Message 14, He Is Not Here: The Resurrection of Christ:
Without the resurrection of Christ, our hope of eternal life is vanquished. Since we know that Christ has risen from the dead, we have reason for faith and motivation for ministry. The resurrection testifies to the victory of Christ on the cross and the power of the gospel over sin and death. In this session, Dr. Michael Reeves describes how the resurrection of Christ provides the basis for our faith and gives hope for new life.
It is truly a great delight and real encouragement to me to be with you. And I’m particularly encouraged by not only you all, but the content of this conference. For, in recent years, the word “gospel” has been a bit of a wax nose, a nice sounding, but squishy idea. And so, I praise God then to see the word “gospel” unpacked as Scripture speaks of it, as being the good news concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
For friends, if it is not about Christ, it is not the gospel. Lift up Christ, and you lift up the gospel. The less you have of Christ, the less you have of the gospel. Now, you can preach a message of grace, the Bible, salvation, God, but if you do not hold out Jesus Christ, then you are holding out the husks of the gospel and not true food. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he spoke of the gospel being the gospel of the glory of Christ.
For that is when sinners spring to life. That is when lives are transformed. That is when the darkness is dispelled, when the glory of Christ blazes forth.
Well, we have the great honor tonight to look at the happiest, most splendid event since the creation of the world, the inauguration of the new creation. We’re looking at the moment when, bursting through death, out of the grave, the Son of God overcame the old order or disorder of Adam. The moment when a man finally stood, body and soul, wholly beyond the reach of the curse. This was a moment everything had been waiting for ever since the fall. For, was God going to abandon the creation He once declared good? Would darkness win eventually? No.
In creation itself, the constant refrain had been, “and there was evening, and then there was morning.” Not how Julius Caesar wrote his calendar. There was evening, and then there was morning. That’s the Biblical concept, after darkness there is light. And so, the Scriptures gave the faithful hope. Daniel prophesied, “Many of those who now sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Job prophesied, “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” David prophesied that the Lord would not let His Holy One see decay.
Now, J.R.R. Tolkien called that moment a “eucatastrophe,” the greatest eucatastrophe possible in fact. The ‘eu’ prefix there means “good” in Greek. As in, we have “eu-charist,” good grace, “a eu-logy,” a good word. The resurrection, said Tolkien, was a eucatastrophe. For it was a catastrophic event, but a good catastrophic event. Writing to his son Christopher, Tolkien explained.
He said, “A eucatastrophe is the sudden, happy turn in a story, which pierces you with a joy that brings tears. Your whole nature, chained in a material-cause-and-effect, the chain of death, feels this sudden relief, as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back.” Everything had been tumbling down. Adam sins, pain, death, thorns, thistles. Tumbling down, Christ takes that death, down, down into that grave. And this is the moment when history turns around, and that otherwise unremarkable tomb in Jerusalem became the womb of the new creation.
And from it there emerged the firstborn from the dead, the first fruits of a royal harvest of life.
Friends, we are meant to think of the resurrection in grand and cosmic terms. Do you remember the very first encounter with the risen Lord Jesus? In John’s Gospel, Mary, she turned her eyes streaming with tears from the tomb. She turned, and she saw Him. And do you remember what we’re told? She supposed Him to be the gardener. Now every detail, every mistake that people make in John’s Gospel is always significant for John.
Do you remember, in complete ignorance Caiaphas had prophesied, “It is better for one man to die than the whole nation should perish.” In ignorance, Pilot a Gentile, Pilot had said, “Behold, the Man.”
And now in ignorance, Mary supposes Him to be the gardener. But what she supposed in ignorance was, once again, the deepest truth. For here, at the beginning of this new day, was a wondrous new beginning. In this garden, like a new Eden, was the Gardener Himself. A Man, yes God, walked in the garden again, ruler over all things, in perfect harmony with God His Father.
This was the dawn of a new creation. Only now, there will be no threat, no risk of a serpent to wreck it all. Death had been swallowed up in victory, the serpent’s head crushed. Brothers and sisters, this is the seed, the source of all the new life that God has to offer, of all the eternal life that there is. This is the one seed of eternal life.
