Who is Jesus? A study in the gospel of Luke          Week 4

I.      What is the significance of the Resurrection?  (Luke 24:36-53)         

Before we can begin discussing the significance of the Resurrection, it’s important to affirm the historicity of the Resurrection.  The early Christians believed that the Resurrection was the fundamental source of their faith, their assurance and their hope.  In fact, the apostle Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that if Jesus was not bodily raised from the dead, then Christianity is worthless and ought to be abandoned (1 Cor. 15:1-20).  So is there historical evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead?  Yes, there is.  (Readers who would like more detail may be interested in my essay “Resurrection and Worldview”, which treats the subject more extensively). 

A.      The historicity of the Resurrection

1.       Five independent accounts report the Resurrection

Historians generally believe that the more independent sources we have attesting to an event, the more likely it is to be historical.  Accounts of the Resurrection are provided in all four gospels and in Paul’s epistles, most extensively in 1 Cor. 15.  A comparison of the accounts shows that it is very unlikely that they all trace back to the same written source because they include different details, although they agree on all the major events (burial of Jesus in a tomb, discovery of the empty tomb by women, the appearance of angels at the tomb, the appearance of Jesus to his disciples, etc…).  Indeed, the presence of several details that are difficult (though not impossible) to reconcile supports the idea that the accounts likely trace back to independent eyewitnesses of the events in question.

2.      The accounts of the Resurrection would have been offensive and unbelievable to first century Jews and Gentiles

We often believe that the Resurrection fit naturally into the ancient, pre-scientific worldviews of the 1st century Roman Empire.  However, this is simply not the case. The bodily resurrection of Jesus would have been unbelievable to the two dominant belief systems of 1st century Palestine.  Jews believed that all the dead would be resurrected at the end of history, but would have been shocked by the idea of the Resurrection of a single man in the middle of history.  Indeed, all the Resurrection accounts indicate that Jesus’ disciples were utterly incredulous when told about the Resurrection and retained their incredulity and shock even after Jesus appeared to them.  Although the Greek worldview was in many ways a polar opposite of the Jewish worldview, it shared its skepticism towards the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  To Greeks, the spirit was good but matter was intrinsically evil.  Thus, the idea that Jesus would be bodily raised from the dead would have deeply offended and scandalized the very Gentiles the apostles were trying to convert.  In fact, later Gnostics abandoned a belief in the bodily Resurrection in an attempt to accommodate Christianity to the Greco-Roman world.  If the apostles wanted to start a new religion, why would they create a story that was so intrinsically offensive and unbelievable to potential converts?  Similarly, the gospel accounts all report that women were the first to discover the empty tomb.  In the ancient world, women had such low status that their testimony was not allowed in courts.  Again, if the early church were inventing accounts of the Resurrection, why did they make women the first witnesses rather than more culturally acceptable male disciples like Peter or John?

3.      The disciples preached the Resurrection despite suffering and martyrdom

The idea that the Resurrection was somehow a conspiracy by the early church also runs into the problem of the testimony of the apostles.  The twelve apostles of Jesus were unanimous in claiming that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and repeated this testimony throughout Judea and eventually throughout the Roman world.   There is not a single record of any of the apostles ever recanting on this belief.  However, the apostles suffered terribly for their testimony.  They were repeatedly jailed, beaten, stoned, flogged, and eventually executed (church tradition holds that 11 out of the 12 apostles were martyred).  Based on their willingness to suffer and die, it is very difficult to claim that they were lying about the Resurrection.  Certainly, men will die for what they believe to be true, but almost no one would be willing to die for a belief which they know with certainty to be false.  Therefore, most skeptics affirm that the apostles must have truly believed that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead based on their willingness to suffer and die.

4.      Paul was converted after encountering the risen Jesus

Even if we believe that, through a series of unlikely coincidences and hallucinations, Jesus’ twelve disciples came to a belief in the Resurrection, a more difficult piece of evidence comes from the conversion of the apostle Paul.  Paul was originally a mortal enemy of the early Christian church but became an apostle after claiming to have encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.  As a respectable Jew, Paul had absolutely no reason to convert to Christianity.  His conversion meant constant persecution, death threats, hardship and eventual martyrdom.  Furthermore, his conversion was instantaneous.  He went from trying to kill Christians to becoming a Christian himself and one of their leading evangelists literally overnight.  Again, attempts to explain his conversion through a hallucination or an epileptic fit are unlikely by anyone’s standards.  How often do hallucinations in otherwise mentally stable people cause a permanent and complete alteration of worldview which is retained even in the face of suffering and death?

