April 1, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 14:50 in the audio file.
Or, A Doctrine That Is Impossible to Keep Buried
“Death is the most obvious fact we try to hide from our kids.” So writes Ben Sasse, a Senator from Nebraska, in his book, The Vanishing American Adult. Even if we attempt to protect our kids from seeing it as long as possible, we cannot avoid death. Death is always around. All living creatures die at some point though it’s only human beings who anticipate their own death and the death of those whom they love. Even in our advanced medical culture, death is as likely as mediocre hospital food. We cannot avoid it any more than the ocean can avoid getting wet.
It’s been said that there are only two things that are certain: death and taxes. It’s simple, it’s at least a little cynical, and I believe that it is short by one.
What would you answer if you got to add a third thing to the list of certain things in this world? You only get one; no cheating. There are things that certainly exist, but that’s different than death and taxes which are more certain events. What is a third, just as sure, event that everyone can expect will come?
Is it giving away too much to be asking the question on Easter Sunday morning? Are you ready to guess at my answer having read, or reread, the title and subtitle for the sermon? That does reveal my hand, though I’m prepared to make a defense for my hope. As certain as death and taxes is resurrection.
My desire this morning is to feed your soul with eternal comfort that Jesus Christ the Lord is risen from the dead. We confess that He is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9), and that all who believe in Him will be raised. I want to encourage you that this reality has never been in question. The word of resurrection is an emphatic word, an old word, and a living word.
In John 11 Jesus heard that His friend Lazarus was sick (verse 4) and then waited two days to make sure that Lazarus died before He went to see him (verse 6). When Jesus arrived, Mary and Martha were upset, and both of them believed that had Jesus come earlier, Jesus could have kept Lazarus from dying (verses 21, 32). Similar murmurs came from the crowd (verse 37). Jesus had another way of showing His glory in mind (verses 4, 40).
The conversation between Jesus and Martha turned to the topic of resurrection as Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise again (verse 23). I know that a number of things would be different had this event happened after Jesus’ own resurrection, but imagine what Martha might have said had she known what we know now.
Post-Easter resurrection is like living mortar and brick to the house of truth. In the New Testament resurrection is an emphatic theme, a thundering word. The apostles can’t stop preaching about it as the church spreads throughout the book of Acts. When he defended himself before Felix the governor in Caesarea Paul said,
But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. (Acts 24:14-15)
He referenced the resurrection because it is one of the things of “first importance” in the gospel, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25) and our sanctification (Romans 6:4-5). We expect that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus…to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15).
Paul’s life was given to the pursuit of knowing Christ and resurrection.
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10)
So the crux of the gospel, the start and the walk and the hope of our salvation, is the word of resurrection. It is an emphatic word, one that pumps the heart of New Testament truth. And Martha didn’t know any of that.
Note the interchange between Jesus and Martha starting in John 11:20. She went to meet Him and expressed her disappointment that He hadn’t come earlier. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” What stands out is Martha’s response. She said, “What are you talking about? We Jews don’t believe in any kind of resurrection.” But, of course, that’s not what she said at all. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” How did she know anything about resurrection? We have Jesus’ response and the rest of John’s Gospel and the letters of the apostles. All Mary had was the Old Testament.
Another conversation Jesus had also raises this question. The Sadducees, “who say that there is no resurrection” (Matthew 22:23), approached Him with the scenario about a man with seven brothers who all married the same woman one after the other (verses 24-28). They asked whose wife she would be in the resurrection. Jesus answered them, “There is no resurrection, as you already know.” No, Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
But, what Scriptures?
A common thing to read in books about the Old Testament is that the Old Testament did not teach a resurrection. There are some passages that make it sound as if once a man is in the grave, or in Sheol, that was it. But if that’s really it, where did Mary get her info? Why didn’t she act surprised when Jesus so matter of factly said that Lazarus would rise? How could Jesus reasonably confront the Sadducees for their culpable ignorance? Why were the Pharisees so committed in their debate with the Sadducees (see one example in Acts 23:6, 8)?
It’s because resurrection is an old word.
Perhaps the oldest word comes from Job. I’ve attempted to preach Job’s words about resurrection on Easter at least twice with varying success. But his words stand on their own.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and
Job may have lived around the time of Abram, just generations after the flood, between Genesis 11 and 12. He expected a bodily resurrection purchased for him by a living Redeemer. Did Job say better than he knew? Of course. Did he does that mean he didn’t know what he said? Not at all. He expected his personal, bodily resurrection after death.
Likewise in Psalm 16, David looks forward to a certain physical reality.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
David also wrote better than he knew. Who is the “holy one”? It’s himself; the psalm is written from the first-person singular perspective the whole way through. And it also looks forward to the “holy one,” whom the apostles recognized as Jesus (Acts 13:35).
The prophet Isaiah wrote about a song to be “sung in the land of Judah” that included these lines:
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
awake and sing for joy!
And one additional word from the prophet Daniel.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
This passage points to a resurrection of the just and the unjust, one to everlasting life and one to everlasting punishment (see also John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Revelation 20:12-13). The Sadducees, while only reading the Law, missed out on the clear teaching of the Scriptures, and as such they did not appreciate the power of God.
While it may not be as emphasized as in the New, the resurrection is clear in the Old Testament. That’s why he was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). That’s why Paul was “believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the prophets” (Acts 24:14-15). Mary also knew, and she knew because resurrection is an old word full of promise.
Resurrection is more than a promise made by God, and it is more than a fact accomplished by God in Jesus. The reason why resurrection is as certain as death and taxes, the reason why the resurrection is a doctrine that is impossible to keep buried, is because the Son of God is resurrection.
This was Jesus’ response to Martha. He didn’t contradict the Old Testament, He concentrated it on Himself. It is one of Jesus’ numerous “I am” statements recorded in the John’s Gospel. When we think about Jesus in His terms, we know that:
And He says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and He is the life on the other side of death.
Resurrection has personality. Resurrection is incarnated. Wherever Jesus goes, so goes resurrection. Jesus embodies resurrection and life. Death couldn’t win from the beginning because the Word (the Logos, John 1:1), who is resurrection, was in the beginning first. We believe that it’s impossible for death to win because of who Jesus is. Resurrection isn’t merely something that He experienced, resurrection is who He is!
Resurrection is one of His attributes. Take away resurrection and the Second Person of the Trinity would be someone else. If you take away one of the three sides of a triangle, it isn’t a triangle. Words may form phrases without a verb, but they can’t make a sentence. A Jesus who would not rise from the dead is another Jesus, and therefore another god. He had to rise from the dead because resurrection is essential, not just for our life, but as part of His own.
If we shield our kids from death, we shield them from how gross and destructive sin is. If we shield our kids from death, we shield them from how costly and gracious Christ’s death for sinners on the cross is. If we shield our kids from death, we shield them from the certainty of resurrection in Christ. If we shield our kids from death, we shield them from glory.
Jesus waited to visit Lazarus in order to show glory. Jesus told Martha that she would see glory (verse 40). Jesus died and rose again because of glory.
Then Jesus asked Martha, Do you believe this? He’s asking her if she believes in Him. How about you? Take Jesus’ question for yourself: Do you believe this? Do you believe in Him?
And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:26). That is, our fellowship with God will never cease.
Know the Scriptures and the power of God. Are you battered by guilt and shameful memories? Are you unsettled by anxiety or fear about what might happen? Are you brokenhearted over loss, or lonely, or weary? Do you feel as if you can’t endure the affliction, as if you can’t possibly figure out the next step? Do you feel utterly burdened beyond your own strength so that you despair of life itself?
The apostle Paul wrote similarly to the Corinthians. “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
This is how He can be the God of comfort. Beloved, God has put you in this spot in order for you to rely on Him, and He wants you to know that He is the resurrection and life. He gets glory at our breaking points. He gets glory not by keeping Lazarus from the grave, but by calling him out of it.
It was impossible to keep Jesus buried. Resurrection is a certain event in the world because of the Word that made the world. This is very good news. No cemetery is safe with Jesus around, no heart so cold that it is beyond His ability to bring it back into beating.
Resurrection is an emphatic, established, and embodied word, a word impossible to keep buried because it is part of God’s own nature.
Christian, you do not have to be a soul-suck. Jesus is risen, and the same power works in you. You do not have to have your soul-sucked by others, at least in such a way that prohibits you serving them, loving and giving to them. Jesus purchased all the equipment you need to obey Him, and He delights to work in you just as He delights to honor His Son. Happy Easter!
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, ESV)