Romans 8:11 “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”
How often Paul returns to the greatest news of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is the heart of the message of Christianity. The best news the world has ever heard – and it originated in a graveyard. The resurrection of Jesus is not just one of the tenets of the Christian faith. Without it there would be no Christianity at all. We wouldn’t be gathered here on the first day of the week. Paul told the Christians in Corinth, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Cor. 15:14). Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of the risen, living Christ lies at its very heart. If you extract that then Christianity itself is destroyed. Yet I know a minister in this town who doesn’t believe in the resurrection of the body – and they get sniffy that I don’t take part in joint Easter services with them? There was a Christian preaching at Speakers’ Corner, and someone in the crowd passed up a question which read, “What has your religion got that all these other religions have not got, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism?” The speaker read it out and then he gave his answer, “An empty tomb.”
- THE CHALLENGE OF THE EMPTY TOMB.
The challenge is an appeal to history and to naïve eye witnesses, what honourable women and trustworthy men once saw. While all the other people who’ve lived on this planet finally died and remained in their graves Jesus of Nazareth did not. He rose. Consider the following facts (which I have taken and adopted from the late David Watson).
1. How else do you account for the birth and growth of the Christian church? The empty tomb of Christ has been the cradle of the church. It is historically and psychologically impossible that the followers of Jesus, utterly despondent after the crucifixion, could have been filled with such power, joy and assurance by some incredible, concocted fiction about a resurrection, invented by a committee while the actual truth was that this life, this life I say, that had healed every sick person brought to him, raised the dead, prophesied his own resurrection, preached the Sermon on the Mount and lived a perfect life eventually fizzled out in death. Do you think it possible that some of his followers invented a fairy tale, and with it turned the world of their day upside down, as their critics had to admit with tears of rage in their eyes. Many of them suffered expulsion from their families and friends and even death all for the sake of a fairy tale! I say that that would be utterly impossible. The Lord Christ had to be raised from the dead. The resurrection was the beginning of a vast outreach that has never ended, and will not end until that same Lord Jesus Christ comes again.
2. The New Testament could never have been written without the resurrection of Christ. Would a lying conspiracy, invented by a large group of men and women who never broke rank, have given birth to four gospels and 20 letters of consistency and integrity, showing such a holy and righteous ethic? Who would have written about someone who made such staggering claims about himself if, in the end, his life was terminated by an utterly shameful death reserved for the very worst of criminals? Throughout the New Testament there is this total conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead. The New Testament preaches a Christ who had died but is now alive, not a Christ who was alive but now is dead.
3. How do you explain the evidence of the empty tomb? The message of the risen Christ couldn’t have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day if the emptiness of the tomb hadn’t been accepted by everyone as a plain undeniable fact. No one wanted the dead, rotting body, not his friends and not his enemies, but no one could produce the body, and no one had ever found a satisfactory explanation for its absence, apart from the resurrection of Christ. Less than fifty days later Peter stood before thousands of men in Jerusalem and told them that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Not on group or a single man in the crowd cried out, “No, we will take you and show you his body.”
4. There were the many resurrection appearances when the risen Christ was seen by at least 500 people on at least eleven different occasions, over a period of six weeks. One or two men or women seeing something odd in semi-darkness could result in a ghost story and would be passed over as a hallucination, but not all those appearances over such a prolonged period of time. He talked with them, and ate and drank with them. He caught and cooked fish and bread with them as they had a meal together. He offered to be handled by them. These were not some tantalizing glimpses of him; they did not hear voices; he came right up to them, the floor boards creaking under his weight. He did not hover or glide along, and he spoke quietly and firmly to them holding out his hand to them saying, “Touch me, if you wish; handle me.” He was with some men for long periods walking down a country road talking together for hours, or sitting and speaking in the Upper Room, or wandering amongst a crowd of 500 people for an afternoon talking to one and the other.
5. From the evidence of the New Testament the Lord’s Supper was undoubtedly a time of tremendous celebration. “Come let us join our cheerful songs with angels round the throne!” Christians have always remembered the death of Jesus with joy and praise, which is inexplicable if the tortuous death of Jesus had been followed simply by burial and decay. Who holds a joyful celebration to commemorate the actual dying of a young man who was loved? No one. The resurrection changes everything. The Easter story ends not with a funeral but with a festival. The victim of bribed witnesses and cowardly magistrates and murderous enemies is now loose in the world; he is at large.
