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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:We confess and rejoice that Christ is risen!
Text:LD 17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-07-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 92:1,2,3                                                                                         

Hy 1

Reading – John 10:11-21; Acts 2:22-36; 1 Peter 3:13-22

Ps 17:1,3,4,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 17

Hy 32:1,2,3,4

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.


Brothers and sisters, we’d be nothing without the cross! Without the cross, there’s no blood poured out to ransom. Without the cross, Jesus wasn’t cursed, and we’re not blessed. So the cross has become a Christian symbol on Bibles and buildings and bracelets. Yet as important as it was, Jesus didn’t stay on the cross forever. Dead, He was buried. And even in the grave He did not remain. The cross is empty—because his grave is empty. He rose.

And that’s also not something to take lightly. Because where we would be without his resurrection? If Jesus hasn’t risen, this worship service and all our devotion and worship would be a royal waste of time! That’s not just my opinion, either. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor 15:14). Without the cross—and without the resurrection—there’s no salvation. Says Paul again, “If Christ has not been raised… you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). But He has risen, and that’s why we’re here, and that’s why we sing and pray.

So it’s not surprising to learn that all three persons of the Trinity were involved in Christ rising. Whenever God performs a major work for his people, it’s a joint operation of Father, Son, and Spirit. Think of the masterpiece of creation. The Father was there, calling all things into being: “Let there be light,” He said, and there was light. But everything was created by the Father through the Son, for “without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). And the Holy Spirit was there too, “hovering over the waters” (Gen 1:2). Or think of the baptism of Christ. The Triune God was there, for while Christ stood in the water, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and the Father’s voice sounded from heaven.

That was the start of Christ’s earthly work. Now, at the resurrection, we come to what is essentially the end of his time on earth. And again, the Triune God shows that He’s intimately involved in this critical moment, at work in great power and wisdom. This is our theme from Lord’s Day 17 of the Catechism,

We confess and rejoice that Christ is risen!

  1. because of the promise of the Father
  2. by the power of the Holy Spirit
  3. through the authority of the Son

 

1) because of the promise of the Father: If you told someone what happened to Jesus in the last days of his life, they might conclude that Jesus was nothing more than a trouble-maker. For Jesus did stir up the crowds (think of the triumphal entry) and He did preach against Israel’s leaders (think of all his woes against the Pharisees). He did claim to be king—He even said so in front of Pontius Pilate, an envoy of Caesar!

By the end, Jesus had the reputation of someone who caused unrest. Sensible people would’ve agreed that it’d be best to put him away for a while, give him a time-out. No need to kill him, though—that such things happened is deeply unjust.

People have said this for a long time, that Jesus suffered an unfortunate or even an accidental death. They’ve often claimed that Jesus was just another Jewish rebel—and the history books say there were lots of them in those days, starting movements and gathering followers. He was just another rabble-rouser who ended up dead.

What does this mean for the saving power of the cross? It’s all an invention of disappointed disciples. And what does this mean for the empty tomb? It’s simply the yearning of frustrated followers. Don’t we all do that, try make the best out of a something bad? Even if our sporting legends or our national heroes have been disgraced by their cheating or some other scandal, we want to think the best about them. Of course the disciples would say that Jesus arose—otherwise they have spent three years following a fraud!

But in Acts 2, Peter sets the record straight. On Pentecost, he had a great opportunity to preach the gospel of Christ. This Jesus didn’t do miracles, signs and wonders on his own accord, but “God did [them] through him” (v 22). He was an instrument in the LORD’s mighty hand.

Furthermore, when Jesus died, He wasn’t just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was no accident, no series of unfortunate events. Rather, Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (v 23). All of it was God’s plan, from start to finish, from incarnation to resurrection.

But Peter is preaching to a tough crowd. Many of the Jews believed the story that was first invented by the elders and chief priests. For after the discovery that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb, they had to think of an explanation. And their story was that “Jesus’ disciples came during the night and stole him away” (Matt 28:13).

In his sermon, Peter hits back against that unbelief. He says that, just as Jesus was killed according to God’s plan, so He was raised according to God’s promise. Listen to his words: “God raised [him] up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (v 24). Jesus was not a teacher who was “resurrected” by his devoted students. No, “God raised him from the dead.”

To prove this point, Peter turns to Scripture, and David’s resurrection-words in Psalm 16. Long ago David sang to God, “You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27). David was in serious trouble, but he held onto God’s promise of life, “[The Lord] is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken” (v 25). David knew that, should death come to him, even the last enemy is not able to sever the bond between the Father and his dear children.

Psalm 16 was true for David, and even more true for Jesus. For Peter points out how David died and was buried, that his tomb was just down the street. David was a mighty and righteous king—but he still had to die. David believed in God’s sure promise of resurrection, but he didn’t get to see its fulfillment—not yet.

So Peter puts this Psalm into Jesus’ mouth. Yes, he says, Psalm 16 is actually Jesus’ prayer to his Father, even as He enters the last days of his life and is lifted up on the cross, “My God, you will not abandon me to the grave!”