Much more can be said on this subject (see the work of Christian apologist William Lane Craig for an extensive historical defense of the Resurrection), but the collective weight of the evidence leads us to conclude that any naturalistic explanation of the Resurrection is highly unlikely.  There is an excellent essay called “The Historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection” written by Jeff Lowder, a skeptic and founder of the free-thought website infidels.org, in which he concludes that “a strong historical case can be made for the Resurrection” and that atheists reject the Resurrection primarily because they believe that God does not exist and miracles are therefore impossible.  However, if we are willing to admit that God’s existence is even a possibility, then we need to take the historical evidence for the Resurrection seriously. 

Accepting the historicity of the Resurrection is important, but by no means sufficient.  Once we conclude that the Resurrection occurred, we must immediately ask the question: what is the significance of the Resurrection?  What does this event mean?  The Bible says that the Resurrection is not merely an unusual historical event, but that it is actually the most important event in all of human history because of the declaration it makes and the hope that it provides.

B.      The declaration of the Resurrection

1.      The Resurrection is the vindication of Jesus as the Messiah (Lk. 24:46)

First, the Resurrection declares that Jesus is in fact the Jewish Messiah. During his trial, Jesus affirmed that he was the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and the Savior of the world.  The religious leaders, the common people, the governmental officials, and the Roman soldiers publicly scoffed at this claim, publicly mocked Jesus, and publicly crucified him.  Man passed the verdict on Jesus that he was a fraud, a liar and a lunatic.  But the Resurrection is God’s verdict.  Just as mankind publicly and spectacularly rejected Jesus as God’s Savior, God publicly and spectacularly vindicated Jesus as His Savior.

2.      The Resurrection is testimony that Jesus is God (Rom. 1:4)

Second, the Resurrection declares that Jesus was God.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that Jesus “was declared (or appointed) with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”  Note that Paul is not here saying that Jesus became the Son of God because of his Resurrection because elsewhere Paul speaks about Jesus “being in very nature God” and then “[humbling] himself, taking on the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2).  Rather, Paul is saying that the Resurrection was the confirmation and consummation of Jesus’ divinity.  It is not merely a case of resuscitation.  Jesus was indeed raised to life with a physical body, but it was a physical body that was also somehow trans-physical, that was not constrained by the natural susceptibility of death, disease, and decay like our bodies.  Jesus’ Resurrection is a testimony that he was divine; why else would it be “impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24)?  

 

3.      The Resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s revelation in Scripture (Lk. 24:44-49)

Third, the Resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s revelation in Scripture.  The Jews in Jesus’ time and many still today were awaiting a Messiah because in numerous places the Hebrew Scriptures told them to expect one.  In fact, Jesus said that all of the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to him and told of his death for our sins and his Resurrection for our salvation.  The most relevant prophecy in the Old Testament is the passage of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, in which God says that the Messiah will suffer for the sins of the people but that in the end “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).  The Resurrection declares that Jesus was this suffering servant about whom Isaiah spoke and whom God raised from the dead.  Through him and through him alone, we can be accepted by God.  Thus, the Resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation throughout history as described in the Jewish Scriptures.

C.       The hope of the Resurrection

But the Resurrection is not merely a declaration of certain facts, it is also the foundation for our hope as Christians. 

1.      The Resurrection shows that Jesus completely paid the debt that we owe on account of our sin (1 Cor. 15:17)

First, the Resurrection shows that our debt to God as Christians has actually been paid in full and accepted by God on our behalf.  The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sin, but is the Resurrection really that important?  In 1 Cor. 15, Paul answers with an emphatic yes.  In fact, says Paul, if the Resurrection did not occur, then Christians should have no confidence that God has actually forgiven us.  If the wages of sin is death, then we need a substitute to bear the penalty of our sin.  Jesus is that substitute.  But if Jesus had not been raised to life, how would we know whether his sacrifice was sufficient?  Perhaps our sin was too much for him to bear.  How do we know that our penalty had been fully borne and completely cancelled?  God’s answer is the Resurrection.  Having paid the death penalty in full, Jesus was raised to life.  The Resurrection is God’s assurance to us that Christ is a sufficient Savior, that he paid our debt in full and those who trust in him are completely forgiven.

