Well let me congratulate you, those who have resisted the evils of Downton Abbey, and have come to evening worship which is far, far better than a terrible British export. I’d love you to turn if you would to 1 Corinthians 15; it’s on page 961. And while you’re turning there, let me say thank you very much. You are a warm congregation and it has been a joy to worship with you and I’ve greatly enjoyed my time in Jackson and your hospitality. You have fed me and fed me and fed me and have been so kind. I really, I’m so grateful. Would you please pray for us? Pray for us as a church family in West London; it’s a very different setting with different challenges and yet it’s the same Gospel, isn’t it? We believe that the Gospel is the power of God to the salvation of all who believe. So we will pray for you; do please remember us in your prayers.
Let’s turn to God in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we do thank You for partnership in the Gospel, that tonight, though we operate in different parts of Your world we are one in Christ Jesus. We thank You for this tidal wave of worship that goes across the world on the Lord’s Day as we gather with brothers and sisters from every part of the globe and fall before Your throne. And so heavenly Father, as we come to Your holy and inerrant Word we ask that You would speak to us. We ask that Your Holy Spirit would show us the wonder and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose wonderful name we pray. Amen.
I’d like to read to you from verse 12, 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Corinthians 15. I’ll read from verse 12 to verse 23. Let me remind you that this is the Word of God:
“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 raise 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.”
If you go to Tiananmen Square in Beijing you’ll know that one of the features of the Square is a large mausoleum and on display is the body of Mao Zedong. Similarly, in the Red Square of Moscow you can visit Lenin’s tomb. Isn’t it interesting that in the Christian tradition, in cathedrals, in churches, in universities, and schools and hospitals, all of which have been constructed to honor the Lord Jesus Christ, there is nowhere that you can go and see His bones? There is nowhere that you can go and see any evidence whatsoever of His body. Why? Because absolutely central to the Christian faith is our belief and our confidence and our joy that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, paying no concession to death. So we’ve been looking at the four “thats” this morning. We looked at verses 3 and 4 - “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and “That He was buried.” And then tonight I want us to see “That He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” and “That He appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve, to five hundred, to James, to all the apostles, and last of all to Paul.”
I. That He Was Raised
So let’s look at that third bullet point - “That he was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures.” Now notice that the Lord Jesus was truly dead; He was not revived, He was not resuscitated. He was so dead that He was buried. He did not faint and come alive in the coolness of the tomb. No, those who put Him to death were professional killers and they made sure He was dead; He was dead and buried. But verse 4 tells us, doesn’t it, that He was raised from the dead. Now of course Jesus of Nazareth made the claim to be God in the flesh; that is not a unique claim. If you’ve ever visited somebody in a mental hospital, many people in mental hospitals claim to be God. They claim to be the Lord Jesus. It’s a common phenomenon. Liars and conmen claim to be God. But what is unique about the Lord Jesus is that He backed up His claim with the resurrection from the dead. No one else who claimed to be God has been raised and the apostle Paul tells us, doesn’t he, in Romans 1, that Jesus was declared to be God with power by His resurrection from the dead. If He defeats the greatest enemy, His greatest enemy, and His greatest enemy is our greatest enemy, then He must be Lord and God.