Jesus could see the grave opening its ugly mouth, getting ready to receive him, but that wasn’t the end. It wouldn’t be, not if Jesus finished the job! For that was the agreement. The Father had vowed to raise his Son from the dead—He would restore his life if Jesus’ obedience was perfect and his sacrifice was complete.

No wonder Paul insists that Jesus must be out of his grave if we will be saved! If Jesus had failed in any way, his tomb would still be occupied, because He’d still need to bear sin’s curse. If Jesus had been imperfect in any respect, the cross would’ve been the last that He was ever seen alive.

But Peter declares the good news of salvation, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). God raised him up, and so the Father vindicated all the suffering of his Son. God the Father declared that Jesus had made an acceptable sacrifice, holy and pleasing—that He fulfilled all righteousness. The resurrection means Christ drank every ounce of God’s cup of wrath, endured every second of eternal death. The Father kept his promise and freed his Son from the chains of death.

The resurrection means the Father is well-pleased with his Son—and in the same breath He declares that He’s well-pleased with us. Like the Catechism says, “By his resurrection… [Christ makes] us share in the righteousness which He had obtained by his death” (Q&A 45). We’re allowed to share in the perfection that Christ attained, and his righteousness is given to us as a free gift. Now when God looks on us, He says, “You are my beloved sons and daughters. With you I am well pleased.”

Beloved, doesn’t that give us such a great reason for joy? Today we can celebrate and give thanks! For the resurrection means that the message of grace you hear is dependable. It means the prayers you offer can go straight to the throne-room of God. It means the blessing at the end of this service is something with divine power. As we go from here, we know that the resurrection of Christ has given our lives a new hope, a sure purpose.

No, if the Father didn’t raise his Son, people should feel sorry for us. For then we’ve put our trust in a hoax. We’ve wasted our lives listening and re-listening to an elaborate fairy tale. Without the resurrection of Christ, what comes of our sacrifices, our prayers, our efforts? Nothing at all. It all just disappears with us into the grave.

Maybe you’ve had moments like this, and you start to wonder what it’s all for. Are we just working and working, and then we die? Are we just playing church, until it’s all over? Do my daily efforts as a parent, or a teacher, or an employee, as a child of God, really make any difference? Is any of this for a purpose? Will it come to anything?

Then remember the resurrection. Jesus was dead, but He lives. He came back with a message of hope: You are forgiven! You are precious to God! You have a future, for the grave is not the end. While you live, you have an enduring purpose: to serve the risen King!

This makes the resurrection of Christ a good thing for us to think about. Don’t just ponder it when we get to Lord’s Day 17 once every year or so, or think of it on Easter Sunday. But regularly thank God for the resurrection of Christ. He was raised through the promise of God the Father, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

2) by the power of the Holy Spirit: It’s not always clear to us how the Holy Spirit operates. What does it mean that the Spirit was “hovering” over the waters in Genesis 1? What does it mean that the Spirit “came upon Mary” to conceive the Christ-child in her? We believe these things, yet we don’t fully understand.

In Christ’s resurrection too, we wonder how the Spirit was at work. Jesus was dead and buried, in his grave, but then He was raised up by the power of the Holy Spirit. We read in 1 Peter 3:18, “[Christ was] put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit.” It is said in such a straightforward way, yet how did the Spirit make the Son alive? Just what did the Holy Spirit need to do to make Jesus breathe again on that first day of the week?

Perhaps we could picture the resurrection like a scene from Psalm 104. There the Psalmist describes the many beauties of God’s creation. The Psalmist marvels at how the heavenly lights, the clouds, the wind, the mountains, the beasts of field and forest, the plants, the birds, the creatures of the deep—how they all completely depend on God.

And then the Psalmist speaks of how the power of God’s Spirit enlivens this vast project. “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (v 30). Noticed that it describes how the Spirit of God restores the earth. When spring is about to arrive again after a cold winter, God sends his Holy Spirit, and the seedlings push up from the ground, and He calls back the migrating birds and animals, and He brings in the warmer winds—the Spirit descends again, that all creation may be restored.

Perhaps in a similar way, Christ’s life was restored by the Spirit. Just as the Spirit renews the earth, so the Spirit renewed Christ’s lifeless body after those days in the grave. The Spirit descended on him again, this time to revive him. As Peter tells us, “Christ was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit.”

Whatever the exact way that the Spirit restored him, his results of his work in Jesus were always clear. For even as a child, Jesus “was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Then when He began his ministry, Jesus was anointed with the Spirit so that He could do his earthly work. Now also in his resurrection, the Spirit empowers Jesus so that He can rise from the dead.

This isn’t just a theoretical point for us, a point of interest with little relevance. For now that Christ has been raised up by the Spirit, this same renewing Spirit is sent upon us, his people. “By his power,” the Catechism teaches, “we too are raised to a new life” (Q&A 45).

