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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
Title:I Believe in Jesus Christ: The Firstborn of the Dead
Text:LD 17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Revelation 1, Ephesians 2:1-10

Lesson: Lord’s Day 17



  1. Why This Resurrection Was Unique

  2. Why This Resurrection Is Ours

  3. Why This Resurrection Will Be Ours


  1. Psalm 115: 1, 5, 8

  2. Hymn 32: 1, 2

  3. Hymn 68: 1, 4, 5

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Psalm 107: 1, 8, 12

  6. Hymn 32: 3, 4


Words to Listen For: musical, bones, chocolates, favorite, odd


Questions for Understanding:

  1. What does it mean that Christ was the firstborn of the dead?  What does it not mean?

  2. “The _______ is His, the _______ is ours.”

  3. Was it Christ’s death or resurrection that changed death?

  4. How is sanctification like riding a bike?

  5. Describe various example in our Christian life of the already-but-not-yet.  Especially resurrection.

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

Beloved congregation of our risen Lord,

The last few Lord's Days may have been a little uncomfortable for you.  

We followed the Heidelberg Catechism, as it spoke briefly about Christ’s pre-incarnate state of glory with the Father in Lord’s Day 13.  Then, in Lord’s Day 14, 15, and 16, we examined what is known as Christ’s state of humiliation.  During His incarnation, getting worse and worse and worse, descending - humbling Himself by taking on human flesh, further humbling Himself by becoming a servant, finally humbling Himself to death and to Hell.  It's not pretty.  Though it is intensely's not comfortable

But now.

But now we are examining the third state of our Lord.  His state of glorification.  Returning to the glory He had with His Father before all ages.

And this movement of our Lord through these various states brings to mind the children’s song Lord I lift your name on High.

He came from Heaven to earth to show the way

From glory to humiliation

From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay

The humiliation increased

From the cross to the grave

The lowest depths

From the grave to the sky, Lord I lift your name on high.


Umm…I think this song is missing something VERY IMPORTANT.


So wonderful to use this Scriptural language of coming to earth from Heaven to show the way - I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

So wonderful to speak of the substitutionary atonement of our Lord - He paid MY DEBT, that’s why He had to go to the cross

Important also to explain that this suffering led to death - He died OUR DEATH

But then: From the grave to the sky…what could this POSSIBLY MEAN??

The lyrics that were so full of scriptural language, so full of truth…suddenly abandoned this endeavor and instead, speak so broadly, so generally, so vaguely about the resurrection and ascension, combining them into one…and referring to heaven as the sky…

Our Lord is not a rocket ship.

The stone blocking the entrance to the tomb was not a blast door that opened up to reveal Jesus Christ ready to BLAST OFF into outer space.


As important as our Lord’s incarnation is - He came from heaven to earth to show the way

As important as His suffering and death are - From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay, from the cross to the grave


What comes next is the NECESSARY CONCLUSION to our Lord’s earthly ministry!

It is SO IMPORTANT to remember, to celebrate, and to make clear what the Apostles’ Creed speaks of next, that our catechism is busy dealing with here.

On the third day He arose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

and sits at the right hand

of God the Father Almighty;

From there He will come to judge

the living and the dead.

I’m not exactly sure how you would get that into the rhyming pattern and meter of the song, but I’m sure someone more musical than I am could figure that out.

Because it is vitally important!

The resurrection

The ascension

The return.

It’s not just “from the grave to the sky.”  It’s SO MUCH MORE.

It is so important that we confess our belief


  1. Why This Resurrection Was Unique

  2. Why This Resurrection Is Ours, and 

  3. Why This Resurrection Will Be Ours



Every Sunday afternoon, without fail, we are greeted by our God with these words: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Have you ever given much thought to these words?  This salutation, as it is called?

Since it calls us into worship each week, it’s important that we know about it.


Grace to you and peace

We know about grace and we know about peace.  These two amazing gifts we have from God.  Grace, which gives us everything, free for us, but so costly to Him.  And peace…the firstfruits of the cross.  Peace with God, peace with man.  More than just not-war, but the sense, the REALITY that all is well, or all will be well.

From Him who is and who was and who is to come

Yahweh, the Great I AM.  The constant throughout all time - existing before time itself began, in eternity past, who exists now, while the clock ticks, and who will exist in eternity future, when time gives way to eternity.

And the seven spirits who are before His throne

That’s a sermon for another day, but the seven spirits are, properly, the seven-fold Spirit, that is, God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of perfection.


And then, our Lord Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of kings on earth.

And it is here where we should pause and examine.  For it is our risen Lord Jesus Christ that we must focus on this afternoon.  And here we find 3 wonderful descriptions of our Lord.

