have a day that I feel that he no longer lives within my heart? Does that mean that the resurrection is no longer a true fact of history? Because I don’t feel it, does it mean that it isn’t true? Where is the comfort in thinking this way?

So, rather than basing our faith in the resurrection on our feelings, we need to go back to the Word of God. Our faith has to be grounded on the public objective truth of the witness of the apostles. We have to get back to asking the old question: what does the Bible say?

So, what does it say about Christ’s resurrection? First of all, we have the historical accounts of the resurrection found in the gospels. All of the gospels tell us that Christ rose from the dead. In each of these accounts, there is no evidence of symbolic or metaphorical language. There’s also no evidence of tampering with the truth – for instance, someone wanting to fabricate the story would never have dreamt of having women as the first witnesses. In Biblical times, women didn’t have a lot of credibility as witnesses. So, in the gospels, we see a clear picture of an historical event.

The book of Acts gives us the same picture. In Acts 10, for instance, Peter was visiting Cornelius and told him about everything that had happened with Christ. In verse 39, he told him that the apostles all witnessed everything that happened, including his death. Verses 40-41, “but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

Paul gives a similar testimony in his epistles. For instance, in the passage we read from 1 Corinthians 15. There Paul clearly says that there were numerous witnesses to the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection. There is no symbolic or metaphorical language here. He appeared to more than five hundred people according to Paul. And if we remember that we should always try and follow the natural, literary sense of a passage, we can only conclude that there were literally five hundred people who saw Jesus alive in the days after his resurrection. Most of those people were still alive. The Corinthians could go to those people and ask them what they saw.

For us who take the Bible seriously as God’s inspired Word, there can be no question that the resurrection was a historical fact. But what happens when we’re speaking to people who don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word? I’m not going to give a lecture here in apologetics, but here is something to consider. The fact that they don’t believe what the Bible says doesn’t change the truth that the resurrection is an objective historical reality. Think of what happened on September 11, 2001. I was not in New York City that day. I didn’t see with my own eyes the planes fly into the World Trade Center. I could say, “Well, if I didn’t see it then it didn’t really happen.” But we all know that would be foolish. Why? Because there were many witnesses who did see it happen with their own eyes. What I choose to do with that cannot change the fact that it happened. It is a historical fact attested to by witnesses. So it is with the resurrection. The onus is on the unbeliever to prove that the witnesses mentioned in Scripture are unreliable, that they either lied or were mistaken. So, challenge your unbelieving friends to read the Bible for themselves and see what it says. The Word of God, brothers and sisters, is powerful and can change hearts and open minds to the truth. It can penetrate even the most jaded people and bring them not only to the cross, but also to the empty tomb.

The Word of God not only proclaims the resurrection as a certain fact of history, it also teaches that it is a sure pledge. We find that mentioned in the Catechism as the third benefit of Christ’s resurrection. Now I should mention in passing that there are two other benefits: they have to do with justification and sanctification. We heard a lot about those two subjects last week, though it wasn’t directly connected with Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection does tie into those things, but because we dealt with those last time, I want to focus here on the third benefit – this has to do with our glorification.

We confess that “Christ’s resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.” Now here’s some good news for pilgrims in a broken world! We believe that Christ’s resurrection has something to say to the future. Right now, we live in a world that has been vandalized by sin and death. Some of us, young and old alike, experience that in our bodies. We have diabetes, heart troubles, seizures, and we could go on. And if we add in the mental difficulties that some of us face, this list would get even longer. What a messed up, broken world! But Christ’s resurrection brings the promise of something better into the picture. Something for the future.

His resurrection is a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection. Paul develops this to some length in 1 Corinthians 15. In verse 20, he says that Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. He uses the same word, “firstfruits” in verse 23, again to describe Christ and his resurrection. The picture here is of a farm, an orchard, or a vineyard. At a certain point, a portion of the crop is the first to be ripe. This holds out a promise that the rest of the crop will soon follow. When the farmer takes the fruit in his hand and bites into it and the sweet taste rolls over his tongue, he knows that things are good and getting better. So it is with Christ’s resurrection. It is the firstfruits of our glorification. When we know from Scripture and believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, that’s like biting into the sweet firstfruits of the harvest that’s soon coming.

When that harvest comes, our bodies will be raised. Through some miracle of God, and the Bible doesn’t explain all the details of how this will happen, these bodies that we have right now will be reunited with our souls. That means that we’re not going to spend eternity as disembodied spirits. We will get our bodies back. However, they will be glorified bodies. God’s promise is that there will be no diabetes in your glorified state. There will be no heart troubles, no seizures. There will be no chronic health difficulties, either physical or mental. We will be whole and complete, even as Christ our Lord is. What a wonderful thing to look forward to! When we believe that we have a risen Lord, we can be assured that his victory extends over every aspect of our lives. His resurrection is his promise to you that he will not leave you as you are. Christ has conquered sin and death and how it affects your relationship with God. But he will also conquer sin and death and how it affects you right now in this broken world. What a glorious Saviour we have!

Yes, it’s true, our present bodies will some day share in Christ’s resurrection. That truth motivates us and leads us to godly living today. In Romans 6:4 we read, “We were therefore buried with through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” And then in verse 11, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Why do we do that? Because we are not dead, but alive, just as Christ is alive. He is the risen Saviour. We are united to him. Because that is so, our lives reflect the reality of a Saviour who has conquered sin and death. Looking to him, we too can and will conquer sin and death.

But, you say, “Pastor, that sounds good, but how can we do that? What does that mean practically speaking?” Well, we all have different things that tempt us, things that we struggle with. For that reason, I’m reluctant to give a concrete example. Instead, let’s try and use a template, something that will fit every situation. The simplest way to say this is that when we’re tempted, we need to talk to ourselves. Though we may not all admit it, we all do this anyway. You don’t talk out loud, but you are conversing within your heart. When you’re tempted, your heart needs to hear the call of the gospel. Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Tell yourself, “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” Why do you do that? Because through faith you’re joined to him. Then you tell yourself, “How can I do this sin when I’m united to him? How can I who have died to sin still live in it? How can I let sin reign in this body of mine that is some day going to be glorified? None of that fits with who I am.” What you’re doing is reflecting and meditating on what God says to you in Scripture. Scripture says you are united to the risen Christ, now go and live like it! Live like it right now with that body that you have that will some day be made like his glorious body. Live like it right now with that body that Christ bought for himself. It belongs to him, it’s united to him. It’s in this way that Christ’s resurrection motivates us and guides us to a godly and Christ-like life.

That brings us to something else that the resurrection motivates us towards. It not only creates a new way of looking at ourselves; it also gives us a new vision with respect to our neighbours. From what we confess about Christ’s resurrection and ours, it’s clear that God cares about the entire person, body and soul. Now if this is true, then this will affect how we regard our neighbours as well. Here we’re thinking especially of our unbelieving neighbours. They are not simply souls needing to be saved. They are people who are made up of both body and soul. Christ is the redeemer of both body and soul.

How is that going to affect how we look at them? If the risen Christ saves body and soul, wouldn’t also his redeemed people care about both the bodies and souls of those around them? Wouldn’t our union with the risen Christ mean that we’re also looking to justice and mercy for the physical needs of our neighbours? There are so many different ways that can be worked out, but just think of something so basic as donating blood. Through that, we show that we care not only for the souls of the lost around us, but also their physical well-being in the here and now. And again, we could add so many other examples.

Of course, that can never take the place of speaking the gospel. After all, what people do with the gospel has eternal consequences. All will die and all will face judgment. Therefore, we should pray for and seize whatever opportunities we can to speak about Christ. But at the same time, he is the risen Christ who also in his life and ministry on earth, showed that he cared for the physical needs of others. So, we too will be motivated to a full-orbed compassion for our neighbours.

Beloved, we have a glorious risen Saviour. In him we have riches past, present, and future. His benefits give comfort for believers. The risen Saviour holds out comfort for one and all, for body and soul. Believe the gospel and know the comfort.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father,

We praise your holy Name for raising Jesus our Saviour from the dead on the third day. We celebrate this fact today and every day. We thank you for the testimony of your Word to this glorious historical truth. Help us to believe what you have revealed. Help us so that we would never doubt or be confused about this. Father, we thank you for the pledge contained in Christ’s resurrection. It is indeed sweet to the mouth of our hearts. We so look forward to sharing in his resurrection in the age to come. We pray that the day would hasten. As we wait for that great day, help us to see ourselves as we are in him. Help us to fix our eyes on Jesus, also as we face temptations and struggles in this world. We pray that as Christ was victorious over sin and death, we would share in his victory over the remaining sin in our lives. And Father, we also pray that you would help us to show compassion to those around us. Help us to be sensitive not only to their spiritual need for Christ, but also to their physical needs. Father, please draw us more and more into conformity to Christ’s image. Please hear us as we pray in the name of our risen Lord, AMEN.

For Further Reflection and Discussion

(this can be added to your liturgy sheet or church bulletin)

1. According to the sermon, the resurrection is a certain fact of __________________; a sure pledge of _________________________; and a sound motivation for ___________________________ and __________________________.

2. Who was the student who applauded at the denial of Christ's resurrection?

3. The sermon mentioned one way that well-meaning Christians defend their belief in the fact of the resurrection. What is the better way outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15? How does that compare to what Peter says in Acts 10:39-42?

4. Consider and discuss the following quote from G.I. Williamson's The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide: "Some years ago, I met a woman who was considered to be quite evangelical. She professed to believe the whole Bible...She was about to undergo a serious heart operation. I went to visit her, to encourage and pray with her. I prayed that the Lord would grant success in the operation and healing to her body. She expressed appreciation for my visit, but she also said something like this: 'Well, it doesn't matter much about this old body anymore, because one of these days I will be through with it forever." Was this woman right? What difference does it make?




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

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