2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel”
There are certain things of which you no need to be told “Now remember!” If tomorrow is your birthday then you don’t have to be reminded, “Remember, it’s your birthday tomorrow.” You are so excited about it. You can’t get it out of your mind, especially the party with your friends coming. You can’t get off to sleep easily the night before. Does a bride need to be reminded that next week she is getting married? Does a boy who has left school need to be reminded that next week he is going to say good-bye to Mum and Dad and go off to university? We don’t need to be reminded of important events in the future.
But we can forget very important events in the past. That is why the Lord Jesus told us to “Remember Lot’s wife!” Don’t forget what happened to someone whom God had told, “Don’t look back longingly to such a foul and disgusting place as Sodom. It isn’t worthy of your fond memories.” But Lot’s wife wanted one more glance at a place she loved too much. You must make sure that the sweetest and loveliest things to look back on are days like the time Mummy brought your new, baby brother home from hospital. Remember good things like that. That is why the Lord Jesus told us we were not to forget the most important thing about his life and death, that at the end he became the Lamb of God and took our guilt and shame on the cross and suffered there in our place, as our substitute, that we might be forgiven through what our Lord did, all by himself. So the Lord said that he wanted us to remember his death by instituting what we call an ‘ordinance’, the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. He took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine and we are to eat the broken bread and drink the wine and see in them symbols of his body broken for us and his blood poured out for us. “Do this in remembrance of me!” said the Lord. We are not to forget he loved us and gave himself for us on the cross. I have to remember that in my preaching, and we are reminded of it in the hymns we sing, in our prayers, in our hopes of eternal life (that they are based on the cross-work of the Lord Jesus which he did perfectly – not on the many good but imperfect things we try to do – he saves us – we don’t save ourselves, that is the gospel). We have to remember his death in the perpetual ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
But in the words before us we are not told to remember Jesus’ life and death but to remember his resurrection. Paul tells the younger preacher, Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel”(v.8). You see there is no gospel if it is only the fact that a brave young prophet was faithful to his beliefs and died for them. There have been many such sincere men who have given their lives for what they believed. What was unique about Jesus Christ, says Paul, is that he was raised from the dead. I picked up a colourful children’s book in a cheap book shop. It was called 100 Great Men. And I looked in the index and there was a page dedicated to my Lord and Saviour. I turned to it and read it. Would they say that unlike all the other 99 men mentioned in the book he was raised from the dead? He doesn’t fit in with the rest of us. He is discontinuous. We all die and stay dead. The 99 greatest men in the history of the world died and stayed dead; they had no choice in the matter, but the Lord Jesus rose on the third day. Is there a book called 100 Great Men who Died and Were Raised from the Dead? There is no such book. There was only one man who rose from the dead, and that is Jesus of Nazareth. So what did the book of the 100 Great Men say about that? How did it deal with Jesus’ resurrection? It said this. After his death his followers said he was raised from the dead, and that is absolutely true. The book was fair in mentioning that historic fact. For example on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after the death of Jesus, Peter preached to thousands of people in Jerusalem (where Jesus had been killed) and this is what he said to the men who had shouted out “Crucify him! Crucify him! We want Barrabas freed!” Peter said to them; “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:23&24).
Was Peter telling a lie? Seven weeks after the public crucifixion of Jesus was Peter fabricating a bold and extraordinary myth, formulating a conspiracy with 120 other Christians in Jerusalem, no one breaking ranks, no one finally saying, “Sorry, We’d foolishly thought there’d been a great injustice in killing Jesus and that lie was our silly attempt to get even with the chief priests and Sanhedrin.” Not one person said that that is what had happened. In fact they were prepared to be thrown into prison and be tortured and die for what they knew was no lie at all. What are the facts that we know of about the resurrection?
The four gospels were written within forty years of the death and resurrection of our Lord. That is a very brief time, scarcely enough time for fairy stories to be considered real historical facts. The four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all emphasized quite different events of the forty days after the cross in which the risen Jesus walked and talked and ate and drank with men and women. But it was Paul in I Corinthians chapter 15 who wrote the earliest record of the resurrection appearances of the Lord about twenty years after he rose. That gave no time at all for sweet myths to become hard facticity. On the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after the tomb was empty and the body was missing, all that the Jewish leaders had to do to show Peter was speaking a bunch of twaddle was to produce the body of Jesus and torture the men who stole it so that they confessed that they had taken it and why they had done so. But no one had his body. In fact the leaders had put a troop of soldiers around the tomb in which lay Jesus’ body so that his disciples couldn’t creep in and move the stone and take it.
