Preached in West Kirk Presbyterian Church, Belfast on Easter Sunday 2023.
- Romans 1:1–4
- 1 Corinthians 15:35–49
- Ephesians 2:1–10
It will be no surprise to you that I want to preach on the resurrection this evening. In Immanuel this morning we were looking at Luke’s account of the resurrection; and I believe Dave was speaking on Matthew 28 here in West Kirk and on Matthew’s account of the resurrection. But what I want us to do this evening is to think a little about what the resurrection means.
But before we get to that, let me remind you of what happened.
We read in the gospels how, early on the first day of the week some of the women went to the tomb, where the Lord’s body had been laid. They went to anoint his dead body with spices. But when they got there, they found that the stone over the entrance had been rolled away. Matthew tells us that there was a great earthquake and an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. And the guards who were there shook. That is, they trembled with fear at what had happened. And they became like dead men.
When the woman went inside, they did not find the Lord’s body. Angels announced to them that the Lord was not there, but had risen. They then went to tell the disciples. John tells us that Peter and John ran to the tomb and saw that it was empty. After Peter and John had left, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to Mary. At first she did not recognise him, but once he said her name, she realised who it was and that the Saviour who had died was now alive. He had risen from the dead.
Later that day, two disciples were on the road to Emmaus, when the Lord appeared to them and walked along the road with them, talking about what had happened. At first, they were kept from recognising him and did not realise it was the Lord. And as they walked along, he explained to them what was said in the Old Testament Scriptures about himself and his death and resurrection. And their hearts burned within them as he explained the Scriptures to them. Later, when they stopped at a village to have something to eat, their eyes were opened and they finally recognised the Lord. But he then vanished from their sight.
They ran back to Jerusalem, where the disciples and others were meeting in a locked room. They quickly learned that the Lord had also appeared to Peter. And while they were talking, the Lord Jesus came and stood among them and showed them his hands and side. And since some of them still couldn’t take it in, he asked for some fish and ate it in front of them to demonstrate that they weren’t seeing a ghost.
Thomas was not there that evening and he did not believe his fellow disciples when they told him that the Lord was alive. He said: ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ And a week later, when the disciples were gathered again, and Thomas was with them, the Lord appeared once again. And Thomas saw that it was true.
Another time, when the disciples had gone fishing, the Lord appeared at the side of the lake. When they recognised him, they went ashore and discovered that he had made a fire and was cooking fish for them.
And before he eventually ascended to heaven, he appeared to over 500 believers at the same time and he gave many convincing proofs to his apostles that he was really alive. And he spoke to them about the kingdom of God and taught them what they needed to know. And he told them to expect the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The Lord’s resurrection from the dead was a bodily, or physical, resurrection. That is to say, he did not rise spiritually. He did not return as a ghost or spirit. We know he possessed a real human body, because he was able to eat some fish and his disciples were able to touch him. And yet his body was also different, because he was able to appear in a locked room and he was able to vanish from their sight. And those who saw him did not immediately recognise him. So, there was continuity and discontinuity between his body before his death and resurrection and his body after his resurrection. But his resurrection from the dead was a physical or bodily resurrection from the dead.
Not merely historical
A few weeks ago in Immanuel we were thinking about the Lord’s resurrection from the dead; and I made the point that his resurrection was not a merely historical event.
Now, it is a historical event. We have to be clear about that. He really did die and he really was buried and he really was raised from the dead. There was a day when he died and there was another day when he was raised. His resurrection was a historical event. But it’s not merely a historical event. It’s not merely a historical event because it means something. It has significance. It makes a difference. And that’s what I want us to think about for the rest of our time this evening. I want us to think about the significance the resurrection had for the Lord Jesus; and the significance it has for us. It made a difference to him and it makes a difference to us as well.
