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The Exaltation of Christ in the Resurrection

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Apr 20, 2003

1 Corinthians 15:1-14

Easter 2003
The Exaltation of Christ in the Resurrection
I Corinthians 15:1-14

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to I Corinthians 15, as we consider the exaltation of Christ in His resurrection. During the Easter season, many Christians turn their minds to the meaning of the resurrection, and they ask questions like, “How is this significant for my life? What does the resurrection of Christ have to say to me?” And that's a good thing, but we will ask a different question. We will ask, first and foremost, “What was the significance of the resurrection for Jesus? What is the significance of His exaltation in the resurrection?” And then, having answered that most important of questions, we will make an application. Let's look at God's word here in I Corinthians 15, beginning in verse 1.

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preach to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For, I delivered to you, as of first importance, what I also received, that God died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.” Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write it's eternal truth upon our hearts. Let's look to Him in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, as we consider the gospel of Christ, and as we consider the truth of the resurrection as an essential part of the gospel of Christ, we pray that you would open our eyes, by the Sprit, to hear and to understand and to believe, in Jesus' name, Amen.

This morning I would like for you to see several things. First, the importance that Paul vests in his preaching of the gospel and of the gospel as we have it recorded in the New Testament. Then, I want you to see the specific outline of the gospel that Paul gives us in verse 3-4, and finally, I want to look at four other New Testament passages and see those great emphases on the significance of the exaltation of Jesus Christ in the resurrection.

I. Paul tells the Corinthians that he is about to identify the gospel which he preached and the Corinthians received.
Let's begin here in I Corinthians 15:1-2, where we see Paul asserting to the Corinthians that the only gospel that will save them is the gospel which he himself received from Jesus Christ, the gospel which was testified to in the scriptures of the Old Testament, the gospel which is being preached by all the apostles, the gospel which is being inscripturated in these New Testament letters being circulated in the Church. The only gospel that will save the Corinthians is the gospel. You may be asking yourself, “Why would the Apostle Paul outline the gospel for a church? He has preached the gospel in that church, he had written to that church about the gospel; why is he outlining the gospel for Christians?” Well, there's a very obvious later in this chapter. There were a number of people in the Corinthian church that doubted the resurrection. They did not believe, or they were struggling with doubt about the future resurrection of believers in the final day. They, for whatever reason, did not believe that particular doctrinal truth, so the Apostle Paul writes to them, and in I Corinthians 15:1-4, basically says, “What did you miss when I went through the basics of the gospel? Because in my preaching of the gospel I preached to you that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that His resurrection from the dead was not only the source of your new life, but it was also a foretaste of your resurrection from the dead to an eternal life of fellowship with God. Now, when I was preaching the gospel to you, when did you miss that, exactly?” So the apostle Paul recounts these key fundamental core truths of the gospel to the Corinthians so that they will remember in the very word of salvation, which brought them into saving relationship with God, Paul had already introduced them to the truth of the resurrection. But it's vitally important for us to pause here and see what Paul is saying. Paul is saying to the Corinthians that they can't pick and choose which parts of the gospel they will and will not believe. That's not up to them. The gospel is God's, and God determines what is in the gospel and what is not in the gospel, and the apostle Paul is saying to the Corinthian church, “These things are in the gospel and you can't take them out.” That's a tremendously important lesson for us today.

We live in a postmodern world where everybody's opinion is truth, especially when it comes to religious things. How often have you heard somebody say, “I know the Bible says that about Christ, but I like to believe…” and then fill in the blank and watch the heresy come. We are all our own little popes over our own little individual one-person churches and we like to sort of make up things as we go along and believe what we like and leave out the things that are fairly distasteful. And the apostle Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “You can't do that.” The gospel is God's; these things are in the gospel and if you have believed on Jesus Christ for salvation then you believe these things about Him that have other implications for you. That is vitally important for us today.