The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, he has caused us to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In other words, life for the human race, eternal life that reaches beyond death, will never be something discovered for us and won for us by science. True and eternal life can never be the product of some evolutionary leap. It cannot be worked at or self-willed by us. Eternal life is a gift of God, given only to and through His Anointed One, the head of the new humanity.
Now to get clear on what this resurrection life is, let’s start off in 1 Corinthians 15. Did I say that right, “One”? Should I say First Corinthians 15? I try to translate as I go. I may get that wrong later. First Corinthians 15. Now, something driving Paul’s argument in First Corinthians 15 is the difference between the first Adam and the last Adam.
And this is made very clear from verse 20, “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, so by a man has also come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits,” and then it is coming, “those who belong to Christ.”
So in Paul’s mind, Adam and Christ are the two first fruits. One is the first fruit of death, the other the first fruit of life. You know, in fact the idea of first fruits really runs like a backbone under the flesh of 1 Corinthians 15. If you look at verse four, have you ever puzzled over verse 4? ”
Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”? Have you ever wondered which Scriptures? Which Scriptures is he talking about? Is he talking about Jonah, perhaps, in the belly of the whale? The sign of the Son of Man? Is he talking about Hosea 6? Genesis 22? The third day comes up in places like that. Yes, yes, yes, but before anything else, surely Paul is thinking of the third day of creation in Genesis 1.
Come with me to Genesis 1. Keep something in 1 Corinth — first Corinthians 15. And notice here in Genesis first, the repetition, how it drives home the point. God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind on the earth, and it was so.
The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind.” There on the third day of Genesis 1, we see the first fruits of creation, as Christ raised on the third day would be the first fruits of the new creation of resurrection from the dead.
Now look at — you see these first fruits, they each reproduce according to their kinds. They have their seed, the next generation, within them. That’s what a fruit is. And so you take a fruit, and what you do to the fruit affects the seed, because it’s inside it. What you do to the fruit affects the seed. And so it is, says Paul, with Adam and Christ. They are the first fruits of two very different crops, one of death, the other of life. And all others are but seed in one of those fruits.
See, have you ever noticed when Paul talks of Adam and Christ, he writes as if they were the only men in the world, as if no others existed? That was the big picture of humanity for Paul. It is not that humanity is a vast throng of disconnected individuals, all determining their own destiny.
No, Adam and Christ are the two men, the two heads, the first fruits of the old and the new human race. And every one of us, every human on the planet, is but a seed in one of those fruits, a member of one of their bodies. Dependant for our fate, not on our selves, making our own destiny — Hollywood — but on the fruit in which we belong.
When Adam sinned, we all sinned in him. When he died, we died. And so at my birth, I was born into a sinful, guilty, spiritually dead humanity. I was born into that identity, an identity I then managed to live out rather well.
Now you see today, we live in this world of hyper-individualism. And so, the talk of our union with Adam or union with Christ really makes no sense to us. And because we think we don’t really have any union with Adam, it could even sound unfair. Why must I suffer because of what he did? As if each of us really were islands, determining our own fate, independent of him.
But you know, friends, that individualism has mutilated our understanding of the Christian gospel. It’s turned it into a little message, an advert for the consumer. “Sure you’re an island, but come and add a little something to your island. Have a little grace to add to your life!”
Paul saw it very differently. Paul saw that we have a far deeper problem. And he saw a far grander vision. Our plight, he saw is not merely that each of us fails to be good enough and needs a little forgiveness. He saw our very identity as a problem. We each have a problem that goes back beyond our own birth. We were born of Adam, and there is no hope for us in trying harder or expecting a little divine leniency. Our only hope is to be taken out of Adam’s old humanity and to be born again into the new humanity, to be a new creation.
