Ephesians 4:11-16 NET

The Bible has a lot to tell us about the church. It tells us who the church is. It is a question of identity. We have two examples of that in today’s text. In verse 12 the church is called “the saints.” Notice that the term includes every Christian. It is not a word that is supposed to describe people who have attained some supernatural status or level of reverence. It is a term for all of us because we all need to be equipped for the work of ministry.

We see that reality also in the second term in today’s text that describes what the church is. According to verse 12 again, we are “the body of Christ.” A living body is designed to be always growing during its life. As members of Christ’s body on earth, we all need to be built up.

In other places in the Bible, other terms are used to describe and define the church. We are (for example) the salt of the earth, a letter from Christ, fish and a fishnet, the Ark, unleavened bread, branches of the vine, the vineyard, the fig tree, the olive tree, God’s planting, God’s building, Pillars of the truth, virgins, the Bride of Christ, citizens of the kingdom, exiles, ambassadors, the people of God, the family of God, the new creation, and this list goes on.1

Another way the Bible teaches about the church is by defining and describing the work that we are called to do as the church.

I like to use the acronym WIFE to outline the work of the church.

W stands for WORSHIP.

The church is God’s gathered community, designed to radiate his glory through (among other things) worship. When his people honor his person and praise him for his works, they help the creation reboot. Somewhere along the line, this planet has lost its purpose. Worship is our way of revisiting that purpose.

When Jesus was clip-clopping into Jerusalem at his triumphal entry, some Pharisees (who did not have a clue what was going on) demanded that Jesus stop his disciples from worshipping him. Not only did Jesus refuse to stop them, he told the Pharisees that if they were silenced “the very stones would cry out.” Now that our Savior has come, his worship is imperative. We all do it poorly, compared to how we will do it, but we try anyway. It is as natural as breathing for us.

Worship is supposed to be “in spirit and truth,” which is simply a way of saying “authentically.”

Its opposite would be worshipping in the flesh without a true feeling of awe or gratitude. Perhaps you remember the last time you attended a service that just seemed to be going through the motions? That is not worship. Authentic worship is a reaction to God’s felt presence, and God’s manifested works. It is not an expression of our “worth-ship” but his. The worshipper does not get carried away with herself but is caught up in him. That is why the fruit of the Spirit – self-control – must manifest in worship as well. Much damage has been done by confusing a self-honoring frenzy with God-honoring worship.

Yet, there is something to the process of worship which at times may seem like a loss of control. Paul told the formerly pagan Ephesians not to get drunk on wine, but to be filled with the Spirit. They were to replace one kind of intoxication for another. Instead of wine causing them to abuse one another, they were to drink deeply of the Holy Spirit, which would influence them. It would result in “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

When the Holy Spirit is manifested in our gatherings, he causes us to do things that outsiders may not understand, and may attribute to the wrong cause. At Pentecost, Peter had to remind the crowd that those who were receiving manifestations were not drunk; it was (after all) only nine o’clock in the morning. From that time on, “praising God” was a description of what believers constantly do.

I stands for INSTRUCTION

A true church is a discipling church, and a discipling church is a teaching church. One of the earliest criticisms that unbelieving authorities hurled at the early church was that they were teaching in Christ’s name. The apostles arose at daybreak and started teaching.

My sermons here at Piney Grove have mostly focused on teaching the commands of Christ. Even if we use an Old Testament text, it is usually to help us focus on something Jesus taught about that topic. Next Sunday, we will begin a series on the Sermon on the Mount and its Luke version, the sermon on the plain.

Discipling consists of bringing people to the point of commitment to Christ (baptizing) and then nurturing that commitment through a lifelong process of teaching. The gathered church is a teaching church. The means of the church’s teaching ministry is not a creed or a set of church traditions. It is the Holy Spirit, who is continuing the discipling ministry of Jesus Christ among us. The medium He uses is the Bible, the word of God.

