What the Resurrection of Jesus Declares
April 17, 2022 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Resurrection Day Sermon
Topic: Holy Week
WHAT THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS DECLARES
A Message for Resurrection Sunday
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: April 17, 2022
Series: Resurrection Day Sermon
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
We live in a world that is full of advice: relationship advice, career advice, financial advice, retirement advice. Some of this advice may possibly even rise to the level of good advice, but it is advice nonetheless. The advisor gives you counsel and perspective, and recommends a certain course of action. At the end of the day, the adviser is telling you what to do in order to secure a better future: Do these things – follow my recommendations – and you will improve the quality of your life. The logic of advice is that you might accomplish something worthwhile if you follow it. Advice puts action items on your ‘to do’ list.
The gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is not advice. Instead, the gospel is news – good news – about what Jesus has accomplished. The gospel is the grand announcement of what God has done through His Son, Jesus Christ, in order to save His people from their sins. The message of advice is that you must do something. The message of the gospel is that Jesus has done something, and your job is to trust Him for what He has done.
The world is full of religious people who don’t understand this – people who think that the things they have done or will do, will put them right with God: Do these things, and God will accept you and love you and validate your fine track record. Even the churchy world is full of people who trust in themselves that they are righteous – like the Pharisee who “went up into the temple to pray” (Luke 18:10). What really impressed this Pharisee was not the holiness and mercy of the God to whom he prayed; what really impressed this Pharisee was the self-contemplation of his own moral and religious performance. The Pharisee went into God’s house, stood in front of a mirror, and congratulated himself on being so much better than that lousy tax collector over there. But while the Pharisee strutted into God’s presence, the tax collector was so overwhelmed by his own sinfulness that all he could do was to ask for mercy. The Pharisee banked on his own track record, and for that very reason his sinful, self-absorbed heart was far from God. But the tax collector knew that the only way he could ever be accepted into God’s holy presence is if God showed him mercy – and God did show him mercy, and so he went home justified (Luke 18:9-14).
Some people are always looking at their own doings – and the result is either pride because of what they have done or despair because of what they have failed to do. But the gospel way is to look at what God has done, and to receive the mercy and grace that He alone is able to give.
What has God done? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “God… gave his only Son” – God did not spare His only Son but presented Him as a sacrifice for the sins of His people. The beloved Son “was pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) True peace is not something that we achieve as a result of our hard efforts; true peace is a gift we receive because Jesus paid it once and for all with a torn-apart body on a blood-stained cross. We cannot work ourselves into a right relationship with God. You either have a right relationship with God, or you don’t – and if you don’t, your own works won’t fix it.
Paul teaches us in Romans 4 that the way to be right with God is not to work but to trust: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). When ungodly people do works to get God’s attention, God is not impressed. But when a sinner begins to trust God, who is merciful and gracious and willing to justify the ungodly precisely because “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6), then God pardons that sinner and cleanses that sinner and clothes that sinner in the perfection of His Son.
Every single one of us is, apart from God’s grace, a spiritual and moral disaster: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Some of you have experienced God’s redeeming grace, and some of you haven’t. If you have experienced God’s redeeming grace, then He has not only forgiven you but also regenerated you and put His Holy Spirit within you, and now you have fellowship with the living God, and He is renewing you from the inside out and producing good fruit in and through your life. If you have not experienced God’s redeeming grace, then you are still a spiritual and moral disaster – and no amount of good advice will change that fact, no tweaking of your ‘to do’ list will bring you into fellowship with the Holy One, no self-improvement plan will secure God’s favor. You are dead in your sin; you don’t have a tender heart for the Lord; and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. You don’t need more advice; you need good news. And the good news is the message that I proclaim to you today.
When Paul recounts the good news in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, he begins by saying “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (v. 3). Jesus Christ “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). He died in our place. The death sentence should have been carried out against you and me, but the Lord took responsibility for our sin and suffered the penalty that we deserved, so that everyone who trusts Him is released from the debt of sin and is reconciled to the Father in heaven. After telling us “that Christ died for our sins”, Paul tells us “that he was buried,” and then “that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (v. 4).
On this Resurrection Sunday we give special attention to the most wonderful news that “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). The Old Testament had foretold that when the Holy One showed up, his soul would not be abandoned to Hades and he would not see corruption (Psalm 16:8-11, quoted in Acts 2:25-28). The Holy One, though he died, would not be left to face the rot of the grave, but would instead be raised to life, that He might experience joy and gladness at the Father’s right hand – and that He might bring others with Him into the Father’s presence.
