The Glory of the Resurrection

The ancient historian, Luke, records for us the encounter of two disciples with a stranger on the road to Emmaus. These two disciples were walking the eleven kilometres from Jerusalem to Emmaus, downcast because Jesus had died, and with him, all their hopes and dreams. They had been convinced that this Jesus of Nazareth, who they recognised as “a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19), was the One “who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They had heard reports from some women that Jesus had risen from the dead. But they knew that was impossible.

Then the “Stranger” firmly but tenderly rebuked their lack of faith:

Then Jesus said to them, “O foolish ones, how slow are your hearts to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then to enter His glory?”

Luke 24:25-26

Not only had the death of the Lord Jesus been foretold by the Old Testament prophets and the Lord Jesus Himself, but so had His resurrection from the dead. The Gospels record not only that Jesus foretold His resurrection, but record that the disciples didn’t understand it at the time.

Not only were these two disciples downhearted, we find ten of Christ’s apostles hiding in a locked upper room for fear that the Jews who had conspired to have Pilate crucify Jesus would be coming for them next. Jesus appears to these apostles and offers them peace (John 20:19), but “doubting” Thomas was not present at that time.

But eight days later, the Lord appears to them once more and gives Thomas undeniable evidence of the reality of His physical, bodily resurrection (John 20:26-27), and Thomas falls before Jesus and answers, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

Within six weeks, these fearful apostles started turning the world upside down with their fearless preaching. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus was crucified, and confronted the people there with these powerful words:

Men of Israel, listen to this message: Jesus of Nazareth was a man certified by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. 23 He was delivered up by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, and you, by the hands of the lawless, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. 24 But God raised Him from the dead, releasing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its clutches.
25 David says about Him:
‘I saw the Lord always before me;
because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will dwell in hope,
27 because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
nor will You let Your Holy One see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence.’
29 Brothers, I can tell you with confidence that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 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. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, to which we are all witnesses.

Acts 2:22-32

Why is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus glorious?

His resurrection gloriously demonstrates that He had power over death:

But God raised Him from the dead, releasing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its clutches.

Acts 2:24

His resurrection gloriously demonstrates that Jesus truly is the Son of God. Paul summarises some of the essential features of the gospel message this way:

…the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

Romans 1:1-4

His resurrection gloriously demonstrates that God had accepted the death of Christ as full and final payment for the sins of those who believe in Him:

Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

Romans 4:23-25

His resurrection gloriously demonstrates that there is forgiveness of sins through faith in the Lord Jesus:

Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Acts 13:38-39

His resurrection gloriously demonstrates that God grants new birth and a living hope to those who trust in the Lord Jesus:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5

His resurrection gloriously demonstrates that there is coming a day in which this world will be judged by the Lord Jesus:

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Acts 17:30-31

His resurrection gloriously demonstrates that those who believe in the Lord Jesus will one day share in His resurrection:

And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.

2 Corinthians 4:13-14

Let me leave with you with one last quote from the Apostle Peter:

“Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9 If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10 let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:8-12

The Glory of the Cross

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All around this country, we see crosses and crucifixes adorning churches and cemeteries, and worn as jewellery. It is remarkable that what was designed in ancient times as the most extreme form of torture and execution would be embraced as the symbol of Christianity.

The goal of crucifixion was to cause as much pain and humiliation as possible to those who were subjected to this inhumane treatment. It was so gruesome a form of execution that was rarely used by the Roman Empire on its own citizens but reserved for rebels, slaves, or those who committed treason.[1]

Yet the symbol of the cross was embraced very early within Christian circles as a simple, pictorial representation of their faith in Christ. According to the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia (Moody, 1975),

The sign of the cross may have been used by early Jewish Christians of Jerusalem before the city’s destruction in a.d. 70. Ossuaries (rectangular stone chests for human bones) were found in 1945 in the suburb of Talpioth, one of which was marked on each of the four sides with a rough cross, like a plus sign. A similarly marked ossuary was included in an apparently Christian cemetery on the Mount of Olives (FLAP, pp. 331 ff.). At Herculaneum, destroyed in a.d. 79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a house was excavated which showed a Latin cross incised in the plastered wall above a small wooden cabinet taken to be a prayer stool or an altar (FLAP, pp. 363 f.).[2]

“Cross”, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia

This is not to say that early Christians worshipped the cross or saw it as some kind of talisman or good luck charm, and neither should we. It was a simple symbol that silently pointed to the central truths of the Christian faith, and to this day is recognized around the world. The danger, of course, is that people can use the symbol without understanding its significance.

This symbolism did not develop in a vacuum. The Apostle Paul summarised the whole of the gospel he preached as “the message [lit. word] of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18). He recognised that this “message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). He understood that it was a stumbling block to religious Jews and foolishness to the sophisticated Greek culture, and yet he insisted that this was the message he was called to proclaim. He said, “We preach Christ crucified!” (1 Corinthians 1:23), because he wanted to ensure that their faith was not based on the wisdom of men but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

Yet even though this message was so widely despised and ridiculed, he refused to change the message to make it more appealing to either the Jews or the Greeks and would unashamedly declare to the Galatian believers:

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Galatians 6:14

However, this idea of the glory of the cross did not originate with the Apostle Paul but with the Lord Jesus Himself. The four Gospels make plain that the Lord Jesus was acutely aware of the nature of the mission on which He had been sent by His Father. For instance, early in John’s Gospel we read that Jesus said,

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:14-15

Jesus purposefully used a play on words. The Jewish people he was speaking to knew the story of Moses placing a bronze serpent on a pole so that whoever looked at the serpent would be healed from the venomous snake bites that were killing them (Numbers 21:9). Jesus knew that soon He would be lifted up on a cross so that anyone who looked to Him in faith would be cleansed of the sin that had placed them under condemnation. As one scholar put it:

The bronze serpent was an antidote to the poisonous death that rebellion had caused; Jesus became the antidote to the sin of a world.

Merrill Tenny

But that term “lifted up” was also commonly used to speak of something that was raised to a position of exaltation, and since that time, millions have lifted up the name of the Lord Jesus and continue to sing His praise.

In the opening chapters of John’s Gospel, Jesus is offering the Jewish people eternal life. But by the end of chapter twelve, a point of no return has been reached. While many have received Him and believed on His name and been born of God (John 1:10-13), the nation generally has officially rejected His claims and are looking for an opportunity to get rid of Him. Jesus was conscious that He was operating according to His Father’s program and timetable and repeatedly said that His hour had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:6, 30; 8:20). But at the end of chapter twelve He says,

But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.

John 12:23-24

Although He fully understood that the time had come for Him to suffer and die (Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), He spoke of this as the hour that He should be glorified.

How is it possible that He could view His death as something glorious? Did He view Himself as a martyr? No, He saw Himself as the Saviour of the world, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). He knew that He would lay down His life and that no one could take it from Him (John 10:17-18).

He clearly understood the reality of the sufferings He was about to endure: the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering entailed in that death. And while He would pray that, if possible, the Father would take that cup away from Him, He also knew that there was no other way that sinners could be reconciled to a holy God. His death was no defeat, but rather a victory over sin, death, and Satan. And so He prayed:

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”

John 12:27-28

On the cross, Jesus would become our substitute, our sin-bearer. He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). This was in fulfilment of the prophecy given to Isaiah 700 years before the birth of Christ:

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

Those who have come to understand the seriousness of their sins in the sight of a holy God and have looked in faith to Jesus lifted up on the Cross, receive eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and peace with God. The essence of this eternal life is fellowship with God the Father and God the Son (John 17:3). And those who understand the cost of this salvation, are those who want to lift Him up in praise and worship, and, like the Apostle Paul, want to spread “the message of the cross” with others and boast in His cross alone.

[1] Lexham Bible Dictionary, “Crucifixion” (Lexham Press, 2016).

FLAP Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past

FLAP Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past

[2] R. Allan Killen, “Cross,” ed. Charles F. Pfeiffer, Howard F. Vos, and John Rea, The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia (Moody Press, 1975).