February 15, 2009

The Essentials

What all Christians believe and why it matters

Part 5: I believe in Jesus’ resurrection



ILL: A letter came from Health and Human Services to a resident of Greenville County, South Carolina: “Your food stamps will be stopped, effective March 1992, because we received notice that you passed away. You may reapply if your circumstances change.” 

You gotta love bureaucracy!  Once your dead, your circumstances pretty much don’t change.  Or do they?  They did for one man-Jesus-and because they did for Him, they do for us too.  Today, we’re talking about Jesus’ resurrection.


Offering and announcements:

Baptism classes next Sunday (item #1) during all services; packets available at the Info Center today.

Substance Abuse Education seminar on Friday at 6:30 PM, free! (item #7)

Family Skate Date (back of tear-off):  free event on Monday! 

          Last Sunday morning we asked parents if they would be willing to come to the evening service if we moved it from 6 PM to 5.  We also asked everyone at the 6 PM service if they would come at 5.  A large number of parents indicated they would be willing to come to a 5 PM service, and the vast majority of 6 o’clockers said they would come if it was at 5.  But we also heard from a number of people who couldn’t come at 5 due to job or schedule conflicts-for them, the time change meant they couldn’t come to church at all.  So we decided to keep the service at 6 PM.

          Here’s the deal.  All this came up because our kids’ classes are overflowing in the morning.  We often have to turn families away-the rooms are just too full.  And sometimes, the kids look in and see 70 or 90 or 110 other kids and they don’t want to go in!  Freaky!  Some of those families bring their kids into the service; others go to the multi-purpose room, and some just go home and don’t come back-and that’s heartbreaking, especially if it is a new family, someone who came to find God.  We need your help.  The kids classes in the evening still have quite a bit of room.  We are exploring long term solutions.  In the meantime, if there are any of you morning parents who could come in the evening, it would be a big help.  We hate to turn people away, so please help us, if you can.


Introduction: The resurrection of Jesus is the most startling event in history; it changes everything!

          Twenty centuries after the event, people are still debating the resurrection of Jesus.  Why?  Because if it happened, it changes everything.  And if it didn’t happen, the Christian faith is bogus.  The stakes are pretty high.  It’s worth getting this one right.

          We’re working our way through the Apostles Creed, the oldest and most widely accepted of the ancient creeds of the church.  We’re using the creed to help us understand the essentials, the core truths that all Christians believe.  Last Sunday we talked about Jesus’ death, and today it’s His resurrection.  I said last Sunday that Jesus’ death and resurrection are the big deal. They are the subject of almost 50% of the four gospels; they are the subject of the apostles’ preaching in the book of Acts; they are the central truth in the apostles’ teaching in the rest of the New Testament.  Simply put, Jesus’ death and resurrection are the Big Deal!  So let’s read the creed and then we’ll dive in.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

    Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

    He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead.

    He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
    whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.


I believe in the Holy Spirit,

    the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and life everlasting.  Amen.


1. He descended into hell.

How many of you have been waiting for this one?  I’ve had several people ask me, “What does this mean?”  I don’t know.  Next point.  I really don’t know for sure!  This is the strangest, most obscure, and most controversial part of the creed.  I’ll take a stab at it, but I won’t spend long here because the Big Deal is the resurrection.

What happened to Jesus between his death and resurrection, between Friday afternoon when he died and Sunday morning when he was raised?  That’s the question being addressed.

The creed answers this question by saying, “he descended into hell.”  Another version of the creed reads, “he descended to the dead,” and as I’ll explain, that’s a better version.  I discovered that this phrase doesn’t show up in the earliest versions of the creed from the second and third century.  It first appears in the fourth century.  This is why some versions of the creed don’t have it at all, or why it is found in two these two different forms: he descended into hell, or to the dead.  But what does it mean?

          The New Testament doesn’t say “he descended into hell.”  Those words aren’t in the Bible.  But there are verses that infer something like this. 

First, a little background: I need to explain three words.  First, the Old Testament word Sheol describes the place of the dead.  It’s neither heaven nor hell, as we imagine them, but simply the shadowy place the dead go to await judgment.  Sometimes it is translated “the grave” or “the depths.”  Second, the Greek word Hades is the New Testament equivalent of Sheol, the place of the dead.  Third, the Greek word gehenna is translated “hell” in the New Testament.  It literally means “the valley of Hinnom” which was the town garbage dump for Jerusalem.  In this place, fires were always burning and smoking, garbage was always rotting and worm-infested.  It was a graphic picture of hell, a place of punishment. 

