Christ, The First Fruits

By / Apr 12

Well if you would take your Bibles in hand once again and turn back with me this time to the New Testament scriptures and to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians; 1 Corinthians chapter 15. This is, of course, one of the great passages that deals with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament and it speaks strong words of rich encouragement to us as we celebrate the victory of Christ over the grave this Easter. In a moment, we’re going to read from the beginning of the chapter through verse 28, although our attention is going to focus on verses 12 through 28. And if you’d look there with me, verses 12 through 28, very briefly, I want you to see Paul’s argument falls into two major sections, two big chunks. Verses 12 through 19 first of all, deals with a “What if?” The Corinthians were asking, “What if the dead are not raised? Would it really make that much of a difference to us?” So Paul teases out the disastrous consequences of rejecting the doctrine of resurrection. And then in verses 20 through 28, he deals with an “In fact.” So, “What if?” -12 through 19; 20 through 28, “In fact.” In fact, Christ has been raised, and so he goes on to tease out for us the implications of that glorious fact.

And that structure, if you think about it, is enormously helpful. It ought to be, as we wrestle today with all sorts of “What if” questions. “What if the pandemic continues for many more weeks? What if we cannot find an effective treatment? What if I get sick? What if someone I love gets sick? What if the economy doesn’t recover quickly? What if? What if?” And we can torture ourselves with “What ifs?” can’t we? In our text, Paul responds to “What ifs?” with “In fact.” He responds by preaching Gospel certainties. He responds by reminding us the tomb is empty, Christ is risen, and hope cannot be defeated by “What if.”

Well, before we take a look at the text, let’s pause first of all and pray once again and ask for God to help us understand His holy Word. Let us pray.

O God, we want to hear Your voice, so open our ears, open our hearts. Illuminate our understanding. Give light, O Lord, by Your Holy Spirit now, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

1 Corinthians 15 at verse 1. This is the Word of God:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

“What If?”

What does Easter have to do with life under the coronavirus crisis? Or let me pose the question perhaps a little more provocatively. If Jesus had never risen from the dead, would it make any difference to the way you handle life during the pandemic? That’s my question as we turn to 1 Corinthians 15 this morning. Does the empty tomb have any bearing on how we process the fact of this empty church today? If Jesus is alive, what should that do to our hearts as we watch this virus spread? 

Now in verse 12, Paul responds to some people in the church at Corinth who were asking a, “What if?” question about the resurrection. Look at verse 12. “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” So understand what’s going on. There were people at Corinth who were saying, “You know, I don’t love the concept of bodily resurrection. I’m really not sure I’m buying it. And anyway, will this idea make much of a difference to our lives if we were to take it out of the structure of our Christian faith? Do we really need it? Maybe we can do without the doctrine of a bodily resurrection.” They were living in a culture that viewed the body typically in wholly negative terms. You may remember in Acts 17:32 the apostle Paul was preaching in Athens and Luke says of Paul’s audience, “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” The body, in their minds, was a prison from which we all seek escape. And so the concept of a bodily resurrection, that the body might live forever somehow, was to them absurd. That was common in Greek culture. And then add to that the dynamics of church life in Corinth in particular and you may begin to understand why they were asking questions, doubting the resurrection.

You may remember the Corinthians were immensely proud of their spiritual gifts and their perceived spiritual prowess. Perhaps they had begun to rethink the idea of resurrection because they thought they’d already received the fullness of Christian blessing and there was nothing more to come. They had experienced, as it were, spiritual resurrection. “Why do we need a bodily resurrection?” But whatever the reasons behind their doubts, they had come to reject the doctrine of a resurrection from the dead. And so in verses 13 through 19, Paul takes on their objection and asks his own, “What ifs?” to tease out the implications. 

Do you see that in verses 13 through 19? “Okay guys,” he’s saying, “let’s play this out all the way to the end and see what difference the rejection of the idea of resurrection really does make.” And notice carefully, everything else he’s going to say to them, every other consequence he will unpack for them, flows from this one fundamental point, this one conclusion. If we reject the idea of a resurrection of the dead in general, then logically we must also reject the idea of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead in particular. You see how he puts it there in verse 13? “If there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised.” And now what difference does that make? If Jesus stays dead, Paul says essentially there are two groups of consequences. In 13 through 15, there are consequences for Gospel communication and then in 16 through 19 there are consequences for personal salvation.

Consequences for Gospel Communication 

Think about the consequences for Gospel communication first. Look at verse 14. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The Gospel message that Paul preached, that he summarizes in verses 1 through 11, proclaimed the cross and the empty tomb. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was crucified and buried, and on the third day, according to the Scriptures, he rose again from the dead.” The death of Jesus, Paul is saying, could make no difference, it could provide no atonement for sin, no pardon for guilty sinners, no hope of rescue from death and judgment if the death of Jesus was not also followed by the resurrection of Jesus, if Jesus was not vindicated as the righteous one by triumphing over the grave. If Christ did not rise, the message that Paul preached and the faith in the Corinthians hearts that responded to that message, he says, is vain and foolish and empty. If Jesus’ desiccated old bones lie moldering some place in a tomb in Israel right now, well then I may as well close my Bible and leave the pulpit right now and never return. If Jesus is dead, Paul is saying, Christianity is a sham. 

And for preachers, that doesn’t simply mean that we have been wasting our time proclaiming the risen Savior. It’s much worse than that. Look at verse 15. “We are even found to be misrepresenting God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true, the dead are not raised.” The verb translated “found to be” is sometimes called a divine passive. Paul is saying, “If the dead are not raised, and I’m preaching a risen Christ, God will find me bearing false witness against Him.” The finding there implies a judicial finding. Paul is shuddering at the thought of standing before God in the last judgment having been found misrepresenting Him, telling lies about Him. And so look; here’s the point. Do you see it? It’s not difficult. If Christ did not rise, the entire enterprise of church life and Christian ministry is a fool’s errand that can do nothing but expose those who devote their lives to the work of Gospel communication to the judgment of God. That’s Paul’s startling message. 

Consequences for Personal Salvation

And it’s not just preachers that it affects. Is it? There are consequences for more than Gospel communication. There are consequences too for personal salvation, far more urgently. First, if Christ did not rise from the grave, he says, then our sin and our guilt remains. Verses 16 and 17, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” You see, the Bible, everywhere, teaches that sin requires atonement by sacrifice in order to be pardoned. Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” And the only sacrifice that God will accept is the death of a sinless, perfect substitute in our place. Jesus proclaimed Himself to be that substitute. Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” John 10:11, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

But if after all that Jesus was not in fact a sinless substitute, if He had been lying and deceiving Himself and us all along, well then when He hung on the cross He would have hung there Himself a sinner, justly dying under the wrath of God, not in our place, not for our sin, but the wrath of God due His own sin. Death would have bound Him forever and there never would have been any possibility of that first Easter Sunday morning when the stone was rolled away. You see, the resurrection of Jesus was the Father’s justification of His Son. It was Christ’s vindication, the public declaration that Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect, acceptable to God, and atoning for our sin completely. But if He is still dead, well then you see, He has not been vindicated. He is condemned, in fact. He is lost Himself, and we are lost right along with Him. 

Our whole salvation, Paul is teaching us, hangs on the answer to this question – “Did Jesus Christ, in the same body in which He was crucified, dead and buried, rise from the dead, alive forevermore on the third day?” If He did not, our sin remains and we are lost. Without Easter, you see, there is only defeat for Jesus and hell for us. That’s the implication, isn’t it, of verse 18 when he speaks about the fate of those who have fallen asleep in Christ? He’s talking about people who believed in the risen Jesus. If Jesus has not risen in fact, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ, he says, have perished. They’ve perished, under the wrath of God still. Without Easter, there’s only defeat for Jesus and hell for us. 

And so verse 19 is an understatement. Do you see verse 19? “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” What a pathetic bunch we are if Jesus is still dead. Right? We have nothing to say to suffering millions confronted with bodily weakness, with economic peril, with the reality of our own mortality as this dreadful disease continues to roll on. We have no hope for eternity to lend courage in time for these difficult days. Frankly, we are wasting our breath spending another moment talking about Jesus if His bones lie in a tomb in Israel some place. So the stakes are pretty high, aren’t they? 

This isn’t a game of Jenga. This is what the Corinthians were missing. You know the game Jenga? The little wooden blocks, all set at different angles, and there’s a tower and you wiggle a block and if you’re careful you can tease one out and remove it from the tower and the whole thing will still stand. But Paul is saying, “Look, the resurrection isn’t like one of those Jenga blocks. If you remove the resurrection, the tower, the edifice of your Christian faith comes crashing down. Everything depends on the empty tomb.” So the stakes are high. 

“In Fact”

But having run with the Corinthians’ doubts, their “What if?” about the resurrection, all the way to the terrible logical conclusions, notice now in verses 20 through 28 that he responds with an “In fact.” A glorious “In fact.” Verse 20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” Now back in verses 1 through 11, Paul rehearsed for us the facts of Christ’s death and resurrection along with his various post-resurrection appearances. First to Cephas, that’s Peter, then the twelve disciples as a group, then more than five hundred others, most of whom Paul says at the time of the writing of this letter to the Corinthians were still alive; you could go and talk to them and confirm for yourself. They were eyewitnesses. Then He appeared to James and the other apostles and then lastly He appeared to the apostle Paul himself. What is Paul’s point? Why is he telling the Corinthians that? He’s simply saying, “Look, the resurrection of Jesus is not a myth. It’s not wish fulfillment. It’s not even mass delusion. It is history. It is fact. In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.” It belongs to the world of facts. And because it’s a fact, it changes everything forever. Paul says, Jesus, in fact, has been raised “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Instead of those who have fallen asleep back in verse 18 perishing, because Jesus rose, the first fruits of a greater harvest to come. He is the advance sample of the full harvest guaranteeing the destiny of all who believe in Him. 

What happened to Him – here’s the point – what happened to Him will happen to you. Isn’t that amazing? It will happen to you, believer in Jesus. History, no doubt, will show one of the great, if not the great tragic fact of our time is the COVID-19 virus that so suddenly arose to take its place amongst deadly pathogens, against which right now we still have no effective defense. More than 20,000 U.S. deaths, 109,000 globally since the pandemic began. That’s a grim fact with which we’ve all had to come to terms. Our lives, our businesses, our communities, they’ve been turned upside-down and inside-out by it. Haven’t they? Nothing remains untouched by that fact. But you see here, Paul is reminding us of another fact that is far more significant still with even greater implications. COVID-19 kills. Jesus Christ rose again so that there is no part of our lives, no aspect of our daily routines that is not transformed by this one great fact – Jesus gives life! 

And if you look down at verses 22 through 29, Paul even spells out how all of that works for us. First of all, he wants to talk to us about the mechanism of resurrection, the theological mechanism in verses 21 and 22. He’s asking us to look back, actually in 22 through 29, he asks us to look in three directions. First, look back to Adam and see the parallel between Adam and Christ. That’s the mechanism by which this whole thing works theologically. Then he’s going to say look forward in 23 and 24 to the manner of our resurrection, how it will be when Christ comes. And then in 25 to the end, look up and see Christ’s present reign, how He sits upon the throne in mastery. So method, manner and mastery if you like; alliterated points.

Look Back: The Theological Method of Resurrection 

Think about the theological method. How does this all work? Twenty-one and 22, “As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Look back to Adam and see the parallel, Paul is saying, between Adam and Christ. Jesus, if you like, is the second and last Adam. The first, by his sin, brought death into the world, as we know all too well right now. But the second, by His obedience, even unto death, through His resurrection brought life. Just as death is the universal experience of all of Adam’s natural descendants, life is the experience of all who are in Christ by faith. You’re in Adam naturally, and you die, and you get into Christ by grace through faith, and you live. It’s like having your plumbing connected to the wrong pipeline. Death flows through one, and if you’re connected to it, death will flow to you. But if you’re connected to the other, if you’re connected by faith to Jesus Christ, life flows from Him to you. 

And so the question really is, “To whom are you connected today? With whom are you living today in union? Are you in Adam or are you in Christ?” How could you, why would you face the coronavirus pandemic in Adam, joined to Adam, connected to the pipeline of death when there is life available freely in the Lord Jesus Christ? You know, when you trust in Jesus you begin to taste resurrection life erupting into your heart right here and now, changing you inside and out. And more than that, you are guaranteed the fullness of resurrection life hereafter. Death is not defeat to you, but victory. And one day, death itself will be undone. If you want to understand how Jesus’ resurrection makes a difference to you, Paul says look back to Adam, see the parallel between Adam and Christ. You're either in Adam or you’re in Christ. One leads to death; the other to life. Which is true of you? Which is true of you? Are you in Adam or are you in Christ? Look back.

Look Forward: The Manner of Our Resurrection 

Then, Paul says look forward – 23 and 24. By Christ has come the resurrection of the dead, “but each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” Look back, you see the theological mechanism by which Christ’s resurrection leads to our resurrection. Now we need to look forward to see the manner by which we will be swept up into the resurrection life that is to come. Paul says that Christ, on that first Easter Sunday, when He walked alive again from the tomb, was the first fruits, the guarantee of the full harvest that is yet to come. And He is coming back. He will split the skies. A vast company of the redeemed will come with Him. The angelic choir that sang praises that night over Bethlehem when Jesus was born into the world will return with a trumpet blast and heaven will erupt in adoration as the great King Himself comes back to take His possession. 

And every eye will see Him and every knee will bow before Him and believers, Paul says, will be raised with bodies that reflect the glory of Christ’s exalted humanity. And then the final judgment will begin. New creation will come. All things will be made new and death will be swallowed up in victory. And then at last, Christ, the triumphant second Adam, God’s true King, His vicegerent who has filled the earth and subdued it, will hand the kingdom to God having destroyed every rule and every authority and power. All that opposes righteousness, every stronghold of wickedness, everything that militates against the goodness of God and the rightness of His rule – from satanic power to viral pandemics to wicked people living in rebellion against Him – all will be overthrown and the dominion of grace and glory will be complete. What a day it will be when our Savior comes. 

You see, it is not only for this life that we have hope, is it? Because Jesus rose again, we’re looking beyond this life, beyond suffering here, beyond thorns and thistles and the sweat of our brows, beyond the curse, beyond death. We know because Jesus lives and He is the first fruits, a new world is coming. That’s our hope, and that hope fuels courage in the face of pandemics and personal pain. Hope like that makes us live for more than right now and helps us value more than present comfort. Our gaze is fixed beyond the horizon line on the world to come. Here, we have no continuing city. We are looking for that city which is to come, whose architect and builder is God. Turn on your TV screen and all you see is COVID-19 24/7. In such days don’t we need reminding? I need reminding to lift my eyes to the glory that waits and to remember this world is not our home. Because Jesus lives, there is a new world to come. 

Look Up: Christ Sits on the Throne in Mastery  

Look back and see the mechanism that connects us to Jesus’ resurrection. Then look forward and see the manner of our resurrection that is to come. And then finally, 25 through 28, look up and be reminded that right now Christ has mastery. Verse 25, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” Paul is reflecting on Psalm 110 verse 1 which speaks about Christ and says, “The LORD said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” And 1 Corinthians 15:25 is telling us that’s what’s happening right now. Christ is risen. He reigns at the right hand of God and He will continue to reign until Psalm 110 verse 1 is perfectly fulfilled and God has put all His enemies under Christ’s feet. Of course the last enemy to be destroyed will be death, verse 26. One day, death will be made to work in reverse in the glorious resurrection of the dead. Until then, Jesus sits the throne, right now, reigning at the right hand. 

We’ve got to get a grip on that today, don’t we? It could not be easier to doubt it after all. We’re afraid. We’re uncertain. But Christians can have peace and a quiet confidence through all of this because we know none of this is outside the plan of the One who reigns. None of this has toppled Jesus from His position at the Father’s right hand. Indeed, we know even this must work together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. Because He died and rose again, Jesus Christ, today, is sitting on the throne King of kings and Lord of lords. I love the shorter catechism’s definition of Christ’s kingly office. In question 26 it asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a king?” And it answers, “Christ executes the office of a king in subduing us to Himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies.” Isn’t that magnificent? What a great summary of Biblical teaching. 

Maybe you’ve found yourself wondering, “What is Jesus up to right now in these strange, hard days? What is He doing?” This is what He is doing. He is subduing us to Himself through the Gospel, ruling and defending us by His Word and Spirit, and restraining and conquering all His and our enemies in His mighty, sovereign providence.” Now to be sure, verses 27 and 28 remind us one day the work will be complete, Christ will surrender the kingdom to God and Himself submit as Messianic king that God might be all in all. But that work is not yet done. So here is truth to rest in, do you see it, on this strange Easter Sunday – perhaps the strangest of our lives. Here’s truth to rest in, never more important to rest in than today – Jesus Christ is alive and He reigns as King over all and He will reign until all things are in subjection to Him. And until that day dawns, He is at work to conquer all His and our enemies from the demonic to the pandemic. And none of it, not the worst of it can thwart His perfect design. 