Christ died for our sins
Jesus dies, verse 3, to pay the penalty for our sin. Now what evidence is there that this penalty for our sin has been accepted by God, by God the Father whom our sin was against and committed against? Well it is in the life of Jesus. His death is evidence of sin; His life is evidence that that sin has been dealt with. The apostle Paul says that “the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You will know very well that the laws of creation are God’s norms. “The law of gravity,” as one preacher said, “is God’s gentle pressure pressing down.” God’s norms - He created all things. And if God chooses to interfere in the laws of creation, to suspend the laws of creation, for example, by stilling a storm with a word or ceasing the world to rotate on its axis or perhaps healing a woman or man with blindness or paralysis without medical attention or raising the dead, if God suspends laws which are His laws then it is in order to give us a deeper understanding of some truths which could not be had without the suspension of those laws. So people who are dead and buried stay dead and buried, but God suspends His laws of creation here and intervenes. And He raises the Lord Jesus from the dead to prove that Jesus is who He claimed to be. So you can be saved tonight by believing in your heart that Jesus rose from the dead and by confessing with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Christ was buried
Now if you look at verse 3, Jesus died for our sins, He was buried, He was raised from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. How do you figure He was dead for three days? It always puzzled me as a child - Friday to Sunday is not three days; it’s a normal weekend! Well He died on a Friday, for a portion of the Friday, He was dead on the Saturday, and He was dead for a portion of the Sunday - three days. Like Jonah, he was in the belly of the fish for three days, so the Lord Jesus was dead for three days according to the Scriptures. “But which Scriptures?” you say. The New Testament quotes the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament and the one psalm that is quoted more than any other psalm in the New Testament is Psalm 110. Now this is the psalm that says, “The LORD said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand. He is a priest forever. I will make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” The very psalm which tells us that Jesus was coming, and though He dies, He will rise.
Christ was raised on the third day
But notice verse 4 tells us that Christ was raised. Did you notice that? He did not raise Himself. He was passive. God, by His power, raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. God raised Him. God raised Him. Now again, I don’t know your context in Jackson and I’m probably going to say that a number of times tonight, but I put it to you that the resurrection of Jesus is not as prominent in our thinking as the death of Jesus is. People walk around with crosses around their neck; you don’t see people walking around with an empty tomb around their neck, do you? The empty tomb is not as central to us but I want you to look at these three bullet points that we’ve seen already in 1 Corinthians 15 because they make up the Christian Gospel. Jesus’ death for your sin, His sure death and burial and His bodily resurrection - it’s a bit like marriage. What do you need to make marriage? We know that marriage in Genesis 2 is about a husband leaving his mother and father and cleaving to his wife and becoming one. There’s three aspects - leaving, cleaving, and being united. You take away one of those elements and you don’t have marriage. It’s a three-legged stool. You take away one of the leaving, the cleaving, or becoming one and you don’t have marriage, and the same in 1 Corinthians 15. You take away one of these “thats” and you do not have the Christian Gospel. Christ died for our sins, Christ was buried, Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures because death could not hold Him down. Death had no grip on the Lord Jesus because the power of death is sin but Jesus never sinned and so death had no grip or power over Him. It could not hold Him down. The penalty for sin has been paid. He had no sin of His own to pay the penalty for; He paid the penalty for Your sin and for my sin, for the sin of the elect. And God raised Him up to show that the penalty was entirely accepted, the price is paid - perfect life given for the sins of His people.
II. That He Appeared
The fourth bullet point is in verse 5. Paul doesn’t leave it there. And it is absolutely essential because the apostle Paul says that when you come into church, when you came into church tonight, do not leave your brain at the door. We don’t believe this truth because it suits us, do we?
Considering the Evidence
We believe this truth because it is based on evidence. Look at verse 5. “And then 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.” “You can go and see them,” Paul says. “You can go talk to them. They are men and women, they are believers and unbelievers. The resurrection is not a trick. The resurrection, it’s not a conjuring trick with bones; it is not a nice piece of magic. It is not a “spiritual” resurrection. He was seen. They talked to Him. Talk to the witnesses. They sat down with Him. They ate broiled fish with Him. They saw the marks of the nails in His hands. Go and talk to the witnesses.” There’s objectivity here. So that when the apostle Paul, who was a reluctant convert, goes into the Areopagus, which was a Greek center of all academic endeavor and spiritual, philosophical speculation with all the academic heavyweight, he stands up and he uses the word “proof.” God has given proof of the coming Judgment Day by raising the Lord Jesus from the dead. There is proof; absolute proof.
