“Dead Yet Alive Again”
March 31, 2013
The one who was crucified and buried is alive and victorious.
I. He suffered for our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6)
II. He was dead and buried (Isaiah 53:7-9)
III. He was raised to victorious life (Isaiah 53:10-12)
A great verse in Hebrews 2 that says Jesus became flesh and blood so that through his death he might “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Fear of death enslaves people. I think I first saw this in Robert A. Heinlein’s science fiction. When I was a boy I read his juvenile books, then graduated to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers - pretty good book; really awful movie.
As I got older Heinlein’s writing changed too, and with the introduction of Lazarus Long as a character Heinlein began exploring what I’d call ‘eternal life by technology,’ or ‘eternal life without religion.’ These novels, especially Time Enough for Love depict people who’ll do anything to avoid death: selective breeding, rejuvenation techniques, cloning, even time travel. At the time Heinlein was getting older and was frequently ill. You get the impression his character’s fanciful ways of avoiding death were his own wishful thinking. Having rejected all religious belief, he was desperately searching for an answer to the fear of death - I don’t think he found before he died in 1988.
But Heinlein is only an extreme case. It is obvious that death is a great equalizer, the common denominator of all lives. It can be argued that all religion and much art, science, political activity and the pursuit of riches and influence are ways of seeking meaning in the face of death. But they are vain pursuits.
Christianity has always maintained that it is the one exception, that the one answer to death is found in the pages of Scripture, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. You and I are here this morning to celebrate that truth, to affirm that Jesus, crucified and buried is now alive and victorious. Robert A. Heinlein is dead. Confucius is dead. Mohammed is dead. Joseph Smith is dead. Vladimir Lenin is dead. John D. Rockefeller is dead. John Lennon is dead. Steve Jobs is dead. Only Jesus has defeated death not only for himself but as an unshakeable promise of life to all who will trust in him.
This spring we’ve worked through Isaiah, and this Easter week we’ve focused on Isaiah 52 and 53. But there has been another Scripture looming behind these studies, one that almost outlines Isaiah 53. It’s Paul’s summary of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas.”
I. He suffered for our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6)
We’ll use this today as an outline for Isaiah 53, focusing on Christ’s resurrection victory over death. Isaiah 53 was in Paul’s mind when he said ‘according to the Scriptures’ because it clearly predicts a Messiah who would suffer for our sins, die, be buried and rise to life. We see His suffering in verses 4-6: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah focuses on the ‘for our sins’ aspect of this. As I mentioned Thursday, he’s describing the work of a substitute: one who is just and innocent voluntarily takes the place of one guilty and condemned. God’s people were prepared for this concept of substitution by centuries of sacrifices in which the blood of lambs and goats was shed to pay, symbolically, the price of sin. But Jesus was the reality, the one who would truly offer himself for those he loved.
One of my favorite World War II stories is about a Polish monk, Maxmillian Kolbe. When Germany conquered Warsaw he opened his friary to refugees, including 2000 Jews. In 1941 the Germans sent him to Auchwitz. There Kolbe frequently gave other prisoners his food and went from bunk to bunk praying for them. One witness said “during my four years in Auschwitz, I never saw such a sublime example of the love of God and one's neighbor.'
In order to discourage escapes, Auschwitz had a rule that if a man escaped, ten would be killed. In July 1941 a man from Kolbe's bunker went missing. The authorities assumed an escape, though ironically the prisoner was later found drowned in a camp latrine. But ten were selected to be sent to the starvation bunker. One of them was Franciszek Gajowniczek. He couldn't help crying out ‘My poor wife! My children! What will they do?' Immediately Maximillian Kolbe stepped forward, took off his cap, and said 'I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.' Apparently the Nazis had more use for a young worker than an old one that day. Gajowniczek returned to the ranks; the priest took his place.
Gajowniczek later recalled: 'I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp it: I, the condemned, live; someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me. Is this some dream?” Kolbe and the others were thrown in the fetid starvation bunker. Two weeks later, barely alive, Kolbe was executed by an injection of carbolic acid.
Gajowniczek, who lived to be 95, honored Kolbe all his life, saying “It was the first and the last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz.” The condemned man lives. The righteous man suffers and dies.
But all such human examples fall short. This is not just one man dying to save another. This isn’t an innocent man offering himself for a justly condemned man. This is an innocently perfect man, himself God, a man of infinite worth and virtue, who by his own choice receives on himself all the wrath due to sinners. The video we saw earlier expresses it well: “God chose, to drink the cup of wrath in our place, to suffer our punishment, to die our death.”
II. He was dead and buried (Isaiah 53:7-9)
The son of God suffered wrath to rescue us from wrath. This is Paul’s point: ‘Christ died for our sins.’ But he also emphasizes historical reality: Christ died, according to the Scriptures, and was buried. Isaiah sees this: verses 7- 9: He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8By 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? 9And 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.
When we looked at this Thursday, we focused on the silence of Jesus as he faced his accusers and went to the cross. But these verses also reinforce Paul’s point that he died and was buried. They use poetic description but it is not figurative language. “He was taken away;” “He was cut off from the land of the living.” “He was stricken.” This is true death - and it’s important that it be true death so that we know he truly defeated death. It is true death: the Romans were pretty smart cookies, and had a lot of experience with crucifixion. They certainly knew better than to allow a man to come off that cross alive. In fact John tells us they broke the legs of the two thieves to insure they were dead, but when they came to Jesus they found he had died already. Even so they pierced him with a spear just to be double sure.
So both Isaiah prophetically and the Gospels historically affirm the simple truth that Jesus was dead. Not swooned, not faking, but dead. And just to cap it off, both Paul and Isaiah add that he was buried: they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death. This was fulfilled in that he was crucified with the wicked and then buried in a rich man’s tomb. The Gospels give extended attention first to the comments of the two thieves and then to the donation by Joseph of Arimathea of his own freshly cut tomb.
III. He was raised to victorious life (Isaiah 53:10-12)
So Jesus died for our sins; he was buried, and three days later he rose according to the Scriptures. He’s alive; he was dead as a doornail, but not anymore. Death is defeated and the fear of death disarmed. There is a living Savior at the end of Isaiah 53. Verses 10-12 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when 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. 11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
The death of Jesus Christ was more than a human plot: his death and resurrection were divine strategy. At his cross, Jesus was doing "the will of the Lord.” After the resurrection, when Peter preaches he says “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” So it was God’s will, even though it was man’s evil choice that did the deed. This is the mystery of the cross. It was on that instrument of human torture that Jesus Christ made his soul an offering to God for other people's sin.
But how could it be otherwise? He was put to grief so that he might bear our griefs and carry our sorrows and pay our penalty. The cross was God’s rescue plan. Isaiah's prophetic eye sees that Jesus was taking the initiative by his death, making the will of God prosper in the most improbable way. At his cross Jesus achieved the ancient purpose of God with victorious love.
And so, in the greatest climax of all history, this death produces abundant life. "He shall see his offspring." There are two major implications here both of them reasons to celebrate. First, ‘he shall see.’ This implies that he is alive; dead people don’t witness anything. It’s not real common for dead people to come alive in the Old Testament. But this promised Messiah, this suffering servant, at the end of verse after verse of suffering, clear death and burial shall see; some ancient translations even say ‘shall see the light of life.”
And what does he see? His offspring. Not only is he alive, but the multitude he has rescued shares in his life. The ministry of the suffering servant is effective. Not only does he conquer death to become alive again, but he communicates that life to his spiritual children; that’s us; that’s all who believe this and trust in the effectiveness of this sacrifice, the reality of this substitution.
The apostle John said it as simply as it could be said “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” You can become his offspring today simply by accepting the exchange; his atoning death in place of your rebel death, his resurrected eternal life in place of your mortal life. This is what we sang at the end of the sunrise service: “Arise my soul arise; shake off your guilty fear; the bleeding sacrifice; in thy behalf appears; before the throne my surety stands; before the throne my surety stands; my name is written on his hands.”
He is alive, standing before the throne, and we are his offspring. John celebrates this by saying “Behold what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” We have received adoption as sons; we call him ‘Abba, father.’ Last Saturday we had a baby dedication for Jacob and Elliot Yowell, and we celebrated their adoption as sons. I ran across a Third Day that we set to a video celebrating the same thing, for children like Jacob and Elliot and for all of us: Praise to the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ; Our God and our King, to Him we will sing; In His great mercy, He has given us life; Now we can be called the children of God; Great is the Love that the Father has given us; He has delivered us; He has delivered us; Children of God, sing your song and rejoice; For the love that He has given us all; Children of God, by the blood of His Son; We have been redeemed and we can be called; Children of God; Children of God.”
