Resurrection: Declared with Power

Original Date: 
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Matthew 28:1-10; Romans 1:1-4 The Jesus Profile: Resurrection: Declared With Power

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

I was reading this week that before the creation of the Christian church, burial after death was reserved for the rich. In most every culture, it was only the wealthy who had funerals and specially set apart final resting places—think the pyramids in Egypt. Pretty much everyone else was thrown out with the trash.

It was only when the church came along that they started burying everyone in the same place. When they needed a name for these places, they borrowed a word from the Greek that described a dormitory—in other words, a place where a lot of people were sleeping. Every time you hear the word cemetery, you are being reminded that the dead will wake up.

Think of it this way, in the story of two tombstones: one is the stone marking the final resting place of Mel Blanc, the voice actor who lent his voice to so many Looney Tunes characters. At his request, his family marked his gravestone with the words that he used to end a thousand cartoons: “That’s all, folks!”

The other tombstone is described by Philip Yancey. It marks the grave of a friend’s grandmother who lies buried under ancient oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. According to the grandmother’s instructions, only one word is inscribed on the gravestone: “Waiting.”

The difference is what happened on that first Easter morning, when Jesus walked out of His own tomb. The difference is the word we use for the name of our church: Hope. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have hope that someday we will too. We are a church built on our belief in the resurrection of the dead.

And so, I want to welcome you to our worship service this morning. And I want to invite you to turn and greet one another using the phrase: “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”


Seismology
One of the most powerful forces in our natural world is the power of an earthquake. We don't live in a place where earthquakes are all that common (I seem to remember hearing that a big earthquake hit the Mississippi valley in the early 1800s), but we hear about earthquakes all the time.

It seems to me that there are two ways to measure the power of an earthquake. One is the Richter Scale. I'm sure you are all fairly familiar with this. It's a numerical scale that seismologists use to measure the intensity of ground movement. We hear about it whenever an earthquake from California makes the news. We are told that: "An earthquake, measuring 4.8 on the Richter Scale struck San Francisco this morning" or "A 5.2 earthquake rumbled just outside of Los Angeles last night." Each whole number increase on the scale, I'm told, represents 31 times more energy.

Or, to put it another way, an earthquake measured at 7.0 would be 31 times as powerful as one measured at 6.0 on the Richter scale. Once we reach 8.0 or higher we are dealing with what is known as a "Great Earthquake."

On the other hand, it seems to me that you can measure the power of an earthquake in terms of the destruction it creates. For example, in 2010 a devastating earthquake hit Port-a-Prince Haiti. I’m sure you remember it. On the Richter Scale it was “just” a 7.0 magnitude quake. For comparison sake, there were at least 16 other earthquakes in the world that year that registered higher on the Richer Scale. And yet, more than 300,000 people lost their lives in that earthquake, making it one of the deadliest in history. Once people start dying--let alone thousands of people--it doesn't really matter what the Richter Scale says, that's a powerful earthquake.

In fact, I was looking around on Wikipedia and I found that since the year 2000 there have been at least 13 earthquakes that have claimed the lives 1000 or more people. Earthquakes can be powerful, destructive things.

But if we call earthquakes powerful that claim lives, how powerful must an earthquake be when it marks the return of life?

Here’s how our scripture passage begins this morning, Matthew 28:1-2:

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

The first Easter began with an earthquake. The NIV says that it was a "violent earthquake." The actual Greek word used there is the modifier "mega", which in its most basic translation means "great." I don't know if this means the tremors would have measured over 8.0 on the Richter Scale or not (if such a scale had then existed), but it was apparently a very powerful shaking.

In this case, however, the earthquake is not an indicator of destruction, but an indicator of life. This particular earthquake marks the return of Jesus from the dead.

Matthew explains that the earthquake is caused (at least in part) by an angel of the Lord appearing at Jesus' tomb. Moreover, one of the results of the earthquake (or maybe it's the cause of it?) is that the large stone sealing Jesus' tomb is rolled away (which, in and of itself tells us that this was a powerful tremor, because those stones were not easily moved).

Matthew goes on, verses 3-4:

3His appearance [that is, the angel’s] was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

You get an idea of how an angel could cause a great earthquake here: “His appearance was like lightning,” what does that even look like? No chubby baby with wings here. The angel’s appearance is so frightening that trained Roman soldiers are fainting in terror. But to the women coming to visit Jesus, the angel has a message of joy, not fear. Verse 5:

5The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

With that announcement, hope was let loose in the world. Hope that death was not the end. Hope that the power of sin could be reversed.