What it means for Christ
And so, let’s turn to Romans 1 where Paul introduces us to the gospel which God promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures. And in verses 3 and 4, Paul says about the gospel that it is regarding God’s Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David; and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. That’s how the NIV puts it. And that translation assumes that Paul is contrasting Christ’s two natures. He is both God and man in one person. The Lord Jesus Christ is both a man who was descended from David and he’s also the Eternal Son of God. And the fact that he is the Son of God was made abundantly and powerfully clear when he was raised from the dead. And, of course, that’s true. The Lord Jesus Christ is God and man in one person.
However, there’s a better way to translate the words which Paul wrote in Romans 1. A better way to translate his words is as follows:
regarding 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.
Paul is contrasting, not the two natures of Christ, but two phases in his existence. When the Son of God first came into the world, he lived ‘according to the flesh’. And Paul uses the word ‘flesh’ in several ways, but here he’s using the word ‘flesh’ to refer to our earthly existence which is characterised by weakness and dishonour and death. So, for a time, the Son of God experienced that kind of existence. When he came into the world as one of us, and as a descendent of David, he lived a life of sorrow and suffering. He was a man of sorrows who was familiar with suffering. However, by his resurrection from the dead, he left behind that old life in the flesh to begin a new life which is ‘according to the Spirit of holiness’.
So, Paul’s gospel concerns Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, who came into the world as one of us and experienced the humiliation and weakness and dishonour and death which marks this earthly existence. But now, by his resurrection, he has left behind that weak earthly existence to begin a new life in the Spirit. No longer is he the Son of God in weakness; now he is Son of God in power. And he passed from one to the other by his resurrection.
And so, the resurrection is not a merely historical event, because it means something. It has significance. It makes a difference. And it made a difference to the Lord Jesus because by his resurrection he passed from the state of his humiliation to the state of his exaltation. He passed from weakness to power; from dishonour to glory.
Paul refers to the same kind of thing in Philippians 2 where he refers first to the Son’s descent. That is, he went down from heaven to the grave. So, from all eternity he was in very nature God. But then he made himself nothing and was made in human likeness and he humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross. So, first he went down, down, down in his humiliation. But then, afterwards, he was raised to the highest place. And the first step to his exaltation to the highest place was his resurrection from the dead.
So, the resurrection makes a difference. It made a difference to the Lord Jesus because by his resurrection he passed from the state of his humiliation to the state of his exaltation. When he came into the world as one of us, he came in weakness and humility. But now that he has been raised, he sits enthroned in heaven as King over all. And so, when we read the book of Revelation and read the visions which John received of heaven, the Lord Jesus appears as a glorious figure, wearing royal robes, and angels and the saints in glory surround him and worship him. He’s no longer the Son of God in weakness, but he’s the Son of God in power and glory.
What it means for us 1
Let’s think about what his resurrection means for us. And let’s turn first to 1 Corinthians 15. This is Paul’s great chapter on the resurrection. It seems that some people were denying the resurrection. Some people were saying that the dead don’t rise. And Paul responded by saying that if the dead don’t rise, then Christ can’t have risen. If there’s no such thing as the resurrection, then the Lord can’t have risen. He can’t have risen if there’s no such thing as the resurrection. However, Christ has risen. That’s the message the apostles preached; and it’s the message the believers received. Christ was raised from the dead. And his resurrection was the firstfruits of those who have died, which means he was the first to rise and there will be more to follow.
And Paul goes on to say lots more about the resurrection in this chapter. But for now I want to focus your attention on what Paul says in verse 45 where he writes:
So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’….
He’s referring to Genesis 2:7 where we read that the Lord God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth; and God then breathed the breath of life into him, so that he became a living being. Paul continues:
So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’, the last Adam, life-giving Spirit.
So, the first Adam became a living being, but the last Adam became life-giving Spirit. When Paul mentions the last Adam, he’s referring to the Lord Jesus. He’s the last Adam. And Paul is referring in this verse to something that happened to the Lord Jesus at the time of his resurrection from the dead. At that time, the Lord Jesus became life-giving Spirit.
What does Paul mean when he says that the Lord Jesus became life-giving Spirit?
One writer (Gaffin) explains that the life-giving Spirit is the Holy Spirit. He’s the one who gives life. And so, he gave life to the Lord Jesus’s dead body when Christ was raised from the dead on the third day.
And by describing the Risen Lord Jesus as ‘life-giving Spirit’, Paul is conveying to us how the Risen Saviour now possesses the Holy Spirit like never before. Though the Risen Saviour and the Holy Spirit are distinct, they are now forever inseparable.
And the Risen Saviour, who now possesses the Spirit like never before, will one day give life to our dead bodies and he will make our resurrection bodies perfectly suited to life in the presence of God.
You see, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul explains that the body we have now is perishable and dishonourable (or not glorious) and weak. And since it’s perishable and dishonourable and weak, then it’s subject to decay. And we all know that, don’t we? We all know that, because as the years go on, each one of us is aware of how our bodies are getting old and weak and they’re wearing out and they’re breaking down.
And the body we possess now, says Paul in verse 44, is a natural body. He means it’s a merely human body. It’s an ordinary human body.
And we have this kind of body because we’re like Adam, who was of the dust of the earth. And since Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, then he can be called an earthly man. He can be called an earthly man because his body came from the earth and it was suitable for life on this earth.
And that’s the kind of body we have right now. We have a body which is fitted for life on this earth.
And since that’s the kind of body we have now — a natural body which is perishable and dishonourable and weak — people were wondering and asking how are the dead raised and with what kind of body will they come? How can we possibly live forever with God with a body like this which is perishable and dishonourable and weak and which is subject to decay? How can I hope to live forever with God with this kind of body? It’s impossible!
And so, Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ has become life-giving Spirit. And since he is now life-giving Spirit, then he is able to renew our bodies at the resurrection and make them imperishable and glorious and powerful. They will no longer be subject to decay. They will not wear out, but will remain imperishable and glorious and full of power and vigour forever. That’s the kind of body we will have when we are raised. Paul calls it a spiritual body. And he calls it a spiritual body, because it’s a body which is renewed by the Holy Spirit.
So, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has become life-giving Spirit, will renew our dead bodies at the resurrection and will make them imperishable and glorious and powerful and perfect suited for life in the world to come. That’s the kind of body we will have when we’re raised from the dead. And we’ll be raised with that kind of body because of the Lord Jesus Christ who became life-giving Spirit at the time of his resurrection and ascension to heaven.
And so, when the Lord Jesus comes again, he will command the dead to rise. And all those who trusted in him in this life will be raised from their graves to live with him forever and forever in the life to come. And he will renew us in body and soul by his Spirit so that the body we will have then will be perfectly suited to life in presence of God in the new heavens and earth.
And since this is true, Paul refers to believers who have died as those who have fallen asleep. Since believers who died will one day rise from their graves to live forever with God, then it’s as if they’re only sleeping now. As our church’s Larger Catechism puts it, after believers die and their souls go to be with the Lord, their bodies continue to be united to Christ and to rest in their graves as if in their beds. For the believer, the grave is like a bed. And one day, the Saviour will come to tell us that it’s time to get up now. The night has passed. The new day has dawned. And so, arise from your beds and live with Lord forever in a body which will be renewed by the life-giving Spirit of Jesus Christ and made perfectly suited for eternal life in the presence of God.
What it means for us 2
And so, what difference does his resurrection make? It made a difference to the Lord Jesus, because by his resurrection he passed from the state of his humiliation to the state of his exaltation so that he now rules over all as king. And it will make a difference to us because by his resurrection the Lord Jesus became life-giving Spirit and so he’s able to raise our bodies from the dead and to renew us completely by his Spirit to make them perfectly suited to eternal life in the presence of God.
However, Christ’s resurrection makes a difference to us, not only in the future when Christ comes again. Christ’s resurrection makes a difference to us right now in this life. This is the case because whenever we believe in the Lord Jesus we experience a kind of resurrection right now in this life.
