************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on July 22, 2012

Nicene Creed 09
1 Corinthians 15:1-7,12-20
"The Third Day He Rose Again"

Of all the doctrines by which Christianity stands or falls, the resurrection of Christ may be the most important. If there is no resurrection, there is no Gospel. The resurrection is the hinge upon which the whole door of the incarnation and atonement either opens or closes. The resurrection, indeed, is the hinge upon which the whole of human history either opens towards a hopeful future or closes in gloom and death. This is certainly the way the Apostle Paul described the resurrection in his letter to the church at Corinth:
(1Cor 15:13-14) If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. (14) And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
Paul argues that Christianity is a mockery if there is no resurrection. He continues by saying,
(1Cor 15:17-19) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. (19) If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

According to Paul, if Jesus is important only for what He did during His earthly existence, He was of no value to the Corinthians who gathered in His name. If the only thing Jesus did was die for their sins, they remain in their sin. If Jesus was not resurrected, He was but a good teacher, a powerful prophet, or a moral example. If Jesus did not overcome mortality, there is no way He can lead others to immortality. If Jesus is not raised, Christianity is simply another cult or false religion in a world filled with cults and false religions. If the resurrection did not happen, there is no reason whatsoever to revere and worship Jesus.

In our Bible reading Paul identifies the resurrection of Jesus "as of first importance" (1 Cor 15:3). That means of "greatest importance." That means of "crucial importance." That means of "chief importance." In terms of the Gospel, Easter's resurrection is right up there with the crucifixion and burial of Christ. I repeat what I know I have said before: beware, congregation, beware of those who speak only of the cross of Christ and never of the grave of Christ. Beware of those who ignore the empty grave. Beware of those who think the crucifixion is the only important thing done by Christ. They are giving you only half a Gospel with half a salvation.

We must conclude that churches and Christians that refuse to confess Christ's resurrection have refused to confess the faith. We, however, with faithful and true believers throughout the ages make the same confession as the Nicene Creed. We testify to and profess that on "the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures."

I The World's Wise Men
A At the start of his letter to Corinth Paul talks about the wise man and scholar and philosopher of his age. They regard Paul's message about the cross to be foolish. Paul writes,
(1Cor 1:22-23) Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, (23) but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
Paul could have said the same thing about the empty grave:
we preach Christ resurrected: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
You would think with their resurrection stories of Elisha (2 Kings 4) and Elijah (1 Kings 17) that all Jews would believe in the resurrection; but, by the time of Jesus and Paul this was no longer the case. In fact, the Sadducees specifically denied such a belief. As for the Gentiles or Greeks, the empty grave was as foolish and far-fetched as the Son of God dying on the cross.

B What was true at the time of Jesus and Paul remains true today: the wise man and scholar and philosopher reject the teaching of Christ's resurrection. What is even more painful is that it is many scholars in seminaries and churches who question and deny the historical reality of Jesus' resurrection.

Some of you might recognize the name Albert Schweitzer. He was a medical missionary to Africa and deserves credit for his sacrifice and devotion in trying to help the natives. What you may not realize is that it was Schweitzer who popularized the search for the historical Jesus. The goal was to peel back all the supernatural legends that encrusted the life of Jesus in order to discover the historical Jesus and thus the truth of the Bible.

Schweitzer, and those like him, rejected the supernatural which would include the resurrection. They believed that the Christian religion was originally established by fraud on the part of Jesus' disciples; that is, that the disciples fabricated the whole story of the resurrection and made it a basic part of the Christian faith. Schweitzer went so far as to say,
"The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the kingdom of God, who founded the kingdom of heaven upon earth and died to give his work its final consecration never existed."
Another prominent liberal (Rudolf Bultmann) states, "An historical fact which involves the resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable."

The resurrection, like so many doctrines of the faith, pushes rebellious people to get off the fence. Either they receive and rest on God's Word or they dismiss it all as myth and lies.

C Why do liberals and the world's wise men hate the resurrection so much? Why are they so quick to dismiss it and attack it? They hate it so much because they agree with the Apostle Paul in our Scripture reading:
(1Cor 15:14) ... if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
Critics of Christianity know the resurrection as the key "myth" of our religion. They know that if one can undermine this doctrine, then so many other elements of the Christian faith would also be called into question.

II The Church's Mission
A The attack on the resurrection is the liberal's way of attacking Jesus and, therefore, the Gospel itself. Because, what is there left to preach and to proclaim if there is no resurrection? What is the church's mission if Jesus has not been raised from the dead?

It is not an accident that the loss of resurrection faith in mainline liberal churches has also meant a collapse in missions in those same churches.

Did you know that all the resurrection stories are a summons to missions and missionary activity? Listen to how the Gospel writers stress this:
(Mt 28:5-7) The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. (6) He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. (7) Then go quickly and tell his disciples ..."

Matthew's resurrection story continues:
(Mt 28:16-19) Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. (17) When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (18) Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ..."

(Mk 16:6-7) "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. (7) But go, tell his disciples and Peter ..."

(Jn 20:17) Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them ..."

Luke's gospel is the same, yet different. Instead of stating a call to missions, it simply describes the mission that takes place in response to Christ's resurrection. For instance, the women told the Eleven and all the others what they seen and heard from the angels (Lk 24:9). Likewise, the men on the Emmaus road returned at once to Jerusalem and reported what they had seen and heard (Lk 24:33-34).

B I repeat, all the resurrection stories are a summons to missions. Because what do we declare? The same thing as Paul:
(1Cor 15:3-4) 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,
Contrary to Schweitzer and liberals, this is the real historical Jesus. This is the Jesus of the Bible. This is the Jesus confessed by the Nicene Creed.

The resurrection is at the heart of the good news of the Gospel. It is our calling to confess, preach, and worship the risen Christ. This is the Gospel that Paul preached when he stood at the Areopagus in Athens. This is the Gospel that all the apostles preached as they went from town to town and city to city spreading the good news of Christ. This is the Gospel we are called to preach today that Jesus died; and, on the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.

III He Rose Again, According to the Scriptures
A The Nicene Creed closely follows the declaration of Paul in our Scripture reading that Jesus "was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:4). The Creed simply says, "The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures." Hear the similarity? But there are a few differences.

The Creed uses the active verb "he rose" instead of Paul's passive "he was raised." But both the active (Acts 2:24; 1 Cor 15:15; 2 Cor 1:9) and the passive (Mt 16:21; Rom 4:25) are to be found in Scripture when talking about Christ's resurrection.

The New Testament has similar variety concerning "the third day." Some passages speak of the resurrection occurring "after three days" (Mt 27:63; Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Lk 24:21). Most passages specify "on the third day" (Mt 16:21; 20:19; Lk 9:22; 18:33; 24:7; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:3). The Gospels all agree that Jesus was killed on the day before the Sabbath, that is, a Friday (Mt 27:62; Mk 15:42; Lk 23:56; Jn 19:31), and that His empty tomb was discovered "on the first day of the week," that is, our Sunday (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:1-2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1).

B Paul states and the Creed repeats that Jesus was raised on the third day "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:4).

Paul is talking, of course, about the Old Testament Scriptures. Question: Where do we find the resurrection in the Old Testament? And, where do we find resurrection on the third day in the Old Testament?

The resurrection hope was discovered in the Psalms and Prophets after Easter's resurrection (cf Lk 24:25-27). For instance, the first Christians saw a hint of the resurrection in the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53:
(Is 53:10-11) ... he will see his offspring and prolong his days ... (11) After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life ...

Psalm 16:8-11 quoted by Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:25-28) contains another hint:
(Ps 16:10) ... you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

Two prophetic passages contain the phrase "the third day." Jonah was kept in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights (Jon 1:7). By itself, this would mean nothing. But it is Jesus Himself to draws a parallel to His own life:
(Mt 12:40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The second passage is an obscure text that comes from the prophecy of Hosea:
(Hosea 6:1-2) "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. (2) After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.
The early Christians saw this as a reference to Easter.

C The Bible contains three kinds of resurrection stories. The first concerns the empty tomb. The empty tomb story is basically the same in each Gospel. Followers of Jesus come to the tomb to anoint Him for burial and discover that He is not there; they are told by divine messengers to deliver the message Jesus has been raised. The main point of these accounts is that Jesus is no longer among the dead.

The second type of resurrection story concerns the appearances of the risen Lord. After stating that Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, Paul lists Jesus' appearances:
(1Cor 15:5-8) and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. (6) After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (7) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, (8) and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
The point of these accounts is that Jesus is again among the living.

Paul's list of resurrection appearances does not match precisely those that appear in the Gospel accounts. Notably absent from Paul's list, but present in all the Gospel accounts, are the appearances of Jesus to the women. Absent also are the two disciples traveling to Emmaus. Paul is carefully picking out witnesses who are known to his audience; Paul is telling his audience that there are witnesses among them of the resurrected Christ.

The third kind of resurrection story are those that celebrate the resurrection not as an event of the past but as an event of the present. The point of these accounts is that Jesus is alive and active and working in His church and people today. For example, when Christians speak about the power of the Holy Spirit among them, they are speaking about the power of the resurrection (1 Cor 12:1-3). To speak of conversion and new life is to speak of Christ's resurrection (Col 3). We know Sunday as a day of rest and gladness; but, it is especially a day to celebrate new life for Christ and in Christ. The song we are singing in a moment expresses this so well:
I serve a risen Savior, he's in the world today;
I know that he is living, whatever people say;
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
and every time I need him he's always near.
He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
along life's narrow way.
He lives, he lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart.

What do we believe? We believe "the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures." We believe this is of first importance. We believe this is what we proclaim to a world dead in trespasses and sin.
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