But the women don’t have to take the talking lightning bolt’s word for it. They get to meet the resurrected Jesus Himself. Verses 8-10:

8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Doesn’t Jesus seem remarkably understated here? John Ortberg points out that the word translated as “Greetings” is as close you can come to the very common, informal way somebody in that day would say, “Hey, how you doing? Nice day, isn’t it? What’s up?” No formal, profound statement. No amazing explanation of what has happened. Just: “Hi!”

In other words: “What did you expect?”

In other words: “Didn’t I tell you?”

A pastor named Skip Viau tried to tell this story in a children’s sermon one time. He posed the questions, “What were Jesus’ first words to the disciples after he was raised from the dead?” Before he could give Matthew’s answer, a little girl waved her hand and Skip deferred to her. “I know,” she said. “Ta da!”

It’s as good a translation as any. (Who is this Man? p. 186-187)

All of this--the great earthquake, the angel with an appearance like lightning, the stone rolling away, the Roman guards falling to the earth like dead men, even Jesus’ casual greeting--all of this tells me that Jesus' resurrection from the dead was a powerful event. Obviously, people returning from the dead is not an everyday occurrence. When it happens, then, there must be some powerful forces at work.

The Gospel of God
All of this leads to what I want to serve as our main text for today, Romans 1:1-4. For an explanation of what Easter means for us, I’d like us to leave the Easter story and take a look at what later commentators—in this case, the Apostle Paul—have to say about it. So, let’s look at the first four verses of the letter to the Romans:

1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- 2the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy
Scriptures 3regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now, when I first read this passage to Beth and told her it was going to be the text for Easter Sunday, her immediate reaction was: "That's it?" She didn't think it sounded too much like an Easter morning text, and I suppose at first glance it doesn't. But when you sort out this rather complicated sentence--and it is all one sentence--you find that these verses have rather a lot to say about Jesus' resurrection.

These verses represent a sort of "chain reaction" of ideas. In a manner typical of the Apostle Paul, as he explains one idea it leads him into another and then another. As a result, his sentences tend to go on and on as he piles thought after thought on top of each other.

Let me show you what I mean. This is the introduction for Paul's letter to the Romans. In the ancient world of letter writing, you didn't begin your letter with who the letter was for--"Dear Romans"--but with who the letter was from. That's because the letters were written on scrolls, and you wanted to make sure everybody knew who was doing the writing. So, all Paul is trying to do here is say: "From Paul."

But as he does, it occurs to him that maybe he should explain who he is. So he writes several things about himself by way of introduction: He is Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, and set apart for the gospel of God. So far so good.

But then Paul thinks, "'Gospel of God' is not a real common phrase. Maybe I should explain what I mean." So he tells us two things about this "gospel of God." For one thing, it is a gospel which God promised long ago through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures. For another thing, it is a gospel concerning God's Son. Again, so far so good.

But, again, Paul thinks, "If I'm going to talk about God's Son, maybe I should explain who I mean." So he piles on some more thoughts, this time telling us three things about this Son. 1) He is the human descendant of ancient King David. 2) He has been declared with power to be the Son of God by virtue of his resurrection from the dead. And 3) He is Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, in the course of one sentence, Paul explains that he is set apart for the Gospel of God, that this gospel was promised long ago and concerns God's Son, and that God's Son is Jesus Christ the Lord--descendant of David and resurrected from the dead.

If you work it backward then, you see that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the "declarative event" which demonstrates that everything else in this chain is significant. It's that phrase: "declared with power...by his resurrection from the dead" that stands out to me in this text and makes it perfect for Easter Morning.

Why do we care that this letter is from Paul? Because he has been "set apart for the gospel of God." Why does the gospel of God matter to us? Because it concerns God's Son Jesus Christ. How do we know that Jesus is the Son of God? Because it has been declared with power by His resurrection from the dead.

The resurrection is the powerful event which confirms everything Christians believe. The resurrection is the powerful declaration by God that we need to deal with Jesus Christ.

You Must Respond...
Let me put it this way: every once and a while something will happen in your life that just can't be ignored, something that just has to be dealt with. Like a natural disaster, for instance. If your home were hit by an earthquake (or a flood, or a tornado) you'd have to deal with it. You couldn't just sit there in the midst of crumpled up walls. You'd have to move, or rebuild, or something. You couldn't just pretend that it didn't happen.

