The Church of the Risen Savior

Early on a Sunday morning faithful, grieving women went to a tomb outside Jerusalem to serve their rabbi in a final act of respect and reverence by anointing his body with spices. You know the story, the true story, that they found the tomb empty and angelic messengers proclaiming the good news that he was not there, but was risen, as he had said. The Gospels tell you of the resurrection, but the theme runs throughout Scripture. Paul’s letters emphasize what Christ’s resurrection means for him and what it means for you, his church, as you see in Colossians 3:1–4. You are the church of the risen Savior.

What does Christ’s resurrection mean for him? Jesus emerged triumphant from the grave. Over the centuries the church has grown in understanding what the death of Christ means. He died, not simply as an example, not as a martyr, but as the substitute for his people. The whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed forward to him. He is the Lamb led to the slaughter, the One on whom our iniquities were laid in Isaiah 53. But, as important as the death of Christ is, it is secondary to his resurrection. Don’t overlook that note of triumph at the end of Isaiah 53. He is alive. He sees his offspring. As the Victor he is given the spoil. The resurrection is his triumph. “The death of Christ is not an end in itself. It is subordinate to a great purpose that can be achieved only through resurrection. . . . To be a Saviour, Christ had to pass through resurrection. It was an integral part of the experience and task assigned to him in the economy of redemption. The resurrection power exercised by the Father in the raising of Jesus, and the resurrection power with which, in virtue of that fact, Jesus is endowed are necessary facts in the plan of salvation. But if so, there needed to be death. For without death resurrection has neither existence nor meaning.” (Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 4, p. 88).

Christ has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. No only has Christ been raised, he has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. His exaltation is the triumphal reward the Father bestows on the Son who has done his Father’s will. The exaltation of Christ gives hope and confidence to his body here on earth—his church. That church may suffer and be persecuted, but she is united with her exalted Lord. She will not perish. As the risen Lord, about to ascend to his Father, he claims all authority in heaven and earth and commands his church to go into all the world with the good news. His exaltation gives hope and confidence to individual believers. Where do you get the strength to put to death the sins that cling to you? How can you do the difficult work of growing in grace, of being conformed to Christ? Only because you are united with your risen, exalted Lord.

What does Christ’s resurrection mean for you, his church? You died with Christ. Look at Colossians 2:12. Christ’s death means that as you trust in him, you died with him. Paul is dealing with the grand indicatives of the Christian life. The penalty for your sin has been paid. The curse against you has been borne by him. Christ died as a substitute in your place. He died for your sins. His death was vicarious. See Romans 4:25; 5:6–8. Your death with him means that you have been set free from the enslaving power of sin. But Christ’s death with nothing to follow is not good news.

You are united with Christ in his resurrection. There is no fact more basic for the church or for you as one who trusts in him. Note how the resurrection forms the core of apostolic preaching (Acts 2:24,32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:32–37; 17:31; 26:23). Read Paul’s letters, and note the frequent references to the resurrection. Join in celebrating his resurrection each Lord’s Day! The resurrection does more than prove that Jesus is truly God. In his resurrection, no less than in his death, Jesus Christ is the second Adam. You are untied with him and are raised with him. “The resurrection of Jesus is just as thoroughly messianic and adamic as are his sufferings and death. His resurrection is as equally representative and vicarious as his death. Believers no longer live to themselves but to the Christ, ‘who for their sake died and was raised’ II Cor. 5:15.” (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection, p. 66). When is your resurrection? In the past? Yes, you were raised with Christ. In the future? Yes, your bodily resurrection will be completed at the last day. You live today as one who has been raised with Christ.

Your life is hidden with Christ in God. You really belong in heaven, where the exalted Christ dwells, Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 2:6. Focus on the heavenly things. This is where your life really is, since you are united to your risen, ascended Lord (even though God still calls you to walk here below). The things which belong to heaven ought to be your concern. Your priorities are different from what they were before you came to Christ. Your life no longer focuses on you. Paul’s indicatives imply imperatives. There is bound to be tension in your life. You, who belong above, you, who are focusing your thoughts on the things above, are called to live in a sin-cursed world. Paul will list specifics which must be removed from your life. They must be put to death. See verses 5–11. He also describes characteristics to put on, verses12–14. These are very practical ways of celebrating Christ’s resurrection.

Look forward to glory! Christ’s appearing is your goal, for his appearing is also yours. For Paul, Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming (which includes your bodily resurrection) form one complex of events, one great event taking place in different time installments. You do not know the day of Christ’s coming, but you must live in the light of that day. Then, at his appearing, you will enter the eternal celebration of Christ’s triumphant work! How rich your joy and praise as you look at Christ’s completed work, at the union with him in his resurrection of all of those for whom he died.