Believers with the Holy Spirit inside them, and the word of God coming out of them, are a strong force for change in the world. Jesus intends for his gathered church to not simply sit by and wait until his return. He has commanded us to “engage in business” until he comes. “Until I come, (he said) devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” The gathered church is a teaching church.

F stands for FELLOWSHIP

The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by growing closer together and demonstrating our unity. This is done through fellowship. The act of gathering us together was intentional. God did not mean for us to be spiritual lone rangers. He does not have one church of doers and another church of viewers. He has one body, with many members. Fellowship is the way we show our unity among ourselves and to the watching world.

The gathered church is not a saved soul here, and a saved soul there. We are a collected crop. We are gathered sheaths, prepared to be harvested for our master on the last day. The gathered church is a fellowshipping church.

E stands for EVANGELISM

The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by snatching people from among the doomed and bringing them to eternal life in Christ. We do this through dynamic witness. Jesus told us that we would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”.

The church that truly evangelizes leads people from accepting Christ’s gift of forgiveness to embracing Christ’s authority and his coming kingdom. The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by bringing others into his kingdom through dynamic witness.

Our passage today explains how the church works when it is working right.

The church works by equipping the saints for the work of ministry (11-12a).

11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12a to equip the saints for the work of ministry,

When a church is working right, members with the equipping gifts help all the saints become better at doing the work that they do.

The list that Paul uses here is not a list of professional church leaders. Even the word pastor as Paul used it here did not refer to someone hired to lead a church. All these terms referred to church members who had special Spiritual Gifts designed to equip everyone else in their ministry.

The apostle was a missionary — someone who could cross cultural or ethnic or geographical boundaries and reach people with the word of God.

The prophet was a person empowered with a message from God — usually a message that challenged people to turn to God in repentance.

The evangelist was also a person empowered with a message from God — usually a message of comfort or encouragement.

The pastor was a person who could shepherd the hungry and hurting and bring them to a place of strength, rest, and healing.

The teacher was a person who could feed the spiritually hungry by systematically setting out the truths of the word of God in a way that hearers can understand and apply to their lives.

When these equipping ministries are present and do their work, the result will be that the saints who hear them will be able to do what God calls them to do.

The church works by building up the body of Christ (12b-13).

12b that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God — a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

A body that is properly built up is going to manifest two characteristics. First, it is going to attain unity. When we are first born, we have all the things that we need to do what people do. But we are not born with natural unity. We have feet, but we cannot walk. We have eyes but we only focus on what is straight in front of us. We have ears but we cannot always tell where a sound is coming from. We have to learn over time how to use our bodies as one. We call it coordination.

The unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God that Paul talks about here is something like that coordination. The more we gather together as a body, the more opportunities we have to get coordinated with each other so that we think and speak with a unified voice about the things of God. But, just like that baby, we have to work at it. It does not come automatically. Baptism does not make us work together. Working together is the only way to learn this kind of unity.

The second characteristic we need to attain is maturity “attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. Nobody is born mature. It seems like some people never mature. But if we don’t gather together for the equipping ministries to help us, we are not going to get built up.

The church works by maturing the members of the body of Christ (14-15).

14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.

Paul uses two images of the church in these two verses. He says that immature believers are like a boat. They are tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind. False teachers can make us like that. No teachers can also make us like that. If we fail to come together to learn the word of God, we will remain like children, and our boats will be flopping around everywhere, with no stability.

Another image Paul uses is the body. A body begins as a child, but it is expected to grow up. It is expected to mature. Maturity for the church is that each member grows “up into Christ, who is the head.”

The church works by all the members mutually supporting one another (16).

16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

Don’t forget this last verse of today’s text because it tells us something very important about how the church works when it is working right.

Let me put it this way. People imagine the church is working right when it resembles a concert. All the fans gather in the auditorium. The band plays on the stage. The fans listen, they cheer. The playing is over. Everybody goes home. If that is the way you think church works, you are bound to be disappointed.

Let me read that verse again: “From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.”

