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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2002-02-10

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26

Among all the various doctrines of the Bible there is perhaps none that stands out like this one, in terms of the personal value that it has for each one of us. No other doctrine can bring such great comfort and hope to us, than the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead! The reason for this, is that death is the grim reality of life. The sober fact that we all must learn and accept in this life, is that sooner or later life ends in death. 

No matter how hard you may try to avoid this truth or to keep it out of your mind, it comes back to you in one form or another! You hear of it in the news everyday: Tragic deaths in local road accidents, and in the deadly floods that hit Jakarta recently. You hear of deaths in suicide bomb attacks and in the fighting that is still going on in Afghanistan. You hear of awful murders and suicides. In fact, there is not a single day of life on earth that ever goes by without death, and so the pages of obituaries in the newspapers will never be empty! Even as you sit there in the pews right now, someone out there is taking his last breath. Death stares at you in the face whenever you attend a vigil service or funeral. And death especially brings sorrow and pain to your heart, when a close friend, relative or loved one is taken away. 

And this may sometimes cause you to wonder: When will the 'grim reaper' come for you? When it will be your turn to have your name appear in the obituaries? When will your turn come to lie down in a narrow casket, all cold and lifeless? Dear friends, if that is to be your final end, with absolutely nothing more after that, then all the joy of living becomes a senseless joy, for there is nothing, absolutely nothing at all to look forward to in life if this is the way it must end. 

I. The Resurrection Is The Answer That We Need, To Death 

A. Death is a Fact of Human Life

And this is where the Bible's doctrine of the resurrection of the dead becomes so relevant to us. The resurrection is important to us, only because death is a fact of human life. 

If there was no such thing as death, there would be no need at all for a resurrection. And so to understand and appreciate what the resurrection of the dead is all about, let us first know what really happens to a person at death. 

What exactly is this thing called death? The simplest definition is that death is the total cessation of life. To a doctor, death is said to have occurred when a person stops breathing, his heart stops beating, the pupils of his eyes do not respond anymore to light, and all his muscular responses are gone. All efforts to revive him by applying cardio-pulmonary resuscitation or electric shock, fail to reverse the process of death. Within a matter of hours, the body becomes cold and stiff, and the cells and tissues begin to decompose, breaking down into simpler substances through the action of fungi and bacteria. The only things that remain after decomposition is over are bones. Now, all these are only the visible effects of death. What cannot be seen, is the separation of the soul from body that occurs at death (cf Genesis 25:8; 35:29; Mark 15:37). The soul leaves the body at death, and cannot return to it.

B. Death is Irreversible

The important point to observe in all this is the irreversible nature of death. All capabilities and organic functions of are irreversibly lost in death. And the soul cannot return back into the body, because all the changes that have taken place in that body render it incapable of sustaining life. All people, in every place and in every time, have come to accept that once a body has expired, it is impossible to bring it back to life, especially if it has been dead for days. How can the cells and tissues that have broken down be restored and function once again? How can organs and muscles that have already turned to dust be perfectly re-formed, all at the same time? How can the soul ever return to a reconstituted body and animate it once more? 

II. The Resurrection Demonstrates God's Awesome Power 

This then is the wonder of the resurrection - it actually reverses an irreversible change! To resurrect the dead back to life is to do the impossible, and work a mighty miracle of immense proportions! The power to reverse the irreversible change of death belongs to God alone. Therefore the resurrection becomes a tremendous demonstration of the awesome power of God! 

A. Ezekiel's Vision: 'Can These Bones Live?'

One passage of scripture that dramatically describes the power of God to reverse the irreversible change of death, is Ezekiel 37:1-10. Let us turn our Bibles now to this passage and read it 'The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, 2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. 3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. 4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. 8 And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. 9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.' 

This vision that Ezekiel saw is explained after this to be a prophetic picture of the resurrection of the nation of Israel. This nation that ceased to exist in history after Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, was formed again in 1948 and will one day be restored to its former state of greatness that it enjoyed in the time of King David.

But this vision also serves another purpose. It is a preview of the great event that will take place at the last trumpet, when Jesus Christ returns from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16 'For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first'). The Lord Jesus Himself promised this in John 5:28,29 'Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.' And the Lord Jesus substantiated this promise by miraculously raising the dead to back to life. 

B. Miracles of Raising the Dead. 

The Bible records that no less than 3 people who died were resurrected to life by Jesus Christ - The 12-year old daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:41-56) had just died when Jesus came and raised her up. The raising of the son of a widow at a city called Nain (Luke 7:11-15) was a step further, because his funeral was already progressing when Jesus raised him back to life. But the most remarkable of these three is the raising of Lazarus at Bethany, because his body was already rotting after being buried for four days. And yet Jesus was still able to raise him back to life! 

III. The Resurrection of Christ Secures The Resurrection of the Dead. 

Now, these three miracles of resurrection that Jesus performed during His life on earth, were only the prelude to the greatest resurrection miracle of all - the one that Jesus performed on Himself! Jesus testified of this power to raise Himself back to life, in John 10:17,18, when He said, 'Therefore doth my Father love Me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.' Jesus also said, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' And the 'temple' here refers to His body. 

You know, it is truly the supreme demonstration of power for One who is dead to bring Himself back to life. As Romans 1:4 tells us, Jesus Christ is 'declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead'. This is why the resurrection of Christ is said to be the greatest of all miracles that were wrought by Him. This miracle is so great that it has become the focal point of debates by scores of scholars for centuries. Volumes and volumes of books have been written about the resurrection of Christ. 

And do you know that the Resurrection of Christ from the dead is the central tenet of our Faith? Every Christian doctrine that we believe in stands or falls with it. Even the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, that if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then our faith is empty, we are still in our sins, those who have died believing in Him are all perished. And He says, 'if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable.' But till today, no one has ever been able to successfully disprove the resurrection of Christ. 

A former chief justice of England by the name of Lord Darling, said this, 'In its favour as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.'

An English journalist with a law degree by the name of Frank Morison, at first thought that the resurrection of Christ was nothing more than a myth or fairy tale. He attempted to write a new version of the end of the life of Christ, removing anything miraculous from it. But when he studied all the facts of the case, Morison had to change his mind. In the end, he called the book he wrote, 'Who Moved the Stone?' and the first chapter is significantly entitled, 'The Book that refused to be written'. It shows that the evidences that Morison found for the resurrection of Christ were so compelling that his book was changed from an attack of the resurrection to a defence of it! So let me summarise for you now, what evidences there are for the resurrection of Christ: 

A. The Death of Jesus

The first important set of evidences that must be considered are the evidences that Jesus had really died. If He had not died, but only fainted and was then resuscitated back to life, there would be no resurrection at all. In debates about the resurrection some unbelievers claim that Jesus merely swooned on the cross, and this was mistaken for death. But one detail given in John's Gospel shows that Jesus died and not fainted: 'But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.' (John 19:34). What John saw - the flowing out of blood and water from the wound, is medically consistent with death. When a person dies, his heart stops beating and the blood will begin to separate into two components - the watery plasma, and the blood cells that clump together into a semi-solid mass. This evidence makes it impossible for anyone to claim that Jesus was not dead. 

Now, after Jesus died on the cross, His body was taken down, wrapped up tightly in linen graveclothes and embalming spices, and then laid in a nearby tomb. The tomb consisted of a little cave that had been hollowed out of the side of a hill. The body was laid in the tomb and a big flat round stone was rolled to cover the entrance. This tomb became site of the second evidence of the resurrection of Christ, when it became an empty tomb. 

B. The Empty Tomb

How can anyone explain the fact that despite all the strict security measures that were taken by the authorities, like sealing the door of the tomb, posting Roman soldiers to guard it, the tomb was found empty on the third day, and no one could produce the dead body of Jesus after that? 

