The Message of Easter (1)

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Last Sunday a survey revealed that out of the population of Britain 46 percent describe themselves as Christians, 25 percent as doubters (that is they claimed not to be sure whether they believe in God or not), 23 percent say they are atheists and 5 percent say they are of other religions with 1.5 percent of that 5 percent being Muslim.

However, what was especially interesting was the finding that 57 percent believe that Jesus was not only crucified and buried, but he also rose from the dead. But there is still great confusion over the resurrection of Jesus. With that confusion in mind, I want us this morning to look at 2 Timothy chapter 2 verses 8-9. Let me read those verses to you:

"Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained."

I want us to think about these verses under three headings. First, PAUL'S COMMAND - what Paul is actually saying. Secondly, THE REASON for why he is saying this. And, thirdly, THE RESULT of obeying this command. So, first, PAUL'S COMMAND; secondly, THE REASON; and, thirdly, THE RESULT.


Let me begin with some context. Paul is in prison. He is awaiting his second trial in Rome and he fears, as probably happened, that he would receive a death sentence. The Roman Emperor Nero was now attacking Christians mercilessly. Paul, however, is far less concerned for himself. He is more concerned for young Timothy and the health of the persecuted church in Ephesus where Timothy is a leader. During his own period in Ephesus Paul knew all about persecution, having been attacked by devotees of the pagan goddess Artemis. So with Rome now also hostile, Paul tells Timothy in verse 3 of chapter 2 to be ready to "endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus."

That, then, is the context in which Paul tells Timothy (verse 8) to "remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead." And he adds: "This is my gospel, for which I am suffering."

Paul had learnt the hard way that it is not always easy being a Christian. Timothy, too, now has to learn that lesson. And note that these words about the resurrection of Jesus are probably among the very last that Paul wrote to Timothy, perhaps among the very last words he wrote to anyone. That, therefore, underlines the supreme importance of this command to Timothy. It was a command - not some gentle advice. It is an imperative: "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead."

But what if you are among the 43 percent of people in this country who say they can't believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Throughout history, since the first Easter, many have been like that. But, then, some have decided to look at the evidence for themselves. That has made all the difference. Many have been convinced. Sadly others have never looked at the evidence.

The 18th century in Britain, before the evangelism of Wesley and Whitefield, was a time like today in Britain. The Christian faith and Christian morals were in retreat and being ridiculed. But a scholar, Gilbert West, was concerned to write a careful account of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. He realized, however, he was up against prejudice and against people refusing to consider the evidence. So he printed on the title page of his now famous book on the resurrection of Jesus, published in 1747, these words. They are from the Old Testament apocrypha:

"Blame not before thou hast examined the truth; understand first and then rebuke."

How important that people read the Bible for themselves and examine the evidence. What, then, is that evidence? I have written in more detail about this in the Coloured Supplement that you can find in the Jesmond Parish Church March Newsletter. All I will say now is that the main evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is in the four Gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (we read part of John's account, of course, earlier in our service).

Nor were those writers or their readers uncritical people who accepted anything they were told. In New Testament times people, and the Jews in particular, were capable of examining matters of alleged fact to see whether they were true or false. They could weigh evidence and arguments. The Jews had courts of law for that very purpose. And they had a rule (referred to in the Bible) that evidence is to be accepted only if there are at least two or three witnesses. So it is significant that we have four Gospels and four accounts of the Resurrection - one or two more than was needed for confirmation.

Yes, there are differences in the four Gospels. The basic difference, however, lies in the accounts of the appearances of Jesus to the disciples, not in the accounts of how women (and then men) found the tomb of Jesus empty. Different Apostles obviously reported different appearances on different occasions. But there is remarkable agreement over the accounts of the empty tomb. And as late as AD 56 when Paul was writing 1 Corinthians he tells us that many of the disciples who had seen Jesus after the Resurrection "are still alive" (1 Corinthians 15.6). They would have stopped the early Christians accepting pure fiction for their central belief.

So Christians today claim, after assessing the various contrary theories, that it is just more reasonable to believe Jesus tomb was empty that first Easter morning. And it was empty, because Jesus body had passed through the grave cloths. As we heard in our New Testament reading, it was when John ("the other disciple") "went inside" the empty tomb, "he saw and believed." What did he see? John 20 verse 7 tells us: "the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head" still "folded up" but "by itself, separate from the linen."

It was as though Jesus had passed through those grave cloths leaving the head cloth separate from the strips of linen that had been around his body. To modern people such a bodily resurrection is difficult. Like the heretical Gnostics in the early church, they seem to find the idea of a "spiritual" resurrection easier. But the hard evidence simply is that it was a bodily resurrection with a risen Jesus who could then even eat and drink with his disciples. "Sober criticism," writes Professor George Caird, a distinguished Oxford New Testament scholar, "cannot get behind the Gospel record to a plain, commonplace tale, devoid of the miraculous and the supernatural." So what you have in the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus is namely just that - a resurrection, not a resuscitation. What does that mean?

Well, a resuscitation is what happened when Jesus raised the dead in his earthly ministry - for example, in the case of the widow of Nain's son, and Jairus' daughter, and Jesus' friend, Lazarus. They were all raised back to normal human life, not to full resurrection life. They would, therefore, have died subsequently in old age or before.

However, the resurrection of Jesus, the forerunner of our ultimate resurrection, was not the simple resuscitation of his corpse but a miraculous bodily transformation and recreation to a new order of existence. And that in itself is wonderful good news. For who wants a resurrection to this present order of existence, with all its pain and suffering? But such a bodily transformation is good news, and not least for all those who are physically or mentally disabled in this life. Well, all that and more is what Paul is talking about when he says to Timothy: "Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead."

