Apostles' Creed: On the Third Day He Rose Again

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on March 16, 2003

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Apostles’ Creed
On the Third Day He Rose Again
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Dr. Derek Thomas

We are continuing our studies in the Apostles’ Creed. We
come this morning to that statement of the Creed in the belief in the
resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the third day He rose again from the dead
according to the Scriptures. I wanted to start this morning by saying that I
disagreed with Dr. Duncan on some aspect of this point of the Creed. Many of you
will remember that last week in my absence he said he disagreed with me on
something; I’m still not sure what. But if I were to say that I disagreed with
anything to do with the resurrection I think I would be in big trouble. Let’s
read together a wonderful statement of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as we
find it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Hear the Word of God:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I
preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which you
also are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you
believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also
received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. And that
He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the
Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He
appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain
until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all
the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because
I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His
grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them,
yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we
preach and so you believed.

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His Holy and
inerrant Word. Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, bless now we pray this time
together as we look into this wonderful doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now, suppose an archaeologist digging in the sands of
Palestine, somewhere outside of Jerusalem, were to discover a skeleton, bones,
skull and claim that it was Jesus of Nazareth. Would it make any difference?
Would it make any difference to the way you live? Would it undermine everything
that you believe in because it probably will happen. No, it’s going to happen
one day; I’m sure of it. One day some archaeologist will claim that he has
discovered the bones of Jesus. Will it make any difference? Does it really

After all, don’t we sing that hymn, “He lives, He
lives, Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and He talks with me along
life’s narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I
know He lives, He lives within my heart.” That’s a terrible hymn. I know it may
be your favorite hymn but, you understand, those words are awful because the
basis on which I know He lives, is not just some feeling in my heart. I know He
lives because the tomb is empty. We have solid empirical proof that would stand
up in a court of law that Jesus rose from the dead. Let me ask you again. If
somebody claims to find the bones of Jesus in some tomb in Jerusalem, and it
probably will happen, will it make any difference? After all, there are
some–hopefully not in here–who believe that Elvis lives in their hearts. And I
assure you, Elvis is dead. And there are some who believe that Stonewall Jackson
lives in their hearts, and I assure you, he’s dead too. So let’s look at the
evidence, first of all for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

I. The evidence of Jesus’
When we talk about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we
are talking about an event in space and time; we’re talking about a literal
resurrection. I put it that way because the Creed says “on the third
day.” Having died on Friday afternoon, buried before sundown, the first day;
Saturday being the second day; He has risen some time early on Sunday morning,
the third day. What’s the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead? I want to put
it this way because when we see the evidence, and we remind ourselves of the
evidence, we will go away this morning with our hearts skipping a beat because
of the sure validity that Jesus rose from the dead. The tomb was empty. No one
could produce the body of Jesus. For more than a month afterwards, they kept on
meeting Jesus–alive. Having died, having been buried, they kept on seeing Him in
groups–on one occasion 500. Within weeks of Jesus’ death and resurrection,
there were apostles prepared to lay down their lives because they believed this
truth. Let’s go back and examine it in detail.

Let’s begin at the tomb. It’s called the empty tomb,
but that is not altogether accurate. Although the body was gone, the grave
cloths were still there. When Peter went to the tomb on that Sunday morning, he
saw linen cloths lying there and a face cloth which had been on Jesus’ head, not
lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Moments later,
John comes running into the tomb and confirms it. He saw the linen cloths lying
in that peculiar fashion. Eastern burials required that the trunk and arms and
legs be tightly wrapped in linen cloth layered with fragrant spices and gummy
substances like myrrh to bind everything together. When Peter and John came to
the tomb, what they saw was consistent with a body passing through the cloths,
and the cloths just collapsing where the body had been. They had not been

There are the witnesses. Firstly, Mark tells us in
Mark 16:9: “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared
first of all to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons.” Then He
appears to a group of women, somewhere between the tomb and the city. Then later
that day, He appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Was it Luke and was
it his wife perhaps? They talk with Him. He opens the Old Testament to them,
shows them all the things concerning Himself. They eat with Him in a house in
Emmaus. They rush back to Jerusalem after supper, but before they got there,
Jesus had appeared to Simon. While they were still talking, Jesus appeared to
the disciples. Thomas, not being there; Judas of course, not being there; and
says to them, “Peace be with you.” A week later, when Thomas was actually with
them, Jesus appears again saying the same words. You remember Thomas refusing to
believe until he thrust his hand in Jesus’ side. Some time after that, Jesus
appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberius. Paul says that sometime in the
following weeks He appeared to more than 500 brethren at the same time. You
know, hallucinations may occur to one person in one place at one time, but not
in 500 people in the same time in the same place. And Paul says He appeared to
James, the half-brother of Jesus. Matthew recalls the eleven disciples going to
a mountain in Galilee where Jesus came to them. And finally, Luke records that
after seven weeks, He had them meet in the vicinity of Bethany where, after
giving them some instructions, He left them, being taken up into heaven in a
cloud–the ascension. We’ll come to that next week.

There it is–the case for the resurrection. Look
around you in this congregation. Turn your heads around and have a look at what
500 plus people looks like. That’s how many witnesses we have in the New
Testament of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

II. The case against the
What’s the case against the resurrection? Well, it assumes, of
course, that all of these witnesses are liars. True, these statements are
written by Matthew and Mark and Luke and John, and at the writing of at least
the first gospel, many of these witnesses were still alive and could have
displaced whatever it was the gospel writers had said. There are many
explanations, many theories.

The first one is the swoon theory. Jesus
fainted on the cross. He was taken down, put in the tomb, and in the coolness
of the tomb, He comes to and walks out and disappears and then appears again as
though alive from the dead. That’s the theory. It was first put in the 18th
century and revived in 1965 by Hugh Schonfeld in his 1965 publication, The
Passover Plot
. Let’s think about it. At the cross, the Centurion went to
Pilate and assured Pilate that He was dead. Then a soldier pierces Jesus’ side
to insure that He was dead. He was put through a complex burial ritual and
Pilate, because he thought that there would be a claim that Jesus would rise
from the dead, set a guard to watch the tomb and set a seal upon the stone of
the tomb. It is said that to move that stone away would require 12 men to roll
it back. It was one thing to roll it down over the opening, it was another thing
entirely to roll it back up the hill again.

The theft theory. Someone stole the body. OK,
who stole the body? The authorities, perhaps. Which authorities? Was it the
Jewish authorities or the Roman authorities? Why would the Jewish authorities
steal the body of Jesus? The last thing they wanted was for Christians to go
about saying that Jesus had risen from the dead. And why would the Roman
authorities do it? They had set a guard to watch the tomb and a seal across the
tomb to ensure this very thing. According to some, a guard of soldiers could be
up to sixty men. It would require that if the body were stolen, perhaps all
sixty of them fell asleep knowing that the penalty for falling asleep on duty,
under Roman law, was execution. Perhaps the disciples stole the body. And we’re
asked to believe that within weeks some of them are prepared to lay down their
lives for something they knew wasn’t true.

The projection theory. This will appeal to
those of you with a psychological counseling bent. It was first propounded by
Hegel anticipating Freudian wish projection. It goes something like this: the
disciples so longed for the resurrection of Jesus that it was self-fulfilling.
In the heightened emotional state of that last week in Jerusalem it was self
fulfilling. But look at the evidence. The disciples actually didn’t believe in
the resurrection. Thomas had to be persuaded to put his hand into the side of
Jesus. When the women when came back from the tomb saying that they had seen the
risen Jesus, the disciples didn’t believe them. Mark 16:14 reads: “Afterward He
appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table and He
rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not
believed those who saw Him after He had risen.” Now that one won’t stand either.

The mislaid theory. Blake, in 1907, first
propounded this view saying that actually what happened was that the women went
to the wrong tomb. It was early in the morning, Luke says, they went to the
tomb. There were lots of tombs, they all looked the same. They went to the wrong
one and they saw a gardener, and the gardener says, “Are you looking for Jesus?
You’re looking for Him in the wrong place; He is not here. He is over there.”
Hysterical women–that’s the view–that’s what it’s saying. But think about it for
a minute. Within thirty minutes, Peter and John are going to the same tomb. When
the gospels have carefully recorded that not only did they know which tomb it
was but that they had carefully noted which way it was that Jesus was laid in
the tomb. And had they gone to the wrong tomb, wouldn’t it have been the easiest
thing in the world for the Jewish or Roman authorities to go to that garden and
say, “Look, you went to the wrong tomb. This is the tomb.” And they would open
it and there would be the body of Jesus. Wouldn’t that be a simple thing to do?
No, my friends, Jesus rose from the dead; the evidence is compelling. Frank
Morrison, in the 1920s, a journalist commissioned to write a book to disprove
the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, after carefully examining all the
evidence, writes a book called Who Moved the Stone? Morrison came to the
conclusion that the evidence was compelling that Jesus rose from the dead.
There’s a missing person. The body is gone and no one, absolutely no one, could
produce the body. And within weeks, there are disciples prepared to give their
lives because they were so certain that Jesus had risen from the dead.

III. The consequences of the
resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
What are the consequences of the resurrection of Jesus from the
dead? It validates His deity. It says to us that His claim to be the Son of
God, to be the Lord of glory, to be the divine Messiah, to be the suffering
servant of Yahweh, Jehovah, was true. That when He said, “I and My Father are
one” He was speaking the truth and here is the evidence of it. Here is how He
backs it up.

It says to us that every word that Jesus ever spoke
is true. His claim that the Old Testament Scriptures were the word of God and
cannot be broken is true. That you can open up the Bible at any place, on any
page, to any verse, and know with absolute certainty that it is the very
infallible and inerrant word of God because Jesus rose from the dead.

It validates His teaching. It validates His moral
teaching, His ethical teaching, His doctrinal teaching–everything that He ever
said. Every word that ever came out of His mouth is true.

It attests to the fact that His work is finished. His
work as the servant of the Lord, His office as mediator of the covenant, as our
substitute, as our sin bearer, as He went to the cross of Calvary, as He lay
down His life on behalf of sinners like you and me, as God poured out His wrath
upon Him in our place, standing where we should have stood.

The resurrection is like God the Father saying, “Well
done, thou good and faithful servant.” The work is finished, that there is no
more need for sacrifices on Jewish altars to be slain. The veil of the Temple
was rent from top to bottom because the work of the Mediator is done and
complete and finished once for all.

The resurrection of Jesus attests to the Father’s
corroboration of all that He has done. It demonstrates His rule. It
demonstrates that He is King, that He is sovereign. He is sovereign over the
grave, sovereign over death, sovereign over the devil, sovereign over all of the
forces of darkness. It attests to the fact that Jesus reigns supreme. That death
cannot hold Him, that the grace cannot bind Him. He lives.

And He lives more than just in my heart. He lives in
my heart by His spirit, too; but He lives because He sits at God’s right hand in
glory. The body of Jesus ascended into the clouds. Somewhere in this vast
universe and beyond, there is the physical body of Jesus. That’s our claim.
That’s the Bible’s message. And the whole truth of the gospel hangs on it. Our
very salvation hangs on it, the forgiveness of our sins hangs on it. It attests
to the material nature of eternal life. That what we can expect as the people of
God whose sins have been forgiven, who have been drawn into union and fellowship
with Christ, that what we can expect is also a physical resurrection. That the
resurrection of Jesus is but the first fruits of them that sleep.

Many of you have laid dear, dear friends in the
ground. Friends who knew the Lord, friends who love Jesus Christ, they’re buried
in parts of this city somewhere. And there is coming a day–this doctrine
validates it–when Jesus will come again on the clouds of heaven with angels and
archangels and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise.

That’s what the resurrection means; that’s what this
glorious truth stands for. This resurrection is but the first fruits of a great
harvest of souls. The answer to the skeptic who asks, “What do you know for sure
about life after death anyway? Have you ever been there?” Has anyone ever come
back to tell us?” And the Christian reply is, “Yes, someone has come back to
tell us. Someone has come back and said that there is life after death. And that
someone is Jesus.”

Reckon with it. Confirm and affirm that truth in your
hearts this morning. “On the third day He rose again from the dead according to
the Scriptures.”

The question is: Do you believe it?


A Guide
to the Morning Service

The Themes of the Service
The focus is on the article of the Apostles’ Creed, “On the third day, He arose
again from the dead, according to the Scriptures.” The hymns and Scripture
reading reflect the theme of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter comes a
little early to First Presbyterian Church this morning!

The Hymns
Holy, Holy, Holy!
Surely, one of the best known hymns in Christendom. We must have sung
it hundreds of times. Its message is enduring and solemn: that God is holy in
His character and works. Every facet of God’s nature and every aspect of His
character is holy. The Hebrew idea of holiness reflects the twin aspects of
purity and distinctiveness (in the words of one theologian, God is “wholly
Other”). In John’s language, God is “light” and “in Him there is no darkness at
all.” It reflects the fact that God is unapproachable by sinners apart from a
mediator–He has provided one in Jesus Christ! It says further that our goal
should be ‘the pursuit of holiness.’

Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Charles Wesley at his very best! “Jesus’
resurrection, which was a divine act involving all three Persons of the Godhead,
was not just a resuscitation of the ruined physical frame that was taken down
from the cross for burial. It was, rather, a transformation of Jesus’ humanity
that enabled him to appear, vanish, and move unseen from one location to
another. It was the creative renewing of his original body, the body that is now
glorified and deathless. The Son of God in heaven lives in and through that
body, and will do so for ever.” (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, 125).

Up From the Grave He Arose

This is another hymn on the theme of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The
Larger Catechism
Question 52 asks: “How was Christ exalted in his
resurrection?” Answer: “Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not
having seen corruption in death (of which it was not possible for him to be
held), and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential
properties thereof (but without mortality, and other common infirmities
belonging to this life), really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead
the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of
God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that
had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead: all which he did as a
public person, the head of his church, for their justification, quickening in
grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from
the dead at the last day.”

The Sermon
There have been important and definitive defenses of the fact of the
resurrection, perhaps Frank Morison’s Who Moved the Stone? Equally
important, however, is the theological significance of the resurrection. What
did the resurrection of Christ signify? According to Paul, Jesus was “declared
to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead’ (Rom 1:3).
Paul could not possibly be understood as saying that Jesus was not the Son of
God before the resurrection! Rather, Paul is saying that even though He was the
Son of God in His incarnate existence on earth, there (here!), He was humiliated
and weak. Now, after the resurrection He has been ‘highly exalted’ (Phil
2:13-14). Now, He exists in glorious exaltation. The resurrection, at once,
demonstrates Jesus’ deity, validates His teaching, attests to the completion and
acceptance by His Father of His atoning work for sin, affirms His cosmic
dominion, and promises His return in glory. I believe in the resurrection of
Jesus Christ! Do you?

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