Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Vindication of God

Texts:    Colossians 2:1-15; Matthew 28:1-10

      SEVERAL YEARS AGO, A BOOK of essays was published called God in the Dock.  It's by C. S. Lewis, and the title comes from criminal trials in Great Britain, where the defendant stands the whole time in an elevated open box, exposed to the stares and censures of everyone in the courtroom.  Lewis's argument is that we modern people no longer see ourselves on trial before God the Judge; rather, we put God on trial and act as judge over Him.

    You know how it is.  We put God in the dock for public disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornados; for private suffering like disease, poverty, and murder.  This is the wrong way around, since it's our sin that disrupted creation and causes us to do evil to one another every day.  If God wanted to, He'd have every right to wipe every one of us out all at once, for the wages of sin is death, and all of us are sinners.

    But there was a time when God was really in the dock.  It was a dark Friday afternoon outside the city of Jerusalem, nearly 2,000 years ago.  On that day a Man hung on a cross, being shamefully tortured to death for the crime of claiming to be God.  At the foot of that cross, and in hiding in the city, were women and men who knew that Man had never done an unjust or wicked or sinful thing in His life.  Yet this Man was suffering the most degrading, agonizing, disgusting form of execution practiced by a civilized society, a death designed to show to everyone what a low, despicable being the crucified criminal was.  Was that Man really guilty of what His enemies charged?  Were all His friends and disciples wrong in calling Him the Righteous One?  Or was the holy God actually turning His back on a truly innocent Man? After a few hours the Man was dead and buried-- and the wages of sin is death.    Could this Man ever be vindicated?   Could God?

    We know that that Man dying on the cross outside of Jerusalem that day was Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  For the rest of that Friday, all the Sabbath, and into the eve and morning of the first day of the week, His disciples hid and mourned and simply could not understand.  God was in the dock, and it seemed as if the verdict would come in "Guilty."

    But as the Gospel according to Matthew tells us, early on the first day of the week, just as the sun was beginning to rise, Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" went to Jesus' tomb.  Matthew doesn't tell us whether the women knew that the tomb not only was closed with the customary stone, but also was sealed and guarded.  He only tells us they intended to "look at it," and very likely, to mourn.

    In any event, it didn't matter.  For as the two Marys approached the tomb where Jesus lay, a violent earthquake shook the ground and angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat on it.  His appearance so frightened the guards they fainted away  like dead men.  And Jesus' tomb?  It was -- empty.

    Empty before the stone was rolled away.  Empty before the earthquake sent the ground reeling.  Empty before the angel descended and sat and greeted the women as they approached.  "Do not be afraid," he said to them, "for I know you that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."

    "He is risen, just as He said."  And then, as the women hurried away to tell the Eleven the incredible news, Jesus Himself met them.  As it says in verses 9 and 10, "‘Greetings,' he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'"

    Jesus the Crucified One was risen!  He was alive!  He was risen, just as He said, risen indeed!

    Brothers and sisters, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ means many things to us, in this world and the next.  But one of the most important and magnificent things it declares is the vindication of God.  God was in the dock in the crucifixion of His Son.  But now, Jesus Christ is risen from the grave, and God the Son, God the Father, and we who believe in Him have been fully justified against any imputation of sin or censure: Divine vindication has come.

    First of all, the Man Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has been vindicated.  Did anyone think He was dying for His own sins on that cross?  No! The resurrection proves He was the Sinless One, dying for the sins of the world.  The resurrection of Christ proved that He, Himself, was totally righteous and innocent.  The grave could not hold Him, death had no power over Him.

    The resurrection vindicates Jesus' claims to be one with God, to be God Himself.  Only God has life in Himself; only God has power over death.  In John chapter 10, Jesus tells His opponents,

    The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.

Jesus had declared that He would rise, that He could rise, for He is the only-begotten Son of God the Father.  In Him all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Col. 2:9).  He is the head over every power and authority, including death.  And by His resurrection, His divine claims are proven true.

    The resurrection vindicates Jesus' word as the word of God: "He is risen, just as he said."  Any human can preach comfort and holiness and beautiful ethics and morality.  But only someone who was God and who spoke the very words of God could promise that He would come back to life after being crucified, and actually do it.

    The vindication of Christ our God assures us that He and His word are to be trusted.  His sinless life and death has the power to save us from death and hell.  His word is to be received as the very word of God, for He was and is God, come to us in human flesh, risen from the grave, and ascended in that same flesh into heaven. When He says He will give eternal life to whomever believes in Him, we can take Him at His word.  Jesus was no criminal blasphemer, suffering on a Roman cross for His own sins:  He was and is the glorious Son of God, and as He hung there dying (as it says in Colossians 2:15), He was [disarming] the powers and authorities, [making] a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

    The resurrection of our Lord Jesus vindicates God the Father as holy and righteous. The dying thief whom Luke records admits that he and his fellow-thief were suffering the just punishment for their crimes, but this Man Jesus had done nothing wrong.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus, who didn't believe Jesus was already risen, asserted that He had been a godly and true prophet; in fact, they'd thought He was the Messiah sent to redeem Israel.  How could a good and righteous God allow a Man who had kept His Law perfectly to suffer death and decay like any other sinner?