What is the church? The most basic thing you can say about the church is that she is belongs to the risen, ascended, and returning Lord. Live that way this week.

The Church of the Donkey-Riding King

What makes the church what it is? According to Luke 19:28–40, at the heart of what the church’s origin is King whose steed in his triumphal entry is a donkey. You are the church of the donkey-riding King!

Your King is coming! Your King comes riding a donkey. The great journey to Jerusalem began in Luke 9:51. Now Jesus enters the city as King. He claims kingly authority. Requisitioning the colt which had never been ridden expressed that authority. The young donkey was an animal of peace (that is part of the point of the prophecy in Zechariah 9), but don’t despise the steed. Newly anointed King Solomon had entered the same city on his father, David’s mule. The disciples recognize the royal claim as they lay their outer garments on the colt for a saddle and spread their cloaks for a carpet to pave the royal way. Jesus accepts this treatment, as well as the adulation of the crowd of disciples. “He knew that the time had come when He was to die for sinners on the cross. His work as the great Prophet, so far as His earthly ministry was concerned, was almost finished and completed. His work as the sacrifice for sin and substitute for sinners, remained to be accomplished. Before giving Himself up as a sacrifice, He desired to draw the attention of the whole Jewish nation to Himself. The Lamb of God was about to be slain. The great sin-offering was about to be killed. It was meet that the eyes of all Israel should be fixed on Him.” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke, pages 309–310). Jesus is showing you, not only that he is King, but also what kind of King he is. He knows all things. Before reaching the next village he pauses, sends two disciples ahead, and tells them to bring the colt to him. He knows that they will be questioned. He instructs them how to reply. He knows that the colt will be given for his use. Luke is describing your King who knows all the details of your life. That is profoundly comforting as you face a world that seems to be increasingly uncertain. Are you worried about your job? Your health? Your future? Your King knows all the details of your life, and he is active in your behalf.

King Jesus initiates this event. Earlier Jesus had avoided crowds (Luke 5:14-16) and had forbidden people to speak about him (Luke 8:56). Now he is encouraging the crowd. In the preceding context he had spoken about the kingdom, correcting a mistaken notion of its immediacy, but emphasizing his kingship. He sends for the donkey, and the public requisition of the animal draws attention, not just to Jesus as a person, but to his authority as well. Jesus is forcing the hand and the timetable of the leaders of Israel, who desire his death, but not during the Passover, while the city was full of pilgrims. Not only is Jesus claiming to be King, but he is forcing the hand of his enemies. The King forces you to chose whether to submit and trust in him or to oppose him. The Pharisees object to the cries of royal welcome and ask Jesus to silence his disciples. But Jesus responds that if the people were to be silent, the very stones would cry out. Think of the piles of stones in Judges, stones that stood as silent witnesses to Israel, calling them to faithfulness, and reminding them of their God. Now, in the presence of the King, if need be, if there are no other cries of praise, the stones will sound the praise of their maker. And they will shortly utter their voice when the shouts have changed to “Crucify,” then the earth will quake. “Whether men praise Christ or no he will, and shall, and must be praised (v. 40): If these should hold their peace, and not speak the praises of the Messiah’s kingdom, the stones would immediately cry out, rather than that Christ should not be praised. This was, in effect, literally fulfilled, when, upon men’s reviling Christ upon the cross, instead of praising him, and his own disciples’ sinking into a profound silence, the earth did quake and the rocks rent.” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, at Matthew 19:40).

Bless your King! Listen to the crowd praise Jesus. They use language from the Hallel, language which is messianic, v. 38, see Psalm 118:26. (Luke, writing to a Gentile audience, does not use the word, Hosanna, which would likely not have been understood by them. But he does make it clear that this is the messianic King coming in the name of the Lord.) Jesus is acknowledged as king. And he does nothing to discourage or dissuade the shouts of the people. He accepts garments as saddle and carpet. He refuses to silence the cries of the people. The shouts of the people in v. 38 echo, probably unintentionally, the song of the angels in Luke 2. Notice the omission, however. The angels recognized that the coming of the Messiah means peace on earth. The cries of the crowd show no awareness of that need. But Jesus knows, as he has repeatedly made clear to his disciples, that he is going to Jerusalem to suffer, to die, and to rise again. The shallowness of the crowd’s understanding of Jesus’ kingship is one reason that, less than a week later, the cries will have changed to “Crucify him!”