Every time we gather as a church, we do a lot of things (worship, instruction, fellowshipping, evangelism) but while we are doing that growth is happening. The growth comes from Jesus “from him the whole body grows.” But that growth does not come passively. In a concert, the band plays, and the fans listen — passively taking it in. But in a church service growth happens only “as each one does its part.” So church works by all the members mutually supporting one another. When that happens “the body grows in love.”

I want us to be a church that works. If we commit ourselves to be a working church, I think the LORD is going to surprise us. I think he wants to work with us to build up the body of Christ in this community.

1 For an example of this kind of study, see Paul Minear’s book, Images of the Church in the New Testament.



church sign, 4/17/22


John 2:19-22; Mark 9:9-10

The resurrection was not a surprise. Jesus knew that he would be woken up from the dead and come out of his tomb on the first Easter morning. It was all part of God’s plan. He had to go to the cross, and he had to die there. He had to be buried in that borrowed tomb. Not one aspect of the life of Jesus was left to chance. It was all part of the plan.

Since it was part of the plan, we would expect Jesus to mention the fact that he would be dead for a few days, and then be raised. But Jesus didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about that. He did let the cat out of the bag at least two times, however. We are going to look at those incidents this morning. The two passages of scripture just illustrate what I have been saying: that the resurrection was not a surprise. It was part of the plan.

Early in his public ministry, the Lord predicted his resurrection (John 2:19-22).

19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus and his disciples were fresh from Galilee, where he had just performed his first public miracle. In Cana, at a wedding feast, he turned the water into wine. That miracle revealed his glory, and it strengthened his disciples’ faith in him. After a few days with family in Capernaum, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.

Has going to church ever made you mad? That’s what happened to Jesus. He went into the temple courts and he saw all the buying and selling of birds and beasts and the people making money by exchanging this coin for that. It made him mad. It made him violently mad. He was insulted by what he saw, and he felt like slapping them.

He made a weapon out of cords — a whip. He proceeded to chase every one of those bankers and merchants out of his Father’s house. He said “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!”

All this time his disciples were watching. They were learning. When he had made the water into wine, it revealed something about him — lots of things. The disciples had learned from that incident that Jesus had compassion for the master of the party. They learned that he cared about his mother, and wanted to give her what she was asking for. They learned that he cared about the couple being married, and he wanted them to have a happy wedding. Oh, and they learned that he had the power to convert ordinary water into wine — without it having to go through a long process of squashing grapes and letting them ferment!

Now, the time is different and the place is different. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem, at God’s temple. What are they learning about him here and now? John tells us that the disciples “remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” You can tell a lot about a person by what makes him mad. Abuse of God’s temple just ate Jesus up. He was obsessed with anger over the disrespect he saw in the temple courts. For all those bankers and merchants, it was just business as usual. But for Jesus, it was an insult to the presence of God.

There is a time and a place for buying and selling. Jesus walked by merchants and bankers all the time. They didn’t enrage him when they did what they did at the right time and in the right place. But God’s house is God’s house. It has to be shown consideration and respect.

So the disciples are watching Jesus, and they are watching him get mad. And it wouldn’t be the last time. They would see Jesus get angry in a synagogue when there is a man with a withered hand, and people were watching to see if he would violate the laws against working on the Sabbath by healing him. That kind of legalism made Jesus mad.

Anger is an emotion, and as an emotion given to us by God when he created us, it has a legitimate place. Jesus was not controlled by his anger, and he taught us not to be controlled by our anger as well. But there is such a thing as righteous indignation.

But there were some Jewish leaders in the temple that day, and they didn’t think Jesus had the right to display his anger. They were just fine with those merchants and money-changers and birds and beasts. They wanted to defend the status quo. So, they asked Jesus “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” They were looking for him to perform another miracle in defense of his outbreak.

Here we see the amazing self-control of our Lord. These Jewish leaders have just demanded that Jesus show them that he had the authority to force a change in their religious practice.

If I had been Jesus, I would have said “You want a sign, Okay, here’s your sign” and I would have unleashed all the power and wrath of God on them.