Isaiah goes on to say ‘He shall prolong his days.’ I’ve been using the term ‘eternal life’ already, but this phrase makes it plain; the one who is dead shall now have length of days. He’s alive and he’ll live forever, though the word is not used. But Isaiah says ‘the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.’ The suffering servant becomes the one who administers God’s will to the world; he becomes the sovereign king, carrying out the Father’s will by his own hand. We’ve seen in Isaiah many prophecies of events will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom or the new heavens and new earth. They will be fulfilled because Jesus is alive and has been given authority and sovereign power.
Verse 11: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” His suffering is the only thing that could have been effective against sin, and so when he looks on his suffering and looks on its outcome - redemption and new life for those otherwise utterly lost in sin - then he is satisfied. Hebrews tells us that “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus looked forward to the joy of resurrection, the joy of ascension to the Father’s right hand, but most of all, I think, to the joy of being our redeemer.
Verse 11: “By his knowledge the righteous one, my servant, shall make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquities.” Don’t miss this: it’s easy at this point in the chapter to be a little numb. But by his knowledge, that is by his experiential knowledge of suffering and grief and sin-bearing, this righteous servant is able to impute his righteousness into the lives of many sinners. He bears their iniquities, they receive his righteousness.
One of the songs that grabbed my heart this Easter is the prelude the worship team sang, Rend Collective’s Second Chance: My future hangs on this; You make preciousness from dust; Please don't stop creating me; Your blood offers the chance; To rewind to innocence; Reborn, perfect as a child. Oh Your cross, it changes everything; There my world begins again with You; Oh Your cross, it's where my hope restarts; A second chance is Heaven's heart.
Some people say they don’t like doctrine, but the doctrine of substitution, or more formally, substitutionary atonement is a beautiful lovely thing. By it we do not receive what we deserve, judgment, because he receives that for us. And by it we do receive what we don’t deserve, righteousness, because he gives it to us. So great was his divine righteousness that after bearing the sins of the world unto death, he not only lived to tell about, he emerged so full of righteousness that he is able to make righteous all who come to him by faith.
Verse 12: “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” He’s alive; he’s receiving the inheritance he earned by his death; and he shares that inheritance - eternal life and the riches of God’s kingdom - with all the children he has rescued, those he has made strong. And Isaiah ends by reminding us of the basis of our salvation: he poured out his soul to death, he was counted by God as a transgressor, he bore the sins of the sinners, and now he intercedes for them before the throne of God. Hebrews teaches that Jesus “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” He’s alive, and that makes all the difference.
Jesus paid the price of sin, bore the wrath of the sinner’s rebellion, carried their sorrows, knew their grief and took their punishment. In rising again as Lord and king, he now offers sinners righteousness. Their rebellion is conquered, their sin is forgiven, their hearts are cleansed, they are made daughters and sons of his father, they are given new life for this life, and eternal life for the life to come, they receive his promised Holy Spirit and they are enabled to walk in newness of life. All because he died and rose again.
Oh did I say ‘they’? I meant you. Or did I mean me? This is not some impersonal doctrine applied in an ivory tower to hypothetical beneficiaries of a theological transaction. This is the life changing, life giving truth that we receive every day and, God willing, celebrate every day. So let me reword that paragraph, for all of us, in the first person: At Easter I celebrate the fact that Jesus not only defeated death on his own behalf, but he defeated death on my behalf, so that I a doomed sinner might be freed. Jesus paid the price of my sin, bore the wrath of my rebellion, carried my sorrows, knew my grief and took my punishment. In rising again as Lord and king, he now offers me righteousness. My rebellion is conquered, my sin is forgiven, my heart is cleansed, I am made an adopted son of his father; I am given new life for this life and eternal life for the life to come. I receive God the Holy Spirit to dwell with me and I’m enabled to walk in newness of life, in substantial healing. All because he died and rose again.
So what does all this do to the fear of death? It just blows it away; Jesus lives and so will we; he says ‘those who live and believe in me will never die.’ Paul says that even those whose bodies lie in the earth, when the trumpet of his coming sounds will be reunited, with transformed bodies like his, to be with the Lord forever. For those who believe, death is no longer something to be feared. It’s can still be tragic, wildly tragic for those who die without Christ. But it’s not something believers need to fear or go to great lengths to put off, because it is a defeated enemy, and just as it had no hold on Jesus, someday it will have no hold on us. Paul describes this at the end of 1st Corinthians 15, the chapter where we started with the outline of the Gospel.
You’re going to rise to sing in a minute, so why don’t you stand up now for the reading of this good word, the Easter good news of death defeated:
1 Corinthians 15:52-57 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52in 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. 53For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.