The first and the third are the simplest, so we will start there:


The Faithful Witness

Our Lord is the one whose testimony can be fully believed - not only did He speak the truth about God…about grace…about our glorious future…but He Himself WAS the truth.

He is also the key legal witness in our trial - when we appear on judgement day before the great white throne, it is Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, who will testify that we have been washed clean by His blood.

The Ruler of Kings on Earth

Jesus is Lord.  It is as simple as that.  He is Lord over all creation, He is Lord over all powers and dominions, He has ownership over all the kings and kingdoms of this earth.  Not accomplished by giving in to Satan’s temptation in the wilderness - If you but worship me, all the kingdoms of this earth will be yours - no, He already had authority as the creator and preserver of life, and He would have authority as the one who died to bring people from every tribe and tongue and nation into His glory.


And finally the difficult one.  Finally the one that, maybe we’ve never thought about before…but the one that gives us the most trouble when we think about it critically: The Firstborn of the dead.

The Firstborn of the Dead, this is the title of our Lord that appears in our theme for this afternoon.  And…it’s a difficult title to understand.

“What are you talking about?  We’re talking about His resurrection, this is talking about His resurrection.  That’s not difficult at all…Jesus…is first.  He is the firstborn.  The first one to go to the grave, and be, in a sense, birthed again by the grave.  For Jesus, the grave wasn’t the end.  He was the first one to rise from the dead!  That’s what made His resurrection such a big deal…right?”

It had NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE.  For only God could rise from the dead.


…but…that’s not exactly true, is it?


Because…have you forgotten about 1 Kings 17, Elijah and the son of the widow at Zaraphath?  

The son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” …And he cried to the Lord… “O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again.”  And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.”

Raised from the dead.  Hundreds of years before Christ did it, this unnamed boy rose from the dead.

And this boy wasn’t the only one.

What about 2 Kings 4 - Elisha and the Shunammite woman’s son?  A very similar story, Elisha stayed with a woman and her son, the son died, and at the mother’s plea, the son was brought back to life.

Think about 2 Kings 13, when a dead body fell into Elisha’s grave and, when it touched Elisha’s bones, it sprang to life.

And Jesus Himself, during His earthly ministry raised 3 people from the dead - the son of the Widow of Nain (Luke 7), the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8), His friend Lazarus of Bethany (John 11).

So…how can Jesus be the firstborn of the dead…if He wasn’t the first to rise from the dead?  Not even close to the first to rise from the dead?  What should we make of this?


Well, we need not despair, nor doubt the truth of Scripture, for there is an answer here, and it is truly wonderful.

Listen to how one commentator describes it

John is giving us grace and peace...from THE CONQUEROR OF DEATH.  The firstborn of the dead does not convey the idea of the original…but rather this is about His miraculous resurrection.  Grace and peace flow to us from the first born of the dead inasmuch as in His resurrection life we are armed for victory over the foe whom He has conquered.  If He be the Firstborn, He will have many brethren.

What does this mean?  In simple language?  It means that Jesus is the first of those who will never die again.  It means that He has authority over the dead and the living.  It means that He is the one with the power over death.  For He is the cause and the beginning of eternal life for all believers.

This means that, not only is Jesus Christ the King of kings on this earth, but He is king over Satan - the one who used to hold the power of death.  He is king over death itself, and death must obey Him.  The invader into God’s perfect world…the final enemy to be defeated…we need not fear death…for Jesus Christ is ruler over the dead, ruler over the one who used to wield death as a weapon, and ruler over death itself.  And all of this through His miraculous resurrection from the dead.

This we see confirmed for us in verse 18 of our reading from Revelation 1 - I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

He rules over death and Hades.  He spoiled the grave.  As we sang together earlier - Where O death is now your sting?  Where your victory O grave?

Death and the grave lie defeated, and we can rejoice!  We must rejoice!

For we are people of the cross…but it’s an empty cross.  Jesus paid for our sins and never has to suffer again.

We are people of the tomb…but it’s an empty tomb.  Jesus went through death and came out the other side victorious, opening up the way that leads to life eternal.

And already now can we reap the benefits He has won for us.  Already now we can rejoice in what His resurrection means for us!  Our second point.

What His resurrection means for us.  This is the question of our Lord’s Day, and it seems to be a rather…selfish question.  How does Christ’s resurrection benefit US.  You and me.

And maybe we wonder…why are we trying to make the resurrection about us…isn’t it all about Jesus?  All glory be to Him?

Well…yes and no.

All glory should go to our God for the resurrection.  No, not to us O Lord, but to your holy name, be all the glory.

Our lives are to be spent spreading and declaring His glory.

The glory of the resurrection belongs to Him…but the benefit of the resurrection…well that belongs to us.

This was all for us, after all.

And, before we get a swelled head, remember what we heard last time in Lord’s Day 16.

The incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection were all for us…but not as a divine valentine’s day gift, God’s version of a box of chocolates because we were so beautiful and lovely, and He wanted to woo us…but rather…this was a desperately needed RESCUE.  A desperately needed cure.  Because we had contracted the fatal disease called sin.

Look at how the Apostle Paul describes it in our reading from Ephesians 2

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body, and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

  • You were dead
  • You followed Satan
  • You followed the evil passions and desires of your flesh
  • You were a child of wrath

So, saying that this is all FOR US…speaks, not of our desirability, but of our need.

The glory is His, the benefit is ours.

And what is this glory?  Though the catechism breaks it up into three parts, we will break it up into two.  The present and the future.  What we ALREADY HAVE from the resurrection, and what we will ONE DAY HAVE.

How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?

First, by His resurrection, He has overcome death, so that He could make us share in the righteousness which He had obtained for us by His death.

Second, by His power, we too are raised up to a new life.

These first two benefits laid out by the catechism are benefits that we ALREADY TODAY, already RIGHT NOW enjoy!

Let me explain.


By His resurrection, He has overcome death

Here, we might be thinking of Lord’s Day 16 last week.  Didn’t He die our death in our place?  


So…was it His death that changed death or was it His resurrection?


Was it His death that changed death?

Yes!  He died in our place, so that we do not have to die.  His death changed death.

Was it His resurrection that changed death?

Yes!  He was the first to rise triumphantly from the grave, never to die again.  He was the first and the only one to have ever raised Himself from the dead.  The only one who had the authority and the power to lay down His life and take it up again.

In His death, He took our place

In His resurrection, He was declared the victor over death.

But it’s more than that.  So much more than that.


By His resurrection He has overcome death so that He could make us share in the righteousness which He had obtained for us by His death.

We see here, again, a connection between His death and His resurrection.  The resurrection makes us share in the righteousness that He accomplished through His death.

And we might ask…how?  Why?

Well, the resurrection was the proclamation and proof that God the Father is fully and completely satisfied with the work that God the Son did on the cross.

Easter Sunday didn’t accomplish any kind of FURTHER atonement - it was finished on the cross.  Completely.

Good Friday wasn’t deficient, needing Easter Sunday to make up for what the cross failed to do.

It was finished.  Jesus Christ said so.  When He proclaimed from the cross those three words: IT IS FINISHED…He really and truly meant it.

But…then He died.  His body was taken away, wrapped in burial clothes, placed in a tomb.  An enormous stone was rolled in front of the tomb, and the Jews, the Romans, even the disciples thought, “Yeah…it is finished.  HE is finished.  This is the end of Jesus.”

The Jews and the Romans celebrated their trouble being finished, and the disciples mourned their hope being finished.

BUT GOD raised Him from the dead!

The grave is filled no longer!  The empty grave had the final word.

As one preacher put it:

On Good Friday, the Son called out: It is Finished!

On Easter Sunday, the Father called out: Amen!  So shall it be!

And so, our righteousness in Him was accomplished on Friday, and applied on Sunday.

But what exactly does this mean?  Well, this is what is known as JUSTIFICATION.  As being made right with God.

And what do we need to be made right with Him?  We need two things.  Two things - neither of which we have in ourselves.

We need to be innocent, and we need to be righteous.

We need to be free from sin, and full of good works.

And for those who are dead in our sins…this is…rather impossible for us to do on our own.

Which is why Paul continues with my two favorite words, say them with me if you know them: BUT GOD

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.  By grace you have been saved…and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

It is not works that save us.

Well…it’s not OUR WORKS that save us.  It was HIS WORK.

His work on the cross - taking our sins from us, bearing them in His body, paying the price, receiving the wages of our sin.  This made us INNOCENT.  But not yet RIGHTEOUS.

Throughout His life, our Lord kept the law on our behalf.  The ceremonial laws - being circumcised at the temple on the 8th day, making the pilgrimages, making sacrifices, receiving the baptism of John in the River Jordan.

And the moral laws - perfectly loving God - serving the one true God in the one true way, honoring His name, keeping His day.  Perfectly loving His neighbour - submitting to His parents and all those in authority, not murdering or harboring murderous intent in His heart, not lusting or committing adultery, not stealing or being greedy, never lying, never coveting.

His PERFECT OBEDIENCE, being obedient, even unto death…is given to us.  It is credited to our account.  We have been JUSTIFIED.  Once for all!

And the catechism goes on…


By His power, we are raised up to a new life.

So, the resurrection of our Lord did not only GIVE something TO US, but it AWOKE something IN US.

We are raised to a new life.  That’s more than a gift.  That’s a transformation.  That’s a resurrection of our own.

Even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ!  We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Our spiritual nature that was dead…remember…dead in sin…right from birth, right from conception…we were children of wrath.