Here’s a refuge for the world-weary soul. Christ has triumphed over the grave. Do you believe that? His resurrection guarantees yours. And until then, He never sleeps, He never steps away from the throne, and He never takes His eye from the progress of His kingdom in the world. He reigns. There’s a safe harbor for every troubled heart in these stormy days. May God bless you and yours. May you come to find shelter under the wings of the Almighty. May you come to find comfort in the fact of the empty tomb. May you come and bow before the throne of the exalted Christ having been subdued to Himself by the Gospel. May the Lord richly bless you indeed this Easter. Let us pray.

Father, thank You for the good news about Jesus. Make it life and health and peace in our hearts. May the reign of King Jesus cause us true joy. We pray that we may yet see His kingly scepter extended in our days to the end of this pandemic that we may be reunited in worship together. Until then, help us to find shelter in the storm under the shadow of His wings. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.



Remember All He Said

By / Apr 12

Well as we come to the preaching of God’s Word, let me invite you to take up your Scriptures, the Bibles, and turn with me to the gospel of Luke, chapter 24. Friends, if ever there was a day that reminds us and gives us hope it’s Resurrection Sunday, isn’t it? It’s a celebration that Jesus is alive, that in Him we have hope both in the here and now but also hope in the life hereafter. It’s the hope of forgiveness. It’s the hope of peace with God. It’s the hope that we have assurance that what God has begun He will bring to completion. It’s the hope of heaven and being with Jesus Christ, seeing Him face to face. And you see, all of our hope is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ Himself.

Now one thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that irrespective of who you are, rich or poor, strong or weak, male or female, every single one of us will face death. Voddie Baucham said it this way. He said, “Last time I checked, the death rate was one per person.” And there’s a sense in which we smile at that because it’s a simple but truthful statement. And this being true, it really ought to matter to us whether the account of Jesus’ resurrection is mere myth or whether it is based on historical facts and is therefore true. Truth that has been relayed to us by witnesses who were willing to give of their life in the face of the threats and the torture and even death itself. And not one of them would recant the message that they proclaimed. Why would they do that? It’s simply because each one had seen Jesus Christ dead, and a couple of days later they saw Him alive. And then for the next forty days He spoke with them and He ate with them and He spent time with them teaching them and reminding them of all that He had said.

Now some of you will know that the 2017 online word of the year was “fake news.” Fake news is a phrase that is used to refer to the half-truth, the blatant lies, and of course the rhetorical spin that often is used to create alternative facts that contradict reality; kind of like a smokescreen to take our attention off what is really vitally important and true. And we mustn’t think for a moment that fake news is the 20th and the 21st century phenomenon. This goes way back. It goes back to the times of Jesus, if not before that, obviously. But in the times of Jesus when the authorities couldn’t find the body, they had to spin a story in order to justify what had taken place. So we have various theories that emerged – the swoon theory or the stolen body theory. And each of those, when looked upon in light of Scripture, is easily disproven. Friends, the resurrection is true and it’s a glorious new beginning where Christ has made all things new as Colossians tells us. And His victory is the believer’s victory so that the power of sin and death and hell has been severed once and for all. Christianity, as C.F. Evans has stated, “Christianity is a religion of the resurrection, so much so that our Savior’s being or not being the Messiah stands or falls with the resurrection.”

So with that statement fresh in our minds as we come to God’s Word, let’s remember that we are reading God’s inspired Word given to us as an attestation of the truth claims concerning the resurrection. So let’s read from the gospel of Luke, chapter 24 and verses 1 through 12:

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

Let’s bow before the Lord in prayer. Let’s pray.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for its truth claims and how it ministers to each and every one of our lives. Father, we pray that You would take it by Your Spirit, cut us to the heart, change us, and allow us to believe more fervently. And we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.

Now many of you will know that Luke’s account is one of the four records we have that detail the life and the ministry and the death and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Like each of the synoptic gospels, Luke sets aside twenty-five percent of his narrative to the final week in Jesus’ life. And so it begins in Luke 19 where we are reminded that His final week begins with His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The crowds rejoiced and they praised God, we are told, for all the mighty works they had seen in His life and ministry. And yet when you read the narrative, you realize that there’s also a stark juxtaposition that’s taking place here because in the midst of rejoicing and celebrations, amidst the crowds hanging on every word that is uttered from the mouth of Jesus Christ during that final week, we also know that behind the scenes, in the shadows if you’d like, are the religious leaders. And the religious leaders are listening to the words of Christ in order to find a reason to destroy Jesus. And yet the text of Scripture reminds us that they found nothing that they could pin on Him.

And yet in the midst of them not finding anything to justify the arrest and ultimately to destroy Him, we also know that God’s eternal purpose and plan must come to pass; it had to come to pass. And so it came not through something errant in Christ, because that could not be; He is sinless. But rather, it came about through one of Jesus’ own apostles, Judas Iscariot, who would agree to betray Jesus to the religious leaders and authorities for a mere thirty pieces of silver. So after the Passover meal, Jesus and the disciples headed out to the Mount of Olives. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, it is there that Judas would betray Jesus with a kiss. It’s interesting that this very gesture of love and friendship and care, this expression of friendship and dear friendship at that, becomes the very means that led to death. And so Jesus was arrested, He was put on trial, He was found guilty, and despite Pilate finding no guilt deserving of death in Jesus, in order to appease the crowd he hands Jesus over to be crucified. And on Friday morning, Jesus was crucified between two thieves. And by mid-afternoon, the Messiah was verifiably dead.

And this of course is attested to us in Scripture when the Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear and both blood and water flowed out. Don’t think for a moment that these Roman soldiers didn’t know what they were doing. They were professional killers. They knew what to be looking for in order to attest and verify that someone was dead, and Jesus was dead. Well by the end of that Friday as the people were preparing for the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea had approached Pilate and asked him to take down the body of Christ. And he did that and he wrapped Him in linen cloths and placed Him in a tomb that had never been used before. And along with Joseph, both Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and of course other women, they were there and saw the tomb in which Jesus was placed. They saw Him lying on the slab, inside lying there wrapped in linen cloths. And it would be these same women that would return on Sunday morning with spices and ointments in hand to complete the burial process.

Now please understand that that Saturday, that Sabbath, they rested as per the commandment. They were not to do any work on the Sabbath. But we need to remind ourselves that in the waiting, these women and the disciples and the apostles would have been filled with grief and sadness. Perhaps fear and anxiety with regards to the future – what would it all entail and hold for them? You see, Jesus, their beloved Master, was no longer with them. And so friends, when the women arrived at the tomb on Sunday morning, they expected to find the light of the world encased in death and darkness – behind the stone, wrapped in linen, lying on the slab alone and completely isolated, in darkness and decay setting in. Never in a million years would they have expected to find what they eventually found. 

They Were Perplexed 

And so firstly, what I want us to consider from the text is I want you to notice how the women were initially perplexed. They were initially perplexed. We see that in the first four verses. You know, one of the difficulties that many of us have with the Easter story is our familiarity with the text and the details thereof. We know and we believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday morning. We know the end in other words. And the danger is, we read the narrative of Friday and Saturday through the grid of the resultant end. That was not the case with any of the followers of Jesus. They didn’t have the privilege of knowing how it was going to turn out at that point. And so the women, on their way to the tomb, they would have been grief-stricken, depressed, exhausted; perhaps not having slept for 24 to 48 hours. All their plans, all their hopes, their meaning for daily existence had been shattered and stripped away. I mean, you just think of Mary Magdalene. She was from Magdala and she was the one that was released from multiple demons by the hand of Jesus. The whole text of Scripture shows how she owed her entire life to the Messiah. And now He was gone. In a sense, they had been brought to the end of themselves as they moved from the anguish of Friday to the wait, the long wait of Saturday, to the trepidation of Sunday.

And you see, it’s often the waiting, perhaps the long waiting, which is most torturous. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally it can be exhausting. Isn’t that true for many of us in this season of our lives where this generation is facing these restrictions at this time which previous generations didn’t have to face. We’re waiting for the COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted, and we’re waiting, and we’re waiting. And sometimes fear and anxiety and the trial and the trouble that comes with that gets the better of us. And yet sometimes in Scripture we recognize and we see how the waiting is actually part of the grace of God towards us. It is a grace that is given for us to recuperate, to sit at His feet, to grow, to intercede, to ask the Lord to prepare us for when the morning will come. 

These women expected that day to complete the burial process, to shed some more tears, absolutely, and then finally they expected to close the tomb, to walk away, to go home and try to figure out what life was going to look like from that point forward. I mean, which one of us, who of us would go to a cemetery with flowers in hand and expect to find our loved one standing next to the grave in which we found them to be buried a short while ago? But they arrived there that Sunday morning to find that the stone had been rolled away. That might have been a relief in many a way because they might have been wondering how they were going to get in, in order to complete the burial process. And so they arrive there and they enter the tomb and there’s no body, only the linen cloths. And you can understand how the women were perplexed. They had no category in their thinking or their understanding that would help them to understand where the body of Jesus had gone to. In the gospel of John, we hear how Mary turns to the person that she thinks is the gardener and says, “Where is the body? They’ve taken the body of my Lord!” You see, all this additional uncertainty merely intensifies their grief. 
Isn’t it also true that uncertainty, concern about what tomorrow may bring, it tends to intensify the undergirding operating emotions of our life? It brings it to the surface. Once again, it’s also a grace because God in His mercy shows us perhaps where the idols of our life are deeply hidden and rooted, and so we have the opportunity to actually bring that before His throne and to confess our inadequacy and our weakness, asking for Him to strengthen us once again. 

They Were Confronted 

And that brings us to the second point, and that is to notice that they were then confronted, they were confronted. We see that in verse 4, the second part of verse 4 through to verse 6. And it’s interesting because as much as they were perplexed, they had still not grasped the significance of the empty tomb. It’s not immediately obvious to them. When things are beyond what the finite mind can grasp, brothers and sisters, is it not true that it requires divine revelation often to bring an explanation so that we can rest in the hands of a sovereign God? So we have the final word of Scripture here, divine revelation given to us so we may be encouraged and find comfort with each passing day. 

But in this case, I want you to notice how the text tells us that all of a sudden two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. These two men were in fact angels, supernatural beings; they were messengers who belonged to and who descended from the realm of splendor and pure, radiant glory, hence their clothes were a reflection of where they had come from. In some sense I wonder if that description of dazzling apparel is not meant to get our minds to be cast back to Jesus at the transfiguration where His clothes were transformed and they were blazing in terms of white appearance. We’ll also come across again two other men, perhaps the same two angels, at the ascension who have white, dazzling robes who then tell the disciples that as Jesus is going, so He will return one day.

You see, these angels, they were mere messengers, mere messengers. They were not there to draw attention to themselves, but they had been sent in order to confront the women’s unbelief and to remind them of what Jesus had previously said, to remind them of the words of life. And we see this when these frightened women, when they bow their faces to the ground, the angels do not try to comfort them or give them some sort of assurance, because the focus was not about the angels. But immediately the angels say, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” That’s not a harmless question. The angels are confronting the real issue here, and that was unbelief. “Why are you here? Why are you trying and desiring to anoint the risen Lord Jesus? He is not dead. He is alive ,as He said these things will take place.”

They Were Reminded 

And that brings us to the third point for us to consider and that was they were reminded. They were reminded. We see that in verses 6 through 8. Just in case the women fail to understand what the angel was saying when they said initially, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angels reiterate, “He is not here. He is risen.” And then while they are busy processing these glorious words, the angels continue to explain, “Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee.” Again, the angels are not there to draw attention to their own words for these women. No, not at all. They quote Jesus’ words concerning what must take place and this is what results in the women remembering the words of the Messiah. It was about Jesus. They were there simply to convey and remind them what they had already been told. 

But the question that obviously arises is, “When did Jesus teach the words that the angels quoted?” Well there’s a number of instances. A couple would be just after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, Jesus said this. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” On another occasion immediately after Jesus’ transfiguration He said this. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days, He will rise again.” Again, upon leaving Galilee for Jerusalem with His disciples, in Luke chapter 18 – probably about 8 to 10 days prior to the events that are happening here – Jesus said this. He said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets,” in other words, by the Old Testament, “will be accomplished, for He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise again.”

You see, friends, this was the consistent message of Jesus Christ throughout His three years or so of ministry. We see it in some of the parables. We see it in some of the metaphors that He uses where He will break down this temple and in three days it will be raised up again. He was to be killed, but the grave would not hold Him. He would rise, and He would rise in order to save His people from their sins.

Now don’t miss the beautiful detail in our text that after the angels reiterate Jesus’ words the women remembered and they returned changed. No longer were they overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, perhaps grief and sadness. There was a change in their disposition as they headed back to go and relay this and what they had seen and what they had been told to the others. You see, remembering the words of Jesus had taken the focus off of themselves. It had taken the focus off of what they could see visibly and rather it had reignited their faith and it had reordered their gaze upon their Rock, upon the Shepherd, upon the one who is the Word of life, upon Christ Himself. The same would happen later on in the text when Jesus confronted the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and the other apostles in Jerusalem, He would remind them of all that He had said. Each of them would believe in turn. In fact, their hearts burned, we’re told, while He spoke to them from Scripture.

They Became Ambassadors 

And that brings us to the final point that I want us to consider, and that is, they became ambassadors. They became ambassadors. Because friends, how does anyone ever believe the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead? The truth is, that each of us comes to believe the good news because we believe the Word of God. We are meant to be people of the book, so let us be people of the book. Even in our day and age, let us be people of the book where we read the Word of God and we believe the Word of God and we reflect upon the Word of God and we pray the Word of God and we live out the Word of God. And so having remembered Jesus’ words and understanding that Jesus was indeed alive, they became ambassadors. No longer is it in the past, but not it’s in the present/future. They were perplexed, they were confronted, and they were reminded, but now they became ambassadors. And so Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and the other women, they returned from the tomb to tell the apostles of all the things that had taken place. They couldn’t help themselves. They needed to tell the others who were still trapped in fear and anxiety and uncertainty and grief, who were at the end of themselves just as they had been just a short while previously. 

Isn’t that Christian love? When the truth sets us free, isn’t it true that we want others who are still encased in grief and in fear and in anxiety and sin and spiritual death, don’t we long for them to know freedom? One of the astonishing things that we read in this text in verses 11 and 12 is that upon receiving this good news the disciples wrote it off as an idle tale. You see, they did not believe it because it was just unbelievable. No one had seen this kind of event before. But it did spur Peter on in his rambunctious character and personality to run towards the tomb. And in the gospel of John we’re told that both John and Peter headed out to the tomb that morning. John arrived first, but Peter didn’t stop outside like John did. He ran straight into the tomb and he saw that there was only the linen cloths and no body. John followed shortly thereafter. And yet the text tells us that even when they saw the linen cloths with no body, they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. It appears that they still did not understand. They understood the body was missing, but they didn’t understand the implications until Peter saw and he spoke with Jesus later that day. Then he believed in the resurrected Messiah. When Jesus reminded them of the words of life that He had previously spoken, the world was never the same as a result when it captured and inflamed their hearts. They remembered all that He had said and they then went out and they proclaimed it and the world was not the same. They would proclaim it even to their own deaths.

So let me say this in closing. A brief excursus of Luke 24 or any of the other gospels, any passages in the New Testament, Paul’s writings to the Corinthians, they all testify to the truth claims of Jesus rising bodily from death by the power of God., that He is indeed alive. And because He is alive and He is the risen Savior of humanity, we are called to repent and to believe. And so my question to those of you who are looking and are streaming here this evening, “Where do you stand on this? Do you believe that Jesus truly has risen from the dead and that it changes your life and your whole perspective on life itself?” The evidence is there in Scripture if you will read. And I would urge you to believe that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. 

One more thing. You know that the last few weeks have left many of us perplexed. It’s caught many of us off guard what has taken place in the last couple of months. And yet the question that each and every one of us is forced to contend with is simply this, “Which gives you the most anxiety – is it your sin or is it the coronavirus and the misfortune that is taking place in your life?” The one has temporal ramifications, but the second one, the other one has eternal implications. Friends, we may be perplexed with all that is taking place, but we are still safe and secure in the hands of a sovereign God. Perhaps this season, God has also used it to confront our lack of faith, our own failure to remember who God is and what God has promised to all of us in Christ Jesus as we repent and believe, as we are His followers. You see, all too often it’s only when we are brought to the end of ourselves and we are confronted by the living God that we are driven back to the Scriptures where we read and where we remember the truth that remains steadfast from generation to generation. You see, we need to be reminded. We need to be reminded every day by going back to the Word, being saturated with truth, to hear the same old story “of Jesus and His love” as we would sing so that it allays our fears and our anxieties, that it helps us to comprehend and believe the truth of the Gospel with a greater fervency and that ultimately we will be emboldened, when the morning comes we will be emboldened to go and share this good news. 

