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TEXT: Acts 13:13-41
SUBJECT: Exaltation of Christ #1
The topic of this year's Family Camp is The Exaltation of Jesus Christ. To exalt someone is to lift him up or to promote him to a place of honor.
The promotion is often unexpected: Joseph, a slave and prisoner becomes the Prince of Egypt. David, a shepherd boy becomes the king of Israel. Mordecai, a condemned exile becomes the President of an Empire stretching from Ethiopia to India.
Joseph, David, and Mordecai lived far apart in time and place, but they had two things in common:
Thus, their little stories are part of God's Big Story. What God did for these men of old (and others like them), He would do one more time! And this time, He would do it so perfectly, that there would be no need for Him to do it again!
The lives of Joseph, David, Mordecai, Ruth, Esther, Amos, and others, are like the sketches an artist uses to plan his painting. The drawings are valuable themselves, but they don't serve themselves: they serve a higher end. Michaelangelo's best-known painting is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Its best-known part is the Hands of God and Adam reaching out for each other. Magnificent! But before it was that, it was a pencil sketch on a sheet of paper!
This is what the Old Testament stories are: true histories, to be sure-the things really happened. But chiefly, they are not histories, but prophecies. David's rise to power-for example-points to another poor and despised Man who wound up on a throne!
That Man is our Lord Jesus Christ!
The Exaltation of Christ can be looked at as one single act of God or as a number of acts, one following the other, and lifting Him higher and higher. I prefer to break it up into three parts. The first is His resurrection from the dead on that Sunday morning long ago. The second took place forty days later when He soared into heaven and sat down at God's Right Hand: this is called the Ascension. The final step is still in the future: it is His Second Coming to judge the living and the dead.
We start with the greatest event in the history of the world: It shows God's power, wisdom, justice, and love as nothing else can. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The story is told in the four Gospels. I fear we have heard it so many times that it no longer grips us as it used to and as it ought to still.
Jesus of Nazareth is a carpenter by trade who becomes a Rabbi without going to seminary. He's a gifted man who throws light on many passages that others found dark and confusing. Had He stopped at that, He would have received an honored place among the great Teachers of the Law. Right up there with Nicodemus, Gamaliel, Hillel, Maimonodes and other respected scholars.
But He didn't stop there! He went on to make all manner of extreme statements-and the most extreme were about Himself! He said He was older than Abraham! He said He had water more satisfying than Jacob's! He said His bread was more nourishing than the manna Moses gave in the wilderness! He said David bowed the knee to Him! And-worst of all-He said that He and God were one!
His words had the Rulers of Israel beside themselves. He must be stopped and no measure was too cruel or crooked to do it. And so, they trumped up charges against Him, sent Him to Pontius Pilate, and got Him crucified, dead, buried, and out of the way.
.They thought. But on the following Sunday morning, some pious ladies went and ruined everything! They went to the cemetery with spices to perfume His body for its final rest. But when they got to his tomb, His body wasn't there!
The ladies were appalled at so wicked a desecration-on the Sabbath no less! But they were come to pay their respects the Lord and they would do it-if only they could find Him!
One of the ladies named Mary from Magdela, spotted a gardener nearby and asked him where the body had been moved. She didn't know the man's face, but she recognized his voice! One word He spoke to her-Mary.
She fell at His feet and cried out, Rabboni! (and that means beloved teacher!). The Gardener was her Lord, Jesus of Nazareth-alive from the dead!
The Lord told Mary and her friends to go find His disciples and to tell them that He was alive! They went, they told, and the disciples said, "Women!" They didn't believe a word!
But two of them-Peter and John-thought they'd go have a look. John outran his friend and when they got to the tomb they saw that part of the story was true-but it was the unimportant part! The tomb was empty and the funeral clothes were still there, neatly folded.
This is mighty strange, but, of course, it doesn't prove anything. But that night, while the disciples were eating, the Dead Man crashed their dinner party and showed Himself alive!
Seven skeptical men saw Him alive and felt just the way you and I would-blown away!
But four other disciples weren't there at the time-and one of them named Thomas-thought they were a bunch of lunatics! Maybe they saw someone who looked like Him or sounded like Him-but obviously they didn't see Him because He was dead! Thomas was so sure of himself that he said, "Unless I put my fingers into the nail holes and shove my hand into His side, I will not believe!" The rest of you can live in a fantasy world, if you want to, but not me! Nobody plays Thomas for the fool! Uh uh, no way!
