God's End Game - Part 29
Series: God's End Game
July 07, 2019
It’s taken us a while to get here in discovering God’s End Game, figuring out what he’s up to with us and the world, but we finally made it to the biggest play in his plan to set us and all creation back to rights: the resurrection.
We don’t normally focus on that but we should. It’s where we’re going to camp out for a good while. In so doing, we will get a much clearer picture of what heaven’s going to be like, and we’ll find that picture much clearer and more relatable than we ever imagined, by the way.
To help us, once again we’ve employed the use of a theological book which gives us a doctrinal explanation of what the resurrection of Jesus is, what it means.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is that central moment in human history that serves as the foundational doctrine of Christianity. After having truly assumed human nature and submitted to an agonizing and shameful public death, the eternal Son of God was truly raised from the dead in his glorified physical body, no longer subject to decay and death. His resurrection validates his identity as the divine Son of God, demonstrates his irrevocable victory over death and the grave, and secures both the present salvation and future physical resurrection of believers.
Last week we briefly covered the first part, because for the most part we all probably agree that it actually happened:
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is that central moment in human history that serves as the foundational doctrine of Christianity.
That tells us the resurrection is the hinge on which all of Christianity swings. Paul the apostle stressed this.
1 Corinthians 15:12–19 (NLT) — 12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
If the resurrection wasn’t an actual, historical, physical event then we should all just go home and watch Stranger Things.
I also stressed that believing in the resurrection of Jesus is a step of faith but it’s not blind faith. The evidence for the resurrection is stronger than it’s ever been. Every credible, honest historian (Christ follower or not) knows three undeniable things about what happened 2,000 years ago…
(1). Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of women the Sunday following his crucifixion.
(2). Jesus’ disciples had actual encounters with someone they believed to be a resurrected Jesus.
(3). These disciples’ preaching of a resurrected Jesus turned the world upside down.
As I said, most if not all of us don’t have issue with whether it really happened. So let’s look at the next part of our theological statement on the resurrection of Jesus.
After having truly assumed human nature (incarnation) and submitted to an agonizing and shameful public death (crucifixion), the eternal Son of God was truly raised from the dead in his glorified physical body (we will look at this next week), no longer subject to decay and death ( I want to focus on this part today).
Jesus’ resurrection was unique in one sense but not in another. It wasn’t unique in the sense that he wasn’t the first person to come back from the dead. There are nine other occurrences in the Bible.
The first three are in the OT. In 1 Kings 17…
1. The Widow of Zarephath’s son
1 Kings 17:17–24
Elijah the prophet is staying with the widow of Zarephath. Her son dies leaving her in a dire situation. Elijah brings him back.
In 2 2 Kings…
2. The Shunamite’s son
2 Kings 4:20–37
Elijah’s protege and successor as a prophet, Elisha, raised the Shunamite’s little boy from the dead.
Also in 2 Kings…
3. The man tossed into Elisha’s tomb
2 Kings 13:21
There is kind of a long backstory but the gist is a dead man’s body was accidentally buried in the grave of the prophet Elisha. When his body touched the deceased prophet’s bones, he came back to life.
Now we move to the NT. The first three people raised from the dead were brought back by Jesus himself…
In Luke 7…
4. Widow of Nain’s son
Another poor widow’s son had died. He was her only son and sole means of support. Jesus came upon the funeral procession, had compassion on that dear mother, and brought her son back to life.
In Mark 5…
5. Jairus’ daughter
An important man named Jairus desperately sought out Jesus because his daughter was very sick. He found Jesus and asked him to come and heal her. Jesus agreed and set out towards the man’s home.
On his way a woman with a issue of blood touched his robe and was healed. Jesus stopped and asked who had touched him. You probably know that story. While all this was going on, word came back that Jairus’ daughter had died…
Mark 5:35–36 (ESV) — 35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Jesus went to where she was and simply said, “Little girl, I say to you arise.” And that’s exactly what she did.
This next one is probably very familiar. Jesus had three close friends outside of his disciples, siblings named Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus especially was important to him.
In John 11, we see where…
One day the sisters sent word to Jesus that their brother and the “one whom he loved” was very sick. Instead of heading straight there (like he did with Jairus’ request), Jesus took his time, so much time Lazarus died. Four days later he finally showed up…
John 11:17–27 (ESV) — 17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
It might surprise you to learn that the idea of heaven and the afterlife we see very clearly in the NT wasn’t nearly so clear in the OT. The Jews of Jesus’ day and before were all about this life and considered death kind of the end until God decided to bring everyone back on the “last day.” That’s what Martha refers to here. She was thinking about Lazarus coming back one day when God raises everyone up but not that day. One commentator writes…
“When one reads the OT, one fact is striking: that Israel is attached to life—to this life—and in no way dreams of a marvelous life hereafter. Israel considers the world into which she has been placed as the handiwork of her God, and human existence is a divine gift.”
I’m not going to go into this now, but that’s important to remember. It’ll come into play as we discover how heaven factors into God’s end game and how it has as much to do with the here and now as the hereafter. They are connected in ways most of us don’t realize.
Anyway, Jesus walks up to Lazarus’ tomb as says, “Lazarus come forth!” And he did just that. Shocking his sisters and everybody watching.
The next accounts of people being raised from the dead occur after Jesus was crucified. Look at Matthew 27…
7. Those resurrected at Jesus’ crucifixion
Matthew 27:51–53 (ESV) — 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Can you imagine Uncle Joshua, who died a few days ago, knocking at your door. Okay, that reminds me of Pet Cemetery but with a good ending.
The last two of the nine are in the book of Acts…
8. Tabitha (also known as Dorcas)
Acts 9:36–41 (ESV) — 36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.
Finally, there’s number nine and it’s found in Acts 20…
It was Sunday and Paul was preaching in someone’s house. He “prolonged his speech until midnight.” I bet a lot of folks feel we preachers prolong our speeches. Reminds me of the old story about the little boy who invited his unchurched and very curious friend to services one Sunday.
When the choir director said “Turn in your hymnals to number 239,” the little guest asked, “What does that mean?” And his friend explained.
When the offering plates were about to be passed, he asked what that meant and his friend explained.
When the pastor got up to preach and took off his watch, placing it on the pulpit, the little fellow asked what that meant. His friend replied, “Not a dern’ thing.”
A fellow named Eutychus was sitting in a window on the third story. Paul preached so long and things got so warm with all the lit candles, he got sleepy and fell to his death. Paul raised him from the dead.
Consider these nine accounts and you realize Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t all that unique in one sense. It had happened way before he came back from the dead and even long after.
But there’s something about Jesus’ resurrection that is extraordinarily special in another sense. Something that sets it apart from all these others. You see, the widows’ sons, Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus, those who rose when Jesus was crucified, they all came back from the dead only to one day die again. Their bodies ended up expiring and decaying in the grave.
But Jesus, he came back from the dead never to die again. His body never knew corruption or decay. Peter made a big deal out of this in his sermon preached at the birth of the church in Acts 2…
Acts 2:24–36 (ESV) — 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him, “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
He’s quoting Psalm 16, written by King David there…
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
David died and his body ended up decaying in the grave, so this must have been prophetic.
30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Paul too saw this as important. He and Barnabas had come to Antioch in Pisidia on their missionary journey. Paul entered the synagogue there and began preaching Jesus. He talked about how he had been rejected and crucified and how God had raised him from the dead.
Acts 13:34–39 (ESV) — 34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “ ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, “ ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Conclusion: Anybody coming back from the dead deserves to be the news headline, but Jesus’ return from death is singularly unique in that he died once and for all, never to die again. He was raised bodily (more later), he still exists in that body, and he’s coming back in that body to give us a body like his.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me close with this.
I actually preach a funeral sermon on the three resurrections performed by Jesus. It’s about how Jesus crashed every funeral he ever attended: one that hadn’t started (Jairus’ daughter), one already underway (the widow of Nain’s son), and one already over (Lazarus).
He also crashed his own funeral, didn’t he? And he crashes every funeral of every person who dies having put their faith and trust in him — not in person but in promise. What did he say to Martha?
“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”
If that’s true, it changes everything, folks. And it’s not so much about one day when the roll is called up yonder as it is about right now.
Tim Keller, preaching on the Psalm quoted by Peter and Paul where David said God wouldn’t let his holy one die or suffer decay says…
“David didn’t quite know, but he was pointing to one of his descendants, a greater David, someone who was truly faithful. Yes, David was faithful, but only Jesus Christ was completely faithful. In the grave, God did not abandon him to the grave. God never let his body see decay but raised him up, and now Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God, and that guarantees that you who believe in him will be resurrected too.
Do you know what that means? If you do not believe that Jesus Christ was physically raised from the dead, if you don’t believe in the historical fact, would you please imagine what would happen if you did? What if you knew he was raised from the dead? What if you knew the resurrection was a fact and that if you believed in him this future was your future? It would change the way you went to every funeral. It would change the way you wept every one of your tears. It would change the way in which you handled everything that came your way.”
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