Now there is such a thing, isn’t there, of scientific proof. You know how it is - you do your experiments and then you repeat your experiments and you conduct your research and then in the end you get your results, don’t you? But if you go out tonight out of these doors and there is a traffic accident, two cars come colliding into each other, and you have to go before the court regarding it, the judge is not going to say to you, “Well let’s go back to First Presbyterian Church Jackson. Let’s take the cars apart and let’s smash them into each other again and let’s see what happens.” That won’t happen, will it? He won’t say, “Let’s repeat the accident and then we’ll draw conclusions.” What he would say is this, “Tell me what you saw. Tell me what the witnesses saw.” You see, we draw a distinction, don’t we, between scientific evidence and proof and then legal evidence and proof. And legal evidence and proof, that is precisely what the apostle Paul is talking about in verse 5. He says, “Go and talk to any of them. You’ll find that there are five hundred people who have not been to a funeral, who have not found the corpse. They know where it was laid but it’s not there any longer. They’ve actually seen Him and they’ve talked to Him.”
Christianity: A Faith in Objective Facts
And notice that he’s made no concession to death. You would have to give some objectivity to that, wouldn’t you? You see, Paul is backing up the claim. Look at what he says in verse 7. “Then he appeared to James and then to all the apostles” - Jesus’ half brother and the author to the letter of James; and that caused James’ conversion. And then verse 8, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me.” “I saw him. I was abnormally born. I had a shorter gestation period than the others. I wasn’t with Jesus for as long as the others were but I saw Him on the Damascus Road.” And so Paul confirms what the Christian faith is about - objective facts.
And then he says, “Let me tell you my story,” verse 9. “For I am the least of the apostles. I do not even deserve to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God,” verse 10 - “but by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace towards 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.” Paul is saying there, “Don’t tell me that it was just wishful thinking. I wasn’t wanting to see Jesus. I wasn’t hoping to see Jesus. In fact, I wanted to persecute Him. Don’t tell James, His brother, that he wanted to see Jesus raised; he was a reluctant convert and I am a reluctant convert. I tell you I saw Him and He appeared to me as one abnormally born.”
Now let me just ask you for a moment, let me ask you on this Lord’s Day Evening, how would you explain the resurrection of Jesus Christ? It may be that you have dropped in here tonight. It’s a wonderful thing if you have; you’re very, very welcome indeed. But how do you explain the resurrection of the Lord Jesus? I hear people often say Christianity is just brainwashing. Do you get that? “It’s just what you’ve grown up with. It’s old school. It’s brainwashing.” Is it? Is it? Well please explain to me the resurrection of Jesus. Here is the evidence; here is legal proof. Don’t attack the credibility of 1 Corinthians. I can show you the manuscripts, evidence, to back up the credibility of this letter. I think the many, many people who argue that Christianity is just brainwashing are really saying, “It just doesn’t suit my moral position. I don’t want to believe. I’d rather He wasn’t Lord because if He was I’ve got to change my life.” How do you explain the fact that Jesus was crucified, that He was buried, and that He was raised from the dead. Put the “mental” back into fundamentalism; that is what it is all about - the Gospel. Here is the Christian Gospel - sin separates me from the God who made me, from a holy God, and God in Christ came and took the fine and paid the penalty for my sin, be it death, and He took it upon Himself and God showed that the penalty for my sin was accepted and the resurrection is my receipt.
Proof of Payment
Two days before I was ordained into the Christian ministry in 2003 I was arrested for shoplifting. Do you know what shoplifting is? I was in Victoria Train Station; I had bought a rugby magazine - it’s like American football without the pads, and I had bought a newspaper and I had bought a bottle of water. Two security guards grabbed me on the way out, took me into a room, and called the police. Now at that moment in time I was absolutely panicked, absolutely panicked. I had paid for them all and in a moment of panic I just didn’t know what to do. And after five minutes of sitting there with these very triumphant security guards who thought that I had made their day, I remembered, “I’ve got a receipt!” And so I pulled the receipt out and said, “Call your manager.” And the manager came and I showed him the receipt and these slightly despondent security guards apologized.
