What Does "He is Risen" Mean for Us, Today?
Sermon Passage: Matthew 27:45–50; 28:1–10 | Preached to Sovereign Grace | 04/04/2021
By Peder Kling
"He is Risen": A Reality of Overwhelming Implications
Today, Christians all around the world are flexing their imaginations to consider the glorious morning which changed the world. Jesus rose from the dead—think of that moment. The empty tomb. The earthquake. The angel sitting on the stone that had been rolled back, as his white clothes shine like lightning. The soldiers trembling with fear as though they were dead. Peter and the apostles running back and forth from the tomb. How can you not picture yourself in that moment?! This is an awesome, crowning moment in the history of the world! Perhaps, you have imagined yourself standing next to Mary Magdalene, as she heard the first gospel proclamation through lips of the angel,
Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.
Don’t you love that? There’s a message for us right there! “Do not be afraid”, the angel says as he proclaims the resurrection of Jesus Christ to Mary Magdalene. Oh, she have all sorts of reasons to fear. Her Lord, whom she believed to be the Messiah was dead. She was left without the promises of the kingdom. She and all of those who followed Jesus were likely embarrassed, hopeless, confused and still under Roman oppression after their king was killed, and was buried for three days. “Do not be afraid”, the angel says to Mary, “he is not here, for he is risen as he said. Come, see [for yourself], then go”.
It’s good to picture this moment, to place ourselves in it. It’s good to imagine that moment in Mary heart, when she instantly moved from fear, shame, and confusion, to inexpressible joy and hope. Although, what’s truly amazing about the resurrection of Christ is that the its implications, even as they effect us today, go far beyond simple joy and excitement that somebody rose from the dead.
Seeing The Implications of Jesus’s Resurrection Through Comparison
To see these implications, let’s take a quick moment to compare and contrast Jesus’s resurrection with other resurrection stories in the Bible. The Bible claims that other people rose from the dead—I count three examples in the Old Testament, and six in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, for example, Elijah rose a widow’s son from the dead, and Elisha rose the Shunnamite’s son from the dead. You might also recall that Jesus rose Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter from the dead. And there was great joy and celebration at all of these resurrections. Fear and sadness was turned to joy and wonder—just as we see in the story of Jesus’s resurrection.
However, did any of these other resurrection stories change the world like Jesus’s resurrection changed the world? Not really. Nobody is claiming to follow Lazarus. There was no worshipping the two children whom Elijah and Elisha brought back from the dead. But when Jesus rose from the dead, the world would never be the same. The reason is quite simple. Jesus rose on his own power, in his own merit. The others didn’t.
So, what was the purpose of these other resurrection stories before Jesus? Take yourself back to Israel at Elijah and Elisha’s time. At the time, Baal worship had infested Israel like a plague, and God’s glory and power were being challenged. Baal was a false God whom Israel erected and worshipped as the God of life and fertility. This was personal to Yahweh—the true God who breathed the universe into its life-sustaining orbit. His claim to life was on full frontal assault in the hearts of his people. What does God do? He sends two prophets to correct this misunderstanding and make a mockery out of Baal worship.
Elijah comes onto the scene in 1 Kings 17, and Israel is a Baal-worshipping country. Israel is going to Baal for the blessings of life—for water, rain, food, and other life-giving resources. So, through Elijah’s ministry, God removes all these blessings of life from Israel with a devastating famine, and he begins to shower his blessings of life through Elijah’s hands. So at this point in Israel’s story, we find the prophets of Baal in Israel wasting away with all the other people. Meanwhile, Elijah was multiplying life-giving food and oil in a famished widow’s home who received him. He literally raised her son from the dead.
Now, the widow’s response makes the point of all this very clear. In 1 Kings 17:24, Elijah says “See, your son lives”, and the widow responds, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that your word concerning Yahweh is true”. Until that moment, that woman worshipped Baal. But God corrected her error—Baal worship brought her famine, Yahweh’s prophet brought her life. “Now I know”, she says.
You see, all the resurrection stories in our Bibles which lead up to Christ’s resurrection are designed to show us that God is the author and giver of life. We, sinful creatures seem to forget this all the time. Today, we don’t resort to Baal worship. We resort to worshipping ourselves—we claim that we ourselves can lay hold of life through adventure, a good job, nutrition and working out. And, there are results. The life expectancy of people who live this way is often a lot longer than the impoverished lifestyle of a third world agrarian lifestyle. But, then again, there’s cancer that can take a perfectly healthy person’s life in an instant. There’s car crashes, mental health issues that lead to suicide and an existence that feels like death despite all our healthy lifestyles. And of course, no healthy lifestyle is going to prevent aging, or bring someone back from the dead. Who is the giver of life?
