April 17 (Easter): Victory!

April 17 (Easter): Victory!

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Audio of Scripture reading and sermon only

This morning is the final message for our [Lenten] Journey toward the Cross of Calvary. Over the courseof Lent, Pastor Drew will preach a 7-part sermon series which will focus on some of things Christ specifically accomplished through his suffering and crucifixion, collectively referred to as the passion of Christ. The series is entitled “Why Did Jesus Die?” and is inspired by John Piper’s book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. The main point of the whole series is that the suffering an death of Jesus Christ was a purposefully event; many of the reasons for the passion of Christ are for our benefit. The hope is that you will come to a much greater appreciation for what Christ Jesus accomplished through his suffering and death on the cross. Today’s theme is resurrection. The main point is that Jesus died to achieve his own resurrection from the dead and to secure our own resurrection from the dead

Scriptures: Luke 24:1-8, Romans 8:10-11, Hebrews 13:20-21, 2 Timothy 2:11, 1 Corinthians 6:14

Text, "Traverse City Track Club Bayshore Marathon" above logo of two persons running

At some point during the year 2003, I got the bright idea to run a marathon. At the time, I was, at best, what you might call a recreational runner, which means I ran a few miles two to three times a week at a relatively slow to moderate pace. I’d recently learned that an acquaintance of mine, who I never considered to be an athlete, had completed a triathlon the previous summer. And the more I thought about it, the more I asked myself, if she could do it, why couldn’t I? But because where we lived at that time had no access to water, I opted for just the running portion of a triathlon. And thus was born the idea of running a marathon. 26.2 miles. After a little bit of research, I threw together a training regimen and began my preparation. In the spring of the following year, I ran and completed the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City.

Now, for those who’ve never run a marathon, what I’m about to tell you will sound counter intuitive. Completing first 20 miles was relatively easy. What turned out to be grueling were the final 6.2 miles. I’ve since heard the marathon described as a 20-mile warmup followed by a 10K race (10 kilometers = 6.2 miles). And in my experience, that observation proved to be spot-on! During those final miles, the desire to stop was strong and came upon me often.  But I fought against those inclinations and kept slogging my way forward. When I finally caught sight of the finish line, my heart began to beat a little faster and my steps lightened, of only just a little. But my happiness was quickly dashed when I realized that the banner I thought marked the finish line turned out to be the starting point. It was probably the 26 mile marker, which meant I still had another .2 miles to go. Friends, over the years I’ve run hundreds of .2 miles, but that was longest two-tenths of a mile I’ve ever run!! This pretty much sums up how I felt physically by the time I got the finish line.

Well, when I finally crossed the real finish line, it was a personal victory like I’d never experienced before. All that hard work, including dealing with stress fracture in my left leg just a month or so earlier, had paid off. Even though you couldn’t tell by looking at me, I was absolutely elated that I’d done it. I’d actually done it, praise God!

running shoes hanging on a wall

Would you like to know the effect that victory had on me? You might think it motivated me to keep at it. To recuperate and look for another race to run, maybe a simple 10K race. Nope. As sweet as that victory was, it was short-lived. It would be years before I’d run again. For the longest time, my running shoes didn’t see the light of day. The whole ordeal had taken so much out of me that just the thought of running again made me want to turn around and…run the other way.

Victories are an interesting phenomenon. At the time, they seem so significant and crucial to achieving the desired goals and purposes.  But the fact is by and large, victories are temporary in nature. They’re triumphs and successes for the time-being, but almost always give way to the next struggle or conflict. For example, over the course of human history, how many wars have been fought and won? Usually, there’s a winner, a victor, right? But in every war, did that victory have a permanent outcome? Even World War 1, dubbed “the war to end all wars” on account of its over-the-top savagery, failed to live up to its moniker. We now know that the terms of European victory in the First World War ended up becoming the soil of German resentment into which Hitler intentionally sowed the seeds of hate, giving rise to the Second World War.

President Regan standing at a podium in front of the Berlin Wall

How many of us remember President Regan’s famous speech in which he boldly called for the destruction of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of repressive Communism? “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” was a demand heard around the world. Two years later, on November 9, 1989, to the amazement of everyone watching, the Berlin Wall fell. Two years after that, after instituting certain political reforms and even surviving a coup, Gorbachev resigned his leadership as head of Communist party and Yeltsin began carrying the mantle for a democratic Soviet state. A few days later, Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR. The day after Christmas, 1991, the Soviet Union officially collapsed as the hammer and sickle flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin. People from all over the world watched in amazement at this relatively peaceful transition from former Communist monolith into multiple separate nations. Truly, a great victory for democracy!

So, how long did that particular victory last?

In our world, victories taste sweet and often hold a sense of promise for the future. But such victories don’t endure. And that’s because they can’t. They’re fought and won by sinful humanity. And despite whatever wholesome motives we have which drive us toward victory—in whatever aspect of life with which we’re struggling—our actions and motivations are of this broken world. And so, the victories we achieve will always be temporary.

Enter Jesus. The Son of God. The Word made flesh (see John 1:1ff). The Christ, or Messiah; the Anointed One of God. Enter Jesus Christ who, through his suffering and death on the cross of Calvary achieves the ultimate victory: the triumph over sin and death.

It was a kind of two-for-one victory. Through his death, Jesus was victorious over the power which sin wielded over humanity and all of Creation. But taking it one step further, Jesus was victorious over sin itself. On the cross, Jesus destroyed the power of sin and sin itself  This means that all followers of Christ, including you and I, have had those shackles removed. We’re no longer under the control of sin. Yes, we’re still unfortunately subject to its awful influence, but we’re not under its oppressive rule.

