David Jeremiah - Overcoming Death with Life
I began this series by telling you the story of David, the greatest overcomer in the Old Testament, and I wanna conclude it by pointing you toward the greatest Overcomer of all time, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, through death, burial, and resurrection, overcame our greatest enemies: sin, Satan, and death. Jesus overcame these enemies personally. He overcame them powerfully. And most importantly, he overcame them permanently. And that is the great message of the Resurrection. Those of us who have heard the story of the Resurrection all of our lives may forget how wondrous and joyous and life-changing it is. But in this message, I ask you to keep the Resurrection of Jesus Christ fresh in your mind.
If you want to be an overcomer, you have to start with the Overcomer who overcame death for all of us. Let's begin where some people want to begin, to disprove the Resurrection. But Jesus Christ truly was dead. And if you're one of those who struggles with the fear of death, you're not alone. To free us from the fear of death, Jesus, first of all, had to experience death. Jesus took death in his own body. His death took six hours. It was witnessed by thousands. He didn't simply swoon or lapse into a coma. He was as dead as dead man can be. The Roman soldiers confirmed this, as we know, by inspecting his stiffening corpse on the cross. They knew death when they saw it. Jewish officials could not tolerate crucifixion victims hanging on crosses on the Sabbath day, so they would often break the legs of those who were crucified to hasten their death. This would prevent the person hanging on a cross from being able to push up with his legs in order to breathe.
And when his legs were broken, he would ultimately die in just a matter of a few moments. But when the soldiers came to Jesus, if you remember the story in the Gospels, they did not break his legs. The prophecy of the Old Testaments said: "Not a bone would be broken". But they didn't break his legs, because they saw he was already dead. Had you been in Jerusalem that day, you would have seen the Lord's body taken down from the cross, wrapped tightly in a shroud, and laid in a tomb. But the good news is that Jesus didn't stay in that tomb, and there's a whole lot of evidence to prove it. The historian Luke said that: "Jesus presented himself alive after suffering by many infallible proofs". These proofs are so important to us in our culture today, and if we do not really believe in the Resurrection, we cannot be overcomers. Because Jesus is the one who empowers us to overcome through the power from which he himself was resurrected from the grave.
So, I want you to let me be Easter for you a little bit today and talk about the central doctrine of the Word of God. Because if we do not understand and believe and really process the power of the Resurrection, we are powerless ourselves to deal with the issues we face. So, if you'd been in Jerusalem that day and you had come with the women to the tomb that first morning, the first thing you would have noticed was the soldiers. You see, a Roman guard had been assigned to guard the Lord's tomb day and night. You remember that from the Gospels? So, some people said, "No, he didn't come back from the grave. He was stolen by his friends". Just stop and think about that for a moment, and you have to deal with the soldiers. And once you have dealt with the soldiers, you have to deal with the seal.
The seal, according to Matthew 27, was put over the tomb of Jesus to secure it officially. This seal was a cord. If you've ever seen this in some of the movies of the Resurrection, it was a thin cord that was stretched out across the stone that was in front of the grave. It was sealed with wax here, it was sealed with wax here, and it was stamped with the official signet of the Roman governor. For someone to have stolen Jesus's body, they would have had to evade the soldiers. They would had to have broken the seal, which would have incurred the wrath of the entire Roman Empire. Once you get past the soldiers and the seal, you gotta deal with the stone. If you'd witnessed the scene, you'd have noticed the giant stone that covered the tomb. I can't tell you how vital this piece of information is.
Matthew 27 says: "When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed". Mark's account in the New Testament says this stone was extremely large. Now, I don't know how a frightened group of disciples or a dispirited group of women could overcome the Roman guards and roll away the stone, but critics don't wanna deal with that one. When they'd buried someone like Jesus in a hewn-out stone tomb, they would create a ledge, a little ridge in front of the tomb, kind of like a slot, if you would, and they would get a big round stone, and I often thought the stone was like a boulder. No, it was big round-like stone, like this, and they would put that stone in that groove, and they would roll it up the hill, the incline, put a shim underneath it, and then after the body was placed in the tomb, they would take the shim out and roll the stone back until it covered the opening of the tomb.
That's a little different than what I thought when I first started studying the Resurrection. And when it rolled down the tomb, it slammed into place. And I did a little homework on this stone, a stone big enough to cover the opening the tomb, it weighed over 2 tons. Which is why, when the women were comin' to the tomb on Sunday morning, they were surprised to find it gone. Here's what Matthew says: "And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it". When the women came that day, they saw the stone. But here's what I believe. The Scripture uses some very special words that give you the impression that the stone wasn't even in the slot. It was over in the field by itself.