6. Throughout two thousand years countless millions of men and women all over the world have found the risen Christ in their own experience. This includes rich and poor, illiterate and highly educated, young and old, those from different continents and cultures – yet all with the same total conviction that Jesus is alive and real in their personal experience. The resurrection is an ongoing event, hence our text where Paul says, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you [Christian living now in Rome], he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [when they are buried somewhere in Rome] through his Spirit, who lives in you” (v.11).
These then are the facts of the resurrection of Christ. It is a better attested event than any other recorded event in history, ancient or modern.
- THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE EMPTY TOMB.
i] The resurrection tells us that Christ is everything he claimed to be. He claimed that he would be betrayed, arrested, beaten, crucified and would die, but on the third day he would rise from the dead. He claimed to be the Judge of all mankind, that everyone would receive their eternal destinies from his lips. He claimed to be the bread of life. He claimed pre-existence; before Abraham was he existed. He claimed absolute equality with God, that he and his Father were one. He claimed to be the only way to God, that no man could come to God but by him. He said that he’d always done everything required of him by his Father, and he deliberately staked his whole claim to be listened to and believed by simple men and women upon his resurrection from the dead. When people asked for more and more signs and wonders he said, “I will give you just one, and that is my resurrection from the dead. That is sufficient.” His rising from the dead verifies all his claims; it is his validation as God the Son sent into God’s world to save men and women from their sin.
ii] The resurrection affirms that Christ was indeed the Lamb of God who had taken away the sin of the world. The chief priests of Jerusalem passed judgment on Jesus of Nazareth that he was a blasphemer and a liar worthy to be killed. The Sanhedrin, the highest court in Israel, condemned him to death. The Roman governor judged him to be a criminal on whom he could justly pronounce the sentence of capital punishment. The mob chanted for Barrabas a notable criminal, and mocked Jesus as he died. The execution squad only thought of his cloak and gambled to see who would get it. They all believed he got what he deserved, but God raised Jesus from the dead. God was saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus’ death was not God, through his servants (the powers that be), executing God’s own condemnation on an evil man. God did not save him from death because he had been sent to become a sacrifice and an atonement for our sin. He hung in the darkness of Golgotha upon the cross as one making a full payment for what our sins deserve as his people. The resurrection was an expression of God’s delight in his obedience even to the death of the cross. It was God raising him and giving him a name above every name. It was the divine seal and stamp of approval on Jesus, but also on us who believe in Jesus and tell others to flee to him for refuge. God accepts Christ – you notice in our text how Paul begins by referring to our Lord by his given name, ‘Jesus’ the true man who came from the home of his mother in Nazareth. Then Paul moves to referring to his title, ‘Christ,’ in other words, the one anointed to be God’s prophet, priest and king. God has accepted this man as blameless, but God has also accepted his mission and offices as perfectly carried out, and that means God also accepts us too who’ve been joined to him in his mission. He gives to us also the Spirit of Christ and he lives in us.
So our text declares, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you; he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (v.11). The resurrection says that we will share in his resurrection life. We are more sure of rising from our graves than we are of rising out of our beds tomorrow morning.
iii] The resurrection of Jesus obtains the Spirit of God for us. What does that mean? It means that after the resurrection the Spirit of God henceforth will home in and live in all his elect people. That is Paul’s first point in our text. The life that Adam lost when he defied God – “the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” – that life has been obtained for us by the person and work of the last Adam, Christ – and by no one else, but a better life that Adam knew before the fall, a life that we can never lose. “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Only the Son of God can give this life, the one who claimed, “I am the life.” He alone can give it because he alone has authority over death – he who raised men and women from the dead. He is mightier than death – he conquered death. The grave and death failed to destroy his irresistible power over them. They were made his servants to have done to him what he determined had to be done. “Come nails and hammer, come cross, come spear, come grave and do what I determine you to do.” And Christ alone can give us life because he has dealt with our spiritual death in his own death on the cross. The death of Christ was the moment of the death of that death which had reigned over man since Adam fell. Christ took the killing power of sin to himself and took it into the grave and left it there when God raised him from the dead. The Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead; the Spirit of the one who first made Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life to that Adam became a living creature – God the Creator’s Spirit raised Jesus from the dusty tomb. He reunited Jesus soul and body and out he came into the power of an endless life.