You see, the fact that Jesus is alive changes the way that we respond to everything. He is our great hope both today and for tomorrow and for all eternity. And so we praise God for giving His Son, Jesus Christ, but we praise God today for the hope that we have in the resurrection of our great and glorious Savior. Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, we do thank You and we do praise You, we adore You for Your Son, Jesus Christ. We thank You that the whole of Scripture that attests and told that these things will take place came to pass at Your appointed time. Father, teach us, just as you had to teach these women and teach the disciples, Lord, teach us what it means to remember all that You have said so that those truths inflame our hearts, give us courage and embolden us to be a people that You have called us to be. Be at work in each of our lives, for Christ’s sake and glory we pray. Amen.



Three Crosses

By / Apr 10

Well this seems to me to be an especially poignant Good Friday as we gather again, as it were, at Golgotha. Though we’re not able to be physically together, we’re gathered around God’s Word and united in a common Savior, and so we’re here dwelling together on the work of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we are rehearsing and renewing our commitment to first things, to unshakable foundations, to vital truths. So many of the old certainties, the familiar rhythms of life have had to be set aside during this crisis, so it couldn’t be more important for us to come back again to the most important fundamental convictions of the Christian Gospel and to be reminded of what really matters – the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ; His perfect atoning love. 

This evening we’re going to do that by turning our attention to Luke’s gospel, chapter 23. If you have a Bible in hand, please turn there with me. Luke chapter 23. In a moment we’re going to read together beginning in verse 32 and running through verse 43. Luke 23 at the thirty-second verse through verse 43. We’re going to focus on the three crosses that we see in the passage, these three figures on Calvary, because each of them shows something to us, something important about how we respond to Jesus and about what Jesus offers to us. Hanged upon the first cross is an unrepentant thief. The first cross shows us the tragedy of a resistant heart. The tragedy of a resistant heart. Hanged on the second cross is a thief who turns from his sin, who seeks for mercy. The second cross reminds us of the necessity of a repentant heart. The tragedy of a resistant heart and the necessity of a repentant heart. And of course hanged upon the third cross, with these two criminals on either side, is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And the third cross shows us the love of Christ’s redeeming heart. The tragedy of a resistant heart, the necessity of a repentant heart, and the love of Christ’s redeeming heart. 

Before we look at those three themes, let’s pause once again and pray together. Let us pray.

O Lord, would You open our hearts to receive the engrafted Word. Give us an appetite for the Gospel. Awaken in us a longing to know Your mercy, for we would see Jesus. Bring us anew to Him, for we ask it in His name, amen.

Luke chapter 23 at verse 32. This is the inspired Word of Almighty God:

“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him” – with Jesus. “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

The Tragedy of a Resistant Heart

There are places in the Scriptures that function sort of like an X-ray machine. I had to have X-rays done a few months ago for a minor issue, and sitting in the doctor’s office afterwards looking at the X-rays, it’s amazing you can see right inside. You see the bones and the structure. There are passages in Scripture, like this I think, that penetrate, that expose what is normally hidden in our hearts to plain view. It’s as though we’re being X-rayed by the Word of God and exposed. 

If you look at the first of the three crosses, you’ll notice how some of that begins to happen immediately. Look at verse 39 and the first thief on the cross. One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Jesus saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” Here is an expose, an X-ray of a resistant heart. Notice his spiteful words hurled at Jesus who is hanged beside him. They echo precisely, don’t they, the taunts of the Jewish rulers, the high priest and his cohorts, who stood watching the gory spectacle presumably with some glee, in verse 35. “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, His chosen one!” And the Roman soldiers likewise who comprised Jesus’ death squad, they join in don’t they? Verse 36, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” In each case, these taunts are designed to wound and to mock Jesus, to expose Him to public ridicule. The Jewish mockery highlighted His claim to be the Christ, the Messiah. The Roman soldiers on the other hand highlight His claim to be a king. But all of them say, “If He is who He claimed to be, the one thing that would really prove it to us is His coming down from the cross.” The cross you see, in their minds, was the greatest evidence that Jesus was, in fact, a charlatan. It was the great vindication of their own judgment against Jesus since, “If He really were the Messiah, who would be able to do such a thing to Him?” That’s how they thought.

And of course it’s hard not to hear in their jeering mockery the echoes of satanic temptation. You remember how the devil spoke to Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in not too terribly dissimilar terms. “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread. If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here, from the pinnacle of the temple” – Luke chapter 4, verses 3 and 9. Satan’s temptations here now assail our Savior again on the jeering lips of His murderers, inciting Him to turn from the path of suffering that ironically defines the necessary work that the Messiah came to accomplish – the crucifixion itself. And this first thief, himself dying under the judicial sentence passed over him, does not think of his own soul in this moment. There’s no remorse, there’s no acknowledgement of personal guilt, there’s no seeking of mercy from God. He joins the rulers and the soldiers. The same satanic slander and opposition to Christ that fills their mouths fills his also. This man is the epitome of hard-hearted resistance to saving grace. After all, the one person who could deliver him was hanging beside him! And the appointed means that God had ordained by which his salvation could be secured, was the cross of Jesus Christ. And he now so thoroughly despises it. 

His words to Jesus are dripping with insincerity, aren’t they? The form of his opening question, “Are You not the Christ?” is itself a well-aimed barb. It’s another way of saying, “What kind of Christ are You? Call Yourself a Savior? If You really were, You’d get me out of this mess! Save Yourself and us!” That’s the best, you know, that an unrepentant heart can muster when it comes to Jesus Christ. If it thinks of Jesus at all, it is as a talisman, a good luck charm, a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. “Maybe Jesus will get me off the hook. That’s all this man thinks of here. “If You were really who You say You are, Jesus, I wouldn’t be sick. I wouldn’t suffer. I wouldn’t struggle financially. If You really loved me, Jesus, You’d fix this for me.” John Piper has put it this way. “There are two kinds of responses to our own personal suffering. First, we can rail against God and say, ‘If You’re such a great and powerful and loving God, why am I in this hellish mess?’ or secondly we can acknowledge that we are sinners and don’t deserve any good thing and cry out for mercy and help in our time of desperation. The world,” he says, “is full of those who rail against God in their self-righteousness and presume that the Creator of the universe is obliged to make their life smooth. But there are only a few who own up to the fact that God owes us nothing, and that any good can come our way will be due to His mercy, not our merit.”

And so the question we all must ask ourselves tonight is, “Which am I?” The first thief is the epitome of a hard, resistant heart. He doesn’t believe Jesus can save him, and even if He could, the only salvation he’s interested in is rescue from his present predicament. What an ugly, tragic picture this first thief presents. 

The Necessity of a Repentant Heart

But then consider the second thief. If the first shows us the tragedy of a resistant heart, the second shows us the necessity of a repentant heart. The necessity of a repentant heart. Think about the similarities between the two men just for a moment. They have a similar background, don’t they? Verse 32 tells us they’re both criminals. Matthew’s gospel, 27:38, uses a slightly different word. He calls them both “robbers.” They are thieves, possibly bandits, and they’ve both been convicted and sentenced to the same fate for the same offense. And they’re both to die in the same dreadful, cruel manner. And now they both come face to face with the dying Christ. And Matthew and Mark both tell us that at first both robbers join in the mockery and the insults. Matthew 27:44 says, “The robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him in the same way.” 

But at some point, the second of the pair has a change of heart. We don’t know really what has triggered it, but we know soon enough the insults die on his dying lips. In their place, he makes two speeches. First, he rebukes the other criminal who has continued his barrage of mockery, and the second speech is directed to Jesus Himself. Notice what he says to the first thief in the first place. “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sense of condemnation and we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds. But this man has done nothing wrong.” That’s a remarkable statement of both repentance and of faith in Jesus Christ. Look at what he says. First, his question to his fellow condemned criminal reveals something of his own heart motivation. “Do you not fear God?” he asks. The fear of God has gripped him and it has stilled his mockery and it has made him tremble. And he’s amazed that the first thief knows nothing of that fear considering his predicament. He’s about to stand before God in judgment, and yet he shows no fear of the Lord.

Secondly, this man knows that his sin condemns him justly. “We are receiving the due reward for our deeds,” he says. God is just and we are sinners. There’s no self-justifying words here. There’s no attempt to make excuses. He’s owning his guilt in the sight of God. And more even than that, his words reveal remarkable faith in Christ. “This man,” pointing if he could perhaps, nodding to the Lord Jesus nailed in that central cross, “This man has done nothing wrong.” Outwardly, there’s little to distinguish the three. All three nailed to the cross. All three in agony. All three naked and bleeding and gory. Spectacles of abject suffering. Yet these two are guilty and Jesus is righteous. He is holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, spotless Lamb of God. And this second thief seems to understand, “We are guilty, but not this man. He is a righteous and holy man.”

And then look at his prayer to Jesus in the second speech that he makes. He prays to the Lord Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Now that is a staggering prayer. Everyone else looking at the cross that day saw only defeat. The disciples saw the end of a ministry they thought would result in the overthrow of Roman tyranny in Palestine and the ushering in of an earthly Messianic kingdom. What a failure Jesus must have seemed to them in these moments. The Jewish leaders and the Roman officials saw the end of an unsettling religious competitor and a troublesome political problem. The other thief saw Jesus as an object of derision whose misplaced delusions have led Him to His death and made Him an even more pathetic specimen of human folly than he saw himself to be. Alone amongst all those looking on that day, the second dying thief saw Jesus as a King indeed who, by means of His death, is not defeated but shall come into His kingdom! He did not see failure when he looked at the cross of Christ. He did not see delusion reaching the high water mark. He did not see defeat. He saw in the cross of Christ the victory of the King who was about to come into His kingdom.

Now let’s put all of that together and track the components of this man’s repentance and faith so we can see what it looks like. If the first thief you see is the epitome of a resistant, hardened, unrepentant heart, here is faith and repentance epitomized in the second thief. He fears God more than men. He confesses the justice of God in his own condemnation. He owns his sin. He knows Jesus is righteous, not guilty. And he confesses Him to be indeed God’s appointed King and Savior who is coming into His kingdom. And then finally and fifthly, confessing all of this, seeing all of this, he casts himself, he abandons himself to the Lord Jesus Christ alone for mercy. Doesn’t he? “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The history books have long since forgotten this man’s name. He had done nothing worthy of notice before this moment, nor would he do anything else beyond this moment. But he knows here, that if Jesus would remember him from His throne of grace he would be saved.

It’s easy to think of this man as barely a Christian with meager faith; a man who was saved, as it were, by the skin of his teeth. But that’s not right at all. For all the brevity of his testimony, his testimony was remarkably bright. Wasn’t it? He’s a model to us of true repentance for every single one of us who needs a Savior. We all must imitate this man’s repentance and faith. If the cross is the fountain that God has opened for sin and uncleanness, may God help us all to sing without shame, “The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day. And there have we, as vile as he, washed all our sins away.” As vile as he, just like the thief; no better. Claiming no higher ground but coming just as he did to Jesus alone for cleansing. 

So what should we make of these first two thieves? Matthew Henry sums up the principle lesson, I think, brilliantly. He says this. “True repentance is never too late, but late repentance is rarely true.” “True repentance is never too late, but late repentance is rarely true.” Isn’t that the message here? If you are watching at home and you’ve been telling yourself, “It’s too late for me. I’m too far gone. I’ve made too many mistakes. I’ve hurt too many people. What a mess I’ve made of my life! I’ve heard the Gospel many times but I’ve always found an excuse not to come to Jesus and now, as I think about it, as I look back, surely there’s no way that Jesus would show me mercy.” Listen, if that is you, learn from the second thief. It is never too late, never too late to turn from your sin to Christ. Even at the last, supposing for a moment that tonight you are in your final days in this world, even now there’s time! There’s room for you to trust in Jesus Christ. Confess your sin. Own your guilt before God. Fear the Lord. Acknowledge the justice of His judgment upon your sin. And cry with this man, “Lord Jesus, remember me. Lord Jesus, righteous one. Lord Jesus, God’s true King. Lord Jesus, save me!” Would you do that right now? Would you make that your cry? There is a welcome for you in Jesus, as we will see, when you do. 

But suppose you’re watching this and you’re saying to yourself, “Yes, I hear the Gospel call. I’ve heard it a thousand times before. And look, I know I’m a guilty sinner, okay? But I’m young still! I have lots of time to spare. I have a life yet to live! I’ll enjoy my sin a little longer and then we’ll see.” Oh, would you remember the first thief and be warned. Here was a man caught in the prime of his life and condemned, and even then, faced with the certainty, the inevitability of his rapidly approaching death, even then he would not come and seek pardon from the hand of Jesus. True repentance is never too late. It’s never too late to repent. Today, now, do it now! Go to Jesus. He will welcome you. There is forgiveness for you in Jesus. But late repentance is rarely true. Those who say, “Tomorrow. A year from now. Down the line. At some point, maybe,” be warned, the day may never come. The day may never come. Do not wait. Do not hesitate. Today is the day. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. If this pandemic teaches us anything, isn’t it that life is fragile and brief? No one knows what tomorrow will bring, so why is it safe to say, “I have time yet”? Turn to Jesus. He can save you.

The Love of Christ’s Redeeming Heart

Well that brings us, doesn’t it, to the third cross. The first reveals the tragedy of a resistant heart. The second the necessity of a repentant heart. The third cross, of course, reveals the love of Christ’s redeeming heart. When He hears the second thief’s cry, look at how He responds. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” It is a word of assurance and comfort. They’re both going to die that day, but Jesus, by death, was coming into His kingdom. And here is the King’s assurance that when He comes into His kingdom He will bring this man with Him. What a demonstration this is of the love and grace of Jesus Christ. After all, the man to whom it was addressed, these words were addressed, had done nothing to deserve them. If we need an illustration that a person is justified by faith alone and not by works, if you needed proof in Scripture that there is nothing you must do to find acceptance with God, this is it. 

To what works could this man point as he hung there? He was a criminal, a robber, a man of violence and deceit. Nobody could say of him, “Well of course Jesus saved him. He was a devout man, a religious man, a man of prayer, a man of philanthropy and generosity. He was an influential leader in the community. He was one of the great ones. Of course he was welcomed into the kingdom!” No, no. He was a nobody. He has no name. He comes from the underclass. He has a violent past. He can point to nothing in his own defense. All he can bring to Jesus is guilt and sin and the filth of a failure of a life. And he mingles it with his cries for mercy. 

And listen to me carefully, that is all Jesus requires. That is all He ever requires. You cannot come any other way. The reason Jesus was there, you know, crucified with criminals was because He came to be the righteous One, bearing the condemnation we deserve; treated like a criminal who was no criminal that criminals might be treated like Him – pardoned and forgiven and accepted. He bore our sin in His body on the three. He died our death.

You don’t come to Him putting your best foot forward, your best argument for why you should qualify for His kingdom. No, you see, the cross secures everything you need. Isn’t that wonderful? Everything you need – all the mercy, all the pardon, all the cleansing, all the hope. Come empty-handed. There’s no other way to come. Come guilty. Come confessing. And come trusting. Come at the end of yourself, abandoned to Jesus alone, and Jesus will welcome you, just as He welcomed this man. Salvation erupts into his life, into the life of this man who in no way qualifies for it. He does nothing to amend his ways. There’s no possibility of him now turning over a new leaf. Is there? And yet abandoned to the mercy of Christ alone he finds the mercy he needs. You remember Jesus back in Matthew 11:28 said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Well here He is now, at this extremity of need, providing precisely the rest He promised to a dying thief who came to Him. 

What extravagance there is in the grace of Jesus Christ. Can you see it? This is what Good Friday is about. Here is hope in the darkness. Here is peace for troubled consciences. Here is the anchor for your soul no matter what the storm brings. Jesus saves. Praise God! His cross atones and no one is beyond the pale. There are no lost causes. It is never too late. So come. Won’t you come like the dying thief – empty-handed and guilty to Christ crucified. Come right now. Right now as He invites you to Himself. Ask Him for mercy. You don't need grand words. You just need to pour out your heart. Confess your sin. Ask Him for rescue. At the cross, all the mercy you need has been secured. He is Your willing rescuer. Let’s pray together.

Lord Jesus, we love You and we praise You that by Your cross You have secured eternal redemption, no condemnation, cleansing of conscience from dead works that we might serve the living and true God. You have secured our pardon and all we need do is come guilty and helpless and say, “Jesus, save me. Jesus, I can’t do it. I’m guilty; save me. I’m a sinner; cleanse me. I’m weary and heavy-laden; give me rest. And You do. O, may You grant to us now by Your Spirit that we all may flee back to You to find the rest our souls need. For Jesus’ sake we pray, amen.