Folks, we need to remember that God is a God of wrath. His wrath sent the flood to destroy the world, saving only a handful in the ark. His wrath sent the plagues to Egypt. His wrath swallowed up Korah and his rebels. His wrath sent armies to serve his purposes by destroying his enemies. His wrath will one day be unleashed on all the unbelievers and rebellious in Gehenna hell, where Jesus tells us he will destroy soul and body.

It is a stupid and dangerous thing to ask the Son of God for a sign when he is angry. Fortunately for those religious leaders, Jesus chose to do something else besides annihilating them that day. Instead, he told them to “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.”

Now, that got them thinking. They were not about to destroy their temple. They were proud of that temple. It had been under construction for about fifty years — so they doubted very much that Jesus would be able to reconstruct it in just three days.

Now, here is where John comes in with an editorial comment in his Gospel. He explains what Jesus meant. He says “Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body.

So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.”

So, this was the first incident in which Jesus slipped in a little hint of his coming resurrection. It probably went over the heads of those religious leaders that day. It probably went over the heads of John and the other disciples that day too. They didn’t want to think about it. Resurrection requires a death, and they were certainly not prepared to think about Jesus’ death that day.

But the words that Jesus said that day stayed in their memories. Those words bounced around in their minds, and now and again something else that Jesus would say would cause them to remember those words again.

Jesus would later tell Nicodemus “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Maybe his disciples stopped to think about what it meant for Jesus to be lifted up. Maybe a stray thought led them to imagine a cross. That would be an unpleasant thought — their master hanging on a cross. If they thought about it, they probably did not allow the thought to linger.

Jesus would tell his disciples that if they didn’t carry their cross and follow him that they cannot be his disciple. There was that cross again. What a bad thought it is. What a shameful, humiliating way to die. Surely our master is not going to die like that.

Thoughts like this keep coming back and bouncing around in their brains.

Two years later, the Lord predicted his resurrection again (Mark 9:9-10).

9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this statement to themselves, discussing what this rising from the dead meant.

Jesus had taken three of his disciples for a little mountain climbing. They hiked up a high mountain for a private show. When they got to the summit, they watched Jesus, and he “was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiantly white, more so than any launderer in the world could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared before them along with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. So Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ (For they were afraid, and he did not know what to say.) Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my one dear Son. Listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more except Jesus.”

What was the purpose of this day trip to the summit of a mountain? Jesus was going to show them who he really is. He would undergo a metamorphosis and they would see Jesus in all his divine glory. They would learn from this experience as well. They would learn that Jesus was not to be compared to any of the great men and women who have ever lived. Not even Moses — the great law-giver, nor Elijah, the powerful miracle-working prophet can be compared to him. Jesus is the one. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the one-and-only Son of God.

They saw Jesus as he really is. Now, as soon as they saw this amazing vision happen, all of a sudden it is over, and things are back to normal. Jesus tells them not to tell anybody else what they saw. What? I have just seen the Son of God in all his glory, and I have to keep silent? But Lord, people have to know who you really are! Okay, says Jesus. You can tell them, but wait “until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

There he goes again. Lord, I don’t want you to have a resurrection. That would mean you would have to die. I don’t want you to have to die.

In the third year, Jesus would have a little Supper with his disciples. He would break some bread and give it to them. He would tell them that the bread represents his body — broken for them. He would raise a glass for them to drink. This is my blood, shed for many, for the forgiveness of sins.

There he is again, talking about his death. But in the back of their minds, there are these nagging words: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again”; Don’t “tell anyone what you have seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Just some stray thoughts.

They come for Jesus — for his trial and crucifixion. He dies on the cross. The disciples hide. Then, Sunday morning, the ladies come with a story. They say they have seen him. They say he’s alive!

Then they see him themselves. Look, they destroyed the temple, and he raised it again! The Son of Man has risen from the dead!

