In the Likeness of His Resurrection

This Easter Sunday lesson focuses on the order and nature of the resurrection made possible by Jesus' resurrection - our own!
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I believe it is a good thing, that the world pays attention to Jesus Christ for whatever reason.

Paul says in Philippians 1:18,

Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

So, I make no apologies when I say Amen because the world for some reason pays attention to Jesus Christ, for some reason hears the gospel, for some reason sees the cross, for some reason hears the story of the death and the burial and the resurrection of Christ.

I am happy about that because there is so much attention focused away from things that are holy and noble and high and pure and right, and just, and every day we are inundated with it. For one moment when there is a ray of light in this world, like Paul, I rejoice.

So on this day when the world is focusing on the resurrection of Jesus which as I said is a good thing; let us, therefore, review this central event of our faith.

Let us examine what the resurrection of Jesus was pointing towards. It was not an event in a vacuum, it did not just happen for its own sake, it happened so that something else could happen.

The resurrection of Jesus pointed to the eventual resurrection of every single believer. That's the point. That Jesus rose from the dead is a marvelous thing, it's a miracle but it's a miracle that has no meaning to me if it's not attached to my own resurrection in some way and so I am not ashamed to stand here before you this evening, and say that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ not only because He is good and pure and without sin, not only because He is God, God almighty, not only because He offers me forgiveness which I need terribly every day.

I follow Jesus most of all because I want to live after I die. Because more than ever I am reminded as I get older that death is true. It is not something that is meant for someone else but it is also meant for me. The recent deaths of not only long-time members of this congregation but also of a close family member back in Montreal have reminded me that I too am going to die just as all of us here tonight will suffer this end.

And so, the important thing about the resurrection as I acknowledge it with you this day is a reminder that not only that Jesus rose from the dead but that I am also going to raise from the dead one day as will you so let's talk about that.

However, before we examine the resurrection we must first speak further about the phenomenon of death. You see, death is this thing that we ignore until it happens to someone near to us. And then it becomes so real, so life-changing, so powerful that it has the ability to change us for better or for worse.

Some people dig deeper into their delusions when death comes near, others are transformed, others' eyes are opened to the reality of not only this life but that perhaps there may be some other life, perhaps they want to hope that there is another life. It is when death strikes close to home that you begin to have a real sense of time, that you have just so much time, and no more.

When someone close dies you realize that they spoke, they breathed, they laughed, they built building, they produced children and now they lay there, dead without life, without movement, without hope and then at that moment we recognize that we too must pass through this particular experience. Mankind has always struggled with the reality of death and dealt with it in different ways.

Phillip, for example, the father of Alexander the Great, would have a slave whisper in his ear every morning, "You are going to die", just so that he would keep everything in perspective. Can you imagine that you would wake up every morning and that would be your alarm clock? Could you imagine programming your alarm clock with a voice chip to say, "It's 8 o'clock, remember today you may die." What a way to start the day! Phillip, however, felt that it was important to know this preeminent fact as he began each and every day so that he could keep everything in perspective.

Now, there are many superstitions, many ideas, many ceremonies and philosophies to help people deal with the reality and the pain of death. Paul the apostle sums up the non-believer's feelings about death in when he says,

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep (meaning those who are dead) so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
- I Thessalonians 4:13

As far as Paul was concerned, the pagans, the non-believers, when it came to death, no matter what their philosophies, no matter their concepts about death, the only thing they had was a sense of hopelessness when it came to death. In those days like today, when it came to death, unbelievers had no hope and no knowledge. All they knew was that everyone was subject to death and no one ever conquered death. And the only thing that one could do when death came was to grieve over their hopeless situation.

This was the condition of men until Jesus Christ. Until Jesus Christ, this was the condition of all men when it came to facing death. But Jesus changed our attitude towards death once and for ever. Jesus Christ dealt with death in a way that no one had dealt with death before or since. He was the first person, and it was the first time in history, that anyone claimed openly to have power over death.

At the beginning of Matthew 28, we read the story of Jesus' resurrection but at the end of the chapter we note that Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me…" All authority... including authority over death. The first time in the history of mankind that someone claimed to have power over death.

In John 2:18-22 we see that for the first time ever, someone foretold of his own death and subsequent bodily resurrection and then accomplished it! Before witnesses. No one had ever done this before. No one had claimed to have power over death and then actually died and resurrected before witnesses, but Jesus did.

In these verses it says,

18The Jews then said to Him, "What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
- John 2:18-22

He said to his disciples "I am going to be killed, I am going to be buried and then I will rise up again three days later."

He foretold his own death, burial and resurrection. No one had ever done such a thing in the past, and most significantly for us, it was the first time that such a leader promised to His disciples a similar resurrection from the dead. Leaders promise all kinds of things but this is the only leader that promised His disciples that they would also experience a resurrection from the dead. In John chapter 6, verse 39, Jesus said

39This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

It is this resurrection that I wish to focus on this evening. It is not the resurrection only of Jesus but it is the resurrection to which His resurrection points, your resurrection, my resurrection. That is the resurrection I am interested in and wish to discuss.

Paul talks about the resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent resurrection of believers in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 so if you will open your Bibles there, we will begin the lesson on our personal resurrection from the dead.

Let me give you a little background on what is happening in Corinth and the reasons why Paul is going to be talking about the resurrection of believers here. Among other problems in Corinth, it seems that some were maintaining Greek ideas about the immortality of the soul, that after death the soul escaped from the body to be absorbed into the great divine or to continue a shadowy existence in the underworld.

This was the idea of immortality as far as the Greeks were concerned. For them, physical resurrection or conscious resurrection from the dead was impossible. This is why they scoffed at Paul when he was in Athens and spoke to them about God.When he spoke about an almighty God, they listened. When he described the Almighty as a God who created the world, they listened. Even when he warned that men were responsible to God in judgement, they still listened. However, the moment he said, "and men will be resurrected from the dead," they scoffed at him saying that this was impossible and dismissed him from their presence.

Greeks did not believe in the possibility of bodily resurrection. Therefore, many Greeks who had become Christians continued to reject the possibility of resurrection and were circulating these ideas throughout the church in that region. Paul, in response to these doubters, teaches about the specific and certain eventuality of total bodily resurrection in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15.

In verse 1 he says,

1Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
- I Corinthians 15:1-11

In this passage, Paul reestablishes the fact that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead, and this event was witnessed by not just one, but many hundreds of people to certify and to confirm that the resurrection of Jesus was not an imaginary thing, was not a vision or a hallucination, but was a historical fact that could be confirmed by people who were still alive at that time.

Don't forget, he is writing to these Corinthians saying that the people who witnessed the resurrection are still alive, you can talk to them and you can ask them and they will confirm that they saw what they saw and many of them died because of this particular witness.

Paul also reaffirms that the resurrection of Jesus is the basis for the gospel which he and other apostles preached, and was the rock upon which the salvation of these particular people depended. He says, "Jesus rose from the dead, yes, and your faith is based on that very fact" so he begins at the beginning, the death, the burial, the resurrection of Christ, the historical event upon which their faith is based.

Now, he goes on to talk about the subject of resurrection, but not of Jesus' resurrection. His teaching now turns towards the resurrection of the believers. And this is what I want to focus on in the remainder of my lesson. First of all, he talks to the doubters, because there were some in the church who were doubting. He talks to them in verses 12 to 19, and he begins by dealing with the logical conclusions that come from doubting the resurrection of Jesus and so we read on in verses 12 to 19:

12Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
- I Corinthians 15:12-19

Paul says several things to the doubters, he says if you doubt that Christ was raised, several things here happen. If the resurrection from the dead is impossible, then even Jesus Christ is not raised. He also says if Christ is not raised, then their preaching is worthless because that is the core of their preaching, the resurrection of Christ. If Christ isn't raised, your faith, he says, is for nothing because that is what you hope for, you hope for resurrection and if there is no resurrection, what are you hoping for?

If Christ isn't raised, Paul says, we are liars because we have declared that God has raised him. The apostles are liars, the prophets are liars and every preacher that has ever lived until now til the end of the world is a liar, because that is what they preach. They say Christ was raised from the dead. He says if there is no resurrection, you are still guilty of sin, and you are condemned. You know why? It is because if Christ is not raised it means that he was a sinner and his sins have kept him in the grave.

The only reason that Christ was raised from the dead is that he had no sin. Sin could not keep him and therefore he broke free of condemnation and was raised from the dead. If Christ is not raised it means that Christ was a sinner. That means that his sacrifice on the cross on your behalf is no good. It means you are still in your sins and you are still condemned if Jesus Christ is not raised. If Christ is not raised, Paul says, neither will we be and so we have no hope just like the pagans have no hope.

And finally, if Christ is still in the grave, Christians are to be pitied because their entire lives, their entire hopes are based on this one thing, therefore if Christ is not raised from the dead, Christians are living in a delusion.

Denying the resurrection of Jesus Christ has disastrous consequences for believers. If Christ is not raised, then none of us can be raised, and our religion and our faith is foolish and worthless. That's what Paul is saying to them, and that's what I am saying to you here tonight. If we doubt for a moment the resurrection of Christ, we are subject to all the things that I have just spoken of. We have a hopeless, worthless, foolish religion and we are fools, the biggest fools in this world.

Well, after dealing with the doubters, Paul goes on to talk of the consequences for those who do believe in the resurrection and he reveals the truth about what to expect to those who believe. In verses 20 to 28:

20But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

He reaffirms the fact that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. This has been confirmed by over 500 witnesses, he says. It's not like Lazarus' death, he says, or Jairus' daughter who was brought back to human life after dying in order to face death once more. Jesus' resurrection is not like Lazarus', Lazarus died, Jesus brought him back from the dead but Lazarus had to die again. He says Jesus was resurrected from the dead, never to die again. His is a glorious resurrection.

In addition to this, Jesus' resurrection is the beginning of many other resurrections. It's the first fruit, the first harvest, and so his is the very first of many more to come. It is the image. It is the first in line of many many resurrections. It is the demonstration that God can do this.

Do you know how many times I hear people say, "I can do this, I can do this." Well this is God's demonstration that he can do this thing that you hope in and that you pray for, and that you desire with all your heart and your soul. And then in verses 21 to 28, Paul explains, how Jesus accomplishes this resurrection and the procedure that it is to follow.

21For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

This is how it happens. First of all, there is death and there is life. Notice the parallelism here. He says first of all there is death that comes through Adam and all of those who follow Adam in his nature. The first that comes is death, the first thing that we know about is death. Sin comes and then death comes. And then he says, after sin and death comes life again through Jesus Christ, and all of those who share in the nature of Jesus Christ. Death comes through Adam and sin, and life comes through Jesus Christ and faith. That is the procedure, he says.

And then in verses 23 to 28, he gives us the procedure of the resurrection. Things are going to happen with the resurrection. It begins in verse 23 where he says:

23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits,"

The first thing that is going to happen in your resurrection is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That was the first thing that happened. That had to happen in order to make possible all the other things that will happen. Then in verse 23b, he says:

after that those who are Christ's at His coming,

The next resurrection to happen is the resurrection of the believers at the return of Jesus Christ. First there is sin, then there is death, then there is Jesus Christ and faith, then there is the resurrection of Jesus, and then there is the resurrection of all those who believe in Jesus.

Now, the next passage describes three things that happen simultaneously at the resurrection of those who believe in Jesus Christ. First thing that is going to happen in verses 24 and 25, is the destruction of the wicked.

24then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.

