Results tagged “resurrection of Jesus” from Reformation21 Blog

Laboring to No Purpose

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I was speaking with some ministerial colleagues recently about a conference one had just attended. The conference had been great, but to his surprise, after one of the sessions, a friend next to him put his head in his hands and said, 'I'm a failure!' Having just listened to an inspiring account of how a church on the verge of closure had been remarkably revitalized, this dear brother could only see what hadn't happened in his similar situation despite his faithful labors.

No doubt there are many in the Christian ministry, serving as missionaries, or who have been involved in Christian work for more years than they care to remember who can identify with these words. They have labored long and faithfully, but there seems to little visible fruit for their labors.

It may be tempting to try and analyze and resolve such tensions purely in terms of ministerial psychology. (Many Christian workers reach for such solutions in a desperate attempt to recover some sense of self worth or usefulness.) But such answers are little more than Band Aids that may provide some short-term comfort, but do little or nothing to explain the deeper issues or provide the wherewithal to press on in our ministerial or missionary vocation.

Strangely, the one source of genuine help in such circumstances is the one that is literally in our hands as we seek to minister to others, but all too often fail to use as we seek to minister to our own souls. It is, of course, God's word in Scripture. Indeed, we too easily forget the axiom that before we can effectively minister that word to those around us, we must first minister it to ourselves.

Despite our failure to do that consistently, if at all, God has his own way of surprising us from his word: often from passages we have read repeatedly, but failed to appreciate in all their fullness. So when it comes to the sense of abject failure that grips so many pastors, the prophet Isaiah speaks words that are quite remarkable.

More accurately and even more surprisingly, it is not the prophet speaking, but the Servant of the Lord doing so through Isaiah's message. It comes in the second of the four so-called 'Servant Songs' of Isaiah. Songs that are placed on the lips of the Suffering Servant who God had promised to send as the Savior King for his people. We hear him say, 'I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing' (Isa 49.4).

Students of Isaiah will be well aware of the debate surrounding the identity of this 'Servant of the Lord'. It is undoubtedly a term that is shrouded in a degree of mystery. Some have seen the prophet himself as fitting its designation, given his unique calling and mission during these critical decades of Israel's history. And if it were him who was intended as the primary focus of this epithet, then it would make perfect sense. In terms of depth of truth and eloquence in its delivery, he is widely acknowledged to be the greatest of the prophet-expositors of the Old Testament era. Yet despite his giftedness, the quantifiable response to his ministry was negligible. We could well imagine him at least thinking, if not saying in his darker moments, 'I have labored to no purpose'.

Others have suggested that Israel as the nation designated as the People of God is in view as the Servant of the Lord. Again there is merit in such an interpretation. Elsewhere God does indeed describe Israel as his servant and her calling under God is to be a light to the Gentiles and to be the agent of his work in the world. And with this too, the complaint about fruitless labour would be perfectly legitimate. Israel the nation had spent more time serving itself and its own interests rather than serving God and the world to which he had sent them.

The problem with both these views is that, when taken in the context of the Servant Songs in their totality - especially the fourth (Isa 52.13-53.12) - neither Isaiah nor Israel could possibly fulfill all that they express. Only Christ can do that. He alone perfectly matches the descriptions of the Servant and only he - with chilling accuracy - would do what God required to make atonement for the sins of his people.

If that is the case, therefore, is it not all the more astonishing that it is from the lips of Christ that we hear, 'I have labored to no purpose'? Yet, if we look again at the downward trajectory that he followed from the moment of his incarnation to his cry of dereliction on the cross, it makes perfect sense to see these words as accurately expressing his sentiments at different points along the way.

Not least in terms of the quantifiable 'results' of his 33 years of life and three years of public ministry on earth. Despite the brief expression of public favor with large crowds in the early stages of his ministry, its latter part was very different. The crowds that lauded him were replaced by growing numbers who opposed him. The religious establishment was against him. His own followers failed and ultimately deserted him. And his cry of forsakenness on the cross was the darkest moment of his soul.

It is doubtless very significant that, even by the time of his Ascension, Jesus did not leave a mega-church behind him on earth. Rather, it was through his weak and bumbling disciples that he began to build his church in the face of the hellish powers that sought to withstand it.

Jesus as the supreme Pastor of his people, fully empathizes with each and every pastor he calls into his service, every missionary, Christian worker, Sunday School teacher, youth and children's leader - every Christian who seeks to serve where he or she has been placed. He is with us when we quietly think, 'I have labored to no purpose'; but more than that, he reminds us there is more going on than we can see. Because in his very next breath, reminding himself of the Father's promise, he says, 'Yet what is due to me is in the Lord's hand, and my reward is with my God' (Isa 49.4).

It was St. Paul, who himself must have questioned his effectiveness in ministry, who said, 'Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself to the work of the Lord, because you know your labour in the Lord is not in vain' (1Co 15.58).

*This post originally appeared at Place for Truth.

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.

According to Carl Braaten, the gospel's claim that God raised Jesus from the dead requires us to address two questions: the question of whether it happened and the question of what happened. The former question--what we might call, "the apologetic question," is vital for if God did not raise Jesus from the dead, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15.17. The latter question--what we might call, "the theological question," is vital as well. Unfortunately, this question is often left unaddressed in Christian preaching and teaching, to the impoverishment of popular Christian understanding.

What follows is a sketch of biblical teaching regarding "the theological question" of the resurrection. What is the theological significance of Jesus' resurrection? Or, to put the matter in Pauline terms, what does it mean that we are "saved by his life" (Rom 5.10)? 

(1) Jesus' resurrection manifests his victory over death, our great enemy. While God's saving grace was, in some sense, given to us in Christ Jesus "before the ages began" (2 Tim 1.9), it is through the resurrection of Jesus that God's gracious, death-defeating, life-giving purpose shines forth in triumphant splendor. Through his resurrection, Jesus has "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light" (2 Tim 1.10). 

(2) Jesus' resurrection manifests our justification. Just as Adam's disobedience constituted us sinners, worthy of death, so Jesus' obedience constitutes us righteous, worthy of eternal life (Rom 5.12-21). Accordingly, Jesus' resurrection manifests our justification. Jesus' resurrection is the divine sentence that follows from the divine verdict that declares us righteous. Jesus was "delivered up because of our trespasses and raised because of our justification" (Rom 4.25).

(3) Jesus' resurrection serves as the pattern, power, and presence of our sanctification. Jesus' resurrection is the pattern of our sanctification: in sanctification God is working to conform us to Jesus' glorious, resurrection image (Rom 8.29a; 1 Cor 15.48-49; 2 Cor 3.18). Jesus' resurrection is the power of our sanctification: the immeasurably great power whereby God raised us in Christ and whereby he is conforming us to Christ accords with "the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead" (Eph 1.19-20). The risen Jesus is the operative presence in our sanctification. Thus Paul declares, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2.20).

(4) Jesus' resurrection guarantees our glorification, which is the precondition for eternal fellowship with God. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," Paul tells us (1 Cor 15.50). However, the Son of God assumed our miserable human nature in the incarnation (John 1.14) in order that he might raise and glorify our human nature through his resurrection (1 Cor 15.51-54), making us fit to behold and enjoy the glory of God forever and ever and thus to realize the purpose for which we were created: "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3.2). 

Why is it that Jesus' resurrection manifests and guarantees all of these wonderful saving benefits for us? The reason lies in the relationship that obtains between Jesus Christ and his people: he is our husband, we are his bride; he is the cornerstone, we are his temple; he is the head, we are his body. Peter Martyr Vermigli eloquently illustrates the mystical, covenant bond that obtains between Christ and his people: "Since he is risen and is our head, we are also risen in him. Tell me, I pray you, when one holds his head above the deep and deadly waters of a fast-flowing stream, do we not say that he has escaped death even though his other bodily members are yet below the surface? The same holds true for us, who are all one body in Christ. Our head is risen from the depths of death. Even though we may appear to be overwhelmed in the mortal stream, yet we are risen in him."

Our beloved is ours, and we are his (Song 2.16). Therefore we are "saved by his life." Let's remember and rejoice in that this Sunday as we celebrate Jesus' resurrection.