You see, the receipt was proof of payment and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof of payment. When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me the guilt within, I pull out the receipt of the resurrection and I say, “Payment made.” I am totally secure about my past, I’m not proud of it, but it’s been swept away at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and I am forgiven. I am strengthened in the present because now as a Christian I have the Holy Spirit living within me and I have hope for the future because I know that death was not the end for the Lord Jesus and it will not be the end for me. Listen to this - if Christianity is untrue, it is unimportant. If Christianity is true, it is of infinite importance. The one thing Christianity cannot be is of moderate importance. If the Christian Gospel means anything, the Christian Gospel must mean everything.
Now Paul goes on in verse 13 to investigate the implications of if the resurrection was not true, did not happen. Look at what he says. Look at verse 14. He says, “What does it mean for my preaching if the resurrection did not happen?” Look at verse 14. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” It is empty; it is vacuous. I really don’t know, I don’t know what those ministers who don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus speak about. What on earth do they speak about? My experience of men like that when you hear them on the tellies, they’ve got nothing to say. If you take the resurrection away then you’ve got a crucified Messiah who is an idealist, He is a model, and that’s all He is. What else is there to say? Look at verse 15. “We are even found to be misrepresenting God because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise.” In other words the apostles are deliberate liars because they say that Jesus has been raised from the dead in verse 17 and if Christ had not been raised then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. So when the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and in that wonderful passage he said, “This is what some of you were - you were rebels, you were wicked, you were evildoers, and that is what some of you were. Well actually if the resurrection hasn’t happened, that is what you still are. The Gospel has made no difference to you at all.” And their faith is futile; it is a waste of time if there is no resurrection.
And verse 18 - “Then those who have fallen asleep,” those loved ones who have died in Christ, well, they’ve perished, they are lost, they’re gone, they no longer live. And in verse 19 - “We are of all people most to be pitied.” You should feel sorry. If the resurrection did not occur, those are the five implications, but because it did occur there are five implications. Let me give them to you. Number one, verse 14, because the resurrection happened our preaching is weighty and it is most useful. Number two, verse 15, we are not liars; we are truth tellers. Verse 17, our faith is not empty and futile and vacuous; it is that by which we read life and have life. Verse 19, if in Christ we have hope in this life we have hope in this life and we have hope for the future and we are not to be pitied. And verse 18, those of our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Christ, they are gone? No, they are not. D. L. Moody said, didn’t he, that “There will come a day when you will read in the newspaper, ‘D.L. Moody is dead.’ Don’t believe a word of it. I’ll be more alive than I’ve ever been.” Isn’t that wonderful?
In my congregation in west London we don’t have many deaths. I can think of probably ten or eleven people in ten years. I wonder whether you can do something; I wonder whether you can look around this room because I expect this is the kind of church where people sit in the same seats for generations upon generations upon generations. And as you look around you will see people that used to sit in these seats but they’ve fallen asleep in Christ; they’ve died. I can think of people in my congregation - Howard Hallet, John DeGan, who coughed during every sermon of mine for the first five years. If you ever listen to a recording of my sermon you’ll think somebody is dying in the middle of it! Kath Benton. Paul Clowney. He’d sit there and then moan about my sermon afterwards. Where are those people now? Where are the people that sat in these pews? Where are they now? Are they gone? No, I’ll tell you where they are. They are more alive than they’ve ever been, not seen by us, but they are alive in the presence of Christ because we believe that Jesus died and was buried and was raised up at verse 20, but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits.
