The Lord's Day Morning
April 24, 2011
“The Third Day He Will Rise Again”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 18. We’re going to be looking especially at verses 31 to 34. As you turn there, I'd invite you to turn back — keep your finger in Luke 18 — and turn back to Luke 9, and you’ll see why in just a moment. Keep your fingers in both places. You've figured out now why we've taken these passages out of order the last couple of weeks. Two weeks ago, we looked at Luke 18, verses 18 to 30, the story of the rich young ruler, a passage which tells about a man who claims to be good but he wasn't good enough to enter into the kingdom. Then, out of order, last week we looked at the story recorded in Luke 18 verses 35 to 43 about a blind man who, elsewhere in the gospels, is named Bartimaeus. But the interesting thing about this blind man is that he sees that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David.
And today we're back in Luke 18 verses 31 to 34 which is Jesus’ third prediction of His death explicitly to the disciples. That's why I asked you to keep your finger in Luke 9, to look at two verses in Luke 9 which give you the two previous predictions by Jesus to His disciples of His death. First, Luke 9:22 where Jesus says to the disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” That's Jesus’ first prediction of His suffering and death to His disciples and of His resurrection. Then, if you’ll look forward just a few verses to Luke 9:44, you read, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” Now Jesus, many times, gave allusions and implicit indications of His coming suffering and death and resurrection, but in these three passages, the two in Luke 9 and the one that we're going to read today, He gave explicit instruction to His disciples about His death and resurrection. And it's wholly appropriate that on an Easter Sunday morning we would give consideration to these things that are central to the Christian life, they’re central to the story that the Bible tells us, they’re central to the Gospel.
Now before we read this passage, I'd like you to look and be on the lookout for three things. First of all, I want you to look out for what Jesus says here about the necessity of His death. Secondly, I want you to be looking for what He says about the meaning of His death. And then I'd like you to be on the lookout for the struggle that the disciples have in understanding His death. So it's the necessity of His death and resurrection, the meaning of His death and resurrection, and their understanding of His death and resurrection. And before we read God's Word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the truth of Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to understand it, for apart from Your help, apart from the illumination of Your Spirit, we cannot see the kingdom of God and we cannot embrace by faith the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done. So open our eyes, Lord, and give us faith and understanding, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God in Luke 18 beginning in verse 31:
“And taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Do you understand now what the disciples didn't understand then? If you do, or if you are going to, it will depend upon your grasping three things that are clearly set forth by Jesus in the passage before us today, and I'd like to direct your attention to those things. In this passage, we see the necessity, the meaning, and the understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let's look first at what this passage teaches us about the necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In this passage, Jesus makes clear to us the prophesied purposefulness of His suffering, death, and resurrection, and He does this in a number of ways. First of all, did you notice in these words how Jesus emphasized that what was going to happen in Jerusalem had to happen; it must happen. You saw that language already in Luke 9 when we read from those passages — verse 22 and verse 33 — but you see it here again. Look for instance at verse 31. “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Many by the prophets will be accomplished.” In that same language, “will be accomplished,” is used again. For instance, if you look in verse 32 — “He will be delivered to the Gentiles, He will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.” Verse 33 — “After flogging Him, they will kill Him and on the third day He will rise.” Over and over again, Jesus emphasized the “mustness” of the events that are going to happen in Jerusalem. They must and will happen. He's emphasizing that what is going to happen in Jerusalem is necessary, it is not accidental.
Secondly in this passage, He emphasizes the necessity of His death and resurrection by pointing out the language of His being delivered. Did you notice that? Look at verse 32 — “He will be delivered over to the Gentiles.” Now this is standard Gospel language. You will find it at least three times in the gospel of Matthew. Over and over in the gospels, Jesus predicts and the language is used that He will be delivered over into the hands of His enemies. Now delivered up or delivered over is technical language for you being transferred into the custody of someone else, you being handed over into the charge of someone else. And in this case, Jesus repeatedly tells His disciples that He is going to be delivered over into the hands of His enemies. He's going to be put at the charge of His enemies. He's going to be handed over into their command. And in fact, He will tell His disciples on some occasions that He is going to be handed over to His enemies by the very spiritual leaders of Israel, which no doubt would have been a very shocking thing for the disciples to hear Him say.
But it is also interesting that both Peter, in Acts chapter 2, and Paul, in Romans chapter 8, stress that though it is true that Jesus was handed over by wicked people into the hands of wicked people and put to death at the hands of wicked people, that in the final analysis, it was not man that delivered Jesus to the cross but God. Think of how Paul says in this in Romans 8:32 — “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” There's the apostle Paul saying that in the final analysis, what is going to happen in Jerusalem is not that Jesus falls as a hapless victim into the hands of the strategic and wicked designs of men, though what they did was wicked and it was their plan. But overarching their wicked plan was the redeeming plan of God to deliver Jesus to suffering and death and finally to resurrection for our salvation. And again, He stresses the necessity of this happening. If it's God's plan, it's going to happen. And Jesus is saying even with the use of the language “delivered,” this is something that God is doing, not man.
And He also stresses it by saying, if you look again at verse 31, that what is going to happen in Jerusalem is going to fulfill what has already been written by the prophets. “Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished in Jerusalem.” So again, Jesus is not the victim of chance of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He is fulfilling Scripture written by the prophets hundreds of years before in which they foretell the plan of God. All of this is designed to stress the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. What is going to happen in Jerusalem is not an accident, it was not unexpected, it is not an overthrow of the plan of God, in fact it was necessary for God's plan of redemption. And just think how kind it is of Jesus to stress this to the disciples because none of them got it and they were utterly disconsolate in the weight of His capture, His trial, His brutal treatment, His crucifixion, and His burial. But when He was raised again from the dead, the fact that He had explained to them ahead of time the necessity of what He was going to endure, was important for their own growth in grace, confidence in their salvation, assurance of His redeeming work for them. And so Jesus stresses here the necessity of His death and resurrection.
But He also emphasizes the meaning of His death and resurrection. And again, He does this by explicitly drawing attention to it. Look at verse 32 — “He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon, and after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” So Jesus here explicitly draws attention to His death and to His resurrection. Now that's not surprising, is it, because each of the synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — spend about a third of their time on the last week of Jesus’ life. Why? Because they are not simply writing short biographies. They are writing gospels that focus us on the essential work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That's why Paul will say, “I proclaim Christ and Him crucified.” But they also each recount His resurrection. And of course we've just read 2 Timothy chapter 2 where Paul says that's core Gospel truth. He also says that in 1 Corinthians 15. This is the Gospel: that Jesus died for our sins and was buried and was raised on the third day — 1 Corinthians 15 verses 1 to 4. So Jesus Himself is pointing to the disciples these core Gospel truths ahead of time, before they've even happened. And of course Luke is recording these things especially to prepare us as disciples to understand things that are necessary for the Christian life. And here, Jesus is drawing attention to the meaning of His death and resurrection. You see, you can't understand the Bible, you can't understand Christianity, you can't understand the Gospel without understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Now before I say just a few words about that, let me make a passing remark. Luke in particular, all the gospels in general, but Luke in particular, has been accused over the course of time and especially in our own lifetime, of being the cause of Christian anti-Semitism. That is, that his indication of the Jewish involvement in the death of Christ has laid the foundation for, has supplied the basis of Christians viewing the Jewish people as a race as responsibly uniquely for the death of Christ. And critical scholars will often argue that Luke is so committed to this blaming of the Jews for the death of Christ that he will often leave the Gentiles off the hook. Well isn't it interesting that in this very passage that he points out that the Jews hand over Jesus to the Gentiles and the Gentiles are the ones who actually carry on not only the brutal beatings but the eventual death of Jesus Christ.
So what do I want to say about this? In passing, I want to say this — the Jewish rejection of Jesus is not a legitimate basis for anti-Semitism but is instead the definitive and irrefutable proof of salvation by grace. Now I hope you’re scratching your heads right now and saying, “Ligon, I have no idea how you got from there to there.” If you are, good, let me explain. If the Jews rejected their own Messiah and the Gentiles killed Him, as Luke expressly says and as Jesus expressly predicts right here, then the only hope for Jews and Gentiles is a forgiveness from God that is not based on their own works, that they in their rebellion rejected Him and crucified Him, Jew and Gentile alike. The only hope is as forgiveness of God, not based on our own works but flowing from His love and secured by Jesus’ cross. The total rejection of Jesus by both Jew and Gentile in the Gospel, is not the basis for persecuting some small ethnic group, but it is in fact the basis for understanding why no human being can come to God and say, “I am good enough for You to embrace in eternal fellowship.” God must provide another way of salvation for all people to come into His presence because we are all complicit in this rebellion, Jew and Gentile together.
But here, Jesus is drawing attention to the importance of His death and resurrection and it won't be the only time He does this. For instance, in just a few chapters, and you hear it every time we have the Lord's Supper, Luke will record for us Jesus standing in front of His disciples saying, “This is My body which is given for you; This is My blood which is poured out for you,” and every one of the disciples, being good religious Jews, would know that that language that “this is My body and this is My blood,” that's the language of a covenant sacrifice. That's how you talk about the animals that were offered for thousands of years in the tabernacle and temple as atoning sacrifices for the sins of God's people. And when Jesus says, “This is My body and this is My blood,” He is saying, “My death is the death of a substitutionary sacrifice. I have lived a life that you did not live and could not live and I will die a death that you deserve, in your place, in order that you can receive a life that you do not deserve and that you will be spared an everlasting death that you do deserve by right of your rebellion against God. I am your substitute dying in your place.” Jesus emphasizes this as He explains to His disciples on the night of His betrayal, the night right before He will be crucified, what the meaning of His death is.
And what about His resurrection? Well it's true that His resurrection is the proof that He is the Son of God, it is true that it indicts that He is who He said He was and He did what He claimed to come to do, but it is also true that the resurrection is a vindication of Jesus by God as to His perfection in holiness. Death could not hold Him. It would have been unjust for one who was sinless and holy to bear the penalty, the existence of death, that those who had rebelled against God deserved.
But thirdly, the New Testament makes it clear that the resurrection itself is the source of the power for our living of the Christian life. Take for instance Ephesians chapter 1. In Ephesians 1, Paul says that the same power which raised Christ Jesus from the dead is at work in us when He has brought us from death to life and renewed us according to the Gospel. The resurrection is the source of the power for the living of the Christian life, and Jesus is drawing attention to the importance of His death and resurrection and the meaning of His death and resurrection here.
But as you notice, the disciples don't understand this. Look at verse 34 — “They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them and they did not grasp what was said.” Now that is also not new. Look back to Luke 9 again, and this time instead of looking at Luke 9:44, look at 9:45. “They did not understand this saying and it was concealed from them so that they might not perceive it and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.” Well it's fascinating, isn't it? Even in the wake of Jesus emphasizing the centrality and importance of His death and resurrection, even in the wake of His emphasizing the importance of understanding why He had to die and why He had to be raised again, the disciples do not understand what He saying. They’re clueless. And that poses for us a question this morning — do you understand the death and resurrection of Jesus?
But that's not where I want to leave us. I want to leave us looking at how Jesus responds to these disciples who don't understand Him, because what we see here is the loving pursuit of Jesus and the willing death of Jesus for disciples that are utterly clueless. Because even as He explains His death and the events that are going to happen in Jerusalem, and His disciples look at Him and don't understand what He's talking about, Jesus embraces those events and that death for them anyway. J. C. Ryle puts it this way:
“The love of our Lord Jesus Christ for sinners is strikingly shown in His steady purpose of heart to die for them, even when they didn't understand what He was saying and what He was about to do or why He had to do it. Think of it - all through His life He knew that He was about to be crucified. There was nothing in His cross and passion which He did not foresee distinctly, even to the minutest particular, long before it came upon Him. He tasted all the well-known bitterness of anticipated suffering and yet He never swerved from His path for a moment. He was straightened in spirit until He had finished the work He came to do and He was alone in that knowledge. Even when He tried to explain it to the disciples, they didn't understand, yet He lived in this isolating knowledge for them and He loved them when they didn't understand. Such love passes knowledge. It is unspeakable, unsearchable. We may rest on that love without fear. If Christ so loved us before we thought of Him, He will surely not cease to love us after we have believed.”
You see, even the knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection is received by grace. We bring nothing to Jesus. We bring nothing to God to justify ourselves. He supplies it all, and He even by grace opens our eyes to see our need of it and His supply of it for us. And while we are clueless, He's pursuing us in His love. If you’re a believer this morning, I want you to think on that, that before you even understood what Jesus has done for you, He was already pursuing you in His love. And if you just don't get it this morning, if the death and resurrection don't mean anything to you, if Easter is about getting together with the family and rolling eggs down a hill and hunting for candy and things like that and the death and resurrection of Jesus just doesn't make any sense, well I want to remind you that Jesus Himself once met a man and He had a conversation with him at night and He said to that man, “Unless you are born again from above and God opens your eyes, you will not be able to understand the kingdom of God.” And the man responded to Him by saying, “I don't understand Jesus!” And Jesus pursued that man anyway. Jesus is reaching out in love, in His Gospel, and He's saying, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Jesus is reaching out in love to us before we're ever able to even see or understand what He did for us. All those who trust in Him know why He had to die and why He had to be raised again. May God grant us that understanding and that faith.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We ask that You would bless it to our everlasting good and Your glory, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to number 286 and we’ll sing, “Worship Christ, the Risen King!”
Now receive the blessing of the One who raised Him from the dead. Now the God of peace who brought up from the dead that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus Christ our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
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