It all began with Mary and Martha—that cool Easter morning—coming to a lonely Palestinian tomb. I don't think they had any idea what was going to be meeting them. They were coming to pay their respects. They were still deep in their grief. And then they heard these words that were hard to believe: "He is risen! This Jesus whom you seek, he is not here, for he is risen, just as he said."
I don't know how you would have reacted to all of that, but I like to listen to things like this and anticipate how I would have felt having heard that news for the first time. It would be hard to believe. Can it really be true? All the things that were happening that were so bad are seemingly now gone. Are they serious? Get away. I don't want to believe this. Thomas heard that news then pushed it away. It's kind of cruel joke. But more than one person heard it. Cephas heard it and he appeared to several people, and the message of Jesus Christ alive began to spread. It is the message, Christ alive, that multiplied the church in those early days. It was that message, that reality of Jesus alive that gave it wings. It was that message that sustained it. God has raised him up again from the dead, a fact to which we are all adherents. We believe it. An empty tomb. A risen Lord. A victorious Christ. Jesus is risen indeed.
I want to set the record straight about something as I begin. It is not my desire to prove that Jesus rose today. One of the things I'm aware of is that many people might come to a service like this who don't normally come to church and it's a perfect time to bring the gospel and to compelling tell them about Jesus who rose and prove that Jesus rose. We're not here to prove it. What we're here to do today is celebrate it. I want to get my arms around all of you and bring you in and say this is the reason we have come here—to wallow in it, to revel in it, to take a bath in it. Jesus Christ is alive!
In fact, I don't have much time at all this morning even for the Corinthian issue. We are finding ourselves right in the middle of this study of the Corinthians—who had some real fuzzy thinking on the resurrection; not only of Jesus Christ but of their own and our future destiny. Today I don't even want to get bogged down in their struggle.
The ministry this morning is to all of us, all of you who are here this morning, who having heard the gospel that Paul preached, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, have received it and believe it, have been saved by it, hold fast to it, and stand in it even as you sit here now. This time is for us. We're here to celebrate Jesus risen from the dead at the right hand of the Father. We're here to celebrate the fact that we have a Prince.
Christ the Prince
We have a Prince. Look at Acts 5:28-31. The apostles were talking in that particular place about Jesus the resurrected Christ and they were preaching about the reality of him alive. One of the things they did when they were preaching about the reality of him alive to people who did not believe, they said this: "This Jesus who is risen from the dead, he is our Prince and he is our Savior."
The word prince is the word archēgos. And the archēgos was someone who was in the naval fleet in those days. Every ship had one. It was a man who was the best swimmer on the boat. And when the ship encountered rough water so the ship could not go into shore, the archēgos, would tie a rope around himself, dive into the waters, swim to the other side, and come out the other side alive and then tie that rope to a rock or a tree so that everyone else could come along, too. The archēgos did not swim through those waters so he could get to the other side alive so everybody on the boat could cheer and say, "Way to go, guy." The reason he went through the water and came out the other side was so that everybody else on the boat could go through too. Jesus is our Prince. Jesus two thousand years ago went into the waters of death and suffered an agonizing death, and he went through the waters of death but he came out the other side alive, and the response of us as believers is not just that we cheer and say, "Way to go, God," the response is this. You see he came out the other side, turned around and said to us, "Because I live so will you also."
He is our Prince. We have a Prince who went into death and came out the other side alive. And you want to know something? That reality in the lives and the hearts of the apostles and the early church made a difference in how they lived. Paul said this, things like this:
Sure I get discouraged, sure I get hurt, yes I get depressed, yes I feel like quitting and I get tired and I get confused sometimes about whether this whole thing is real, but I want to tell you something else. I got something ringing in my ears, and that is this. I got a prince. I got a prince who went through the waters of death and came out the other side alive, looked back and me and said, "Because I live, so will you." And you know what? That means that the momentary light affliction of this life is not worthy to be compared with the glory of being with him and knowing him now. And so it is you can nail me to a Roman spigot as well, and I will not falter in my faith because I got a Prince. Dead men do rise.
That changes how Paul lived. It changed how those early Christians lived. They faced death with confidence.
Christ the firstfruits
Another point I want to focus on comes right out of verse 20. "But now Christ has been raised." "Christ has been raised." Isn't that wonderful? We cheer about that, but that's only part of the Good News. The rest of the Good News was found in the second part where it says, " … the firstfruits." His resurrection was only the beginning. This whole time we've had of singing, clapping, and rejoicing in the Lord, points to the life and the heart of a believer who knows that the resurrection puts a smell in our nose that because he lived I will too. Jesus is our firstfruits.