Two hundred years ago it became very popular for intelligent, literate Christians to deny the miracles of the Bible. Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers and presidents, went through the gospels and cut out all of the miracles. He loved the ethical teaching of Jesus; he just couldn't stomach the miracles. No intelligent man, thought he, could believe these miracles recorded in the New Testament. Now the moral teaching–that's wonderful–so I’ll take Christ's moral teaching but not the miracles. And the apostle Paul is standing here in 1 Corinthians and saying, “You can't do that.” The Christ who saves is a supernatural Christ. A Christ who is attested to by miracles, a Christ who attested His teaching by miracles. One cannot throw out the miracles and keep the Christ. In our own day and time, we find people everywhere who like some parts of Christ's teaching, but they find other parts of it distasteful, and so they believe some of it, but not all of it.

The Apostle Paul is saying, “If you have believed for salvation on the gospel, you've believed on the gospel as it is revealed in the word.” The gospel is not pick-and-choose. The Gospel is God's. He announced the gospel to us, and we believe it, or we reject it. But we cannot change it; that's not within our prerogative. We see this in verse one and two, when he says, ‘Brethren, the gospel which I preach to you, which also you received, which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast to the word which I preached to you.” There, we see Paul making that tremendously important stress, that we cannot edit the gospel as we go along. We respond to it, we believe in it, or, we reject it.

II. Paul indicates six core elements of the gospel: the Messiah, died, for sin, was buried, raised from the dead, all according to Scripture.
In verses three and four, the apostle outlines for us what is in that gospel. Paul indicates that there are six core elements in his gospel teaching. This isn't everything one can say about the gospel, but the apostle gives us an outline of six irreducible truths that are part of his preaching of the gospel. They are, the Messiah, died for sins, was buried, and raised from the dead, according to Scripture. Let's look at each of them.

The first truth of the gospel that Paul is preaching is that Jesus is the Messiah. “Christ,” he begins. He uses the title for Jesus, not the personal name, but Christ. Christ is just the Greek name for the Hebrew word Messiah, but there's a whole sermon in that one word. When he says it's Christ, or the Messiah, that's died for our sins according to Scripture, he is identifying Jesus as the Messiah, foretold in the Old Testament to be the Savior and liberator of His people. And Messiah is the title that Paul uses to draw our attention here in speaking of this great gospel truth. The gospel itself fulfills the Old Testament prophecies with regard to the Messiah, and Jesus is the Messiah.

Then, Paul says in verse three, the Messiah died, according to Scripture. This is a vindication of Jesus. Paul has already said, at the beginning of this letter, that Jews stumble over a crucified Messiah. They do, indeed. If the Messiah was to come and to liberate His people from all their oppressors, the idea of a Jewish Messiah, crucified at the hands of His Roman oppressors, was utterly abhorrent to every Jew that heard it. Yet, the Apostle Paul says that the truth that the Messiah died is, in fact, a vindication of Christ. Why? Because it's according to Scripture. In other words, he says that if you read your Bibles, my Jewish friends, you will see that the Messiah had to die. Isaiah 53 is one of the great examples. “All we like sheep have gone astray. Every one into his own path. But the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all on Him. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. He has put Him to grief. By His stripes we are healed.” And so, the Messiah had to die, and the Apostle Paul is emphasizing here that Jesus the Messiah died according to Scripture.