2.      God offers free forgiveness of sin through Jesus (Lk. 24:47)

Second, because the Resurrection is the culmination of God’s plan of salvation in history, it means that forgiveness is offered to all who repent and believe in Christ.  After the Resurrection, Jesus told his disciples to go and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all people.  God, in Christ, has opened up a way back to Himself.  The salvation that Jesus brings is not just for some small ethnic group or some elite class of society, but for people of every tribe, nation, and language.  Jesus’ death and Resurrection is God’s offer of forgiveness of sins to all people: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).

3.      Through the Holy Spirit, God can raise us up to new life in Christ (Rom. 6:4)

Third, Jesus’ Resurrection is a picture or symbol of what He does spiritually in our lives when we trust in him.  The Bible says that naturally, we are dead in sin.  But through Jesus, God can give us new life.  When a person becomes a Christian, they are raised spiritually to new life; that is, God gives them a new heart, new desires, and new affections.  God changes our heart to make us desire what is good.  Of course, Christians are not free of sin by any means.  Our old habits, desires, and affections still live within us and war against the new life that God has given us.  We possess a sinful nature (which the Bible refers to as “the flesh”, not to be understood as “the body” or “the physical” but as “the sinful, unredeemed nature”).  But there is a real, spiritual Resurrection which takes place when a person puts their trust in Christ that is as miraculous as Jesus’ physical Resurrection. 

4.      One day, God will raise our bodies from the dead just as he raised Jesus (1 Cor. 15:22)

Finally, the Resurrection gives us hope that God will fulfill his promises to heal the physical world and redeem and restore our physical bodies one day.  The Bible sees the redemption and salvation of God as applying not only to our spirits, but to our physical bodies, and to all of physical creation as well.  God has promised to one day judge the world, to destroy all evil and to bring about a new heavens and a new earth.  What is more, he will raise up all people from the dead, either for judgment or for salvation.  This idea sounds absolutely unbelievable to us as modern people, but it was also difficult to believe for ancient people.  Certainly, ancient people knew that dead bodies decompose and that human history seemed to go on and on without any clear indication that it would have an end.  But they also believed that God, who created the universe from nothing, could judge and remake the universe if he wanted to.  The question is: how can we be sure that God wants to?  How do we know that God will raise the dead and heal with world as He has promised?  The Resurrection of Jesus gives us assurance that God’s promises of a new creation are true.  God raised Jesus from the dead in the middle of human history as a demonstration of his power and his promise to one day raise the dead in judgment and to renew the universe.  Unlike other religions, Christianity does not look forward to an immaterial, ethereal, disembodied existence in “heaven” but in a remade and perfected bodily existence in a new heavens and new earth.  So Christians do not need to fear sickness, disease, or even death because they know that death will not have the final word in their lives.

 

 

II.  What does it mean to be a Christian?

A.      A Christian acknowledges and submits to Jesus as Lord

1.       The earliest confession of Christians was ‘Christ is Lord’

In the Roman Empire, where it was demanded that people confess that “Caesar is Lord”, acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus was a dangerous thing.  But if Christ is truly God, then it is the only legitimate way to approach him.  Jesus Christ is God himself and therefore he gives us everything we hold dear and sustains our lives moment by moment.  A Christian recognizes Christ’s absolute power, authority, and worthiness and his Lordship over all creation.

2.      My first allegiance as a Christian is to Jesus Christ, because he alone deserves by ultimate service, praise, and obedience

But a Christian also goes beyond a general acknowledgement of Jesus’ divinity and acknowledges that Jesus is Lord of his own life.  Jesus is not just Lord in some abstract sense, but he is my Lord, my master, my king, the one to whom I owe complete obedience.  Because of who he is, Jesus demands my complete allegiance.  My relationship to him must come before my relationship to anyone or anything else: family, friends, career, security, prosperity, or respectability.  Again, this is the only rational response given who Jesus is.  Jesus is the one who is keeping my heart beating at this moment, who is gives me each breath that I take, who formed me in my mother’s womb and has cared for me all my life.  To approach him as some kind of spiritual assistant is an insult.  But then everything else in my life, even good things, even life itself, must be secondary to my relationship with Jesus.

