“God has Raised this Jesus to Life”
April 20, 2003
The heart of the gospel message is always the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
I. His Life (Acts 2:22)
II. His Death (Acts 2:23)
III. His Resurrection (Acts 2:24-32)
a. Old Testament Prophecy (Acts 2:25-31)
b. New Testament Testimony (Acts 2:32)
IV. His Exaltation (Acts 2:33-35)
V. His Salvation (Acts 2:36-39)
MessageOne of my favorite pieces of Christian fiction - and I know Ive mentioned it before - is a novel called A Skeleton in Gods Closet. The author is Paul Maier, a college professor and archaeologist who normally writes scholarly diatribes, but who has also written two or three novels. Mr. Maier's familiarity with archeology is evident in the book and adds credibility to the plot.
At stake in the story are the core issues of Christianity, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. The main character in the book is Dr. Johnathan Webber, a well known and respected Biblical scholar on sabbatical from Harvard University, who goes to Israel to participate in an archeological dig. There he uncovers what first appears to be the sarcophagus of Joseph of Arimathea, a stunning archeological find, similar to the bone box of James the brother of Jesus that was recently found. Next they find what they assume to be the actual bones of Joseph of Arimathea. Finally, however, they find a document that appears to have been written by Joseph of Armiathea, indicating that he stole and re-buried the body of Jesus because he feared what the Sanhendrin would do to the body. When the hubbub over the resurrection broke out, he was unwilling to burst the disciples bubble. Further testing indicates that the bones they found were of a man about age 30_35, crucified and having the same wounds as Christ. Buried with the body is what seems to be the sign posted over Jesus by Pontius Pilate. Maier includes a sketch in the book.
All of this sets up a compelling tension between those who gleefully claim that this find disproves the resurrection, those who violently declare it a hoax and the few who want to carefully examine the evidence and come to the best conclusion they can. Initially, of course, this includes Dr. Webber. But gradually he comes to recognize the horror of what taking the resurrection out of Christianity would do, and at the same time his suspicions grow that the find is a hoax. But every attempt to disprove it turns up more and more evidence that the find is genuine, until finally a blue-ribbon science council declares that as far as they can tell, it is the body of Jesus.
That conclusion is reached around Christmastime, and that Christmas proves to be the most dismal and divided anyone can remember. Jon Webber goes home to the church where his father is the pastor, and as he slips in unseen he hears himself and his companions being accused of plotting to kill Christianity. That evening a nationally televised debate occurs between those opposed to the findings and those who welcome them, moderated, fictionally, by Martin Marty and commented on by Billy Graham. The quotes in the novel seem like they might be taken from one of Billy Grahams books. When the liberals claim the resurrection of Christ was only a word picture showing the disciples victory over the fear of death, he says:
I wish the professor would try his message on someone who is dying. This is the end, friend, hed have to say. Stiff upper lip! Try to take it on the chin, like Jesus did. Theres no hope, no afterlife, nothing! Compare that, Graham says, to the faith that has always pulsed through Christianity: that Jesus truly rose from the dead - physically historically, factually, materially. This is the sort of Easter proclaimed by all the earliest witnesses and by the Christian church until some theologians began to think differently in the last century.
This is Maiers point - that Christianity, alone among the worlds religions, relies on a historically verified, miraculous, saving act as the foundation for its message. The center of the Christian message must always be the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it Christianity is nothing more than pious babbling. With it, it is the very power of life over death. Take away the resurrection of Christ and you take away all hope of our own resurrection and eternal life. Take away the resurrection and you remove the Christian message from the realm of truth and leave it entirely in the realm of feeling and wishful thinking. Christianity must be based solidly in the truth about Jesus and the truth of the resurrection. The text well look at today shows how Peter preached these foundational truths in the very first public message about the resurrection of Christ. Its Acts 2:22-39 and it shows that the heart of the gospel message is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
I. His Life (Acts 2:22)
The first verse summarizes the life of Jesus, Acts 2:22 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. The context of this witness by Peter is simple. The Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus has come, and Peter, filled with the Spirit is explaining this to the crowd in Jerusalem. The sermon actually begins in Acts 2:14 where Peter tells the crowd that what theyre seeing isnt drunkenness but the work of the Holy Spirit. He cites Joels prophecy about the Spirit being poured out on the people of Israel to justify the miracle of tongues this crowd is hearing. But what he really wants to talk about is Jesus.