Remember what they demanded of Jesus that day in the temple? They asked him for a sign — a miracle to prove that he had the right to interfere in their business. He gave them this answer. He challenged them to destroy the temple of his own body. Go ahead he says. I dare you to kill me. You can nail me to a cross if you want to, and I know you do. It doesn’t matter. Death cannot hold me. In three days, I will rise again. Do all you can on Good Friday, because Easter is my holiday. I’m going to come out of that tomb.

“Aint no grave gonna keep my body down.”

Brother — sister — you might be asking the same thing today. You might be wondering what the fuss is about this Jesus. You might wonder what right he has to interfere with your life — to demand that you believe him — to require that you obey him. You might want to just do your business, but he’s making up a whip and is gonna drive you out of God’s house.

If you dare to ask Jesus what right he has to interfere with your life, his answer to you will be the same he gave those religious leaders that day in Jerusalem. His resurrection proves that he has the right. The resurrection proves that he is who he says he is. Rejoice this Easter Day because Jesus lives. But remember that the miracle he announced — the miracle of his resurrection — demands that every one of us acknowledges him.



Isaiah 53:10-12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

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10 Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him. 11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. “My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins. 12 So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes, he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful, because he willingly submitted to death and was numbered with the rebels, when he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels.”

1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received — that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.

At Easter, we focus on some historical events that took place over two thousand years ago. None of us lived during that time. Like other events in history, we only know about them because someone teaches us about them, and explains their significance. From today’s text, we learn what those events are from the apostle Paul. They are “that Christ died for our sins …and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.”

These three events that Paul mentions are the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. From verse 1 Corinthians 15:1 we learn that Paul is making clear to the Corinthians what the gospel is — the gospel that he preached to them. From verse 3 we learn that these three historical events are “of first importance” to that gospel message.

Note also in verses 3-4 the phrase “according to the scriptures” — which appears twice. Paul is emphasizing not only that these things happened, but that they had been predicted in the Old Testament. I have added a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah to today’s lesson. I didn’t have to go to Isaiah. I could have picked any number of Old Testament texts. The Old Testament predicts the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in many places. That’s why Paul said that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead “according to the scriptures.”

I want you to note also that Paul admits he did make up this gospel message that he preached. Not only did he say that the events had been predicted in the Old Testament scriptures, but he also said that he had received them (verse 3). That is, someone had revealed them to him. Paul was not present at the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He did not observe any of these events personally. The first time Paul met Jesus, it was on the road to Damascus, where he was blinded, and only heard the voice of Jesus. Jesus not only revealed to Paul who he is, but he also apparently explained the significance of his death, burial, and resurrection.

From that time on, Paul had a career change. He had been focused on destroying the church and silencing the gospel. But now he set his sights on building the church and preaching the gospel. One of the places where Paul had preached the gospel was Corinth. In today’s text, Paul said that he had already “passed on” this information to them (verse 3). But he writes to them now to make it clear to them (verse 1). The Corinthians had already received the gospel as Paul did. Paul calls it “the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand” (verse 1).

So, Paul’s purpose in explaining the gospel to the Corinthians was not to evangelize them. But he felt it important to go back over the facts of the gospel once again. One of the reasons this is true is that it was possible even for some of the Corinthians who had already received and believed to still wind up rejecting the gospel and not be saved by it. Notice how Paul puts this in verse 2: “you are being saved if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.”

Now, if Paul thought it necessary to go over the gospel one more time with the Corinthians — just to be sure that they believed it — then I don’t apologize for sharing the gospel with you today. I’m not going to say “stop me if you’ve heard this” because I’m pretty sure you have. But especially during the Easter season, it is a healthy thing for us to remind ourselves of the basic elements of the gospel that we have received, and on which we stand.

The first element of the gospel Paul preached is … Christ willingly died for our sins (Isaiah 53:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3).

Isaiah predicted a coming Messiah who would willingly submit to death. Isaiah said ironically that this Messiah would “be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted” (52:13). But then he goes on to explain what he means by that. He said “he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man; his form was so marred he no longer looked human — so now he will startle many nations. Kings will be shocked by his exaltation, for they will witness something unannounced to them, and they will understand something they had not heard about” (52:14b-15). What Isaiah is talking about is the cross.