Friends, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a message that declares certain things to be true. And you need to know what these true things are, so that you might believe and be transformed. So, let’s reflect on four vital truths that flow from the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.
TRUTH #1: GOD SEES TO IT THAT HIS PLAN SUCCEEDS
The resurrection of Jesus Christ declares that God fulfills His own plan and brings the schemes of wicked men to nothing. The worldly-minded religious leaders schemed against the Messiah, Judas the disciple-turned-traitor got in on the plot, and the Roman officials Herod and Pontius Pilate didn’t stand in the way, with Pilate in fact consenting to the whole thing. Psalm 2 describes their agenda:
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”” (Psalm 2:1-2)
What was foretold in the Old Testament came to pass in mankind’s opposition to Jesus, who is the Anointed One: “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28) One of the reasons why it is not difficult for God to bring the schemes of lawless men to nothing, is because those schemes are actually predetermined parts of His overarching plan: the evildoers could only do to Jesus what God’s hand and God’s plan “had predestined to take place.”
But the evildoers who plotted against Jesus weren’t consciously attempting to carry out God’s big plan. Instead, these evildoers were actually attempting to bring Jesus to ruin: “And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him” (Mark 14:1). But when God sees men attempting such things, He laughs: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”” (Psalm 2:4-6) The world’s kings and rulers had sought to take down the King of God’s choosing, but against God the intentions of men have zero chance of success: “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” (Psalm 33:10) Finite men, whose every breath is a gift from God, have no chance of victory against the omnipotent and infinitely resourceful God of heaven and earth.
Men plan one thing, but God has a different plan in mind – and it is God’s plan that will stand forever (Psalm 33:11). This contrast between man’s activity and God’s activity is highlighted over and over again in the preaching of the gospel. Peter said to the men of Israel: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, [and] God raised him up” (Acts 2:23-24). In Acts 3 Peter declared: “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15). In Acts 10 Peter proclaimed to Cornelius: “They put him [Jesus] to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day” (Acts 10:39-40).
God brings the plots of evildoers to nothing. But we must remember that God often judges the schemers and vindicates His faithful ones after a period of suffering. Abel did get killed. Joseph did get sold into slavery. The children of Israel suffered mistreatment in the land of Egypt. Daniel did get thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel’s three friends did get thrown into the fiery furnace. Our Lord Jesus was rejected by men, suffered many things, and was nailed to a cross. The Lord’s apostles suffered opposition, persecution, and martyrdom. And the Lord has promised that His followers will share in His suffering: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17)
Friends, don’t be fooled by the apparent short-term success of the plots and schemes of the wicked. Fix your eyes on Jesus and let His words dwell in your heart, so that you actually know God’s purpose and plan – because it is God’s purpose and plan that shall succeed forever, whereas “the way of the wicked will [finally and ultimately] perish” (Psalm 1:6).
The resurrection of Jesus declares to the world that God fulfills His own plan and brings the schemes of wicked men to nothing.
TRUTH #2: JESUS IS KING OVER THE WHOLE WORLD
The resurrection of Jesus declares that God has exalted Jesus to Kingship over the entire world – and you owe Him allegiance, obedience, and worship. This is at the very heart of what the resurrection communicates. The resurrection of Jesus, in conjunction with His ascension into heaven and His sitting down at the Father’s right hand, is a declaration to the world that “Jesus is Lord”, which is the foundational doctrine of the Christian church.
Let’s think this through. Jesus, with respect to His divine personhood, shared glory with the Father from eternity. Jesus had glory with the Father “before the world existed” (John 17:5). “He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:2) The Son co-labored with the Father in the manifold work of creating the universe: “All things were made through him” (John 1:3). And in the Father’s grand design, everything was made “for him” (Colossians 1:16). By virtue of His eternal Sonship, Jesus is preeminent over the entire created order, including human beings (Colossians 1:17). We owe Him everything.
But in the unfolding of God’s plan, the time came for the divine Son to become man: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) As Paul put it so wonderfully in Philippians 2: “[Christ Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7) Once the Word became flesh – once the Lord of glory became a man – once this glorious incarnation had taken place – thereafter we now and forever speak of Jesus as the unique God-Man, one person who is truly God and truly man. As the God-Man, Jesus had a mission to accomplish, a path to walk, a dragon to slay, a bride to rescue, and a crown to win.
On three important occasions, the Father declared Jesus to be His Son. The first occasion was Jesus’ baptism, when the Father spoke from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) The second occasion was Jesus’ transfiguration, when the Father spoke out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7) On the third occasion, the declaration was made not with spoken words, but with a mighty deed – by the very act of raising Jesus from the dead. Paul begins his letter to the Romans by speaking about
“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” (Romans 1:1-5).
Did you catch it? Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Consequently “all the nations” ought to honor His great name and kingly authority; and every man, woman, and child should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Other passages communicate the same reality. After proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation, Peter declared, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) In Philippians 2 Paul wrote: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)
There is one Ruler and Lord over the entire universe – one King and Savior over the entire planet. This sovereign King is not named Biden or Putin, is not Big Money or Big Tech, and is not the person featured in your latest selfie. When the Father installed the Lord Jesus on His heavenly throne, He said to Him, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Psalm 2:8) God says in Isaiah 49: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) Jesus is not the King of just one people group. Jesus is the King of every people group. Jesus is “the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5). The Father has appointed Jesus to be “the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus alone is worthy to be the sovereign administrator of the Father’s will in all matters pertaining to salvation and judgment:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)
King Jesus is the one and only God-authorized King, Savior, and Judge over the entire human race. Your job is to deal honestly with this fact, and to get your life in alignment with His rule. “[God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
The resurrection of Jesus declares that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). If you are not a Christian, the most basic reason why you should become a Christian is because Jesus Christ is Lord.
TRUTH #3: JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY OUT OF SIN AND DEATH
The resurrection of Jesus Christ declares that God has made a way for sinners to escape the clutches of sin and death. It has been well said that “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to make dead people live.” As long as you think that your basic problem is some minor moral deficiency that might be corrected by good advice and honest effort, then you will miss the power of the gospel. Deep down, what do you need? A little moral improvement? A modest re-arrangement of your mental furniture? A sprinkling of enlightened education? A better self-help program? More time? Is that what you need?
The Christian message is that your most basic problem is not mere moral deficiency, but spiritual deadness. Apart from God’s grace, you are “dead in… trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). In Romans 3 we learn that apart from God’s saving mercy, every human being is “under sin” (Romans 3:9). This means that: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) We sinners have no basis for entering into negotiations with God. We have nothing of value with which to bargain. We have no spiritual riches with which to purchase salvation from the Almighty. There is nothing that we can do to make ourselves acceptable in God’s sight: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) God’s law is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12), but it is not advice on what sinners can do to earn God’s favor. Instead, God’s good law shows us how hopelessly sinful we are. How sinful are we? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Now what does all this have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Everything. Because here’s the thing: what a “desperately sick”, entrenched in sin, and spiritually dead person needs is not human doses of enlightenment, improvement, meditation, and religious exercises. You don’t need a formula for success. What you need is resurrection from the dead! And the good news of Jesus’ resurrection is that He is the way – He is the way to be rescued out of the vice-grip of sin and death. Turning to Him, trusting Him, and being joined to Him is your way out – and it is your only way out.
When Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3 “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,” he was reflecting the Bible’s clear teaching that death exists because sin exists. Death was not a natural part of God’s “very good” creation. Instead, death is the consequence of sin. It is only after Adam sinned and only because Adam sinned, that the Lord said to that first man: “to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). In the world that God made, righteousness is necessary for true life, whereas unrighteousness produces death. The reason that Jesus, the Righteous One, died, is because He took our sins upon Himself: “Christ died for our sins.” “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [our Lord Jesus Christ] to be sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21); He had no sin of His own. But He was “made… to be sin”; our sins were placed on Him. As the sin-bearer, He died in our place. On the cross, Jesus assumed the role of sacrificial lamb whose blood was shed for the sins of the people. But how do we know that Jesus’ death upon the cross was actually effective in making atonement for our sins? Because of His resurrection! Sin and death go together like cause and effect. The only way to un-do the power of death is to un-do the power of sin. And so, if someone can demonstrate that He has vanquished the power of death, then this necessarily means that He has successfully paid the debt of sin. When “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” He thereby gave proof that the Father had accepted His sacrificial death as the all-sufficient atonement for the sins of unrighteous human beings. Our Lord Jesus Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).