A few hours later, the Lord dropped in on the disciples again-and this time-Thomas was with them. You can imagine the ironic look on the Lord's face, His mouth turned up on one side: Here they are Thomas, want to touch them? Pulling up His shirt, He invites the loud-mouth to stick his hand in there and feel His ribs from the inside!
Thomas blushes every shade of red and can only say: sorry!
"My Lord and My God"
He's on board now. But most others are not. For the next forty days, the Lord shows up time and time again-being seen by more than 500 people-not one of whom was eager to see Him!
About three years later, a District Attorney, on his way to round up the criminals in Damascus, sees the dead man alive and well. The one man he did not want to see most, he saw.
For at least three hundred years, Christians did not say hello to each other in the customary way -Good Morning, How Ya Doing? and so on-but with these words of greeting and reply:
The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a theory, not a doctrine, not an article of faith. It is a fact! It really happened. Not in the minds of the disciples, not in the theology of the church, not in the mythology of primitive people, but in the real world-a world of space and time-a world that can be checked and verified, or disproved, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.
That's the story.
The men who first told it thought of it as the story most worth telling-not one of many fine stories-but the story everyone had to hear-and right now.
The first Christian sermons are found in the Book of Acts with Peter and Paul as the main preachers. If you've read their sermons with any care, you've noticed how many things they left out, what they glossed over, and what their main teaching was.
For example, they never mention the Lord's Virgin Birth. They believed in it, of course, but it never came up in their sermons (not in the ones we have in the Bible, that is).
His miracles are referred to sometimes, but with very little detail. Peter says the Lord was
"A Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourself also know."
But that's all he says about them-he's got bigger fish to fry!
His teaching is not dwelt on either-a line of it here and there.
What really shocks you when you read the first Gospel sermons is how little cross there is in them! Even the Lord's death is a secondary concern! Theological terms like atonement, substitution, ransom, redemption, and so on, are hard to find in the Book of Acts.
What's primary in the early sermons is His resurrection! Peter, Paul, and the others saw this as the crowning event in the history of salvation!
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter almost hurries through the Lord's crucifixion, so he can get to the heart of the matter:
"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and with wicked hands have crucified and slain.Whom God raised up!"
This is Peter's emphasis: Not that you killed Him, but God raised Him from the dead!
Paul preaches the same kind of sermons, to the Jews in Antioch, to the Greeks in Athens, to common people, to kings and governors and to Caesar himself. Everywhere he went, he preached "Jesus and the resurrection".
Porcius Festus wasn't much of a theologian, it seems, but he got the gist of Paul's preaching. Talking it over with King Herod, he summed it up pretty well: It's all about
"One Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive".
From the standpoint of public relations, this was the very worst thing he could do! Robert Schuller says he does not preach on sin because it turns people off! If he talked about lying or laziness or fornication or taking the Lord's Name in vain, people would not listen to him.
Paul didn't feel that way. As a devout Jew and a man of the world, he knew the one thing that would turn off his hearers was the resurrection: The Jews would accept the teaching of Christ and the Gentiles had no problem with an Incarnate God. But bring up the resurrection and the Jews would persecute, the Greeks would laugh, and the Romans would kill you!
Yet he accepted the mockery, the persecution, and the death his teaching brought down on him. Because the resurrection is the heart of the Gospel-without it you've got no Gospel at all.
The enemies of the Lord realized this-early on they knew how important it was. The leaders of Israel did not try to refute His teaching or explain away His miracles or to blacken His reputation. No, what they did was to bribe the guards who were supposed to keep Him dead to say that they dozed off for a few minutes and while they slept, the disciples stole His body away.Satan's tactics are the same today: no scholar denies there was a man called Jesus of Nazareth. Many unbelieving historians believe He was a fine man, a good teacher, and if people took His teaching to heart, they'd be better for it. But no unbelieving scholar believes He rose from the dead. Some flatly deny it-but with no proof. Others explain it away by saying He's alive symbolically, artistically or some other gobblydegook!
But no Gospel enemy says He rose from the dead (in the literal sense of the words) because if He did, their unbelief has no excuse. But whatever they say, we know
"The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed".
