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Burning Hearts (Easter)

A Message by R.C. Sproul

In a special, hope-filled Easter sermon preached at Saint Andrew's Chapel, Dr. R.C. Sproul teaches on Christ's encounter with two men on the road to Emmaus. This passage is found in Luke 24:13-35.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Risen From the Dead

  2. article

    The Resurrection of Jesus

  3. article

    Resurrection and Justification

Risen From the Dead

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). No event is more critical to Christianity than our Lord’s resurrection; its historicity is the fact upon which our faith stands or falls.

Like the other gospels but unlike the epistles, Matthew offers little theological commentary in his resurrection account. Also, he does not report everything that happened from the time the women came to the tomb to Jesus’ ascension. The other three evangelists likewise recount only some of what transpired during that momentous period, selecting the details important for their audiences. Comparing the four accounts gives us a fuller picture of all that occurred. In any case, the resurrection is historically well-attested. Besides the evidence in the Gospels, Paul records Jesus’ appearances to five hundred people at once, James, and himself (1 Cor. 15:6–8). There are also veiled references to our Lord’s resurrection in rabbinic sources that go back to the first century.

Matthew tells us the angel used an earthquake to remove the stone covering Jesus’ tomb (Matt. 28:2). Since Christ left the tomb before the stone was rolled away, this was not to let Him out of the grave but to let the women see the empty tomb. Jesus is not risen as a ghost or spirit; the women grasp His feet, revealing that His physical flesh has been raised (Matt. 28:9). That Christ’s physical body is resurrected indicates matter is not inherently evil and that our eternal state will not be that of a disembodied spirit. Like Jesus, our bodies too will be raised on the last day in our glorification, and the physical world will once again be “very good” and untainted by evil (1 Cor. 15:35–58).

Having been “delivered up for our trespasses,” Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:23–25). Raising His Son from the dead, the Father signified His acceptance of Jesus’ atonement for the sins of His people, proving that all who trust in Christ alone have their sins covered by the righteousness of Jesus and are reconciled to God. John Calvin comments, “The lively assurance of our reconciliation with God arises from Christ having come from hell as the conqueror of death” with “the power of a new life at his disposal.”

The Resurrection of Jesus

Jerry Bridges

This article on the resurrection of Jesus appears at the time of year when we are focusing on His birth, not His death and resurrection. To stop and think about the resurrection may seem like an unnecessary aside to the beautiful story of our Savior’s birth. 

To think only about the birth of Jesus, however, fails to do justice to the incarnation. It fails to consider the purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth. At the occasion of His birth, the angel said to the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The meaning of Savior is clarified before His birth when the angel instructed Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). How will He save His people? Paul answers in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” And on the eve of His crucifixion Jesus Himself said, “But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). As we celebrate His birth, let us keep in mind that He came to die.

This article, based on the account in Matthew 28:8–15, focuses, not on His birth or death, but on His resurrection. However, there is actually a seamless connection between the four major events of Jesus’ life: His birth, death, resurrection, and ascension. All four events stand or fall together. At the same time each event had its own unique role to play. What role, then, does the resurrection of Jesus play in the overall story of redemption? There are at least four major truths about the resurrection that teach us about its absolute necessity.

First, it proved that Jesus was indeed the divine Son of God. Paul wrote that “[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Actually it was impossible for Jesus’ body to remain in the grave. Just as it was impossible for the divine nature of Jesus to die because God cannot die, so it was impossible for the human nature of Jesus to remain dead because of its union with His divine nature. Peter said on the day of Pentecost: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). So it was not possible for Jesus’ body to remain in the grave. And in raising Him from the grave, God declared beyond all shadow of doubt that this Jesus whom lawless men crucified was indeed the divine Son of God.

Second, the resurrection of Jesus assures us of our justification. Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17). If Christ were still in the tomb it would mean God’s wrath was not satisfied, and we would still stand guilty before God. But as Paul also wrote in Romans 4:25: “[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” It is not that the resurrection accomplished our justification — Jesus’ sinless life and sin-bearing death did that — but rather it assures us of our justification. It was God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11), and by that act God declared that Christ’s atoning sacrifice had been accepted. The penalty for our sins was paid in full. The resurrection was God’s declaration that He had cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands (Col. 2:14).

Third, the resurrection assures us that we serve a living Savior who even now is interceding for us. The writer of Hebrews wrote that He always lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). Paul was even more emphatic when he wrote, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). The One who died for us now lives to intercede for us. When you are going through struggles of any kind, be it adversity that you face, or sin you are struggling with, remember that Jesus is interceding for you. 

Fourth, the resurrection of Christ guarantees our future resurrection. In his extensive treatment of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:12–58, Paul wrote, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vv. 20–23).

So as you celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas, remember His birth is only the first of the four major events of His life. Not only can we say, “He is risen indeed,” but we can also say with Paul: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command. …And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive…will be caught up together with them…and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16–17). Maranatha! “Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16:22).

Resurrection and Justification

R.C. Sproul

How is the resurrection of Christ linked to the idea of justification in the New Testament? To answer this question, we must first explore the use and meaning of the term justification in the New Testament. Confusion about this has provoked some of the fiercest controversies in the history of the church. The Protestant Reformation itself was fought over the issue of justification. In all its complications, the unreconciled and unreconcilable difference in the debate came down to the question of whether our justification before God is grounded in the infusion of Christ’s righteousness into us, by which we become inherently righteous, or in the imputation, or reckoning, of Christ’s righteousness to us while we are still sinners. The difference between these views makes all the difference in our understanding of the Gospel and of how we are saved.

One of the problems that led to confusion was the meaning of the word justification. Our English word justification is derived from the Latin justificare. The literal meaning of the Latin is “to make righteous.” The Latin fathers of church history worked with the Latin text instead of the Greek text and were clearly influenced by it. By contrast, the Greek word for justification, dikaiosune, carries the meaning of “to count, reckon, or declare righteous.”

But this variance between the Latin and the Greek is not enough to explain the debates over justification. Within the Greek text itself, there seem to be some problems. For example, Paul declares in Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Then James, in his epistle, writes, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar” (2:21) and “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (2:24).

On the surface, it appears that we have a clear contradiction between Paul and James. The problem is exacerbated when we realize that both use the same Greek word for justification and both use Abraham to prove their arguments.

This problem can be resolved when we see that the verb “to justify” and its noun form, “justification,” have shades of meaning in Greek. One of the meanings of the verb is “to vindicate” or “to demonstrate.”

Jesus once said, “ ‘Wisdom is justified by all her children’ ” (Luke 7:35). He did not mean that wisdom has its sins remitted or is counted righteous by God by having children, but that a wise decision may be vindicated by its consequences.

James and Paul were addressing different questions. James was answering the question: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (2:14). He understood that anyone can profess to have faith, but true faith is demonstrated as authentic by its consequent works. The claim of faith is vindicated (justified) by works. Paul has Abraham justified in the theological sense in Genesis 15 before he does any works. James points to the vindication or demonstration of Abraham’s faith in obedience in Genesis 22.

The Resurrection involves justification in both senses of the Greek term. First, the Resurrection justifies Christ Himself. Of course, He is not justified in the sense of having His sins remitted, because He had no sins, or in the sense of being declared righteous while still a sinner, or in the Latin sense of being “made righteous.” Rather, the Resurrection serves as the vindication or demonstration of the truth of His claims about Himself.

In his encounter with the philosophers at Athens, Paul declared: “ ‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead’ ” (Acts 17:30–31).

Here Paul points to the Resurrection as an act by which the Father universally vindicates the authenticity of His Son. In this sense, Christ is justified before the whole world by His resurrection.

However, the New Testament also links Christ’s resurrection to our justification. Paul writes, “It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:24–25).

It is clear that in His atoning death Christ suffered on our behalf, or for us. Likewise, His resurrection is seen not only as a vindication of or surety of Himself, but as a surety of our justification. Here justification does not refer to our vindication, but to the evidence that the atonement He made was accepted by the Father. By vindicating Christ in His resurrection, the Father declared His acceptance of Jesus’ work on our behalf. Our justification in this theological sense rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ, so the reality of that transaction is linked to Christ’s resurrection. Had Christ not been raised, we would have a mediator whose redeeming work in our behalf was not acceptable to God.

However, Christ is risen indeed!

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