- Luke 24:1-2
- Acts 13:26-39
- Numbers 33:3-4
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,
It is not uncommon for us, when we hear that someone died, to ask, “How old was he/she?” The younger a child was when it died evokes in us unspeakable emotions. If the person was very old, there is some contentment. We sometimes value life measured against the time spent on earth. We often value a short life as a life wasted. This is because we are born within the limits of time and space.
The celebrations of Atonement Weekend (or Easter) has a pattern: we adhere to the calendar of Jewish times. We commemorate the crucifixion of Christ on the first Friday after the first full moon following the autumn equinox. This was the day on which the lambs were slaughtered when God, at midnight, passed through Egypt and struck all households with the death of the firstborn. The next day was a new beginning for God’s people in Egypt, a day they had to celebrate annually.
On our calendar, today is the third day since Christ’s crucifixion. On the third day, He rose again—it was on the first day of the week, another seven-day cycle indication of time. In a special sense, every first day of the week to the Christian Church is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
Early that morning, now more than 2000 years ago, followers of Christ went to his grave to care for the body of their dear friend. In ancient times, people believed that one’s spirit would linger in your body for three days after you died; the fourth day heralded the fact that the body now has become a corpse, beyond any possibility of restoration. Maybe they had in mind to d something before the fourth day.
The women arrived at the place where they had buried Jesus, but He was not there! It grieved them beyond measure. They found a messenger of God who announced:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: (Luke 24:5–6, NIV)
He had not been stolen; He had not disappeared; it is no disaster, it all happened according to his word. He rose from the dead by the power of the Father who called him to life! Peter, on Pentecost Day, declared,
God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2:24, NIV)
The Lamb that was slain is the Lamb upon the throne! He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He holds the keys of death and hell. He was dead, but He is alive! So, we can sing with full voice and conviction: “Christ is risen today!” “I serve the risen Saviour.” “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
According to God’s plan of redemption
The victory of Christ over death was not unplanned unscheduled or without divine purpose. That first day of the week was no accident or a fluke of time. Christ’s resurrection was a fulfilment of a long list of promises of God to the very people who in rebellion snubbed his gracious care and providence by rejecting his ownership over them, falling in sin and with them, dragging all of creation into misery.
Already in Paradise, straight after Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God made this promise:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)
Out of the bondage of service to idols, God called Abraham and gave him this promise:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1–3, NIV)
Although Abraham did not see this promise go into fulfilment in his time, he believed this promise of God:
“Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. (Genesis 15:13–14, NIV)
Our reading from Numbers 33 takes us to the fulfilment of that promise. But first this promise of God:
“I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. (Exodus 11:1, NIV)
There was another addition to this promise:
Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbours for articles of silver and gold. (The Lord made the Egyptians favourably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.) (Exodus 11:2–3, NIV)
Then midnight came, and God struck Egypt; then, when the sun rose the next morning, everything had changed. It was a new beginning for the people of God. They had a brand-new future. Their enemy was now powerless.
Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” (Exodus 12:31–33, NIV)
Let’s go to the verse in Numbers 33:3
The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians, who were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them; for the Lord had brought judgment on their gods. (Numbers 33:3–4, NIV)
Rameses was the city to showcase the defiant and majestical powers of the Pharaoh. But now, Egypt was in tatters. The once might dynasty did have a successor on the throne. There were dead bodies everywhere. The people wailed for their loved ones; they mourned the loss of their animals. That day, more than ever, people were gathered around open graves in anguish and sorrow. There never had been anything like it. From what was left, they showered the Israelites with gold and silver, just to see them go.
The pharaoh had reigned over peoples in the northern parts of Africa, all along the Mediterranean coast, the peoples who inhabited the Promised Land, and countries including parts of the modern-day Syria, Iran and Iraq. Egypt was a mighty empire—but when God dealt with them, they were in mourning, shaken, and on their knees, struck with sorrow. The officials were divided against their king, and the kingdom was on shaky ground. The pharaoh had enough. “Leave and go!” And as an afterthought, “Bless me also.” Did he mean he was powerless against the God of Israel? I think so.
But God fulfilled the promises for his people. They marched out triumphantly. The Hebrew word has something of walking with your arms raised up in the air. Inevitably there were shouts of joy and jubilance.
Redemption in Christ a reality
Let’s now jump into the New Testament with Paul preaching the Good News of Christ to the people in Antioch. From Acts 13:17 the apostle picks it up in Egypt and makes this statement: “He drove them out of that country with mighty powers.” He proceeds along the line of God’s promise from Abraham to David and says:
Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised. (Acts 13:23, ESV)
But one would think that the Jews would have picked up the theme of the prophets about God saving grace to his people in the face opposition. But they did not! What did they do? Verse 27:
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognise Jesus, yet in condemning Him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. (Acts 13:27, NIV)
He preaches on:
When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead, (Acts 13:29–30, NIV)
What is his summary about Christ?
“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ (Acts 13:32–33, NIV)
What is the sum of it all? Listen:
“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39, NIV)
What happened to the people in the time of Moses? They were set free! They walked out of Egypt as people with a new start. The yoke of slavery was removed. They threw their arms in the air and with shouts of joy they left victoriously. Who gave them freedom? God! What happened to their oppressors? They were defeated, broken, on their knees.
What is the inheritance of those who believe in Jesus Christ? The head of the serpent is crushed. Listen to Hebrew 2:14:
Since the children have flesh and blood, He [Christ] too shared in their humanity so that by his death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— (Hebrews 2:14, NIV)
Those who believe in Christ are forgiven, they are set free, they are justified. Why? The enemy is destroyed! Satan is defeated. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul puts it this way:
Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He [Christ] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15, NIV)
Paul writes to Timothy stressing the grace of God in our redemption:
… it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10–11, NIV)
Therefore we, with arms in the air, in a jubilant song of victory, march with the Israelites out of Egypt singing,
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54–57, NIV)
Satan’s hold on God’s children is broken because from their Saviour they received the perfect righteousness which satisfies the Father. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
A warning following the Good News
After Paul connected the dots from the Old Testament through to the New to arrive at the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, he ends with this warning:
Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: (Acts 13:40, NIV)
Even then people heard the Good News, but they rejected it. There is, therefore, the possibility that even some who have listened to the Good News that Christ is victorious over death, granting freedom from sin by exchanging his righteousness for our sin to reconcile us with his Father, that some might still walk away with unbelieving hearts. May it not happen to you, my dear friend.
This message of freedom from wrath and sin is for you. Listen, repent, and follow Christ.
May God give you the grace and faith to do so.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 April 2019