Day of Prayer & Fasting – Prayer Guide 2020

By / Apr 2


Why Are You Weeping?

By / Apr 21

If you would please take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to the gospel according to John, John’s gospel chapter 20, which you will find on page 906 in the church Bibles.

 

Before we read it, I want you to have some sense of what kind of story this is. The Christian message centers on the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s not a metaphor or a symbol for some abstract spiritual experience. It’s not a myth concocted by the religiously deranged or a deception deployed by the strong to manipulate the weak. It is a fact of history. It is the fact of history. The power of the world to come has broken in, right into the middle of the world that now is. Death has been made to work in reverse. Life has overcome it in the triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.

 

I came across a poem by John Updike about Easter that really gets at the central claim of the Christian faith related to the historicity and the beauty of the resurrection of Jesus, “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” Let me read it to you:

 

“Make no mistake: if he rose at all It was as His body; If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit, The amino acids rekindle, The Church will fall.

 

It was not as the flowers, Each soft spring recurrent; It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the Eleven apostles; It was as His flesh; ours.

 

The same hinged thumbs and toes The same valved heart That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered Out of enduring Might New strength to enclose.

 

Let us not mock God with metaphor, Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence, Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded Credulity of earlier ages: Let us walk through the door.

 

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache, Not a stone in a story, But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of Time will eclipse for each of us The wide light of day.

 

And if we have an angel at the tomb, Make it a real angel, Weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in The dawn light, robed in real linen spun on a definite loom.

 

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty, Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed By the miracle, And crushed by remonstrance.”

 

He’s saying the resurrection of Jesus is a bodily reality. He lives, He was raised with the same body in which He suffered and bled and died, and today He lives, sitting at the right hand of God as truly as you are sitting here. He fills definite space in a definite place in a glorified human body. That’s the Christian claim, and that’s important to understand because as we read the passage before us, focusing on Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus, we need to understand what’s really going on. This passage is making a claim, indeed it’s making an offer to you. Because Jesus is alive, the Christian Gospel is a means by which you can meet Him for yourself as really as Mary met Him in the garden tomb that first Easter Sunday. And so, we’re going to direct our attention to John chapter 20 in just a moment. Before we do, let’s pause and pray and ask for God to help us. Let’s pray together.

 

O Lord, now we pray for grace to hear the voice of our Savior who calls His people by name. Grant that we, like Mary, may hear our names on His lips calling to us to turn from an empty tomb to the living Savior in the preaching of the Gospel, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

John chapter 20 at the first verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

 

"Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.' So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

 

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ – and that he had said these things to her.”

 

Amen, and we praise God for His Word.

 

J. R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, coined a phrase that describes for him a crucial element in good storytelling. He coined the word, "eucatastrophe." And he explicitly relates it to the resurrection. The resurrection, he said, is the archetypal eucatastrophe. We know what a catastrophe is. A catastrophe is a disaster that suddenly overtakes us that could not be prevented. A eucatastrophe is a good catastrophe. As disaster is about to descend suddenly, there is a glorious reversal and good rather than evil is what ensues. And the resurrection, of course, is the great eucatastrophe. Mary is about to encounter it in a dramatic way in her life and experience. Isn't she? She is overcome with grief and eventually her eyes are opened to see the risen Lord standing before her. The passage does focus on verses 11 through 18 where Jesus meets with Mary and He says three things to her. He speaks a word of correction in verse 15, a word of calling in verse 16, and a word of commission in verses 17 and 18. And we are going to focus on that in a few moments. Before we do that, we do need to spend some time with Mary and to see her confusion, first of all. So confusion, then correction, calling, and commission.

 

Mary’s Confusion

Mary’s confusion. The chapter opens, doesn’t it, on the first day of the week – very early on Sunday morning. It’s still dark. John says Mary Magdalene came to Jesus’ tomb. The other gospel accounts, you’ll see that they speak about a whole company of women who were followers of Jesus who came along with Mary. John wants to focus in on Mary Magdalene so he doesn’t mention the other women. He does give us a clue that they were with her also. In verse 2, if you will look there for a moment, we are told that when she found the stone had been rolled away she ran to Simon Peter, the other disciple whom Jesus loved – that’s a reference to John, the author of the gospel we are reading. And she said to the disciples, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” So she’s there as the spokesperson for a group. The group have discovered the tomb is empty and “We don’t know where they’ve laid him.” The other gospels tell us what happened. While Mary was with the disciples reporting this to them, the other women saw angels at the tomb who explained that Jesus had been raised and those women returned to the disciples eventually too and explain what the angels have said and the disciples dismiss their message out of hand.

 

Meanwhile, Simon Peter and John, they race to the tomb to see what's happened. Mary follows along behind them. When they get there, they look in and they see the grave clothes folded and the face cloth lying in a place by itself and we are told: "they saw and believed." That is, they believed the report that the body was missing because John says "they did not yet understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead." So they leave, no doubt, dismayed and crestfallen and heartbroken all over again that the Lord's body is now missing. And Mary is left behind, we're told in verse 11, "outside the tomb weeping." Over and over again, actually, the passage emphasizes her distraught condition. She's weeping, grieving. She's heartbroken, devastated. Her tears give evidence, don't they, of her profound love for the Lord Jesus.

 

Profound Grief

In fact, her grief is so profound, in verse 12, when there are two angels who appear to her, it barely seems to register at all. Look at verse 12. “She saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” Now scholars note several interesting things about this scene. For example, one of them points out that this is the only place in the whole Bible where angels are ever seen sitting down. Another notes that where they are sitting – one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus’ body was – emphasizes the emptiness of the tomb. He’s not here. And a third, the great Geerhardus Vos, connects the location and the posture of the angels sitting at either end of the place where the body of Christ lay with the golden cherubim, these angelic statues who were positioned at each end of the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. That was the place where the high priest in the Old Testament sprinkled blood on the Day of Atonement to make payment for the sin of the people. Is John perhaps alluding to that and suggesting here is a picture of satisfaction, atonement made in the blood of Jesus and accepted before God?

 

Whatever the symbolism and the significance of the visitation of these angels, Mary misses it. Doesn’t she? She doesn’t seem to notice. It’s almost as if she has a conversation with angels every day. None of it penetrates. Instead, when the angels inquire, “Why are you weeping?” – they’re astonished! “Why would you be weeping, Mary? He’s alive, you see!” She replies through her tears rather matter of factly, almost absentmindedly, “Oh, they’ve taken the Lord away and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” Do notice that little note of intimacy in her language. When she was the spokeswoman for the group of other women, she went to the disciples and said, “They have taken away the Lord and we do not know where they’ve laid him.” Now that she’s alone in the tombs with her grief, she says, “They’ve taken away my Lord. He’s mine. And He’s gone. And I don’t know where He is.”

 

And it's just at that moment of vulnerability and intimacy that Mary becomes aware of someone standing behind her. And verse 14, she turns around and there's Jesus standing there, alive again from the grave, and still, she does not know that it was Jesus. Some have suggested this is another indicator of just how profound her grief was that her tears are blinding her, her grief is blinding her from seeing Jesus. But there are other instances of encounters with the disciples after the resurrection, just like this one. For example, the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, they knew about the cross but they did not know yet about the resurrection. And when Jesus met them, like Mary, they too were blind and Jesus has to open their eyes supernaturally as He is about to do supernaturally for Mary. The blindness here isn't simply psychological or emotional or physical. It is profoundly spiritual. And so even when Jesus, the living Christ, speaks to her and repeats the angelic question, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" she doesn't recognize Him. She actually concludes He must be the gardener.

 

It’s comic. For Mary, this is a moment of agony and grief, but we know how the story ends. You see? John, as he writes the gospel, wants us to feel some of the joy of it. Mary’s tears are about to be replaced with a celebration. And John is cluing us in to the sheer wonder, the hilarity of resurrection, the joy of it, the celebratory note. It’s preposterous! Here is the Lord, alive from the grave! She thinks He’s there to look after the roses. Clearly, clearly she loves Him. And who would fail to be moved by her expressions of intimate, tender loss and grief for her Lord. But her love is not enough. She loves Him, but she does not yet understand, she doesn’t remember His promises. He’d often told them that the Son of Man must suffer and be crucified and buried and on the third day He will rise again from the dead. Like the other disciples, Simon and John, she also did not yet understand the Scriptures, that He must rise from the dead. She loves Him. There’s care for Jesus, but there is not yet faith in His promises. The tomb was empty. That ought to have been cause for rejoicing – our Savior is keeping His promises! But instead, she has discounted all that Jesus has said, telling her that He would rise. All she can see is her grief.

 

Believe His Promises

There is, I think, an important lesson there for us that we mustn't miss before we come to Jesus' answer to Mary. Mary loves Him, she cares deeply about Him, but she doesn't yet believe His promises. Love for Christ, an affection for Christian things, is not enough. Love for Christ or an affection for Christian things unmixed with faith in Christ's person and promises leaves us still blind. Only faith opens our eyes to see the risen Christ. I'm assuming that you are here because you have some affinity for Christian things. Why else would you be here? But it's not enough. You must believe on the Lord Jesus. And I don't mean some vague, ill-defined sense of assenting to the idea about Jesus. I mean you must personally come to rely on, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for yourself personally. He, only He, can rescue you from a spiritual blindness that every one of us labors under by nature. Jesus, faith in Jesus alone, opens our eyes. And so that's the first thing I want us to notice – Mary's confusion. She's had so much time with Christ, she's so familiar with Christ and His message, and yet at this crucial moment, she does not see because she does not yet believe.

 

Word of Correction

Then, let’s look at how Jesus responds. Mary’s confusion, then Jesus speaks three words. The first of them, in verse 15, is a word of correction. Do you see it in verse 15? It’s a gentle word, tender, kind to be sure, but it is a word of correction nevertheless. Look at verse 15. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? What’s the place of tears here, Mary? If it’s Me you’re looking for, why in the world would you look in My old tomb as though I would linger a second longer than necessary there? No, Mary. The work is done. Death is dead. I have risen! Why are you weeping now, Mary?” It’s a word of correction.

 

And it's a correction, I'll confess, that I need to hear; perhaps you need to hear it too. As a Scotsman, I am temperamentally melancholy. I'll try not to take your laughter personally! Here's the difference between an American and a Scotsman. If you ask an American how they're doing they'll say, "I'm awesome!" And if you ask a Scotsman how he's doing he'll say, "It could be worse." And so I need to be reminded. Scottish people are glass-half-empty kind of folks, you see, so I need to be reminded. Jesus is alive. The stone was rolled away. The tomb is empty. The throne is occupied. The Lord of life has shattered the bonds of death and stepped alive again from the tomb never to die. And so while from time to time there may yet be cause for weeping, there are grounds for hope now. There are grounds for joy now because of Easter that no earthly sorrow can ever extinguish. Jesus lives. Praise the Lord! Jesus lives! Lift up your head. Weeping may last for a night but joy comes in the morning. With the dawn of that first Lord's Day, that Easter Sunday morning, the promise that one day death will be undone and sorrow and sadness will be no more and the Lamb will wipe away every tear from our eyes, that promise was guaranteed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. And so there's a word of correction here that I need to hear and perhaps you do too. Lift up your head. Christ is risen. Weep no more. Weep no more.

 

Word of Calling

And then look with me at verse 16. The second word of the risen Christ in response to Mary’s confusion – the first is a word of correction; the second is a word of calling. Do you see it in verse 16? Mary thinks He’s the gardener and so she explains her fears that someone has moved Jesus’ body. “Perhaps it was you,” she says. “If you’d just tell me where you put Him, I’ll go get Him and get out of your hair. I won’t bother you anymore.” And then Jesus decides, I suppose, enough is enough and calls her name. He calls her by name, “Mary.” It must be one of the most beautiful moments in holy Scripture. The risen Christ calls one of His dear ones to Himself by her familiar name. She had turned her back on Him when she had asked the question. She is now back looking into the tomb. But when she hears her name, suddenly and at last her eyes are opened. She knows exactly who this man is now and she turns again to look and says, no doubt she cries, “Rabboni!” It’s actually not just “Teacher,” it’s “my Teacher.” There’s that note of intimacy. “My Teacher, You’re here! It’s You!” When He called her name, her eyes were opened. She was facing the wrong way, looking for the living among the dead in a dusty old tomb where Jesus was not. But at His call, she turns to Him and grief is replaced with gladness and sorrow with celebration.

 

It is an individual and a personal call. Isn't it? He calls her by name. Jesus said that's what He does, for all of us, actually. John 10 at verse 3, "I am the Good Shepherd. I call My sheep by name." Isaiah 43 verse 1, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine." The call of Jesus Christ in the Gospel, when it comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit, it lifts the veil, it dispels the darkness, it opens eyes. Jesus' invitation to you is not some scattershot general proposition thrown out at random. The fact that you are here this morning, hearing the Word of Christ, is profoundly personal. The risen Christ is now issuing to you the same invitation He issued to Mary. He's calling to you, personally, individually, intimately. He's calling you to come and see who He is, to turn from the empty tomb. You're looking in all the wrong places, perhaps, for life, for peace, for pardon, for a clean conscience. You're looking in all the wrong places. You need to hear Christ calling you to Himself. Look to Him and your eyes will be opened and you'll see the Lord and giver of life Himself, risen in victory over the grave. And nothing will be the same again.

 

Mary’s confusion, and then Jesus’ word of correction, and this His call. He’s calling you too, in the Gospel. Are you listening? Will you answer the call and turn from all the wrong directions in which you’ve been looking to Christ alone? He is the one, He is the one you need.

 

Word of Commission

And then finally, there’s Jesus’ word of commission. Look at verses 17 and 18. Apparently, when she suddenly sees who He is, she does what I suspect most of us would do. She reaches out to take ahold of Him in her joy, in her wonder. But Jesus understands that behind this touch there is more than simply a touch of affection and gratitude. There is something else in Mary’s heart. There is a desire to hold onto Him, to hold Him down as it were. “I’m never going to let you out of my sight again! Now that You’re back, You’re here to stay!” There’s something of that going on in Mary’s heart. It’s understandable. She thought she’d lost Him and now, here He is. So she’s clinging to Him and sort of clutching to Him possessively. She doesn’t understand, you see, what must take place next. Jesus is not here to stay. He must ascend to the right hand of the Father, there to take His place as King of kings and Lord of lords and to pour out His Spirit on the Church that the Church may be equipped to take the good news that He lives to the ends of the earth. And so He says to her, “Do not cling to me,” verse 17, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” The issue is not that He can’t be touched. It’s not that He’s immaterial. You remember His words to Thomas when He appears to the disciples in the Upper Room. He says, “Put your finger in the nail marks in My hands. Put your hand into the wound in My side” where that Roman spear punctured His heart. He rose in the same body with which He suffered. He is physically risen. The issue is not physicality. The issue is He can’t stay and it’s better for Mary and better for the disciples and better for us that He ascends, that He has ascended.

 

And that’s Jesus’ point. He wants, instead of Mary clinging to Him, He says, “No, Mary, I have a job for you.” And He gives her a commission. He sends her back to the disciples with good news – not just that Christ has risen, but why He has risen, what it is that His cross and empty tomb and soon-ascended mastery over all things will give to us. Look at the message she is to proclaim. It’s an oddly phrased message if you think about it. Why does He not say to her, “Mary, go back to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to the Father”? Look at the language of verse 17. “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” Why this peculiar emphasis on the Fatherhood of God? Well, simply because the great benefit, the greatest benefit that comes to us from the sufferings and the exaltation of our Savior is our adoption into the family of God. “You are My brothers,” Jesus says, “and My Father is now your Father. You come to belong to the family because I died and rose and ascend to reign. You’re welcome into My family.”

 

He lives that you might have a place in the family. That’s what Easter is about. Actually, that’s what it’s about quite literally for many of you here today. You’re here with friends and family. You’ve traveled some distance, perhaps, to be with your family. Easter, by tradition, for many of us is about family. Please understand, it’s about family in more ways than perhaps you recognized when you made your plans for Sunday lunch this Easter. There is an invitation to you to come home from the Lord Jesus Himself, to turn to Him in faith, the faith that opens eyes and sees the Lord, and trusts Him to be our Rescuer and our King. There’s an invitation to trust Him. When you do, you see, you become part of the family. John 1 verse 13 says, “to as many as received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God; children born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but born of God.” And in his first letter, John will write, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God.” There is no privilege greater than that wayward, hell-deserving sinners like me should be called a child of God, an heir of God and a co-heir with Jesus Christ. That is the invitation extended now to you as Jesus calls your name in the Gospel and bids you come to Him. He’s saying to you, “Come home to your true family. You will become My brother, My dear sister, and My Father will be your Father forever.”

 

May the Lord give us all grace to hear the accents of the voice of King Jesus speaking our names in the Gospel, and may He help us turn from empty tombs to see Him and take our place in His family. Let’s pray together.