BUT NOW…because of the resurrection, because God wasn’t satisfied that His people were dead and wicked…He raised our spiritual nature back to life!

Our spiritual nature is now alive…but we are…still riding with the training wheels on, so to speak.  We still crash.  A LOT.  But He has put us back on the bike, and is causing our feet to move the pedals.

This is what is known as sanctification.  BEING MADE HOLY.  It’s a process.  But also…it’s already done.

How does that work?  Well…we ARE HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS ALREADY because of the cross…and we are in the process of being made holy and righteous because of the resurrection.

Hebrews 10:14.  The wonderful Hebrews 10:14.  A little over a year ago, I told you to put Hebrews 10:14 on your whiteboard.  Maybe it’s still there?  If not, put it back up there.  Because this one verse will give you confidence when you are discouraged, and spur you on to greater holiness when you are complacent.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

For by a single offering, He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.


Do you see what this means?

BECAUSE OF THE CROSS...we are already perfect!

I know that you sin.  I know that I sin.  I know that we are totally depraved and we are dead in our sins.  I know all of that, I don’t deny any of that.  But look what it says!



“I’m trying so hard to be perfect” ...stop!  Stop, look at the cross, and realize that you already are.  This can give us much needed confidence in our discouragement.

And yet…that’s not where the verse ends, does it?

Because we are already-but-not-yet perfect.

We have been declared to be righteous, declared to be holy…and…now it’s our turn.  It’s our turn to live out of our status.  Now, of course, we do not do this alone.  We do not do this by ourselves, but by the Holy Spirit empowering us in our new life.

Raised to life as holy people, now learning how to live a holy life.  This can spur us on in our complacency.

We are SAINTS - struggling saints, sinning saints, saints with scuffed knees and the odd broken arm or two…but we are saints nonetheless.  Because of the work of our Saviour, obtained in His death, shared with us because of His resurrection.

This is what we have already in our current resurrection…but there is another resurrection coming.  Another resurrection waiting for us.  Our final point.

We are living in a time of tension.  And I don’t mean out in the world, I mean in the church.  We are living in a time of philosophical, theological, temporal tension.

We live, as Christians, in this state because through our faith in Christ Jesus, the firstborn of the dead…all of the spiritual blessings are ours already, but the full enjoyment of these blessings is not yet ours.

And this can be described in the 4 words: already-but-not-yet.  Already-but-not-yet.

We just heard that we are ALREADY BUT NOT YET PERFECT…well, we are ALREADY BUT NOT YET RESURRECTED too.

Because we are already raised with Christ, but also not yet raised with Christ.

Our catechism recognizes this tension: 

By His power, we too are raised up to a new life - we ARE RAISED.  It’s already happened.  Our spiritual nature has been raised from the dead, we are holy and learning to be holy

But then… Christ's resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.

A pledge.  A promise of what is to come.  We look at His resurrection, and we look forward to our resurrection.

But..we have it already.  Yes.

But…it’s still coming?  Yes.


Already but not yet.  And this isn’t only something present in our catechism, as though the authors here were a little confused…but this is something that we see throughout the New Testament.

  • We are already adopted in Christ (Romans 8:15), but also, we are not yet adopted (Romans 8:23);

  • We are already redeemed in Christ (Ephesians 1:7), but not yet redeemed (Ephesians 4:30);

  • Already sanctified in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2), but not yet sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24);

  • Already saved in Christ (Ephesians 2:8), but not yet saved (Romans 5:9);


And…the tension in our Lord’s Day…directly from the Apostle Paul:

  • We are already raised with Christ (Ephesians 2:6), but also, we are not yet raised (1 Corinthians 15:52).


He raised us with with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus - already raised!

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed - we WILL be raised!

That which we already are…

That which we are currently learning to be…

Will one day be EVERYTHING WE ARE.


No more a fight between our dying old nature and our growing new nature.

No more a war against our doubt, when we feel as though, due to our weakness, we don't’ belong to Christ, we don’t belong to the family of God

No more a battle with our complacency, some days thinking we do not have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.


But instead, we will be PERFECTED.  We will be GLORIFIED.  Not a single pocket of resistance left.  Not a trace of our former nature as children of wrath, but EVERY SINGLE CELL will be that of a perfect, holy, glorious, pure child of God.


We will have pure souls, housed in pure bodies.

Our souls will have no trace of our own sin

Our bodies will have no trace of the sinful world we once lived in.


No weaknesses, no pain, no hunger, no thirst, no mourning or brokenness, no disease or disability.

Just as our Lord’s suffering and distress gave way to glory, so too with us - His people.

Where our head has gone, the body will follow.

We will be like Him, and be where He is, forever.

Our Lord’s resurrection is not something to forget or minimize, but truly something to wonder, hope, and rejoice in, for all of our days here, and then forever.


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

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