The Lord's Day Morning
Easter SundayApril 16, 2006
“Jesus Is Alive, and As a Result...”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter four, as we continue to make our way through this great book together. This morning I want to concentrate for a few moments on what the Apostle Paul says ought to be the result of Christ's resurrection power at work in us.
You will remember that at the end of Ephesians 1, the Apostle Paul, beginning in verse 19, had said that there was a power, an incredible power, at work in us; and he identified that power as the power, the same power, that had raised Jesus Christ from the dead. And we've seen the Apostle Paul now in Ephesians 4 saying that the power of the resurrected and now ascended Jesus Christ is now at work on behalf of His church, and that the ascended Lord Jesus Christ, at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, is pouring out gifts on His church.
In verses 14-16 of Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul is explaining to us what the purpose of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ is, what the purpose of the engifting of the ascended Christ is for the church. There are to be results for us. There is to be a consequence in us of the resurrected Jesus Christ in His power and His reigning bestowal in the way that we live. There is to be a practical result of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and present rule. And that's what we're going to concentrate on in verses 14-16.
Tonight Derek will concentrate on the resurrection story as it's found in Mark 16. This morning we’ll look at the results — or, to put it in a different way (because there are many ways we can think of the results), we can think of the results of the resurrection as things which Jesus’ resurrection actually accomplished; and, if you have today's outline, you’ll see a list of those things which Jesus’ resurrection actually accomplished. Here we're thinking about the consequences of Jesus’ resurrection power in us, the consequences of the ascended Jesus pouring out gifts upon the church in us. What is that power supposed to produce? What are the gifts that the ascended Christ pours out on the church supposed to produce? What does the resurrection power of Christ look like when it is flowing in us? That's what we're going to concentrate on today. So let's look to God in prayer and ask His help and blessing.
Our Lord, we thank You for this Your word. It is the word of truth, and we thank You that the Lord Jesus Christ is risen, and risen indeed. And we thank You that we believe that; that it's more real to us than the seats we're sitting in right now. While there are so many in the world that struggle with doubts about that unassailable truth, that historical fact so overwhelmingly attested not only in Your word, but in the world, we pray, O Lord God, that even as we believe that truth with all our hearts and embrace it, that by Your Spirit we would see the implications of it, the results of it, the consequences of it in our lives, and that we would live out that truth, and not merely speak about it. We ask these things, O God, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Jesus is alive. He has been resurrected. He has ascended, and He is ruling the world by His word and Spirit, and He is pouring out His gifts on His church. So what? For what reason is Christ's resurrection power at work in you? That's a marvelous thought worth a lot of reflection, isn't it, that Christ's resurrection power is at work in you? But we've already studied that in Ephesians 1.
For what reason is He ascended and pouring out gifts on His church? What is the result of that resurrection power of Jesus Christ in that engifting of the church by the ascended Christ? What is the result of that in us? That's what Paul wants to speak with us about this morning, and I'd like you to see two or three things here in verses 14, 15, and 16. And I do want you to notice that the three things that Paul tells us are results from the resurrection power of Jesus Christ at work in us and the gifting of the ascended Christ to His church are spoken about more than once in this passage. For instance, in verse 14 you will see Paul speaking about our being established in truth, but he does it in a negative way. He gives us illustrations of what happens to people who are not established in truth, and then in verse 15 he’ll speak positively about the importance of our being established in truth. And then, in verse 15 when he begins to speak about our being matured, or our growing in love, he will speak of that also in verse 16. And then, in verse 16 when he speaks about our being matured as a body, matured as a new society, matured as a whole community - well, he's already started speaking about that in verse 15. So the truth that we're going to look at in 14, 15, and 16 are actually mixed and repeated throughout the passage.
But I want you to see three things in particular that the Apostle Paul says are to result in us because of Christ's resurrected power, and because the ascended, ruling Jesus Christ is pouring out gifts on His church. And the first thing is this:
I. That we are to be established in truth.
Christ's resurrection power at work in us is to root us in truth, to establish us in truth, and His ascended rule in which He engifts His church is designed to root us and establish us in truth; and so, consequently, the Apostle Paul will state this negatively in verse 14 as a result — as a result of the ascension of Christ, as a result of His engifting of the church, as a result of His resurrection power, “We are no longer to be children tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming....”
