Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

"He Must Rise" Sermon: John 20:1-18


“He Must Rise”
[John 20:1-18]
April 21, 2019, Second Reformed Church
            Jesus had been savagely tormented, flogged, crucified, forsaken by God the Father, and died that first Good Friday.  Most of the men went into hiding, but John, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea and the women took Jesus’ body and lay it in the garden tomb that Joseph had purchased for himself.  They left Jesus there – partially embalmed – and a stone was rolled across the door and numerous Roman centurions were set to guard the tomb to make sure nobody stole the body.  The Sabbath – Saturday – was upon them, and the Jews had to observe the Sabbath.
            Diane raised the interesting question of what the disciples did during the hours from Friday evening through Sunday morning.  Did they observe the Passover as God had instructed?  Did they go about the Sabbath as they were commanded?  All we know is that they were afraid and in hiding for fear of the Jews and the Romans coming after Jesus’ disciples.
            Knowing this and hearing our text this morning, we see:
            First, Jesus’ disciples did not understand that He must rise.
John gives us an abbreviated account of the women going early the morning of the first day of the week to finish the embalming of Jesus.  In fact, John only mentions Mary Magdalene.  She comes to the tomb and finds the stone rolled away – and – implied as it is – the centurions are not there.  And as Mary looks into the tomb, she sees that Jesus is not there and her understanding is that someone must have stolen the body – she certainly didn’t think that Jesus had physically risen from the dead.
If we consider that theory now, it seems utterly unlikely that someone could have stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb with the heavy stone in the way, the Roman seal on the tomb, and the numerous centurions guarding the tomb.
So Mary runs to where the men are hiding and tells Peter and John, and Peter and John run to the tomb, and they go into the tomb and see the grave clothes lying in the tomb, but the body of Jesus is missing.  And they see and believe the testimony of Mary – someone has stolen Jesus’ body.
And our text tells us, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.”
Why must Jesus rise?
Two reasons:  Jesus must rise for the Scripture to be authoritative.  And Jesus must rise to be the Savior.
Jesus must rise for the Scripture to be authoritative.
There are many Scriptures that say that the Savior must physically rise from the dead.  Some examples:  Paul mentions three of them from the Psalms, and another is found in Isaiah 53:
            “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize [Jesus] nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,
            “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’
            “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.’
            “Therefore he says also in another psalm,
            “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’
            “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, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:26-39, ESV).
            Paul explains that these three verses from the Psalms show that Jesus – the Savior – must physically rise from the dead – and those who killed Him fulfilled the very prophesies that are read every day in the Temple, but they didn’t understand them – those who were supposedly the teachers of Israel, did not understand what they were supposed to teach – the Word of God.
            Isaiah familiarly prophesies:
“By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
            “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; then his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:8-10, ESV).
            Isaiah prophesies that Jesus – the Savior – will be taken away, killed, buried in a rich man’s grave, although He didn’t sin.  Yet, this was God’s will for Him to be our Substitute – a perfect offering before God.  And God will allow Him to see His offspring – those who follow Him, after death, His life will be prolonged – He will physically rise from the dead.
            And we might think, “Ok, these Scriptures say that the Savior will physically rise from the dead, but why does John say He ‘must’ rise from the dead?”
            The answer is in understanding what the Scripture is.  We call the Bible – the Scripture – the Word of God.  If the Scripture is the Word of God – even though we affirm that the Bible was written in history by a number of people in their own writing styles and according to their own abilities – if the Scripture is the Word of God, then it is infallible and inerrant – everything it says must be true – in its context – and every prophecy given by God and through His prophets must come to pass, because God can’t make a mistake – God can’t be wrong.
            If the Scripture is the Word of God, it is authoritative and is to be understood as coming from God, by human authors superintended over by God the Holy Spirit so there would be no errors.
            If Jesus – the Savior – did not physically rise from the dead, then the Bible is not the Word of God – we have no reason to believe any of it – and we should just go home.
Jesus must rise for the Scripture to be authoritative.
 And Jesus must rise to be the Savior.
The Savior will take upon Himself all of our sin and pay the debt for it – securing that we will be free from sin and death and evil in the Kingdom.  If Jesus does not physically rise from the dead, He has not conquered death, and He is not the Savior.
So, Jesus must rise to be the Savior.
The Good News is that Jesus did physically rise from the dead.  He is the Savior.  The Word of God is God’s Word.  Or salvation is secure in Jesus.  And so we celebrate.
The second thing we see in our text is Jesus’ disciples wanted Him to stay.
Mary returns to the tomb after Peter and John leave, and she looks in and she seems two angels, but she is so fixated on finding Jesus, that seeing angels doesn’t faze her, she just wants to know if they moved Him or know where He is.
Mary hears something and turns to find Jesus, standing in the Garden outside of the tomb.  However, her eyes are not yet open.  She doesn’t recognize that this is Jesus, physically risen from the dead, until He says her name, “Mary.”
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”
Have you ever lost something meaningful to you and then found it sometime later?  Have you ever lost touch with a friend you deeply cared about and then reconnected?  Have you ever had a family member seriously injured or deathly ill and then have them recover?  The way you feel in those situations begin to approximate what Mary and the other disciples felt when they realized that Jesus is physically alive.  They had seen Him die.  They had buried Him.  Yet, here He is alive – in the flesh!
The other Gospels tell us that Mary and the other women fall down before Him and grab His ankles and feet.  And Jesus invites Thomas to touch Him to see that He has truly, physically risen from the dead.  And Jesus eats fish with the disciples during the forty days after the resurrection.  Jesus is physically alive – He is risen!
Once they believed that, their reaction is to hold on to Jesus and not let Him go – to not let Him be seen by anyone who might hurt Him again – to cover over the windows and put bubble wrap all over the Upper Room and lock Jesus in so they will never lose Him again.
Jesus knew that would be their reaction, and that is why He immediately told Mary not to cling to Him.  Jesus told Mary not to covet His physical presence with her – He could not stay on earth – He had to return to the Father and sit on His throne and reign sovereignly over all of creation and prepare the Kingdom for all who will ever believe in Him.
We understand not wanting to let someone go.  The disciples had been with Jesus for three years and watched Him die – they didn’t want to let go – they didn’t want to lose Him again.  But He had to assume His rightful place in Heaven at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator.
When Jesus did leave after forty days, the disciples couldn’t keep from staring up into the sky.  Luke tells us:
And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:10-11, ESV).
And that’s our hope, isn’t it?  We rejoice that Jesus physically rose from the dead – proving the authority of the Scripture and that He is our victorious Savior.  Yet, our hope is that He is returning – with the Kingdom – to glorify us and bring us in with Him forever.
We hope with great assurance and in great comfort as we hear John’s vision:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV).
As we prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper, let us receive the ancient Memorial Acclamation:
 “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
 “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.
  “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.
    “Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Acclamation).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we rejoice and celebrate and give thanks to You for sending Your Son to be a human being, to live, and suffer, and die, and rise again that we would receive salvation.  May our hearts rejoice and our lives be changed that all would be to You and to Your Glory.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

"Through the Curtain" Sermon: Hebrews 10:19-25


“Through the Curtain”
[Hebrews 10:19-25]
April 19, 2019, Second Reformed Church
            Comedians have pointed out that some of our “Christianese” is not readily understandable by unbelievers.  For example, if we say, “Have you been washed in the blood?” many people will be confused about what we mean.  Similarly, we may be confused when the author of Hebrews tells us that we have been saved through the curtain.
            In chapter ten of the letter to the Hebrews, the author explains that the sacrificial system has ended because the blood sacrifice of Jesus is once and perfect and fulfills the whole system.  So no additional sacrifice ever has to be made again.  Jesus died a perfect death once, and it was complete and satisfies everything God requires, so no additional animals should be sacrificed, and Jesus does not need to be sacrificed again.  Therefore, we are saved through the curtain.
            Let’s understand this:
            First, the curtain symbolized separation from God due to sin.
            When Israel was in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land, God instructed Moses to build a mobile worship building called the Tabernacle.  God gave detailed instructions about the size and materials the Tabernacle was to be built with.
            In the innermost part of the Tabernacle was the Holy of Holies.  This part of the Tabernacle was the place where God descended, and it was off limits to everyone, except the high priest once a year, when he offered up sacrifice on behalf of all of Israel for their sins on Yom Kippur.
            The Holy of Holies was separated from the next section of the Tabernacle by a curtain that was fifteen feet high and fifteen feet wide.  And we read:
            “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place” (Exodus 26:31-34, ESV).
            This is the imagery that the author of Hebrews is using in our text – due to our sin – in the Tabernacle – God instructed that there be a curtain separating God from humans, because God cannot stand to be in the presence of sin.  And we understand this spiritually, in the sacrificial system with its high priest and the other priests through whom everyone had to go to bring their offerings and sacrifices to God.  No one had direct access to God due to sin – and the curtain symbolized the sin that separates sinners from God.
            Second, Jesus’ crucifixion and death tore the curtain open.
Matthew records:
            “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, ‘This man is calling Elijah.’ And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
            “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:45-54, ESV).
            As Jesus died on the cross, the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn open – from top to bottom – it was torn open from fifteen feet in the air down.  The Holy of Holies was now open and exposed and anyone whose sins were forgiven could approach God directly.
            Why?
            Because, through Jesus’ life, suffering, and death, He credits all those who will ever believe in Him with His holy life and takes on Himself the debt for all of our sin – the Wrath of God – and He pays that debt, so all we who believe are seen as holy, righteous and sinless through Jesus.