The very same Spirit of God makes the dead sinner live. He ends our lost condition, dead in trespasses and sins. No longer is your imprisoned spirit fast bound in sin and nature’s night. You find the stirrings of new life in you. It shows itself in you in different ways, in your illumination. You understand the gospel. It is no longer words, words, words. Now they are words of life and salvation. It shows itself in hope that you might be forgiven for your sins. No longer despair and depression. You have been born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It shows itself in a new source of energy, to rouse yourself on a Sunday, and be in church, and do what needs to be done in the congregation, to pray for the people in the prayer meeting and bear the burdens of the weak. To hew wood and draw water if you are asked, to wash the feet of the disciples. You have the willingness to do that because the life of the Spirit of Almighty God is in you.
The Spirit of God who was in the beginning, when the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep, who then moved over the face of the waters, he is the one who is in you. The Spirit who inspired the prophets bearing them along to speak and write their great messages, who better to help you to understand them? The Spirit of God who filled the whole church on the day of Pentecost and then converted three thousand men, that very Spirit, not something approximating to him, not a pastiche of the Spirit of God, no, he himself is the one who is in you. The rushing mighty wind, the cloven tongues as of fire, the foreign languages, the gentle dove, the one who made the valley of dr
y bones an army of living men, the one equal to the Father and the Son in power and glory he – I insist – is in each one of you believers. He is in the little Christian girl who trusts in Christ. He is in the backslider living in defiance of God. The Holy Spirit is in us as a seal and a pledge of Christ the destroyer of death and as an assurance of our acceptance with God. I am insistent on this, not only because of contemporary evangelical confusion and doubt about it but because in this text before us Paul is so insistent on it. You see how within the borders of one verse he repeats this truth in four simple words twice: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (v.11).
iv] The resurrection of Jesus assures us of our own resurrection. What lies before us? You say, “Immortality,” and that is true but the Greeks who rejected Christ believed that. They disdained the body; for them it was a jail in which their souls were imprisoned. Many people today have the same attitude. They sing as if it were a spiritual hymn, “John Brown’s body lies a moulding in the grave but his soul goes marching on.” No! The Christian believes in the resurrection of John Brown’s body. Paul makes it so clear in our text; “he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (v.11). I have told you of one of the reminiscences of Professor John Murray of over a century ago when his father Alexander was driving off to a country church one Sunday afternoon in his horse and trap. Alexander Murray was one of the most outstanding Christian men of the Highlands, a foreman over a road building team of men. On this occasion he took his seven year old son John with him and as they rode along he spoke to him about the Christian hope of the resurrection. He said to John, “Our hope is not the immortality of our souls alone; it is the resurrection of the bodies. These bodies of our will be raised again. These hands . . .” he said, and he smacked his hands together to illustrate how carneous or fleshy was the biblical doctrine, “will be resurrected from the dust.” John Murray never forgot it and he told me of that incident 60 years after it had occurred, and I could see it happening, the horse and cart, the father and the son and the enthusiasm of the father and the sound of his hands clapped together,
God will give life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit when Jesus Christ returns. We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in “the resurrection of the body” and that will be at the end of this world. It was a problem for newly converted Greek Christians like those in the church in Corinth. Immortality of the soul, yes, but the resurrection of the body? That seemed far fetched and spooky and messy. How can a body lost at sea, destroyed through a fire, rotted in a grave for thousands of years, be resurrected? That was the question they asked Paul and it gave him the opportunity to answer it in I Corinthians 15, the longest chapter in any of the New Testament letters.