3.      Jesus is a loving king, who comes not to be served but to serve (Mk. 10:45)

Jesus’ call to complete allegiance and obedience can be terrifying and challenging, as it should be.  But that is why it’s also important to recognize that Christians are motivated primarily by a love for Jesus Christ.  Christians recognize that Jesus is not just our sovereign king, but also is our loving king.  Jesus himself said that he did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for us.  Christians recognize that they are not capable or worthy to be their own Lords and masters.  We have ruined our lives and the lives of others and our sinful desires have enslaved us.  Jesus, in offering to be our sovereign Lord, is paradoxically offering us true freedom.  As long as we think that we are competent and sufficient to be our own gods, Jesus’ claim to our allegiance will be stifling.  But if we come to see -along with the prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners- that being our own lords has led us into nothing but evil and misery, then and only then will we accept Jesus’ lordship not simply with submission but with joy.

B.       A Christian trusts Jesus as Savior

1.      None of us deserve God’s love, either before becoming a Christian or after

But second, a Christian also trusts Jesus as savior.  Certainly a Christian acknowledges Jesus’ lordship and desires to submit to Jesus in all areas of his or her life.  But a Christian also recognizes that he is utterly condemned by God’s good law and cannot possibly merit God’s favor or acceptance.  And after we become a Christian, we are no more worthy of God’s acceptance than before.  None of us, Christian or atheist, lives up to God’s righteous standard of love and holiness.  To be a Christian is to recognize that God’s love comes to us by grace, that is, utterly apart from our deserving it.

2.      Our holiness, good works, and zeal cannot merit God’s acceptance

A Christian also recognizes that all of our holiness, good deeds, or enthusiasm is no reason for God to accept us.  God’s acceptance is priceless; therefore, we cannot purchase it.

3.      Our obedience, submission, and surrender to Jesus will always be incomplete, half-hearted, and mixed with selfish motives

What is more, a Christian recognizes that even in his best deeds, his own motives are always mixed.  All of our obedience and submission to Christ, even as Christians, is incomplete.  Indeed, the more mature we are as Christians, the more we see the sinfulness that permeates all of our words, thoughts and deeds.

4.      God has promised to save all those who trust in Jesus, not because they are good, holy and righteous, but because He is good, holy, and righteous

Therefore, a Christian trusts in God to save him on the basis of God’s goodness in Christ, not on the basis of his own goodness.  God has promised to forgive and accept all who relinquish their trust in themselves and instead put their trust in Jesus as Savior.  The promise comes not to the righteous and godly, but to the unrighteous and ungodly.  All of those (indeed, only those!) who recognize that they are unrighteous and in need of saving and turn to Jesus for that salvation, are completely accepted on the basis of what Jesus did on their behalf.

C.       A Christian is adopted into God’s family

1.      Christians relate to God as children, not as employees (Gal. 4:21-31)

Being a Christian means that our relationship to God changes completely.  Before, we were rebels and condemned traitors against God.  But when we put our trust in Christ, we are no longer rebels.  But neither are we employees.  Christians do not relate to God only (or primarily) as a servant relates to his master, or as an employee relates to his employer, but as a child relates to his father.  The glory of God’s mercy is that it changes our status from that of condemned rebels to that of beloved children.

2.      Christians relate to one another as brothers and sisters (Gal. 3:26-29)

Because Christians relate to God as Father and are adopted into his family, we relate to one another as brothers and sisters.  The church is not a human institution or even a religious organization, it is the family of those who have been adopted by God.

III. How does a person become a Christian?

A.      Repent and believe the good news

1.       Jesus exhorted people to “repent and believe the good news” (Mk. 1:15)

2.      The apostles exhorted their hearers to “repent and believe the good news” (Acts 3:19)

Because becoming a Christian is primarily about a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, there is a danger in trying to turn it into some kind of formula.  However, the gospel as it was preached by Jesus and the apostles always includes a call to repentance and faith. 

B.      Repentance is a deep change of mind about yourself, about God, and about sin

Repentance is primarily an inward turning away from sin.  In fact, repentance literally means a “change of mind.”

1.      Repentance means recognizing that you are a sinner – you have broken God’s laws (Rom. 3:9-18)

First, repentance requires an intellectual acknowledgement that you are indeed a sinner – that is, that you have broken God’s laws.  Every one of us has broken very clear, specific and good commandments that God has given us: we have lied, and cheated, and stolen, and envied, and lusted, and coveted - all evil actions and all things that God has specifically forbidden us to do.  But even worse, all of these wrong actions are motivated by the fundamental problem at the root of our hearts.  The essence of the law, said Jesus, is to love God with all your heart, mind soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.  We may believe we have kept all of God’s rules, but we have with utter certainty broken these great commandments.  We love ourselves far more than we love either God or our neighbor.  And this terrible self-centeredness is utterly wrong.  We ought to be people of self-giving love, towards God our Creator and King and to other human beings.  But we have instead chosen to worship ourselves and live for our own glory, no matter how it hurts God or others.