We learn this in several places in the New Testament. For instance, in Colossians 3, Paul says in verse 1: ‘Since, then, you have been raised with Christ….’ He doesn’t say, ‘Since, then, you will be raised with Christ….’ He says, ‘Since, then, you have been raised with Christ….’ We have already been raised with Christ, because whenever we first believed, we were raised with Christ to begin a new kind of life.
In Galatians 5:25, Paul says that we live by the Spirit. So, the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead gives new life right now to those who believe.
In Romans 6:4 Paul says we were buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may live a new life. When Paul refers to baptism in this verse, we should think about the beginning of the Christian life, because in those days as soon as someone believed they were baptised immediately. So, baptism stands for the beginning of the Christian life. And so, Paul is saying that when we first believed, we in a sense died and we were buried with Christ. Our old life as unbelievers came to an end. That old life as an unbeliever is now dead and buried. And then, just as Christ was raised, so we too were raised to begin a new life as a believer.
And then there’s Ephesians 2:1–10 which begins with Paul describing our old life and what we once were. He said we were dead in our transgressions and sins in which you used to live. More literally he refers to the transgressions and sins in which we used to walk. And at that time, we followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. He’s referring to the devil. So, once we were dead in our transgressions and sins and we were led astray by the world and by the devil. And we used to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature, following its desires and thoughts. So, we were dominated by sin. And we were also objects of God’s wrath. As sinners, we were liable to God’s wrath and curse.
That’s what we once were. But, because of his great mercy, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ. So, we were once dead in our transgressions and sins, but now we have been made alive with Christ. We have been raised with him to live a new life. And we have been raised with Christ to sit with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. We have been raised to live a new life; and we now belong to heaven above, where Christ is.
And when Paul talks about being raised with Christ in this life, he’s not talking about an emotional or psychological experience. He’s not talking about the way we feel. He’s not talking about having an emotional high. He’s talking about the way we now behave. And so, he goes on to tell us in verse 10, that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do. More literally he says that we have been created for good works that we should walk in them. So, we once lived a life in which we walked in transgressions and sins. That’s the kind of life we once lived. It was a life dominated by sin and unbelief. But now we live a life in which we walk in good deeds. That’s the kind of life we now live. And we moved from that old life of sin to this new life of good works because we have been made alive with Christ and we have been raised up with him when we first believed. The life-giving Spirit of Christ came to us and he gave us new life in Christ.
And Paul sums it up for us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 where he says that if anyone is in Christ, new creation! The old has gone, the new has come. Whenever we believe in the Lord Jesus, our old life of sin and unbelief dies; and we begin a new life of faith and obedience and of good deeds. And we now belong, not to this old, fallen world which is destined to perish, but we belong to the new creation to come and to the new heavens and earth where we will live with God forever.
And so, this is the difference the resurrection makes to believers in this life. Just as Christ was raised, so we are raised with him to live a new life of obedience. The life-giving Spirit of Christ gives us this new life so that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and he enables us to walk in God’s ways and to do his will here on earth. God works in us by his Spirit to will and to act according to his good purpose.
And so, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not a merely historical event. It is a historical event. It really happened. Christ really was raised from the dead. But it’s not a merely historical event because it has significance. It makes a difference. It made a difference to the Lord Jesus, because by his resurrection he passed from the state of his humiliation to the state of his exaltation so that he now rules over all as king. And it will make a difference to believers in the future, because the Lord Jesus became life-giving Spirit at his resurrection and the life-giving Spirit of the Lord Jesus will raise our dead bodies from the grave and will make them perfectly suited for eternal life in God’s presence. And it makes a difference to believers right now in this life, because the life-giving Spirit of Christ gives us new life in Christ. Our old life of sin and unbelief is dead and buried and we are raised with Christ to live a new kind of life, one of faith and obedience and good deeds. And it’s all to the praise of God’s glorious grace.