Jesus knew that the cross was in God’s plan for him. God’s wonderful plan for his life included getting beaten half to death, the nailed to a cross to die. Isaiah says that Jesus willingly submitted to that plan.

Jesus himself said that “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). He said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

There’s a chorus that goes “Lift Jesus Higher, Lift Jesus Higher, Lift Him up for the world to see — he said if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.” I used to sing that chorus, but I don’t anymore. It takes John 12:32 out of context. John 12:33 says “(Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.)” The people who lifted Jesus on that cross were not believers, and they were not worshipping him. They were his executioners.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus willingly submitted to this death. He did it because God was offering him as the sacrifice “for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Isaiah says “he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels” (53:12). This is the language of sacrifice. Under the Old Testament sacrificial system, a sacrifice of atonement required the lifting up of an unblemished animal, and the death of that animal to represent the destruction of the sin he represented.

When Jesus volunteered to willingly die on the cross, he knew that he was going to serve as a substitute for our sins.

The second element of the gospel Paul preached is …Christ accomplished the purpose of God by his death (Isaiah 53:10; 1 Corinthians 15:2-3).

Isaiah said “the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him (53:10). He was talking about the eternal plan of the LORD to redeem humankind from the bondage to sin, decay, and death. God had a purpose, and only Christ as the Son of God could fulfill that purpose.

Jesus did the hard part. He died for our sins according to the scriptures. But Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had a part to play in this divine purpose as well. They had the responsibility to receive this message by faith and hold firmly to it by faith.

The simple fact that Jesus died does not save anyone. The simple fact that Jesus rose from the dead does not save anyone. We celebrate Easter not because Jesus did everything but because he did for us what we could not do. Even if we got ourselves nailed to a cross and died, that death would not pay for the sins of the world. It would not even pay for our own sins. It would be a catch 22. Only a sinless sacrifice will do, and all of us are sinners. We needed Jesus, not to serve as our example, but to be our Savior.

Paul told the elders from Ephesus that he did not hold back from announcing to them the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27). I need to do the same thing. It was God’s purpose for Jesus to die on the cross. It is God’s purpose for you and me to believe it.

It is also God’s purpose for you and me to hold firmly to it — to not believe in vain. The Greek word for “in vain” is εἰκῇ. Godet mentions a classical expression that contains that word. The saying is εἰκῇ βάλλειν — to shoot an arrow that does not hit. 1

We need to believe what Jesus did because God wants us to apply what he did to our own lives. We cannot afford for Christ’s death to be merely a theological truth we affirm. It has to be for God’s purpose of cleansing us from sin. We have to respond to the cross by repentance and faith in the gospel.

The third element of the gospel Paul preached is … Christ demonstrated his victory by being raised from the dead (Isaiah 53:12; 1 Corinthians 15:4).

Isaiah says that the Messiah will divide the spoils of victory which means that he will be victorious. He will not only accomplish God’s purpose, but he will overcome in battle. That means that the Messiah’s death will not be the last phase of the battle; it will be the first.

Paul says that Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” Paul says that Jesus “was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification” (Romans 4:25). He died to pay the price for our sins. He was raised to demonstrate that we are now justified in God’s sight.

Now friends, if you believe that Jesus died, that’s good. But that is not enough. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, that is good because that is true. But that also is not enough. Paul told the Romans that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The Christ of the Bible is no longer on the cross. The Christ of the Bible walked away from an empty tomb. The Christ of the Bible is victorious. The gospel of the Bible is not a gospel of defeat, but a gospel of victory.

We need the message of Good Friday, but we cannot stay there. The message of Easter Sunday is necessary. Without it, there is no victory, and without victory, we do not have the whole purpose of God. Without victory, we are preaching another gospel.

The ultimate victory Jesus experienced for himself was that he conquered death and was raised immortal, ascended to heaven, and returned to his Father. The immediate victory he experienced for us on the cross was the forgiveness of sins. But there is an ultimate victory that Jesus accomplished for us as well. He said “because I live, you will live too” (John 14:19).

Easter is the sneak preview of our permanent destiny. Each will be raised in order. Christ — the first fruits — was raised on Easter Sunday. We — the remainder of the harvest — will be raised by him when he returns. That’s the whole gospel that Paul preached, and it is the gospel that we preach too!


1 Godet, Frederic Louis, and A. Cusin. Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. v. 2. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889. p. 328.




Psalm 16:10-11, Isaiah 55:3 & Acts 13:34-35 NET

Photo by Ivan Samkov on

Last year, I spent a few weeks on the subject of the hope of a resurrection. I shared Job’s hope that even after he had died and decomposed in the dust that his Redeemer would come and he would see God in his flesh (Job 19).

Isaiah told the Israelites that their dead will live — that their dead bodies will rise (26:19). He told those dwelling in the dust to wake up and sing. Isaiah reminded them that their God does not fail. They could trust in the resurrection because it was something God was going to do for them.

Daniel sees a vision of the future, but he is also told that he will not live to see that time. Instead, he is told that he will rest in the dust as Job did and that one day he would rise from the dead and receive his allotted inheritance (12:1-3,13).

For this year’s Easter messages, I want to start by talking about another Old Testament saint who put his hope in a future resurrection.

God’s promise to David was life instead of death

Psalm 16:10-11 You will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit. You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.

Psalm 16 is interesting. In it, David prays for God’s protection, stability, prosperity, joy, and long life. He promises God that he will remain faithful to God alone, and not follow the other leaders of Israel in their hypocrisy and idolatry. But toward the end of the psalm, David says something that sounds ridiculous. He says that God will not abandon him to Sheol.

But the Bible teaches that everyone eventually dies, and when we die, we all go to Sheol. When our bodies go down to the grave, we go down to Sheol. The first time the term occurs in the Bible is when Jacob is told that his son Joseph has been killed. Jacob thought that Joseph had died and gone down to Sheol, and he refused to be comforted. He said he would die mourning and join Joseph there (Genesis 37:35).

The Bible uses the word Sheol as a synonym for death. The two terms go together. Lots of people think of Sheol as a location where disembodied souls go at death, but it is something different. It is the condition of being dead. The location for the dead (at least those who are buried) is the grave. Their condition is Sheol.

When the Bible compares Sheol with heaven, heaven is always the highest place, and Sheol is the lowest. You cannot get any higher than the place where God lives. You cannot get any lower than the place where the dead are. The death state is never synonymous with heaven. It is the exact opposite. This is true for believers and unbelievers alike. Nobody wants to die and go to Sheol. David didn’t want that. God promised him that he would not abandon him to Sheol.

Sheol is a place of silence where God is not praised. The dead go down to Sheol in silence. When Hezekiah was very sick, he prayed to God for healing because he would not be able to praise God in Sheol. David said the same thing. He said, “For no one remembers you in the realm of death, In Sheol who gives you thanks?” (Psalm 6:5). He described those who are dead as sitting in darkness (Psalm 143:3).

In Sheol people don’t sing, they don’t praise, they don’t play golden harps. Their bodies rot, and they sleep with their fathers. Sheol is a silent, dark state or condition in which everyone exists at death, and can only live again by a resurrection from the LORD. It is always contrasted with heaven, and never equated with it. It is not the hope of the saints; rescue from it is the hope of the saints. That is the Old Testament consensus.

When this psalm was made into a rhyming song for the Church of Scotland in 1883, verse 10 sounded like this: “Because my soul in grave to dwell, Shall not be left by thee; Nor wilt thou give thine holy one Corruption e’er to see.” 1 David does not say that he expects to avoid Sheol. He says that he will not be abandoned to Sheol. He will not be left there. In other words, God promised David a resurrection.

And he’s not the only recipient of that promise.

God’s promise to all who come to him is the same promise

Isaiah 55:3 Pay attention and come to me! Listen, so you can live! Then I will make an unconditional covenantal promise to you, just like the reliable covenantal promises I made to David.