He begins with well known information about the life of Jesus, who was a man attested to you or accredited to you by God. In other words, God showed his credentials through the miracles, signs and wonders he performed. Peters audience included many who had seen the miracles Jesus did, or had a first hand report of something like the raising of Lazarus or the feeding of the 5000. By reminding them that they already know the truth of Gods work through the life of Jesus, he established the integrity and authenticity of Jesus. In the same way any Gospel message has to tell people about the life of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus and most especially the prophecies of Jesus, his predictions of his own death and resurrection. As weve studied the gospel of John for the last several months, weve felt the impact of who Jesus was, of what he did, and of what he said. Thats foundational to the Gospel message. But there has to be more.
II. His Death (Acts 2:23)
Verse 23: 23This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. The gospel message is woefully inadequate if it doesnt teach that the death of Jesus was the central moment in Gods plan to rescue humans from sin. The death of Jesus was not an accident. God knew when he sent Jesus that it was to die for the sins of people like you and me. It was Gods unshakeable purpose to allow that death so that new life might come to us. So Jesus was handed over to these very people, and they put him to death, with the help of wicked men. Peter emphasizes that the crucifixion was a group effort by Jews and Gentiles alike. No one person or group bears the whole responsibility, but no one is without responsibility either.
That means us as well - if the death of Jesus is the work of our salvation, then we have to recognize that it was really each of us individually who sent him to the cross. Now youll say wait a second - Im not guilty of killing Jesus. Ive got a great alibi - I wasnt even born! True, but at a basic level it was not the direct acts of people that crucified Jesus, it was the sins of people that killed him. And sin is a universal problem, not limited to the ancients. Events in Iraq this week have reminded us how much evil still exists in the world and how strong is the power of habitual hate. But you and I are no different than anyone in Iraq. Weve sinned, done things wrong by Gods standards and by human standards. For instance, weve all deliberately hurt others. And our sin is just as much the reason Jesus died as the Jewish hatred or the Roman nails. Paul will later teach that all have sinned, and that Gods love is supremely shown in that Christ died while we were still ungrateful sinners.
III. His Resurrection (Acts 2:24-32)
The gospel message is a message the sinless life of Jesus. It is a message of the substitutionary death of Jesus. But pre-eminently the Gospel message is a message of the resurrection of Jesus. Verse 24 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Easter is at the heart of any legitimate message about Jesus. He died on the cross, but he rose from death, winning the victory over sin, death and hell.
Notice first that God raised him from the dead. He died according to Gods plan and rose according to Gods plan by Gods power. When the Bible talks of the resurrection of Jesus it always explicitly teaches that God, by which the New Testament means God the Father, raised him up. It was the Fathers purpose to free him, literally, from the birth pangs of death. The death of Jesus is pictured as a birth process - painfully difficult, yet resulting in new life. Peter says it was impossible for death to keep hold on him. Sin, Satan and death had lost very few wrestling matches in the history of the world - a rare few people were restored to life by Jesus, even by the prophets. Fewer, two, seem to have bypassed death and gone directly into eternal life. But no one in the world before Jesus experienced death and then emerged into eternal bodily life. Death decisively lost its battle with Jesus not because death was weak but because Gods power at work in Jesus was strong.
III. a. Old Testament Prophecy (Acts 2:25-31)
It is that resurrection victory Peter wants to demonstrate through the words of Scripture. He quotes Old Testament prophecy, specifically the last three verses of Psalm 16. Acts 2:25. David said about him: "'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'
Peter says that Psalm 16, verses 8 to 11, applies to Jesus. Now how would he know that? There are at least three ways. First, some of his contemporaries already thought the Psalm was about the Messiah, so Peter is simply affirming a common Scriptural understanding. Second, Peter was operating under the inspiration of the Spirit: so the Spirit is presenting this Psalm as predicting the resurrection. Third, Jesus spent a lot of time during the forty days after his resurrection teaching his disciples from the Old Testament everything that applied to himself. We dont have a first-hand record of that teaching, but we know it happened. Its likely Jesus himself pointed Peter and the others to this Psalm, which grounds the resurrection in prophecy.
When Peter finishes the quote he explains it. This is Acts 2:29-32 "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. Do you see what Peter says? David died and decayed. His tomb was apparently known to the people. But God had promised to set one of his descendants on the throne. So as a prophet he saw what was ahead and spoke of the resurrection of that descendant, the anointed one whom the Greek language calls the Christ. When David wrote these words, a thousand years before the Messiah, he was expressing confidence in the Messiahs resurrection. According to Peter, the resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of Davids confidence and expectation.
III. b. New Testament Testimony (Acts 2:32)
So the resurrection is affirmed by the Old Testament Scriptures, but also by the Apostles who saw the resurrected Christ face to face. Verse 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Throughout the New Testament youll hear the Apostles say over and over we are eyewitnesses of the resurrection. This is what the book of Acts is all about. There are at least 11 separate incidents or messages in Acts where the truth that Christ rose from the dead is explicitly stated by the apostles. In at least 8 of those the fact that these people were eye-witnesses is emphasized. Heres a partial list. Act 1:22; Acts 2:24-32, Acts 3:15-26, Acts 4:2-10; Acts 5:30-32; Acts 10:39-40; Acts 13:30-37; Acts 17:18-32; Acts 23:6-11; Acts 24:15-21; and Acts 26:8-22. To every audience in every circumstance every apostle emphasized one fact: Jesus rose from the dead.
IV. His Exaltation (Acts 2:33-35)
So the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus are the Old Testament in its prophecies and the New Testament in its firsthand reports The facts Peter presents are well attested even to a contemporary skeptic: Jesus lived, he died on the cross, he rose from the dead and finally, he was exalted to heaven. Verses 33 to 36: 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand 35until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' 36"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
In the New Testament whenever the message of Jesus is given, it will always include his crucifixion and resurrection. Indeed when Paul summarizes the heart of the Gospel message in 1 Corinthians 15 he says What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. But often the message of Jesus will be extended to include his ascension and exaltation. The exaltation of Christ is important because it shows that the Christ who is risen now reigns. From his position of sovereignty it is He who sends the fullness of the Spirit. Peter again clinches his argument from Scripture: he applies Psalm 110 to the Messiahs ascension, saying David did not ascend to heaven, yet he designated as my Lord the one who sits at the right hand of the Lord. Jesus applied Psalm 110 to himself in Mark 12 and Luke 20. Hebrews and Pauls letters also apply it to Jesus. It was probably another of the texts Jesus showed them after the resurrection.
Peter uses it to clinch his argument that this Jesus, whom they had crucified, God has now made both Lord and Christ. It was Peter himself who in the Gospels had said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It was Thomas after the resurrection who had said to him: My Lord and my God. Peter combines the two things and says he is both Lord and Christ. So this Jesus, whom they crucified but God raised was the one theyd been waiting for, the Messiah, the Christ, Davids son sent by God to rescue them. And he was the Lord - not just master as Lord might imply, but God. This was their Bible word, in Greek for God Almighty.
V. His Salvation (Acts 2:36-39)
So the message of Jesus Peter shares in this first public sermon is the message of his life, his death, his resurrection and his exaltation. And the key is the resurrection, but which God makes Jesus, in the present tense both Lord and Christ. We see the response of the people to this message in verses 37 to 39: 37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call."
They were cut to the heart, or pierced. The word can mean stabbed, but metaphorically it means greatly troubled. They were convicted and convinced by the words of Scripture and the words of the Apostle. So often the way the Holy Spirit gets hold of a life is to convict the heart of sin and convince the mind about the resurrection, because if Jesus was raised as he promised then his remedy for sin is sure.
So every Gospel message, whether it is explicit or not, hinges on the resurrection - on this unique event we celebrate in a unique way on this day. Without the resurrection, the life of Jesus becomes merely a good example, the death of Jesus becomes merely a tragedy and the exaltation of Jesus becomes merely a fable. It is the truth of the resurrection that anchors these things in space and time and allows us to accept the promises Jesus makes, because he kept the greatest promise of all. During the 60's hippies used to wear buttons that said Easter is cancelled this year - they found the body. If they did it would not only cancel Easter, it would cancel Christianity and cancel all hope of salvation. But the non-fiction shelf tells us there is good evidence for the resurrection. The constant testimony of these eyewitnesses is good evidence. They saw, heard, touched, knew the Risen Lord, and were changed from people who timidly hid to people who gave their lives as martyrs.
We could talk for hours about the historical truth of the resurrection. If youve never read Josh McDowells Evidence that Demands a Verdict or Frank Morrisons Who Moved the Stone you havent fully grasped the strength of the case for Christ. Professor Thomas Arnold, author of a famous history of Rome, and appointed to the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. He said: "I have been engaged for many years in the evaluation of the histories of other times, examining and weighing the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead." Brooke Westcott, an English scholar, said: "taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in its proof."
The resurrection is the heart of the Gospel, and has a saving impact on those who believe it. The crowd that Peter spoke to was convicted of their sin and cried out What shall we do? Peter says repent and be baptized, every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He invites them to believe in Jesus. In fact the name given to these people in the early chapters of Acts is the believers. The book of Acts doesnt actually include that word in this first sermon, but Luke tells us that he didnt record everything Peter said. Believing is implied by what he did record, which was a call to repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Repent is a strong Biblical concept. Throughout Scripture the people of God are called to turn - turn from their sin, turn from their rebellion, turn from their idols, turn toward God in dependence on his grace and forgiveness. So Peter calls them to repent - to turn to God in and through Christ. He calls them to be baptized, which is the outward sign of this inward turning and of inward faith. He says to them that if they turn to Christ they will receive forgiveness of their sins. Peter offers them the cure for what they have just discovered in themselves. He offers them forgiveness of sins through Jesus and offers them the Holy Spirit to indwell, empower, comfort and confront them from that day forward. The Bible calls these things salvation and it calls the heart response of these people faith so that later in Acts Paul can answer the same question, What must I do to be saved by simply saying Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
The heart of the Gospel message is always the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For those struggling to believe, the resurrection provides the greatest argument for faith. For those who do believe it provides the greatest argument for hope. Thats why we celebrate the resurrection today, and without it this celebration would be merely a funeral service for a failed, dead so-called Savior. In Paul Maiers book it looks like the resurrection is going to be lost, and the results are tragic. Without giving away too much of the plot I can tell you that by the end of the book the resurrection is restored and the results of that restoration are joyous. In the very last chapter Jon Webber goes back to his fathers church where he had snuck in and listened to his father accuse him just a few months before at Christmas:
The same flight brought him to St. Louis, the same highway to Hannible. Only this time, instead of snow and ice, Missouri 61 was framed in green and bursting with wild flowers. The 11 a.m. service overflowed with jubilant worshipers. Once again Jon donned sunglasses and hunkered down into the last pew. This time the figure who mounted the pulpit had a spring in his step and smile on his face. His father also delivered what was probably the finest sermon of his life, with several proud references to what his son had found and done. At the close he said Why did God permit something like this to happen? you may well ask. Since I dont advise the Almighty, I cant really say. But the old adage, You never appreciate anything until its taken away surely applies here. Christians across the entire world who almost lost the very heart of their faith, are now cherishing it as never before. We see a new Spirit in all denominations and all lands. We see massive outpourings of worship, and not just on Easter Sunday. And so once again God has taken human plans for evil and turned them into blessings. This Easter we have a Deliverer again - not a deceiver. We have the assurance of life after death, not just dissolution and dust. We have the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. You and I have the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, because the resurrection at the center of the Gospel message is the gospel truth.
On the last page of this novel, the congregation ends their Easter worship with a rousing hymn. If you can imagine even for a moment how tragic life would be without the resurrection, and contrast that to the faith and hope that you have in a resurrected Jesus, youll join in their triumph. After I pray well sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today.