And notice in that passage as Paul gives a negative example of people who aren't rooted in the truth, that in the space of one verse he manages to give you four different metaphors or images of this. He starts off with children. Now, there's nothing wrong with children! In fact, children are often used as positive pictures of membership in the kingdom of God here, but when he says we are no longer to be children, what he's speaking of is not being immature in our discernment.
What is one of every parent's greatest fears? That your child, at a point of immaturity in discernment, will be taken advantage of by an adult who has evil purposes and takes advantage of their very trusting nature and their lack of discernment to do something to them that harms them. Every parent fears that, and sometimes fears it long after they are toddlers. And the Apostle Paul is saying the same thing about the church: I don't want you to be immature in discernment, so that you can be taken advantage of by those who deny the truth and who are seeking to make you chattel for their purposes.
And then he quickly changes the image, and he says we're not to be “tossed here and there by waves.” The picture is of a wave-tossed passenger on a ship.
Just a couple of months ago the weather channel had a special on this college in the United States that takes study cruises, and they take their students to other countries. In this case, it was to the Far East. They study the cultures and the histories of those nations, and then they actually visit those nations in the course of their study cruise. They have classes during the week on the cruise ship. And on this particular study cruise, the great ocean liner on which they were faced the worst waters that had been experienced in that region in years. It was constantly being tossed about by massive waves, so that their rooms were actually wrecked, and their study time was taken away. Eventually, the cruise itself had to be cancelled and restarted, and the students had to be flown back home. And the Apostle Paul is saying that's the picture of what happens to someone not rooted and established in truth. I want you to be grounded so you can't be tossed about by those waves.
And then he changes the pictures again, and he speaks of, notice, by being “carried about by every wind of doctrine.” And the picture there is of a straw, or leaves, or paper in the wind. Have you ever dropped a piece of paper on a windy day? And you’re trying to chase it down and get it back...you need that sheet of paper. Have you ever seen a woman on a windy March day in the Kroger parking lot, and she's got her grocery list and she's trying to get her keys back into her purse and she lets loose of that grocery list and it starts flying all over the Kroger parking lot? And she's dodging cars and trying to get the grocery list, because she can't remember all the things! It's a long list, and she needs it. And the Apostle Paul is saying that's a picture of a person who's not rooted and established in the truth. They’re just blown around from here to there.
And then he switches the picture again, and he says not deceived by “the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming....” In other words, he doesn't want us to be deceived easily by false teachers. And that's so important, because false teachers have always been around. They’re around today; they were around in the nineteenth century; they were around in the first century and the second century. Jesus and Paul and the other disciples all taught us that we would always face the challenge of false teachers. That's one reason why being established in the truth is so important.
Some of you have been listening with interest, or watching or reading with interest, over the last ten days or so as news has broken, originally from National Geographic, about the discovery of this very, very important document called “The Gospel of Judas.” And we are assured that this document is...it's over 1800 years old, and it gives us a unique insight into the historical Jesus and into the historical Judas. In fact, it gives us a radically different picture from the one we've always had. This Gospel of Judas that we've just discovered in fact shows that Judas was the only disciple that really understood Jesus’ mission and purpose, and that Jesus had asked Judas to betray Him, in order that He could be freed from His body. And Judas hung himself in order to free himself from this earthly body and to be released into the world of spirits. And it radically retells the historical gospel's perspective on Jesus and on His mission. And you've heard, perhaps, the hullabaloo about that.
Well, my friends, I want you to understand that there is absolutely nothing new in the Gospel of Judas. It's the same old Gnostic stuff that's been around for years, and it's no wonder that people make over it. The very people who would like to foster a modern paganism, a modern Gnosticism in the church, are the same people that are so excited about the Gospel of Judas.