Concerning the destruction of sin itself, it’s as good as done. When Christ returns, God’s plan to redeem all of creation will be fulfilled to its ultimate conclusion. And that end includes the total dissolution of sin itself. Yes, sin is still a reality in our world today, but its presence and power has been limited through the death of Jesus Christ, and a day is coming when it will be permanently destroyed, never to be even remembered!

And the good news is that Jesus’ victory over sin and death is permanent. Permanent! And that’s because it was achieved by God himself. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, became for us the Lamb of God on the cross. As the Lamb of God, he took upon himself the guilt of all sin and when he died, he took it to where it belongs—to the place of the dead, wherever and whatever that may be. But the point is, he took them there and for those who profess faith in him, there the guilt of our sins remains to this day.

It was a kind of two-for-one victory. Through his death, Jesus was victorious over the power which sin wielded over humanity and all of Creation. But taking it one step further, Jesus was victorious over sin itself.

Jesus standing in front of Mary Magdalen
Jesus’ resurrection body

Of course, on this glorious Easter day there’s more good news to report! The spirit of Christ didn’t remain in the place of the dead. No, it was reunited with physical body which was still in this world, located in the rocky tomb. And at some point, before the women arrived at the tomb, he was bodily resurrected with a significantly different kind of physical body. This one, which the Apostle Paul would later call a “resurrection body,” wasn’t subject to the natural laws of our universe. This resurrected body, now more real and dense in materiality than our bodies, could pass through less dense physical matter such as rocks in the same manner that metal airplanes pass through less dense matter such as clouds. Jesus was alive again and he was resurrected. And he was free of the tomb.

To be resurrected means to be brought back to a state of living which will never end in death.  Jesus raised his friend Lazarus back to life, but he wasn’t resurrected because at some point he died again. And the others we know about who were raised back to life were not resurrected because they, too, died again. But Jesus was resurrected, which means he’s still alive today.

What was the means of this resurrection and what does it mean for us today? As it concerns the means of his resurrection, that is, how came to be, Hebrews 13:20 provides the answer. It comes at the very end of the letter and is part of a concluding blessing he’s giving to his readers. But the content of this benediction reveals a very important truth about what Jesus’ suffering and death achieved. Here it is: “May the God of peace, who brought back…our Lord Jesus from the dead by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with every good thing….” The key word in this statement is the preposition “by.” May the God of peace, who brought back our Lord Jesus from the dead by the blood of the eternal covenant… Other Bible versions say “through the blood,” which mean the same thing. It’s on account of the “blood of the eternal covenant” that Jesus was resurrected.

So, the death of Christ didn’t merely precede his resurrection—it was the price that obtained it. God brought him back from the dead by/through the blood of the eternal covenant. And just to be clear, “the blood of the eternal covenant” is the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. So, Hebrews 13:20 makes it clear that he was raised not just after the blood-shedding, but by it. And this means that what the death of Christ accomplished was so full and so perfect that the resurrection was the reward and vindication of Christ’s achievement in death.

Here’s how John Piper puts it:

The wrath of God was satisfied with the suffering and death of Jesus. The holy curse against sin was fully absorbed. The obedience of Christ was completed to the fullest measure. The price of forgiveness was totally paid. The righteousness of God was completely vindicated. All that was left to accomplish was the public declaration of God’s endorsement. This he gave by raising Jesus from the dead. The point is that the resurrection proves that the death of Jesus is an all-sufficient price. (“The Passion of Jesus Christ, p 26-27).

But wait! There’s yet more good news for this Easter celebration! The passion of Christ didn’t just achieve his own resurrection, it secured our resurrection as well. Romans 8:10-11 – “If Christ is in you, [then] the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, [then] the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.” The Holy Spirit was the divine power who resurrected Jesus and brought him out of the tomb. When you say yes to Jesus, the Holy Spirit takes up residency in your heart and gives you the same life he gave Jesus—a resurrected life!

This truth is confirmed in Romans 6:5 – “If we were united with him in death like his” (a reference to baptism, which symbolizes our coming to faith in him and dying to self), “[then] we will also united together in a resurrection like his.” On account of his shed blood and through our faith in him, we are united to Christ through a spiritual death to self, thereby  being made alive by the Spirit; and through a bodily resurrection from the dead, which Christians believe will happened when Christ returns. That’s when we will be given our resurrected bodies—the same kind of physical body Jesus had when he was resurrected.

1 Corinthians 6:14 says, “God has raised the Lord and will raise us through his power.” We get the same kind of “raising” Jesus got—a resurrection; being raised back to life never to die again.

And finally, 2 Timothy 2:11 – “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” Notice what precedes living with Christ: dying with him. Because of his death, and our faith and trust in what he accomplished through it, we are given new and resurrected life.

A day is coming when each one of us will take our final breath in this world. Exactly what happens in that moment is a mystery, but one thing we do know for certain, those in Christ will never taste death and separation from God. And that’s because Jesus obediently went to the cross, enduring its pain and shame, took the guilt of our sins to the place of death, and then left them there after he’d accomplished what he was sent there to do. And now, as a result, Jesus is alive forever, and you and I are alive forever. This is the greatest victory in all of creation. It’s a permanent victory. And it’s ours simply by hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ and believing it. Let’s pray.


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