Now, with that in place from one — first Corinthians 15, I told you I’m going to fail, from first Corinthians 15, we’re going to come back here, but something fascinating leaps out from Romans fifth. The second half of which, I’ll stop there. The second half of Romans 5 is all about the difference between Adam and Christ. So again, keep something in 1 Corinthians, but let’s see what Romans 5 adds to our understanding of this resurrection life. Now, again and again from verse 12, Paul tells us that because of one man’s sin, we all die.
But let’s just dive in at verse 18, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness, leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Now, what Paul’s giving us here is the connection between life and justification or righteousness. Now, what’s going on is this. After the cross, when the Son had so perfectly displayed the extent of His love, the Father could not leave His righteous and beloved One dead. And so, He vindicated, or justified, Him. This is 1 Timothy 3:16, “He declared Him with power through the Spirit to be the Son of God.”
And so you see, where the guilt of Adam brought death, the righteousness of Christ brought victorious life. And friends, clearly there was more righteousness in Him than there is sin in us, for having borne our sin death could no longer hold Him. And having taken our sin and death down to death, death had no further claim.
Now, think what the vindication of the head of the new humanity must mean. When Adam, the head of the old humanity, was found a sinner, all who were in him shared his fate. When Christ is justified, declared righteous, worthy of life by His Father, then He was raised to life for our justification, Romans 4:25. And so, all in Him share that life-giving righteousness. He is the third day first fruit of life and righteousness. All His seed that is in Him share that fate, and so in Him we are given new life, and we become the very righteousness of God.
Now, what a glorious gospel that gives us! The new life we’re given and born into through the resurrection of Christ is a righteous life, a justified life. And this justification, ah friends, it’s so much better than being just as if I’d never sinned. It’s better. You know, that’s what I was taught as a young Christian. And you know, I was thrilled to believe just that about justification. It is just as if I’d never sinned. Meaning, I believed that it was when I’d first trusted in Christ, my slate had been wiped clean. That was justification, which I thought was lovely.
The only problem is I dirtied it up again rather fast. And so I thought, “Well, is it the case then that I sort of yo-yo in and out of a righteous standing before God? He loves me, He loves me not. Do I need to be rejustified?” So many struggle with exactly that.
Now, certainly the sins I commit as a Christian grieve my Savior, and they hinder my enjoyment of the Christian life. But the notion that I might ever need to be rejustified betrayed the fact I had not appreciated that my identity as a Christian is I’ve been taken out of Adam the guilty and have been placed in Christ, and my identity is in Christ the righteous One. And so, not my behavior, not my feelings, not my faithfulness, He is my righteousness, the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
That is true, dear brothers and sisters, for the weakest Christian and the greatest hero of the faith. He is, for every one of us, the Lord our righteousness. A righteousness that clothes us, as the fruit surrounds the seed. Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live.” Not “You will live because you’ve done well.” “Because I live, you will live.” My fate is determined by the Head of the humanity to which I belong.
You know, to know my identity, you must look at my head. If I belong to Adam, I share his guilt, and death is my destiny. But I belong to Christ, and so His righteousness, His life are mine. And so, I need to tell myself this daily that despite my many, many failings I, even I, can cry out, “No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in Him is mine. Alive in Him my living Head and clothed in righteousness divine. Bold I, even I, approach the eternal, holy throne and claim the crown through Christ my own.”
Brothers and sisters, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a new life, a justified, righteous life beyond condemnation, as Christ is beyond the cross. Praise God for the resurrection of Jesus Christ! And more, it is a life, this resurrection life of glorious and all-subduing hope.
Come back to 1 Corinthians 15. Christ, we have seen, is the first fruits of the resurrection, and Paul sees even more going on in that idea. He says, verse 35, “Someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’” And it is the first fruits idea that really answers that question. Remember the first fruits from Genesis 1? They each reproduce according to their kind. Just so, those in Christ will be raised according to Christ’s kind. They will be raised to have a body like His.
Verse 48, “As was the man of dust, Adam, so also are those who are of the dust. As is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of Him, the man of heaven.” Friends, think what that means. Now, for now, body and soul we belong to our faithful Savior, and that does give us wonderful comfort.
But oh! What weak, failing, polluted, inadequate temples we are, decaying, confused, sinful. Oh, we’re no longer slaves to sin to be sure, but boy how it still lingers! Sin chafes, cramps, leeches our joy and freedom. Sin steals, death bereaves us, our bodies hurt, evil oppresses.
That’s how it is today. But one day, because Christ is our first fruits, just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so we shall fully bear the image of the man of heaven. And in that day, we shall fully be freed from all the effects of the fall and the curse. The Spirit’s work of perfecting and beautifying us, of making us like Christ, will be fulfilled. And having been elected, called, justified, and sanctified in Christ, we will finally and fully share His glorification.
You simply couldn’t have a vision of hope more different to the sneaking suspicion so many Christians have that eternal life means being slightly less human, having slightly less fun, and being slightly less alive. Now and for eternity, becoming like Christ means becoming more human not less. Created in the image of God, we will be what we were created to be, unshriveled, unbent, unfurled.
Now friends, that means sweet hope for our bodies, as well as our souls, and especially sweet hope for the sick, for the handicapped, and for those in pain. As old Job cried out from all his suffering, “I know that my Redeemer lives. And in the end He will stand upon the earth and after the skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see Him with my own eyes and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
For just as Christ was physically raised from the grave as the first fruits of a new life, so will we be. We will be united with Him in His resurrection. Our bodies will be freed from the last effects of the fall.
Now, believers are blemished, sagging, aching, dying. One day, our bodies will transform to be perfect, splendid, glorious, crowned, imperishable like His. Now there is a hope to comfort widows. There’s a hope to comfort the bereaved, those who’ve lost their loved ones. There is a hope to strengthen martyrs. Body and soul, believers will fully share together.
Dear bereaved brothers and sisters will fully share together in Christ’s eternal life, reign, and victory over death and all that that means. And that’s not all. “For the very creation now waits in eager expectation,” says Paul in Romans 8. For the resurrection of the firstborn was the guarantee that the creation itself would be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the Son of God.
Have a look here in 1 Corinthians 15 verse 24, “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule, every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all his enemies” listen to the wording, “under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
That’s a quotation from Psalm 8, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings. You’ve crowned him with glory and honor. You’ve given him dominion over the works of your hands. You’ve put all things under his feet.”
For, remember Adam and Eve in Eden. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over all things.” Adam was created to be a king in Eden. He was to rule over all creation. God put everything under his feet. And so when Adam fell, everything came crashing down.
All creation under him was affected: thorns, thistles, death, pain. And then comes the last Adam. And He undoes the fall. He conquers death, and all things are put under His feet. All things put under His feet. So, no more atrocities, no more hate, no more death, or pain. As all creation was brought crashing down to death under Adam’s feet, so all creation will be affected by the resurrection of Christ.
Not just our bodies. Hills, fields, animals, rivers, freed from decay. The lion will lie down with the lamb. For the resurrection of Jesus, the firstborn, is the guarantee of the resurrection of all things under His feet. Creation itself cleansed and filled with the children of God rejoicing in His presence, in righteousness and peace.
Brothers and sisters, praise God for the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Because of it, we have a new life we want to live out in beautiful holiness. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a righteous standing before our glorious God. We can face and defeat the accuser.
And because of it, like a backbone of steel in our joy, we have hope. And so friends, when you hear the whisperings of Satan, when you feel the weight of sin and death and fallenness, remember the glory of the risen one, the one who has given us His life and righteousness. The one who will finally destroy the accuser, utterly destroy sin, destroy death. The one who will have no enemies left but will have all things under the feet that were pierced for us. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, Your Son Jesus burst out undefeated from the tomb, and He lives now to trample down death forever. And so in these bodies, confident because of the righteousness You’ve given us, we will soon see You reigning over a purified world. How we long for that and praise You. Send Your Spirit, we pray, that we might think on these things every day. We ask this that we might fear You alone, and not death, and not the accuser. In Jesus’ magnificent name we pray. Amen.