Well, Jesus' resurrection from the dead is like that. It is God's earthquake in your life. You can't just ignore it. You can't just pretend that it didn't happen. You have to respond. Jesus' resurrection from the dead is God's powerful declaration that you must deal with Jesus Christ.

So, what exactly does the resurrection declare about Jesus? What is it that we need to respond to? I'd like to take three ideas suggested in the text this morning and show you how they are confirmed by Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Three things about Jesus Christ that were declared with power when He walked out of His tomb.

I. The resurrection declares with power that Jesus Christ is the answer to God's promises.

The first thing Paul tells us about the "gospel of God" is that it was "promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures."

There's a reason that our Bibles have both an Old and a New Testament. There's a reason that we don't just start with the story of Jesus Christ. Long before Jesus ever arrived God was preparing for Him by sending His prophets and making promises. From the time of Adam and Eve--our first human parents--God was preparing the world for the good news of salvation (Gen. 3:15). He reconfirmed that promise to Abraham, expressed it more fully through Moses, and added to it through David.

In fact, I'm reading a book right now that says there is no passage of Old Testament scripture that is not--ultimately--in some way about Jesus Christ. You will never find those two words in the pages of the Old Testament--"Jesus Christ"--but everything in scripture is in some way about Him--pointing to Him, awaiting Him, presupposing Him.

Take just one of the prophecies, Isaiah 53. It is a prophecy of a suffering servant. It talks about one who will take up our infirmities and carry our sorrows. When we talk about Jesus death on the cross, we often look at these verses which say: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”

But at the end of Isaiah 53, even after predicting such terrible suffering and death, there are verses which indicate this suffering servant will live again. Verse 11 says,

After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.

That's a promise of resurrection.

So when Jesus walked out of the tomb on that first Easter morning, it was God's powerful declaration that Jesus was the answer to all His promises. It was as though God were taking giant neon signs and pointing them at Jesus and saying, "This is Him! This is the One I've been telling you about!" Even if the things Jesus had done during His ministry and in His death were not enough to tell you that He was God's promised one, His resurrection leaves no doubt. This is what all of the scriptures have been aiming at.

So, what difference does it make? What does it matter to you that some guy who lived 2000 years ago was predicted by a bunch of old writings that were written even longer ago? Who cares?

Well, for one thing, it shows you that this is no accident. If God could promise and predict Jesus Christ hundreds and thousands of years before He came, then you can't write Him off as just another guy. He's not just another religious figure, like Mohammed or Buddha. I'll say it again, you have to deal with Him.

More than that, it shows you that there really is a purpose and a plan to history, to life. The events of your life are not just the result of a random set of occurrences. Think about it: if God could arrange things so that His promises found completion in Jesus Christ, then He must truly be in control of the things that happen in this world.

The resurrection declares with power that Jesus Christ is the answer to all God's promises.

II. The resurrection declares with power that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

In verses 3 and 4, Paul gives us the information he thinks we need to know about who Jesus is. And the first thing he wants us to know is that, according to his human nature, Jesus "was a descendant of David."

Jesus was a man. He had a human nature. That's not that surprising, or hard to confirm. Anybody who met Him on earth could tell He was a man. He was born; He needed food, drink and sleep; He died. He was flesh and blood just like you or I. Even the fact that He was a descendant of David isn't all that hard to prove, just check the genealogy records (it is important though, since the promises of Scripture said He would be a member of David's family).

But Paul also wants us to know that Jesus is God's Son. That's a bit harder to prove. In fact, it was for that very idea that He was killed. The teachers of the law and the High priests that arranged for Jesus to be arrested and tried did so because they could not abide His claims to be the Son of God. They felt He was being blasphemous. Even as He hung on the cross they taunted Him by saying that if He really was the Son of God, He ought to be able to save Himself.

But when Easter morning arrives and Jesus leaves His grave behind, it becomes a powerful confirmation that everything His opponents doubted is actually true. That's what verse 4 is saying: "Through the Spirit of holiness [he] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead." The resurrection is God's vindication of Jesus. It is the surest stamp of approval God the Father could possibly give to His Son.

So, Jesus is a man, but He is also the Son of God. In other words, He is God.

What difference does this make? How does it affect you if Jesus was the Son of God?

Well, just like I said before, if God has come to earth, you can't just write Him off as another guy. You have to look at His claims, you have to listen to the things He said. If God has come to earth, then it follows that the things He would have to say while He was here were pretty important. You'd want to make sure to know about Him, and to use His teachings as a guide to your life.

