The Risen Lord and the Gathered Church

April 20, 2003 / No. 3146

Dear radio friends,


     What a day that had been — the day in which Jesus rose from the dead — a day of wonder and joy, and a day also of perplexity and doubt!  There had never been a day like that before, nor will there every be a day like it again until the end when Jesus appears on the clouds of glory yet once more.

     Immortal life in the body stood upon this present earth of sin and death.  For the Lord Jesus Christ, who arose from the dead on this day, did not simply succeed in making a journey to the grave and back again.  But our Lord Jesus Christ went beyond the grave.  He destroyed the grave.  He brought to the church on this day everlasting life, complete and perfect victory.  He stood upon the earth in a greater splendor than Adam did when he was created on the day that God made him out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he stood forth as a man without sin in Paradise.  When Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, He was far greater and more glorious than that.  For He stood in the human body in everlasting life, in a body that cannot be corrupted, in a body that is not subject to death, in a body that must live forever before the face of God.  He stood in the victory of the church for all those who belong to Him, so that we might live with God, body and soul, forever and ever.  What a day it was when Jesus arose from the dead!

     On that day, one wonder after another happened, as slowly the cloud of doubt and unbelief was rolled away from the disciples and they stood, at the end of the day, blinking with joy in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

     The day began with a great earthquake in the early morning hours.  There is nothing that so gets the attention of men and women and makes them feel that they are in the hands of God as an earthquake.  After this, angels came down from heaven to roll the stone away.  And those who were watching His grave fainted and became as dead men.  When these guards, who had been appointed to watch His grave, regained their senses, they ran back into the city and blurted out what had happened.  Before the chief priests could concoct a story, they cried out that angels had come down and rolled away the stone from His grave.

     Then there were the repeated testimonies, brought to the disciples throughout the day, of the empty tomb and of appearances of the risen Lord.  Mary Magdalene burst in upon the disciples that day, first saying, “They have taken away His body and I don’t know where they have laid Him.”  Then, later in the day, later that very morning in fact, Jesus appears to her by the tomb with the word, “Mary!”  And she sees Him and worships Him.

     Later that day, there was the well-known race of Peter and John to the tomb.  They entered into the tomb and looked around and saw the undisturbed grave clothes.  Throughout the day the Savior appeared to His church to confirm to them and to tell them that He was risen from the dead.

     That is a very wonderful thing, is it not?  That is the thing that we must see today on this day on which we remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  What we must remember is that it was the great concern of the risen Lord on His resurrection day that His church know that He is risen.  He appeared to them, and slowly through these appearances He brought them to see the wonder of the resurrection gospel, until it came to somewhat of a culmination when He appeared to His disciples who were gathered on the resurrection night in the upper room.  That is the passage that we find in Luke 24:36-46.  

     But remember the thought.  The thought is this:  that the Lord’s great concern was upon His church and that His church must have no doubt, no uncertainty, no misconception concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the truth that you absolutely must know, and know what it means:  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

     We have no time today for those who would respond to the declaration that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead with a knowing smile and say, “Oh, yes.  We know what you mean.  He lives in our memory as a great man.  Now let’s talk about Easter bunnies and egg hunts.”  We have no time for that.  We have no time today for those who are very concerned to know how to make a proper Easter brunch and are concerned with certain recipes and desserts.  This is what we want to know:  That Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  We want to know the meaning of His glorious resurrection gospel.  If you do not know that, your life is vain.  If you do not know that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, you have no strength, you have no reason to live.  You are empty.  You are yet in your sin.  You are dead.  If you do not know that Jesus Christ is risen and if you do not know that in your heart, then in reality you are living your life inches from the brink of hell. 

     This is the gospel:  Christ is risen from the dead!  And the call of the gospel is:  Repent and believe.  You as a teenager, you as a college student, you as an expectant mother, a husband or wife, a child — you need to know that Jesus Christ is risen.  You must lay hold of that truth by faith.

     I said, What a day that was when Jesus arose from the dead.  But what a night it was, too, when He appeared to them in the upper room, gathered together behind locked doors.  Earlier in that evening there were two travelers who left Jerusalem to go to Emmaus.  The Lord Jesus Christ appeared to them.  These two travelers to Emmaus, probably a man called Luke, and Cleopas, returned with great haste to find the disciples in an upper room.  And they burst into that room ready to tell them of the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ to them as they traveled to Emmaus.  But before they could even get out one word of their wonderful experience, they were met by a chorus from the disciples.  The disciples cry out to them, “The Lord has risen indeed and hath appeared to Simon Peter.” 