Then there’s Jesus’s resurrection stories. Here’s where the comparison between resurrection stories really begins to shine a unique light on Jesus. During his ministry on earth, Jesus rose Jairus’s son, and Lazarus. However, there was something drastically different about the way Jesus did it, from the way Elijah and Elisha did it. Elijah and Elisha did it while claiming to be messengers of God—mere servants who spoke his words as prophets. The power did not come from them—they never claimed to have that sort of power.
Jesus came, however, with a much bolder approach. When word came to Jesus concerning Lazarus’s death, Jesus makes his way over to Lazarus’s tomb. Just before he brings Lazarus from the dead, we
find this dialogue between Jesus and Lazarus’s sister Martha (John 11:24)—
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day’. Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”.
Jesus didn’t simply come raising people from the dead to put God’s power on display, but even his own. He said just a chapter earlier (John 10:18), “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” Jesus rose from the dead on his own merit, according to his own power—and this changes everything. This is why Jesus’s resurrection changed the world, and why it’s implications penetrate through history to today, for us.
Let me ask you—what would it take for a human person like Jesus of Nazareth to have power over his own death? Biblically speaking, death is the most painful part of the curse that God placed upon humanity for our sin and rebellion against him. It’s not simply the “natural process of the world”. It’s the most ugly and painful experience of the curse we are under for our sin and rebellion against God. For a man to have power over death means that he has power over the curse because he is not under the curse. He is not in sin and rebellion against God—God is pleased with him rather than angry with him. So, for Jesus to have power over death does not simply mean that he’s fully God with all of God’s power, but that he, as fully man, never sinned against God. Death never had rights to him.
Hebrews says that Jesus became a priest who lives and intercedes forever in heaven “by the power of an indestructible life”. Not the power of God, necessarily, but the power of an indestructible life. That’s righteousness—a life that God is completely pleased with, and will reward with everlasting blessing; a life that death cannot hold. It’s a life that has power to put an end to the curse. So, in his perfect righteousness, Jesus could confidently say “I am the resurrection and the life”—death and the curse has not ultimate hold on me.
But did you hear what he said in John? “I lay my life down [to death, under the curse] on my own accord”. Why would he do that? You see, he didn’t simply come to destroy death and the curse for himself, but for us. You know, that famous verse, 2 Corinthians 5:21—“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” According to the Father’s plan, he became cursed and died for us, in our place, taking our sin upon himself so that our sin might be dealt with, God’s wrath satisfied, and that he might extend his righteousness to us, that we might literally become the righteousness of God wherein there is no death. No curse remains against us, only security and everlasting blessing with God. You need only to receive this by faith.
So, unlike other resurrections in the Bible, Jesus’s resurrection changes everything. He did it on his own accord, with his own power and righteousness. He did it for us, according to the Father’s plan, so that we might have life. You know, John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish [under the curse of death], but have everlasting life [in him, in his righteousness, and in his heavenly kingdom].”
Now, as we consider these things, let me ask you this again—when you think about the resurrection story which we had read earlier, do you see yourself there? And, I mean in a much greater way than I described before. It’s nice to imagine yourself next to Mary as she discovered the empty tomb, and the angel, and the scared-to-death soldiers. But, might you be so audacious to recognize that the true meaning of that empty tomb is that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and that he accomplished this so that your tomb, or coffin, will one day be empty? We often sing the well-known hymn that Johnny Cash sang so well, “were you there when they crucified my Lord?”. The answer, of course, is yes—you are the reason he died. But, were you there with him when he conquered death and walked away from the tomb? Are you right there with him, right now, in glory?
Four Life-Changing Implications of Christ’s Resurrection
I want to take the rest of our time today and think about some of the incredible implications of Jesus’s resurrection, and how the Bible answers that question. Many of us think about the resurrection simply as something Jesus did, and something we will experience after we die. That’s simply not the way the Bible talks about Jesus’s resurrection and it’s implications for us, today.
So, let’s consider four different ways Jesus’s resurrection applies to us today, so that we might be able to see our own empty tombs in the Easter story. And, those four applications are that Christ’s resurrection gives us (1) identity, (2) freedom to righteousness, (3) freedom to suffer, and therefore, (4) hope.
First, we need to learn more and more what it means to identify with Christ in his resurrection. The best place to learn about this is in Romans 6:1–5. Look there with me for a moment. Starting in verse 3, Paul says this about us who believe in Jesus for salvation—
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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 [be raised, and] walk in newness of life.
Now, some of you might get confused by this baptism talk—we often think of baptism as something external with water. But the next verse tells us what that baptism ultimately means and points to spiritually —
5 For if we have been united with him [i.e., though baptism] in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
So, there you have it. Were you there, united to Christ when they crucified our Lord? Yes. Paul says here, that those who believe “have been united to him in a death like his”—a death to sin, and even a death to death. John Owen wrote a famous book on this called “the death of death”. But what does that mean, then? If you’ve been baptized with him—or united to him—in his death, therefore you have been united with him in a resurrection like his. “Were you there when he walked out of the tomb?” Yes! By faith, you are spiritually united to Christ in his death and his resurrection, so that even now you can “walk in newness of life”, verse 4 says.
A lot of people read John 3:16 and think the “everlasting life” begins after death. “Whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life”. But the wonder of the gospel, of Jesus’s work its application to us is that it is applied to us today. You will not perish—even when you die, because you have everlasting life, today! Remember, Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live.” Then the next verse he might be found contradicting himself. He says “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”. So, “though he dies, yet he shall live…. [and really, by the way] he shall never die”.
Biblically speaking, death is the final blow of the curse that we experience on this earth. But, if the curse has been taken from us and we are given new life by the Spirit to walk in “newness of life”, then what is death but a passing on to be with our savior? The sting of death is gone for us because we have fellowship with God. “This is eternal life, to know you… and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). That’s life! Paul even says in Ephesians 1 that, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive [there’s the new birth, the new life] together with Christ [there’s the union, the identity]… and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
By faith, because of in Christ’s work on the cross and his Spirit to unite you to him, God reckons you as a citizen in heaven. He regards you as seated in the throne room of heaven at the king’s right hand.
So, do you regard yourself as one who has died with Christ, and therefore risen with Christ to new and everlasting life? Do you take pleasures in this world, or do you exercise your faith daily and pursue pleasures and fellowship with God in heaven? How does this new identity shape you?
No doubt, this should help you in any identity crisis you might have. Perhaps you are frustrated with work, and you don’t want to be associated with “those people”, or “that work”. Perhaps you are frustrated with parts of your life that necessarily identify you as “a poor person”, a “needy person”, a “drug addict”, a “divorced person”, or something of that sort. What this is all telling you is that you, with those worldly associations, have died with Christ, and that your identity is now in the new life of the resurrection.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can just claim that identity and walk contrary to it. What it means is that, as a new person who is united to Christ by faith, you now have the freedom to live that new life. And, it is a freedom. Not a burden. A person who does not have new life—the resurrection—does not want the new lifestyle. We are by nature born in sin, with hearts that are hardened against God and his ways. We need new hearts—a new life with new desires and ambitions—if we are ever to gaze upon God and desire him by faith.
Then, and only then, are we free to righteousness, because we have been born again to righteousness. And, that’s exactly where Romans 6 goes after describing our union to Christ in his death and resurrection.
2) Freedom to Righteousness
Look with me at Romans 6 again, and see how Paul takes our union with Christ and applies it to our new calling to righteousness. Again, verse 5—
Rom 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…. [Now, jumping ahead to verse 11] 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [See the identity language, there? Now for the call to righteousness.] 12 Therefore do not let not sin reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
This is the resurrection applied to you, today, in your struggle against sin and temptation. “Whoever believes in him has eternal life”. Jesus also said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.
How many of you, at certain times, feel completely under the rule and bondage of sin? Perhaps there’s one sin you simply can’t kick. Perhaps there’s a number of them. In those circumstances, I commend you to consider the power of the new life, the resurrection, that is offered to you by faith today. This does take work—discipline. Living the new life by faith is not always easy, especially when temptation is crouching at the door. But the beauty in all this is that the power of the new life is not your own power, but God’s. It is the power of the Spirit who raised Christ to life, and who also lives in you. Jesus reminds us of the diligence that is required of faith when he said to his disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Watch and pray to the end that you might not even enter into temptation, for the spirit is willing and able to change you, that you might walk in the newness of life.
So, this is saying that the resurrection does not merely apply to your identity. You are not merely positionally rendered at God’s right hand in glory, as a citizen of heaven. You are actually given new life to enjoy today. By faith and the power of the Spirit, you are given freedom to righteousness.
3) Freedom to Suffer, and die to this world
But the New Testament reminds us that Christ’s resurrection, with the new life he secures for us, also gives us freedom to suffer and die to this world.
The New Testament church was built upon men and women who suffered and died joyfully because they had confidence that they were united to Christ in his death and resurrection. Perhaps you remember Hebrews 10:34, which I brought to mind several times through our series in Hebrews. There, the early Christians were commended for “joyfully accepting the plundering of [their] property, because [they] knew they had a better possession, and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34).
In other words, when the early Christians had their things taken from them, they rejoiced because they had died to this world and they had new life and hope in Jesus. They were freed from this world, and therefore freed to suffer.
Or you could think of Paul in Philippians 3:10 who said of his Jewish credentials,
“I count all things as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him… 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
So, Paul’s whole mentality that drove him to endure his sufferings and be used by God in mighty ways involved dying to this world, so that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection.
This really is a powerful thing—dying to this world so that you might live to Christ. It’s not always a garden of roses. Dying to yourself can be ugly It may involve some men confessing an infidelity in their marriage, and so lose their wives. But beauty follows—they will know Christ and the power of his resurrection. It may involve confessing other sins like lying, cheating, stealing—confessions that have painful consequences. But even as you experience those momentary consequences, you will find joy in knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Dying to yourself and to this world is a lifestyle—its usually more mundane. It involves the humility of asking forgiveness when you sinned against your wife. It involves strategic thinking so that you can submit your time, energy, and resources to Christ. And in all this, you will experience the joy of knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection—his peace, comfort, fellowship, strength, love, and care. “This is eternal life, to know you and Jesus Christ whom you sent”.
Now, we’ve seen how Christ’s resurrection gives us identity—and in that identity, we have freedom to righteousness and freedom to suffer and die to this world. Now, the underlining piece to all this is that Christ’s resurrection gives us hope.
The hope Christ offers through his resurrection is experienced in two ways. There is a hope we can expect and rely upon now or in the near future, but also hope that involves eternity. And, both of these dimensions of hope are designed to motivate us in our service and worship.
First, what is hope? When we say “I’m really hoping in God through this moment”, what are we saying? Of course, there’s a certain trust in hope—to say “I hope in God” and “I trust in God” are saying the same thing, aren’t they? They both deal with a confident expectation that God will fulfill his promises. You might say that hope is the expectation itself, and trust—or faith—is our response to hope. That’s why we often speak of “lofty hopes” and “strong hopes”. You put little trust in “lofty, uncertain hopes”, and you can risk your life on a strong hope. Rock climbers might say after tying a knot, “well, I hope it sticks”. That’s a strong hope, and they will have a confident faith, or trust in that hope.
So, what hope, or promise, does the resurrection give you for today?
Before Jesus went to the cross, he said to his disciples in John 14:16–18, “16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth… I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… because I live, you also will live”. Or, you could think of the resurrected Christ who told his disciples in Matthew 28:20, “Go, make disciples of all the nations… and behold, I am with you to the end of the age”. Then, with that promise, he ascended to glory.
Jesus promises to be with us forever through his Spirit. He promises to help us, to guide us away from this world, toward him so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. He will not leave you in your sin—he will hound you until you confess it, die to yourself, and live to him. He will bestow upon you the fruit of his spirit so that you might grow to be more like him—content in all circumstances. And, that is our daily hope and expectation, rooted in the fact that Jesus is alive to hep us walk in his newness of life.
Then, of course, there is a much greater hope that we look forward to.
Christ is called our “hope of glory” in Colossians 1:27. We have hope after death—a hope of glory, not wrath. As all this wraps up, we must note that in the resurrection, we do not fear death. If we are united to Christ in his death, we will be united to him in his resurrection.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful-yet-morbid depictions of the concept of burial. Paul picks this up in 1 Corinthians 15 when he uses gardening imagery to refer to death. Christian don’t bury in despair—they bury as an act of faith. He says, with reference to the buried,
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
Take a seed—there’s nothing special about it. But put it in the ground, and it will come out of the ground transformed into something far greater. God placed pictures of the resurrection all over creation for us to behold and marvel at, so that we need not fear death.
This hit me hardest when I saw a pastor once post a picture of young children digging their own father’s grave. He called it an “honor”. My mind had not yet begun to think of burying the dead as gardening yet, so this seemed like a way to torture children. Although, with a little “renewing of the mind” through Scriptures, I now see exactly what this pastor was referring to. These children were burying their father in faith—knowing that, like a seed, his body was sown in the ground so that it might rise again in glory.
George Herbert, a famous Christian poet, once said “death used to be an executioner, but the gospel [the resurrection] has made him just a gardener”.
So, there it is. When you picture yourself next to Mary or the disciple’s as they discovered the empty tomb on that glorious morning—or, when you picture them with the resurrected Jesus, know that God places you with the resurrected Jesus as well. Jesus’s empty tomb is simply the first of thousands that will be emptied one day. And until then, you can find comfort and strength in the Christ’s resurrection where you find identity, freedom to righteousness, freedom to suffer and die to this world, and an unshakable hope of glory.