          When the creed says “he descended into hell”, it means sheol or hades, not gehenna.  Jesus descended to the place of the dead.  Jesus shared the fate of all who have died.  He died and joined all those who had died before him.  This is why the New Testament says “he was raised from the dead”, rather than “he was raised from death”.  The first three references on your outline all say that Jesus was raised from the dead; literally the Greek reads “out of those who are dead.”  On the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached the first sermon, he quoted Psalm 16:10.

Acts 2:27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

“The grave” translates the Greek hades, the place of the dead.  Peter applies this psalm to Jesus

Acts 2:31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.

Jesus was not abandoned to the grave, to Hades; instead, He was raised from the dead.  When he died, Jesus descended to Hades, but wasn’t left there.

          Even though Jesus went to Hades, He didn’t go alone.  God was there.  On the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  (Luke 23:46) Where did Jesus’ spirit go when he died?  To his Father.  When Jesus went to the place of the dead, he didn’t go alone; God was there.

Psalm 139:7-8 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

“The depths” is Sheol.  Even in Sheol, God is there.

          Where was Jesus between his death and resurrection?  He went where all the dead go.  Christ fully experienced death.  He died and was buried, and descended to the dead; he fully experienced death.  What did Jesus do there?  A couple verses give us a hint.

1 Peter 3:18-19 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison.

Here is one possibility: Jesus went to Hades and preached the good news to those there-although the meaning of this is debated by Bible scholars.  

Ephesians 4:7-10 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

If “the lower, earthly regions” refer to Hades, as many think, Jesus went there to lead out the captives.

          Honestly, these two verses are pretty sketchy information-I am not sure what Jesus did between his death and resurrection.  But what does seem clear is that Jesus’ death and resurrection had a cosmic effect-more happened in this event than we can see or understand.  We tend to think of how the cross and resurrection affects us, and we’ll talk about that in a moment.  But these verses remind us that Jesus’ death and resurrection had a cosmic impact that reached from the lowest depths to the highest highs in the universe.  He rose and ascended to fill the whole universe!  This changes everything!  His death and resurrection is the Big Deal!  So let’s move on to the resurrection.


2. The third day He arose again from the dead.  

          Here are three things I want us to think about.


A.   The factual nature of the resurrection.

The New Testament always presents the resurrection as an historical fact.  It is not a myth, a legend, a parable, a metaphor, a fable, or a lovely idea.  It is presented as a fact.  It really happened.  This is why the creed includes “the third day.”  This really happened on this day, in this place, to these people.  When the ancients counted days, it was always inclusive.  Jesus died on Friday, was in the tomb on Saturday, and rose on Sunday.  Jesus was raised on the third day after his death, counting the day he died.  The death and resurrection of Jesus are the central facts of the good news. 

1 Corinthians 15:1-5 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 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.

This is the gospel: Christ died for our sins and was buried; he was raised on the third day and appeared to many.  This is the gospel, the good news.  Every time the apostles preached in the book of Acts, this was their message.  Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day.  Christ died, but God raised him from the dead.  It was never told it as a metaphor, but as fact.  They saw him die; they saw him alive afterward.

          The evidence for factual nature of the resurrection is compelling; it includes these four primary pieces of evidence. 

  • The body was gone; the tomb was empty.
  • The grave clothes were undisturbed.
  • Jesus was seen.
  • The disciples were changed.

The best explanation for each of these individually and all of them collectively is that Jesus was raised from the dead.  The first Christians believed this so deeply that they were willing to die for it, and many of them did.

          Christians believe that Jesus really died, and really was raised from the dead.


B.   The foundational nature of the resurrection.

The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith.  Throughout the centuries, critics have understood that if you could disprove the resurrection, it would be the end of Christianity.  The apostle Paul acknowledged this in 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter devoted to the resurrection. 

1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

1 Corinthians 15:17-19

17 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.

Look at this list.  Paul says that if Christ has not been raised then:

  • Our faith is useless and futile. If Christ has not been raised, you are believing a lie, which is useless and futile. Your faith is misplaced.
  • You are still in your sins. If Christ has not been raised, then he is not God, he did not die for your sins, and you are not forgiven. You are as stuck as ever.
  • Those who have died in Christ are lost. If Christ has not been raised, then those who believed in Christ and died are gone forever. There is no hope of life after death, or ever seeing them again.
  • We are to be pitied more than all men. If Christ has not been raised, we are wasting our lives trying to follow and please him, and are the most pitiful people on earth.

Paul says very clearly that if Jesus didn’t rise then our prayers are futile, all our attempts to share God’s good news is in vain (forget Find Tell Bring), we’re still stuck in our sins, the dead are lost and gone, and we’re the most pitiful people on earth for believing a lie.

ILL: My senior year in college, my professor in Old Testament Theology, who had converted to Christianity from Buddhism, made the following statement:  “If they could find Jesus’ body and prove beyond dispute that it really was the body of Jesus, I would still be a Christian.  My faith would be unshaken, because the Christian life is the best way to live.”  Students all around me were nodding their consent.  “Yes, the Christian life really is the best way to live.” 

I raised my hand, and begged to differ.  “If they could find Jesus’ body, I would not be a Christian.  If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then the Christian message is not true.  And regardless of how good it makes me feel, if it’s not true, I wouldn’t believe it.  It’s a question of truth.  And if the resurrection isn’t true, neither is Christianity, and I won’t willingly spend my life believing and spreading a known falsehood.” 

That spawned two days of charged debate in our class.  These students believed that Jesus raised from dead; what was shocking was that they believed it didn’t matter whether it really happened, whether it was true! 

When someone says, “Even if the resurrection didn’t happen, Christianity is still the best way to live,” there is a theological term for that, and it starts with a B: baloney!  Our faith rests on the foundation of the resurrection.  It matters.


C.   What the resurrection means for us.

Once again, I’m going to draw from a deep well with a short rope, so please know that there’s way more to this than I can cover in a few minutes.  What does the resurrection mean to us?  Why does it matter?  Well, it doesn’t change much-it changes everything.  Here are a few.


1.     Jesus is alive. 

First, if Jesus has been raised, it means He is alive.  All through the New Testament, the first Christians knew and followed a living Jesus. 

  • When Stephen was being stoned, he saw a living Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. And he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
  • When Saul was on the road to Damascus, it was a living Jesus who appeared to him. And when Ananias came to pray for Saul, he said, “Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, sent me to pray for you.”
  • When Peter healed Aeneas, he said, “Jesus Christ heals you.” Peter knew it was the living Jesus still healing people.
  • It was Jesus who kept Paul and Silas from going to Bithynia and sent them instead to Macedonia.
  • They baptized people into Jesus-into a relationship with a living Jesus. They believed in or trusted in Jesus. They prayed to Jesus. They loved Jesus. They obeyed Jesus.
  • When John had his revelation on the island of Patmos, he saw the living Jesus.
  • And all of them believed that Jesus was coming back.

Jesus is alive.  He isn’t a dead religious hero; he is a living savior!  Because Jesus is alive, I can know Him and follow Him.  I can have a relationship with the living Jesus.

ILL: We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.  He was a great man; a great president.  There are some good books about Lincoln; I can read them and know a lot about him.  But I can’t have a relationship with him.  He’s dead. 

          Some people think of Jesus the same way, as a great figure in history.  But Jesus is alive, and so I can do more than just know about Him; I can know Him!  I can have a relationship with Him.

I say all the time that Christianity is fundamentally relational.  It’s about knowing and following Jesus, having a relationship with God, and loving Him with all you’ve got!  This is so different from religion.  Religion is about me doing all the right things: believe the right things, perform the right ceremonies, say the right words, go through the right motions, do the right deeds.  Christianity is about God doing what it takes to bring me back into a relationship with Him.  Churches are filled with religious people who don’t know Jesus.  Jesus is alive!  I want you to know Him and follow Him.


2.     We are saved by believing in Jesus’ resurrection.

How important is it to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead?  The Bible says if you believe this, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We read a few moments ago from 1 Corinthians 15, “By this gospel you are saved: Christ died for our sins and was buried, he was raised on the third day and appeared to many.”  Do you believe this?

ILL: Sometimes we make this too complicated.  When I was in Mongolia several years ago, we went to a home Bible study one evening.  Our host proudly showed us his modest apartment.  In his bedroom, hanging above the bed, were two old photos of his mother and father, both dead.  His mother, he explained smiling, believed.  Then his face grew sad, and he said, “My father never believed.”  It was that simple.

I believe in Jesus, that He died for my sins, and that God raised Him from the dead.  I believe, and the Bible says that by believing, I am saved.  Do you believe?  It changes everything.


3.     There is life after death. 

Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that there is life after death.  He is the “firstfruits”, the first resurrection that guarantees ours. 

1 Corinthians 15:20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

The firstfruits are the first fruits of your harvest.

ILL: Anybody here plant a garden or have fruit trees?  All summer you watch the garden grow and the fruit ripen.  When you pick that first tomato, or zucchini, or red apple, and you eat it, isn’t there a little sense of celebration.  At last-this is the first tomato-the first of many more to come.  This is the first zucchini-the first of billions to come.  Zuccinis rule the world!  The long-awaited first fruit is the promise of more to come. 

Jesus is the first fruits of the dead-the first to be raised and the promise of more to come.  I believe I’ll live after I die because Jesus did.

1 Corinthians 6:14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

His resurrection guarantees ours.  There is life after death.  This changes everything!  Life looks different when you know that death is a comma not a period, that it is a change of life not the end of life.

Death has been defeated and is not to be feared.  So many people fear dying.  And understandably.  If this life is all there is, if death means the end of existence, if death means you’ll never see your loved ones again, then death is frightening.

Hebrews 2:14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Jesus frees us from the fear of death.  When we die, we are going where He has already gone, and come out alive!

ILL: A missionary in Brazil worked with a tribe of Indians in a remote part of the jungle.  They lived near a large river.  The tribe was in need of medical attention; a contagious disease was ravaging the population and people were dying daily.  An infirmary was located in another part of the jungle and the missionary decided that the only hope for the tribe was to go to the hospital for treatment and inoculations.  To reach the hospital, the Indians would have to cross the river-something they had never done and refused to do. You see, they believed the river was inhabited by evil spirits.  To enter the water meant certain death.

The missionary tried to help them overcome their superstition.  He explained how he had crossed the river to reach them and arrived unharmed. He led the people to the bank of the river and put his hand in the water.  He walked out into the river and splashed water in his face.  Nothing convinced them-until he dove into the water, and swam beneath the surface.  When he emerged on the other side, he punched a triumphant fist into the air and the Indians broke into cheers and followed him across.

This is what Jesus has done.  He entered the river and came out on the other side alive and triumphant.  We don’t have to fear death-there is life on the other side.  This is why Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:54-55 “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

There is life after death!


4.     There is life before death. 

More good news: there is not only life after death-there is life before death!  Jesus’ resurrection means that we have a new life now.

Romans 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

This is the meaning of your baptism.  It is pictured so graphically in the act of immersion.  You died with Christ and you were buried with Christ: we put you all the way under-and you might have noticed at the last baptism that those baptizing held a few people under there for a few seconds!  Buried with Christ!  Then just as Christ was raised from the dead, you were raised to live a new life.  Paul goes on to describe that new life in Romans 6-you should read that.  In this new life, we are dead to sin, but alive to God. 

          This is the new life.  Jesus called it the abundant life, or life to the full.  You are alive to God, and to be alive to God is to be fully alive-life to the full.  Jesus rose from the dead not only to guarantee that I’d live after I die, but to make sure that I live before I die-alive to God, fully alive for the first time! 

          This is why I became a Christian.  I’d been to church and seen religion-dull, drab, dreary and boring-and I’d taken a pass.  But then I met some Christians who were fully alive, who were enjoying this resurrection life of Jesus, and they were happier than I was, more adventuresome, more alive!  I saw that and wanted it.  This is the gospel: Christ was raised from the dead so you could be too-right now!  You can be fully alive!


5.     Go all in.

ILL: I don’t play much poker, but I’ve been told that there is a bet called “all in”.  Basically, you bet everything you have-you go all in.  You either win big, or you lose everything and go home.  You’re all in.

I want to challenge you to go all in.  Here’s what the Bible says.  At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, the chapter on the resurrection, Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Therefore-because Jesus rose and you will too-therefore, always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.  Give yourself fully-go all in.  Why? Because you know it won’t be in vain.  There’s a resurrection coming.  So give yourself fully to the Lord-go all in!

ILL: When an airplane is taking off, the plane will reach “V1”.  V1 is the maximum speed a pilot can still safely stop the airplane without leaving the runway.  It is the point of no return.  At V1, you either hit the brakes to abort takeoff, or continue to accelerate to V2 which is takeoff speed.  After V1, you’re all in.  You’re committed to taking off. 

There are too many people sitting safely on the runway in church; I think God is looking for V1 Christians who are ready to fly-who are all in.