     After that declaration, the two travelers to Emmaus began to tell them the things that were done as they traveled back to Emmaus.  The door had been closed behind them, and they had seen to it that it was again locked.  In that upper room there is now a discussion.  What a discussion is taking place in that upper room.  I would like to have been there.  Perhaps someone said, “You know, that was no coincidence about the earthquake this morning.”  Perhaps another one said, “Do you remember what the centurion said at the cross:  Truly this was the Son of God”?  And then “Mary, Mary Magdalene, what did He say to you?  Did He say, ‘I ascend to My God and to your God, to your Father and to My Father’ ”?  And, “You women who met Him as you returned from the tomb and you fell down at his feet, you say that you touched His feet?”  And, “Peter, He appeared to you some time today.  Can you tell us what He said to you?”  And to the two travelers to Emmaus, “You say He appeared to you and you invited Him in to eat and suddenly He was gone.  While He broke the bread He was suddenly gone?”

     Throughout their discussion there was great amazement.  But throughout their discussion there was also great misconception.  For it was very plain that the disciples in the upper room that night were thinking in terms of the resurrection of Lazarus.  The Lord had raised Lazarus from the dead and Lazarus had come back to this life.  They seem to have been convinced at this point that Jesus was not dead, that He was indeed risen.  But they did not understand the resurrection.  They thought that perhaps the Lord had defeated, or cheated, death; that He had robbed the grave.  And they had all kinds of doubts.  Was He now some kind of spirit?  Was it truly the Lord?  There were all kinds of question.  There was joy!  The Lord was evidently not in the grave.  Somehow He was raised.  Somehow, perhaps, He was going to come back to them and things would be like they were before that terrible weekend of the cross.

     And we read in the Scriptures that “as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.”  There was a suddenness, there was a wonder that suddenly the Lord Jesus Christ stood in their midst, the doors being locked, we are told in the Scriptures.  There was a response of terror among them. 

     But before we go to that response of terror, I want to point out to you again this fact that Jesus stood in the midst of them.  The Lord is concerned about His church.  He has come, where?  Well, He has come into the midst of His church.  He has come into the midst of those who loved Him and were talking about Him — those who believed, by the grace of God, that He was the Messiah and whose faith was all wrapped up in Him.  The Lord does not come to the disinterested.  The Lord does not come to the indifferent spiritual sandbag who sits in the church and does not care today really about this gospel.  The Lord does not come to them.  But He comes to those in whom grace has provoked a profound living interest in Him, to those who on this day desire that the light of the resurrection shine upon their souls, to those who need to know — the Lord comes into His church.

     But they were terrified that night.  And they were afraid.  They supposed, we read, that they had seen a spirit.  So the Lord says to them, “Peace be unto you.  Don’t be afraid.  It is I.”  They could recognize His voice, the voice that they had heard so often. 

     Then they had, perhaps, all kinds of questions, all kinds of questions about what this means.  And the Lord now, in the midst of His church, is going to proclaim to them the resurrection, the victory — that death has been swallowed up in victory — that though He stands before them in the body, He has not returned to this physical life, He has not returned to this earth, but now He stands before them in immortal life, a life of the body that is not subject to death, a life of the body that is not bringing the body and translating it into the presence of God. 

     The Lord stood before them.  And He begins to upbraid them, we are told, for their unbelief.  First of all He confirms to them that He is not a spirit.  He says, “Do you have something to eat?”  And He eats in front of them a piece of fish and a honeycomb.  He says to them, “Touch me.  Handle me.  A spirit does not have flesh and bones as ye see that I have.” 

     So the disciples came to see that it was the Lord.  But yet, no one had let Him in.  It was a real body.  It was a true human body.  It was the body that was born of the virgin Mary, the body that had suffered and died upon the cross, the body that had died.  It was a real body.  But it is a body that is no longer subject to this earth.  He appeared in their presence and, we read, that they believed not for joy.  There was a joy among them, but they just could not get it all in. 