So you think of a field. A farmer goes out, he’s plowed it, he’s sown the seed, and he goes out and he sees the firstfruits come in. The firstfruits are indicative, aren’t they, they are appointed to a great harvest that is coming. And here the apostle in verse 20 uses the same expression. When Christ was raised He was raised, number one, He is raised number one of millions upon millions who will be raised because they are in Christ. And do you understand that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s personal guarantee to you? It is God’s receipt. God puts His reputation on the line. Your sin is forgiven. You can stand before Him clean. And His personal warranty or guarantee to you is that He raises His Son the Lord Jesus from the dead. He stakes His reputation on it. It’s His guarantee.
I don’t know if you’ve been to Rome. Rome is a magnificent city. What it does have, though, Rome has everything, pretty much everything that 20th century religion has got to offer. If you’ve been you’ll see all the relics and all the paintings. You’ll see the saints. And the focus is on images and Mary, the mother of Jesus. It’s very impressive. But if you go down to the catacombs and you leave the 20th, 21st century expression of religion behind and you go down to the catacombs where you see the ancient expression of Christianity, the 1st century expression of Christianity in the catacombs where Christians met and hid and buried their dead - what do you find there? You find a fish scratched in the wall. You find the Greek word, Ichthus - Jesus Christ, God’s Son and Savior. You find scratched into the wall Jonah’s whale. Three days he was in the belly of the whale like our Lord. You find a cross etched into the walls. That is 1st century ancient Christianity. And then you come back to the 21st century above ground and there’s a distinct difference. The art of 1st century catacombs revolved around these four “thats” - That Christ died for our sins, that Christ was buried, that Christ was raised according to the Scripture, and that Christ appeared.
Matters of Eternal Consequence
I like the film, “Gladiator.” You know the film “Gladiator?” It’s a great film. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the armies of the north, loyal servant of the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will have my vengeance in this life or the next.” I love it. I inflict it on my wife at least once a year! Now there’s a scene in that film that comes up again and again, isn’t there, if you’ve seen it, where Russell Crowe is about to die. And when he’s about to die you’ll know, and he kind of hovers above the ground, and he’s going to be taken into the bliss of what is after death. It’s a very, very unreal moment. And again, I don’t know what it’s like in Jackson, but I would want to say to you that is the typical English view. People in England do not believe that they are justified by faith even if they understood the term. People in England do not believe they are justified by works. People in England believe that all you have to do is die and you’ll be good enough. That’s all. I have never been to the home of a family where they haven’t said to me, “They’re in a better place, aren’t they? They’re in a better place.” Because you’re going to the “Big Man in the Sky.” They believe in justification by death, and it is a lie!
Don’t think that you can come tonight and give a nodding acquaintance to these truths and then go away as if Christianity means, well, anything or nothing. It means absolutely everything. Some people think, don’t they, that life is simple and Christianity is difficult. In fact, life is difficult and becoming a Christian is very simple. It is coming to the resurrected Lord tonight and saying to Him, “I’m sorry, and thank you, and please. I’m sorry I’ve ignored You. I’m sorry I’ve ignored You and lived life my way. Thank You for sending the Lord Jesus to die for my sin and be raised again as Your receipt for payment. Thank You. Please come into my life and life in control of my life. “Sorry; Thank You; Please.” Please, please don’t go away tonight with a kind of nodding acquaintance to these truths. Make them everything for you because this is what life is all about. It is primitive, it is real, it is authentic, it is apostolic, it is Biblical Christianity. “Sorry; Thank You; Please.”
Let’s bow in prayer.
We thank You our God and Father that in the midst of the fantasy world in which we live we can come and hear reality. We can come and be reminded of the great truth that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, that He was raised, that He appeared, and we thank You heavenly Father that all that the Lord Jesus did came out of Your love for us. We thank You that we know that because of what He did we will not perish on that day but we will have life forever together with You. We thank You so much, heavenly Father, that our preaching is not useless, that we are not liars, that our faith is not futile, that those whom we love are not eternally dead and gone, that we are not people to be pitied. And our gracious God we thank You that that is by grace and mercy through faith in Jesus Christ and we rejoice in these truths of the Gospel this evening, in His name we pray, amen.
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