Let me tell you three things about the Gospel of Judas. The first thing I want to tell you is this. Open your Bibles and turn to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And just look through Matthew, Mark, and Luke and John. Just skim through the pages and let your eyes fall upon those words. Now, let me tell you something: You have just looked, if you've just done that, if you've just looked at Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you have just looked at four historical documents that are more than a century and a half older than the Gospel of Judas. The author of the Gospel of Judas didn't know Jesus or Judas, or anybody who knew the historical Jesus and Judas. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all knew Jesus, were eyewitnesses to His life, death, resurrection, and ministry. Three of these books were certainly written within thirty years of Jesus’ death, and the other one perhaps within forty or fifty years of Jesus’ death — all by apostles or eyewitnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His original mission and message. The Gospel of Judas is from sometime late in the second century, by someone who had no idea about the original mission and message of Jesus.
The second thing I want to tell you is this: Discovery of the Gospel of Judas hasn't told us anything new whatsoever, because we have known about the Gospel of Judas for over 1800 years. Do you know that the early church pastor and theologian, Iraneaus, in his book Against Heresies, has a section in which he critiques the Gospel of Judas? He knew about it. Iraneaus — yes, that Iraneaus who studied under an elder in Smyrna, had studied under John — that John...the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the disciple who leaned on Christ at the Last Supper, who had a special relationship, was part of that inner circle of three. That man who had studied under an elder, who studied under John, knew about the Gospel of Judas, and he knew that it was a Gnostic, heretical, forgery.
Thirdly, he actually tells us what group wrote it. It was a group called the Cainites. Now think about that name — “the Cainites.” These were Gnostics who went to every bad figure in the Bible, beginning with Cain, and attempted to rehabilitate them. Can you imagine going to the story of Cain and Abel and making Cain the hero? And that's what these Gnostics did. And, interestingly, liberal scholars have been telling us for years and years that if we were ever to discover these documents that the early church fathers critiqued, we would find out that the early church fathers had terribly misrepresented them in an attempt to suppress them in their originality and creativity. Well, guess what? Now that we have the copy of the Gospel of Judas that we have, it shows that Iraneaus knew exactly what he was talking about, and that his criticisms were dead on.
You see, my friends, people have been making up false stories like that from the very beginning to lead Christians astray, and the Apostle Paul is saying this is one reason why it is so important to be established in the truth. And that is why we emphasize the truth, right doctrine, in everything we do. The Christian ought to glory in the truth of Scripture. The Christian ought to glory in the words of the Book. The Christian ought to glory in the authoritative teaching of Scripture. The Christian ought to glory in right doctrine. That is one of the consequences of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ at work in us.
John Calvin once said that Satan can never rest without striving to darken by his lies the pure doctrine of Christ. And so God wants to test our faith with those struggles. So when false teachers come, though they are trying to darken the truth of God by their lies, God is wanting to test us to assure that we are established in truth. That's one of the results of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ at work in us. We’re rooted in the truth, established in the truth, so that we're not blown around by every false teaching and wind of doctrine.
II. We are to grow in love.
But there's a second thing: we're not only to be established in truth, we're to be growing in love. Notice how Paul puts it in verse 15: “But speaking the truth in love...” and again in verse 16, that the Lord Jesus Christ “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” How does the church grow in maturity? The Apostle Paul tells you: it grows by truth and love. Whenever you hear somebody pitting truth against love, or love against truth, you can best believe they do not understand the Bible's teaching about truth and love. Truth and love are not opponents; they are comrades in the great work of Christian maturity. And that's why when you hear the criticism “Oh, that person is too concerned about truth...” the criticism is misguided at least in its analysis. Is it possible for a person to misunderstand the function of truth? Yes, it is. Is it possible for a person to misunderstand the goal of truth? Yes, it is. Is it possible for a person to be too concerned about truth? No, it isn't.
It is true, of course, that sometimes people seem to care a great deal about truth but they do not understand what truth is for. They do not understand its function. And it is true that sometimes people show a great deal of concern about truth, and they don't know what it is unto; they don't know what its goal is. The Apostle Paul explains to us here that the function of truth is the fostering of real Christian love, and that the goal of truth is the expression of real Christian love; and so, we stress that the practice of truth is always in the context of love, and it always aims for love.
And of course, love doesn't just mean “being nice.” That's what love has been reduced to in our culture — being nice and letting everyone do what they want to do. That's what's really loving. But you know, even pagans, even seculars in our culture understand that there is something called “tough love.” And you know what tough love is? Tough love is loving someone enough to do something that's not very pleasant for you or for them, and that requires both truth and requires more than just niceness. It requires a genuine concern for the well-being of another person, even though it costs you. And that's real Christian love. Love — this kind of love — strong love, heroic love, self-sacrificial love — that's what the resurrection power of Jesus Christ is to produce in us.
