In the readings from John’s gospel we were reminded of how the Lord was crucified at Golgotha, outside Jerusalem. The sign on the cross said ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’. And John tells us how the chief priests protested because of this sign and wanted it changed. But Pilate wouldn’t budge: what he had written, he had written. Later, the Lord said that he was thirsty; and he was given some wine vinegar to drink. John tells us that by saying this, he was fulfilling the Scriptures. It’s possible John was thinking of Psalm 22 where the Psalmist spoke about his tongue, sticking to the roof of his mouth. Or there’s Psalm 69 where the Psalmist spoke abut how his enemies gave him wine vinegar for his thirst. The point John was making is that what happened to the Lord Jesus had been foretold in the pages of the Old Testament: all of these things had been planned by God as part of his great plan for our salvation. And then John tells us that the Lord Jesus said:
It is finished.
In other words:
It’s complete. It’s done. I’ve done everything I was meant to do for the salvation of my people.
And with that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit and died.
We were thinking about the crucifixion on Friday evening and on what the cross of Christ means for us. Today though, it’s about the resurrection. And so, in the reading from John’s gospel, we read how the Lord’s dead body was laid in the tomb. But, early on the first day of the week, on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away. She immediately ran to Simon Peter and John and told them that someone had taken the Lord’s body from the tomb. What other explanation could there be? So Peter and John then ran to the tomb and went in and found that, yes, the Lord’s body was not there. Only the grave clothes were there, but there was no sign of his body. Afterwards they went home, but Mary remained at the tomb. And that’s where the Lord appeared to her, because he was not dead, he was alive. And he instructed her to go and tell his disciples the news. And on the evening of that same day, the Lord appeared to his disciples and showed them that he was very much alive.
The Lord Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate; he was crucified, dead and buried; but the third day he rose again from the dead. Our Saviour is not dead; he’s alive; and he’s alive forevermore.
But what is the significance of the resurrection? On Friday evening, we were thinking about the significance of the cross; and on what the Lord’s death means for us. Today we’re going to be thinking about the significance of the resurrection; and on what the Lord’s resurrection means for us. And there are five points to make.
And the first point is that the Lord’s resurrection marks the turning point between the time of his humiliation and the time of his exaltation.
In Philippians 2 we read of the Lord’s humiliation and how he, the Eternal Son of God, who was from all eternity equal to his Father, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, or something to hold on to. Instead he made himself nothing. In other words, he gave up his place of honour and glory and majesty in heaven. And then Paul tells us that he took the very nature of a servant. In other words, he became God’s servant and agreed to do his Father’s will and to carry out his Father’s instructions. And Paul goes on to explain that being the servant of the Lord meant being made in human likeness. He became one of us. And Paul goes on to say that having been made in human likeness, he went down to the cross, and suffered and died there in obedience to his Father’s will. And so he was buried in the ground. This was all part of the Lord’s humiliation.
But after his humiliation came his exaltation. And the first step to his exaltation, and the turning point between his humiliation and his exaltation, was his resurrection from the dead. So, having gone down, down, down, from heaven to earth to the grave, he was raised from the grave. And he appeared to his disciples and made clear to them that he was no longer dead, but alive. And later he ascended to heaven. And from his throne in heaven he received the name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Eternal Son of God went down, down, down. But then he went up, up, up. He went down to the cross and the grave. But he then went up to heaven where he rules over all. And the turning point came when he was raised from the dead.
Or think of the way Paul puts it in Romans 1. This is how Romans begins:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
So the gospel concerns his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh; but who was declared to be the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead. Now, I used to think those verses referred firstly to the Lord’s human nature and secondly to his divine nature. You know, according to the flesh, or according to his human nature, he was a man, descended from David; but then, following his resurrection, it became clear and obvious that this man is none other than the Son of God.
That’s what I used to think about these verses. However, it’s more likely that these verses refer to the Lord’s humiliation and his subsequent exaltation. So, when he became incarnate and entered the world, he entered the realm of the flesh. It’s the realm of the human only, which is marked by weakness. However, by his resurrection from the dead he entered a new realm, the realm of the Spirit, which is marked by power. Once the Son of God lived on the earth in weakness and humiliation; now the Son of God lives in heaven in power and glory. And once again, the turning point between Christ’s life in the realm of the flesh and Christ’s life in the realm of the Spirit is his resurrection from the dead.
And so what does the resurrection mean for us? It means that our Saviour’s humiliation is over and he is now exalted on high, where he rules over all. And from his throne in heaven, he’s building his church throughout the world, because he has sent his preachers out into the world, and he’s sent his Spirit out as well to bless the preaching of the gospel, and through the preaching of the gospel, he’s delivering men and women and boys and girls from out of the dominion of the Devil and he’s calling them into his kingdom of grace. The Lord Jesus, who once lived in weakness and humility, is enthroned on high. And from his throne, he’s building his church. And the turning point came when he was raised from the dead.
Sins paid for
What does the resurrection mean? Firstly, it’s the turning point between the time of the Son of God’s humiliation and the time of his exaltation. Secondly, the resurrection re-assures us that our sins have been paid for in full. In 1 Corinthians 15 verse 17 Paul wrote:
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
I’ve spoken about this before. The background to this verse is that some people in Corinth were saying the dead are not raised; there’s no such thing as the resurrection of our bodies. And so, Paul was writing to convince them that the dead will be raised and that there will be a resurrection of the dead whenever the Lord Jesus returns. And one of his arguments to convince his readers that the dead are raised is the fact that the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead. He died; his body was laid in the tomb; but three days later he was raised — bodily, physically — from the dead. This was an integral part of the gospel which Paul preached and which they believed: Jesus Christ died, was buried, and was raised; and many people saw him alive afterwards and can testify that this is true. Jesus Christ was raised, Paul was saying to them; he was raised; therefore you can’t say there’s no such thing as the resurrection of the dead.
However, in the course of his argument, Paul wrote verse 17:
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
So, imagine a criminal who is caught and tried and sentenced to ten years in prison. So, he’s taken away and locked up. And there he remains until eventually, eventually, his ten years are up. And when his ten years are up, he’s allowed to go free. The prison door is unlocked and opened, and the man is allowed to walk out of there. And he’s allowed to walk out of there because he’s done his time; he’s paid the penalty of his crime in full.
We believe the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to pay for our sins. He took the punishment we deserve and suffered in our place the penalty for all that we have done wrong. And the fact that he has now been raised, and set free from the prison cell of death, tells us that our sins have been paid for in full. If our sins had not been paid in full, he would still be dead, still suffering the penalty for our sins. But the fact that he was raised from the dead, to live for ever, tells us that he has paid for our sins completely and in full.
And, of course, if our sins have been paid for in full, then that means there’s nothing more for us to pay, because he’s paid it all. And what a comfort that is for us. When troubles come our way, when we suffer in this life, we’re tempted to think that God is punishing us. He’s paying us back for some sin we’ve committed. We must be getting what we deserve for some sin. And, of course, that’s true for the person who does not believe, because the person who does not believe is under God’s condemnation and is liable to all the miseries of this life and to punishment in hell in the life to come.
But the believer, the believer is no longer under God’s condemnation; we’ve been forgiven for what we’ve done wrong. And God is able to forgive us because the Lord Jesus has paid for our sins. He’s paid for all of them and he’s paid for them in full. And so, God is no longer our judge who wants to condemn us; he’s become our loving heavenly Father. And so, when troubles come our way, when we suffer, we can’t say that God is punishing us. We can’t say that, because that would be to say that God is unjust and he’s punishing the same sin twice: once in Christ; and now in us. But the Lord would never do that.
Our Heavenly Father might need to discipline us, from time to time, for our good. Or he might use the troubles of this life to help us to grow in our faith. But he will never, ever punish his people in anger, because the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for our sins already. And in order to re-assure us of that, in order to convince us that this is true, the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead.
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
But Christ has been raised; and your sins have been paid for in full.
What does the resurrection mean? Firstly, it’s the turning point between the time of God the Son’s humiliation and the time of his exaltation. Secondly, it re-assures us that our sins have been paid for in full. Thirdly, it re-assures us that we too will be raised from the dead.
We’ve thought about this before. In 1 Corinthians, Paul went from speaking about the Lord’s resurrection to speaking about the resurrection of his people. Do you remember? Paul said in verse 20:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Paul refers to believers who have died as ‘those who have fallen asleep’ because it’s as they’re only sleeping now. It’s as if their bodies are only resting in their graves as if in their beds, because the day will come when the Lord Jesus will come again; and when he comes, he’ll call them as if to say:
Come on now, it’s time to get up.
And on that day, the bodies of believers who have died will be raised and their bodies and their souls will be re-united so that they will live in body and soul with the Lord for ever.
And we know this to be the case because the Lord Jesus was raised. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that the Lord Jesus was raised as the firstfruits. The firstfruits of the harvest is the first part of the harvest; and firstfruits implies that there will be more to follow. So, the Lord was the first to be raised; he was the first, and there will be more to follow, when he returns.
Paul made 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; but he was the first of many who will be raised. And when God raised him from the dead, it was the pledge, and the guarantee, that there would be more to follow.
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. This is the great hope he gives to all who believe in him, because he promises that whoever believes in him will be raised and will live with him in glory for ever and for ever.
What does the resurrection mean? Firstly, it’s the turning point between the time of God the Son’s humiliation and the time of his exaltation. Secondly, it re-assures us that our sins have been paid for in full. Thirdly, it re-assures us that we too will be raised from the dead. Fourthly, those who believe are raised now in this life.
We thought about this last year and we’ve been thinking about it in our studies in Paul’s letter to the Romans on Wednesday evenings. The Lord’s resurrection was bodily; he was raised bodily, physically, from the dead. Our future resurrection will be bodily; we’ll be raised bodily, physically, from the dead. But whoever believes in the Lord Jesus experiences a spiritual resurrection in this life. Whenever we believe, we’re raised, not bodily, not physically, but we’re raised up with Christ to the heavenly realms to live a new life of obedience to the Lord.
And so, listen to how Paul puts it in 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.
When we studied this verse one Wednesday evening, I explained that in the early days of the New Testament church, whenever someone came to faith in Christ, they were baptised immediately. Think of the Ethiopian Eunuch: Philip explain the gospel to him; the Ethiopian Eunuch believed; and they stopped at the side of the road so that he could be baptised. So, by referring to baptism in this verse in Romans, Paul is thinking about the beginning of our life as a Christian when his readers first believed and were baptised. And he’s saying that when we become a Christian, it’s as if we experience a death and a resurrection just as the Lord Jesus experienced a death and resurrection. First of all, there’s a death: our old life of sin and unbelief dies and is buried. We’re done with it. And then comes the resurrection: we’re raised with Christ to begin a new kind of life.
And what is that new life like? In Ephesians 2, Paul begins by describing what we used to be like. He says:
you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live [walk] when you followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air [the Devil]…. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful flesh and follow its desires and thoughts.
So that’s the way we were, says Paul. Our lives were dominated by the world, the Devil and the flesh. And we used to walk in transgressions and sins, doing what is evil. But then Paul goes on to write about the greatness of God’s love and mercy and how he did what? How he raised us up with Christ to the heavenly realms. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead and raised up to heaven, so we who believe in him have been raised up with him. Now, we’re not raised physically yet. We’re not raised in a bodily way yet. But we’re raised up in a spiritual sense. We’ve been raised up with Christ to heaven. That’s where we now belong.
And what is the result? Well, Paul goes on to say in verse 10 that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. Or more literally:
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Do you see? Once we walked in transgressions and sins; now we walk in good works. And what brought about the change? The fact that believers have been raised with Christ. Through faith we’re united to Christ in his death and resurrection, so that our old life of sin and disobedience is now dead and buried; we’re not to go on sinning, because that old life is dead and buried. And we’ve been raised up to live a new life of obedience to God.
Coming to judge the earth
What does the resurrection mean? Firstly, it’s the turning point between the time of God the Son’s humiliation and the time of his exaltation. Secondly, it re-assures us that our sins have been paid for in full. Thirdly, it re-assures us that we too will be raised from the dead. Fourthly, those who believe are raised now in this life. Finally and briefly, the Lord’s resurrection proves there’s going to be a judgment.
In Acts 17, we read how the Apostle Paul came to Athens and he was given the opportunity to speak to them about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, the Athenians believed in all kinds of gods. And they believed in all kinds of things. But, like many people today, not many of them believed in life after death. For many of them, when you die, that’s it. There’s nothing more. And that’s what many people believe today. But listen to what Paul said to them. He said:
In the past God overlooked such ignorance [about him], but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.
Paul was saying that the Lord’s resurrection proves to us that there’s more than just this life; his resurrection proves to us that death is not the end. The Lord Jesus died, but he was raised. And so, we too will die. Every one will die. And we will be raised just as the Lord Jesus was raised. And when we’re raised, we’ll have to face God and the judgment.
If the Lord Jesus had died and had remained dead, then everyone could assume that death is the end; and there’s nothing more to follow. But the fact that the Lord was raised shows us that the dead are raised. And when the dead are raised, each person will have to give an account to the Lord for how we have lived.
The person who believes — who knows that their sins have been forgiven because the Lord Jesus had paid for them in full — the person who believes has nothing to fear. In fact, the person who believes is looking forward to that day, because we’ll be brought in to be with the Lord forever to enjoy perfect peace and rest. But what about the person who does not yet believe? Well, Paul was clear: you need to repent. You need to repent, which means you need to turn from your sin; and you need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The judgment is coming; the day when we’ll have to give an account of our lives to God is coming. And so, we need to repent and believe so that we’ll have nothing to fear on that day, because whoever believes — whoever trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour — will never be condemned, but will live for ever with the Lord.