Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a 10-part series of messages called ‘Confident Theology’. Week by week he takes listeners on a journey through the famous statement of Christian faith known as the ‘Apostles’ Creed’. This week, Part 5: “Rose and Ascended”.
Part 5: “Rose and Ascended” – 1 Cor 15:1-19
Let’s bow our heads and ask for the Lord’s help. Our heavenly Father, we pray for that mercy and grace which you have promised to those in need. Please give grace to the speaker this morning and please give grace to each of us as listeners that the truths of your Word would be well heard, well received and well responded to and we pray this to your praise and our good. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
For those of you who are visiting today we are in a little series in The Apostles Creed. We are looking at a series which we have called “Confident Theology” and this is our fifth morning. The Creed of course being that summary of faith that goes back to about the seventh century and begins with the famous words, “I believe”.
Now during the week I was in a cafe and the man next to me at the table was an American, a Texan turned out to be a retired pilot. And God bless him if during the conversation which we had across our tables, he didn’t look at me and feel sorry for me as a lost sinner and gave me a tract half way through the conversation. And why did he do this I reflected? And the reason he did this is because he was a man of belief. And the beliefs that were in him actually wanted to get out of him and get over to other people. And this series on the Creed is not just for our amusement, entertainment or even information, it’s really that we might keenly believe and overflow with communicating these great truths.
So what we have tried to do so far is we looked at “Belief in God the Father”. We saw that we come to know God through His Son. We come to know Him as the Father through the Son.
And then we looked at “Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord” and we noticed that each of those words was theologically loaded and weighty.
And then we looked at “conceived, born” and we noticed of course this tremendous miracle of God entering his own world and his involvement, this intimacy he has with us in coming in this way.
And last week we looked at “suffered and crucified” and we saw the great mission of Jesus was to die and that He went right through to the grave.
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Now today we come to the words in the Creed “On the third day he rose again from the dead and he ascended into heaven”.
Do you notice that we tend in the church to make a lot of the Resurrection but not much of the Ascension? Easter is a primary day in the church calendar but the Ascension, although it’s in the Anglican Calendar, doesn’t really get very much attention. But when you think about it – if Jesus descended to the world and then descended to the cross he also ascended from the grave and he ascended from the world. And this morning our plan is to give a little bit of attention to these two subjects.
Why is the Ascension Important?
Now why is this important? First of all your time in this world is limited as is mine and therefore people have to work out what is the ultimate reality, what do we move toward? One possibility of course is that we move toward the grave “Finito” and lots of people are arguing this today, you just go and die. Therefore you have to hope the ride is good because it’s the only ride you’ve got. That’s a real possibility.
The other possibility for ultimate reality is that we invent something, something that will cheer us and comfort us. And we bolster ourselves to believe it. And the religions of the world have made a decision about the future which is based on human thinking and the secular people today who go to many of the funerals that I attend, they say something sweet about the future as a way of reassuring. But it’s just an invention.
The third possibility is resurrection based on the historical resurrection of Jesus and the promises of Jesus and that’s the foundation on which the church stands. I know that sounds a little bit slick but you need to think it through. What are people ultimately going to? And who knows?
We do tend to overthink some things. You know if you get some aches and pains in the middle of the night you tend to overthink. But we also under think in this big area and the people we live amongst under think where they are really going to finish.
Our Faith is Founded on Resurrection and Ascension
The second reason why this is such an important subject is because if the resurrection and ascension didn’t happen there is no Saviour and there is no King and Christianity really should shut down. Unless it just wants to be a pleasant little social club telling people to be nice because it’s nice to be nice.
The leader of Christianity has been shown to be a failure if there is no Resurrection. The Apostle Paul as we have just heard says in 1 Corinthians 15 “If there is no Resurrection there is no basis for faith, there is nothing to preach, there is no forgiveness, there is no future, our situation” he says “is pitiful and tragic” but he says “Christ has been raised, so work that out, it changes everything”.
Let’s think about these two phrases in the Creed this morning therefore. First of all let’s think about “on the third day he rose from the dead”. Now you may think there is nothing more to say about this subject and if you had to preach on this subject you would think to yourself – what is there to say, it’s all been said? Easter by Easter rolls around and Jesus rose from the dead. Well I want to assure you that you could spend fifty Sundays thinking about the resurrection and the implications.
First of all, why does the Creed say “on the third day he rose again from the dead on the third day”. Well the reason the Creed says it is because the Bible says it 1 Corinthians 15 “He was raised on the third day”. Now why does the Bible tell us that he was raised on the third day? Well because the Bible wants us to know and the Creed wants to echo that this is a piece of history. It isn’t just a piece of idea or imagination.