Isaiah’s words are an invitation from the LORD to everyone hungry and thirsty to come to him for a banquet — and it is all free. David has been appointed a witness to the nations, calling on all the wicked to abandon their lifestyle, and sinful people to abandon their plans and seek the LORD while he is making himself available. “They should return to the LORD, and he will show mercy to them, and to their God, for he will freely forgive them” (Isaiah 55:7).

This is the gospel folks! Come to the LORD, repent of your sins, and he will forgive you. But that’s not all. The God who forgave David also promised him a resurrection. God made him an unconditional covenantal promise. Isaiah tells the rest of us the good news that we too can claim that promise. We will die and go to Sheol, but God is not going to abandon us there. He’s going to bring us back to life.

Jesus “has pledged Himself to accomplish for all who trust in Him a victory similar to His own.” 2

From that Old Testament prophet, we go now to a New Testament apostle. Paul explains that…

Jesus is the first to receive that promise. We are next.

Acts 13:34-35 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.

Paul knew his Bible. He had read David’s last words as recorded in 2 Samuel 23. He read David’s dying charge to his son Solomon in 1 Kings 2. He said to his son that he was about to die and that Solomon would be king after him. He also told him that the LORD would fulfill his promise to him.

Paul boldly stood in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch and told his fellow Jews that “David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay. Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you” (Acts 13:36-39).

Here is the gospel sequence. God promises David a resurrection. David dies. David waits. Jesus comes and dies. But he is not abandoned to Sheol. He is raised to life. All those who put their trust in him will be raised to a new, permanent life as well.

Peter, at Pentecost, had also talked about David. He said “Brothers, I can speak confidently to you about our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, David by foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his body experience decay. This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘ (Acts 2:29-35).

Peter mentions two tombs. David’s tomb was there, and Jesus’ tomb was also there. The difference was that David was still in his tomb. Jesus’ tomb was empty. That is the message of Easter.

David knew that he was not going to be the first to be raised from the dead. He heard the Father talking to the Son. The Father will raise the Son, empower the believers in the Son with the Holy Spirit, defeat all the enemies of the Son, and then raise all the believers to permanent life. That’s the gospel sequence.

God did not promise David that he would survive death. He said he would not be abandoned to Sheol. As a minister of the gospel, I am responsible to God not to tell you what you might want to hear, but to tell you what God’s word says. God’s word to you is that death is real, and if Jesus does not return in your lifetime, you are going to go to Sheol. You are going to sleep with your ancestors. God’s good news about those who are asleep is that Jesus is going to come back to wake them up. David will be in that number. God’s good news to us is the same good news he promised David. You will die, but you will not be left dead.

The same power that raised our Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise from the dead all who are currently asleep in him. The same love that refused to abandon David has also refused to abandon us. That love is unconditional covenantal love and it has given us an unconditional covenantal promise.

Paul told the Thessalonian believers “Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Our encouragement comes from the faithfulness of God to fulfill his promise to David. Our encouragement reminds us that we have hope that the rest of the world does not have. That hope is not based on our ability to survive death. That hope is based on the fact that Jesus died and rose again.

Easter is a time for us to reflect on that hope. Our Lord triumphed over death, not by surviving it, but by being raised to life again. His resurrection is proof that God’s promise to David will be fulfilled. His resurrection is the source of our comfort. The empty tomb is the promise that our tombs will be emptied as well one day.

Jesus told his followers that his resurrection was just the beginning. He said “Because I live, you will live too” (John 14:19 CSB).

Easter is special for us because Jesus was raised from the dead. It is also special because every time we think of his resurrection, we are reminded of the biblical hope of our resurrection.


1 Church of Scotland, and David McLaren. The Book of Psalms in Metre: According to the Version Approved by the Church of Scotland. Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1883. p. 23.

2 Bertram, R. A., and Alfred Tucker. A Homiletical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah. London: Dickinson, 1884. p. 121.