Listen: Simon Manchester’s Easter Sunday Sermon, 2019
Good morning, everybody, and a joyful Easter to you. Our message this morning for these few minutes has not come out of the newspaper, but has come out of those verses in the New Testament.
And I’m going to ask you to pray with me that as we think about them for a few minutes, they will do us good. So let’s bow our heads together. Our gracious God, thank you for this new morning. Thank you for giving to us the scriptures. We thank you that your Holy Spirit teaches, illumines. We ask that you would help both speaker and all of us as we listen to your word that you would speak to us things that are timely, needful, helpful, and wonderful. We ask it in Jesus name, Amen.
We’ve taken this little paragraph on Good Friday and Easter Day. So a couple of days ago, we looked at the phrase, “enemies of the cross”. And today, we’ve taken the little phrase, “our citizenship is in heaven”. Paul says, we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform us.
Now, this little paragraph I thought we would interview it this morning – I thought we would quiz it. I was reading of Billy Graham, who the great evangelist who died just a few weeks ago, at the age of 99, probably the man who’s spoken about Christianity to more people in the history of the world than anybody. And when he was doing a crusade in London in 1954, he arrived, and the British press were very anti-him. They regarded him as young, American, not an intellectual, and a showman. And when he was being interviewed on television, one of the men who was interviewing him said to him, “How many converts do you want from our country?” And Billy Graham said, “Just one. If you would take yourself to Christ, the whole mission would be worthwhile.” And of course the guy quickly changed the subject and moved on to something else.
Same Postcode For Now – Different Destination
Now, if we can ask a question of Billy Graham and get a useful answer, we can probably ask a question of the Apostle Paul and get a useful answer as well. And that’s what I’m gonna do this morning. So he has said in this part of his letter in the New Testament, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a saviour, Jesus Christ.”
Here’s my first question. Apostle Paul, what is your point? What is your point? We aim the microphone at the Apostle Paul. We say to him, here we are 21st century, we’re in Australia. What is your point? And he says something like this. My point is that there are a few people who are heading for heaven. We don’t deserve to be going there, but Christ has arranged it. And my point is the difficulty of this, and the grief of this is that we’re absolutely surrounded in the world by people who are not going to heaven. They’re committed to this world. That’s my point, says the Apostle Paul. Or he says in Chapter 3, verse 19, “Many are committed to earthly things”. Verse 20, our citizenship is in heaven. He’s not saying we’re better. He’s just saying we have a different destination.
So the question you see from the Apostle Paul is not, “What does your life look like?” Your life may look exactly the same as a non-believer or a believer. The question is, “What’s your destination?” That’s the question the apostle is asking. There are two roads, two destinations. And I suppose the Apostle Paul would go on to say the problem is that there are masses of people who are thinking short term, we are trying to think long term. Or he might say something like this, there are masses of people for whom Christ is nothing. But we see him as everything.
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Few on the Narrow Road, Many on the Road to Destruction
Well, I wouldn’t dare to tell somebody what road to walk. But if I knew the road they’re on was the wrong road to the wrong destination, and if I knew that it was a dangerous destination, I would probably speak up. The apostle Paul knows that the road that many are on is the wrong road to the wrong destination. And he speaks up exactly as Jesus did when he said that there were two roads, many on the broad road going to destruction, few on the narrow going to eternal life.
So this is Paul’s point. Many are committed to this world. Lovely, sincere people committed to this world and they’re going to end up, this is the shock, in destruction. While some who have nothing to brag about except that Christ came and died for them are on a road to eternal life. They’re on a road to heaven. That’s his point. We may not agree with him. We may not like what he says, but you can see why he says this with tears. Christianity, as far as the Apostle Paul is concerned, is not some icing on the cake. We don’t just live our life the way we want and then say, well, I’ll just add a bit of church. Christianity is taking away a poison cake and bringing a life-giving cake. It may make you happy. It may not.
I was reading this week that the actor Hugh Grant has had, I think, his fifth child at the age of something in his late 50s. And one of his close friends says that it has changed him from being a very miserable person to being a fairly miserable person. And I often think that Christianity may be the same. Take up your cross and follow Christ to the most joyful, and wonderful, and privilege life that it may not make it easy. Well, the people who Paul is writing to, the Philippians, Northern Greece, they were actually citizens of Rome. It was a very prestigious place to live, because you could be a citizen of Rome. But he says to these people who he’s writing to, I want you to lift up your horizon, your eyes, your focus way beyond Rome, and see that you who trust in Christ as citizens of heaven. That’s where you’re gonna end up because that’s where he’ll take you.
Well, is it easy to keep your focus on heaven? It is not. It’s not easy for me, I don’t think it’s easy for any believer in this world especially when the world is very attractive and calls to us all the time. And we’re surrounded by lots of people who focus on this world very well and focus us on this world very well. To lift up your horizon to Christ and beyond is not easy. And Paul’s got another problem as he writes the Philippian letter, and that’s this, the church is also looking way, way too much at the present. He describes the believers in Philippi, the believers, the Christians as being more selfish, self-interested. In fact, he says, I have nobody, but one friend who is thinking of interests beyond his own. So the Apostle Paul is not pretending this is easy, but his point is very simple. Where is your destination? That’s his point.