But, even more importantly, you have to see that if Jesus Christ was both God and man, then He represents a bridge between us and God that is nowhere else available. He creates a connection between humanity and the divine that we couldn't hope to achieve in any other way. If you have any hope of being in a right relationship with God, then, it follows that it is going to have something to do with Jesus Christ.

The resurrection declares with power that Jesus Christ is the answer to God's promises. The resurrection declares with power that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

III. The resurrection declares with power that Jesus Christ is Lord.

At the end of verse 4, Paul ends this sentence by identifying precisely who it is that he is calling God's Son: Jesus Christ our Lord. It is not by accident that he calls Jesus "Lord".

It is not unusual for us to see Jesus described this way, it's almost as though it is a part of His name: "Jesus Christ the Lord." When we pray, we often begin our prayers by saying "Dear Lord." It's a pretty comfortable term.

By making it comfortable, though, we've diminished some of its meaning. The problem is that we are independent and free Americans. The notion of self-determination is rather ingrained into us. We're not really used to having "Lords" and so I'm not really sure we know what the word means.

If we lived in the days of slavery, though, or in the days of the feudal system, we'd know what it means. Lord means master. It means somebody who is in charge. The Lord was the boss, the authority, the power. When you have a Lord, then that is someone to whom you give unquestioned obedience.

Why then do we call Jesus Lord? It is due, in no small part, to the resurrection. When Jesus triumphed over death it was God's powerful declaration that Jesus is Lord. It demonstrated that He has authority over death. It demonstrated that He has authority over all of creation.

So what does that mean?

Well, again, this tells you that Jesus is no ordinary person. "Lord" isn't just another name for Jesus, it says something about who He is, the power He has, and the response He deserves. If Jesus really is Lord, then we all need to answer to Him. It means He is in control, it means He is the Boss, it means we must follow Him.

John Piper writes:

Here is our Easter witness to the world: The risen Christ is your king and has absolute, unlimited authority over your life. If you do not bow and worship him and trust him and obey him, you commit high treason against Christ the King, who is God over all. Easter is God's open declaration that he lays claim on every person and tribe and tongue and nation. Easter has to do with power and authority. Easter is the claim of the risen Christ on every life that breathes…

Your sex life is his to rule; your business is his to rule; your career is his to rule; your home is his; your children are his; your vacation is his; your body is his; He is [Lord!]

So if you resist his claim, feel no admiration for his infinite power and authority, and turn finally to seek satisfaction from thrills that allow you to be your own master, then you will be executed for treason in the last day. And it will appear so reasonable and so right that you should be executed for your disloyalty to your Maker and Redeemer that there will be no appeals and no objections. Your life of indifference to the risen Christ and of half-hearted attention now and then (perhaps on Easter) to a few of his commandments will appear on that day as supremely blameworthy and infinitely foolish, and you will remember this sermon and weep that you did not change. (Worship the Risen Christ! April 3, 1983)

Jesus has a claim on your life. He walked out of His own tomb. He defeated the power of the grave. “Ta-Daa!” And now He is staking His claim to be the one and only ruler of your life. He wants to be your Lord.

Jesus' resurrection from the dead is God's powerful declaration that we must deal with Jesus Christ. It is the declaration that Jesus is the answer to God's promises, that He is the Son of God, and that He is Lord. Just like an earthquake, you can't ignore Jesus’ resurrection. You have to deal with it. You have to decide, what are you going to believe about Him?

You have two choices.

1) On the one hand, you can choose to believe that the resurrection never happened. You can say that it was all a hoax, that the disciples got it wrong, that Jesus is still dead. If that's the case, then you don't have to think any more about Jesus. He has no claim on your life.

But be careful. If that is going to be your conclusion, realize that you are going against all the evidence. Nobody has ever found Jesus' body. Even the Jewish authorities and Roman officials who had the greatest reason to prove Jesus was dead--and the greatest opportunity to do so--were unable. If you are going to say that the resurrection never happened, then you are calling Jesus a liar. You are calling the apostles liars. You are saying that for 2000 years millions upon millions of Christians have been duped.

2) Or, on the other hand, you can choose to believe that the resurrection is real. You can accept the evidence as true. But if you do that, than you have to deal with Jesus. You have to recognize that He is Lord. You have to see His claim on your life and you have to submit to Him.

There's no middle ground. You can't just pretend Jesus isn't there. The resurrection declares that Jesus is the promised Son of God who reigns over all the world in power. The resurrection calls on you to believe in Him.