Remember the concept? It comes out of Leviticus 23. In that time it was the Passover of the unleavened bread. People would bring the first portion of their harvest. The first portion of the harvest was a real risky thing to bring. The reason it was risky was because the rest of the harvest was not in yet. They would stagger the planting. So when the firstfruits came in they would harvest it, gather it, and bring it to the priests. It was scary because they didn't see the rest of it come in yet. They would let it go and then begin to go home, hoping that the rest of the harvest would come in.
But something happened there that was significant, that ties into the firstfruits concept relative to Jesus Christ's resurrection. And that is this, that the priests would take this grain and mill it, turn it into flour, turn the flour into bread, and every year when this happened the entire countryside would be filled with the aroma of the firstfruits. So when those farmers began to get discouraged about whether their harvest was going to come in, whether God was going to meet their need, whether he was going to be there, and they got tired, all they had to do was walk outside, stick their nose in the air and say, "I can smell it." Because the firstfruits have come in, that is a promise to me, a sign continually that the harvest is to come. Jesus is called our firstfruits. And in the life of the believer when you get discouraged, afraid, doubtful, tired, confused, and troubled—and you will—the glory of coming together like this as a body and celebrating the resurrection is that what it does is it begins to put a smell in my nose of a harvest to come. It isn't all in yet, but it will be someday. That isn't just his resurrection, but mine also.
I've got a Prince. He is risen indeed! Hallelujah. I think that it's important today that we smell that, that we get a picture of Jesus alive and that we get a real strong whiff of it in our nostrils.
Christ the crucified one
In order to do that, I want to go back to catch the aroma of where this whole thing began. I want to go back to the first thing we need to understand in order to catch the smell of the resurrection and catch an understanding of the resurrection. Let's go back to a past victory. Let's go three days back to Friday. This is the day that Jesus was crucified. This is the day that he was suffering in agony and everything was dark. We're going to go back to the cross. I'm thankful for the cross, but the cross is a bummer. We're here to talk about life, regeneration, and resurrection, and the cross is death, dark, and bloody. It's something we need to understand. We're going to talk about life, but life began at the cross. Satan was defeated at the cross. The power of life was released at the cross. The aroma of resurrection, of firstfruits began at the cross. The price was paid in full at the cross.
1 Corinthians 1:9 calls what happened at the cross a mystery. It was something that people did not understand. It was dark. It was scary. It spelled death and pain. It looked like defeat. It was a mystery that the rulers of this age did not understand. And the way we know they didn't understand it was this: if they had understood it, they never would have crucified the Lord of glory. Why is that? Because something got released at the cross before Jesus ever rose from the dead that spells life and light to everyone who believes. The Scripture tells us that among the last words that Jesus spoke while he was dying were these words—"It is finished." And when he said that and when he breathed his last the Word of God tells us that a darkness came over the earth and the earth shook and the veil of the temple was rent in two. Why? I used to think that the reason it rent in two and the earth shook was because God was really mad. I think the reason that it happened is because something beyond our wildest imagination had happened there. Power had been released. Life had been released. Death could not keep its prey. But nobody knew it yet.
Ephesians 4:8 tells us a story. We've heard this before. Most of the time when we deal with Ephesians 4 we have to deal with this passage relative to the gifts, because it is this place that we see Jesus, the victorious Christ, at the cross dispensing the gifts of the Spirit. But there is something very exciting here as well about the cross and the victory that was there. Start in verse 8, "Therefore, when he ascended on high he led captive a host of captives and he gave gifts to men." Verse 8 is speaking of the victory that Christ won on the cross. The reason we know that that is the victory he won on the cross is verse 9. "Now this expression 'he ascended' what does it mean except that he also had descended into the lower parts of the earth."
First Peter 3:18-19 makes that verse clear. It says, "For Christ died for our sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that he might be able to bring us to God." I like that. That, by the way, is at the cross. This is before the resurrection. He died for sins once for all and by his sacrifice it enabled him to bring to God those of us who are redeemed, having been put to death in the flesh. But the glory of his being put to death in the flesh was that when he was put to death in the flesh he was made alive in the Spirit. Life was released when he died. Before the resurrection, life exploded.
Then it says this, verse 19, and it was in that spirit that was made alive when Christ died physically that "he went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison." He descended into the lower parts. This is a weird thing, and a lot of people get real upset about talk about Jesus descending into hell. The teaching basically is this: before the New Covenant there was a teaching that there were two parts of hell or Hades—an upper part where all the saints of the Old Testament were dwelling waiting for their ultimate redemption, and in the lower part there were the unrighteous, the ungodly who cared not for God ever. Also there were the spirits of the sons of disobedience and demons and all of the hosts of Satan's army.