Bless Jesus as your King. Luke’s Gospel confronts you with your King. The King who entered the city on an unused donkey would, within the week be placed in an unused tomb. But from that he would rise again. Luke writes so that you recognize the King as your Lord. Join in blessing the King. Borrow the words of the crowd–they are fine words, as far as they go–but understand what they really mean. Remember the sacrificial death of your king. Focus on the glory of his resurrection. Don’t only cry blessings to your king–live as those who belong to him because he has triumphed and purchased you for himself. You cannot go back in history and join the crowd that day. But you, as you trust in him, can and will join in blessing your King. Revelation 7:9-12 gives you another picture of this King, picking up the royal imagery of Psalm 118 and of the Triumphal Entry. You are part of that uncountable host.

Recognize your King and, from the bottom of your heart and with all your life, bless and serve him.

The Church: A Confessing People

Paul, during his final imprisonment, writes Timothy (2 Timothy 1:13–14), urging him to keep the pattern of sound teaching he had heard from Paul. But this is not just an emotional farewell. The content of the gospel and the pattern of Paul’s teaching is not going to end with the martyrdom of Paul. The church needs to continue to hold to that truth.

Understand the pattern of sound teaching. Keep what you have heard. Pay attention to what you have heard. Hold onto the apostolic teaching. There is substance to the gospel! Union with Christ is at the heart of what you have heard, 2 Timothy 2:11-13. Keep what you have heard in faith in Christ Jesus. What you believe can never be simply abstract, academic doctrine. It is faith that focuses on Christ. Keep it in love because of Christ’s work. How you keep the truth is no less important than the fact that you are keeping the truth. In Deuteronomy 4 Moses is summarizing the revelation God had given to Israel. Knowing that he was not going to enter the promised land with them, he is calling them to teach their children. They needed to know who God is and what he had done for them. Moses had led in a song of triumph after God delivered his people through the sea, Exodus 15. Moses was about put another confession of faith into song in Deuteronomy 32. God’s people must not be ignorant of who he is.

The apostolic message forms a pattern of sound words. This teaching forms a pattern (similar to building plans!). This pattern is sound, healthy, or health-giving. We use the expression, “sound in mind and body.” The sound pattern is contrasted with false teaching, which is often directionless, Ephesians 4:14. Confessions grow up in opposition to false teaching. They serve to separate the true church from falsehood. The early church began to formulate confessional statements in opposition to Arianism and other heresies. A confession serves to unite the church. It is what we together believe. For the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that summary, that confession, is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (and other confessional statements) are subordinate to the Word of God. The Westminster standards were produced in 1643-1647 as a summary of the teaching of Scripture. “As Paul wrote from prison to his protégé, Timothy, his mind was focused on how the church was to manage once he and the other apostles had passed from the scene. His answer had two components: a structure in which the governance of the church was put in the hands of ordinary but faithful men, and a form of sound words. Both were necessary. Without structure, the church would have no leadership; without a form of sound words, she would drift from her theological moorings, losing touch with her past and with other congregations in the present. A form of sound words, a confession, was crucial for maintaining both continuity with the apostles and unity among Christians in the present. And that is what our confessional documents do today: they bind us to faithful brothers and sisters in the past and with the same in the present.” (Carl Trueman, “Why Christians Need Confessions,” New Horizons, February 2013).

Guard the good deposit. You have been entrusted with the gospel. God has given you the gospel. There is no more precious deposit you could have. The content of the gospel is God’s saving work in Jesus Christ, verses 8–12. Notice how Moses puts into song the summary of God’s covenantal faithfulness and teaches it to Israel so that they can remember who he is, what he has done, and how they are to live as his redeemed people. Guard what you have so that you can pass it on. That was why Timothy was to guard what he had received. The Westminster Shorter Catechism can be an instruction device in evangelism, especially when you realize that evangelism is more than giving a superficial introduction to the gospel. The Catechism can be very effective in teaching your family. Try using it! Put the principles of Deuteronomy 6 into practice. “God has grounded his church in revelation. He does not content himself with sending his Spirit into the world to turn men to him. He sends his Word into the world as well. Because, it is from knowledge of the truth, and only from the knowledge of the truth, that under the quickening influence of the Spirit true religion can be born.” (“Is the Shorter Catechism Worthwhile?”, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield–I, p. 382)

Live through the Holy Spirit who lives in you. The Holy Spirit lives in you. Without him you could not come to Christ. You would not even want to. He enables you to guard what you have received. This guarding involves not only rejecting error. It also means living a life that is faithful to the Lord, even though you face difficulty and suffering as a result. Onesiphorus is a specific example of one who has been faithful, unashamed of Paul’s chains, and has refreshed Paul. Paul looks forward to “that Day,” not only for himself, but also for his dear friend. The Spirit enables you to live in faith and love, verse 13.

Keep what you have heard as the pattern of health-giving teaching. Guard it, and, in turn, pass it on.