 

O Lord Jesus, we adore You. We adore You that You live and reign at the Father’s right hand – King of kings and Lord of lords. And we pray, having heard Your voice in Your holy Word, that You would give to us the joy that is consistent with our adoption. Those of us who have come to trust You, help us to glory in the fact that wayward sinners, we are welcomed home into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And we pray for those in this room this morning who are not yet followers of Jesus. Grant that they, like we, may hear their name, their Savior call them to Himself. Grant that their eyes, like Mary’s, might be opened today and that they might turn from empty tombs to the living Christ that Easter joy might fill their hearts also. For we ask it in Christ’s name, amen.



Easter Faith

By / Apr 16

 

Today Christians all over the world gather to worship and to rejoice, proclaiming the good news that Jesus Christ is alive, risen from the dead. And so this morning we are breaking from our regular course of studies in the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians to consider together the significance and the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why is it the great reason of our celebration and our thanksgiving today? And I want to invite you if you would now please to go ahead and take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands. If you’re using a church Bible, you’ll find them in the pew racks. Turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 3, page 992 in the church Bibles; 1 Timothy chapter 3, page 992. We’re going to look at verses 14 to 16, really focusing on verse 16. This is one of those great places, a more unusual place perhaps, but one of the important places where Paul helps us understand the meaning and the significance of the resurrection. Before we read it together, it’s our custom to pause and pray and ask for the help of God to help us understand the Scriptures. So let’s pray together.

 

O Lord, the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that if Christ is not raised then we preach in vain and your faith is in vain. We know that Christ has been raised and therefore Your Word read and preached is not in vain, does not come to us in vain, but will accomplish that for which You send it. And so we ask You, O Lord, to give the ministry of the Holy Spirit to attend the reading and the preaching of the Scriptures that we might behold the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. For we ask it in His name, amen.

 

1 Timothy chapter 3, reading from the fourteenth verse, this is the Word of Almighty God:

 

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

 

He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”

 

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.

 

If you’ll look at verses 14 and 15 of the passage we’ve just read together, you will see the apostle Paul telling us why he’s writing this letter to Timothy his young protégé in the ministry whom he has sent to the church in Ephesus. He’s writing, he says, “so that, if I delay in my coming to you, you may know how to behave in the church.” This is, if you like, a manual for Timothy himself and for the believers in the churches in how to live for Jesus in the context of the local church. But Paul knows, as he explains what it means to live for Christ in the church, he knows, as we’ve probably discovered ourselves, that how we live comes as a result of what we believe. That practice tends to flow from conviction.

 

And so in verse 16, he gives something of a summary of basic Christian conviction. It may be that this is something Paul himself penned; it may even be that this is an early creed, a bit like the one we said together a moment ago, or an early hymn. But Paul uses it here, whichever the case may be, to summarize and articulate the basics of the Christian faith. Now as you look at it, you may be scratching your head this Easter Sunday morning. “Where’s the resurrection?” may be your big question. I want to show you as we go that actually, this is a text for which the resurrection is absolutely central. So let’s take a look at it together; verse 16. Now scholars debate, which is, I suppose the main use of a scholar. Scholars endlessly debate how to break down verse 16. For our purposes, we’re going to look at it under three sections. Imagine it’s a hymn with three stanzas. Okay? Each of two lines long. So stanza one. “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit,” teaches us about the meaning of the resurrection, the meaning of the resurrection. Stanza two, “seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations” – the mission that arises from and is a consequence of the resurrection. And then stanza three, “believed on in the world, taken up in glory” – the mastery of Christ that is His by virtue of the resurrection. So the meaning, the mission, and the mastery of the resurrection.

 

The Meaning of the Resurrection

 

Let’s look at the first two lines; stanza one – the meaning of the resurrection. “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit.” Paul is talking about the earthly life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in these two lines, he really gives an admirable summary of the whole story, from the cradle to the cross to the crypt where the stone was rolled away. And notice how he begins. Isn’t it a little surprising? If you were giving someone’s bio, you probably would say, “Well they were born in such and such a place at such and such a time.” That’s not how Paul begins, talking about Jesus’ ministry and His entry into the scene of human history. He says, rather, “He was manifested in the flesh.” Do you get the implication of putting it that way? He’s saying, in effect, that when Jesus was born He did not begin. The birth of Christ was not the beginning of Christ, but rather it was the manifestation of the living God who took into union with Himself human nature and stepped onto the scene of human history in the person of Jesus Christ. God manifest in the flesh.

 

Manifested in the Flesh

And that is even more amazing when you think a little about that word, “the flesh.” God manifest in the flesh. Cue the ominous violin music in the background! It’s got ominous overtones. You see what it means? God the unchanging, God the undying, steps onto the scene of human history in flesh. He is in flesh. That is, He may suffer. He makes Himself vulnerable. He makes Himself killable. Doesn’t He? It’s extraordinary. And that’s precisely what happened. You remember the story. The disciples abandon Him; Judas betrayed Him. He was arrested, beaten, tortured, placed on trials on trumped-up charges. And although He was Himself utterly unimpeachable, Pilate caved under the pressure of the mob who are baying for the blood of Jesus. He is nailed to that dreadful cross outside the city walls in Jerusalem. It looks like abject and final defeat for Jesus and Jesus’ mission.

 

Rejected by God and the World

And as the darkness descends, with His last breath, all the Messianic hopes of the little band of disciples who had begun to follow Jesus are shattered like so many empty glass bottles against the rocks, utterly shattered. The cross now seems to vindicate the claims of the religious elite who have been opposing Jesus from the beginning, denouncing Him as a charlatan. “Look at Him now!” they would say. “Bleeding out in shame and ignominy, hanging there between criminals. The embodiment of failure.” When the disciples had followed Him over the three years of His public ministry, they had witnessed so much, hadn’t they, that had persuaded them of His divine mission and of the Father’s approval and favor. But now, one look at the torn and lacerated form hanging on the cross, fighting for every breath on the cross, was enough to bring that earlier conviction crashing down like a house of cards. The cross announced to all, it seems, not the favor and love of God but the utter condemnation and curse of God. And even Jesus seems to confirm that impression, at least in the minds of the onlookers, when He lifts His own voice in a cry of dereliction and says, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” Here is a God-forsaken figure. Twice in His life, you remember, the Father spoke audibly from heaven about Jesus saying, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” But now, in the depths, in the abyss of His suffering, heaven is stony silent and unmoving. Rejected by the world and by God.

 

For What Purpose?

Now, why did He undergo that dreadful ordeal? Wiley very helpfully reminded us, if you were here last Lord’s Day Evening, he took us to 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21 last Sunday night. Here’s the answer why Jesus endured all that He endured, why He was God-forsaken and despised and rejected of men. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” God looks on Christ, God the sovereign Judge, in infinite holiness, looks on Christ and considers Him to be the embodiment of sin and treats Him as the sin of the world deserves to be treated. He makes Him to be sin and He abominates Him because He sees Him as the embodiment of every abomination festering in my sinner’s heart. He has no sin of His own. We ought to read that, “God made him who knew no sin to be my sin.” God considers Him to be guilty with the guilt of my sin. And so God the Father damns Jesus Christ at the cross. He was “manifested in the flesh,” Paul says, and that’s all that that involves. All the suffering of it, all the sin-bearing of it, all the agony of it, the death of it.

 

But that’s not where the story ends, is it? After the condemnation of the cross, there came a great victory. After the apparent defeat of the cross there came a great vindication. The story is told, you may know it, of the way the news arrived on the shores of England after the battle of Waterloo. On that day, there was a great fog covering the English Channel and of course there’s no electronic communication and so as Wellington faces Napoleon, there are signalmen placed throughout the country looking for a signal ship in the channel to signal to the first of them on the top of Winchester Cathedral the news, the outcome of the battle. And then he would, in turn, relay the news throughout the country, from signalman to signalman. And so that morning, Sunday, June 18, 1815, as the battle raged, the signalman on top of Winchester Cathedral is peering into the gloom trying to penetrate the fog. And at last, he sees a ship bobbing in the channel and news begins to be filtered through. He reads the signal. The first word, “Wellington.” Then the second, “defeated.” And then the fog descends. And he relays the news from signalman to signalman. It spreads across the country in a heartbeat and everyone’s heart sinks, slumps into despair. All is lost. Wellington has been defeated. Napoleon has won. The French are coming – a fate worse than death.

 

The Appearance of Defeat

Sorry if you’re French! Please forgive me! I don’t know where that came from! My prejudices are showing! Then hours later, the fog lifted. And the signal boat is still there, still signaling, “Wellington defeated the enemy.” What appeared utter defeat, was not in fact defeat. There’s more to the story. There’s another word to be spoken than the word “defeated.” There’s victory still to be heard. The cross of Jesus Christ looked like utter, utter defeat. But it’s not the last word in the sentence of the atoning word of Christ. There is a resurrection on the third day. The stone was rolled away and in the power of the Holy Spirit Christ was raised, vindicated, for us. He was vindicated. That word actually here in our text, “vindicated by the Spirit,” the word is actually, “justified.” He was justified by the Spirit. That is to say, the sinless one who was made to be sin and treated as though He were sin and damned and abominated by the Father on account of my sin, paid in full, satisfied the wrath of God, drank to the dregs the cup of the Father’s wrath until there was nothing left over. And having made full atonement, the Father raised Him from the grave to declare to all the world that He is the righteous one and His work is acceptable and salvation is secure. The Father vindicates, justifies Jesus Christ. So the cross seemed to be a word of unrelenting condemnation spoken over Jesus, but the resurrection is a word of vindication and justification spoken over Jesus.

 

And He did both, you see, not only for Himself but for us. He is our representative and substitute and so the death He dies, the condemnation that He bears, He dies for us who believe that we might not be condemned. And the justifying verdict of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ He received not only for Himself but for us who believe in Him so that as we trust Him, the Father might count us righteous with the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. That is to say this, very simply, you can be forgiven today because Jesus lives. You can be forgiven today because Jesus lives.

 

The Mission of the Resurrection

 

And that has astonishing implications. The other two stanzas of this verse 16 here, this little hymn, this little creed of Paul’s, helps us understand some of those implications. Look at the second stanza. Here now is not just the meaning of the resurrection but the mission that arises in consequence of the resurrection. “He was seen by angels and proclaimed among the nations.” Disciples and angels alike saw the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They met the risen Jesus. Angels had ministered to Christ at each of the major moments in His earthly ministry. You remember how, at His birth, the heavens were torn open as the skies were filled with glory and an innumerable company of angels praising God in the highest and pronouncing peace on earth at the birth of Christ.

 

Or you remember how in the days of His fasting and forty days in the wilderness when He was tempted, angels came and ministered to Him and comforted Him. and now here, triumphing over the grave in the glory of His resurrection angels are present as witnesses. “He is not here!” the angels told Mary and the other women who came to the tomb that Easter Sunday morning. “He is not here. He is risen!” They are present as witnesses and spectators to the great events of the life of Christ. But you see, that is all they ever can be – spectators and witnesses looking on in stunned and wrapped amazement and wonder. They are not the objects of redeeming love. They are sinless, unfallen ministering spirits who serve God. And so they watch in awe as God takes flesh. And they watch in awe as the enfleshed God, Jesus Christ, the God-Man, takes the burden of sin and guilt and dies for sinners. “What must it mean?” they say to one another, “to be the recipients of such love that Christ should do this for sinners?” They stand watching, gazing in wonder at it all.

 

The Significance of the Resurrection

The word that is used of the angels in 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 12, Peter says, “These are things into which angels long to look.” That word used of the angels, “longing to look,” is the same word used of the apostle John that Easter Sunday morning when news reached them that the tomb was empty. He ran to the tomb and he stoops to peer in, he’s craning his neck looking into the empty tomb, seeking to see what has happened. That’s the word Peter uses to describe the angels. Craning their neck; peering into it. Trying somehow, straining every fiber to see if they can penetrate into the wonder of the mystery of God made flesh dying for sinners. “Seen by the angels.” But they are merely observers looking on from the outside. The disciples, however, are another class altogether. For them, the resurrection was not merely an object of wonder and amazement. For them, the resurrection changes everything. The resurrection changes everything!

 

Jesus Lives!

You remember how on the evening of that first Easter Sunday the disciples, here’s how they feel in the wake of the cross – they are behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. So they’re saying to one another, “Look what they did to Jesus! We’re next.” They’re cowering, terrified, discouraged, despairing, and despondent. Their faith has crumbled and they’re waiting for that knock on the door when the soldiers come to arrest them and it’s their turn next. And then in John chapter 20, Jesus immediately came and stood in the midst of them. And He said to them, “Peace!” And He showed them His hands and His feet where the nail marks were. Here He is now alive and He gives them a mission – “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” You see, “Now that I live again, triumphant from the grave, everything changes. There’s a word for the world – a word of hope and good news. Jesus lives! A Savior of sinners. And so as I have been sent by the Father and have completed My mission, now I send you, go tell the world. Proclaim among the nations that Christ, who was crucified, dead, and buried, rose again from the dead and ever lives to save all who believe.”

 

An amazing moment! Life altering. Remember, they were despairing, broken, cowering in fear. Within forty days, however, we find them standing in the public square proclaiming boldly to everyone gathered in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost that “Jesus Christ alive!” And then for the next forty years, they suffer and bleed and die proclaiming that same message. And only the fact that Jesus Christ came and stood in their midst can account for that extraordinary change in the disciples from fear to faith, from cowardice to missionary.

 

Some of you know the story of Chuck Colson. He was one of President Nixon’s top advisors during the Watergate scandal. Colson eventually went to jail as a result of his crimes and then later came to know the Lord Jesus for himself. He was wonderfully converted. This is Colson’s comment on the resurrection. He said, “I know the resurrection is a fact and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified they’d seen Jesus raised from the dead and then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned, and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it were not true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks! You’re telling me the twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years? Absolutely impossible.”

 

The fact that Jesus Christ came to them alive, risen from the grave, changed everything. It changed everything. It made cowards into missionaries. And so, while angels merely see it, the disciples proclaim it among the nations. Brothers and sisters, since Jesus is alive, we have a mission given to us. And the great question is, “How can we keep this good news to ourselves? How is it that our mouths are so often closed when we have such news to proclaim among the nations? Jesus lives! A perfect Savior of sinners.” “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” He says to us, the risen Christ.

 

The Mastery of the Resurrection

 

The meaning of the resurrection, the mission of the resurrection, then thirdly, the mastery of the resurrection. The mastery that is Christ’s, before which we all must come to bend our knee. The mastery of the resurrection – the angels saw the risen Christ, the disciples proclaimed the risen Christ. There is a third category though, isn’t there. Maybe you find yourself falling into it this morning. You are beginning to recognize you need forgiveness. You’ve been carrying a burden of guilt before God and men for far too long. Well, there is good news for you. The message of the resurrection is that sinners like me and like you can be justified. That is, you can have, you can have your guilt removed and your record expunged. The verdict that was spoken over Christ in His resurrection can now be spoken over you. There’s a way that the vindication of Jesus Christ, His justification, can count as yours.

 

Believe On the Lord Jesus Christ And You Will Be saved

Paul tells us how in our text. Do you see it? The third stanza; “He was believed on in the world.” That’s it! It’s as simple as that! “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and your sin will be washed away and you will stand righteous in the sight of God, robed with the righteousness of Christ. He died and rose for sinners like me and like you and He is calling you to trust in Him.

 

And look at the very last line. “He was taken up in glory.” Having atoned for sinners, having been raised in victory, God exalted Jesus to the place of kingly rule and Lordship and authority. He was taken up in glory, seated at the right hand of the Father, and crowned as King over all. The wretched figure hanging on the cross despised and rejected of men, disdained by everyone that saw Him, here He is now seated as King of kings and Lord of lords. And He is inviting you into His kingdom. You see, it is no mere weakling who offers salvation to sinners. It is, rather, the risen, reigning, triumphant Christ who is mighty to save who offers salvation to sinners so that uniquely among all people He can always deliver on His promise. Won’t you take Him at His Word? Won’t you take Him at His Word today, this Easter Sunday morning, right now? And come and be mastered by King Jesus who died and rose for sinners like us. Bend your knee to Him. Trust in Him. Put all your weight, all your hope in Him, and He will make you clean. He will wash your guilt away. He will reconcile you to God; a new, resurrection life will be yours.

 

Jesus, you see, as King can do what no politician can do for sure, can do what no parent can do for sure, can do what you can’t even do for sure. He will keep His promises. One hundred times out of one hundred. So when He says to you, “Just trust Me. Just trust Me. And I will forgive you. I will make you clean. I will deal with your sin and guilt and reconcile you to God and everything will be changed in your life forever and you will never be the same again. Just trust Me.” You can bank on His promise because He is God’s great King and He can deliver.

