Results tagged “Easter” from Reformation21 Blog

If Christ is Not Risen...

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I've always had something of an aversion to the "if Christianity is not true what do you lose" sort of apologetical approach--precisely because Scripture is God's word and because it is perfect in all that God reveals in it. To raise the question almost seems to inadvertantly jeopardize the veracity of it. Nevertheless, that is precisely the kind of reasoning that the Apostle Paul utilized in 1 Corinthians 15 after he appealed to the clear teaching of Scripture about Jesus' death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-3). Writing to a church that was in danger of allowing false teaching to creep in, the Apostle tackled the issue of what was at stake if we deny the resurrection. Beginning in verse 12, Paul raises eight "ifs" (following them up with some of the weightiest of all theology) in order to explain the significance of the resurrection for the life of the believers. Consider the following eight "ifs" about the implications of denying the resurrection:

  • 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? (v. 12)
  • If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen...If the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. (vv. 13, 16)
  • If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. (v. 14)
  • We are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise. (v. 15)
  • If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (vv. 17-18)
  • If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (v. 19)
  • If the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? (v. 29)
  • If the dead do not rise, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" (v. 32)
According to the Apostle's argument, one can categorize all that is lost--if the resurrection never occurred--under the following heads:

1. The Apostolic Message. The first thing that is lost, if we deny the resurrection, is the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Apostolic message. That is the central message of Christianity. How can some profess to be Christians and deny the central message of Christianity? The resurrection cannot be said to be a mythological or analogical story. It was an historical event that turned the world upside down. This, Paul, said--at the outset of the chapter--was an essential part of what was "of first importance." In essence, Paul is saying, "If there is no resurrection, we have nothing left to preach because our message centers on Christ having been raised from the dead." 
2. A Living Redeemer. Next, the Apostle heightens the argument by insinuating that if there is no resurrection from the dead then "Christ is not risen." We not only lose the central message of Christianity, if there is no resurrection--we lose the central figure of Christianity, namely, the living, reigning and returning Lord Jesus Christ. 
3. The Efficacy of the Apostolic Word. As Paul proceeds with his argument, he told the Corinthians that the resurrection ensures the efficacy of the word of God. If Christ is not risen, there is no power behind the message proclaimed and there is no power in the life of those who receive the preaching of the Gospel. Paul uses a form of the word κενος in verse 10, 14 and 58 in order to bolster this argument. He tells his readers in verse 10, "God's grace to me was not in vain." Then in verse 58, he reminds them that the resurrection of Christ ensures that their "labor is not in vain in the Lord." Couched in between these bookends, Paul emphasizes that if Christ is not risen then his preaching and their faith is in vain (i.e. empty and powerless). 
4. Apostolic Trustworthiness. Moving on to another aspect of the resurrection, Paul explains that if Christ is not risen from the dead then he and the other apostles are false witnesses. He goes so far as to say that they would then be "false witnesses of God," because they "bore witness of God." There is an inseparability between the apostolic testimony and the testimony of God. Not only would the apostles be found untrustworthy--God would be found to be untrustworthy. The resurrection of Jesus secures the covenant faithfulness and absolute trustworthiness of God and His appointed witnesses. 
5. The Forgiveness of Sins. Perhaps the greatest of Paul's arguments is that which he sets out in verses 17-18. If Jesus is not raised then no one has their sins forgiven. The logical implication of this is that those who have professed faith in Christ but who have already died have perished because they would not have had their sins forgiven. The forgiveness of sin is the greatest of all needs that we have. If Jesus was not raised from the dead then we would have to conclude that His sacrifice was insufficient to atone for the sins of God's people and propitiate the wrath of God that we deserve for our sin. The writer to the Hebrews captures the connection between the atonement and the resurrection so well when he writes, "The God of peace brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus...through the blood of the everlasting Covenant" (Heb. 13:20). The blood of Jesus is the efficacious cause of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the validation that His blood was sufficient to atone for the sins of His people. 
6. An Everlasting Hope. The Apostle began to introduce the idea of eternal hope when he claimed that those who have "fallen asleep in Jesus" have perished if He has not been raised from the dead. Now, Paul shows another side. He focuses on the hope that believers have in this life. He speaks of this hope elsewhere, when, speaking of the death of beloved Christians, he tells believers that we do not sorrow "as others who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13). 
7. Union with Christ. Everything in 1 Cor. 15 centers on the believer's union with Christ in His death and resurrection. Our resurrection from the dead is guaranteed on the basis of our faith-union with Christ. When the Apostle asks the incredibly confusing question, "Why then are they baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise," he appears to be speaking of the union that believers have with Christ (represented by their baptism into Christ). If this is correct, the argument would run thus: "If the dead do not rise--and Christ then belongs in the category of the dead--why then are you baptized into union with the dead." Interestingly, Jonathan Edwards espouse this particular way of explaining the Apostle's argument
8. Joy in Tribulation. Finally, Paul argues that if there is no resurrection then he and the other apostles suffered for nothing. It was joy in the truth about the risen Christ--and the hope of the resurrection of believers--that drove the Apostles forward to endure all of the persecution that they bore for the sake of the Gospel and the building up of the people of God. Paul reasons that, if there is no resurrection, we should give ourselves entire to hedonistic living--because that would be all there would be in which to find joy in this empty, futile and passing world. 

There is so much more that Paul brings forward in this chapter to show the significance of and inevitable consequences of the resurrection; however, these are the explicit arguments that he puts forth to establish in the minds and hearts of believers what we lose if we do not hold firmly to the biblical truth about the resurrection from the dead. In short, we have everything to lose if we don't preserve the truth of the resurrection and everything to gain by constantly abiding in it.

Anticipation

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Last weekend brought with it all the brouhaha that seems to be the sadly-increasing norm among evangelicals with regard to 'holy week' and Easter Sunday. Now, I will deny no man the opportunity to preach about the risen Christ on any day that he chooses. Furthermore, if there is a possibility in a particular place and time that people's ears might be more readily tuned to a certain emphasis, I think it might be wise to take advantage of that. Perhaps there were some stolid brothers who ploughed on with their current expository series last Sunday, preaching their third sermon on the too-often-overlooked significance of Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, who judged Israel after Abimelech but before Jair, of whom an equal amount can be (and shortly - if that is the appropriate word, given that it might require a good month or two to address it - will be) said. I am sure that, in doing so, they have been and will be careful to draw out the redemptive-historical significance of Tola. Nevertheless, for myself, I gladly preached a sermon on the need to remember what the Lord Christ said about the empty tomb for our present and future hope.

And so the brouhaha dies down, at least until next year. After all, this next one is just an ordinary Sunday, isn't it?

If that is your attitude, might I suggest that your view of the Lord's day is sadly deficient and probably damaging. I hope you would not need to be a full-orbed sabbatarian to recognise the significance of the first day of the week, the day on which the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, the day on which he met again and again with his disciples, making himself known to them and impressing upon them the realities of his resurrection.

Christ did not leave his people with an annual opportunity to enjoy that distinctive fellowship with him which is enjoyed by the people of God gathering together for worship on the first day of the week. There may be regular Sundays, in one sense, but there ought to be no ordinary Sundays. Every first day of the week is a commemoration of the risen Christ, a day of worship and praise. The same truths are equally true, the same realities are equally real, the same themes are equally relevant.

Do not let this be the Sunday when you step down. Let it be another step up, another waymarker on your heavenly pilgrimage, another resurrection day. Preach no different sermon, in that sense, certainly no different Christ. Let the same sweet assurances cloud the day, the same underpinning certainties bear up the soul, the same glorious hopes inform the worship. Come to worship this coming Lord's day with just the same eager anticipation as you did last week, and - I hope - the week before that, and before that. Come with the same earnest request of the ministers of the gospel: "We would see Jesus." Come with the same joyful prospect of a fresh sight of and renewed fellowship with the risen Christ, and may he draw near to you as you do so.

Giving up Lent

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Because, judging by the annual jamboree, this piece on Lent (and other festivals) is still relevant.

What about next Sunday?

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I have been in Zambia for the last few days - due to leave for home fairly soon - and so opportunity for anything other than my responsibilities here has been limited. However, things have slowed down a little, and I have an opportunity to pause.

As I paused I came across a snippet from Spurgeon here which I provide in slightly fuller form, and I offer it in the form of a question: What about next Sunday?

There is no ordinance in Scripture of any one Lord's-day in the year being set apart to commemorate the rising of Christ from the dead and for this reason every Lord's-day is the memorial of our Lord's resurrection. Wake up any Lord's-day you please, whether in the depth of winter, or in the warmth of summer and you may sing -

Today he rose and left the dead,
And Satan's empire fell!
Today the saints his triumph spread,
And all his wonders tell.

To set apart an Easter Sunday for special memory of the resurrection is a human device for which there is no Scriptural command. But to make every Lord's-day an Easter Sunday is due to him who rose early on the first day of the week. We gather together on the first, rather than upon the seventh day of the week, because redemption is even a greater work than creation and more worthy of commemoration and because the rest which followed creation is far outdone by that which ensues upon the completion of redemption! Like the apostles, we meet on the first day of the week and hope that Jesus may stand in our midst and say, "Peace be unto you." Our Lord has lifted the Sabbath from the old and rusted hinges whereon the Law had placed it long before and set it on the new golden hinges which his love has fashioned. He has placed our rest day, not at the end of a week of toil, but at the beginning of the rest which remains for the people of God. Every first day of the week we should meditate upon the rising of our Lord, and seek to enter into fellowship with him in his risen life.

And so, what of next Sunday? Have you peaked for the year, or will you enjoy in short order another, and another, and another day in which you can meditate on the rising of our Lord, and seek to enter into fellowship with him in his risen life?

This Lent I am giving up . . . reticence

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I will make no bones about it: I am an Old World (for which please read 'continental European') Christian, of Puritan inclination, and a Dissenter - specifically, a Particular or Reformed Baptist. That means several things. By conviction and heritage I belong to those who left the Anglican communion as a matter of conscience, sick of its halfway reformation and unwilling to conform to the general shabbiness and unscriptural demands of the Act of Uniformity. My conscience with regard to the extra-Biblical trappings of mere religiosity is tender. My attachment to simplicity of worship as a gathered church is sincere. I am sensitive to those doctrines and practices over which my forefathers spent their energies and shed their tears and sometimes their blood, both from within and then from without the established folds of their day. I see things with an awareness tuned by walking the streets, graveyards and memorials of men and women who suffered and sometimes died for conscience' sake.

Out of such an atmosphere I cannot help but be sickened by the seeming obsession with Lent and Easter at this time of year, and Christmas at the end of the year. Please do not misunderstand me: conscience also demands that - where the cultural vestiges of a more religious society patterned to some extent on the significant events of the life of Christ provide for it - I take every legitimate opportunity to make Christ known. If an ear is even half-opened by circumstance, I willingly and cheerfully speak into it, and seek to make of it a door for the gospel. I do not see the point of making a point by not preaching about the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord if some benighted soul wanders into the church with at least some expectation of hearing about his humiliation and exaltation.

But what chills my blood is the unholy elevation of things not mandated by the Word of God. I find it odd that some of the very people who obsess about contextualization and resist 'religion' have swallowed hook, line and sinker the empty traditions of men, that the men who wear Mickey Mouse T-shirts (quite literally) all the year round besides dress in sombre suits every April, telling us with one breath that all of life is worship and so tending to level out our experience and the Biblical rhythms of our relationship with God (especially dismissing the one-day-in-seven pattern established at the first and the new creation), and with the next telling us that this is Holy Week, and we are somehow falling short if we do not build it into some unholy jamboree. Meanwhile, those who trumpet their credentials as the true heirs of the Reformation either seem willing to stop with the house half-clean or seem quite keen to redecorate it with the junk that their more enlightened forefathers were in the process of throwing out (establishing the principles of the matter even if they never quite got round to that corner of the attic themselves).

Whether or not it is a vestige of the Emerging/Emergent appetite for a range of 'spiritualities' or an enthusiasm for an over-ripe liturgical renewal, I cannot say, but I wonder if it is in part a matter of distance both of time and space. This alleged 'recovery' of Lent and Easter is not actually a matter of historical sensitivity and an inheritance regained but of historical unawareness and an inheritance lost. Whether or not it is the high-grade muppetry of entire churches being urged to tattoo one of the stations of the cross on some part of their anatomy, or some gore-drenched re-enactment of the unrepeatable sacrifice, or some spotlit image-fest in which a total insensitivity to physical representations of the Christ - the image of the invisible God - is displayed, or some be-robed priest-figure half a step away from incense and obeisance, it does not come from Scripture and it does not belong in Christ's church. It is a replacement of God's order with man's notions, a disruption of God's regular rhythms of true religion with the unholy syncopation of mortal religiosity. As John Owen somewhere says, where genuine spirituality is substantially absent, men will turn either to fanaticism or to ritual - or perhaps to both - in an attempt to fill the void. Whichever way you sniff at it, and whichever way the wind blows, to the trained nostril it all begins to smell a touch Romish.

But there is a solution. This year there are - if you wish to see it this way - fifty three Easters. Most years there are fifty two. Each is a high and holy day, an opportunity to remember and rejoice in the one thing that the saints of God are commanded to remember and rejoice in: the Lord of Glory - the incarnate Son - who was crucified but who rose again, in whom we live eternally, and for whom we perpetually look with eagerness, our eyes straining for the first glimpse of the one whom not having seen, we love, who will shortly appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. Each is a day of sober and grateful remembrance and recollection of his being and his doing. We have our regular (if not all of us a weekly) meal at which we remember the Lord's death until he comes, celebrated usually on the day of resurrection. On these days, putting aside the trappings of the world, we begin the cycle of time on our weekly peak, equipped by communion with God in Christ by the Spirit for the challenges and the opportunities of the days ahead.

Frankly, it seems odd to me that many of those who have proved very quick to abandon all manner of patterns and habits and convictions of Christians over decades or centuries, retain Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection) Sunday as set in stone in the calendar, one of the high points of the Christian year (which pattern, we are informed, provides the central event in the church year - the climax of worship, expectation, and celebration, an exercise of the church's discipline). If you're not sold on Easter, you might be dismissed as one of the "diehard Reformed" for whom "this [Easter] Monday is like every other Monday because Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday." To say that Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday is not to suggest an upgraded view of Easter Sunday but a downgraded view of every other one.

I try not to be a Scrooge (although I cannot help but shed a silent tear that I am now literarily reduced to trying not to be a Grinch, but it's only a silent one and fairly dry, because Dickens' plotting makes many modern soap operas look like masterpieces of restraint and reason). I try not to be whatever is the Easter equivalent of a Scrooge or a Grinch (probably something that destroys bunnies or steals eggs). Again, for the record, I delight in the incarnation, and love to explore the excellence and wonder of Christ's coming into the world. I love to do so at any time of year, and find it grievous that I am sometimes not expected to handle those truths or sing incarnation hymns apart from at the dead of winter. Neither do I for one instant deny the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the only Redeemer of God's elect, in the glorious good news that the church of Christ declares.

But when we are told that this is the time of year when Christians begin to think again about the death and resurrection of Christ, does it not prompt the question of what we are supposed to be doing for the rest of the year? When men speak after their so-called Holy Week of the abating euphoria of the resurrection, surely they are explaining why a merely annual remembrance is insufficient? Christ Jesus is the risen Lord for 365 days of every year (plus the extra one when required), and we have a weekly opportunity for the distinct recollection of his death in an atmosphere conditioned by his resurrection. To flatten the whole year, perhaps rising only to a few unnatural annual peaks, is to miss so much, to lose so many things, to gain so little.

Christ died to set us free from empty things. Men died to liberate us from the rigamarole of unscriptural traditions and man-made routines and performances of religiosity. I hope that you will hear a voice from the blood-washed streets of the Old World, where those battles and the cost of their victory are ground into our consciousness, where the issues and enemies are neither distant nor tame, and where the lines remain clearly drawn in the collective memory of some of the Lord's people, and consider whether or not the prizes so hardly won ought to be so quickly abandoned.

"Seeing Jesus Again" by Philip Ryken of Every Last Word is available as a free MP3 at reformedresources.org/audio/seeing-jesus-again-mp3/

Have you experienced a time when you felt like God wasn't present? Or been anxious that he might not get you through a difficult time? You're not alone. When Jesus was crucified, the disciples felt they had lost him for good. But they were wrong, and they came to see how Jesus' promise that he would be with them forever --was true.

The entire set is available on CD at reformedresources.org/audio/seeing-jesus-again-cds/ It features James Boice, Richard Phillips, Philip Ryken, and Donald Barnhouse.

When Jesus started His earthly ministry, He called His disciples to leave everything behind and follow Him. And they did. They ate together, traveled together, and ministered together. When Jesus was crucified, the disciples felt they had lost Him for good. But they were wrong, and they came to see how Jesus' promise that He would be with them forever was true. We often hear teaching at church that God is with us. But do you ever worry about God leaving you--especially when you need Him most? That's when we turn to Scripture, where it teaches us that even though we can't see Him--He is always with us. This audio set highlights key Scripture passages that show us Jesus' heart for His people... how He mourned over the chosen people of God who were rejecting Him, and how He might mourn over us as well. 6 messages on 3 CDs.