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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Christ's resurrection promises comfort to believers
Text:LD 17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-08-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 150

Psalm 63

Hymn 37

Hymn 1

Hymn 31

Scripture reading:  1 Corinthians 15:1-28

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,

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”?  Because it was on the first day, Sunday, that our 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.  Our 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 our 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 our 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 Jesus had stayed dead, then death would have had the victory.  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, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”  Literally, it says that it was necessary for Christ to rise from the dead.   Jesus had to rise again so he could conquer death and show that he is infinitely stronger than death.  And he did that for us, for our benefit, for our comfort.   So the theme of the sermon this afternoon is Christ’s resurrection promises comfort to believers.  We’ll learn about that comfort and we’ll see that the resurrection is a:

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

Back in the 1950s, there was a famous debate about the resurrection.  On the one side was a philosopher named Karl Jaspers.  On the other side was a theologian named Rudolf Bultmann.  The interesting thing about this debate was neither of them believed the resurrection happened in history.  Yet, for some reason, Bultmann still made a place for the resurrection in his theology.  Karl Jaspers challenged him on that.  Why have the resurrection in your theology if you don’t believe it happened?  Bultmann replied that everyone knows that a man who’s been dead for three days doesn’t come back to life.  But what do you do if you’re a Christian pastor and it’s Easter and you have to say something?  Even though he didn’t believe it, Bultmann couldn’t avoid the resurrection.

For the first 18 centuries of church history, the resurrection of Christ was widely accepted as a fact of history.  In the 1700s, however, the Enlightenment came along, the so-called Age of Reason.  Many people doubted the possibility of miracles, either today or in times past.  The supernatural simply couldn’t be observed.  In the 1800s, things went further with the development of what we call 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 people in the 1800s 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 couldn’t rise from the dead.  That simply doesn’t happen. 

Modernism held sway for a long time.  After the Second World War, however, many people started to move away from modernism and into what we today call postmodernism.  Postmodernism says 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. 

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 Modernism, the issue became:  did God really say?  Today, it’s become:  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’s a historical fact, but because of what I feel.  In today’s context, that’s likely to simply get a response something like, “Well, that’s nice that you feel that way.  I’m glad it works for you.”           

That’s 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 when I feel like 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 that mean it isn’t true?  Where’s the comfort in thinking that 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 the gospels tell us that Christ rose from the dead.  In each of these accounts, there’s 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 get 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.  Then Acts 10:40-41 says:  “…but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, 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 there were numerous witnesses to the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection.  There’s no symbolic, metaphorical, or mythical 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 more than 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, verify it.   

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?   The fact that they don’t believe what the Bible says doesn’t change the truth that the resurrection is an objective historical reality.  Challenge your unbelieving friends to read the Bible for themselves and actually see what it says.  Likely many of them have never done that.  The Word of God 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’s a sure pledge.  We find that mentioned in the Catechism as one of the benefits of Christ’s resurrection.  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’s been vandalized by sin and death.  Some of us, young and old alike, we experience that in our bodies.  We have heart troubles, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological problems, 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 explains that 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 ripen.  That 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’s the firstfruits of our glorification.  When we know from Scripture and believe that Jesus 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 we have right now will be reunited with our souls.  That means we’re not going to spend eternity as disembodied spirits.  We’ll get our bodies back.  However, they’ll be glorified bodies.  God’s promise is that there will be no chronic health difficulties, either physical or mental.  We’ll be whole and complete, even as Christ our Lord is.  What a wonderful thing to look forward to!  When we believe 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 also conquers sin and death and how it affects you right now in this broken world.  What a glorious Saviour we have! 

Loved ones, 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 buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  And then in verse 11, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Why do we do that?  Because we aren’t dead, but alive, just as Christ is alive.  He’s the risen Saviour.  We’re united to him.  Because that’s true, 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 look like practically speaking?”  Loved ones, 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’re always conversing within your heart.  When you’re tempted, your heart needs to hear 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’ve 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’re 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 God cares about the entire person, body and soul.  Now if this is true, then that affects how we regard our neighbours as well.  Here we’re thinking especially of our unbelieving neighbours.  They aren’t simply souls needing to be saved.  They’re people made up of both soul and body.  Christ is the redeemer of both soul and body.

Now how’s 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 different ways that can be worked out.   For example, you could think of something so basic like donating blood on a regular basis.  Through things like 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. 

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 comprehensive compassion for our neighbours. 

Loved ones, 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.  AMEN. 

PRAYER

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 come quickly.  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.                     

         




* 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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