5 Reasons to Believe in the Factual, Historical Resurrection
There are some people who honestly teach in the church that the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen but the disciples had a kind of a rising of their spirits. And they thought well our leader is dead but we can carry on. That’s an absolute tragedy. No we are told that Jesus rose on the third day. It was a factual event.
Incidentally today is a French Bastille Day. 230 years since the citizens stormed the decrepit parcel of Bastille and they began as what is known as the French Revolution. It’s a day in history. It’s quite a significant day for the French. But let me tell you that there is a much bigger and more significant day and that is Easter Day where if I might put this a little bit cornily ‘Jesus stormed the castle of death and began a kingdom revolution which has impacted the whole world and belongs to eternity’. And it’s all based on a day in history, a factual historical day.
What evidence is there that Jesus rose? We can’t see the resurrection and nobody did see the resurrection actually take place. So what is the evidence for the resurrection?
Firstly, Jesus talked a lot about ‘rising’. He said I’ll die and rise, I’ll die, I’ll rise. Now if he didn’t rise then his talk is rubbish. He is a big disappointment. It’s very hard in my opinion to work out how the original followers would have taken him seriously if he was seen to be such a liar and such a disappointment. And I think you and I need to weigh up this fact that Jesus talked about rising and that the early church were not disappointed in him.
Secondly, we know the tomb was opened and empty. The Romans who had been told to guard the body with their lives had lost the body and therefore they ran from the tomb as you would. And there has been no satisfactory explanation for the empty tomb except for the resurrection.
“Something dramatically changed those disciples from hiding in a locked room to getting out and preaching the faith even though it cost them their lives.”
Thirdly, there were appearances of all kinds. Jesus began to appear to ones and twos and tens and on one occasion 500 and he began to appear to people who were not expecting him and were expecting him and to men and to women in the day and the night and the people who met the risen Jesus were changed by meeting the resurrection of Jesus. So Jesus’ brother James, for example, seems to have been an unbeliever until he met Jesus risen.
Fourthly, the disciples went from hiding to basically broadcasting the faith. Something dramatically changed those disciples from hiding in a locked room to getting out and preaching the faith even though it cost them their lives. And somebody needs to work out what changed the disciples into people who were hiding for their life into people who were preaching and willing to give up their life. The church has grown and the church today, the fastest growing church in the world today, is Iran, who would have thought it? But Jesus, the risen Lord Jesus is still continuing to build his church.
A fifth thing that should help us to believe in the resurrection is that the Sabbath was moved from Saturday to Sunday and you just don’t move the Sabbath. It goes right back to Genesis. The early believers were Jewish people who had come to realise that Jesus was the Messiah but they changed the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week (Saturday) to the first day of the week (Sunday) why? Because the resurrection changed everything.
Now I am not pretending this information will impress your neighbours. I looked out the window as I was putting some notes on a piece of paper and I thought to myself, I am not sure that any of my neighbours would really care two hoots if I went over with these five pieces of information.
The neighbours that I live amongst (and I am sure it is exactly the same for you),
- they don’t really object to the resurrection,
- they probably don’t deny the resurrection,
- they don’t believe the resurrection,
- they don’t care about the resurrection,
- they don’t appreciate the resurrection.
It’s just a non-issue and I suspect that one of the reasons it is a non-issue is that it’s being presented to them as a nice piece of something which is just irrelevant as if it’s possibly comforting when life gets bad, well let’s grab it, let’s throw it into the shopping trolley when life gets bad. But for most people that we live amongst it means very little. And one of the reasons for that is that we often present the resurrection as moderately interesting or moderately comforting. Whereas the New Testament presents the resurrection as a challenge.
An Appointment with Jesus Christ
The Apostle Paul in Acts chapter 17 said to the unbelievers “the Resurrection means that you have an appointment with Jesus Christ” and that’s the way we should think about the resurrection. If the resurrection is true, you and every single person in your street and every person in this country and the world has an appointment with Jesus Christ. And that’s the day when there will be a welcome or a depart. So Easter as Sir Norman Anderson famously said is not primarily a comfort but it’s primarily a challenge.
When Jesus rose you will notice that his body had similarities and dissimilarities. So he could be seen, he looked much the same, he could be heard, I presume he sounded the same, he could be touched, I presume he felt the same. We read in Luke chapter 24 Jesus said to the disciples “touch me and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones”. He kept his humanity.
John chapter 20 “see my hands” said Jesus to Thomas, presumably pointing to the nail prints. “see my side” presumably pointing to the spear thrust. And in Acts chapter 10 Peter said “we ate and drank with him after he rose”.
There were great similarities but there were great dissimilarities with Jesus. For example in John chapter 20 he met with the disciples through locked doors. In Luke chapter 24 when he met with the two men on the road to Emmaus, they recognised him and then it says “he disappeared”.
So the resurrection of the body of Jesus was physical but it was new and I am not sure that we can really get our heads around this. He was not a ghost but he did not have normal limitations. And what he has promised to the believer is a new body which will not be a ghost but it will not have the same limitations.
Why We Should Care About the Resurrection
Now what’s the significance of the resurrection? Why should we care? I will mention a few things quickly to you.
Firstly, the resurrection declares Jesus to be the Son of God (Romans chapter 1 verse 4). “Shown to be the Son of God by the resurrection”. Now of course he always was the Son of God. He didn’t become the Son of God at the resurrection but the Son of God was publicly proclaimed in a new and global way through the resurrection. And if you were every cynical about Jesus of Nazareth, the resurrection should change everything because he has gone through the grave and he has conquered it. He has beaten the crucifixion, he has beaten the grave and therefore you must take him seriously.
Secondly, the resurrection showed that he is the Saviour because of course his atoning death worked. He gave himself up as a spotless lamb and the father said “Agreed, Accepted”. Interestingly in Romans chapter 4 it says “he was raised for our justification”. What does it mean ‘raised for our justification’? We don’t normally think of the resurrection as being for our justification. But what this means is that the resurrection announces that God does approve of him. I mean at the cross the wrath of God fell on him as if God’s curse did fall on him. But now you see, God is expressing his favour. He is raising him, the work has been done, the sacrifice has been accepted and you are going to be vindicated and raised. And all the people who are by faith in Christ are caught up in the approval and the justification.
Thirdly, the resurrection shows that death is conquered. Hebrews chapter 2 “he has broken the power of him that is the devil who holds the power of death”. In other words, if death is strong (and death is strong) and somebody beats death, then the person who beats death is the new champion.
One American writer called Douglas Wilson says this – “Jesus punched a hole in the fabric of history and grabbed the last days and pulled them through the tomb in order to be enjoyed”.
Great Blessings From the Resurrection
Fourthly, of course there are great blessings that Jesus has risen. It’s possible to be forgiven and to know you are forgiven. The work of Christ worked. It’s possible to have fellowship with Jesus. “Low I am with you always”. Many of you this morning are going to go home to places on your own but you won’t be alone. The Lord Jesus is with his people always. And of course the resurrection means the future is real because Jesus said “where I am you will be also”.
“One of the reasons we are doing this little series is because I want to say to you fight for this doctrine.”
This evidence and significance I think is weighty and it gets better and better the more you look at it and it gets weaker and weaker the more you look away. Jim Packer says in his little book on The Creed that we should be astonished by resistance to the resurrection. And I think that’s right. I’ve often said to you – why is it that when I take a funeral and there’s a whole lot of people who really are in grief and somebody stands up and says ‘the resurrection changes everything’ nobody wants to to go near the preacher after that. The preacher walks around like a leper but really people ought to be coming up and saying “well I don’t really believe this but tell me why you do” or “I’d like to find out more”. But there is a strange resistance to this subject and Packer says we shouldn’t be astonished that we believe. We should be astonished that people are resistant to this. But then again we shouldn’t be really astonished should we because we know when a person wants to get away from Christ, anything which gets in the way of getting away gets in the way.
It’s a very significant doctrine and the Resurrection is the key that opens the door to the future and it sheds light on the present as well. And therefore dear friends you must fight for this. One of the reasons we are doing this little series is because I want to say to you “fight for this doctrine”. It gets attacked again and again, it’s unbelievable.
A Response to Those who Diminish Resurrection
There have been Archbishops in this country, not in this city, but in this country who have not believed in the resurrection. They take the view as some Theologians have said in the past, that we are now a sophisticated people – ‘look we have invented the wireless’, somebody said once. ‘We cannot expect people to take miracles seriously anymore’. And what they are saying is that we live in a closed universe and we are in a little box and there is no God. And we want to say to people – no, no, we live in an open universe with a real God who has broken in and everything is under his control and therefore you must fight for this doctrine.
And also you must use it. It’s a key, key thing for people who are not Christians to think about. Don’t get on to peripheral things but get on to the main subject. I remember hearing Tim Keller say once that somebody came to his church in New York and they said to him – “first of all before I join this church I would like to know what your views are on same sex marriage?” As if to say if you can give me a palatable answer I will think about joining your church. And Tim Keller said to this person “you work out the resurrection, if it didn’t happen do whatever you like. But if it did happen, follow Jesus Christ” because the resurrection is so crucial and so important.
Let’s think briefly as we finish about “Ascending into heaven” and as I mentioned before nobody saw the actual Resurrection but people did see the Ascension. In one of David Robertson’s books he says (and I’ve always loved this quote) “Don’t look for proofs if you’ve been given evidence”. There is a difference between proofs and evidence.
Evidence for the Ascension
And people did see the Ascension, it took place in front of the Apostles. But what is the evidence for the Ascension for us here today? Well first of all the Old Testament predicted that somebody would “ascend” (Daniel chapter 7) into the presence of God. Jesus used the language of ascending. He said in John chapter 6 “I have come down, I will go up” and he said in John chapter 20 when he had risen from the grave, he said “I am now ascending to my Father”, in other words I am getting ready to go home. And the New Testament uses the language also in Ephesians chapter 4 “the one who descended, ascended”.
Now the descriptions of the Ascension are in Luke and Acts, Luke chapter 24 we read “He left them and was taken up into heaven.” Acts chapter 1 “He was taken up”. Jim Packer says ‘withdrawal of Jesus had to take place somehow, going up, going down, going sideways, vanishing or failing to appear are the possible ways which would signify most clearly that he reigns, clearly ascending’.
Now this does stretch our brain really doesn’t it? I mean we have crass thoughts of a rocket going up and it does stretch our brains, but remember that –
- We are people who read and believe that God is capable of taking Elijah as we read in the Old Testament
- We believe Jesus walked on water
- We believe Jesus went into a room that was locked
- And it is perfectly possible for Jesus to ascend.
And you will notice that the Apostles who were there (the ten or eleven of them) went home joyful. They didn’t go home disappointed, they didn’t go home confused, they went home joyfully clear that this was the King returning to his throne. He’d come from his throne and he was returning to his throne.
What the Ascension Means for Us
Now what’s the significance of the Ascension? First of all it means that there is a King of Kings on the throne of the universe. Somebody sits on the throne. You have to sometime in the middle of the night look up into the sky and say to yourself ‘somebody is on the throne of the universe’ and that person is the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.
I remember going through Luna Park once many years ago (I think I’ve told you this story before, but I’m getting old!) and I went into Luna Park and there was this very terrifying ride just inside the front doors and the cars of the ride were shaking and jerking in all directions and people were screaming and laughing and looking as though they were going to be sick. And sitting quite close nearby was a man in a little booth with two buttons, Green button to Go and a red button to Stop. And he was in complete control of this chaotic ride. And there is somebody in Jesus Christ who sits on the throne of heaven and he knows exactly what he is doing and he has the power and the love to do it.
“He continues to save and to build his church and he continues to provide for the needs of his people.”
Secondly there is somebody at work, Jesus on throne because of the Ascension, who is interceding for us. He always lives to intercede for his people. So he is if I might put this again crassly saying to the Father, ‘please continue to bless my people because of this, the wounds and the work which I have done, please continue to bless my people’.
And he hears our prayers, we may get weary of our prayers, we may not listen to other people who pray but he does and his ears are attentive to our cry. And he continues to save and to build his church and he continues to provide for the needs of his people. So don’t take your lead on how the world is by human opinion or human feeling but take your lead from the Word of God. And we will think about this next week when we think about the one who is seated – why he is seated and what it means for him to be seated.
Jesus Ascended But is Still With Us
But the one who ascended, Jesus, is still Son of God with humanity. He did not ditch his humanity. He continues to be a sympathetic High Priest and he does not of course ditch his people. Somebody has said you are married to Christ by faith and you cannot be condemned unless he is condemned and he cannot be glorified without you being glorified. So the whole resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus is a movement which reverses the Fall and the chaos and brings in a new creation.
Do you remember in Genesis chapter 1 we read “that the Lord moved from evening to morning.” Have you ever noticed that in Genesis 1? “and there was evening and there was morning”. We move from morning to evening, that’s all we can do but he moves from evening to morning. He moves from the dark to the daylight. That’s what he did with Jesus. He moved from the darkness of the death and the tomb to the daylight of the Resurrection and he will move his people from the darkness to the daylight. That’s why we say with great confidence that he was on the third day raised from the dead and ascended into heaven.
Now you might like to know what the tract card (that the man gave me in the cafe during the week) said? I want to just finish with this because it applies to one or two this morning. You may think this is all very pleasant but I don’t really have anything to do with Jesus.
This is what the tract card said:
A man may go to heaven
without health or wealth,
without fame or name,
without learning or earning,
without culture or beauty,
without friends or a thousand things
BUT he can never go without Christ,
For Jesus said
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
No one comes to the Father
Except through me.
Let’s pray –
Heavenly father we thank you for communicating to us these great truths of the rising and the ascending of the Lord Jesus. And we pray that you would life up our hearts this particular day and this week and for all the needs and challenges, the opportunities and the privileges that we might remember there is a King of Kings, there is one who is an intercessor, a High Priest and one who invites into fellowship and one day into his presence. Fill us with this hope, we pray and may it overflow to help others believe as well.
We ask in Jesus’ Name – Amen.