 

So the meaning of the resurrection – it was Christ’s vindication, His justification, and when we trust in Him, that verdict pronounced over Him is pronounced over us. We are counted righteous in Christ. The mission of the resurrection – if that’s true, don’t we have good news for the world? How can we keep it to ourselves? Let’s go to the nations and proclaim, “Christ lives!” And the mastery of the resurrection – we are being called, all of us, whether for the first time or all over again, to bend the knee to King Jesus and believe on Him for the salvation of our souls.

 

Would you pray with me, please?

Our Father, how we give thanks to You that Jesus Christ is not dead. That though He died, He lives, and therefore we who believe in Him, though we die, yet shall we live. And living and believing in Him shall never die. Would You help us to trust in Christ that He might be believed on by us who has been taken up into glory? We would be mastered by King Jesus today. So we come to You to bend our knee. Have mercy on us and grant that our true joy this Easter Sunday would not merely be because we’re with loved ones and family, would not merely be because we’ve so enjoyed singing together and being together, but that it would be sourced far more fundamentally in the knowledge that we have been put right with God through Jesus Christ our Lord who bore our guilt in His body on the tree and rose that in Him we might be justified. For we ask this in His name, amen.



Jesus’ Resurrection: The Instrument of Mercy

By / Mar 27

 

 

Now if you would please take a copy of God’s holy Word from the pew racks in front of you and turn with me in them to 1 Peter chapter 1; 1 Peter chapter 1. We are going to read verses 3 to 9. You’ll find that on page 1014 in our church Bibles. Before we do that, would you bow your heads with me as we pray together? Let’s pray!

 

Almighty God, our Father, we pray that according to Your great mercy You would send the Holy Spirit to take the living Word spread before us to be read and preached and generate in our hearts new life and a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, for Your praise and glory. Amen.

 

1 Peter chapter 1 at verse 3. This is the Word of Almighty God:

 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

 

Amen, and we give praise to God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

 

How can you find joy when sorrow grips your heart? How do you rejoice when life is relentless in throwing grief-inducing trials your way? If you’ll look for a moment at our passage in 1 Peter chapter 1, you will see that that is precisely what Peter says the Christians of Asia Minor were doing in verse 6. Do you see that in verse 6? “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various kinds of trials.” That is a fascinating statement, isn’t it? “You rejoice right now, as I write, right now in your hearts there’s joy.” And then he says, simultaneous with that joy, “now, if necessary, you have been grieved by various kinds of trials.” There’s joy and grief. Joy in the midst of grief. Joy in the context of grief. It’s not a flash in the pan kind of joy, fleeting and momentary, either, is it? Look at verse 8. Here’s the joy Peter’s speaking about in their hearts; it’s joy inexpressible and full of glory. And the grief they’re enduring, it’s not the daily drudgery of the 9 to 5 that Peter has in mind. He’s talking about “suffering,” life is hard! He compares it in verse 7 to a fiery furnace in which gold is refined. This is sore and piercing! There are tears. They are grieving. And in the midst of the grief they rejoice.

 

Jesus’ Resurrection Brings Hope

Now how do you explain that? Joy inexpressible, so great, language fails to articulate it; full of glory in the midst of piercing, furnace-hot grief. How do you explain that? Maybe a more urgent question would be, “Where do I get that kind of joy for myself? Where do I get my hands on joy that is not shattered by sorrow and grief and trials when they come as they always seem to do?” A large part of Peter’s answer has to do with the reason we are here today. It has to do with “Easter Sunday.” It has to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Let me show you what I mean!

 

A Living Hope

If you would please look with me at verses 3 to 5; Peter describes his readers, do you see, as having a “living hope.” They have a living hope, verse 3, a living hope. The artesian spring that supplies joy constantly to their hearts, bubbling to the surface even when they’re engulfed in terrible suffering, is this living hope. Now, a word about hope in the New Testament! Hope is not a mere aspiration in the New Testament Scriptures. That’s how we tend to use the word “hope” isn’t it? “I hope it doesn’t rain on vacation, but I’m not sure. I have no confidence but I hope.” It’s merely aspirational; it’s a wish. There’s no certainty! That’s not at all what the New Testament has in mind when it speaks about Christian hope.

 

Picture for a moment living with significant hardship. You are scraping by, but just barely. Week after week you are trying hard to find ways to make ends meet. It’s a constant struggle! And then one day a lawyer comes to see you. Now that’s not usually good news, is it? Sorry lawyers, but it’s true! It’s not usually good news but today’s different. Instead of bad news, the lawyer tells you that you are about to inherit, you are the beneficiary of a great inheritance. There will be some months between now and your receiving that inheritance when life will go on much as it has done. You lead the life you’ve always led. But now you know for sure there’s an inheritance coming. Your perspective is entirely changed. Your daily struggles are somehow easier to bear. The weariness you labor under is lighter because you know everything is about to change. You’re going to inherit!

 

That is precisely what Peter says the Christian’s position really is. Look at verse 4; Here’s the Christian’s hope! It is an inheritance “imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you.” There’s a great inheritance nothing can touch, nothing can spoil, nothing can remove, and it’s yours, believer in Jesus. That is the living hope! It is an artesian spring, constantly supplying joy here and now even though “for a little while, if necessary, you are grieved by various kinds of trials.” It keeps supplying joy inexpressible and full of glory because we know though our circumstances may be hard and sore right now, everything is going to change one day soon when the glorious inheritance at last is ours. So we have a living hope.

 

The Foundations of Our Living Hope

And in verse 3, Peter explains the foundations of that living hope and that’s really where I want to camp out for the remainder of our time together. Let’s look at verse 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” So here’s the foundation of the living hope that generates and supplies joy that is not touched by trials and sufferings, joy that can exist in a heart that grieves. Three parts to that foundation. Do you see them in verse 3? First, the living hope is the possession of those who are born again. We are “born again to a living hope,” Peter says. Then secondly, we are born again to a living hope “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And then the third part of the foundation of our living hope is the mercy of God the Father that stands at the base of it all as the cause of everything else – of the resurrection, of our new birth, of our living hope, and of joy inexpressible full of glory. It is all the gift of the Father’s great mercy.

 

  1. Born Again To a Living Hope

 

Let’s think about the first of those together, step one if you like. We have a living hope when we are born again. It’s when this joy begins to bubble to the surface in our hearts when we’re born again. We are “born again to a living hope,” verse 3. Christianity is not, first of all, an ethical system, a set of rules or an abstract morality. It’s not first a philosophy, metaphysics and worldview. It’s not first a religious code, ritual behaviors by which the faithful may express their devotion. To be sure, Christianity has an ethic and a metaphysics and a worldview and a body of doctrine and practice that allows us to express our devotional lives. That’s not what Christianity is in its essence, however. Every other religion in the world can be described as ethics plus philosophy plus religious ritual, but Christianity has this vital difference – the essential direction of movement, if I can put it that way, in ethics and in philosophy and in ritual, everywhere else is from human beings toward God. In the Christian Gospel, however, the fundamental movement is not first from us toward God, but first from God toward us. Every other religion can be explained naturalistically, examined on the basis merely of sociology and anthropology and shown to reflect the human quest for the divine, an attempt somehow to move from where we are to communion, to encounter, to persuade somehow the deity to have respect to us. But Christianity defies naturalistic explanations because while it too, has an ethic and a worldview and an approach to worship, they function only as a response to the prior work of God in our hearts by His grace. They are not efforts of ours to ascend to God by right thinking or right doing. They express, rather, our grateful response that He has condescended and stooped down to us in our helplessness and in our sin, and done something supernatural in our hearts. The New Testament calls it the new birth.

 

What is This New Birth?

Most famously you will remember Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 at verse 7, “You must be born again.” God, by the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit, must break into your life and renovate you and make you new. At the end of 1 Peter chapter 1, if you’ll look down to verse 23, Peter speaks again about the new birth, this time to tell us how it happens in our hearts, the means that God uses to effect new birth. He says, “You have been born again not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” The living hope springs up in our hearts when we are given new life through the living word. Maybe you have heard the Gospel story a thousand times, a thousand times a thousand times. Maybe you have listened to preaching! Maybe it’s been your experience as often as not on a Sunday morning when the preacher gets cranked up with the same old same old you tune out and doze off. Maybe you can answer the catechism questions with precision and accuracy! Maybe you assent intellectually to the contours of the Christian creeds! You believe them to be fact somehow. But so what, right? Every other time it has been ordinary and old hat; if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. It is dull and you tune it out. It just washes over you. “Yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s the same old story.” But not today! Today the same old story somehow, for some reason, grips your heart and you are suddenly and irrevocably changed, changed forever as God’s Word is read and preached, Christ placarded before your eyes as crucified and risen.

 

It’s not always perceptible, of course. We don’t always see it. It’s not always dramatic. It’s what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, if you remember, the work of the Spirit is like the wind. You do not know where it comes from or where it goes, but we see its power; we see its effects. It’s mysterious. And yet when God works by His Spirit to give new birth to our hearts, it is thorough-going and life-changing and mighty. Sometimes we don’t know always “when” it has happened, but “that it has happened is undeniable. I once heard, I recently actually, heard the story of a young man who joined a new church. This young man was terribly confident in his own opinions and not slow at all to express them, and so after a few months at the church he came to his pastor and said, “Minister, I’ve been coming to this church for months now and at first, to be honest with you, the hymns really didn’t do much for me. The people were a little distant and cold. The preaching, I’ve got to tell you, it never spoke to my heart. It seemed so irrelevant; it didn’t deal with my issues. But now that I’ve been here for a few months, you all have really changed! I can’t quite put my finger on it, you know. The singing is so much better, the hymns are really meaningful to me, and the preaching is speaking to my heart. You must be so glad I’ve joined this church!” Of course the hymns haven’t changed, the preaching hasn’t changed, the people haven’t changed; the young man has changed. It’s like he’s seeing and hearing everything for the first time. The lights have been turned on! God, by His Spirit, has taken His Word, the Word he’d heard so many times before, and brought life in the place of death. He has been born again!

 

Have you Been Born Again?

So let me ask you, as simply and plainly and directly as I can, “Have you been born again? Have you been born again? Has God, by the Holy Spirit, mysteriously, supernaturally, maybe quietly, and yet really has He invaded your heart and made you a new creature?” Nothing else matters compared with your answer to that question, “Have you been born again?” There is no living hope unless the living Word makes your dead heart to live. There’s no artesian spring bubbling up with enduring joy even in the midst of grief for you. No inheritance imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you without the new birth. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, so now He says to you, “Today, you must be born again!” Have you been born again?

 

  1. Born Again Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ From the Dead

 

Then secondly, notice the living hope that supplies enduring joy comes to those who have been born again “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” At the heart of Christianity is the fact of the resurrection, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb on the third day. As the creed reminds us, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell, and on the third day He rose again from the dead.” He did not swoon on the cross to be revived in the cool of the tomb later. When the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, they punctured His heart; blood and water flow. He was dead. He was not replaced by some substitute, Joseph of Arimathea perhaps, who was crucified instead of Him. Roman soldiers are a practiced execution squad at a crucifixion site and are not nearly so easily duped. The disciples didn’t steal the body. Who endures what they endured for the sake of a lie and a fabrication – the loss of all their worldly goods, the loss of reputation, suffering persecution, martyrdom. No, Jesus Christ is alive. Today as we sit here, on the throne of the universe, at the right hand of God the Father Almighty is the glorified human body of Jesus Christ, united to deity in the person of the eternal Son. The body into which the spear was thrust and the nails were driven was given resurrection life by the power of God.

And Peter here tells us one of the reasons that matters so very much, it is, he says, the cause of our new birth. We are born again “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” That’s what the new birth is, you know. It’s a kind of resurrection. It’s the flooding into our old spiritually dead existence the life of Christ Himself. “If anyone is in Christ,” 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ he is” – what? “He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” Ephesians 2:4, “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 raised us up with him.” That’s why Easter matters so terribly much. Because Jesus lives, God gives new life to dead sinners. We are born again “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” God has made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him. There is a union that God creates between a dead sinner and the living Savior so that life flows from the resurrected Jesus to the Christian, causing a spiritual resurrection in our hearts. We come to life. The life of the vine, as Jesus’ famous metaphor in John 15 puts it, flows into all the branches that are connected to Him so that His life gives life to us.

 

That’s why being born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead gives us a living hope, gives us the spiritual security that can’t be destroyed, because it is rooted not in us. It doesn’t come from us; it does not originate in us. It is rooted in the risen Christ who now reigns in glory. Our new life, our Christianity, is not our decision. It’s not the result of aligning ourselves with a set of doctrines or lifestyle choices. It’s not the fruit of a prayer that we prayed one day. Neither does it rest on the strength or depth of our faith. It rests on union with Jesus who lives. Hebrews 7:16 speaks of the resurrected Christ as having an “indestructible life.” And if we are in Him, our lives are indestructible too. We have an inheritance “imperishable, unfading, undefiled, kept in heaven for you.” It is untouchable. You are utterly secure because “you died,” as Paul puts it in Colossians 3:3, and “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” You are safe because you are one with the risen Christ who reigns. It doesn’t rest on you, your strength, your wisdom, your goodness. It rests on Him who lives forever in the power of an indestructible life. Because the tomb is empty, you live; you are a new creature, believer in Jesus. Because the tomb is empty, you will never die, believer in Jesus. Because the tomb is empty, you have a living hope, an inheritance that will be yours one day. Because the tomb is empty, you can rejoice with joy unspeakable, full of glory, even in the midst of grief-inducing trials of various kinds. Because Jesus lives, dear Christian, you are safe. You are safe.

 

The new birth, the resurrection of Christ, and then finally and underpinning it all, giving rise ultimately to the living hope that fuels our joy, is the mercy of God the Father. Verse 3 one more time, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” You don’t put yourself into union with Christ. You can’t generate new birth for yourself. We are, Ephesians 2:1, “dead in trespasses and sins.” We are all flat-line by nature. There is no heartbeat spiritually speaking. If today you don’t know the risen Christ for yourself, the bad news is you cannot do anything to change your own condition. You are powerless. You must be born again. You must. No hope without it; no living hope. But you can’t affect the new birth in your own heart. You must have what you cannot produce. So what must you do? You must call out for mercy. You must call out for mercy. That’s the root of everything else – the reason for the resurrection, the cause of the new birth, the basis of living hope – the mercy of God. He abounds in mercy, ready to give it to all who ask Him. “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection.” “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ.” It was mercy that sent Jesus, you know; the mercy of God for you. It was mercy that nailed Him to the tree and mercy that poured out heaven’s fury on our guilt resting upon His shoulders there. It was mercy that rolled the stone away and gave new life to our Savior’s body. And it is mercy that presides on the throne of glory so that dead sinners who flee to Him for mercy meet a ready answer and receive the mercy they need.

 

Some of you are ready, probably, to do a thousand things – to say a prayer, to sign a card, to go to church more, to amend your lifestyle, do better, try harder. You didn’t realize that resurrection life was on offer to you on the basis of sheer mercy alone. Do you see what that means? It is free. It is a gift, a gift. Not quid pro quo, not wages in return for something you have done; it is a gift. It’s mercy. It’s what’s on offer to you this Easter Sunday. That’s why Jesus rose. There is a gift of new life offered on the basis of sheer, undeserved mercy. Would you come today, this morning, now, and bow before the Father and cry out for mercy? It’s available to you in the risen Christ and mercy is what you will receive, and new birth, and a living hope, and indestructible joy.

 

Would you pray with me please?

 

Almighty God, we praise You that Jesus is alive and we ask You that His life might flow to us and that even now, listening to His voice, new life the dead might receive. Take away hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. Perform the new birth miracle among us today. Help us as we cry out to You for mercy to rest upon Christ and receive the mercy You offer that there may be in all our hearts living hope and joy untouched by our griefs, to the praise and glory of Your great name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



He is Risen!

By / Apr 6


The Easter Psalm

By / Apr 21

Please turn with me in your copies of God’s Word to Psalm 22, the twenty-second Psalm, page 457 in the church Bibles.  Once you have your copies of the Scriptures open would you bow your heads with me as we pray together?

 

Our Father, we want to see more of Christ today.  He lives and reigns, having bled and died for sinners like us.  Would You send us the Spirit of Christ that as Your Word is read and preached we might hear His voice, we might see like the disciples in the Upper Room the nail marks in His hands and feet, and like Thomas, fall down and confess, ‘My Lord and my God!’ anew or perhaps for the first time.  So we cry to You to come and wield Your Word with power in our hearts for the glory of the name of the risen Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

 

Psalm 22, reading from verse 1:

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

 

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

 

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ 

 

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.  Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

 

Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

 

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

 

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.

 

But you, O LORD, do not be far off!  O you my help, come quickly to my aid!  Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!  Save me from the mouth of the lion!  You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

 

I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:  You who fear the Lord, praise him!  All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!  For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.