So, when they came and saw the tomb, there wasn't any stone in front of the opening. And the stone wasn't even where it would have been if it had been rolled back up the slot. It was in a place by itself. Somebody said, "Why was the stone rolled away from the tomb"? Not to let Jesus out, but so that we could see in. Jesus didn't need us to roll the stone away for him to get out. Remember, he was in his new resurrection body. He could transport himself anyplace he wanted. But the stone was rolled away so everybody could look in and see that the tomb was empty. And that brings us to the astonishing discovery that shook Jerusalem on that history-bending day. Everyone agrees that the sepulcher was empty. Paul said this thing wasn't done in a corner. This was done right in the middle of the Jewish population. Thousands of people in Jerusalem for Passover could see for themselves that Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, so recently occupied by the body of Jesus of Nazareth, was now vacant. So, as you walked down to the tomb on that first day, and you're trying to find out, "Did Jesus really come back from the grave"?
You see the seal is gone, and the stone's been moved, and the sepulcher is empty. But not quite. The sepulcher was not quite empty. There was still shroud in the sepulcher. In fact, it's a detail that often gets left out of the Resurrection story. Peter and John heard the rumors of the Resurrection, and they ran to the tomb. And the Bible says, "When John leaned over and looked into the grave, he saw something so startling that he didn't even enter the tomb". Where the body of Jesus had been placed, there were the grave clothes in the form of a body, slightly caved in and empty, like the empty chrysalis of a caterpillar's cocoon. And seeing that would make a believer out of anybody because you could tell immediately that Jesus hadn't unwrapped the grave clothes to get out. He had come through the grave clothes, and the grave clothes were still there, like a body. And not only that, the clothes that went around his head, the Bible says, "They were in a place by themselves".
In other words, where the head would have been, here was the head clothing. I mean, that would really take your breath away, wouldn't it? So, the soldiers and the seal and the stone and the sepulcher and the shroud, and then the scars. Let's fast-forward this story a little bit. On the evening of that first Easter, Jesus appeared to his disciples as they hid behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. When they came to this meeting, as you remember from your study of the New Testament, Thomas wasn't in the meeting. He wasn't there. And when he heard the reports that Jesus was alive, Thomas said, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe".
And one week later, the disciples gathered again, and this time, Thomas was there. And according to John 20, Jesus appeared in their midst again, and he said: "'Peace to you!' And then he looked at Thomas and he said, 'Thomas, reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Thomas, don't be unbelieving, be believing.'" And Thomas's response represents the climax of the Gospel of John. He said, "My Lord and my God"! "My Lord and my God"! The scars of Christ were still visible on his risen and glorified body, and they were indisputable proof of his identity. Thomas never doubted again. And according to our best traditional sources, he was a missionary who gave his life for the expansion of the church in India because of the Resurrection.
And do you know what, men and women? When we get to heaven and we see Jesus, and he holds out his hands to welcome us, those scars are gonna still be in his hands. And those wounds are gonna be in his side throughout all of eternity. Every time we see Jesus, we're gonna be reminded of what he did so that we could be in heaven with him. The scars were a testimony. And then, finally, there were the sightings of Jesus as the resurrected Lord. Had you been alive in those days, you would likely have seen Jesus as the resurrected Savior. Acts 1:3 says: "He presented himself alive after his suffering". And we know of approximately a dozen post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. One of those was to 500 people at the same time. The variety of his appearances is one reason why those who have studied the Resurrection say, "It's absolutely confirmed".
Now, you say, "Pastor Jeremiah, thank you for making me think about Easter today and reminding me of the Resurrection," and it's pretty sad that in most of our churches, we never preach on the Resurrection except on Easter weekend, and it's the cornerstone of our faith. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is really, in many respects, more important than the death of Christ, for this reason. If Jesus died, but he didn't come back from the grave, we have no reason to believe that he was any different than any other martyr who ever died. But his Resurrection proves that he was who he said he was. He came back from the grave. He did exactly what he said he would do. And then because he rose from the grave, we know for sure that the gospel is true and that our faith in Jesus is not faith in vain.
So, what does that mean to us? Now that Jesus is resurrected, the results of life overcoming death are very interesting. And I'm so grateful that I get to finish my time here in New York by sharing these with you. Our knowledge of Christ's Resurrection isn't merely an intellectual exercise. Because he lives, you can live, too, in the fullest sense of that word. Because he is alive now and forevermore, he has the authority to give life eternally and abundantly, and there are four profound and highly practical implications of this truth, and I wanna leave them with you today. Because Jesus Christ is risen, you can live a forgiven life. Before his death on the cross, Jesus watched his disciples stumble from one mistake to another, culminating in their desertion and denial of him. But somehow, all of their failures were swallowed up in the empty tomb of Christ. Take Thomas for instance. Had he not messed up and stomped away in bitter unbelief, we wouldn't have his triumphant exclamation of the next week.