There is the resurrection of Christ, there is the resurrection of the believers, and while there is the resurrection of the believers, there will be the destruction of those who are wicked. In II Thessalonians 1:7-8, Paul talks about this, when Jesus comes in flaming fire with his angels, he will destroy the wicked, he will destroy wickedness. The second thing that happens at our resurrection will be the destruction of death itself.

25For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

Death will be abolished, everyone will be resurrected, no one will ever die again. And finally, in verses 27 and 28, he explains that the third thing that happens at the resurrection of the believers is the reintegration of God and man.

27For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, "All things are put in subjection," it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

This is a difficult passage, but key in on the last part, "that God may be all in all", that is the third thing that is going to happen when the believers are resurrected.

The wicked are going to be destroyed, death is going to be destroyed, and God and man will be reunited once again. You see, each person in the Godhead, throughout the history of mankind, has had a relationship with man: God the Father established the plan of salvation; God the Son worked out the plan of salvation, God the Holy Spirit strengthened the church to remain faithful to the plan of salvation.

When Jesus comes again and the believers are resurrected, the Godhead will no longer interface with man based on these things because salvation and the resurrection will be complete, and God will face man as One, and man will be reunited to God once again as he was in the garden.

At the resurrection, none in the Godhead will need to execute a special ministry towards mankind. All will be united in the Godhead. So Paul says that when believers are resurrected, the wicked will be destroyed, death will be destroyed and God and man will be reintegrated into a perfect union as they once were in the garden.

So, let me summarize what is taking place and what Paul is saying here.

First of all, Paul silences the doubters by reestablishing the fact that Jesus experienced a bodily resurrection witnessed by hundreds of people.

Secondly, he explains that this is a most significant fact in the Christian faith because our hope for forgiveness, our hope for resurrection and eternal life is based upon this. Without the resurrection, Christianity is foolishness.

And thirdly, he begins to explain the process of our own resurrection. Death comes through sin. The first resurrection comes through Christ, and then at our resurrection, wickedness will be done away with, death will be done away with, and man and God will be reunited perfectly once again for all eternity.

In conclusion, I want us to note two very important ideas:

1. Jesus Christ rose from the grave as He said he would.

This means that all He has said previously has been validated. The one who conquers death can be believed. He can be trusted and obeyed. As a matter of fact, the one who conquers death must be believed must be trusted and obeyed. There is no other option.

2. Those who believe in Jesus will be resurrected.

That is what Paul is saying here. The reason for His resurrection was to accomplish our resurrection. Every time you take the Lord's supper, remember you are celebrating His resurrection but you are also looking forward to your own resurrection. These facts lead us to several conclusions:

If this be true, if Christ is risen from the dead and because of that you and I will also be raised up from the dead... if this be true.

Then 3 other things are true:

First, no resurrection, no gospel. In other words, any teaching or any suggestion that Jesus did not die or was not physically raised from the dead is heresy and should be treated as heresy and elders and leaders in the church need to be on their guard. No resurrection no gospel.

Secondly, no resurrection, no hope.

The central hope of our Christian life is our resurrection. I would encourage you, let us not jeopardize our resurrection with foolishness and worldliness and careless sin or disbelief and laziness. I would say to you, saints, be on your guard, don't throw away this most precious thing for a moment of sin, for a moment of foolishness here in this world.

And finally, no baptism, no resurrection. You see, the only way to resurrect with Jesus Christ is to be baptized with Christ. You cannot resurrect with Christ unless you die with Christ in the waters of baptism (Romans 6:3-5).

And so, we need to heed the warning that we must not put off until tomorrow the assurance of resurrection and eternal life that we could have today because if Jesus rose from the dead, only those who belong to Jesus will also raise from the dead and the only way to belong to Jesus is to die with him in the waters of baptism.

And so we sing a song this evening in order to encourage everyone either to rejoice in what is about to happen to you when Jesus comes or to respond to the invitation to come and secure your own resurrection by being buried with Christ in baptism. Whatever your reason to sing, let us stand and do so with the confidence and joy of those who are destined for eternal life with God in heaven because we will experience the likeness of His resurrection.

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