At this time his disciples were utterly leaderless, demoralized and broken-hearted men. They had no gumption to steal his body. For what purpose? What would they have done with it? Buried it somewhere else? All they wanted to do was to embalm it properly with the right embalming oils and grave-clothes. To have taken it away would have been to have defiled it. When Mary got to the tomb and discovered it open and the body missing she went onto a man (whom she thought was the gardener) and she said to him, “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him. Do you know where it is. I’ll get it if you tell me.” The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were distraught at the death of Christ. They were not a pair of conspirators who were working out a plot to get even with Jesus’ killers by announcing he had risen, and that he was living in a secret hidden spot in distant Galilee. The thought never entered their minds. They would have been horrified if anyone had suggested it. They were all earnest Jews living under the Ten Commandments. One said, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” If Jesus did not in fact rise from the dead there would have been no greater false witness than to spend your life promoting the lie of his resurrection. I accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ unreservedly. It is the testimony of truthful men to facts they could substantiate. Paul challenges people to go and talk with them. Many of them were still alive when he wrote his letters. They were good disciples of Christ.
You think of him for a moment. Jesus was a man of integrity and purity and truth and innocence. He claimed that he was the truth. How could his memory be enhanced and his reputation be preserved as the world’s greatest teacher if some odious lie had been invented and circulated about him by his closest and most trusted friends that he had risen from the dead in some pathetic attempt to make him even greater. Think of the tissue of lies that spread from the one central lie. It would mean Peter had in truth not seen him, and Thomas had not seen him alive and fallen before him and said, “My Lord and my God”, and Mary Magdalene had not seen him in the garden, and Cleopas had not seen him on the road to Emmaus, and the 500 people had not seen him on the mountain in Galilee and went on talking about that day for years afterwards until they died, and the disciples had not seen him by a fire that he’d made on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where they said he cooked bread and fish for them, and Paul had not seen him on the road to Damascus.
They had all told their lies about him, the worst lies that this world has ever heard. For what purpose? Why did some of them die horribly cruel, lingering deaths for the sake of a deceit that they had invented? It makes no sense. If you have any understanding of human nature you will know that 500 men and women don’t behave like that. One fanatic, two fanatics would act in that way, but not many fishermen, and housewives, and a man who worked in a tax office, and centurions in the Roman army, and a family of two sisters and a brother. But these people knew it was true, and they took the message everywhere through a hostile Galilee and Judea, and then they took it to Samaria and told it to the Samaritans, “The Messiah has come and risen from the dead”, and then out and out they went to the uttermost parts of the world. They sacrificed home comforts; Peter’s wife did not see him for months or for years as he took this message of a risen Jesus to the province of Asia. He was on the road, and in places the anger at what people heard was so intense that the preachers were stoned and flogged and had dogs set on them – for what purpose, if in their hearts they knew it was all a lie!
Were they easily duped? Were they country bumpkins? Well, you read Peter’s letters. Excellent Greek, and such wise, sensible, happy advice as to how Christians indwelt by the Lord Jesus should live. Listen, “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind . . . Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us . . . Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called.” If they had invented the lie of the resurrection in order to get even with the Chief Priests then they were doing that very thing that Peter warns them about, repaying evil with evil.
Karl Marx never wrote anything as wise or helpful or profound as those words of Peter who claims he saw the risen Lord Jesus many times after he was raised from the dead, that he had meals with him, saw him eat food, clear his plate, and drink a drink and go to the outside toilet, and take part in the buzzing conversation around the table – like we all do as we eat. It is a happy social function. The risen Jesus did that, Peter says. He preached the fact of the conquest of death by Christ to the people of Jerusalem and when the leaders threatened them and briefly put them in prison and told them to stop preaching, then Peter and John told them, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). This was the most indelible reality in their lives, to know that death is not the King, that it is not the unavoidable end of everything, that it doesn’t snuff us out, like blowing out a candle, or switching off a light.
The message of the whole Bible is this that death is not the ultimate reality, that God is more powerful than the grave. Death came in when man sinned and rebelled and fell. No death before that. Then there are signs God gave of life after death. Enoch walks with God and then God takes him to himself. Moses is also taken to God and Elijah too. Job says that he knows that his Redeemer lives and that he would stand on the earth in the latter day, and though worms destroyed his body yet in his flesh he would see God, not another seeing him, but he himself would see God with his eyes. Elijah raises a little boy from the dead. The psalmist says that God would not allow the body of his holy child Jesus to putrefy and stink in the grave, God can say “No!” to death, and death cannot answer back and protest. Death cannot boast to God, “It’s impossible. Once I’ve got them there is no escape. It is physically impossible, once the heart stops beating and the blood stops flowing around the body, and the lungs stop taking in air then everybody rots and the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out. That is the end, FINIS.” With God all things are possible. Every cell of our bodies as belonging to the Lord, redeemed by him, every atom, is precious to God. The divine Son of God returns to heaven when he dies; but the human Son of God lies in the grave. The divine Son of God keeps watch over the human, forbidding any destruction of his body, even the slightest; Jesus sleeps, and then on the third day the human and the divine are united once more in the resurrection of the God-man. Jesus clears his throat, spits the lingering taste of death out of his mouth, and begins to speak to his disciples on and off for forty days.
Jesus risen from the dead is the best attested fact in history. He had told them many times that he was going to rise on the third day. That phrase ‘the third day’ is found on his lips often in the gospels, but it didn’t touch them. They couldn’t believe that it was literally going to happen. They thought like the unbelieving world, that men don’t rise from the dead. But Paul once asked a king to whom he spoke this gospel, “Does it seem an impossible thing to you that God could raise the dead?” The evidence for the truthfulness of the resurrection is conclusive. The sepulchre was empty. It was certainly the right grave the women went to on the first Easter Sunday. Jesus had not merely swooned, but then recovered and got out of his coma by the third day, and pushed the great stone up its ramp and walked out. Then that afternoon he walked the five miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two of his disciples as easily as they walked that route not showing the slightest sign of the long crucifixion and whipping and loss of blood he’d endured a couple of days earlier. No, not a temporary coma that he recovered from. It was from the dead that he had risen on the third day, and now he exists in the power of an endless life. Thieves didn’t steal the body – for what purpose? His enemies didn’t want the body. His friends valued it too highly to remove it. Where was it and who took it? Who removed the stone if Jesus did not rise? Jesus was raised from the dead.
Jesus was seen by many, and we are told of ten separate occasions when he came to them. There were probably other appearances, other visits to those he loved during those forty days, but ten on the record is more than enough for us to be persuaded. They were not hallucinations. An hallucination is the apparent sight of some object when no such object is there. They occur, certainly. People see sights and they think that they can hear sounds, but in fact they are all in their minds not in front of them to be recorded and photographed and videoed and touched. But the risen Jesus comes to Thomas saying, “Handle me. Feel my muscles and bones. I am not a ghost.” This was not a hallucination. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. After the crucifixion there was no period of exaggerated, wishful thinking that the twelve and Mary and the women all went through longing for Jesus to rise. It was not at all like that. There was no cosy setting for his resurrection – all of them sitting in a room in warm semi-darkness and a combination of lights and shadows made one say, “Look, there is Jesus!” and they all started to cry and thought they could see him too. There was nothing like that. There was no skilful communicator telling them what they were seeing, strengthening their desire and encouraging their wishful thinking. In fact the apostle we call doubting Thomas challenged the others for over a week that it was impossible for Jesus to be alive. And even on the mount of ascension from which our Lord returned to heaven, some of them were still doubting the possibility of Jesus risen from the dead.
Let’s agree that it could be a particular kind of hysterical person who has hallucinations and at certain times of life in certain conditions that they are more likely to have them than others. Let us think like that for a moment, but what do we have here in the gospels, in Matthew and Mark and Luke and John? We find the risen Jesus in all sorts of places and at different times of day, in a garden, between a garden and the city, an upper room, for hours walking on a dusty road, on a mountain in distant Galilee, by the side of a lake in the morning, and near Bethany. The risen Jesus is in all those places, listening, talking, teaching, answering questions, fishing, cooking, eating and drinking. And then again think of the various psychological states of the people he meets and the moods they were in, Mary Magdalene was sobbing in despair, the other women were astonished and afraid, Peter was full of remorse for denying him, the eleven were afraid and meeting behind locked doors, Thomas was frankly incredulous – “Resurrected! Pull the other leg” – the Emmaus pair were distracted and deeply troubled, the disciples were in a boat on the lake fishing when they see a fire burning on the shore. 500 people, many of whom we would have been familiar with from the gospels, like cleansed lepers and centurions and two sisters and a brother named Lazarus, they all go to Galilee particularly to meet with him. The grape vine has worked very effectively and they go full of anticipation and hope, and he comes to them there. What joy to see him alive! And he spends hours smiling kindly, shaking hands, giving a holy kiss, listening, talking with them and showing his pastoral concerns for them. They never forgot that day for the rest of their lives. In all their different moods of doubt, guilt, grief, preoccupation and hope Jesus comes and stays and talks, he is not a spook. He breaks through their barriers like he does still today.
Why was he risen from the dead? What is the meaning of this? It is certainly not that we are living in a world where fact is stranger than fiction. God had his purpose in raising his Son.
i] All that Jesus did on the cross in dying for the church was successful. It was a finished and complete and perfect work. He achieve for them forgiveness; he bought for them eternal life and pardon from a holy and just God. We know this because on the third day God raised him from the dead. Men said that he was a criminal and blasphemer, but God said “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” and raised him from the dead.
ii] By his resurrection Jesus showed us that his claim, “I am the resurrection and the life” was true. He is indeed the Prince of life. He could raise himself from the dead, as he said, “I have power to lay down my life and I have power to raise it again.” If he could raise himself then with what ease could he raise mere weaklings like us.
iii] His resurrection declared him to the Son of God with power. He spent 33 years in a state of humiliation, but now he has the same power and glory and authority that he had in eternity with God. He is the one who has pledged himself to be with us, keeping and protecting us and taking us home to glory.
iv] Because he lives we shall live also. He is our future. He has gone to prepare a place for us and where he is there we will be also. We are the new humanity who will inhabit the new heavens and new earth.
v] In the resurrection the power of Christ over the prince of darkness, the god of this world, is revealed. The resurrection of our Saviour is a victory parade over principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Jesus has the last word not Satan.
vi] In the resurrection Jesus is being commended to us as a worthy Lord. Don’t you want such a Lord as your very own? There are lords many in the world but one exceeds them all, and that is the one who is Lord of death and hell. Take him and serve him all your days.
vii] In his resurrection his infallibility is made known. In all he said, he was right. In every decision he was right. His policies and deeds are all vindicated. His divine wisdom and power and foreknowledge are all displayed in his resurrection.
viii] In his resurrection appearances and dealings with his disciples he draws very close and personal and familiar with us. For example in his interviewing Peter and asking him persistently if he loved him, and exhorting him then to feed Christ’s sheep and never to stop, then he was showing us how familiarly he deals with us today. Think of his patience in dealing with the men on the road to Emmaus. He opened Scripture to them and then he opened their understanding to grasp his message. That is what the risen Saviour has been doing here tonight. Opening up the book and opening our minds to grasp its truths.
You have been told today to remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead. That is why God brought you here, to know what God says about the death that lies before every one of us and to shine the light of the risen Christ on it. You come to a meeting like this, and the last words your mother says to you laughing are, “Now don’t get converted,” and you come here determined not to get converted and what happens? You get converted. You know that Jesus Christ is alive, and you want him and need him. Remember Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.
Have you ever considered the question of whether lies and hallucinations and shadows and lights and other people telling you porkies could produce such lasting change as you meet first of all in these gospels. We first meet these disciples of Jesus on the third day, and they are scary cats, locking the doors and keeping quiet in case the Sanhedrin will come and arrest them too. They are so low. They’d say if you asked them how they were, “Not a good day today.” Life wasn’t worth living. They were utterly sick of religion; it was religious men that had killed their best Friend. They had nailed him through his hands and feet and made fun of his sufferings in the name of religion! What sort of religion was that? They didn’t want any more religion! They felt that the religious people they met were hypocrites, talking the talk but never walking the walk.
Then there is a change in them that happens; it’s spread over the next seven weeks. They develop hope, a sense of purpose, life is worth living, they have a mission in life, they have an authority and a dignity and a confidence. They have a joy and a quiet power. When they speak you are gripped by what they say. It is a transformation of depth and endurance. You today who do not want my Saviour . . . you who do not want Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life . . . you know that you are lacking in those very virtues that these men had after they had been with the risen Jesus. It does seem odd to me that the things you would love to have, which I tell you came to these people because Jesus had risen from the dead, you still reject! You are dismissing it all as ‘religion,’ and so unthinkable, and you refuse to think about it, but you know that these things changed these men and women of the New Testament and made them people of hope and purpose, and peace – as death got near – and joy, and confidence – and you don’t have them, you lack them but you need them, and I would claim that you cannot have them without Christ. To have them I say, is to have him, that these things come in a package with him. You’ve tried the other things. Money has not given them to you. Alcohol, drugs, non-stop entertainment has failed to do it. Marriage and relationships has not given them to you. Even health has not given them to you. You thought it would. How often have you said to one another, nodding your heads sagely in agreement, “If you’ve got your health you’ve got everything,” but you’ve had health and you haven’t had everything. You haven’t had God’s real blessing on your life. You’re not a happy person, but these disciples were happy and courageous. God had lifted them up. There was never a more bitter and angry and hateful and cruel a person than Saul of Tarsus, and yet look at his life after the risen Jesus had met with him and he is a contented and kind man. That is what the risen Jesus did, and still does today.
I want to bring this home to you today. You know your family who are Christians; you have watched them for many years; you like them; you admire them; your parents and grandparents; you’d say that they are the finest people you have ever met; how you wish you could be like them, so loving and kind and forgiving. They have a deep personal faith. They are always here each Sunday. They’re not hypocrites are they? No, they are not; far from it. If you asked them what has made the difference in their lives then they would tell you it is the living Jesus Christ. And if you asked them what they meant by the living Jesus then they would say to you that he lives in the Bible that they read each day, this extraordinary uninventable personality, and that he also really comes to this congregation each Sunday and he speaks to them in the prayers and the hymns and the preaching and the conversations. He never misses church. And he is also present in their hearts and lives. He lives in them and makes himself known to them and keeps them going. They could never have survived without him. The living risen Jesus is the reason they are what they are, and how they live and how they love you.
What they have you might have and even better, because it will not be second hand after them, but brand new just for you, the Lord Jesus respecting your own personality and strengthening the areas where you are weak, and encouraging you where you need to be lifted up, and guiding you in the best use of your own future. Most of all he pardons our sins, all the shame we have for the mistakes of the past, the Saviour comes into our lives. He is not ashamed of us; he is not reluctant to come close and live in our foul hearts and give us his energy to live, not perfect lives, but wiser lives, new lives, lives of service. He will help us in the future.
Do you see how Paul refers to him here in our text, have you noticed this? “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David” (v.8). Jesus Christ is of the seed of David, and you know what that seed of David did? You know how that seed impregnated a married women named Bathsheba and he had her fine husband killed so he could add her to his collection of wives. David did that atrocious thing, and yet here in our text Paul refers to Jesus as the seed of David. He, according to the flesh, is descended from David the wicked man. Doesn’t that give the guiltiest person here tonight hope? Maybe the guiltiest person here is me, or maybe it is you and we sinners are thinking that we would be such hypocrites to ask the holy, living, risen Jesus to come and live in us. But see how the Holy Spirit when he inspired Paul to write these words described Jesus himself as the seed of that notorious sinner.
So you ask him to come into your heart. You ask him to save you. You ask him never to leave you. You ask him to keep you. You ask him to give you strength to serve him and please him and do what he wants every day, and you never stop asking him to do that. You start tonight, and then you go on every day, “Risen Lord Jesus, friend of sinners, be with me today and be my very own Lord and Saviour, and help me to follow you and serve you today. Give me strength to work for you and love you today.” Amen
24th January 2016 GEOFF THOMAS