What it says there is that he went there and "he made proclamation to the spirits now in prison," the word there is kērussō. It does not mean that he went into the lower parts where the unrighteous were and where the demons of hell were and had an evangelistic crusade to tive people one last chance to get saved. He made kērussō. It means to make a proclamation, to set the record straight. The record that he set straight was simply this—he went down there and said, I got news for you. What looked like defeat was really victory. What looked like death released life. When he descended into the lower parts I think I know what he said. I think the first thing he said when he went into the lower parts was the last thing he said on the cross. He looked them right in the eyes and said, "Guys, it is finished." What's finished? His pain, his death, his agony, yes, that was finished. But more than that, looking at Satan and all his demons, it is finished. "Satan, it is finished. Your domain, your life, your power, your ability to kill people forever is finished. You have lost your power." He made that proclamation, he gave them the royal raspberries and said, good bye.
He who descended also ascended. He ascended out of the lower parts into the upper parts, and he led captive a host of captives, according to verse 8. What that means is this. As he was ascending out of the lower parts he wrapped his arms around all the Old Testament believers and he blew open the gates of hell and they ascended into the heavens to meet God their Maker, singing, I think, "Redeemed. How I love to proclaim it. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb." All of that happened before Jesus ever rose from the dead. That's what God unleashed at the cross. We're talking a past victory. I got a Prince, folks. We got a Prince who walked through the waters of death. And even when he was in there it released life. It's better than we think.
Present realities of Christ's resurrection
That past victory, however, has issued into a present reality. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is this. Remember the Corinthians are in a fog about the resurrection. They don't properly understand the implications the resurrection has for our eternal bodily resurrection. They believed that Jesus rose, but they had no concept of their own destiny, the fact that they were going to live forever. So we've been teaching that the glory of the resurrection is that it puts a smell in my nose about the fact that because he rose so will I—bodily, physically, literally alive forever. You will recognize me, and I will recognize you.
But the glory that was released at the cross was this—that I experience a resurrection now. The victory that is in the past has issued into a present reality, a spiritual resurrection right now. Ephesians 2 says this: "You were dead in your trespasses and in your sins, but God being rich in mercy because of his great love, even while we were dead in our trespasses and in our sins, has made us, alive together with Christ and has seated us with him in the heavenly places."
Every once in a while we need to get a glimpse of the glory of our salvation. When I came to Jesus Christ, before I knew him at all, before the power of the cross of life had been released, I was more than a sinner who needed to be forgiven. I was a dead man who needed a resurrection. We were dead, and I got that resurrection by the shed blood of Christ, by the life that was released at that cross. Peter says this in 1 Peter 1:3: God has caused us to be born again, resurrected. He "has caused us to be born again to a living hope." That is a present-time hope, realization. How? " … through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." We've got a Prince who did the job and it is a past victory that issues into a present reality.
Spiritual resurrection, literal re-creation
The first thing in terms of present reality is the spiritual resurrection. There is something else involved in what was established at the cross—not only a spiritual resurrection but a literal re-creation. Romans 6:6 says this: "Know this, that your old self has been crucified with him."
Believer, you who are here today to celebrate that Christ is alive, you need to get a whiff of this amazing smell: because he died and because he rose you are not the person you used to be. He has recreated you. The person you used to be has died. I refer back to some things we talked about when we were in Galatians.
David Needham talked about this in his book Birthright—the fact that as Christians we often have a puny view of what salvation is all about. Our meager understanding of our own forgiveness resembles a "Jesus filter." God looks at me and it's a good thing he doesn't really see me because I'm still a dirty, rotten loser who doesn't deserve any kind of love at all, who isn't worthy of anything at all. The fact is that when Jesus extended his grace to me he gave me more than forgiveness. He gave me a new identity and a resurrection and a re-creation. I got more than a Jesus filter, so that when God looks at me he doesn't see the real me. Jesus gave me a new me, and that's the smell that goes in the nose of a believer when he considers the resurrection and the death of his Lord.
Not only do I have a spiritual resurrection and a literal re-creation, but I have an internal motivation, an internal presence. Turn with me to Colossians 1:26. Remember the mystery that Paul talked about when he was in Ephesians? He talked about a mystery that if the rulers of this age had known they would have never crucified the Lord of glory. In Colossians 1:26 he describes that mystery a little bit: "The mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations but has now been manifested to the saints to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is … " Here's the mystery revealed. " … Christ in you, the hope of glory."
The death of Christ was a victory. The resurrection of Christ affirmed the fact that it was a victory. And what that produced in me was a spiritual resurrection, a literal re-creation, and a whole new motivation, because the God who made the world now lives in me. The glory of the new creation is he is not under the law. He is not compelled to obey because of the law. The reason he is compelled to obey is why? Because Christ is alive in him, compelling him to obey, compelling him to believe, compelling him to move. He's got a new heart and a new desire which leads him to say things like this: "My food is to do the will of the Father." Jesus says: The New Covenant that I'm going to introduce is going to take the law from being an external pressure to get people to perform and it's going to drive it inside. "I will write the law upon their hearts." New creatures. And what will give them the power to obey and do it will be the life of God in them.