 

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.  The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD!  May your hearts live forever!

 

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.  For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

 

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.  Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

 

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth on all our hearts.

 

A Psalm of David, A Psalm of Christ

 

Given that today is Easter Sunday morning we are taking a break from our on-going studies in Matthew 13 to think together about Psalm 22.  Written by King David, the contents of this psalm far surpass and exceed any experience in David’s life.  It is of course the psalm quoted by our Savior from the cross and really a careful reading of Psalm 22 will make clear that it is not safe to read its details in any other light.  This is a psalm that gives us a remarkable prophetic glimpse of the sufferings of Jesus and the glories that were to follow from Christ’s own perspective.  It is extraordinary to me that here we see in Psalm 22 the cross in detail, from the vantage point not of the apostles nor of someone in the crowds looking on from the foot of the cross. Here we see the cross and the empty tomb, as it were, from the vantage point of the one who hung there and stepped from the grave in resurrection victory.  If you look at Psalm 22 carefully you will see that it has two major divisions bringing together in this one psalm both Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  The depths of God forsakenness are here; that’s verses 1 to 21.  And the heights of resurrection victory are here; that’s 21 to 31.  And so for that reason I think a good title for this psalm would be “The Easter Psalm.”  It is the Easter psalm.  It brings us to the foot of the cross and shows us in vivid color the horror of our Savior’s dying love for us and then it takes us with Mary very early on the first day of the week to the empty tomb and we are freshly confronted by the wonder of Christ’s resurrection glory. 

 

I. The Crucified Sufferings of Christ

 

Let’s think first of all about verses 1 to 21.  Here are the crucified sufferings of Christ.  And notice, I want you to see carefully the structure, the pattern, of this part of the psalm.  There are three blocks of verses that deal with the nature of Christ’s suffering, each of them followed by a block of text that show us the unwavering, unassailable faith of Christ in the midst of His sufferings.  They alternate back and forth.  Each of those blocks of texts that deal with Christ’s confidence and faith begin with the line, “Yet you are holy,” or “Yet you, O Lord,” “But you, O Lord,” where our Savior faces the crashing title wave of agony bearing down upon Him.  And then as it rolls back we see the unshakable rock of His trust casting itself upon the goodness of God. 

 

A Cry of Faith amidst Unmitigated Horror

I want to think about the first couplet of suffering and confidence in these opening five verses first of all.  Notice how the psalm, here in the opening two verses, does not build towards a climactic expression of suffering.  It begins with the climactic expression of suffering.  It starts at the apex and pinnacle of the sufferings of our Savior.  Verse 1 – we could say a great deal about the physical pain of the crucifixion, the horrors of Roman torture here, but as terrible as the physical sufferings of Jesus undoubtedly were, here is the true horror of the cross.  Here is what makes the cross hell.  Not the nails in His hands and feet but the cry of spiritual dereliction that escaped His lips – recorded in verse 1, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani?”  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?  Why have You forsaken Me?”  No one has ever lived in the darkness into which our Savior was plunged in this moment. The full fury of the divine curse fell on the soul of the God-Man here as the Father for the first time in the consciousness of Christ withdrew all awareness of His fellowship and love from Jesus and in its place, you know, Jesus was not simply given over to emptiness; He was abandoned by the Father to condemnation, given up to judgment.  He was handed over to the wrath of the Father that our sin has incurred.  Somehow in the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit are able, never ceasing to love the Son nor to be one with the Son, while at the same time at Calvary pouring out white-hot implacable, unmitigated, un-tempered, unrestrained fury on our sin upon the Son.  Here is Jesus bearing the condemnation we deserved. 

 

Here, brothers and sisters, is what I owe and what you owe, paid for in the wounds of our Savior.  Here’s what our sin cost, which begs the question, “How can anyone toy with sin in sight of Calvary?”  Here’s what our sin cost – the dereliction and abandonment of Jesus Christ to the fury of the wrath of God.  See the wretched figure hanging on the cross and you have a perfect antidote to a casual view of sin.  It is no small thing to rebel against the rule of Almighty God.  It cost the lifeblood of His Son and the terrible experience of God-forsakenness to pay our debt.  And the question that is recorded in verse 1 that Jesus hurls to the sky, doesn’t it express and articulate the utter perplexity that consumed the Lord Jesus in that moment?  “Why?  Why am I God-forsaken?”  It’s important, I think, for us to recognize as we listen to Him hurl those words to the heavens, that that question on the lips of Jesus Christ is not a cry of unbelief; it’s not an ungodly cry.  Notice that though He cries out in anguish it is still none the less a cry to “My God, my God.”  This is a cry of faith amidst pain. 

 

And it may be important for some of us today, perhaps especially today, this weekend, to understand that when Jesus asked it He sanctified the same “Why?” question for all of us who find ourselves wrestling with the inexpressible reality of tragedy breaking in, all unlooked for into our lives.  God may have forsaken His Son to the hell of the cross, but the Son has not forsaken the Father in the hell of the cross.  He clings to a God who, in these moments, He can’t see and He can’t feel and He does not find. And as He does so, He is a perfect repository of grace for us when we find ourselves likewise looking for and crying to a God who does not seem near. 

 

Sustaining Faith Amidst Anguish: Rehearsing God’s Past Faithfulness

And notice how our Savior sustained that extraordinary faith amidst these trials – verses 3 to 5.  The first thing He does is recites the faithfulness of God to the fathers.  Do you see that in the text?  “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel; in you our fathers trusted.  They trusted and you delivered them.  To you they cried and you delivered them.  They trusted in you and were not put to shame.”  He rehearses God’s past grace upon His people in order to sustain His faith amidst present trials as He looks for new grace for Himself.  He sustains faith in future grace by remembering the unfailing faithfulness of God in the past.  Isn’t that a helpful and practical tool to keep in our toolboxes when our own trials overwhelm us?  Remember the grace of God – He has been faithful to you again and again and to your fathers and to His people throughout the generations.  It was Christ’s method, sustaining His faith in the extremity of Calvary, and nothing could commend it better to us as a suitable method for our own trials that will never ascend to the heights of His pain.  This was His method.  This is how He did it.  This is how He sustained faith.  He remembered and preached to His own soul the past unfailing faithfulness of God. 

 

A Savior Familiar with Suffering

And then in verses 6 to 8 the psalm alternates back again to focus once more on the sufferings of the cross.  The waves of suffering come crashing back down on the soul of our Savior and this time our attention is fixed not on their spiritual character but on their dehumanizing effects.  Look at the text.  “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”  Did you hear that?  A worm and not a man.  Despised by the people.  He’s treated by them like an animal – subhuman, beneath compassion, beneath mercy, worthy of ridicule.  For everyone who has suffered the stripping away of their dignity there is one who has plumbed the depths ahead of you.  No one else may comprehend your sadness or your sorrow but there are no depths into which you may descend that Christ has not already reached the bottom of.  He has traveled to the furthest horizon of human loss and pain and brokenness so that He can say to you, “I know.  I know.  I know.”  Look at the cross.  He was alone, despised, mocked.  The Pharisees standing around the cross, remember what they hurled at Him as He died?  “He saved others; let Him save Himself.  He trusted in the Lord; let Him rescue Him, let Him deliver Him since He delights in Him.”  He even describes Himself as a worm and not a man.  He knows, doesn’t He?  You may not feel that you can go to anyone.  You don’t know where to turn.  Nobody gets it; nobody understands.  It’s not true.  You can go to Him.  You can bring your griefs and your cries to Him.  He knows.

 

Sustaining Faith Amidst Anguish: Recalling Covenant Faithfulness

And then in verses 9 to 11 the waves of suffering once again draw back don’t they, and again we see the solid rock of trust and dependence on God.  This time it is bolstered and supported not by a rehearsal of God’s past faithfulness to the fathers but by a rehearsal of God’s past faithfulness in Christ’s own life. “But you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.  Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”  Here is Jesus remembering Himself as the covenant child.  He can trace the ways that from His earliest recollections God has been His God.  He has been fleeing sin and repenting and believing and, not Jesus repenting, but we who are covenant children are to repent and believe that our Savior has no sin to repent of, but He’s always known that God was His God from the very first. 

 

And some of us do have a testimony like this, don’t we?  We’ll say, “I am a covenant child.  I never remember a day when I was away from the Lord.  I don’t remember living in wild rebellion.  I grew up believing and trusting Him, fleeing sin and clinging to Christ.” And maybe we think that an inferior testimony; it’s a glorious testimony.  It’s Jesus’ testimony.  From His mother’s breast, from His mother’s womb He said, “I trusted in You.  I never knew a time when I did not trust in You.”  It’s the ways it’s meant to be in covenant homes.  And here is Jesus using it to sustain His faith in the crucible of His most acute sufferings.  Maybe we need to reread our life stories with the covenant keeping God as the central character.  When you do, you will find abundant fuel to fire the engine of faith even in the very worst of times.  Reread your life story with the covenant keeping God as the central character; not yourself but the God of faithful love. 

 

A Depiction of the Lingering Death of the Cross

And so bolstered by the memory of God’s faithfulness, the Savior faces the next wave of suffering – 12 to 18.  Look at it please.  Don’t miss the incredibly accurate account of the physiological effects of crucifixion – the details regarding the soldiers at the foot of the cross casting lots for His garments.  Here’s a reason to trust the Bible – it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  Almost the millennium before Christ came, what an accurate account we have of all that took place at Calvary.  Look at the text.  Look how this all went down.  Jesus, he says – “I am surrounded by many bulls of Bashan,” verse 12.  They are like roaring lions gaping wide as if to consume our Savior.  Verse 13, “There are dogs snapping at him all around.”  Verse 16, they pierce his hands and his feet nailed to a cross.  “They divide his garments and cast lots for his clothing,” verse 18.  “He is,” 14 to 15, “poured out like water.  All his bones are out of joint; his heart is melted like wax.  His strength is dried up.  His tongue sticks to his jaws.”  God has brought Him to the dust of death.  It is an extraordinary depiction of the lingering death of the cross. 

 

Sustaining Faith Amidst Anguish: A Cry for Future Grace

But then the final note of faith sounds in 19 to 21.  Notice how the waves of persistent pain and suffering break on a faith, this time, that does not look back to past faithfulness; this time it cries out to God in prayer for future grace.  Nineteen to 21 – it’s a prayer that God would intervene and rescue Him.  “But you, O LORD, do not be far off!  Come and deliver me.”  There is a kind of misplaced Calvinism, you know, a fatalism really, that thinks that the only appropriate response to suffering is passive surrender to pain – a theology that almost collapses into the idea that suffering is a good thing intrinsically, that it would be ungodly to protest beneath it.  But suffering isn’t good and even our Lord asks to be rescued from it.  It is possible to humbly submit to the sovereignty of God while asking, at the same time, to be delivered from the trials that He has ordained.  And if you struggle with that then you may need to spend more time in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Remember the prayer of our Savior.  “If it is possible let this cup pass from Me, yet not what I will but Your will be done.”  Crying for deliverance; submitting to the sovereign ordination of God.  A faith that sustains us in our trials is also a faith that doesn’t hold back from asking to be delivered from our trials. 

 

The Pivot of Psalm 22: Answered Prayer

But look especially at verse 21.  This is really the pivot on which the whole psalm turns.  Our version here isn’t great.  A very wooden translation might read something like this.  Verse 21 – “Save me from the mouth of the lion, from the horns of the wild oxen,” and then instead of another request for rescue, suddenly actually quite abruptly, David declares instead not, “You have rescued me” as it is in our version but literally, “You have answered me.”  It’s as though the request for salvation that should have followed the first half of this verse has been interrupted by the answer itself.  Before the prayer is even finished the answer comes.  “You’ve answered me,” he says.

 

II. The Heights of Resurrection Victory

 

And notice that from this point on, the whole psalm, the tone of the psalm is radically different.  Suffering ceases from here on.  Here in this one clause in the second half of verse 21, here is death giving way to resurrection.  Here in the second half of verse 21 the stone is rolled away and our Savior stands for alive.

 

A Risen Christ, Response in Praise, and a Reason  for Worship

What’s especially wonderful about Psalm 22 is that it tells us not just what it was like for Jesus on the cross but also how our Savior responds to the fact of the resurrection.  It tells us how He responds even before it tells us how we ought to respond.  Look at the text.  “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you,” verse 22.  “From you comes my praise in the great congregation,” verse 25.  Jesus responds to the deliverance of God from the dust of death as worship and praise in the midst of the great congregation.  The Septuagint, the Greek translation there, actually reads, “in the midst of the great church, in the midst of the people of God.”  He’s saying, “I’ll be their song leader.  I’ll be their song director and my voice will sound louder and clearer and brighter above the swelling voices of the great assembly drawn from every language and people and nation redeemed by my blood.”  And as the song leader of the church, notice how Jesus invites us to join Him in responding to the resurrection.  Verse 23, “You who fear the LORD, praise him!  All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him and stand in awe of him all you offspring of Israel!  For,” here’s why we should worship, “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, he has not hidden his face from him but has heard when he cried to him.” 

 

The reason for our worship is that Jesus Christ has risen.  Jesus Christ is alive.  The Father heard His cries and delivered Him.  We are summoned to worship because the tomb is empty and the throne is occupied and Jesus lives.  That’s why even as the shadow of death is cast over, actually over several of our families this weekend, and they’re mourning, that’s why there remains hope and there’s still grounds for praise.  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  Jesus has risen.  He has shattered the bonds of death for all who believe so that through our tears and through our mourning we can say, “The Lord has given; the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  And one day soon, death that has already been defeated, will be utterly undone when the Savior who rose returns to take us home.  And so a great congregation will gather in the wake of these great facts.  The poor and the afflicted are there, verse 26.  The rich and the prosperous are there, verse 29.  And verse 27, it extends even to “all the ends of the world who shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” – rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, all people from every class and every background brought into this great congregation through faith in Jesus to praise Him because the tomb is empty and Jesus lives.

 

The Triumphant Message of the Nations: “It is Finished”

And in verses 30 and 31 we learn how it is that that great congregation will be assembled.  “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,” in other words a missionary movement will be launched from the cross and the empty tomb that will span the globe and span the years until people from every tribe and language and nation will assemble around the throne to say, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honor and power and glory and might.”  And what is it exactly that will draw them into worship, will make them forsake their idols and bend the knee to the risen Christ?  What is the content of the message that gathers in the nations and causes them to swell and triumph?  Verse 31, “He has done it,” or as Jesus Himself understood those words as He hung upon the cross, “It is finished.”  It is finished.  The work is done.  Our debt has been paid for.  Our sin has been paid for.  Our guilt atoned for.  There’s nothing else to do but bow in repentance and faith and rise in adoration and praise.  Because Jesus died, there’s pardon and mercy and cleansing for you.  And because Jesus lives, not even death can ultimately destroy our hope or quell our praise.

 

Directing our Eyes to the Risen, Reigning Savior

For many of us, this Easter Sunday is a day to celebrate with family and friends.  You have family from out of town with you – it’s a joyful day.  Sadly for some in our congregation this Easter Sunday is actually a time of grief and loss.  But Psalm 22 lifts our eyes and focuses them elsewhere entirely, neither on our earthly blessings nor even on our deepest losses.  Psalm 22 directs our gaze to Jesus who died and rose and reigns.  Brothers and sisters, because He died, our tears find perfect understanding in Him and because He lives our joy has its deepest roots in Him, untouchable by our circumstances.  There’s forgiveness of sin for you in Him because He lives.  There’s comfort for sorrow for you in Him because He lives.  And there’s hope for tomorrow in Him because the tomb is empty and He lives.  He has done it.  Praise the Lord!  It is finished!  Our Savior has made full payment, full atonement, and now He lives and reigns and is coming back to take us that we may be with Him where He is.  May the Lord fill our vision this Easter Sunday with a fresh sight of Jesus for the comfort of our hearts and the joy of our souls.  Will you pray with me?

 

Our Father, we praise You that Jesus lives, that He lives, that the same body into which the nails were pounded sits on heaven’s throne in glory.  And because He lives, death is no barrier to us, sin is washed away, and His promises will be fulfilled.  The ends of the earth will come and worship.  Ignite our hearts anew in praise because He lives, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.



Born Anew to Hope Through the Resurrection

By / Apr 4

The Lord’s Day Morning

April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday

1 Peter 1:3-5

“Born Anew to Hope, Through the Resurrection”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Let us worship God.

Lord our God we quiet our hearts just now as we come into Your
marvelous presence. Lord
Jesus, You have been raised from the dead.
You know what it is to be alive and dead and alive again forevermore.
We thank You as we think of that extraordinary scene of the women on that
first Easter day as they came to the tomb to anoint Your body but You were not
there. The stone had been rolled
away and the tomb was empty. We
thank You O Lord this morning that Christ is risen from the dead and we thank
You O Lord as we contemplate the resurrection that the Lord Jesus Christ is now
the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.
We thank You that it signals to us victory, victory over death, over the
grave. We thank You that in union
and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ the curse of Eden, the curse of Adam’s first transgression
is undone by the last Adam. We
thank You that He bore the sting of death in our room and in our stead, that
since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.