     So the Lord began to explain to them.  He began to expound to them the real victory that He had attained.  He began to explain to them from all of the Scriptures, all of the Old Testament Scriptures and from the words that He had spoken to them, that His resurrection was not simply a blow dealt against the enemy.  It was not simply a setback for the enemy.  But now He had won the victory.  The battle was over.  The foes of sin and death have been vanquished.  He does indeed stand before them in the same body that had been born and crucified, but now this body is glorified.  It is not subject to death.  It is no longer subject to locked doors.  He shall live in this body forever in the presence of God.  Jesus proclaimed to them that He had not come simply to fix up the mess that Adam had made, but that He had come to bring us to the eternal Paradise of God, to implant into our bodies by His power immortal life; that He had established peace between us and God; and that He had established everlasting life through His death and through His resurrection.

     The Lord did this by speaking to the disciples from the Scriptures.  He said to them, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”  He showed them from the same source that we have today — the holy Scriptures.  That is why we preach the Scriptures.  The resurrection and all the truth of the Bible is revealed to us in Scripture.  For Scripture is one Word of God.  It is not something that you cannot understand.  It is not a riddle book.  It is the truth of our salvation by grace.  And Jesus gave to His church a glorious explanation of the Scriptures.  He opened their understanding that they might believe the Scriptures.

     Do you have that same wonder performed upon your heart today?  The risen Christ, by the Holy Spirit, opening your heart before the Scriptures, declaring to you that He is risen from the dead.  Do you understand what the resurrection means?  It means this.  We are justified.  It means that our sins are indeed pardoned — that first of all.  For, you see, if the Lord had been left in the grave, then that would testify that His work upon the cross had been a failure and that God would account it to be a failure.  If God left His Son in the grave, He would say, “You are not worthy of life, you are not worthy of My presence.  You didn’t do what I sent you to do.”  But when God raises His Son on the third day, when God takes His Son out of the grave, God is declaring that the work that His Son performed on the cross was, in all points, perfect! 

     What was that work?  That work was to obtain the pardon for all the sins of God’s chosen.  That work was to grant unto us, through His obedience, a perfect and spotless righteousness.  That work was, in one word, justification!  To justify us in the presence of God, in the pardon of our sin and in the obtaining of a perfect righteousness for us.  The resurrection declares that we are justified.  The work of Jesus is successful.  Our sins are forgiven on the basis of the cross of Jesus Christ.  The risen Savior stands in His church and He declares that to us today.  To you, who are burdened in your sins, is the resurrection gospel heard in your ears?  You are pardoned. 

     But there is more.  The resurrection gospel declares that we now are alive.  We, too, are raised in newness of life.  He is risen as Head of the church, and as Head of the church, by His Holy Spirit, He will also implant into us His own resurrection, so that we too will be born from above, born from on high through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and given the principle of life eternal in our hearts. 

     The resurrection of Jesus Christ, therefore, in the second place, declares that by the power of His own grace He will come to us who are dead in our sins, who cannot believe in Him, who will not believe in Him.  By a mighty power of resurrection, He will come into our dead hearts and He will create life.  He will implant His own life in us, so that, with Christ in us, we might believe unto life eternal.

     Still more.  On this day He stands before us in His body and He declares that His salvation is full and complete, that it extends not only to our soul but also to our body, and that our bodies also shall be made like unto His glorious body.  We shall also be raised with Christ in the body.  And we shall stand forever before God in immortal life.

     What will you talk about today?  What will buzz in your soul today?  The world, the nonsense of this present world, about Easter bunnies and Easter eggs and Easter buffets and recipes and desserts?  Is that all you have?  Or does this wonder fill your heart and soul:  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  I know He is risen!  I know it the same way that the disciples knew it.  The Lord opened their understanding and showed it all from the Scriptures.  So also we today, on the basis of the Scriptures and on the basis of the Spirit’s work in our hearts, we know that He is risen.  He is our Lord.  Our sins are forgiven.  We shall live, body and soul, forever in Him.  Ours is the victory.  Then, let us rejoice.  He is risen.  There is no condemnation for us.  Heaven’s doors are open.  The victory is sure and complete.

     And to Him who hath loved us and washed us in His blood, to Him be glory and praise in the church today, and forever and ever.  To Him who was dead and is alive, and behold He lives forevermore, to Him be glory in the church, world without end, now and ever.  Amen.


     Father, we thank Thee for the glorious gospel of the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Bring it with its power and beauty into our hearts.  May it be our cherished comfort, the strength of our souls.  And to Thee and to Thy Son be praise and honor forever and ever.  Amen.