Now here’s the good news for you: our Lord’s victory over sin and death is conferred upon everyone who trusts in Him. The victory that the Lord achieved is a victory that He achieved for His people. Romans 4:25 tells us that Jesus “was delivered up [to death] for our trespasses and raised [from the dead] for our justification.” (Romans 4:25) And in Acts 13 when the apostle Paul was preaching the gospel in a place called Pisidia, on the basis of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead he declared to the people: “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you (Acts 13:38).
Friend, if you are here this morning and you know yourself to be a moral and spiritual disaster, I have good news for you. But the good news requires you to humbly accept the bad news: you are a spiritually dead sinner who is totally bankrupt before a holy God, and there is nothing you can do to compensate for your sins; you cannot atone for your iniquities; you cannot make yourself alive; and you cannot reform yourself into a beloved son or daughter of the Most High God. But what you cannot do, God can do in a single moment. And He will do it in a single moment, if you will quit attempting to do life your own way and instead simply trust Jesus. Since Jesus Christ died for your sin upon the cross, and was buried in a tomb, and then on the third day walked out of that tomb, you can become a new creation this very moment. There is nothing for you to do, except to trust Him. There is no process for you to engage in. Only trust Him! Those who trust Him are immediately forgiven, immediately made alive, and immediately justified – immediately declared to be fully accepted, beloved, and righteous in His sight. By His grace, you can walk out of the thick darkness of sin and guilt and death once and for all in a single moment, by trusting the One who was raised from the dead on the third day. And if that happens, then what Paul said to the 1st century believers will also be true in your case:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)
Friends, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ does not believe in willpower religion in which you pay your own way. Instead, we are the undeserving recipients of the Father’s great love, immeasurable grace, and incomparable power which He leverages for our good! The resurrection of Jesus Christ declares that “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) can immediately and forever become children of grace on the basis of Christ’s decisive victory over sin and death. Only trust Him!
TRUTH #4: GOD’S RESURRECTION POWER TRANSFORMS ALL OF LIFE
The resurrection of Jesus Christ declares the immeasurable power by which God works in our lives throughout the entire course of our Christian life. Once you trust Jesus and experience His soul-saving, sin-canceling, and life-giving power, that marks the beginning of a whole new life of continuing to trust Him and living all of life for His sake. Now we love Him, and thus we want to learn to do life His way. We learn to obey all that He has commanded (Matthew 28:20). We take steps to represent Him faithfully in word and deed (Colossians 3:17). We strive to remain loyal to Him in a hostile world, and this means that we will share in His suffering. You must “deny [yourself] and take up [your] cross and follow [Jesus]” (Mark 8:34). You must be prepared to share in His suffering, and to endure hardship for His sake and for the gospel’s sake (Mark 8:35).
Some of you have very low expectations about the degree to which you will grow in practical obedience. If I measure your expectations against the expectations set forth in Scripture, your expectations are unjustifiably low. And I’m here to say ‘Stop it!’ with your low expectations. One reason for your low expectations is that you forgot that the incomparable power that made you a Christian in the first place, is the same power that is transforming you on a daily basis. “[The] working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” is the standard of “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19, 20). The risen Christ gives the Holy Spirit to those who trust Him, and the Holy Spirit empowers us on the path of obedience (Acts 2:38-47). The powerful “word of God… is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). In Christ, you are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a “new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26), and you are able to walk in newness of life: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Fellow believer: you are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). “[The] power of his resurrection” enables you to faithfully “share his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). You can meet every circumstance with contentment, peace, and joy – which is what Paul meant when he testified, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Dear fellow believer, contrary to the bumper sticker slogan, you are not ‘just forgiven’. You are alive from the dead; you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; God’s Word is shaping your heart and mind; and God’s resurrection power is upholding you and propelling you forward on the path of obedience. Will you still have to struggle against sin? Yes. Will you sometimes fall into sin? Yes – 1 John 1:9 makes that clear. But you will also make real progress and manifest the power of the new life that is in you – the new life that Jesus secured for you when He died for your sins, rose from the dead, and sat down at the right hand of the Father.
Brothers and sisters, in and of ourselves we are weak. Therefore, let us trust the One who is risen from the dead, and let us lean on His all-sufficient power and grace.
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