One theory that was proposed was that the disciples came by night, overpowered the guards, opened the tomb and stole the dead body of Jesus, and then made up stories that they had seen Jesus alive, just to make people think that He had resurrected from the dead. But this theory is very weak, since the Roman soldiers who guarded the tomb did not report that the body was stolen. In fact they had to be bribed by the Jewish authorities to lie that the disciples had stolen the body when they fell asleep at the tomb (Matthew 28:11-15).

This lie has a very obvious flaw in it. Can you see it? If the soldiers were sound asleep at the tomb, how would they know that the disciples had stolen the body? This theft theory of skeptics also cannot explain one interesting detail related in John's Gospel (20:6,7) that the graveclothes that were used to wrap the body of Jesus were still found in the tomb. If anyone came to steal the body would they bother to spend all the time unwrapping it right there? 

C. The Appearances of the Resurrected Christ

We move on now to the third evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, and that is the many appearances of Christ alive over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). Ten of these appearances are recorded in the Four Gospels and they are summarised in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 'And that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.' 

There are some who have tried to suggest that these appearances were all merely hallucinations. They say that because the diciples were so emotionally stressed and they missed Jesus so much, they imagined that they saw Him alive after He had died. It may be possible for one or two people to imagine seeing Christ at the same time, but how can over 500 people imagine that they are seeing Christ together, at the same time? 

And according to the Gospel records the resurrected Christ did not appear briefly like an apparition or ghost at a distance, but He was able to walk with them, talk with them, and even enjoy a meal together with them. And one of the 12 disciples, whose name was Thomas, was at first doubtful when he heard the rest telling him about seeing Jesus alive. He said to them: 'Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.' (John 20:25) And when Jesus appeared to Thomas and allowed him to do all these things, the only response that Thomas could give was to believe that Jesus had truly returned back to life! (John 20:28,29). 

Thus far we have considered three evidences that Jesus had resurrected from the dead: Firstly, the evidence of the water and the blood which flowed from Jesus' side - this proves that He really died. Secondly, the empty tomb and the graveclothes that were still inside it. Thirdly, the many physical appearances of Christ to his disciples after He had resurrected. 

D. The Transformed Lives of the Disciples

Now we come to the fourth and final evidence of His resurrection, which is the changed lives of His disciples, as seen in the Book of Acts. If Jesus had not resurrected, how do we explain that a group of weak, demoralised disciples who had lost their leader, and who locked themselves in the upper room, afraid that the authorities would find them and arrest them, could suddenly become strong and bold witnesses for Christ, even willing to die for what they believed? 

Nothing but the real bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead could have produced this amazing change in them. And nothing but the resurrection of Christ could have produce the amazing change in the life of Saul the Pharisee who was so zealously persecuting Christians, and turn him into Paul the Missionary who zealously promoted the Gospel of Christ to the far corners of the Roman empire! The change came on that wonderful day when the Resurrected Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. 

And today we can still see lives of countless men, women and children being changed. This cannot happen if Christ is still dead. Only a Risen Christ could have such transforming power in a person's life! The testimony of millions of people has proved Him to be a Living Saviour! 

And if there is anyone here this morning who has not yet known Christ as his Living Saviour, let me urge you to come to Him right now, to experience His transforming power in your life. Turn away from your sins and ask Him to save you. 

And when you are saved, then you will have every reason to rejoice in of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It means that He has conquered death for you, and you do not need to be afraid of death anymore. Whenever you are faced with death or the prospect of death, you can trimphantly say, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?' (1 Corinthians 15:54,55). 

One day you will stand before God in incorruptible resurrected bodies that are just like His. Philippians 3:21 reveals this, saying that Jesus 'shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.'

I trust that through this message, you now know why you believe in the Resurrection of the Dead. We have seen at least three good reasons: The first reason is that The Resurrection Is The Answer That We Need, To Death. The second reason is that the Resurrection (more than any other miracle or event) Demonstrates God's Awesome Power. And the third and most important reason is that, The Resurrection of Christ Secures The Resurrection of the Dead.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25