As I said, John used those words as the climactic moment of his Gospel. For Jesus can turn our failures into acts of faith and faithfulness. Jesus does that for you and for me and for those we love. The Bible uses a wonderful phrase in Deuteronomy 23:5: "God turned the curse into a blessing". And that's what he did on the cross. That's what he did through his Resurrection. He turned the curse into a blessing. The life of every Christ follower is a miracle that comes from the miracle of the Resurrection. I run into people all the time, say, "Oh, yeah, I know, Pastor Jeremiah. I know God has forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself".
And I, first of all, wanna tell 'em, "There's no place in the Bible that I've ever been able to find where we're told to forgive ourselves, just for whatever it's worth". And secondly, if we could forgive ourselves, and we put our forgiveness of ourselves up against God's forgiveness of us, which one would you choose? So, if God has forgiven you, you need to quit worrying about forgiving yourself. You've already been forgiven by the most powerful God whose forgiven you of your sins. So, don't spend all your life beating yourself up over sins that God has already forgiven. Accept his forgiveness and get on with your life. Because Jesus Christ came out of the grave, you and I can live a forgiven life. He who has overcome the world believes in the Son of God.
Number two, because he is risen, we get to live a meaningful life. This was the primary point driven home by the Apostle Paul in his great chapter on the Resurrection. If you read 1 Corinthians 15, this is what he said. He said: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord". You know what the Resurrection does for those of us who are Christians? It gives meaning to our lives. The reason I preach, the reason I do what I do and travel and do all this stuff on television and on radio is because I believe the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important truth in the whole world, and that when we preach that and people believe it, it not only changes their life here on this earth, but it gets them to heaven, which is what our whole purpose is.
So, if you believe in the Resurrection and you've accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have meaning immediately. You know what it is? Tell somebody about it. Let them know that Jesus Christ can make a difference in your life. Thirdly, because he is risen, you can live a powerful life. Jesus's Resurrection was a display of unimaginable power, power that the Bible says is available to us in our world today. That's the core message of the book of Ephesians. The beaming light of the empty tomb illuminates every sentence and word in Paul's letter to Ephesians. Listen to this paragraph: "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power," listen to this, "is the same mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead".
The power that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power you have in your life as a Christian. If you're not using it, you don't know it, but it's there, and the Bible says it's available. And then, because he is risen, you can live a never-ending life. 1 Corinthians 15:20 says: "Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep". Our Lord's Resurrection, men and women, is the guarantee that when you put your trust in him, just as he was resurrected from the grave, you too will be resurrected from the grave. When the Bible says, "He was the firstfruits," that means he's the down payment. Jesus is the down payment on all future resurrections.
John 11 says: "'I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?'" Jesus triumphed over death. He will triumph over evil. You can have certain hope concerning the future. And as a pastor, having presided over many funerals, I can tell you there is a creative difference when the person who has died is a believer. You can tell the difference. You can see it immediately. You can walk into the room and know, "This person in this room, they may be in heaven, but there's no despair in the room. There's sorrow, there's sadness, there's crying".
Some people say, "Well, the Bible teaches that Christians shouldn't cry". No, it does not. The Bible says, "We sorrow not as others who have no hope". We still sorrow, but not like others who don't have any hope, 'cause we have hope, and our hope is in the gospel. I can't overcome the things of my life in my own power, but I have a risen Christ, and he lives within my heart. And when I have things I don't know how to deal with, I just take them to him, and I tell it to Jesus, as the old hymn writes. And I know that the Jesus who lives within me is the same Jesus who was crucified that Friday and the same Jesus who came out of the grave on that Sunday, and nothing is impossible with him. If he can overcome the grave, he can overcome whatever we face, whatever we deal with, whatever comes across our path.
Jesus, he's the greatest Overcomer who ever overcame, and I hope you know him. But if you don't know him, I recommend him to you, and I promise you, whatever it is you've got goin' on in your life that's overwhelming you right now, you put Jesus in the equation, and he'll make all the difference in the world. I've trusted him now and walked with him now for over 50 years. He's never disappointed me. He never out-promises himself. Whatever he says he will do, he does, and you can count on him. Jesus is enough, and I hope you know him, and I hope you know, as you leave you here today, that the most important message I have about all the stuff we've talked about is the message of Jesus, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, hallelujah.