We thank You that the resurrection signals to us the guarantee of our
justification, that all our sins, though they be red like crimson, have been
dealt with, have been punished to the full in Christ so that in union with the
risen Christ sin can never condemn us again.
We thank You that in Christ we have a right relationship with You, our
Father in heaven. He is our
substitute. He is our sin bearer
and His resurrection signals to us that You have fully accepted all that He did
on our behalf, raising Him from the dead as a signal that all that He did was
perfect. We thank You O Lord that
in the resurrection of Christ we have the prospect of a new life which is to
come, for Christ is the resurrection and the life and for he that believes in
Him, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and he that lives and believes in
Him shall never die. We thank You O
Lord that we have this absolute assurance because if Christ is not raised, our
faith is vain and we are yet in our sins.
And they that have fallen asleep in Christ are perished if in this life
we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable.

But we thank You O Lord that His resurrection signals to us that we too shall
rise. We shall rise from our
graves, we shall rise with new resurrection bodies to live in the new heavens
and new earth. We shall not all
sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at
the last trump, for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised
incorruptible and we shall be changed for this corruptibleness put on
incorruption and this mortalness put on immortality.
And when this corruptible shall put on incorruption and this mortal shall
have put on immortality then shall be brought to pass the saying that is
written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.
Oh death, where is your sting?
Oh grave, where is your victory?
The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law, but thanks
be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our Father we bless You this morning for this astonishing, marvelous assurance
that is our in union with Christ that we are You children and we are heirs and
joint heirs with Jesus Christ. May
the joy and assurance and privileges of union with the resurrected Christ fill
our lives today. We ask it for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Amen. If you have your Bibles I’d
invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 1.
We’re going to look at verses 3 to 5 and especially we’re going to look
at the final phrase, the full, the second complete sentence in verse 3.
People cannot live without hope, but what we hope in will determine
whether we have real life or a shame substitute.
What you hope in is determinative of the quality of your life.

Now Peter has something to say to us in this passage today about hope.
One of the commentators that I was reading this morning said that,
“Whereas Paul could be characterized as the apostle of faith, and John could be
characterized as the apostle of love, Peter can be characterized as the apostle
of hope.” And that’s true.
Peter was a man who knew both about false hope and true hope.
He’s a man who knew what it feels like to be hopeless and then to be
given a new and true hope. And so
he has something to say to us today about hope.
Let’s pray before we hear his words.

Lord, You had Peter write these things down over nineteen centuries ago, but
Peter himself tells us that these are not ultimately his words.
They are the Holy Spirit’s words written through him.
They are God’s words for us.
We need Your words O Lord and Your words have never ever failed us.
They are both true and good, so open our eyes to behold them and to
understand them and to believe them and to walk in them.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

This is God’s Word. Hear it:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a
living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an
inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for
you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to
be revealed in the last time.”

Amen and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Three years ago this week in April of 2007 my friend John Piper was invited to
be one of the speakers at Rez Week at Texas A&M, where over 5,000 Christian
students gather year after year to hear some of the most famous preachers of the
world come in and preach the Gospel.
It’s a time of encouragement for believers and outreach for unbelievers.
But John Piper is perhaps, under God, the pastor that has been used as
much or more than anyone in the resurgence of Reformation Theology amongst young
people, not only in the English speaking world but even in the global south.
And he had been invited to speak at the culminating service on Friday and
he was going to be speaking on the power of the resurrection from 1 Corinthians
15. He had the students turn to 1
Corinthians 15, he read the passage, and then before he began the sermon, he
said,

“I need to tell you something. My
wife and I met for lunch yesterday which is our habit on every Thursday.
I had been praying for some time about a very important subject that I
wanted to talk with my wife about, a weighty subject.
We had that conversation and it went very badly.
My wife and I have hardly spoken a word since yesterday at lunch.
We tried to speak yesterday afternoon but all I wanted to do was cry.
We always pray on our knees.
I read from a devotional at night and then we pray, Noel first and then me, and
I was able to read and we were able to pray, but we really couldn’t even speak
to one another last night. And when
I left this morning we didn’t have the opportunity to speak.
I had to go get to the airport and get to the plane and fly here.
I kissed her on the cheek and I said, ‘Noel, this is my problem and we’ll
talk about it when I get back.’ And
I got on the plane and I haven’t spoken to her since.”

“Now the reason I’m telling you this is
because first of all, I don’t want you to think too highly of any man.
You have all these famous preachers flying in on planes to preach to you
this week and they’re sinners and they need the Gospel too.
Secondly, I want you to know that I need the power of the resurrection
every bit as much as you do. And
thirdly, I want you to know because I know some of you are coming here today
guilty and struggling with sexual sin and all kinds of discouragements.
I want you to know that you need the power of the resurrection as well.”

And if you’ll Google “John Piper Rez Week Texas A&M” you’ll get to the audio and
video of this

Well, for the rest of the talk all you could hear was the pages of 5,000 Bibles
turning. They were absolutely
locked in on what the pastor had to say.

Why do I tell you that? Because
some of you are here today and you think that if only you could be a better
Christian you wouldn’t be having the problems that you’re having in your
marriage, with your children, with your parents, with your job, or wherever it
is you’re having problems in life.
Your hope is if you could just be a better Christian things will get better.
And I’m here to tell you some bad news.
If that’s where you are, your hope’s in the wrong place.

Peter, in this passage, says there’s one
place only for the Christian hope.
And it’s not that things that are hard now will get easier, things that are bad
now will get better, the problems that are weighing us down now will go away,
and that’s where we get our hope from.
That’s not where he says we get our hope from.

Our hope comes from someplace else.

So I wonder how many of you have come here tired and frustrated and disappointed
or fearful or confused or angry or bitter or defeated or without hope and you’re
looking for some hope somewhere but you’re looking for it in the wrong place.

Well, I have some good news for you.
It may not be the good news that you’re expecting but I do have good news
for you.

John Piper, in that introduction, said these words — “I love the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ not because they turn my life into a string of
successes, but because they keep me from collapsing under a string of failures.”
So if you’re tired and frustrated and disappointed and fearful and
confused and angry and bitter and defeated and without hope I’ve got some good
words for you this morning and those words are anchored in the resurrection of
Jesus Christ.

I want us to look at this passage and really I want you to especially zero in on
the second part of verse 3 —

“According to His great mercy, He (that is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ) has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection
of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

That’s the phrase especially that I want us to concentrate on and I just want us
to do two things. I want us to ask
and answer “What does Peter mean?” and then secondly I want us to ask and answer
“What does what Peter says mean for you?”
What does it mean and what does it mean for you?

I. What does Peter mean?

Well let’s look closely at what Peter says here.
Peter says, “According to His great mercy, God the Father” — God your
Father, if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ; God who is the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ who is His only begotten Son — “God the Father has caused us
to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from
the dead.” Look at three things
that Peter says very clearly there.

First of all he tells us that God our Father and the Father of the Lord Jesus
Christ has graciously done something for us. Look at the first phrase –
“According to His great mercy He has caused us to be born again.”
In other words, Peter cannot get away from the realization of the
graciousness, the mercifulness, the kindness, the loving kindness of God the
Father. He is awash with the sense
of how kind and how loving and how gracious and how merciful God the Father is.

And I want to ask you — Is that how you think of God or when you run into those
places in your marriage or in your work or with your children or with your
parents or in your life in general when once again you seem to just be rounding
the corner, things seem to be getting better, and then your knees were taken out
from under you and you fell flat on your back and there you went again — is the
first thought, “Lord you always do this.
I’m that far from things getting better and You do this to me.
Why do You do this to me?”
I’m not saying that you say it out loud, but do you think that?
Peter’s saying if that’s how you think of God the Father you don’t know
God the Father. He’s more gracious
than you could possibly comprehend.
He’s merciful, He’s kind, and all of the good things that I’m about to tell you
flow from Him and from His grace and mercy and kindness.

Second, look at what Peter says.
What’s He done? He has given us a
new hope. Listen to the words: “He
has caused us to be born again to a living hope.”
He’s caused us to be born again to this new hope.
We were hopeless, now we have hope.
We don’t just have our own hope, we have a new hope.
The hope is not sort of a general, generic, wishful, wistful hope that
things turn out well in the end.
It’s a living hope. It’s a life
changing, life restoring, life reforming, life transforming hope and Peter knew
something about that. Peter had
lost hope in two things in his life.
He had lost hope in this world and he had lost hope in himself.
Peter was a God-fearing Jew who came under the ministry and discipleship
of the Lord Jesus Christ and who followed Him around all over Palestine.
And like many God-fearing Jews of his time he longed for the day when
God’s Messiah would appear and would put everything right.
He would kick the filthy Gentile Romans out of
Israel,
he would set up a godly rule under David, righteousness would flow throughout
the land, the Word of God would be obeyed, and the Messiah would be worshipped.
But Jesus had been crucified by the Romans and Peter had seen it.
He had lost all hope. He
went back to being a fisherman. And
Peter had lost hope in himself because while Jesus was being tried on the night
before His crucifixion, Peter denied Him not once, not twice, but three times,
and the last time he denied Jesus, Jesus was looking him in the eye.
Peter knew the truth about himself and it was not a pretty thing.
He’d lost hope.

And then on the Sunday morning after the crucifixion, some women came back into Jerusalem and said to the
disciples, “You know, the weirdest thing just happened.
We went to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body because we didn’t
have time before the sun went down on the Sabbath Day, and He wasn’t there, and
an angel told us that He was alive.
Could this be?” And you know the
story — John and Peter go flying to that tomb.
John gets there first. He’s
very quick to tell us — just like a man.
But when Peter, the older disciple, finally gets there he goes into the
tomb first. That does not surprise
me at all because that man was without hope and he was looking for hope wherever
he could find it, and for the first time in his life he was looking for it in
the right place.

Now we know it took Peter some time, but eventually Peter’s life was changed
because of the new hope he’d been given.
So when he talks about this to you he’s not talking about something that
he doesn’t understand himself.

And where does he say that that hope comes from?
Look again at verse 3. He’s
caused us to be born again to a living hope “through the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead.” It’s through
Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’
resurrection has changed everything.
That’s where our hope is.
The Christian hope is not that if we’re just good enough Christians then our
marriages are going to be better, and our children are going to treat us right,
and parents aren’t going to be so grouchy to deal with, and our business is
going to be busting at the seams, and we’re going to be making all kinds of
money, and we’re going to have all the friends we want, and we’re going to be
where we want, when we want, and how we want all the time.
We’re going to have great health.

That’s not the Christian hope.

The Christian hope is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in our
resurrection because of His resurrection.

Listen to what he says in verse 4 — “To
an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for
you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to
be revealed in the last time.” In
other words, Peter is saying your hope is not here.
It is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that guarantees your future
resurrection and all of the blessings that you are looking for are inextricably
connected to that resurrection and will not be experienced apart from them.

II. What does this hope mean for you?

So what does that mean for you?
That’s what Peter means. What does
that mean for you? It means this —
you have a life changing, life giving
hope
. If you are a believer in
the Lord Jesus Christ, if you trust Him, and listen to those words — “these
things are being kept for you by God’s power through faith.”
If you have faith in Jesus Christ, if your trust is in Jesus Christ, you
have a hope that nobody can touch and no one can take away because it’s unfading
and it’s imperishable and it’s undefiled and it’s kept in heaven for you and God
is guarding it for you and no one can mess with that hope.
No one can take it away. No
circumstance in the life can increase or diminish it.
It is absolutely impervious to anything that happens in this life.
That’s your hope. And your
joy and your usefulness in this life is tied to your apprehension of that hope.

If your hope is not set on that, then your joy will be diminished now and your
usefulness will be diminished now.

Listen to what John Piper says, “Your final healing is as far away as your
resurrection from the dead.”

Now, that can sound like some depressing news because some of us are looking for
some healing now. We’re saying,
“Lord it’s been hard. I’d like
things to get a little easier.” Or
we might say, “Lord it’s been bad and I’d like things to get a little better.”
But Peter’s saying that’s not where your hope is. For some of you things
have been hard and in God’s kindness they will get better.
They’ll get a little easier.
And for some of you things have been bad and they’ll improve.
But for others of us, they may get worse.

But not matter where we are in those three categories that’s not where our hope
is. Our hope is not found in, “If
things are hard they’re going to get easier.
If things are bad, they’re going to get better.”
And our hope is not diminished if things are good and they get worse.
That’s not where our hope is.

Our final healing doesn’t come until the resurrection of the dead.

That’s not all that John says.
Listen to the rest of the sentence.
“Your final healing is as far away as your resurrection from the dead,
however, your invincible joy of hope is
as close as the risen Lord Jesus Christ.”

That hope bears the fruit of joy now.

That resurrection then is life-giving
now, which means you can throw
yourself into life and you know that the defeats you experience in this life,
however intensely personal and painful they may be, they are not the final word,
and there is a final victory that awaits.
And you know that the successes of this life, however wonderful they may
be, are not your final hope and blessing.
And so you can throw yourself into this life serving and loving and
giving and know that this is not my final hope.

My hope is at the resurrection and that allows me to pursue this life with love
and joy now, knowing that no matter what happens, nothing can take away my hope
because nothing can take away the resurrection because Jesus has been raised
from the dead.

I wonder if that’s where your hope is,
Christian.
I wonder if it’s there enough.
I wonder if you’re like me, always looking for an interim hope, always
looking for something now, in my own time, in my own condition, in my own
circumstances, that I can cling to that’s going to be the thing that gets me
through. Just listen to the pastor
saying, “Your final healing is as far away as the resurrection from the dead.”

Have you had your hope in the wrong place?
Christian, it will rob you of joy.
It will rob you of usefulness if your hope is in the wrong place.
But if your hope is in the resurrection, it will give you the joy and the
energy to live life now no matter what the successes and defeats are, no matter
what the blessings and the trials are, because you know that in the end neither
the good things nor the bad things have the final word because your hope is
waiting. It’s stored up, it’s kept,
it’s in heaven — you won’t even see it until the last day.

How about those of you
who aren’t trusting in Jesus Christ
today? Maybe you’re here because of
family. You had to come.
It’s the Easter Sunday dinner that you’re really interested in, but you
had to come. You’re stuck.
Do I have any good news for you?
Not if your hope is where it is because if you’re not trusting in Jesus
Christ, do you know how the apostle Paul describes you in Ephesians 2, chapter 2
verse 12? He says you are “without
hope” and without God in this world.
That’s where you are. You’re
without hope. There is no hope.
I mean, think about it — if this life is where your hope is and good goes
to bad, or better goes to worse, or easy goes to hard, circumstances have
changed, where’s your hope? And
even if life is good, and there are so many of you in this room that other
people look at and they say, “If my life could only be like so-and-so and
so-and-so, if my marriage could only be like so-and-so and so-and-so, if my work
could only be like so-and-so and so-and-so I’d be happy.”
And it’s one of my joys to know so many of you, really know so many of
you, and you open up and you tell me what your cares are and you tell me what’s
broken your heart and I laugh to myself sometimes when people point to you and
say, “If only I could be like those folks over there I’d be happy.
Life would be easy.” They
have no idea of the secret burdens that you bear, absolutely no idea of the
heartbreaks because even when life is good, it’s never the way that God will
finally make it here.

So, if your hope is in this life,
sorry, not only do you have no real hope, you don’t even have meaning.
Because when the bad things happen, what do they mean?
They mean nothing, whereas for the believer,
God wastes nothing of the hard things.
They are all designed to increase
our ultimate joy and victory,
and nothing that we experience now is
meaningless and nothing will be wasted.

And I know there are some of you today that need to know that because you’re
looking at things in your life and you’re shaking your head and you’re saying,
“I just don’t know.” And Peter’s
saying, “Believer, you can live in invincible joy now not because things are
good or things are going to get better, but because your hope is in the
resurrection.” Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, by Your grace keep us from putting our hope in the wrong place.
By Your grace make us to trust in Jesus for His resurrection and ours to
be the place where alone we look for the final healing.
Until then You call some of us to a life that will be a permanent
struggle — difficulties at work, hardships in our relationships with parents and
children, husband and wife, loneliness, sacrifice, struggles of health — but
none of these, none of these will You allow to have the last word because
they’re not where our hope is. And
where our hope is no one can touch it.
Lord help us believe that and help us to realize how joy-giving and
life-transforming that hope is, in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Let’s take our hymnals and sing, “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I” — 706.

Receive now this blessing from the One who has been raised from the dead — Peace
be to all who are in Christ Jesus.
Amen.