            It is through the One Final Sacrifice of Jesus – and the tearing open of His flesh – that the spiritual curtain that kept us from coming before God and living has been torn open through His blood.
            The author of Hebrews writes:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,”
Jesus has credited us with a perfect keeping of God’s Law and He has paid the debt for all of our sins – (these things we receive through faith) – so now – through His blood – through His flesh – through His One and Final Sacrifice – as both High Priest and Sacrifice – we are welcome to enter the holy place – to come into the house of God and boldly ask of Him as the children of their Father.
Because of Jesus’ life, suffering, and death, you – if you are a believer in the historical Jesus and what He did – you are able to come before God and ask Him for your daily needs and He will give them to you.  You can come before His very presence without fear and worship Him and thank Him and glorify Him.  Because that curtain has been torn apart – Jesus’ flesh was torn open – for each one who will believe.
Knowing and understand this, what shall we do?
The author of Hebrews tells us three things that we ought to do in response to this:
First, let us draw near to God with full assurance that we are forgiven.
“let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
As we come before God in worship and in prayer, let us not doubt that Jesus’ work is enough to save us.  Let us not doubt that He has saved us, as we are assured through our belief in Him and His work in our hearts and through the confession of that belief with our mouths.
Let us not worry that we are not good enough to come before the Almighty God, because we’re not!  But Jesus is, and He has washed us with His blood and made us right with God through His work.  We have been bought with a price – Who is Jesus – and we are now His, co-heirs with Him of the Kingdom and the adopted children of God.
Do you believe that Jesus is God the Son in the flesh, and He lived and died to make you right with God?  Do you love Jesus?  If so, be assured that you are right with God, you are saved, you can draw near to His Father and our Father and He will receive you with open arms – just as He does Jesus.
Second, let us hold fast to our confession.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
The Apostle’s Creed is a brief summary of the faith – and it contains what we must believe to be saved.  And as we learn more and more through the reading and preaching of the Word, our confession – the truth that we known about God and salvation through His Son – grows. 
We know Jesus is God the Only Savior.  We know that He has gone to prepare the Kingdom for us.  We know that He is coming back and will bring us into that Kingdom.  That’s our hope – our sure hope – what we know will happen, though it hasn’t happened yet.  Don’t waver!  Turn away for those who teach anything contrary to the clear teaching of the Scripture – especially about Jesus and His being God the One Savior.  Rebuke the devil and he will flee.
And understand that we are bold in our confession and in our coming before God, our Father, not because we understand everything or have everything figured out.  No, we are bold and sure and confess our faith without wavering because Jesus is faithful.  He is the Good Shepherd Who lay down His life for His sheep – and He will never – He can never – desert us or fail us.  He chose us to be His and we are His forever – safe in His hands.
And third, let us stir up love and good works, especially as we worship together.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
One of the things we are always to be about is increasing love of God and love of neighbor in our brothers and sisters.  It should be a goal of ours to help our brothers and sisters in Christ love God and neighbor better.  We are to be teaching and discipling people and praying for their growth in faith and obedience.  Let us share with one another the ways in which we are loving God and neighbor and the ways in which we need help in loving God and neighbor.
Another thing we are to do is to encourage one another to do good works – especially in the church.  God has gifted us in many and varied ways.
Peter writes: 
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (I Peter 4:7-11, ESV).
Then we are told not to neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some. 
Do you know what that means?  It means some Christians think public worship – gathering together whenever we gather for worship – is optional.  Now, there are emergencies.  We do get sick from time to time.  Some people must work a job that keeps them from normal worship.  But it is not normally right to skip worship because you have a busy life or want to do something else.  Understand, this is between you and God. 
It is when we gather together in worship Paul says, that we are “[equipped] for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:12b-16, ESV).
When we gather together as the church – as God commands – we are equipped and strengthened and matured.
More on that another time.
Sin makes us unable to be right with God.  The curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Tabernacle and Temple was a constant reminder that God is holy and we are not.  But the curtain was torn open as Jesus’ body was savaged and He was crucified – as He screamed out in the horror of being separated from His Father.  This He did to make us right with God – so we could pass through the curtain into the throne room of God.
And now we can enter boldly with full assurance of our salvation, confess the truths of the faith without wavering – for God is with us, and we gather together as the people of God to stir up our love – to obey God through faith, to encourage each other to do the good works God has set before us.  And as we worship together and stir each other up and encourage one another as the Church – God matures us and makes us ready to be His people every day.
We live in a time when even Christians do these things less and less.  But the author of Hebrews tells us to do these things more and more, because Jesus is returning – the Day of Judgment is near – even more near than it was two thousand years ago.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, on this Good Friday, we remember the physical torment Your Son went through to make us right with You.  We thank You for this great and final sacrifice, and ask that You would send the Holy Spirit in fuller measure, that our hearts and minds would be sharply pricked, and we would obey You in all that You have commanded, because the Day is near.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.