    But, as Peter preached on the first Pentecost, God did not abandon Jesus to the grave, nor did He allow His Holy One to see destruction.  In raising His Son from the dead, God the Father proves that He is righteous and is on the side of the righteous.  God is vindicated against any charge that He is indifferent to evil or blind to what evil men and evil forces do.  No, even on the cross God was defeating evil, and the resurrection of Christ points forward to the Last Days when all righteousness will be vindicated and death, sin, and the devil will be crushed under the feet of our triune God forever.

    The vindication of God the Father in the resurrection of Christ assures us that the prayers of His saints are heard.  We can trust that at the right time He will rescue us from all our troubles.  And in the meantime, we can know that our sufferings have meaning and purpose.  God is our heavenly Father who loves us, and though, as Peter tells us in his first epistle, "for a little while [we] may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials[, t]hese have come so that [our] faith-- of greater worth than gold, though refined by the fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

    The resurrection of Christ is not only the vindication of God, it is also vindication from God, vindication for us sinners whom He has called to belong to Him.  God is too holy to look upon sin; we sinners cannot endure in His presence.  Our sins have earned us the punishment of eternal death.  On the other hand, He has chosen us before the creation of the world (as it says in Ephesians 1) to be adopted as His sons in Jesus Christ.  How can God the Righteous adopt unworthy sinners without violating His holy justice?  How can He maintain His holiness and still fulfill His plan to admit us into His love?
    In Romans 3, Paul writes that God presented Jesus

    . . . as a sacrifice of propitiation, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice . . . at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

The resurrection of Christ proves that His death was an atoning sacrifice for our sakes.  It demonstrates that His blood totally paid the penalty for our sins, and in Him we can stand fully accepted before the throne of God, as His beloved daughters and sons.  Christ is risen, and we are vindicated before our holy God.

    In our Colossians reading, Paul reminds us that formerly, we were dead in our sins.  We were "uncircumcised in our sinful nature,"  which is to say that we were outside of the saving covenant between God and His faithful people.  But now, God has made us alive with Christ, the One who was dead and is risen again.  Now we "have been given fullness" in Him and share the divine fullness which is His.  We have "been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through [our] faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead."  Colossians 2:14 assures us that in his death, Jesus "canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross."

    When Jesus was crucified, our sins and guilt were crucified with Him.  And with them died the punishment we deserved for them under God's righteous Law.  In Christ we are fully vindicated.  All charges against us have been wiped away!  As it is written in Romans 8, who can bring any charge against God's elect?  God Himself justifies and vindicates us!  Who can condemn?  Jesus Christ, who died and was raised to life, sits at the right hand of God interceding for us!  In the resurrection of Christ we can be assured that all our sins are forgiven.  And not only that, but through our risen Saviour we also enjoy all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, knowledge of the deep, deep love of God and wisdom of how He used the shame of the cross to bring us, even us, to the joys of life eternal.

    And so, as Paul urges us in Colossians, let no one deceive us by fine-sounding arguments.  Let no one take us captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, that depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.  God is out of the dock, and in Christ, He has cleared us from all charges as well. 

    So don't allow yourself to be put in the dock again.  The basic principles of this world say that the dead do not rise.  Too bad for the basic principles of this world.  God has come from beyond this world and raised up His Son Jesus Christ and raised us up with Him, as well.  Unbelieving human tradition tries to tell us that Jesus didn't exist, or if He did, He didn't rise and it shouldn't matter to our faith if He didn't.  But Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death, and all our hope in heaven and on earth depend on this truth.  Human tradition says it's up to us to vindicate ourselves in the eyes of God and the world.  We have to do good deeds and keep all the rules.  But Jesus Christ is risen, and we who were dead and helpless in our sins have been raised with Him.  He and He alone has brought us into His everlasting covenant by a circumcision not done by human hands but by Christ Himself in our baptism.

    The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the vindication of God.  The women who met Him outside the tomb that morning fell down at His feet and worshipped Him. They did right, for He was their Lord and their God.  And by His blood and rising, He is ours.  Do not be afraid.  Heed the voice of the angel; obey the word of your Lord Himself.  Go quickly and spread the good news: Your full vindication has come, for Christ who died is risen, He is risen indeed!

No comments: