A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 4/23/00 Easter Sunday
We are gathered here this morning to celebrate the greatest and most awesome event in the history of the world: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In order to do so fully and rightly, we must contemplate the significance of this event and its meaning for us. So I direct your attention to a passage of Scripture which may shed some interesting light on this most important day of the year: Acts 2:22-24, esp. vs. 24, where Peter notes that it was "impossible that Death should hold him in its power."
We think of the Resurrection as a surprise, a marvel, a paradox, a thing to be explained. This is natural, for death is a part of our experience, but resurrection is not. As a pastor I have been to my share of funerals. They all follow a certain depressing pattern. A body is laid out in a box for viewing; the lid is screwed down; the box is lowered into the ground; comforting words are said, and everybody leaves; the sexton fills in the hole with dirt. And to this day, every single body I have buried is still right where I left it. So the One that is not seems to require some explanation.
The disciples started out thinking like we do. Jesus' death had dashed their hopes, and they were not expecting a Resurrection, despite all his efforts to get them to understand. When it happened, they were astonished. But looking back on it, they came--and rather quickly, given that Peter's Pentecost Sermon was only seven weeks later--to the conclusion that it was inevitable. Of course Jesus wouldn't stay dead! If you understood who He was, you knew it was impossible for Death to keep him. What needed explanation for them was not so much the Resurrection as the fact that Jesus had died in the first place. What has the Lord of Life to do with Death? Much of the NT exists to answer that question.
The answer requires us to deal with three of the most profound concepts ever to enter the mind of man. The first is THE SINFULNESS OF MAN. Scripture presents sin as a burden we bear (1 Pet. 2:24), which Jesus took from us on the Cross. So twisted has our thinking become that holiness rather than sin seems burdensome to us, for we cannot attain it. But it is sin that provides the weight that holds us down. And Christ's death somehow lifts it from us. Scripture also presents sin as a sentence of guilt (Col. 2:13-14, Rom. 6:23). We are guilty, and this guilt has its wages: God owes us a death. But that guilt was somehow nailed to the Cross in Christ. And sin is also presented as a condition of death. Christ came down and joined us in death so that when he overcame it he could take us out with him. But while the sinfulness of man explains our need, it does not yet explain the death of Christ. Why that method of meeting the need?
The second concept is deeper still, and that is THE LOVE OF GOD. For God commends his love to us in this, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). No man hath greater love than this, we are told, that he lay down his life for a friend. I have been blessed with some very good friends. Would I give my life for one of them? Risk it, certainly--but GIVE it? That is a little more serious. I would like to think that I might. But would I give my life for my worst enemy, one who had stabbed me in the back, who was even at the moment in which I was asked to make this sacrifice treating me with ingratitude, derision, and contempt? No. I would not. Why? Because I do not yet love as Christ does, who while we were yet sinners died for us. But we still have not explained the death of Christ. If God loved us that much, why not just forgive us without such a terrible cost?
The answer is complete when we have added the third concept: THE JUSTICE OF GOD (Rom. 3:23-26). If God is going to deal with our sin, he must do so in a way consistent with his holiness and his justice as much as his love and mercy. Sin cannot just be winked at, cannot just be ignored. And so when these three realities come together we have the Cross of Christ: God's justice demanding the death penalty for sin, his love taking that penalty on himself, so that we could be forgiven and set free.
This then is the death from which he rose. The most difficult question ever asked is answered by the most profound concepts ever formulated: the answer lies in the depths of the sinfulness of man, the love of God, and the justice of God. And that is why the Resurrection is the most joyous news ever heard. It was impossible that he should be held in Death's power. And so he left it behind forever. And if you put yourself in his hands, he will take you with him.
Here endeth the lesson.