Easter Faith

Sermon by David Strain on April 16, 2017

1 Timothy 3:14-16


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.

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