Romans 6:9-11 “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
There is no more distinctive a message in the Christian religion than that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead on the third day after his death. There is no more offensive a message in the eyes of the world than that on this planet, where one degree of latitude crosses a degree of longitude, in calendar time less than 2,000 years ago the Lord Christ conquered death and God raised him to life. If this is true then it changes every value and every thought of our futures, and every ambition and purpose in life. It is little wonder that the early church spoke much to the world of the risen Jesus whom it had eaten and drank with in the 6 weeks or so that he spent visiting with them before his ascension. And here in our text Paul returns to this theme of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Death is not annihilation. Death is not the end of everything. Death is not ultimate reality. Jesus Christ is God and was resurrected as Paul says here, “We know that . . . Christ was raised from the dead” (v.9). He didn’t say as I just said, “If this is true . . .” He knew it it was so and he knew it in a unique way; he himself had met with the risen Christ on the road toDamascus and he had had a conversation with him. That is one of the reasons we know and believe in the resurrection. Paul and many others saw the resurrected one. 500 people saw him and talked about it to everyone who would listen to them. They were even prepared to give their lives for that fact. Let us begin by just reminding ourselves of the resurrection, not by surveying all the accounts from the gospels, but just one account of the very first witnesses, the women who on the first day of the week, saw the empty tomb. It is the gospel writer Mark who records this in the last chapter of his gospel.
- WE KNOW CHRIST WAS RAISED BECAUSE OF EYE WITNESSES.
Some of the women who helped Jesus and the disciples with the cooking and the washing of their clothes as they traveled around Galilee, went on the first day of the week before dawn (after I suppose a sleepless night) to the tomb to anoint the corpse of Jesus. They were not going there expecting a resurrection. They didn’t come from the city to this tomb expecting that the body of their teacher wouldn’t be there. They were bringing half a hundredweight of spices to complete what Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus had done when they put the body of Christ in Joseph’s grave. They were worrying about how they would deal with the great stone that had rolled down an incline when the wedges were knocked away. The stone was protecting the body of Christ from the curious and from wild animals and grave robbers. It effectively sealed the entrance. Mark gives us one little detail as he describes this group of devout women; “Looking up,” he says in verse 4, as though he wants us to realise that they were actually looking down, as you tend to do when you’re miserable and dejected, and without hope. Their dear Lord had been taken from them in so horrific a manner. They had seen him die, these women . . . these women had actually been there two days earlier on that green hill far away. They had seen the gory, bloody, slowly-dying figure of Jesus. Unimaginable . . . the sight that they had witnessed: the brutality of it; the enduring of the 39 lashes that had torn into his flesh. They’d seen him hanging by nails through his hands on that cross. They’d heard the violence, and they felt the hatred of the mob towards their precious Jesus.
They certainly weren’t expecting a resurrection. So all that happened on this Sunday morning was to these women an utter shock. There happened to be no problem in removing the massive stone, because someone has already done that. Mary Magdalene was overwhelmed at the sight of the eye-socket of the dark cave, and she ran back to tell Peter and John that the stone was removed, and then the other women gingerly peered into the dark tomb for it was hardly light. Was his body still there? And what did they see? They saw in the sepulcher a young man sitting down. He was dressed in white, and he spoke to them, and after he had spoken to them how they ran! They ran through the streets of Jerusalem, a group of running middle-aged women – when did you ever see such a sight? You know that none of them, even when they saw the stone rolled away, turned and said to the others, “so it was true after all,” nor did one of the men when they heard the report. There was nothing like, “Well I never . . . Blow me down . . . Just as he said!” No hint of any such response. They had heard those words of Jesus about ‘the third day,’ and the sign of Jonah, an actual chronological reference to the timing of his resurrection. There were all the promises of Jesus, all his prophecies that were totally true! But they seem never to have registered on any of his disciples. They were actually unmemorable because the twelve were thinking as secularists and materialists think who lack without living contact with Jehovah God, and think that there is no possibility that anyone could literally rise from the dead. Jesus must have been speaking in figures and symbols.
Just suppose that in writing his gospel Mark, in order to bolster the church fifteen years later, dreamed up a story of Jesus risen from the dead. Then how would you think he would go about doing that? Well, not this way . . . not the naivety of country women going to a tomb to anoint a body that they had no way of reaching as it was protected by a very great stone. What sort of people are these simpletons? Indeed, if we were inventing a story of Jesus being raised from the dead we wouldn’t write of women at all as being the first observers of Jesus because of the second class status of women in the ancient world. They were not allowed to give evidence in a court of law. And there is this emphasis on their unbelief. The resurrection of Jesus was utterly unexpected; they were all taken completely by surprise. Mark is honestly telling us of the sheer strength of ignorance and disbelief that was there in the hearts of those who loved him the most, his closest and dearest and nearest. He tells us that Sunday morning response was not joy unspeakable, but that they were scared, in the half light of early morning, going where there were dead bodies, and finding an empty tomb and an unearthly figure in white inside it. They got goose pimples. They may have been also afraid of what men would say about their story, Peter, John and the others: “What were you thinking of, going to Jesus’ grave where the soldiers were, and the danger was, and now telling us this fantasy!” Both men and women were all in uncharted territory, out of their depth, unable to handle the clear sight and sound before them.
Now the only credible explanation of this event is that the living God had done something. Do you think it incredible that God should raise the dead? It was a supernatural occurrence, because this is God’s world and he can do exceeding abundantly above what we think. It was not a demonic act, and not an elaborate hoax. The Creator who made man from the dust of the earth was doing something extraordinary here. Who is this figure dressed in white that so overwhelmed them. They were [in verse 5] “alarmed.” It’s the word rendered ‘distressed’ in Mark chapter 14 and verse 33, of Jesus in Gethsemane: the kind of physical, emotional response to news that engulfs you and paralyzes you. They were in the presence of an angel. This is one of God’s ministering spirits, and he was in the form of a young man. You see that it was a supernatural event through and through.
Let me say a word about angels. These messengers of God have no gender, but when they appear, they appear as male. They can take on a human form, be utterly indistinguishable from men – no big white wings – and they have male names. We know only of two names: Gabriel and Michael. They are charged – these angels – with helping the people of God. They have a particular responsibility to minister encouragement, especially to his little ones in times of distress, and especially at death. “I shall on eagles’ wings up borne to heaven ascend.” Much of their work is shrouded in mystery. God hasn’t told us very much about angels, lest we start to worship them, but they certainly exist.
What exactly did this angel say? He addressed their fears – isn’t that interesting, that the angels are like their Master, sympathetic and affected by the feelings of our infirmity. The young man in white opened his mouth and spoke to them, “Don’t be alarmed. You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth.” Of course, that’s exactly what they were looking for. They weren’t looking for the Son of God. They weren’t looking for a resurrected Lord of glory triumphant over death. They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the man who had breathed his last a few days earlier, whose body was carried to this spot and buried in this very tomb where the conversation was going on. The women were there to look for his body and anoint it properly in case the two men had not done it well. What could they do? They felt they had to do something. Then the messenger of God added those beautiful words that have become so significant in the church: “He has risen. He is not here.” That is the claim Christians make, and the apostle makes it in this letter and in our text where he shows us the significance of its truth for our lives.
Now think about it for a moment. This dead body of the Lord Jesus has come to life. Is there any possibility of another more rational explanation? Could it possibly have been . . .could it possibly have been . . . that the women had simply gone to the wrong tomb? But what of the man in white speaking to them and saying that Jesus was risen? And how in the world could they get it wrong? It was a well-known development of a well known man. It was Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Anyway, even if they had gone to the wrong tomb and jumped to the wrong conclusions, it would have been a simple thing for the authorities to go to the right tomb and produce the body. You know, even if they had had a lapse of memory as to the whereabouts of the tomb that Joseph was preparing for himself — and we all have lapses of memory — it would have been a simple thing to rectify. The chief priests, hearing the rumours, could have done it in an instant. They’d have gone to the right tomb, and the Roman or Jewish leaders would have pointed out to them, “Look, you silly people. Their womenfolk had gone to the wrong tomb! Resurrection? A cock and bull story!”
Or do you think it’s possible (as Hugh Schonfield describes in his book The Passover Plot in which he resurrects the old ‘swoon theory’) that this brutalized body of Jesus, into whose side had been thrust a Roman spear, in the cool of the tomb on the Saturday night had come to out of the swoon? That somehow or other Jesus regained consciousness and managed to roll up the incline the very great stone from inside the tomb, and then he walked out past the guards and quickly gained such vitality that he could walk on the road to Emmaus with earnest conversation for a few miles in just a couple of hours’ time and his disciples who saw him were impressed by his dynamic life as the conqueror of death. That alternate explanation requires more faith than the straightforward accounts by the women and Dr. Luke and the other gospel writers. It doesn’t even bear thinking about.
Or again what about the “stolen body theory”? Who actually stole this body? The Jewish authorities, did they steal the body?’ Why would the Jewish authorities steal the body of Jesus and provide for Christians the evidence that the Jews wanted no one to have? And if they had stolen the body, or for that matter, if the Roman authorities had stolen the body (when they had set a watch of soldiers there to make sure that did not happen), then as soon as the first Christian claimed “Jesus is risen”, they would simply have produced the body of Jesus. They could kill the rumours and disprove them in an instant.
So what has taken place on this third day after Jesus died, the first day of the week is a supernatural work of Almighty God. That is the message of the angel. God has stepped in here. The power of God is at work here. Don’t think it strange that God can raise the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ challenges all the constraints of post-Enlightenment thinking. It says to us that with God all things are possible. Dead bodies can rise again by the supernatural power of Almighty God. So, there is this one window opened by Mark on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, while Matthew, Luke and John are fuller in the accounts that they give us of our Lord risen and meeting with his disciples over 40 days. So we know, Paul tells us in our text, that Christ was raised from the dead, and we know that he is not going to die again. There is no need for him to taste death in another dying. Jesus has shown his mastery over death. Death has surrendered and admitted defeat.
- DEATH HAS NO MASTERY OVER JESUS, AND SO NOT OVER US.
Paul tells us here, “death has no mastery over him.” Where is Jesus now? Paul tells us, “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (v. 10). Jesus is now living to God. As John describes in the opening words of his gospel, the Word was in the beginning and the Word was with God – towards God – so now once again Christ lives to God. There is the mutual outgoing of love and affection from Jesus to his Father, and back from Father to Son. That is his life now; he lives to God, and we live in him, to God. Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever, and because he is at the right hand of God, with all authority in heaven and earth, he enables us also to live to God, by him.
So what are the implications of that for us? It means this – we have a life changing, and a life giving hope. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you trust him then you have a hope that nobody can touch and nothing can take away because it’s unfading and it’s imperishable and it’s undefiled and it’s reserved in heaven for you because that is where Christ is, and where the head is then there must the body be also. Our final healing is as near as our resurrection from the dead.
Now, that can sound like some depressing news because some of us are longing for some deliverance now. We’re saying, “Lord it’s been hard. I’d like things to get a little easier.” Or we might say, “Lord it’s been bad and I’d like things to get a little better.” But it’s not yet the time for that, it’s coming; the regeneration of all things is coming. It is promised and it must come because of the resurrection. “Because I live you shall live also. I have come that you might have abundant life,” That is our hope. Not, “If things are hard they’re going to get easier. If things are bad, they’re going to get better.” Not just that. Much more than that. Our final healing is going to come and will not tarry, with the last trumpet and the appearing of this living Jesus with all his holy angels and the resurrection of the dead. Our bodies sown in dishonour – frail, old, wasted, feeble – will be raised in glory like his resurrection body. Then we shall fully live to God.
My hope is at the resurrection and that allows me to pursue this life until then with love and joy, knowing that no matter what happens, nothing can destroy this hope, no new scientific discoveries, no archaeology or astronomy, because nothing can change the events of that first day of the week when Jesus was raised. The life Christ lives today he lives to God and he is with us every step of our pilgrimage. What a difference that makes! How do people live with the fellowship and love of Jesus Christ? In a million practical things, doing them with the help of a risen Saviour, doing them with the power of God we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We can know the power of Christ’s resurrection.
Let me give you an illustration of this. A few years ago John Piper was invited to be one of the speakers at a great student week in Texas. This conference is always Easter week; the American students call it ‘Rez Week.’ Over 5,000 Christian students gather each year to hear the Word preached. It’s a time of encouragement for believers, and outreach to those not yet Christians. When I was a student in the USA over fifty years ago the great event was at Urbana and Billy Graham was always the keynote speaker, but these years John Piper worthily fills the role. So a few years ago he had been invited to speak at the culminating service on the Friday night of Rez Week. He chose to speak on the power of the resurrection. As he stood on the platform lights were flashing from hundreds of cameras and then the students went back to their seats and he could begin. He asked them to turn to 1 Corinthians 15, he read the passage, and then before he began the sermon, he said the following . . .
“I need to tell you something. My wife and I met for lunch yesterday which is our habit on every Thursday. I’d been praying for some time about a very important subject that I wanted to talk with my wife about, a weighty subject. We had that conversation and I must say that it went very badly. My wife and I have hardly spoken a word since yesterday at lunch. We tried to speak yesterday afternoon but all I wanted to do was cry. We always pray on our knees. I read from a devotional at night and then we pray, Noel first and then me, and I was able to read and we were able to pray, but we really couldn’t even speak to one another last night. And when I left this morning we didn’t have the opportunity to speak. I had to get to the airport and go to the plane and fly here. I kissed her on the cheek and I said, ‘Noel, this is my problem and we’ll talk about it when I get back.’ And I got on the plane and I haven’t spoken to her since.”
“Now the reason I’m telling you this is because first of all, I don’t want you to think too highly of any man. You have all these famous preachers flying in on planes to preach to you this week but you remember that they’re all sinners. They need the Gospel too. Secondly, I want you to know that I need the power of the resurrection every bit as much as you do. And thirdly, I want you to know because I know some of you are coming here today guilty and struggling with sexual sin and all kinds of discouragements. I want you to know that you need the power of the resurrection as well.” (I think that if you’ll Google “John Piper Rez Week Texas A&M” you might still get to the audio and video of this sermon).
Well, for the rest of Piper’s talk all you could hear were the pages turning of 5,000 Bibles. The students were absolutely locked in on what the pastor had to say. Why do I tell you this story? Because some of you are here today and you think that if only you could be a better Christian you wouldn’t be having the problems that you’re having in your marriage, with your children, with your parents, with your job, at the university or wherever it is you’re having problems in life. Your hope is if you could just be a better Christian things would get better. But I want to change your focus. If that’s where you are today, then you are not experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection.
There’s just one place only for the Christian hope. And it’s not that things that are hard now but will get easier, things that are bad now but will get better, the problems that are weighing us down now will soon go away, and that is where we get our hope from. No! That’s not the knowing the power of his resurrection. So I wonder how many of you have come to church today tired and frustrated or disappointed or fearful or confused or angry or bitter or defeated or without hope and you’re looking for some hope somewhere. Maybe you’re looking for it in the wrong place
Our hope is in the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that that power energizes and motivates and enables us, day by day. In the life that Christ now lives, he lives to God, with God, at his right hand and also with us and for us. His life regenerates us, and his life continues to affect us even at this very minute, his life being injected into our meetings, even where only two or three gather together in his name. We are being ministered to by the power of a risen Saviour and that reality will give us true joy, and the energy to live life now – no matter what the successes and defeats are, no matter what the blessings and the trials are, because you know that in the end neither the good things nor the bad things have the final word. The risen Christ has the final word; “because I live you shall live also.” Our total transformation is awaiting us. It’s stored up, it’s kept, it’s in heaven – you won’t even see it until the last day.
For some of you your hope for better times is all to be found within the parameters of this life. This is where your hopes are when good goes to bad, or better goes to worse, or easy goes to hard. There are some of you in this congregation that other people look at and they say, “If my life could only be like so-and-so and so-and-so, if my marriage could only be like so-and-so and so-and-so, if my work could only be like so-and-so and so-and-so then I’d be happy.” Now it’s one of my joys to know so many of you, really know you, and I’ve been with you in darker days. You have opened up to me and told me what your cares are, and what’s broken your heart. I smile to myself sometimes when people speak to me of you and express their envy of you and say, “If only I could be like those folk over there I’d be happy. Life would be easy.” They have no idea of the secret burdens that you bear, absolutely no idea of the heartache because even when life is good, it’s never the way that God will finally make it here.
- CHRISTIANS, COUNT YOURSELVES DEAD TO SIN BUT ALIVE TO GOD.
This is what Paul says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v.11). Let me illustrate this exhortation of Paul by bringing to you the son of slaves inJamaica who was himself for years a slave until emancipation came to the West Indies and then he’s a free man. But he can still meet his old master in town or on a country lane and then he feels a slave, bowing his head in a totally servile way. He goes home to his wife and tells her of his fears, and she says to him, “Josh, my husband, you are a free man. You reckon on that. He’s got no control over you any longer. Count yourself free!” So Dr. Lloyd-Jones explains this word ‘count’ as ‘Consider, and keep constantly before you, this truth about yourself.’ Think of yourself constantly as someone who has been delivered from your old state to a new state.
So the word has been translated as reckoning on it, or considering that this is so, or regarding it as so, or looking upon it as such or counting it to be so. That is not whistling in the dark; I mean this is not make-believe. It is not repeating something to yourself to try to persuade yourself that something is true that is not true. We are not to pretend that our old self was crucified with Christ. There is no pretence about it. The old unregenerate self of what we used to be is no more; he is dead and buried. You can never become again what you once were. You are now a new man and only a new man in Christ. The old life has ended for ever; the score is settled once and for all; the debt has all been cleared; and the law is totally satisfied.
Consider a married woman tempted to behave as if she were single and going out to the pub by herself and chatting up various men there. Let her remember who she is; let her wear her wedding ring; let her think and speak of her dear husband and her children. Consider a truly newborn Christian living as if he were still an unbeliever. I know a minister who started to go to chat rooms on the web and talk to one woman in particular and finally he went to Manchester to meet her. Later he stood in a line of people at the booking office of the local railway station and he didn’t know that in the queue of people were some folk from his church, and when the booking agent asked him whether he wanted a single to Manchester or a return he said, “Single.” He was not counting on the facts of his wife and his children and his baptism and his vocation and that his old self had died and his new life was with Christ.
I am not saying that you should count yourself as no longer having remaining sin. That is not true. You still have to deal with the flesh. It has not been eradicated and will not be until you are with Christ in glory. Sin is a force in you and you ought to be aware of its power and subtlety. You and every Christian have all died to sin’s dominion in your union with Christ on Calvary so I am not commanding you, “Now die to the reign of sin!” Every Christian cries, “I did die to sin when I was born again.” I am not saying that the secret of your victory over sin lies in your reckoning, as if it were some physical effort that you had to do very tensely, “I will reckon and reckon and reckon and reckon myself to be dead to sin and alive to Christ, dead to sin and alive to Christ, DEAD TO SIN AND ALIVE TO CHRIST!” No! Your victory over the dominion of sin is not achieved by you and your efforts. It was achieved by the Son of God in his death and resurrection. You must appropriate it by believing every day of your life that it is true. That trust in what Christ has done is the victory that overcomes the world, the flesh and the devil
So the major secret of holy living is in the mind. It is constantly knowing and counting on these facts to be the truest truths about us, the most real realities. We are never to forget them, we recall them, we meditate on them, we ponder on the consequences of them, we let these truths register on our consciences so that they become the real us, that they are so integral to our mindset that to go back to the old swinger we once were is unthinkable. It is as unthinkable as an adult behaving as a little boy, a discharged prisoner knocking on the door of the jail to be let in again. We Christians have died and are risen and it is impossible for every real Christian to go back to that old life. God keeps us from that, for by his death Christ has bought our perseverance as new men and women
1st March 2015 GEOFF THOMAS