Imagine a guilty criminal brought before a judge to be tried for murder.  There is absolutely no doubt at all to the criminal’s guilt; he committed the crime in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses and video cameras.  As long as the criminal insists on pretending that he is innocent, he has certainly not repented.  In the same way, we are certainly guilty of breaking God’s law a million times over and God clearly states in the Bible that “there is not one who is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10).  Repentance means agreeing with God’s assessment of your condition – that you have indeed broken his law and failed to live the way He commanded.

2.      Repentance means recognizing that God would be just to condemn you (Rom. 3:19-20)

But it is possible to intellectually acknowledge that you are a sinner and still not repent.  For instance, it is possible for a criminal to be brought into court and acknowledge that he is guilty, acknowledge some terrible crime like murder, and yet spit at the judge and yell “you have no right to condemn me.  I may be guilty, but I reject your authority.”  Real repentance recognizes that God is right to hate evil and judge the wicked.  God is good and God is just; therefore, God cannot stand idly by while we spit on him and spit on other human beings.  When God condemns our greed, idolatry, pride, violence, and lustfulness, the repentant heart recognizes that he is right and just and good to do so.  We may be terrified of God’s justice and long for his mercy, but we must recognize –as the thief on the cross recognized- that “we are only getting what our deeds deserve” (Lk. 23:41).

3.      Repentance means recognizing that sin is making you miserable

But again, we may recognize both of these facts, that we are sinners and that God is right to condemn sin, and may still not repent.  A guilty criminal may come to a judge and say “Yes, I am a murderer and yes you are right to condemn me, but I have no regrets.  I would do it again.”  Repentance is more than simply admitting you are a sinner and admitting that God is right to judge you.  Repentance means realizing that sin is wrong and wanting to be rid of it.  Repentance means realizing that sin has enslaved you and made you miserable, and wanting to be free of it.  Repentance is a change of mind: before we thought sin was good and made us happy, but now we recognize that sin is evil and is making us miserable because it is separating us from God.

4.      True repentance leads to a practical turning away from sin (Lk. 3:8)

Finally, true repentance will also bear practical, visible fruit in our lives.  Although repentance -like faith- is internal, it always leads to external results.  A person can make many visible changes in their life without having truly repented.  But a person cannot have truly repented without it having a visible effect in their lives.  Why?  Because if repentance is a real change of mind about sin, then like any real change of mind, it will lead inevitably to a real change of action.  Imagine a person sitting quietly in their living room watching television who claims to believe that their house is on fire.  “What?”you say, “You believe that your whole house is on fire right now and that your whole family is in danger?”  “Oh yes,” they say, and then continue to watch television.   I think that any of us would reasonably conclude that this person does not really believe what they claim to believeObviously, repentance does not mean that we will instantaneously be free of sin or that we will never struggle and stumble or find ourselves ensnared by sin.  Nor does it mean that Christians live lives which are completely consistent and utterly free of complacency or self-deception.  But if there is no struggle at all to be free of sin, no desire at all to change our lives in accordance to God’s will, then we have not really repented.  Again, if we see no change in our lives, it is not that we have repented but then have not additionally changed our lives.  It is that we have not really repented in the first place.

C.      Belief is trusting in God’s promises of free and complete forgiveness in Christ

Repentance, however, is only one side of what it takes to become a Christian.  It is possible to feel some sorrow for our sin and to resolve to live a better life and still reject Jesus.  Christianity is not a program of moral self-improvement or a system by which we save ourselves.  The gospel is the good news of what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf and now offers to us freely.  Ironically, someone who repents of their sin but tries to earn their own salvation through good works rather than turning to Christ has not really repented.  If we are still clinging to the belief that we can be acceptable to God on the basis of our good deeds, it shows that we have not really acknowledged our guilt.  Bill Gates and his wife have given billions of dollars to charity.  The lives of literally millions of men, women, and children have been saved directly through their generosity.  But what would happen if Bill Gates murdered someone?  What if he was arrested and brought before the judge and responded: “I know I committed murder, but look at all the lives I have saved.  I really don’t deserve to go to jail.”  Any judge in the world would not only find him guilty, but would probably give him the maximum sentence.  His callousness and arrogance in thinking that his good deeds somehow made up for his crime would make him more guilty in the eyes of the judge, not less.  In the same way, real repentance and real faith always come together.  True repentance always looks to the Savior and true faith in the Savior always leads us to deep repentance for our sin.  But what is faith?