The resurrection exalted the Lord Jesus Christ in at least three ways:
First of all, it cleared Him of all charges against Him. The Jews said a lot of nasty things about the Lord: they called Him a devil and a blasphemer; they said He misled the people and did not respect Caesar. They said He wanted to tear down the Temple and abolish the Law of Moses. The charges were serious-and if true-they deserve the death penalty. If what they said is true, the Lord is false prophet (which is punishable by death) and a rebel (another capital offense).
They accused Him of these things; they convicted Him in a human court and they carried out the punishment they said He deserved.
But along the way there were some hints that maybe-just maybe-the verdict was not so sure. Pilate washes his hands of the matter; he puts a mocking sign over His head: This is the King of the Jews; the lights go out from noon to three; an earthquake hits just when He breathes His last; the Centurion says, "Truly this was the Son of God".
But-most of all-His burial suggests that the judges got it wrong: In Isaiah 53, the Messiah is "numbered with the transgressors" in death, but buried with all the trappings of a Righteous Man. That must have been a pebble in the rabbi's shoe.
But these things just hint at His innocence. The Resurrection proves it! In this country we have courts of appeal. If you're convicted in the Superior Court, you appeal it to the Supreme Court. If it overturns the judgment, you walk.
This is precisely what happened with the Lord Jesus. The human courts (both Jewish and Gentile) found Him guilty of high crimes and worthy of death by crucifixion. But He appealed the verdict-and after reviewing the case for three days and three nights--the Supreme Judge overturned their judgment and set Him free! The Lord walked out of that Tomb the way an innocent prisoner walks out of his cell: a free man!
If all their contradictions are false, then all the things He said about Himself are true: Jesus Christ is older than Abraham; His water is better than Jacob's; His food is more nourishing than manna; and He's David's Lord-and yours too!
In the second place, it exalted Him by making Him the Conqueror of Death. Soldiers and Kings have won many great battles-some against impossible odds! But the bravest heart and the firmest will and the surest tactics never defeated Man's Last Enemy.
Death was a proud Enemy because it had never lost a war. A few battles, sure it lost them. How many times did David cheat death? The Three Hebrew Children walked out of a fiery furnace; Daniel got out of a lion's den alive; Elisha escaped a Syrian army! But death-though repelled for a time, was not beaten: it claimed every last one of these men in time.
Even the Prince of Life fell to the power of death. But then He got up and busted death in the mouth! He said of Himself,
"I am He who lives and was dead and behold! I am alive forever more and have the keys of hell and death".
By defeating Death, Jesus Christ is exalted above all others who wear the name, hero. Standing before Him, the proudest knee bends and the haughtiest tongue confesses,
"Jesus is Lord".
Finally, the resurrection exalts Jesus Christ by making Him The Father of His nation.
No names in Israel were more honored than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They weren't necessarily the best men the nation ever produced (Jacob sure wasn't!), but they were the most honored because they were the fathers of the nation. The whole People of God descended from them.
In the same way, Jesus Christ is called "the firstborn from the dead" (Colossians 1:18). This cannot mean He was the first dead man to regain his life-Lazarus had, the boy from Nain, the girl in Capernaum, and at least one man in the Old Testament era.
So, what does it mean to be the Firstborn from the Dead? In means-both in time and in priority-He is the first man to enter into the Heavenly Life. But this means that others will follow Him into that life. And one day, a whole race of men-once sinners, but now, saints every one of them-will join Him in the fullness of life He has won for us!
WHAT IT DOES FOR US
What does the resurrection of Christ do for us?
It validates our faith in Him. Unlike so many religious people, we are not following a false prophet, a false god, or a false teacher. We have put our faith in the Real Thing. We know that because He the Man we believe in used to be dead, but now He's alive!
It gives us life. By believing in Christ, we are brought into union with Him. And like community property in California, what belongs to one spouse belongs to the other-equally. Even if the man earns every last dime, his wife has an equal claim on all they have.
And even though Christ deserves the life He entered into, we have as much of it as He has! Not because we earned it but because we're in union with Him-and so what belongs to Him belongs to us!
WHAT TO DO
Think about His resurrection.
Praise Him for it.
Remember, you have a part in it-now and forever.
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