C.J. Mahaney is president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which is devoted to the establishment and support of local churches. Formerly the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md. for 27 years, Pastor Mahaney also currently serves on the council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and on the board of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He has also written several books including Humility: True Greatness and Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing.
C.J. Mahaney began with a brief amount of the self-deprecating humor for which he is known. He joked that being asked to speak between Sinclair Ferguson and R.C. Sproul was a possible result of writing a book on humility. He also noted that his formal education significantly lagged behind that of the others. With a brief expression of appreciation for R.C. Sproul’s ministry, C.J. took to his message in earnest.
C.J.’s topic was “The Resurrection of Jesus” and his text was I Corinthians 15:17.
C.J. noted that although we will soon celebrate Easter, as a people we tend to keep the topic of death as far away from us as possible. Yet we must remember that our hope as Christians is not in the avoidance of death, but in the triumph of Christ over death. C.J.’s purpose today was pastoral and personal. He wanted to apply the doctrine of the resurrection to our souls – and specifically as it relates to death.
He confessed that each day he tries to avoid making eye-contact with death. For example, he carefully avoids the obituary section while reading the newspaper. However, Spurgeon said,
“We know that we will die. But we tend to imagine that it will be far off somewhere in the distance. But death will not spare us because we avoid him.”
THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON DEATH
Unlike us, the Bible does not avoid the topic of death. It hits it head on. The Bible tells us that death is God’s just punishment for and against our sin. Adam and Eve were given tremendous freedom, with one mere prohibition. They used the gift of life to rebel against Him. They experienced immediate spiritual death and eventual physical death. Recall the monotonous repetitions of “and he died” in the Old Testament genealogies. And someday that will be said of me – and of you. “And he (or she) died.”
Each of us is born with a sin nature. And each of us is guilty of actual sins against God. But why death? Why death as God’s just judgment against sin? Death is God’s limit on creatures whose sin is that they want to be God. Death represents God’s determination to limit our arrogance. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Heb. 9:27) Spiritual death leads to physical death which (in due time) ushers in eternal death.
“Why am I belaboring the point of death?” C.J. asked rhetorically. Because we must not approach the resurrection as a mere point of doctrine. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most gracious provision for sin, death, and judgment. It proclaims that sin, death and judgment do not have the final word.
TWO THINGS THE RESURRECTION ANNOUNCES
1. Forgiveness of sin. Divine provision has been provided to those who merit divine punishment.
Every blessing of God hangs on forgiveness. Without forgiveness, we cannot receive God’s blessings, since His wrath is justly upon us. And the blessing of forgiveness is totally hinged on the resurrection of Christ. (I Cor. 15:16-17)
Without the resurrection, “we are still in our sins” awaiting only eternal condemnation and wrath. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is his public vindication. It represented God’s decisive demonstration that Jesus had not died in vain, that salvation had truly been secured on our behalf.
However, it is easier to affirm this doctrine than it is to apply it. Sadly, it is possible to affirm the resurrection and yet live as if still under sin.
A) Are you certain of the forgiveness of your sins? Or do you think that you need to add your obedience to that of Christ? If you do, you will be more familiar with sin than with grace and more familiar with sorrow than joy. Because Jesus was raised, you are free from the penalty and power of sin – and one day will be free from the presence of sin.
B) How grateful are you for the forgiveness of sin? We must never mature beyond gratefulness for the forgiveness of sins. Not in this lifetime, and not in the next. The effect of this knowledge of our forgiveness ought to be our continual amazement at the grace of God.
2. Freedom from the fear of death and future wrath.
If Jesus wasn’t resurrected, only death and condemnation would await us. But now death has a new meaning for us. Assurance of the resurrection sustains us with hope in the midst of grief over the recent death of a loved one (or in the midst of the fear of the inevitable process of our own dying).
C.J. then told a gripping story of an emergency landing into Orlando International Airport several years ago. The pilot had told the passengers that the airplane had experienced “hydraulic failure.” The pilot did not guarantee a safe landing. While thinking and praying about how to best lead his family into possible death, a thought snuck up on him: He was afraid, but not terrified. The hope of the resurrection gave him relative calm in the storm.
C.J. then recounted the story of the untimely death of Martin Luther’s daughter Magdalena at the age of 13. As she lay dying, Luther said to her, “Magdalena, my little daughter, would you like to stay with your father here, or would you willingly go to your Father in heaven?” Luther mused, “I love her very much, but, dear God, if it be thy will to take her, I submit to thee.” After she died, Luther said, “Beloved Lena, you will rise and shine like a star, yea, like the sun.” Luther was assured of the resurrection, and it made all the difference in the midst of His grief. We grieve not as the world grieves. (I Thes. 4:13)
Whether or not we are dying, we ought to be preparing to die. George Marsden in his magnificient biography on Jonathan Edwards noted that Edwards spent his life preparing for death.
Dr. R.C. Sproul’s father showed him how to die well. Though a non-Christian teenager at the time, the future Dr. Sproul was present as his father died uttering the words, “I have kept the faith, I have finished the race.” The resurrection taught Dr. Sproul’s father how to die well. (I am told that Dr. Sproul recounts this story in Surprised by Suffering).