1.      God has promised to forgive all those who trust in Christ (Rom. 10:1-13)

The incredibly good news of the Bible is that God’s offer of salvation is free.  God has declared that the ransom Jesus paid on the cross was sufficient.  He declares that he will forgive, and justify, and pardon and adopt anyone at all who casts himself on Jesus and trusts in him.  This is the promise of the gospel.  Either this is promise is true or God is a liar.  Faith is placing our personal trust or reliance on Christ as a sufficient savior.

2.      God’s promise to his people is unconditional; it depends not on our goodness or obedience, but on Christ’s suffering and sacrifice (Eph. 2:1-10)

The promise of salvation in Christ does not depend on us.  Salvation is wholly of God, wholly a gift, wholly of grace.  If it depended on us even a little bit, we would be hopeless because we are dead in sin.  And even after we put our trust in Christ, our best deeds are still stained with sin.  Instead, the promise is unilateral.  It depends on Jesus’ goodness and obedience, not on our own.

3.      Jesus calls all people: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

This promise of forgiveness is for all who will entrust themselves to it.  Jesus calls all men to himself and offers them free pardon and mercy.  It is for the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the politicians, CEOs and college presidents, the homeless, the prostitutes, and the crack addicts.  All who will turn to Christ, casting themselves on his mercy, will be forgiven.

4.      Faith is putting all of our hope, reliance, and trust in these promises, believing that Christ is a sufficient Savior (Rom. 4:1-5)

To explain the way of salvation that Jesus provides, let me give an illustration from the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon.  A ship captain was on his great sailing ship out at sea with his little four-year-old son whom he loved.  One day, his son climbed up the ship’s mast but found he could not climb down again.  As the ship pitched and swayed on the waves, the mast tilted back and forth, so that the son was now over the water and now over the ship.  When the captain saw what had happened, he realized that if his son fell onto the deck of the ship he would certainly break all his bones and die.  But if he fell into the ocean, the captain could dive in and rescue him.  So he grabbed a bullhorn and shouted to his son: “Son, next time the ship sways and you are over the ocean, let go and drop in and you’ll be safe.”  But his son looked down into the ocean waves and was terrified, and clung even tighter to the mast.  The captain saw that his son’s grip was slipping and that he would certainly fall down and die.  So he picked up a gun and shouted again to his son: “Son, if you don’t let go of the mast and drop into the ocean the next time the ship sways, I will shoot you through the heart and you will die.”  The son looked at his father and knew that he was serious, so he let himself drop into the sea and was soon caught up into the strong, tender arms of his father.

Spurgeon explains the illustration like this: we are all clinging to our good works thinking they will save us when God knows they will surely end in our destruction.  God pleads with us to let go of our good works and drop into the ocean of Christ’s mercy and be saved, but we cling even tighter.  So he must point the gun of his Law at us and tell us: “I will damn you and send you to hell for your sins.  Let go and drop into the ocean of my love.”  This is the gospel.  God has sent Jesus to rescue us from our sins.  He has done all that is needed.  We cling to our own miserable and false righteousness for no reason at all, when we could be completely forgiven, accepted, adopted, and blessed for Christ’s sake.

All of us here today are in need of a Savior.  Jesus is that Savior.  He offers us full forgiveness, full pardon, full adoption, and a new life in him.  There is no hope for us outside of Christ.  All our good deeds are like filthy rags; they cannot save us.  But Jesus comes to us saying: “Look unto me all you ends of the earth and live for I am God your Savior and there is none beside me.”  I pray today that all of us here, or anyone reading these notes, will confess their sin, turn from it, and trust simply and surely on Jesus who is a sufficient savior:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

-Joseph Hart, 1759

Sample discussion questions:

1.       Why does it matter that Jesus was physically raised from the dead? 

2.      How can we be raised from the dead since our bodies decompose?

3.      If I’m saved by God’s grace, can’t I live however I want?

Suggested passages for future reflection:

John 3:16-21 – John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the Bible.  In this passage, Jesus talks about why he came and how we can be saved.

Romans 1:1-3:31 – A long treatment of God’s salvation plan in the Bible: why we need to be saved by grace through faith in Christ.

Luke 15:11-32 – Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, a story of our separation from God and God’s astonishing love for us.