Good Friday is about the Lord’s death on the cross to pay for our sins. Easter Sunday is about the resurrection and Roland preached this morning from Luke’s account of the resurrection. This evening I want us to think about three resurrections. Or three kinds of resurrection.
First of all, I want us to think about the Lord’s resurrection. And we’re familiar with the details of the story. Just think about what we read in John’s gospel recently when Mary went to the tomb early in the morning on that first day of the week. And she discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. Thinking that someone had stolen the Lord’s dead body, she ran immediately to tell Peter and John. And when they heard what Mary said, they both went running to the tomb to see for themselves. John arrived first and looked inside. And he saw only the strips of linen, which once covered the Lord’s body, but there was no body there. Then Peter arrived and went into the tomb and saw the same thing: strips of linen, but no body.
Well, after they left, John tells us that Mary saw two angels in the tomb. And then he tells us how the Lord appeared to Mary and spoke to her. And she was able to go to the disciples and this time, instead of saying that someone had stolen the Lord’s body, she was able to announce the news:
I have seen the Lord!
And John went on to tell us how the Lord appeared to the disciples when they were gathered together on that Sunday evening. With their own eyes, they could see that the Lord really was alive. But Thomas wasn’t there on that occasion and didn’t see the Risen Lord Jesus. And so, Thomas didn’t believe what the other disciples told him. He refused to believe it until he could see and touch the Lord for himself. But then, a week later, the Lord appeared to the disciples again. And this time Thomas was with them. And Thomas saw the Lord and he finally believed.
The other gospels add other details to the account of the Lord’s resurrection. For instance, Matthew tells us there was an earthquake at the time of the Lord’s resurrection. And the other gospel writers tell us that Mary didn’t go to the tomb alone, but with other women; and they went to anoint the Lord’s dead body with spices. The other gospels also tell us that the angels who appeared to the women spoke to them about the Lord’s resurrection. And, of course, Luke tells the story of what happened on the road to Emmaus. Do you remember? Two disciples were heading out of Jerusalem to go to Emmaus. And while they were talking, the Lord came up beside them. But they were kept from recognising him. And he asked them what they were talking about. And one of them explained that they were talking about the Lord Jesus and all the things that had happened to him. And do you remember? The Lord began to explain to them from the Old Testament Scriptures that all of these things had to happen. In other words, God had announced all of these before in the pages of the Bible; and so they shouldn’t have been surprised by what had happened to him. And later, when they were about to eat, their eyes were opened and they recognised the Lord Jesus. And as soon as they recognised him, he vanished from their sight.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tells us that the Lord was raised on the third day, and he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time. Then he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. And then last of all, he appeared to Paul himself: he was on the road to Damascus, and the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus spoke to him from heaven, and he realised that it is true: Jesus Christ who died, is alive.
All of these people saw the Lord. And, of course, I made the point recently that the Apostles in particular were no ordinary eye-witnesses, because the Apostles had been chosen by the Lord and they had been given authority from him to testify about him. And they were equipped with the Holy Spirit who was given to them to remind them of all the Lord Jesus said and did and to lead them into all the truth about the Lord Jesus. They were no ordinary witnesses, but were appointed and equipped by the Lord to be his official witnesses, so that we can read their authorised account and know for sure that these things really happened and the Lord who died and was buried was also raised.
Before we move on from the Lord’s resurrection, there are two further points to make here. Firstly, I want us to think about one of the benefits of the Lord’s resurrection. And Paul refers to this in Romans 8:34 where he writes:
Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
The Lord Jesus died. More than that, or better than that: he was raised to life. And because he was raised to life, and now lives for ever, he’s able to intercede for us at his Father’s side in heaven. Everyday, he’s praying for his people, appealing to his Father in heaven to forgive us for our sins and to send us the help we need. And so, in heaven, he’s able to show his Father his wounds, the wounds he suffered in order to pay for our sins and to secure our pardon. We’re sinners. Everyday we sin against our Father in heaven. Everyday the Father is given more and more reasons to condemn us. But everyday, the Lord Jesus is interceding for us and appealing to his Father on our behalf:
Yes, they’re sinners. But I have paid for their sins in full. I’ve paid for their sins, so there’s no reason to treat them as their sins deserve. Instead they ought to be forgiven.
So, he secures our forgiveness. And he’s also able to appeal to his Father to send us the help we need. Remember the Lord’s words to Peter in Luke’s gospel? He said that the Devil wanted to sift Peter. He wanted to crush Peter and to destroy his faith. And, for a time, it seemed that the Devil had succeeded, because Peter went on to deny knowing the Lord. And that could so easily have been the end of Peter’s faith. But the Lord not only warned Peter that the Devil wanted to crush him, but he also went on to re-assure him. He said to him:
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.
Just as the Lord prayed for Peter, so he intercedes for all of his people, to seek the help we need so that our faith will not fail, and instead we’ll be able to persevere in the faith. And though we may fall as Peter did, the living Lord Jesus is able to help us up and he’s able to lead us back.
If our Saviour had died, and stayed dead, he wouldn’t be able to help us. But because he died, and more than that, was raised to life, he’s able to intercede for us. And so we ought to give thanks to God for him, and for the way he’s watching over us to help us.
Secondly, before moving on from the Lord’s resurrection, I want us to think about the following question:
Who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead?
You see, John, in his gospel, emphasises the Lord’s own power over death. So, for instance, in John 10, where he says that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, he went on to say that he has the authority to lay down his life and the authority to take it up again. He seems to be saying that he has the authority to raise himself. Then in John 2, when he was comparing the Temple in Jerusalem to his body, he said:
Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.
He was saying that he would raise himself up. And, of course, in John 11, he tells us that he’s the resurrection and the life. He’s the one who raises the dead and gives them life. So, you read those passages from John’s gospel, and you perhaps come away with the impression that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead by his own power.
However, the Apostles Peter and Paul always make clear that he was raised by the power of God the Father. So, in Acts 2, in Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he tells us that God — God the Father — raised Jesus from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death. Peter said the same thing at the end of Acts 3 when he was preaching in the temple:
When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.
He said the same in Acts 5:
The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead.
And now listen to Paul. Romans 6:4:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
In 1 Corinthians 6:14:
By his power God raised the Lord from the dead.
In Galatians 1:1:
Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.
That power is like the working of his [God the Father’s] mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.
Who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead? God the Father raised him. And the Apostle Paul explains the significance of that for us in 1 Corinthians 6 where Paul wrote:
By his power God raised the Lord from the dead and he will raise us also.
Just as God the Father raised his Son from the dead, so we can count on him to raise us from the dead. And that leads me to the second resurrection which I want to talk about this evening.
Our future resurrection
And the second resurrection I want us to think about is the believer’s resurrection from the dead which will take place in the future. The Apostle Paul addresses this subject in 1 Corinthians 15 where he seems to be writing to clear up a confusion. Some people were apparently saying that there’s no such thing as the resurrection of the dead. The dead don’t rise, they were saying.
But, says Paul, if that’s the case — if the dead don’t rise — then Christ can’t have risen. Listen to what Paul wrote in verse 13:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
Paul is saying: If the dead don’t rise, then the Lord Jesus didn’t rise. If there’s no such thing as the resurrection — as some people are saying — then Jesus can’t have been raised. But the only problem with that argument is the one unassailable fact that Christ has been raised. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is a fundamental part of the gospel message which Paul preached and which they believed. And in case anyone was in any doubt about the Lord’s resurrection, Paul was careful to remind his readers about all the people — 500 of them and more — who had seen the Risen Lord Jesus.
Paul was saying to his readers, if you believe that Christ was raised, then you can’t say that there’s no such thing as the resurrection of the dead. Clearly, the dead do rise, because Christ has been raised.
The important thing for us this evening is Paul’s statement in verse 20 where he says:
Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
When he refers to ‘those who have fallen asleep’, he’s referring to believers who have died. But since he believes they will one day rise, then it’s as if they’re only sleeping now.
In fact, our church’s Larger Catechism says that the bodies of believers who have died are resting in their graves as if in their beds. Only resting now, until Christ returns. And when Christ returns, then their bodies will be raised and re-united with their souls.
When Paul refers to ‘those who have fallen asleep’, he’s referring to believers who have died. And he says that the Lord Jesus who was raised is the firstfruits of those believers who have died.
The firstfruits of a harvest is the first part of the harvest. The firstfruits is the first part of the harvest and the farmer, when he looks at the firstfruits, knows that there there will be more to follow. So, when Paul applies this term to the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, he’s saying that the Lord’s resurrection was the first of many. When God raised the Lord from the dead, it was the beginning of many more resurrections from the dead. His resurrection was the first part of the resurrection of every believer.
And just to underline that our resurrection from the dead stems from the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, Paul goes on to say that as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. Once — before we believed — we were in Adam. In other words, we were united with him. We were united with him in his sin and we were united with him in death. Now though — now that we believe in the Saviour — we’re in Christ. In other words, we’re united through faith with him. And because we’re united through faith with the Lord Jesus who has been raised, we too will rise just as he did.
And Paul adds in verse 23:
But each in his own turn.
The Lord was raised first. Then, when he comes again, those who belong to him will be raised. And we’ll be raised because we belong to the one who died and who was raised. Our resurrection from the dead stems from his resurrection from the dead. The only reason we will rise is because he was raised; and since we’re now united with him through faith, then whatever happened to him, will happen also to us.
Paul makes a similar point in Colossians 1 where he describes the Lord Jesus in verse 18 as the firstborn among the dead. Rachel is our firstborn: she was the first of our three children to be born. And when I call her ‘our firstborn’ it implies that there are others who came after her. And the Lord Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. He was the first of many. So, when God raised him from the dead, it was the pledge, and the guarantee, that there would be more to follow.
So, Christ is the firstfruits of who have fallen asleep and he’s the firstborn from the dead. In other words, he was the first of many more who will also rise from the dead. And the reason we will rise from the dead is because we are now in Christ and not in Adam. Once we were in Adam and were headed towards condemnation and death because we belonged to Adam. Now though, we’re headed for resurrection life because we’re united with the one who died but who was raised. And the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us from the dead.
I’ve said before that every time someone dies and their body is buried in the ground, or their ashes are buried in the ground, it seems that death has won. Every day, death claims more and more victims and it seems that nothing can stop death. But at every funeral, we ought to remember and believe that Jesus Christ our Saviour died and was raised. And he is the firstfruits of all those who have fallen asleep. He is the firstborn from the dead. He was the first to be raised, and he will not be the last. And all who believe in him in this life will also be raised when he returns.
His resurrection was the start of something new. It was the start of a new era: the last days, as it’s called in the Bible. The old era was marked by sin and condemnation and death. But the new era, this new age, is marked by righteousness and peace and life. We can’t see it yet, because all we see now are people dying and being buried. But one day we will see it, because when the Lord returns the bodies of believers will rise from their graves. That’s what we’re waiting for. That’s what we’re hoping for. Just as Abraham was looking forward with faith to a better country, a heavenly one, so we’re looking forward with faith to a better country, a heavenly one, when all of God’s people will rise and we will be with the Lord for ever in that perfect peace and rest which he has promised to his believing people.
There’s the Lord’s resurrection in the past. And there’s the believer’s resurrection in the future. But finally, I want us to think about the resurrection which takes place in the present. The Lord’s resurrection in the past and the believer’s resurrection in the future are bodily resurrections; they’re resurrections of the body. But this resurrection in the present is non-bodily; it doesn’t involve the body. And our Lord’s resurrection in the past and the believer’s resurrection in the future are visible. But this resurrection in the present is invisible so that we can’t see it.
What is this present-day resurrection which I’m now speaking about? Well, it’s the resurrection which takes place whenever a person first believes in the Lord Jesus. And our Bibles refer to this as a resurrection because when a person is united with Christ through faith, they’re raised up to begin a new kind of life with Christ. The break with our old life is so decisive and so radical that the only way to describe it is by calling it a resurrection.
We find this in Ephesians 2 verses 1 to 10. First of all, Paul describes the way we were before we believed. And he talks about how we were dead in our transgressions and sins in which we used to live. At least, that’s how the NIV has translated it. However, in the Greek, Paul refers to the transgressions and sins in which we once walked. And that’s important, because in verse 10 he goes on to talk about the good works in which we now walk. So, once we walked in transgressions and sins. Now we walk in good works. What happened to us? What caused this change in us? Well, the answer is in verses 5 and 6 where Paul tells us that God made us alive with Christ and he raised us up with Christ. Once we were dead in our sins. But then God raised us up with Christ so that we began a new life. He talking about a resurrection which takes place whenever we’re united with Christ through faith. Whenever we cling to Christ through faith, God resurrects us to begin a new life, one that is characterised now, not by transgressions and sins, but by good works.
And then there’s Colossians 2:13 and Colossians 3:1. Again, Paul talks about how we were dead in our sins and in the uncircumcision of our sinful nature, but God made us alive with Christ. And then, he goes on to say that since we’ve been raised with Christ, we’re to set our hearts on things above. Do you see? We were dead, but God made us alive with Christ. We were dead, but we’ve been raised with Christ. Once we were dead in our sins, but now — now that we believe in Christ — we’ve been raised up to begin a new life. And instead of having our minds set on sinful things, and shameful things, we’re to keep our mind on heavenly things.
Then there’s Romans 6 which we were thinking about recently at the Midweek. And this time Paul talks about how when we believe our old way of life dies and we’re raised to begin a new life. Now, the background to this passage was the suggestion that since God is prepared to pardon us, then we may as well go on sinning. But Paul says: By no means! Not on your life! We’re not to go on sinning. Why not? Because whenever we believed in the Lord Jesus we died to sin and we were raised with him to begin a new life of obedience to God. Listen to what Paul wrote:
don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
At the Midweek, I explained that when Paul mentions baptism to his readers in this passage he’s referring to the beginning of their life as Christians. You see, all through the book of Acts we read how pagans who once worshipped idols were converted to faith in Christ and immediately they were baptised. And their baptism signified, not only God’s willingness to wash away their sins, but it also signified that they were turning their back on their old way of life when they worshipped false gods and did wicked things in order to begin a new life. And so, when Paul mentions baptism here he’s referring to the beginning of their life as a Christian. So, he’s asking his readers:
Don’t you realise that when you first believed and were baptised, you were united with Christ in his death?
He’s saying to them: The Lord Jesus died. And now that you believe in him, well, it’s as if you too have died as well. Your old way of life has died. And then, the Lord Jesus was raised. Well, it’s as if you too have been raised. You’ve been raised to start a new life.
And whereas their old life was marked by unbelief and sin and disobedience, their new life is marked by faith and righteousness and obedience. Once we were slaves to sin. But now we’ve been freed from that old life. Once we offered the parts of our body to sin as instruments of wickedness. But now, we’re to offer ourselves to God and we’re to offer the parts of our body as instruments of righteousness.
There’s the Lord’s resurrection in the past. And there’s the believers’ resurrection in the future. Both of these are bodily resurrections, because the Lord Jesus rose bodily from the grave and so too will we. And the Lord’s resurrection was visible: people saw him alive. And our resurrection from the grave will be visible too.
But this third resurrection is not bodily. And it’s not visible. Whenever someone first believes, their appearance doesn’t change. They don’t look any different. But nevertheless the change that takes place is so decisive that the only way to describe it is by saying that they were raised with Christ to start a new life. We can’t see it, because it takes place inside us, in the inner person. But what a difference it should make to our life, because it means we’re done with sin and disobedience and we’re to live lives of obedience.
We’ll still sin, of course, because we’ll remain sinners throughout our life on this earth. But sin no longer belongs in our life. It’s something alien and strange to us. When we lived in Naas, we knew people from Brazil and Poland and others places who had moved to Ireland. They would say:
When we were in Brazil, we did this.
When we were in Poland, we did this.
We used to do these things.
And we would say to them:
Yes, but you’re not in Brazil now.
You’re not in Poland now.
In Ireland we do this.
Well, we’re not in Adam any more. We don’t belong to that old age where sin and unrighteousness belong. Now we’re in Christ. We belong to him. And we’re to live a different kind of life now.
And, of course, even though we sin, and even though the Devil is always trying to lead us astray, our mighty Saviour is alive, and he’s praying for us, interceding for us everyday, asking his Father to help us and to forgive us. And so, we can trust in him to keep us until he comes again and we will rise bodily and visibly to live with him for ever and ever in glory.