************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 45 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 2, 2011
Q & A 45
1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-23
"I Believe Christ Rose"
The Apostle Paul pronounces that the crucifixion and resurrection are the two focal points of the Gospel (Rom 4:25). Which is why Paul can say, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Cor 15:14).
Having said this, I cannot help but observe that the cross receives far more attention in the Catechism than does the resurrection. This is readily explainable when we consider that the burning issue at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century concerned the doctrines of salvation and justification. People disagreed on what was all accomplished by the cross of Christ. At the time of the Catechism, at least, there was not this kind of disagreement about the tomb.
I Attempts to Explain Away the Resurrection
A I want to start with the numerous attempts throughout history to explain away the fact of the resurrection. We need to realize that all of this is nothing less than Satan's attempt to keep Jesus locked up in the tomb.
It started already with the Roman government. The governing authorities rightly believed that allowing resurrections in their empire would cause no end of trouble. So, as far as we can tell, they assigned more guards to the tomb of Jesus than to the cross of Jesus. They thought that Roman might and Roman spears and Roman swords would keep Jesus in the grave.
The attempt to keep Jesus in the grave continues with the old, old argument that the disciples practiced deliberate deception by stealing the body from the grave and then declaring that the Lord had risen. We know from Matthew's Gospel that the soldiers who watched the grave were instructed to circulate this story (Mt 28:13).
There are those who say the disciples and women were so excited and so distraught that they actually thought they saw the risen Lord; instead, it was a hallucination. Or, maybe, what they saw was a vision sent by God to persuade them to preach the Gospel.
The swoon theory says Jesus did not really die, but merely fainted. And the cool air of the tomb revived Him. Or, Jesus took a coma-inducing drug and only appeared to die but revived when the drug was out of His system.
Some want to believe that the soldiers made a mistake and nailed Simon of Cyrene, instead of Jesus, to the cross.
Finally, there are those who say Easter's resurrection is but one of the pagan myths imported into Christianity from Babylon and other oriental countries.
As I already said, we need to realize that all of these are nothing less than Satan's attempt to keep Jesus locked up in the tomb.
B In our Scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 15, Paul takes pains to stress the reality of the resurrection.
(1 Cor 15:3-5) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (5) and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.Paul makes a big point of saying he "received" this. From whom did Paul receive this? The text does not directly say. But earlier he used the word "received" in relation to the Lord's Supper. At that time he says he received "from the Lord" (1 Cor 11:23). Therefore we can safely declare that Paul received the news of Easter from the Lord Himself. The Lord Jesus considers His resurrection to be so important, that He passed on all the details to Paul.
C Now, don't forget, in Q & A 45 we continue our study of the Gospel and the content of true faith as it is summarized in the Apostle's Creed. According to the Creed and the Catechism, the man and woman and child of faith says, "I believe in Jesus." "I believe ... the third day he rose again from the dead."
Now, Easter's resurrection is not simply an article of faith. It is not just high and lofty doctrine. Do you notice the approach taken by the Catechism. It looks at Easter's resurrection in terms of benefit or gain: "How does Christ's resurrection benefit us?"
II Share in Righteousness Christ Won for Us
A "I believe in Jesus." "I believe ... the third day he rose again from the dead." So what? What does this mean for the Christian? It means we "share in the righteousness he won for us by his death."
What righteousness? It is the righteousness of Christ. What can we say about this righteousness? Jesus was tempted as we are; yet, He never once fell into sin. He perfectly obeyed God and His law: that is, He loved God with all His heart and soul and mind and strength; and, He loved His neighbor as He loved Himself. He also fed the hungry, healed the sick, and forgave those who sinned against Him. He spent time with unpopular people – like tax collectors and sinners. He hated hypocrisy. He was willing to associate with people of low estate. He did not treat the rich differently than He treated the poor.
Because of Easter's resurrection God applies all of this righteousness to those who believe. Because of Easter's resurrection, "God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me" (Heidelberg Catechism, A60). Thanks to Easter's resurrection, God sees Christ's righteousness when He looks at me.
B Why is this important? Why do we need the righteousness of Christ? Let's go back to what happened in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden, man lost something and man gained something when he fell into sin. Man lost his righteousness. And, man gained guilt.
To be right with God, two things have to happen: God demands righteousness; and, God demands payment for sin. I am sure you realize we cannot possibly meet either demand. Because we are sinners, we cannot possibly be righteous before God. And, because we are sinners we cannot possibly give God payment for our sin.
Upon the cross Jesus suffered in our place; He made payment for our sins. Upon rising from the grave, Christ's righteousness is transferred to us. I call this the Great Exchange.
In the middle of July, 2010 the news media reported on an exchange of prisoners between the U.S. and Russia. Ten deep-cover agents of the Russians living in Washington, New York, and Boston were exchanged for four people accused of spying for the West.The exchange that took place at the cross and the grave was much greater. Think about it. At the cross, Jesus took on our sin. Upon rising from the grave, Jesus gave us His righteousness. The Great Exchange.
This was the biggest exchange of prisoners between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.
C One of the big issues we dealt with at Synod this past Summer was Federal Vision Theology. Many of you have found the name of this theology to be most confusing. Try to overlook the name. Simply remember that Federal Vision Theology is heresy.
Federal Vision Theology says we need only the first part of the Great Exchange. We need Jesus to pay for our sins. But we don't need Jesus' righteousness. In other words, we don't need the first benefit of Christ's resurrection. Why not? Because, says Federal Vision theology, saved people with true faith have their own righteousness.
Heresy! That's what this is. False doctrine. It is nothing but a return to the old Roman Catholic teaching that I can save myself or at least help to save myself. The result of Federal Vision theology is that I have but half a Savior and, therefore, half a salvation.
III Resurrected to a New Life Now
A "I believe in Jesus." "I believe ... the third day he rose again from the dead." So what? What does this mean for the Christian? The second thing this means is that "by his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life."
What new life? What is the Catechism talking about? Romans 6:11 can say, "count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Notice, it doesn't say "count yourselves mostly dead to sin and mostly alive to God." Thanks to Christ's resurrection we are dead to sin and alive to God. Right now!
Here, we get into the old man, new man terminology of Paul. The old man is that person dominated by flesh and sin. The new man is that person dominated by the Spirit. According to Paul, our old man died and was buried when Christ died and was buried. And, our new man was raised when Christ was raised. It is this new man the Catechism is talking about when it says we "are already now resurrected to a new life."
B Now, let me ask you a question. If you are a Christian, how do you describe yourself? Are you a holy person who continues to sin OR are you a sinner with occasional moments of holiness? Does the emphasis fall on your sin or on your holiness? When God looks at you, does He first of all see a sinner or does He first of all see a saint?
Because of Christ's resurrection the emphasis falls on our holiness and not on our sin – but, this is the case only for those in Christ. For those not in Christ the emphasis continues to fall on their sin and evil.
This seems to be a bold remark – that when God looks at us believers He first of all sees our holiness. Who would ever dare to say that? After all, what we feel and see and do in our own lives does not support this statement. Even the most dedicated and obedient children of God are still horribly deficient in how they live their life before God. Consider the Apostle Paul, for instance; he called himself the "chief" or "worst" of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).
Still, Scripture and the Catechism insist "we too are already now resurrected to a new life." This is not a statement up for discussion; it is a statement of faith. But, don't forget Whose righteousness we have – we have the perfect righteousness of Christ that we looked at in our last point.
C How does our continued sin fit into this new way of looking at ourselves? In Christ, we have put on the new man, but the old man is still there. A new tenant has moved in but the old tenant is still around. And, the old tenant will remain in us until either we die or Christ returns – whichever comes first.
"By his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life." We need to live like this is the case. We need to fight sin at every turn. We need to fight sin every single day.
Topic: GraceAmen! Instead of chasing after sin we need to make a deliberate decision to chase after righteousness. We need to live like the new man is alive. We need to live like the old man is dead.
Subtopic: Salvation by
The story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. "Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?" inquired an old elder. "Yes, sir," she replied. "Well, are you still a sinner?" "To tell you the truth, I feel I'm a greater sinner than ever." "Then what real change have you experienced?" "I don't quite know how to explain it," she said, "except I used to be a sinner running AFTER sin, but now that I am saved I'm a sinner running FROM sin!"
IV Guarantees our Glorious Resurrection
A "I believe in Jesus." "I believe ... the third day he rose again from the dead." So what? What does this mean for the Christian? The third thing this means is that "Christ's resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection."
You know what a guarantee is. If you have purchased faulty or defective goods the guarantee gives you the right to demand a replacement. The resurrection of Christ is our guarantee. When our body becomes old and feeble and dies and returns to dust we know we can claim a replacement – a new and perfect body made like Christ's glorious body.
This means death is not the end of my body. Death is not the end of me. Someday, my body will be raised. Because Christ has been raised.
B In verse 20 of our Scripture reading Paul uses a word to describe the resurrection of Christ. He says Christ is the "firstfruits." The firstfruits image is borrowed from the farm life of Israel. Just before the start of harvest the Israeli farmer would harvest a sheaf of barley and present it to the Lord.
When did the harvest begin? Only after the firstfruits have been offered. When does the resurrection of the body begin? Only after the firstfruits have been offered. Well, with the resurrection of Christ the firstfruits has been offered and the harvest can now begin.
But there is more. The firstfruits was exactly that. It was the firstfruits of the harvest. It was the promise of more to come: more barley, more milk, more grapes, more olives, more wheat ... Christ the firstfruits is God's promise of more to come: more resurrections, more life, more joy, more satisfaction, more fullness.
"I believe in Jesus." "I believe ... the third day he rose again from the dead." That is what the man, woman, and child of true faith says.
Do you remember our call to worship this evening? It comes from the same chapter as our Scripture reading. It is Paul's conclusion to everything he says about Christ's resurrection. It is Paul's conclusion after 56 verses: "Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
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