And that leads us on to our second heading...

Secondly, THE REASON for this command.

The first reason is the problem of human memory. It has been said that human sin is nowhere more evident than in the realm of memory. For the things we would like to remember we forget and the things we would like to forget we remember. That is why we constantly need to be reminded of God's fundamental truths. Even if we don't forget them, we can so easily put them to the back of our minds.

And that is why we regularly need to come to church to remind ourselves of them, as we hear God's word preached and as we go to small groups where we can study the Bible together and as we regularly read the Bible on our own. It is so easy to forget things. And how we need to be reminded of the truth and fact of the Resurrection.

It is, indeed, easy to forget that Jesus Christ is truly risen and reigning in heaven and so we must trust and obey him each day. And it is easy to forget that the resurrection of Jesus, with his transformed and recreated body, suggests the new heavens and new earth (that both the Old and New Testaments look forward to), are going to mean no less than our present physical experience. Rather they are somehow related to this material and physical universe but in an infinitely transformed and recreated way giving a wonderful and perfect existence. Romans 8 verse 21 expresses it like this:

"the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."

So the first reason for Paul's command is the problem of memory.

Secondly, another reason is that false ideas about the resurrection of Jesus and our future resurrection were being taught in Ephesus. And they are still taught today. It seems there were those in Ephesus who, as today, wanted to spiritualize the resurrection. There were people at that time saying that matter is bad. So salvation is to be freed from this material universe. Certainly they would have rejected a bodily resurrection. But the Bible is so clear. The created material world that God created is good in principle, although fallen through human sin. So these people are wrong. But verse 18 of chapter 2 tells of those who

"say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some."

This was the false teaching Timothy had to combat. Yes, in one sense Christians through their faith in the risen Christ have already "risen with him". The Bible, however, teaches that the resurrection of our bodies lies in the future when Christ returns. And that certainly has not "already taken place".

Hymenaeus and Philetus, whom Paul names as false teachers, may have been spiritualizing our resurrection by saying it was simply a release from the flesh through gnosis (special knowledge). But Paul likens such teaching to "gangrene" and for Timothy to avoid it at all costs.

So we have to remember Jesus' resurrection because, first, we can forget that it is true and actually happened. Secondly, there will be those seeking to mislead us about it. Thirdly, Paul says, "remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead" because this is the fact above all facts that puts everything else into perspective.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the real world is God's eternal world. Our world - this world of his creation - is a consequence of the plan and activity of God - our triune God - who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Bible says that the risen and reigning Jesus Christ is now the one in whom "all things [this entire created universe] hold together" (Colossians 1.17). We are also told that God the Son, the risen and reigning Jesus Christ, is not only the one "through whom the universe was made". But now he is also "sustaining all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1.3).

The Resurrection orientates our thinking and gives us a true world view. Our world of space and time is not all there is. The resurrection of Jesus proves that. And that leads on to our third and final heading of...

Thirdly, THE RESULT of remembering Jesus Christ raised from the dead.

Remembering the resurrection of Jesus encourages not only your certainty about the unseen, truly real, eternal realm of God. It also gives you a sure hope for eternity. Jesus' resurrection is a foretaste of your own final resurrection one day. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.20:

"Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."

Most importantly you can have confidence as to the eternal outcome at that final resurrection. Jesus says there are two possible outcomes. For...

"those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (John 5.29)

Yes, as Paul told the Athenians, the resurrection of Jesus is also proof that he, Jesus, one day is going to judge the world. We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ. But again there is good news. For Jesus says...

"whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5.24)

The Friday of Jesus' crucifixion was, indeed, "Good". The message of Good Friday is that God's transformation and recreation of the universe had to begin with his dealing with the human sin that defaces the universe. That is what Paul is actually saying in our verses in 2 Timothy. You see, Paul says,

"Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel... "

Paul is saying Jesus who was raised from the dead was the Christ [which, literally means 'the Messiah' - the ultimate successor to King David]." But the idea that their Messiah should die on a cross was abhorrent to the Jews. They did not realize that on his cross, Christ, the Messiah, was bearing the judgment we all deserve. For we all sin even through passively failing to do good.

"Christ," says Peter, "died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3.18).

The Resurrection is, then, the assurance that Jesus Christ actually did bear the penalty of the world's sin.

So you and I, if we repent, and receive God's forgiveness through Christ and the Holy Spirit's resurrection power for new life, can be confident of divine acceptance now and on our dying day. Romans 4.25 says:

"He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."

It is as though the judgment day is brought forward when you trust in Jesus Christ. That gives great hope and assurance. What a contrast between a non-believer and a believer at this point.

The non-believing, atheist Betrand Russell had to say about his own death...

"There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within."

But believing Paul could say to Timothy about his own death something very different...

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4.7-8)

I must conclude.

The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith. And Jesus who was raised was not only the Davidic Messiah - Jesus the Christ. He was also Jesus the divine Son - Jesus Christ, the Lord. His resurrection confirms that. Jesus we are told:

"was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead - Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1.4).

And the confession of "Jesus is Lord" together with belief in the resurrection of Jesus is what makes a Christian.

So for anyone wanting to become a Christian the Bible says:

"if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10.9).

But to those who have already made that confession Paul's words need to be heeded:

"Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering" (2 Timothy 2.8-9).

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