Now, you will notice that three words were omitted. Paul didn't just say, “The Messiah died.” He said, “The Messiah died for our sins.” It's not just that Jesus died as an example for His people of how to live a self-sacrificial life, or how to show love in an ultimate way, but it is that He died for sins. Christ's death for sin is at the very heart of the gospel. You remember the connection in Scripture between sin and death, and Paul puts it this way, “The wages of sin is death.” And therefore, when you see the Messiah dying, you are seeing Him die for sins—but, not His own. He was sinless. Jesus had not sinned. So, Paul says He died for our sins. He was our substitutionary sacrifice, our mediator took our place. He bore the penalty for our sin that we might enjoy the righteousness of God in Him, that we might be transformed, that we might be justified, that we might be sanctified, that we might be ushered in to an eternal and living relationship with our heavenly Father. “Christ died for sins,” Paul says. That's part of my gospel. And he goes on in verse 4 to say that the Messiah was buried. First, Jesus is Messiah; second, the Messiah died; third, that the Messiah died according to Scripture; but fourth, the Messiah was buried. Just in case there's any doubt in your mind that the Lord Jesus was dead when they brought Him down from the cross, Paul is saying, “He didn't swoon.” The miracle of Sunday wasn't a resuscitation. This man was dead; He was so dead He was buried. He was entombed. That's how dead Jesus was.

And then He goes on to say in verse 4 that He was resurrected–not resuscitated but resurrected on the third day according to Scripture. The resurrection is part of core gospel truth and the apostle Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “How did you miss this?” You believed on this for salvation; how is it that you missed it? But you know, so often we are confused in our own understanding of the gospel, and we need to go back to that gospel and be sure that we have it straight. And so the apostle Paul is saying to them that part of my gospel was the preaching of Jesus’ resurrection and that's why he says to his Corinthians that it is so important for them not to discount the truth of their own future resurrection.

And then, one last thing, you see at the end of verse 3 and in verse 4. We've already commented on it once in connection with Jesus’ death for sin, but let's look at it again. Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture. He was raised on the third day according to Scripture. The apostle Paul is saying that his gospel is according to Scripture. That is, it fulfills the prophecy of the Old Testament. The gospel was written and predicted and set forth there. The life, the person, the work of Christ was set forth there. And when we're talking about the resurrection, we're talking about something that is of the essence of that gospel. So if you’re one of those people–and there are a lot of them today–very nice people that say, “I love the ethical teachings of Jesus. I just don't believe all that stuff about Him being raised from the dead.” Well thank you, we could have a very good discussion; I hope we will, but that isn't the Christ offered in the gospel. The Christ offered in the gospel isn't a great moral teacher who wasn't raised from the dead who wasn't raised from the dead. The Christ offered in the gospel is the living One who ever lives to intercede even now who rules the world by the word of His power and He was raised from the dead. That's the Christ who saves, and the gospel is telling us the gospel is not yours to change; it's God's. And he's saying that the gospel has these components. If you’re going to believe savingly on God, you’re going to believe these things. Jesus is Messiah, and He died for our sins, for the sins of all those who will trust in Him; and He was buried; and He was raised again on the third day; and all of His life was done in accordance with Scripture, and the gospel itself is in accordance with Scripture.

III. Christ's resurrection was part of His exaltation, and He was exalted in the resurrection in the following ways:
And then, having spoken of the resurrection, I want us to see one more thing. That is, that Christ's resurrection was part of His exaltation, and He was exalted in the following four ways. First, let me get you to turn with me to Romans 1. In the resurrection, we are taught in Scripture that Jesus was shown to be divine, shown to be deity, shown to be the divine Messiah, and shown to be the Son of God. The apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 1:4. “Christ Jesus was declared the Son of God with power, by the resurrection of the dead.” So the resurrection is God's own witness to the fact that Jesus was who He claimed to be. You remember the day that Jesus was standing having a conversation with a group of very intelligent, learned Bible students? Jews who were debating with Him the lineage of Israel stretching back to Abraham and Jesus said to that group of Jewish friends, “Before Abraham was, I am.” They were absolutely scandalized when He did it because they knew exactly what He was saying. They knew that He was claiming to be God; that He was claiming to exist before Abraham even though He was only thirty years old. Abraham had lived two thousand years before, and this person is standing in front of him saying, “I was around before Abraham was because I'm God. I am.” And they were horrified. And the resurrection is saying, “He is exactly who He said He is.” None of the other great world religions are founded upon this kind of belief in a founder who was raised from the dead. It's absolutely unique, and it's God's witness to the person of Jesus Christ. Turn with me to Romans 8, verses 33 and 34. Jesus’ resurrection exalted Him in vindicating Him and showing Him to have atoned for sin and showing that He had satisfied divine justice. Paul asked two questions in Romans 8:33-34, and answers them in those verses. “Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” The apostle here is reminding us that Jesus Christ was vindicated in His resurrection and His vindication in the resurrection is proof that God has forgiven our sins. One of the things that we struggle with as Christians is ongoing sin in our lives. We hear the Bible declare us to be forgiven in Jesus as we trust in Him, but we live in a body of sin everyday, week to week. We fail the Lord; we fail one another. We are conscious in mind and spirit of our sinfulness and it's hard to believe, frankly, that we are forgiven. And the apostle Paul is saying, “Look at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are seeing proof that God has accepted the payment of penalty for your sins and you are seeing in the resurrection of Christ God's declaration on you of ‘not guilty’ even as His son was raised from the dead and vindicated of any guilt himself.”

