Hope Beyond The Grave

“On February 27th, 1991 Ruth Dillow was at her home in Kansas when the phone rang. It was bad news from the Pentagon. Her son, Private First-Class Clayton Carpenter, had stepped on a landmine in the Persian Gulf War and was dead.

It was an awful, sickening reality to learn that her son would never come home again. Three days later Ruth received another phone call, the voice on the other end said, ‘Mom, I’m alive!’

Ruth said that at first, she could not believe it was the voice of her twenty-three-year-old son, over whom she had mourned for nearly three days.

She said, ‘I jumped up and down.  I was overjoyed! You just don’t know how much.’”[i]

Imagine the joy! The thrill of having gone from the depths of despair to overwhelming elation, from grief and loss, to news of great joy! That’s the scene we find in the Scriptures. The early followers of Jesus had witnessed his betrayal, arrest, then the hastily assembled verdict that was a sham to justice. They watched as Jesus was crucified. During the next two days, they grieved, struggling with shame for not standing with Him in His last hours. Their dreams and hopes with Christ’s death had been crushed. But, like Ruth Dillow, the moment came when they heard incredible, seemingly unbelievable news when women from their company came breathlessly into the upper room declaring that He was alive! Folks, the greatest news, the greatest hope for humanity is that Jesus is alive! That’s the heart of Christianity.

For forty days afterwards, Jesus continued to appear to them, until they finally watched as He ascended into heaven. That’s the message of Easter! It’s a message of hope in a world of despair. It’s the message that our society desperately needs. It was the message that the first disciples preached. It was the message that Peter preached to a crowd of people in Jerusalem, fifty days after the death of Jesus.

It was during the Jewish feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit, true to His nature, empowered the disciples to become dynamic witnesses regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. After explaining the miracle of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from the book of Joel, Peter begins to explain the essence of Christianity. It’s the message of the resurrection. 

G. Campbell Morgan explains: “At the heart of the mission of Jesus is the resurrection.”[ii] The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most significant event in human history. This is the foundation upon which we can celebrate the reason why death is defeated. We experience this great reality by simply putting our trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This means that when this truth is applied in our lives, sin no longer has authority and dominion over our lives. The resurrection of Jesus is actually a declaration of freedom. Jesus is alive and is currently interceding for us. What is even more astounding is that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is living within us. Most of the early persecution of the church arose over the preaching of the truth concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Before Felix, the Roman governor, Paul stated,

“…It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today (Acts 24:21).”

To those Paul preached to in Athens, they struggled with this powerful life changing truth.

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject (Acts 17:32).’

            The Apostle Paul points out how critical our faith is in the resurrection. It is the essence of biblical Christianity. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christian faith.

            If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [died].[iii]

            Imagine how exciting it would be to travel back in time and hear for the very first time that first message that God inspired Peter to preach on the day of Pentecost. The preaching on the resurrection is the key to the birth of the N.T. Church. Without the resurrection there would be no church. As a matter of fact it’s the only explanation for the church. It is the birthday of the church, for on that day three thousand people responded to the truth and were added to their number. It is a message that argues for a response to God.

            Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, states four life changing truths that when we embrace them, they transform our lives. This was not just good news for then, but this message still applies for us today. Jesus is still changing lives and giving us hope beyond the grave.

It was planned by God.

This event was not just a random happenstance. Jesus’ incredible life, his awful death, and this incredible miracle called the resurrection was not just some accidental occurrence. The whole thing from the birth to the death and resurrection of Jesus was planned from the very foundation of the world in the heart of a loving God. Listen to Peter’s sermon.

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:22-24).

Peter begins by pointing out the unique nature of Jesus Christ.  

His miracles, signs and wonders were to establish in the minds of the people that He is God’s Messiah. The promised anointed One that was to come and save His people from their sins.  Peter is speaking to an audience that was well aware of these facts. There was no disputing the miraculous nature of Christ’s ministry.

John Meier, points out in the New York Times article in 1986: “Many treatments of Jesus get bogged down in a discussion of the possibility of miracles; properly speaking, that is a philosophical rather than a historical or even a theological problem. … All that need be noted is that ancient Christian, Jewish and pagan sources all agreed that Jesus did extraordinary things not easily explained by human means. While Jesus’ disciples pointed to the Spirit of God as the source of His power, Jewish and pagan adversaries spoke of demonic or magical forces. It never occurred to any to claim that nothing happened.”[iv]</SPAN>
<DIV align=right class=smalltext style=”MARGIN: 3px”>            In other words, the early opponents of Christianity never doubted the fact that Jesus did incredible, supernatural miracles and signs. Now Peter is pointing to the greatest miracle of all, Jesus’ resurrection.

The resurrection was God’s plan.

Notice the expression, ‘this man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge…’ Even though they were personally responsible for committing this great injustice, by handing over Jesus to the Romans to be crucified, Peter points out that God even incorporates man’s sinful behavior to fulfill His ultimate purpose.  

The Old Testament prophesied (foretold through the Scriptures) the Messiah’s birth, his miracles, His betrayal by a close acquaintance, the disciple’s abandonment of him, his being given over to the Gentiles, his crucifixion and ultimately his resurrection.

None of these occurred by accident. Over and over again we read in the Old Testament and it is pointed out by the apostles who wrote the New Testament that God planned all of this. Jesus was a willing participant in the entire plan of salvation.  This was not something that Jesus had no control over. It was an act that he willingly chose. He did so to express his love toward us. 

“The story is told that during World War One, there was a young French soldier who was seriously wounded. His arm was so badly smashed that it had to be amputated. He was a magnificent specimen of young manhood, and the surgeon was grieved that he must go through life maimed. So he waited beside his bedside to tell him the bad news when he recovered consciousness. When the lad’s eyes opened, the surgeon said to him: ‘I am sorry to tell you that you have lost your arm.’

‘Sir,’ said the young man, ‘I did not lose it; I gave it- for France.’ In the same way, Jesus was not helplessly caught up in a mesh of circumstances from which he could not break free. Apart from any divine power he might have called on, it is quite clear that to the end he could have turned back and saved his life. He did not lose his life; he gave it.  The cross was not thrust upon him; he willingly accepted it-for us.”[v]

It was promised by God.

What God says, He will do! He is the only One who is not only able, but also capable to fulfill what He says. We may promise things, but we are not always capable of fulfilling what we say. We cannot control all the events of life. God knows all the events of our world and is capable of orchestrating what he wants to accomplish, including working within the parameters of rebellious and sinful men.

He can take our willful refusal to do his will and still work out his purposes. God used the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart to display his power and glory in setting His people free in Egypt.

Peter shows that Jesus’ resurrection was promised in the Scriptures.  

The resurrection was a promised or prophesied aspect of the Messiah’s mission. Here Peter is quoting Psalm 16.

David said about him: ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,

because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.

But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.

Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.[vi]

David was not writing about Himself, because as Peter could point out, David’s tomb was in Jerusalem. In our trips to the Holy land we have gone to David’s tomb. Rather David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was sharing the promise of the resurrection. This truth applied to David’s greater son, the Messiah. 

The eventual response of the people in Jerusalem suggested that they believed what Peter was saying. Not only was David’s decaying body still in his tomb, but Jesus’ body was missing. It was a known fact. If there were any doubts, Peter and the disciples could take them to the empty tomb, sealed by Rome and show them the grave clothes still intact. Unmistakable evidence of a Risen Savior.

Here is something we often miss when we discuss the resurrection story. In Matthew’s gospel some powerful events were transpiring that not only supported Peter’s message but had undoubtedly impacted the people in Jerusalem.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.[vii]

            How many of us would be shocked by having dead relatives return to life and appear to you pointing you to the truth of the resurrection of Jesus as Messiah. Now obviously not all the people who were gathered before Peter had witnessed this, but I’m sure some had and there was a lot of talking going on. 

It was accomplished through the power of God.

            Obviously, a miracle of incredible magnitude had occurred. To be brought back to life, could only be accomplished by the power of God. The apostle Paul in writing to the Romans relates that this is the compelling sign that Jesus is the Messiah.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.[viii]

Peter states that it was impossible for death to hold Jesus.

The power of his sinless life could not keep Him in the tomb. “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24).”

This language in this verse is interesting.  It literally speaks of death and childbirth. Howard Marshall points out: “…we have a remarkable mixed metaphor, in which death is regarded as being in labor and unable to hold back its child, the Messiah.  If we ask why death could not hold back Jesus, Peter’s reply would be that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Messiah could not be held by death.”[ix]

One of the most compelling arguments for a resurrected Christ and the demonstration of God’s power is seen in a changed life.

That is one reason why the enemy of our soul battles each of us so fiercely. Compromise with the worldly values damages the claims of Christ. But whenever we see demonstrations of a holy life, a life in step with God, a life walking in the Spirit, that kind of a life testifies to Christ’s power and His life within us. When people witness a transformed life, formerly bound by sin, it speaks of a greater power at work.  

            How do you explain the life of the apostle Paul? A man bent on destroying the early church who becomes the greatest proponent of its message, even to the point that he gave up his life for it.

   </SPAN>
<DIV align=right class=smalltext style=”MARGIN: 3px”>The Presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

Not only is the resurrection a fact, but the release of the Holy Spirit into our world as an indwelling presence is proof that Christ is alive from the dead. On top of these powerful evidences and promises, God gains the attention of these people by his outpoured Spirit on these Galilean followers of Christ. It states in Acts 2, that they heard these followers of Jesus talking in languages that these Jews from other nations understood. They heard them speaking the wondrous things of God. This helped to create a compelling support to Peter’s explanation of Jesus as Messiah, and His resurrection from the dead as foretold by the prophets.

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear (Acts 2:32-33).”

The Holy Spirit would not have come to indwell people apart from the Son sending Him.  Therefore, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is one of the most powerful proofs of Christ resurrection. The Holy Spirit is at work today, convicting, convincing people of their need for Christ.

Consider what the disciples were like days before. They were filled with fear and now we see them become fearless. What made the difference? The appearance of the Resurrected Jesus to them, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit empowering them to be witnesses.   

“Trans World Radio tells about a young Cuban named Miguel who had grown up in a large family, receiving little attention from his parents. His early life was marked by hatred and fighting. At 14, he traveled to Havana for school, then went to the coast and became involved in the drug traffic, planting and cultivating marijuana and cocaine. He had several hectares of coca plants with a team of about forty workers.

On one occasion, Miguel was called on to examine a plot some distance away, and he forgot to take along reading material for the trip. The old lady of the plantation gave him a New Testament, and he began reading about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Miguel was so taken with the story that he actually began a Bible reading group among his employees.

One day Miguel suffered an accident. Being in pain that evening, he turned on the radio to distract his thoughts, and tuned into a gospel program. The speaker talked about how terrible it is to have an empty life, full of guilt and sin.

Miguel gave his life to Christ. After recovering from his accident, he cut down his plants, burned his laboratory, and got rid of everything related to drug trafficking. When his workers returned from vacation, he shared his experience with them and explained what they were lacking. Every last one of them received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

‘From our little band of cocaine farmers,’ Miguel wrote, ‘have come twelve pastors.  I, myself, have planted ten churches, and for the last six years have pastored in a little town in the interior. The old lady who gave me the New Testament is the leader of a group in another area, and the other pastors are in other parts of the country.”[x]

            That same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is able to raise us up from our spiritual death, and our separation from God because of our sin. He is able to change us into the people God intends for us to become.

What should our response be? The same as it was for those people who were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost over two thousand years ago.

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’

Why were they cut to the heart? Because Peter was telling them that they had crucified their Messiah.

Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.[xi]

            They repented, which means they came into agreement with God’s understanding of their condition and turn to Him. They were baptized into as outward expression of an inward change. They received God’s indwelling presence, and became part of the church, God’s community of faith. That is what God is calling each of us to do. We need to repent of our sins, and turn our hearts to Christ and His presence, His Spirit will come to live within us, empowering our lives.

https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2015/03/15/13/59/grave-674443__340.jpg


[i] Auto Illustrator, submitted by Don Moddox, Granada Hills, Ca.

[ii] G. Campbell Morgan, The Acts of the Apostles, (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1924), 61.

[iii] 1 Corinthians 15:13-20.

[iv] John P. Meier in the New York Times Book Review (Dec. 21, 1986). Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 16.

[v] Adapted from Todd Stames “Revival at Public School Stirs 100 Students to Conversion,” Christianity Today, (5-9-00).

[vi] Acts 2:25-31.

[vii] Matthew 27:50-53.

[viii] Romans 1:1-4.

[ix] I. Howard Marshall, Acts, T.N.T.C. (Grand Rapids, Mi: Eerdmans’s Publishing Co., 1980), 75-76.

[x] Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2003 edition, p. 117.

[xi] Acts 2:36-41. https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2015/03/15/13/59/grave-674443__340.jpg

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