The Proof of Christ as our Saviour
The second question we’re gonna ask him is, what’s your proof? You want us, Paul, to focus on something beyond this world, well, what’s your proof? And Paul’s answer back at you earlier in the letter of Philippians is basically the impact of Christ. That Christ has come and hit this world like a meteor and changed the world. And therefore, we must pursue and take seriously who he is and what he’s done. And Paul tells us in Philippians 2, that Jesus, the Son of God became man, was obedient to death on a cross, not because he deserved to die, but like that French policeman who put himself in as the hostage so that somebody else could go free. On a global scale, the Lord Jesus has put himself into the cross to pay the penalty that we deserve so that we might be offered the gift of eternal life. And God has raised him from the grave, and seated him on the throne of heaven, so that every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. So different. See what Paul is saying.
You can shelve all this information, pretend that it’s just fiction and live exactly as you want to. But the news of Christ actually confronts the world, it confronts the world like the sun coming up in the morning. It’s a blessing, but it’s also exposing. And no wonder the world wanting to get away from the news of Christ will find something else to focus on. Could anything be more scandalous than focusing on some bunnies and some chocolate? I mean, if you want to replace the Son of God, opening the gates of glory and replace it with something so small, so transient. It is a scandal. But if you go where the evidence leads, it will take you to Christ, and it will take you to surrender to Christ, and it will take you to eternal life. I was reading the testimony of a British High Court Judge recently, and he was asked not too long ago why he’s a Christian and he simply said this, “I go where the evidence leads. And the evidence leads me to Christ, that he lived, he died, and he rose.”
Now, if you’re a Christian this morning and you say to yourself, well, I’m a citizen of heaven. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. And then this little voice comes into your head and says, did I make this up? Is this a fiction? Is this a fairy tale? You need to go back in your mind to the things of Christ that cannot be changed, the death, the resurrection of Christ, they can’t be changed, they can’t be explained away. The more carefully you look at them, the more certain they are. And the more you remove them from your life, the more your life will go into the shallows and begin to unravel. The same Jesus who lived, died, and rose is changing people all around the world, opening up blind eyes to eternity, taking people whose hope is nothing to a hope that is wonderful and rational.
Transformed by Resurrection
Now, therefore, you need the facts of Christ. That’s why we preach on Good Friday and Easter day. That’s why this wonderful weekend is held, to declare the facts of Christ. He went right down to hell. He’s gone right up to heaven. The believer is going to join him one day. I’ve often mentioned in this pulpit the great preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who preached in the 20th century, a Welshman, his church was quite near Buckingham Palace, and he was a mighty preacher, but he was also a great physician. He was a doctor by background, went into the ministry, and he was asked once that if he would visit a very depressed man. And he went to see the depressed man and he sat down with him and he asked him what had happened. And the man said this, he said, “When I was in the war,” he said, “I was with the Navy and I served on one of the submarines, and we were hit by a torpedo and the submarine sank. And we were, I especially said was utterly traumatized. And it’s just got worse, and worse, and worse. And now I’m gripped by this and I’m paralyzed by it.”
And Martyn Lloyd-Jones said to him, “What happened next?” The man said, “Nothing happened. That’s it. I was in the submarine. We got hit by a torpedo, we sank. And I was traumatized. And now I just feel terrible. I can’t shake this off.” And Martyn Lloyd-Jones said to him, “What happened next?” And he said, “Nothing happened next, we were hit by a torpedo and we sank.” And Lloyd-Jones said, “What happened next?” And it slowly dawned on him, that the submarine that it’s sunk had been lifted and raised. And there was a great clout weight lifted off this man. He really was transformed by the full picture, the full message. And I say this to you this morning, because the good news of Christ can grip a person so that they move from being pretty hopeless to expectant with good reason. We can’t see the resurrection behind us, we can’t even see the great resurrection in front of us. But we’ve got the truth in the presence of those who saw it, and the promises of the one who was raised, that he will complete it. And so when we asked the Apostle Paul, what’s your point? He says, my point is destination. And when we say what’s your proof? He says, it’s resurrection.
God’s Plan to Transform Us
Third question to the Apostle Paul this morning, what is God’s plan? And Paul’s answer in these two verses is that Christ is going to come and change his people. We eagerly await a savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies. So the Apostle Paul is waiting for Christ from heaven. You don’t wait for somebody who’s perished. Christ is alive and well, and will come from heaven, will return. This is a promise that he made again, and again, and again. In fact, the New Testament apparently has something to do with hope in the future, virtually every 13 verses. And the greatness of Jesus is that he’s going to come and judge and gather his people. And he’s gonna do this because he’s not only our maker, but he’s also the faithful judge. And when we think about the second coming, we don’t need to be nutters, we don’t need to make mad predictions. Jesus said nobody knows when he will return. We don’t need to preach on it every sermon as if every sermon is saying could be today, could be today. And at the same time, we don’t want to fall into the rut of thinking that it will be decades before we meet him. Because we may go to him in decades time, but he may come to us in minutes. We don’t know when we will meet Christ. We don’t have the luxury of saying it’s all under the control of my running and my vitamin pills.