Thirdly, turn with me in your Bibles to Hebrews chapter 2, verse 14. In the resurrection Jesus was exalted by being shown to have conquered death and Satan. He vanquished death and the one who had the power of death. Hebrews 2:14 says this. “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise also partook of the same, that through His death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” And so the resurrection is the proof that God's promise to you that He will conquer death in your experiences as well is vindicated and set forth in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As you see Him raised; as you trust in Him who was raised; you are seeing a prediction of your future experience. You too will experience victory over death and you will experience release from the captivity of Satan.

Finally, look at Romans 14:9, where Paul says, Jesus is exalted in the resurrection by being shown to be the Lord of the living and the dead, or as we say in the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord of the quick and the dead. “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead of the living.” Jesus in His earthly ministry often said to the disciples that they would see Him coming with clouds and glory, to judge the living and the dead. He said this on numerous occasions while with His disciples. The resurrection, Paul is saying, is proof that He is in fact the one who is the Lord of the living and the dead, and He will come to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection is the forecast of God's verdict on us if we are trusting in Jesus Christ. If we are trusting in the Jesus Christ who is offered in the gospel, the gospel outlined in I Corinthians 15:3-4, then at His coming, His coming for us will be a vindication and a reunion and the most joyful event that we've ever known. If we are not trusting in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel, then His coming will be the most terrible thing that we could ever imagine, for it will be a coming to judge us. When He comes, make sure that He does not come for your judgment. How can you make sure? By trusting in the Jesus who is offered in the gospel, as He is offered in the gospel, according to God's word. Belief in Him, believe what the Bible says about Him. Trusting Him, putting the whole hope of your past, present, and future in His hands and saying, “Jesus, save me.” Let's pray.

Our heavenly Father, by Your Spirit grant us to believe. We ask it in the name of the resurrected One, even Jesus Christ, Amen.


A Guide to the Morning Service

Thoughts on the Resurrection of Christ
“Jesus’ resurrection, which was a divine act involving all three Persons of the God head (John 10:17-18; Acts 13:30-35; Rom. 1:4), was not just a resuscitation of the ruined physical frame that was taken down from the cross for burial. It was, rather, a transformation of Jesus’ humanity that enabled him to appear, vanish, and move unseen from one location to another (Luke 24:31, 36). It was the creative renewing of his original body, the body that is now fully glorified and deathless (Phil. 3:21; Heb. 7:16, 24). The Son of God in heaven still lives in and through that body, and will do so forever. In 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, Paul envisages that Christians who are alive on earth at the moment of Christ's return will undergo a similar transformation, though in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 he shows himself aware that Christians who die before the Second Coming will be “clothed” with their new body (the “eternal house in heaven”) as a distinct event, at or after the time of the old body's return to dust (Gen. 3:19).

Christianity rests on the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection as a space-time occurrence in history. All four Gospels highlight it, focusing on the empty tomb and resurrection appearances, and Acts insists on it (Acts 1:3; 2:24-35; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30-32; 13:33-37). Paul regarded the Resurrection as indisputable proof that the message about Jesus as Judge and Savior is true (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-11,20).

Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated his victory over death (Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 15:54-57), vindicated him as righteous (John 16:10), and indicated his divine identity (Rom. 1:4). It led on to his ascension and enthronement (Acts 1:9-11; 2:34; Phil. 2:9-11; cf. Isa. 53:10-12) and his present heavenly reign. It guarantees the believer's present forgiveness and justification (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15: 17) and is the basis of resurrection life in Christ for the believer here and now (John 11:25-26; Rom. 6; Eph. 1:18-2:10; Col. 2:9-15; 3:1-4).” (J.I. Packer)

The Sermon
This morning, we pause in our series on the Apostles’ Creed to consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is an appropriate and important thing to do at a time when Christians around the world are celebrating this glorious event. We live in a day and age which is very unfriendly to the truth of the resurrection, and so we need to be doubly sure why we believe the truth of the resurrection and to understand its significance for us. The doctrine of the resurrection was central in the teaching and preaching of the apostles. But, sadly, it isn't today. Why? Well, there are many reasons; but I here offer just two: (1) Many who call themselves Christians (and even Christian preachers) don't believe it anymore. About this time of year, television specials, news magazines and newspapers are regularly filled with supposedly Christian leaders who are denying the resurrection or announcing a “new” discovery that changes our understanding of it. Now this is not an new problem, just take a glance at 1 Cor 15 or Acts 17! (2) And closer to home, many Christians don't know its significance – they don't understand its importance. The resurrection distinguishes Jesus from the leaders of all the world religions. They all died. He alone rose from the grave. The resurrection is a revelation of the life and immortality of glory to a fallen world (Paul was taken up to the third heaven, but Jesus brought heaven down to us). The resurrection gives confidence to our receiving Jesus’ great teachings. It gives assurance that Christ's work is complete and redemption is accomplished. That He died manifests His love and willingness to save. That He rose again manifests His power, and His ability to save. It is fundamental, too, to our expectation of rising from the dead ourselves. We’ll think about these together today.

The Hymns
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

We open our sung praise to God with this joyful and exuberant song – one of the most popular Easter hymns in the English language. Leonard Payton, formerly music director at Redeemer PCA in Austin, Texas, says: “I think I've sung this every Easter Sunday of my life, and I hope my grand children will be singing it too. It deals with the third and fourth articles of the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) while treating the second article (He was buried) briefly and the first article (Christ died for our sins) only obliquely.” The music comes from the Lyra Davidica (London, 1708). Wesley's words were written for use at the first worship service at the Wesleyan Chapel in London. The chapel, on the site of a former iron foundry, became known as the Foundry Meeting House, and this hymn was included in the Foundry Collection.

Lift High the Cross
Even as we praise God for the resurrection today, we keep our eyes on the cross, apart from which the resurrection was not a possibility. This great twentieth-century hymn helps us to do this in song. It was written by the son of a minister. Kitchin attended King's College School and College, and Christ Church College in Oxford, England. He served as Dean of Winchester, then Durham (1909-1912), and the first Chancellor of the University of Durham, England. The hymn's text was modified in 1916 by Michael Newboldt, who attended St. John's College at Oxford and was ordained in the Church of England in 1900. He eventually became canon of Chester Cathedral.

Worship Christ, the Risen King!
An excellent resurrection song of praise and adoration set to the very familiar “Regent Square” (to which we sing “Angels from the Realms of Glory”).

This guide to worship is written by the minister and provided to the congregation and our visitors in order (1) to assist them in their worship by explaining why we do what we do in worship and (2) to provide them background on the various elements of the service.

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