Paul puts it this way, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph 2:4-5). By his Spirit, God has called us out of our spiritual tombs! You and I have risen from the dead so that we can live truly and fully!

It sounds impossible, yet we believe it. Why? Because we even see its evidence. We see the Spirit’s resurrecting power, when we rise up and embrace Jesus Christ with the arms of faith. We see it, when we rise up and humbly accept God’s Word. We see it, when we rise up and give thanks to God, when we trust in the invisible Father. We see the Spirit’s power, when we rise up and are willing to serve other people.

This is what we read in Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ… will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit” (8:11). The almighty Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies and crooked hearts.

We tend to forget that our new life is a miracle—no less a miracle than driving by a  cemetery and seeing the gravestones fall over, and the tombs break open and people step forth. It is no less a miracle! Maybe we assume sometimes that loving God is natural. Or maybe we think that because we’re not very good at it, there’s nothing special about loving or trusting God. Or sometimes we think our children too, will believe, just because we always have.

But it would never happen without the working of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are harder and colder than rocks. Without him, we’re six feet under. But “God has made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions.” It’s a resurrecting miracle of the Spirit that any of us have faith, or love, or hope.

And if we really see our new life as a miracle, this can have a good effect on our faith. First, it’s something that should make us deeply thankful for God’s grace. We ought to realize it again and again, that only by God’s grace and the working of the Spirit have we become what we are. In my desire for holiness, in my growing wisdom, in my patience and meekness, in my quiet trust, I am the handiwork of God the Spirit! This calls us to ceaseless thanksgiving.

Second, seeing our new life as a miracle should also make us eager to work with this gift. We want to develop our new life, to continue to grow in the Spirit. He gave us spiritual gifts, so now we want to use them. The Spirit has raised us up to accomplish great things for Christ! I have been resurrected for a purpose: I want to live in Christ, and I want to live for Christ.

And third, when we see our new life as a miracle, we should take a reminder of that blessed teaching of the “perseverance of the saints.” God has started a good work in us through his Spirit. You’re not perfect, your faith still has many struggles, but the almighty Spirit will not quit what He has started—that’s his sure promise. Be sure that He will keep you alive, and continually transform you, and bring you to completion, even until the day of Christ.
 

3) through the authority of the Son: Think of being given an impossible job, like reading a 500-page book in a day, or lifting a 300 kilogram weight. Can’t be done—you just don’t have the ability. So can you imagine raising yourself from the dead? Of course not. If you’re dead, you no longer have any ability, any strength, any authority—to do anything, let alone to loosen the grip of death!

But even in his own resurrection, Jesus had a role to play. Listen to Peter in Acts 2, “It was not possible that death should keep its hold on him” (v 24, NIV). Christ could do this, because God gave him authority over this realm, too.

Jesus said this in John 10:17-18, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again.” As Jesus was born by his own choice, and as He died by his own choice, so He would rise in the same way!

No matter how hard He was beaten, no matter how much He was tortured, no matter how heavy was the stone in front of his tomb—Christ had the earth-shattering ability to raise himself from the grave. He is an eternal priest, Hebrews says, “on the basis of the power of an indestructible life” (Heb 7:16). As man and God, his life was indestructible.

He showed this power by his own resurrection. And He shows this power in our resurrection! The Catechism says: “Christ’s resurrection is a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection” (Q&A 45). Even if we’re in our tombs on the day He returns, Christ will not abandon us there. Even if we’ve rotted beyond recognition, Christ won’t let us see decay forever.

Think about how already during his ministry, Christ freed people from death. To the synagogue ruler’s daughter, Jesus said: “Little girl, get up.” Or to the son of the widow of Nain: “Young man, I say to you, get up.” Or to Lazarus, his dear friend: “Lazarus, come out!” With just a few words of power, that is what Christ did then, and He’ll do it again: He’ll raise us up.

We await his return, when Christ will show his authority over the tomb once and for all. Paul writes, “[He] himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the  archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thess 4:16).

By his command, Christ will give us bodies like his own. With just a word, He’ll heal all this world’s brokenness. With just a word, He’ll destroy the last enemy—an enemy who has invaded every home, every family, every life. With just a word, Jesus will reveal his total triumph. With a loud command, the dead in Christ will rise!

Again, what would we have without this hope? Without a confidence in Christ, how can we face the ultimate realities? There’s a lot of death around us, and some people fear it and run from it in horror. Others seem to live in denial: “I won’t even think about it. I’ll just eat and drink and be merry until it’s my time.” Still others cling to a false hope: “Death is just a part of that big ‘circle of life.’ We’ll live on through our children, or we’ll come back in some other form, as a sheepdog or as a salmon.”

But by God’s grace, we can look at death boldly, and we can overcome it through the gospel. For we know that the victory is ours. Through being joined to Christ by faith, we have received an indestructible life. Christ was raised up, and He will raise us! So we also know that all our labours in the Lord are not in vain. For in the risen Christ we have God’s promise that we shall live with him forever! Yes, Christ has risen—Hallelujah!  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 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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