I hope you’ll remember this Easter, we await a savior, says the New Testament. We may go to him, of course, or he may come to us. And this is God’s plan that Jesus Christ who’s already done the work of saving souls by dying on the cross is going to transform believers’ bodies. In other words, the future for the Christian is more real, more physical, more lasting, more perfect than the present. I hope you won’t fall for the idea that if you leave this world as a Christian, the physical world, that you’re going to end up in some kind of mysterious, ghostly vapor, which will be terrible. Now, we’re gonna have new bodies, says Jesus and says the Apostle Paul, it’s going to be in a new creation because God is moving from a fallen world to a finished world. That’s exactly what you’d expect from a God who’s clever enough to make this place and loving enough to send His Son. He’s got the power, He’s got the affection, He’s gonna turn the place from a mess to perfection. And C.S. Lewis, the great writer, said the saved soul becomes a glorified body. We cannot properly imagine this, and I warn everyone most seriously not to try. That what is more misleading is that we will be a mere ghost.
I don’t think people in church get this. I don’t think I get it properly, and I don’t think you get it properly either. I think that for many of us, we think of the future as being a little worse than the present. That’s probably because we fall in for too many cartoon pictures of heaven. But God tells us that since Jesus died, the process of recovery is now in place. He’s recovering people. He’s giving them the renewed spiritual life reborn, He’s going to recover their bodies physically. New bodies, new world. No sin, no decay. Finished people in a finished creation, exactly in line with God’s promises, His power, and His love. Now, why does Paul say that we will have a glorious body? We expect Jesus to have a glorious body, but Paul says that Christian will have a glorious body, not because we’re going to be worshipped or showing off, but because it will be fit for glory. It will be appropriate for glory. Paul says, the fish has a body for the water, and a bird has a body for the air, and the planets have a body for space, and you have a body for this world, and the believer will have a body for the next.
So when Adam and Eve sinned, the fall brought disintegration all around us. When Christ died on the cross, he began integration, everything coming back together. And the resurrection of Jesus is the start of the harvest where God’s people who are now spiritually new will one day be physically new. So this is our third question to Paul, what’s the plan? New people in a new world.
Exactly How Will We Be Transformed?
Fourth, last question. Where’s the power? Or what power is there to do this? You know, what’s the point? Destination. What’s the proof? Resurrection. What’s the plan? Perfection. What’s the power? Who’s gonna do this? Who’s gonna get people to believe? Who’s gonna get people to follow Jesus? Who’s gonna get people to wait for Jesus? Who’s gonna get people to arrive with Jesus? Well, Paul has a double answer. He says, “We await a savior.” We’re not doing this ourselves. We await a savior, somebody who’s already done the remarkable job of bringing us back into friendship with God. He’s gonna finish the job and bring us face to face with God.
I don’t need to tell you that unbelief is not a new thing. The apostle Paul faced unbelief all over the place. Unbelief has characterized the world for 2,000 years. Ricky Gervais says, “We will be in a hundred years where we were a hundred years ago, which is nowhere.” Clever. But he forgets that a miracle has already taken place. And we’ve been created. And many here this morning have been rescued. And therefore, it’s not difficult for God to take people who he has made and rescued home. That’s His promise. Well, is there gonna be any opposition that is gonna give God a problem to do this? You know, is there anything that’s gonna get in the way and make it not happen? Paul says in verse 21, “Christ’s power is the power to master everything.” And we saw this in the gospels, when Jesus was in this world walking, and healing, and saving. There was nothing that was too difficult for him. Disease, crisis, trouble, storm, spiritual opposition, he mastered it.
Patiently Waiting with Christ
And then when he faced the greatest problem of all, sin, death, judgment, he mastered it. And so the Apostle Paul says, “We wait.” We wait for the finish. And it’s not easy to wait. It’s not easy to wait especially in the 21st century, where everything is coming so fast. And sometimes I’m reminded of what it must have been like for those people right at the beginning of the Bible, where they had an arc sitting in the desert, and no flood, and they must have said to themselves, we’ve got an arc. And we today, we have Christ. Christ who lived, and died, and rose, and we’ve put our confidence in him. And there’ll come a day where the storm of judgment will come, God will do His great work of justice. Sin and evil will be dealt with, His people will be defended. And on that day, we will say praise God for Jesus, the person in which we find our safety, our forgiveness, our security, our hope, our future.
So there’s Paul’s point, destination, everybody’s going somewhere, it’s gonna be black or brights. And there’s his proof, Christ has been raised. And there’s his plan or God’s plan to turn forgiven people into brand new people. And there’s the power, the power of God, unbeatable, unstoppable power of God. Now, I don’t know if you know a better message than that, but I don’t. Let’s pray.
Gracious God, we thank you, again, for bringing to our ears the news of the Lord Jesus. We thank you for the proofs and the promises. We ask that you would help us to stand upon them with great gratitude and great confidence in Christ, and great joy, and great peace, and in your goodness, great faithfulness, and great expectancy. Please help us to be your representatives in this world. In Jesus name, amen.