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Remember the Resurrection!

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This morning I want us to consider some of the last words that the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament. When he wrote these words, he was imprisoned in Rome for the second time and fully aware that he might soon be called upon to surrender his life for the testimony of the gospel. And it’s very likely that this is exactly what happened. Tradition tells us that he was beheaded not long after this.

But Paul wasn’t concerned about himself. During his first Roman imprisonment, he wrote the following words to the church in Philippi: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.… For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you (Phil. 1:21–24). But he was concerned about the church that he would leave behind. Knowing, for example, that Timothy, his son in the faith and colleague in the ministry, would soon face similar problems, he wrote specifically to encourage him to endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (cf. II Tim. 2:3; 3:12).

Now, put yourself in Paul’s situation for just a minute. You know it’s likely that you will soon die for the faith and that the person to whom you write may have to do the same. What would you say to him? What should you say? Should you tell him to love his wife? Should you try to impress upon him the urgency of preparing other men to carry on with the work? Should you ask him to bring you your coat if he has the opportunity? The answer is, yes, you should tell him all of these things because they are all part of the gospel ministry, but you should also help him keep the eyes of his faith focused on the victory that is already ours in Christ. Therefore, Paul encouraged Timothy in our text to remember that Jesus Christ...was raised from the dead.

Worthy of Remembrance

Certain events are worthy of remembrance. Every year on the fourth of July we remember the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in 1776. This event symbolizes the freedom and self-government that Americans have since enjoyed. Likewise, August 15, 1945 has come to be known as V-J Day because on that day the Japanese surrendered, thus ending the Second World War. In the church we remember the events of the Savior’s life: his birth, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his shameful crucifixion on Good Friday and his ascension into heaven. And we also remember events in our own lives: birthdays, graduations, weddings and promotions.

Remembering these things is good. The Bible tells us that we should know what’s going on in the world around us so that we can pray intelligently for the church, and it encourages us to rejoice in the whole range of Christ’s work. In I Corinthians 11, Paul describes the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of our Savior’s death. Although the only birthday celebration in the Bible was Herod’s, which, of course, ended in the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14), Calvin rightly observed the celebration of one’s birthday has many benefits. He wrote,

The ancient custom of observing a birthday every year as an occasion of joy cannot in itself be disapproved; for that day, as often as it returns, reminds each of us to give thanks to God, who brought us into this world, and has permitted us, in his kindness, to spend many years in it; next, to bring to our recollection how improperly and uselessly the time which God granted to us has been permitted to pass away; and, lastly, that we ought to commit ourselves to the protection of the same God for the remainder of our life.[1]

But the one event out of all the things that have taken place in the history of the world that we are expressly commanded to remember is Christ’s resurrection from the dead. This is one event that deserves the church’s constant attention.

The world doesn’t have a very hard time remembering that Jesus died. The Roman soldiers who drove the nails into his hands and feet knew that he died. So did the Jewish officials, who plotted against him both before and after his death. Modern atheists have no problem admitting this either. Of course Jesus died. Don’t we all? The historical fact that he died has never been something that the church has had to defend vigorously.

But the resurrection is another matter. The world refuses recognize, let alone remember, that the grave could not keep our Savior under its power. On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus rose triumphantly. By his resurrection, he conquered death once and for all for himself and for everyone who believes in him.

Here are three examples that illustrate how much the world hates the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection. First, we have the same Jewish officials who conspired with the Romans to murder Jesus. Knowing that he had predicted that he would rise again, they gave a large sum of money to the Roman soldiers so that they would tell others that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus (Matt. 28:11–15). They knew better, but they didn’t want anyone else to know. Second, a second-century heresy called Docetism (which was a specific form of Gnosticism) taught that Jesus did not have a real human body to begin with. Rather, he only seemed to have human body, and since his body was illusory, so was his death and resurrection. In modern times, attempts to discredit the doctrine of resurrection have become more ingenious and often more complex. Rudolf Bultmann, the liberal German theologian of the last century, taught that the resurrection was only a myth created by the disciples, who knew it wasn’t historically true, to give hope to people who otherwise had no hope. As long as we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, whether he actually did or not, we have the strength we need to face all the obstacles in our own lives. Of course, Bultmann left us wondering how we derive so much hope from an obvious lie.

But Paul did not embrace any of this nonsense. He didn’t tell Timothy to remember the lies the Roman soldiers propagated or to consider the possibility that Jesus’ body was only an illusion. Neither did he ask his spiritual son to base his life and ministry upon some kind of “faith history” that exists in a higher realm than real history. No, he commanded Timothy to remember that Jesus Christ arose from the tomb with the same body that had died just three days earlier. Any other explanation leaves men in their sins, denies the gospel and must be rejected.

Note how emphatic Paul was in our text. He wrote, Jesus Christ, the seed of David, was raised from the dead. Those little words, the seed of David, emphasize the true humanity of our Lord’s resurrected body. The resurrection of Christ was not a mystic vision. It was not an hallucination, or a figment of the apostles’ distraught imaginations. The very same body, the one that descended from King David through the virgin Mary, was reunited to the human soul of Christ and restored to life. In other words, his complete human nature burst forth from the grave.

Our catechism reminds us that God’s perfect justice demands that the same human nature that sinned should make satisfaction for sin. It’s just as true that a complete human nature must also rise from the dead because the gospel offers salvation to the whole man — not just a part of him. Jesus’ bodily resurrection, therefore, is a sure pledge to us of our justification and sanctification, as well as a promise that our bodies cannot remain under the power of the curse. So important is the bodily resurrection of Christ that Paul staked his entire message on it: if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain (I Cor. 15:14).

The Importance of Remembering the Resurrection

The resurrection of Christ is not just one event among many. It’s not like the parting of the Red Sea or the demolition of Jericho’s walls. It towers far above all the other resurrections mentioned in Scripture. Christ’s triumph over the grave is the sine qua non, i.e., the absolutely, indispensible foundation of our salvation.The early church understood the importance of Christ’s resurrection and remembered it.

When I was about fourteen, I attended a tent revival with a seminary student. At one point, a Roman Catholic priest was invited to the platform. He offered a fairly large amount of money to anyone who could show him a passage in the Bible where God commanded the New Testament church to worship on Sunday. He made this offer, of course, because he knew that no such verse exists. And yet the church, for the most part, has worshipped on Sunday from the first century to the present. Since the Bible does not explicitly require a change of day, why has Sunday worship been the church’s practice? It’s because the early church embraced the first day of the week as the appropriate occasion to commemorate Christ’s victory over the grave. It remembered that Jesus Christ … was raised from the dead.

There are at least five passages in the New Testament that show not only that Sunday worship was the church’s practice, but that it was a practice that had apostolic approval.

John 20:19 is especially to the point. It says, Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. When John wrote here that it was the same day at evening, it would have been immediately evident that it was Sunday because the first verse of this chapter says that Mary Magdalene had gone out to Jesus’ grave on the first day of the week. But John not only wrote that Jesus appeared to the disciples on the same day, he followed this with the words, being the first day of the week. My point is that this latter phrase was completely unnecessary, except that it draws attention to the importance of Christ gathering together with his people specifically on the first day of the week, i.e., the day of resurrection.

Then verse 26 of the same chapter says, And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Using an inclusive method of counting, this means that the disciples assembled again the following Sunday and that Jesus was pleased to bless their gathering with his presence.

The remaining passages come from elsewhere in the New Testament. Acts 20:7 shows that the disciples in Troas worshiped on Sunday. It says, And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them. The church in Corinth followed the same practice. I Corinthians 16:2 says, Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. It would have been rather silly of Paul to require the people to bring their offerings on the first day of the week, if they actually worshiped on some other day. And, finally, according to Revelation 1:10 the apostle John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, i.e., presumably the day of Christ’s victory over death and hell.

Every Sunday, then, is the Lord’s Day. Every Sunday is an occasion to remember the triumphant, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. And every believer should make every effort to celebrate Christ’s victory by gathering together with Christ in the assembly of his people. The worship of our risen Savior should be our highest priority.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Churches around the world swell with joyous anthems on the day known as Easter. Many people whose shadow does not ordinarily darken the church’s threshold find their way to church that one day each year. Sometimes even those who come to church more frequently prioritize being in church on Easter morning, but are not as concerned about other Lord’s Days. Did you know, for example, that the Sunday after Easter also has a name? It’s called “Low Sunday” because of the dramatic drop in attendance that many churches see. This should not be. Paul instructed Timothy to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he instructs us to do the same.

Keep Remembering

Now, we might mistakenly think that Paul believed that Timothy had forgotten the resurrection since he encouraged him to remember it. But this could not be further from the truth. The verb remember (μνημόνευε) is a present tense imperative in the Greek. It means “continue remembering what you already remember — don’t ever let it slip away!”

But if Timothy already knew about the resurrection and its importance, wouldn’t it have been somewhat superfluous for Paul to tell him to keep remembering it? Not at all. Let’s go back to the circumstances under which Paul wrote.

To begin with, Paul’s life was literally on the line for the sake of the gospel. While this was not a problem for him, Timothy was of a much more timid character. Perhaps Paul was concerned that his own death might cause Timothy to lose sight of the promise of the resurrection. To counteract this, Paul encouraged Timothy to keep the resurrection firmly in his mind. His hope — indeed, his only hope — was to remember that he worships and serves a living Savior.

Beloved, that’s your only hope, too. When it seems that the storms of life drag you down into the depths of the sea and attempt to crush the life out of you, remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. When friends and loved ones fail you, and you wonder whether God himself has anything good in store for you, focus your attention on the greatest manifestation of God’s love — the sending of his Sonyou’re your complete redemption. When you’re tempted to engage in behavior that you know is sinful and displeasing to God, know that Christ rose from the dead and by his Spirit makes you triumph over both the guilt and power of sin. His victory assures you that nothing will ever separate you from his love. In fact, it guarantees that you will live, body and soul, in his unimaginable glory for ever.

The truth of Christ’s resurrection is so fundamental to the Christian faith, so involved in everything that you, as a believer, do that it must be firmly imprinted upon your minds at all times. Because Christ arose from the dead, you have life, hope, salvation, and a reason for service.

How then should you remember the resurrection?

First, you must be firmly convinced that the resurrection of Christ was more than just a resuscitation. Those who have been resuscitated, even after several hours of being “dead,” as in the case of cold water drownings, never really died. The Bible is very clear about this. II Samuel 14:14 says, For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Apart from a supernatural work of God, those who have died will stay dead. Jesus really died. His spirit left his body: his body immediately began to decay, and his spirit went to the Father. But again, it’s not enough that Jesus died. He also had to deliver us from death by showing himself stronger than the curse itself. He had to return to life. His resurrection was the great victory of the Christian faith.

Second, the resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee to us that we will also be raised at our Lord’s return. Until Jesus Christ raised himself by his own power, there was no evidence that God could resurrect believers to everlasting glory. But, you say, didn’t Elijah raise the widow of Zeraphath’s son? And didn’t Elisha also restore a young man to life? Even Elisha’s dry bones gave life to the Moabite whose corpse was thrown into the grave on top of his. So, how can we say there was no evidence for resurrection?

Actually, I didn’t say there was no evidence. I said that before Christ rose from the dead there was no evidence that God could raise people to unending life. Presumably, the three persons who were raised in the Old Testament died again. Even in the New Testament, the widow of Nain’s son, Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus apparently died some time after they were raised. But Jesus Christ is the only person who was raised from the dead and never died again. Instead, he ascended into heaven and took a seat of honor and authority next his Father.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the saints of the Old Testament didn’t know about or believe in the resurrection. Hebrews 11:19 says that Abraham trusted God’s power to raise Isaac from the dead even when he was about to offer him as a sacrifice. And Jesus made it clear that the truth of the resurrection should have been obvious to everyone in the Old Testament, since God is not the God of the dead but of the living (Matt. 22:32).

Christ’s resurrection, then, guarantees our complete triumph over sin and its curse.

Finally, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is also profoundly important for evangelism. In our text, Paul wrote that Jesus was raised from the dead according to my gospel. If you study the sermons in the book of Acts, you will see that every one of them without exception highlights the resurrection. Other items (the baptism of John, God’s covenant with David, etc.) are mentioned frequently, but the resurrection appears in every single sermon. It is also a constant topic in the New Testament epistles and the book of Revelation. The evangelistic significance of the resurrection is that it corroborates Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Psalm 16 predicted God would not leave the Messiah to decay. Jesus left an empty tomb.

Paul instructed Timothy to remember the resurrection. He tells you to do the same. Why? Because the resurrection is central to the Christian faith. It is not only a sign of Christ’s victory and yours over sin and death. It is Christ’s victory and yours over sin and death. Nothing in your lives will ever make this not so, if you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the full forgiveness of your sins. Therefore, in every sorrow and in every joy, as you fulfill your daily duties and pursue your calling before God, as you seek to glorify and enjoy God in all things, remember that Jesus Christ, the seed of the David, was raised from the dead. Amen.


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[1] Commentary, in loc.

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