What does Paul do? He uses an illustration from life in God’s creation, the example of sowing a seed in the ground and then seeing it grow into something much more wonderful. Paul goes on to explain in a little detail what our resurrection bodies will be like: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body . . . And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (I Cors. 15:42-44, 49). There are certain designations he makes about our resurrected bodies.
i] They are raised imperishable (I Cor.15:42). They won’t wear out or grow old or ever be subject to any kind of sickness or depression or boredom. They will be completely healthy and sane forever. They will have no sign of aging; they will have the characteristics of youthful but mature manhood or womanhood for ever. There will be no evidence of disease or injury or amputation or psychosis of any kind, for all will be made perfect. The risen body of Christ is a special case in bearing the marks of cosmic redemption. You may not argue from them to claim that bodily imperfections will be eternally maintained. In our new bodies we will clearly see humanity as God intended it to be.
ii] They are raised in glory. ( Cor. 15:43). This term is contrasted with ‘dishonour’ so there is a suggestion of the beauty of appearance that our bodies are going to have. They will no longer be unattractive, but they will all appear glorious in their beauty. But because the word ‘glory’ is so frequently used in Scripture of the radiance that surrounds the presence of God himself this adjective is suggesting that there will also be a kind of brightness surrounding our bodies that will be an appropriate outward evidence of the position of exaltation and rule over all creation that God has given to us. There are the great words of the Lord Jesus, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43), and Daniel sees that “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). I think there are hints of the age to come to be seen in the shining of the glory of God in the face of Moses (Ex. 34:35), and in the face of Stephen, and in a much greater way, the bright light that shone from Jesus at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:2). We are to bear the image of Christ and be like him (1 Cor. 15:49). Doesn’t it suggest that there will actually be a visible brightness or radiance that surrounds us when we are in our resurrection bodies?
iii] They are raised in power (1 Cor. 15:43). This is in contrast to the weakness which we see in our bodies now. Our resurrection bodies will not only be free from disease and aging, they will also be given fullness of strength and power – not infinite power like God, of course, and probably not what we would think of as ‘superhuman’ power in the splashy show-business ways of the superheroes of comic books and films, but nonetheless full and complete human power and strength, the strength that God intended human beings to have in their bodies when he created them. It will therefore be energy that is sufficient to do all that we desire to do in conformity with the will of God. The body is going to have more vitality, more physical capability, more stamina, more athleticism, more speed, more coordination, more durability than it ever had because in the new heavens and the new earth we aren’t going to need the body less, we are going to need it more, and use it more.
iv] They are raised a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44). When Paul uses that word ‘spiritual’ it never means non-physical but rather that which is consistent with the character and the
activity of the Holy Spirit. He is saying here that our dead bodies will be sown as a natural body subject to the characteristics and desires of this age, and governed by its own sinful will, but it will raised a spiritual body, completely subject to the will of the Holy Spirit and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Such a body is not at all going to be a non-physical body, but it is a real body raised to the degree of perfection for which God originally intended it.
v] They are raised like Christ’s resurrection body. (I Cor.15:49). The apostle John tells us, “When he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). This is true ethically and it is true physically. Please understand that when Paul says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50) then he is not saying that we won’t have physical bodies. He means by ‘flesh and blood’ our present human natures, needing food and drink and defecating out the waste products, subject to self-consciousness and weakness and shame and ultimately death. That’s the point of these verses we’ve been looking at, that our resurrection bodies are going to be different. We won’t cease to have physical bodies, but they’ll be changed; we will have an imperishable body; “For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53).
So I am arguing for some continuity and for some discontinuity of our present bodies as compared to our glorious resurrection bodies. We ask lovely questions. Will our bodies look just the same in heaven, and will they have the same characteristics, or will they be somewhat different? Will they be almost entirely different? Will our resurrection bodies be made of the same molecules of which our earthly bodies consist, or will they be an entirely new creation from God, or will they be some combination of old and new?