I love the story that John Piper tells of Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards. They were Christian missionaries who died six years ago in Cameroon. Both of them were medical doctors. They could have lived a very comfortable life in the United States, and yet they gave their lives serving amongst Christians and amongst the most poverty-wracked people in the world in India and in Cameroon. And Ruby died in her eighties and Laura died in her seventies, on the mission field. Now, they could have been at home enjoying retirement, pursuing all kinds of leisure activities, but they were spending themselves in love for the sake of Christ, for the sake of God's people, for the sake of the gospel. And I love what Piper says about them, having meditated on their lives. He says he prays,
“‘Give me that death, O Jesus Christ, Lord of the universe! Give me that life and that ministry and that death.’ This is why Jesus came. This is why He was crucified. This is why He rose from the dead with all authority and promised to be with us to the end of the age: to create a people whose sins are forgiven and whose hearts are so full of the love of God and who are so emboldened by the triumphant Christ that they spend their lives with risk and sacrifice and love to help others know and enjoy the greatness of Christ forever and ever. Is this not what we were made for? And is there not something in your own soul that witnesses to you that this is true and worthy of full acceptance?”
And the Apostle Paul says that's the result of the power of Christ at work in you: you love the truth, you’re established in the truth, and you’re emboldened to heroic love. It doesn't necessarily mean that you all go to the mission field, but it does mean that right here you’re expressing heroic love. It may be in the context of your marriage or family; it may be in the context of your vocation; it may be in the context of a loss that you have just experienced; but, in a thousand different ways you manifest that bold, heroic Christian love, because the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus Christ is at work in you.
III. We are to mature as a community.
But there's one more thing I want you to see, very briefly, and you see it in verse 16. Here the Apostle Paul tells us that we are not only because of Christ's resurrection power and His ascended gifting of the church, we're not only established in the truth, we're not only growing in love, but we are maturing as a community. Notice how he puts it:
“...From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
You understand the emphasis there that the maturity, that the growth that each of us experiences because of the resurrection power of Christ, because of His ascended engifting of the church, because of the work of the Spirit, that the growth - the maturity that each one of us experience is not simply for ourselves. It is for the whole body, so that my personal growth is not my first agenda when I come to church, but the well-being of the whole body is my first agenda, even in my personal growth.
Again, I don't think it can be put any plainer than Calvin puts it when he says,
“This means [and he's speaking of this verse]...this means that no increase is of use which does not correspond to the whole body. That man is mistaken who desires his own separate growth.”
In other words, he says as we come under the word, as we come under the means of grace, as we pray for the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to be displayed in us, as we pray to grow in grace and become more Christ-like, our ultimate concern cannot simply be for our own personal growth; but, in fact, it is for the well-being of the whole body. So, it is ‘Lord, grow me in grace for the benefit of the whole body, because You have not empowered me so that I can be more well off or have it easier, or be more successful; You have empowered me in order to be a blessing to the whole body. Lord God, You have risen and ascended and poured out gifts on Your church, and You've poured out gifts on me, not so that I can bless myself, but so that I can bless others. Lord God, everything that You have given and done, You have given and done so that I would turn from looking out for myself, and give myself away in self-sacrificing, self-denying, self-giving love.’ And the Apostle Paul is saying that is to be the consequence of the resurrection power of Christ at work in us, the consequence of Jesus, the ascended, ruling Christ, engifting the church, that we are rooted in love: that we tenaciously hold the truth and love the truth, and know the truth, and understand and dwell on the truth; and we are committed to growing in love so that our lives are characterized by self-giving, self-sacrificing, love of Christ and for His people in all that we do; and our own personal growth itself is ultimately designed not only for His glory, but for the well-being of one another.
What a dramatic adventure the resurrection power of Jesus Christ in His ascended rule is meant to eventuate in our lives. May God make it so. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the truth of the resurrection, and we pray that Your purposes for the resurrection in us will be accomplished in earth, as in heaven. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: The Day of Resurrection!]
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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.