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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The gospel promises that Christ is a risen and victorious Saviour
Text:LD 17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 23

Psalm 16:1,4,5

Hymn 57:1

Hymn 1

Psalm 138

Scripture readings: John 20:24-29, 1 Corinthians 15:1-19

Catechism lesson:  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,

Your eye is one of the most complex and amazing elements in creation.  It’s composed of several parts:  the cornea, retina, optic nerve, and so on.  On a microscopic scale, there are all kinds of other parts that all work together so you can see the world around you.  If just one of those parts is missing, the eye simply doesn’t work.  It takes all the parts working together at the right time and right place for your eye to provide sight.  This is the way God designed and created the human eye.  Everything needs to be in place or it doesn’t work.

There’s something like that in the gospel.  All the elements of the gospel need to be in place or it doesn’t work.  If you take out the optic nerve, you lose your sight.  Similarly, if you take out any one part of the gospel, you lose everything in your salvation.  It has to be a complete, biblical gospel or it’s no gospel at all and there’s no salvation.

That was exactly the point that the apostle was trying to make in 1 Corinthians 15.  The issue there was resurrection, but it wasn’t the resurrection of Christ in the first place.  There were those who argued that there’s no general resurrection from the dead.  The temptation was to think that this was no big deal.  The temptation was to think that this wasn’t a “salvation issue” or a “gospel issue.”  I mean, so what if you think that people are not going to be raised from the dead at the end?  Does it really matter all that much?  The Holy Spirit’s answer through Paul is:  yes, it matters hugely.  There are huge consequences to denying that there’s a general resurrection from the dead.  By denying that, you’re also denying the resurrection of Christ.  If Christ has risen from the dead, then he has victory over death and all those united to him must necessarily rise too.  What’s true of him will be true of all united to him.  And that’s why if you’re denying a general resurrection, you’re necessarily also denying the reality of his resurrection.  If you’re denying his resurrection, your faith is pointless.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead, pack it in and go home and do something else.  Christ’s resurrection is essential to the gospel and to our Christian faith.  Without it, there’s no hope.

The resurrection of Christ is our focus this afternoon as we consider what we confess in Lord’s Day 17.  We’re going to see how the gospel promises that Christ is a risen and victorious Saviour.

We’ll consider:

  1. The attacks against this truth
  2. The comfort this truth gives us

Since the resurrection of Christ is so important, why do we only have one Lord’s Day dealing with it?  That one Lord’s Day has only one question and answer.  Now compare that with the next Lord’s Day, Lord’s Day 18.  There are four questions and answers dealing with the ascension of Christ.  You might get the impression the ascension is even more important than the resurrection.  However, some knowledge of history helps us here.  When the Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1563, the ascension was hotly debated.  The issue had to do with the presence of Christ’s body – whether it was in heaven or could also be on earth.  That connected with debates about the Lord’s Supper, especially with the Lutherans.  But when it came to the resurrection, there were no debates about that with anyone.  The Roman Catholics believed in the resurrection, the Lutherans did too, so did the Anabaptists.  There was almost no one who denied that Christ rose from the dead on the third day.  It was widely accepted in Western Europe as a fact of history revealed in the Bible.

Today we live in a totally different world.  Today the resurrection is hardly accepted in our society.  Believing that Christ rose from the dead on the third day puts you in a small minority.  What changed between the time the Catechism was written and today?  There was this movement known as the Enlightenment.  The Enlightenment was also known as the Age of Reason.  People turned their backs on the Bible.  They said, “It isn’t reasonable to believe that a man rose from the dead, therefore the Bible must be wrong.”  As time went on, this type of thinking won over more and more people.  Today for most people, it’s obvious that Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead.  That sort of thing just doesn’t happen.

But there have been others in history who’ve wanted to hold on to Christianity while still being reasonable people.  So they looked for a different way to explain what the Bible says about the resurrection.  They said that we can say that Jesus really rose again on the third day, as long as we understand that he rose in the hearts of his disciples.  He came to life for them because they believed in him.  His memory went on living in their hearts and so they thought they really saw him.  In their faith and in their hearts they really did see him.  But that’s where the resurrection stays – it stays in their hearts.  That’s a rather convenient way of being reasonable while still trying to hold on to what the Bible says.  We all know that people don’t rise from the dead, but we also know that the dead often do go on living in people’s memories.  So that’s what must have happened with Jesus and his resurrection, they say.

Today we have another challenge to deal with when it comes to the resurrection.  We hear a lot about Islam these days.  The number of Muslims in our country is growing.  More than ever, we need to familiarize ourselves with what Islam teaches.  What does Islam say about Jesus and his resurrection?  Islam maintains that Jesus was a prophet, but not as great as Muhammad.  Muhammad is the greatest prophet.  Muhammad delivered the Qur’an.  Jesus (whom they call Isa) was only a prophet, not the Son of God.  There are varying Islamic beliefs about what happened at the cross, but all Muslims will agree that Jesus didn’t die on the cross.  The Qur’an says that Isa (Jesus) didn’t die, but was raised up to heaven by Allah (the Islamic god).  Now if Jesus didn’t die, then the resurrection is also out of the picture.  Muslims don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So there are all these different attacks against the truth of the resurrection.  More could be mentioned.  Some think that Jesus just fainted on the cross and then regained consciousness in the tomb.  Others recycle the old story of the Jewish religious leaders:  his disciples must have stolen his body to make it look like he rose from the dead.  There are lots of theories out there to try and discredit the historical fact of the resurrection.  By doing that, they try to rob us of what the gospel promises in Christ as a truly risen and victorious Saviour.   

How do we respond to these attacks?  We go to the Bible and what it says there in God’s Word.  We should go first to the Old Testament.  The resurrection of the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament.  For example, you could think of Psalm 16.  That Psalm speaks of the Holy One of God not seeing corruption, not being left in the state of death.  Isaiah 53 is another important passage.  After having suffered for sinners, the Messiah comes back to life, his days are prolonged.

But the most compelling evidence is in the New Testament.  In all the gospels, Jesus predicts his suffering, death, and resurrection.  He does this several times in fact.  When he does this, his disciples don’t get it.  They don’t understand what he’s talking about.  Somehow their minds are prevented from grasping what he’s saying is going to happen.  This is so that they don’t stand in the way of it happening and also so when it does happen, no one can say they engineered it.  Because they had no understanding of what had to happen with Christ’ death and resurrection, they couldn’t manipulate it.  They could only witness it.

And witness it they did.  In our reading from John 20, Jesus meets Thomas for the first time after his resurrection.  There were witnesses present, including John.  John, the writer of this gospel, he was an eye-witness to what happened.  Thomas initially doubted, he refused to believe that Jesus had risen.  He’d heard the predictions of his Lord and Master, but he wouldn’t believe unless he could touch him, physically putting his hands on his wounds.  When he appeared that day, the glorious risen Jesus invited him to do exactly that.  Thomas could touch the hands that were nailed to the cross and put his hand on the wound in his side where the spear pierced.  When Thomas did that, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”  He understood that Jesus had truly risen from the dead and then he understood too that this was undeniable proof of Christ’s divinity.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that there were more than 500 witnesses to the resurrection.  More than 500 people saw Jesus alive after Easter Sunday.  There are other historical events that are well-accepted that have far less than 500 witnesses.  The resurrection of Christ is well-attested as a historical fact.  Moreover, Scripture is rather clear this wasn’t something that happened in the hearts of Christ’s followers.  It was a real, historical happening.  Thomas didn’t put his hand in Christ’s wounds in his head or heart.  No, he physically touched Jesus.  In John 21, Jesus appears to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee and his physical appearance is underlined by the fact that he eats breakfast with them.  This was as real as real gets.

But there’s more to consider.  Look at the way in which the resurrection of Christ dramatically transformed the lives of his disciples.  Josh McDowell has this old and well-known book Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  There are some problems with his approach to defending the faith, but I think we can appreciate what he writes about the resurrection.  This is a quote from Josh McDowell:

On the day of the crucifixion they were filled with sadness; on the first day of the week with gladness.  At the crucifixion they were hopeless; on the first day of the week their hearts glowed with certainty and hope.  When the message of the resurrection first came they were incredulous and hard to be convinced, but once they became assured they never doubted again.  What could account for the astonishing change in these men in so short a time?  The mere removal of the body from the grave could never have transformed their spirits and characters.  Three days are not enough for a legend to spring up which would so affect them.  Time is needed for a legendary growth.  It is a psychological fact that demands a full explanation.

Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives.  Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence – and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication they were trying to foist upon the world.  That simply wouldn’t make sense. (Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 237).      

Indeed, that wouldn’t make any sense.  The persecution of the early Christian church is a historical fact and it makes no sense that men and women would be willing to suffer and die for a lie when they know better. 

So, loved ones, our belief in the historical resurrection of Christ is well-grounded.  We should never doubt it.  We should do everything we can to spread the good news of its reality.  We can trust that it happened as recorded for us in Scripture and everyone else should too.  And as we do, we can be encouraged by those words of Christ to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  You’re blessed when you believe the testimony recorded for us in Scripture. 

Now we can consider the comfort the truth of Christ’s resurrection gives us.  This is where our Catechism really shines when it comes to this doctrine.  Here we have a biblical and concise summary of the practical encouragement that this doctrine affords us as believers.  There are three comforting benefits from the resurrection of Christ.

The first one has to do with justification.  Justification is our being declared right by God once and for all on account of what Christ has done for us.  This is at the heart of the gospel.  How does the resurrection relate to that?  Romans 4:25 says that Jesus was “raised for our justification.”  What this means is that when God raised Christ from the dead, he was announcing that Christ’s sacrifice in our place was accepted.  His justice had been satisfied and his favour returned to Christ – in other words, propitiation.   The resurrection signalled that propitiation had taken place.  Propitiation means that wrath has been turned away, it was turned away from Christ and from those who are united to him.  Favour (life) was returned to Christ and to those who are united to him.  This announces victory over sin and death and it’s a victory that we share when we believe in Christ.   Christ’s work on the cross has God’s stamp of approval in the resurrection, and thus we can be confident that he is our Saviour.  We can be confident that we’ve been declared right with God. 

What a comfort that is, brothers and sisters!  As you look to Christ in faith, you can be comforted knowing that your sins don’t have anything on you.  Sin put a curse of death on you.  But in the resurrection of Christ, you see your life before God.  When your conscience says, “You’re not worthy of God.  You don’t deserve eternal life.  You’re not good enough, you don’t measure up” – you can say this right back, “No, I don’t deserve anything, I’m not good enough, I don’t measure up.  But I have Jesus and I have victory in his resurrection over my sin and the death I deserve.  Through the risen Jesus, I know that I’m declared right in God’s sight and nothing can ever take that away.”  See, there’s great comfort here for us.

The second benefit has to do with our life as Christians in this world.  It has to do with what we call sanctification, the process of becoming holy.  Sanctification is the process of being more and more conformed to Christ, our head.  The Catechism says that “by his power we too are raised up to a new life.”  We’re united to Christ and because he is risen, our lives are being shaped by his power.  The same Spirit who brought Christ back to life, lives in us and he is unfailingly carrying out his work in us. 

This is a comfort, too.  Because we’re in a war.  We have enemies who are trying earnestly to destroy us.  There’s that three-headed monster, the Devil, the world, and our own flesh.  But, praise God, we’re not alone in this war.  Christ is with us in the Spirit who mightily raised him from the dead.  If the Spirit could raise Jesus from the dead, certainly he can also help us in our new life and the battles we face in it.  You’re not alone.  You have a new life in the risen Christ, and Christ’s Spirit in you.

The last benefit speaks of our glorification.  As we look at Christ’s resurrection, we see a pledge, a promise, a guarantee.  Like 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us, he is the first fruits.  That’s an agricultural image.  When harvest time approaches, some of the fruit ripens before others.  These are the first fruits.  Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection.  Because we are united to him through the Holy Spirit and faith, we can be confident that his glorious resurrection will soon be ours.  If we’re still alive when he returns, our bodies will be instantly transformed to be like his.  If we’ve died and have been in the grave for some time, our bodies will be raised and reunited with our souls and we’ll be instantly perfected and glorified. 

I know there are all kinds of questions that come up when we think about that final state of glory.  Most of the time we can only speculate about the answers.  Scripture doesn’t tell us all the details of what our resurrected existence will be like.  We do know this and for this I can say with confidence “Thus says the Lord”:  Thus says the Lord, it will be perfect blessedness, the likes of which no one here right now can imagine.  It will be an amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing bliss.  Being in the Father’s presence, living eternally in fellowship with Jesus in the Holy Spirit, glorifying God and loving him and being loved by him forever.  Nothing here on earth can compare to what waits for us.  It all begins with our glorious resurrection, the resurrection guaranteed for us in Christ’s resurrection.

Loved ones, the gospel promises great benefits in the resurrection of Christ.  Deep comfort is there for all those who believe these promises.  That’s what you need to do again this afternoon.  Believe that Christ rose from the dead on the third day.  Believe that he was raised not only for justification in general, but for your justification.   Believe again that he was raised to give you new life.  And trust that this risen Saviour is coming again and because he gloriously rose from the grave, you will too.  The resurrection really is at the heart of our faith.  If you tear it out, the whole thing collapses.  But we’ve seen again this afternoon, that it really happened and it really matters.  Therefore, we need to really believe it.  AMEN. 


O God, our Father,

Thank you for the good news of Christ’s resurrection.  We have all we need to know about and believe this good news in your infallible and inerrant Word.  We do believe what your Word says, we believe in the risen and victorious Saviour.  Please help us so that our faith would not waver, help us with your Spirit to be steadfast.  We also thank you for the comfort the resurrection of Christ affords us.  We’re glad that you raised him from the dead to secure our justification.  We worship you for powerfully raising us up to a new life.  Please continue to do that for us.  We’re also so encouraged to again hear about our glorious resurrection, guaranteed by that of Christ.  Father, thank you so much for comforting us with this good news.  And we pray for your help in sharing this good news with others too.  Please give us both love and courage to speak of the hope that we have in our risen Jesus.                                    

* 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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