Paul in our text says that God is the one who will give life to our mortal bodies. They will be our bodies with the life of God given to them. He says again that Jesus “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). The difference will be as stark as the difference between a seed sown and the marvelous plant that comes from it – well that is a considerable difference, although there is also continuity. God will take from the ground or the ocean what is left of our bodies and he will transform and use that to make a new resurrection body. If scientists can clone a living creature from a few cells of a long dead creature then the resurrection of our bodies, long dead, will be no impossibility to God. But the details of how that will happen are not revealed. They are a secret thing belonging to God. Our bodies will be changed, but they will not be replaced; “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
Consider Christ’s own resurrection body how it differed somewhat from the body he had before he died, so that that Mary and Cleopas and the disciples didn’t immediately recognize him in every situation, yet it was similar enough in appearance for the disciples to know who it was – rather quickly once the veil of their vision was taken away. I suppose once our Lord began his public ministry and had little rest and tons of pressure resting on him hour after hour for three years that then he rapidly and fearfully aged, and though thirty he was looking fifty, a real old man of that day. But then after his resurrection, Jesus was restored to full and perfect strength and youthfulness of appearance. We sometimes don’t immediately recognize a friend who has aged considerably since the last time we saw him. But there was continuity in Jesus; the nail prints were still there.
There will be continuity. We will recognize and know one another in heaven. Jesus says that people will come from east and west and “sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). They patriarchs will not have been reincarnated dozens of times into many different people. Elijah in his earthly body was somehow recognizable to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. Somehow these men retained their personal identities in such a way that the disciples knew it was them and that they were just as real as Jesus was. So Christ was raised from the dead by God through his Spirit, and we will also be raised from the dead by God through his Spirit.
- THE GRIP OF THE EMPTY TOMB.
The question with which I conclude is how much we are gripped by the empty tomb. How much are Christian preachers gripped by it so that they keep returning to the theme of the resurrection in their sermons? Don’t you find this the case in the letters of the New Testament and in the witness of the apostles in the book of Acts, how often they mention the resurrection? My concern is not whether you believe in the risen Saviour, the conqueror of death but how much is this truth holding you in its grip? We have been considering our future destinies, what is going to happen to us all in a few brief years. Is that hope transforming our behaviour?
Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phils 3:10). We are all aliens in this present world order; this is not our home; we belong to another world and we are heading for it, and that shapes our attitude to the experiences we pass through in this world. Let me suggest to you three ways in which the coming glory and our new bodies should affect us now.
i] We have an anticipation of what lies before us. Paul tells us he had a desire to depart and to be with Christ. We look forward to seeing our parents and our husbands and wives or our children who have gone before us. We think of holding their hands again, and talking to them and all that was sinful in our relationship in the past totally absent. We think of the people we long to meet for the first time, our heroes from the Old Testament and the New Testament and those we have read of in the history of the church. What introductions, and greetings, and outbursts of joy, and people we have helped to be there of whom we knew nothing at all, and Christians we hurt or who hurt us and there will be not one atom of resentment or bitterness between us. What glory! Are we gripped by the Empty Tomb?
ii] We have a sense of direction and meaning in our lives. The despairing claim of the atheist is that there is no overall purpose to life, that you just have to find something that suits you at this moment. There are events and tragedies and they cut you up, but they have no ultimate meaning because there is no ultimate meaning. Nothing really matters. Then there is this great declaration that our lives are not lived within the confines of three score y
ears and ten. That our life is going to go on after death, not in this same dreary, sinning way we have lived it so far, inconsistent and sad, but magnificent, strong, creative, joyful and contented. We shall fulfil our destinies, glorifying and enjoying God for ever. This life of ours is not aimless but we are walking with destiny to a glorious end. Are you gripped by that truth?
iii] We have a divine counterpoise to all the grief of this life. We are convinced that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us. There was the terrible event of October 21 1966, the Aberfan disaster and the 144 people killed when a tip slid down a mountain at great speed and crushed a village school and four or five houses. In the year that followed the local chapels invited Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones to go to Aberfan and preach at a memorial service, and the text he chose for that event was the one I have just quoted, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.” The picture is of a set of scales, and on the one side you lay out all the griefs you have experienced, the heart-aches, sicknesses, losses and crosses, deaths and diseases – you pile all of them on one side. You leave nothing out, and then on the other side you load it down with all the glory that lies before you, your inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled and that doesn’t fade way, reserved in heaven for you. You look at the two heaps, and you can’t even compare them, for the one side containing all the pain of the past is insignificant when you compare it to the exceeding and eternal weight of glory that lies on the other side. That is soon to be ours. Are you gripped by that? Does it keep you during the hard times today? Does it lift you up?
April 1 2012 GEOFF THOMAS