The crucifixion of Christ released life. The resurrection of Christ simply affirmed the fact that that life had been released, that the gates of hell had been blown apart, that I could be made spiritually alive, literally recreated, indwelt by the God who made the world, and not only that, but supernaturally enabled to serve him. He gave gifts—that's part of what he won at the cross—in order that we might be able to continue to do what he began. What did he begin? To storm the gates of hell and blow it apart. And we have by the power of God alive in us—the authority and the power to move into our community and into the lives of people we know and bring them redeemed into the kingdom.
Beloved, that present reality that I have just been reiterating for you is what we as believers have received and believed and stand in and hold fast to. Jesus is risen indeed. We got a Prince, folks. We got a Prince who went through the waters of death, came out the other side, looked back and says, "Because I live you shall live also. Not only in an afterlife, but you will really live now."
Foretaste of our future destiny
The last thing then is this—the present reality is a foretaste of the future destiny of every believer. In 1 Corinthians 15:20-34, he is talking about the future hope of every believer. After he has affirmed the fact in 21 and 22 that just like sin came into the world by one man so has resurrection and life come into the world by one man, he begins to give the order in verse 23. "Each in his own order:" first of all Christ, the firstfruits rose from the dead and has given an aroma to the rest of us of a harvest to come. After that, those who are Christ's at his coming. "Then comes the end." The end there is the word telos. It doesn't mean like the end of a service and it's over, we just quit everything, you go home. Telos means fulfillment, culmination, everything that God ever pointed to or intended is coming into fruit. The end is going to come. When the end comes, he will deliver up the kingdom to God the Father. But before he delivers the kingdom to God the Father, he's going to do this. He will abolish all rule and authority, and he will abolish all power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. Let me explain.
This is a future thing delineated in Revelation. And the picture is this. The people are looking for one who is worthy to open the book. Judgment is coming to the world, and God is going to finish his plan. And there's a scroll with seven seals. They looked for one who is worthy. We can't open the book. Then they found one. It was Jesus, who is worthy. "Worthy is the Lamb because he was slain and did purchase with his blood men from every tribe and every nation." He has given Jesus the authority in this future time, the end, the culmination, to break the seals. I want you to know something about the scroll that he's got in his hand. It's the title deed to all the world. As each seal is broken he's sending a message saying, "Satan, your time is up. It was sealed at the cross. It was verified at the resurrection. But now it is the end. It is the culmination, and I want my turf back, every single bit of it. You are banished. You are gone." He broke all seven seals and by that time when that was done everything was in subjection to God. Everything was under his feet and the last enemy to be abolished was death. After all that's done, coming back to verse 24, "Then when the end is complete he delivers up the kingdom to God, the God and Father."
There's no way in the world I can give words that will put the picture in your mind good enough. What is the kingdom? The kingdom is you and me. The kingdom is all the redeemed of all the ages. And I see Jesus having won the victory, broken the seven seals, destroyed Satan completely, the ultimate battle at Armageddon where all his forces are destroyed and sent to hell forever, God then looks at the redeemed, gathers them to his bosom, comes into the presence of God and says "Here's my bride." It's you and it's me, the redeemed. And it happened at the cross when life was released. It was affirmed when he rose from the dead. And the reality of that is something we live with every day. I am a resurrected man. You are resurrected people, spiritually. Recreated. Reborn. Indwelt. That is my destiny. That is my identity. That is my purpose for living. And that is why the early church, the apostles, you and I having heard that message received it and believed it and were saved by it and have stood in it and hold fast to it, no matter what anyone does to us.
When you get the smell in your nose of a resurrected Christ it affects how you live. In fact, in verse 29 it tells us it affects how you die, "Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?" Some weird theology comes out of that. I suppose you can imagine why. "If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?" Otherwise if dead men don't rise and if all of this destiny stuff isn't true, what will those do who are baptized because of the dead? What's going on here is this—people were being saved because of the way Christians lived, because the resurrection of God had put such a smell in their nose that nothing could knock them off. It affected how they died. When people were being pinned to crosses because they were believers in Christ, they saw a hope in them they didn't see anywhere else. People were being baptized because they got saved because they saw how people died who had an eternal hope.
In the sniffs, a smell of this in your nose affects how you live. It affects how you die. It affects how you serve. Verse 31: "I protest by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ our Lord, I died daily." If from human motives I have fought wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? It doesn't. If the dead aren't raised, if this is not really my destiny, then "eat, drink, tomorrow we die." But now Christ is risen from the dead. But if he isn't, our preaching is false, your faith is useless, the apostles are liars, you are all still in your sin. Those who died believing God have perished, and " … we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who sleep."
And because of that we live as spiritually resurrected people now and forevermore.
Dave Johnson is the senior pastor at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota.