What do you do when you have doubts about something?
Two weeks ago I was visiting Liz in the hospital quite regularly and I was always doubtful whether or not I would be able to get there via Highway 330 because they kept talking about closing the ring dike on the north side of Morris. So every time I was planning on going, I looked at the webcam which is mounted on the south side of the bridge to confirm that I could still cross. I had doubts about the highway being open, but the webcam assured me that it was still open.
With many things such confirmation comes quite easily. We just have to know how to ask the right questions in the right places, but sometimes confirmation is not so easy to get. I recently heard the story of Lonnie & Pat’s courtship. They told us that they met, then corresponded for a while because they lived far apart and then a while later they were in the same region and dated for two weeks and at the end of that time were engaged. They told us that the morning after the engagement, they both had serious doubts. How do you get affirmation at such a point? They didn’t, but went ahead and more than 25 years later I guess they know.
Today we have come together to celebrate resurrection. We celebrate resurrection every Sunday, but this is the one day in the year when we particularly mark this event. It is a very important event for Christianity. Earlier in the service we read in I Corinthians 15:17, 19, "…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." So the resurrection is absolutely critical to what it means to be a Christian. But what if we doubt that it ever actually happened? How can we confirm the fact of the resurrection so that we can go on living confidently in the resurrection?
There are a lot of pieces of evidence including the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts of the apostles, the changed lives of the disciples and the powerful growth of the church in the face of persecution. This morning I would like to add one more piece of evidence that arises out of Psalm 16. As we look at this passage we will be encouraged with the truth of the resurrection but we will also be encouraged to think about what it means to live in the resurrection.
Read Psalm 16.
In this Psalm, David, the king, expresses thanks and praise to God for some of the blessings which he recognizes to be his in his relationship with God. In verse 2 he acknowledges that God is his Lord and that in God he is truly blessed.
He speaks in verse 3 about the blessing of relationship with other faithful followers of God and mentions that those who follow God are his delight.
In verse 5 he speaks of how God has provided for him and how he experiences security because God takes care of him.
He rejoices that life is good in verse 6. Reflecting on the assignment of the land by God when they first entered it, he expresses thanks for the piece of land he has received as his inheritance. I can identify with his expression “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” because I often think of this phrase when I recognize all the good things I have in life.
Verses 7, 8 talk about the blessing of God’s counsel because he recognizes that God has taught him the good way to live which leaves him secure and confident that he will not be shaken.
In this recitation of God’s blessings and all the hope he has because God cares for him we come finally to verses 9b, 10 where we read, “…my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay."
What does he mean by this? He speaks specifically about his body when he expresses confidence that his physical body will “rest secure.” His hope is that his physical body will not decay in the grave. He expresses confidence that even though he may die, God will not let him stay in the grave. Even though he is buried, his body will not decay because God will raise him from the grave. This is a very powerful statement and we should not diminish its meaning. Did he really believe this or was he overstating the case? Perhaps in his joy about all the blessings of God, perhaps he was a little too enthusiastic.
The Psalm is written out of David’s experience and out of his hopes. How could he write this? How could it be true? Because the Bible is very clear about what happened to David. 1 Kings 2:10 tells us, "Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David."
So what do we do with this verse? Was David just expressing a wish? What did it mean to him?
We also have placed our hope in such a promise. We hope that Jesus rose from the dead and that we also will rise. When we read Psalm 16, we could apply it to ourselves. We hope that it is true and that our body will not be abandoned to the grave and that it will not see decay. But this hope is hard to hang on to. Every day people die - not only the ones who are evil, but also those who are good. Many of us have experienced the passing of someone dear to us and have struggled with it and at times come to the place where we doubt the promises. We ask, “If Jesus rose, why are people dying?” We know that everyone who dies is abandoned to the grave and we know that those who are placed in the grave decay. The realities we see around us cause us to doubt life after death and to doubt resurrection. All who read what David wrote here fear death. David had confidence, but died. We have confidence, but we die. What can restore our hope? What can confirm that the promises are true?
So what do we do with Psalm 16:9, 10?
These verses are quoted twice in the New Testament and both times the message is the same and helps answer our questions.
Acts 2:22-39 is the account of what happened on the day of Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit was an unusual experience and those who observed it wondered what it meant. Peter stood up to explain this event and in the course of his explanation pointed to Jesus. While he accused the people of responsibility for the death of Jesus, he also affirmed the resurrection of Jesus. To a Jewish audience who knew and relied on the Old Testament Scriptures he proved to them that the resurrection of Jesus was something that God had already predicted. In verse 25 he said, “David said about him…” and then quoted verses 8-11 of Psalm 16. By so doing he demonstrated Old Testament proof for the resurrection. Then in order to explain these verses he pointed out that David died and his body had decayed and they all knew this because he was buried and his tomb was known to be among them. Then he affirmed that David spoke these words as a prophecy which expressed the will of God that one of his descendants, the promised descendant who would be eternal king, was the one about whom this passage was written. He affirms in verse 31 that Jesus was not abandoned to the grave and that his body did not see decay. Therefore, Peter understood Psalm 16 to be a prophecy about Jesus who fulfills this Psalm perfectly.
Acts 13:26-39 has a similar message. Paul and Barnabas and those with them had sailed from Antioch and had come to the other Antioch which is in Pisidia. On a Sabbath day, Paul spoke in the synagogue to a Jewish audience. In this region far from Jerusalem, he proclaimed to them the message of Jesus. He spoke to them about how the people of Jerusalem had killed Jesus, according to prophecy and that He was buried. He announced to them that “God raised Him from the dead.” This was the fact, but how could he convince them that it was true?
One way he did so was to tell them about all the eyewitnesses, who had travelled with Jesus and after his death had also seen him alive.
He also affirmed the fact of the resurrection by pointing to the promises which God had previously made. He told them in Acts 13:32 that “what God promised our fathers he has fulfilled by raising up Jesus.” Then Paul presented three quotes from the Old Testament, Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10. Once again he used the same argumentation that Peter had used by pointing out that David “fell asleep, was buried with his fathers and his body decayed.” In contrast, he pointed out, however, that, “the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.”
So once again we see that Paul also understood that Psalm 16 was not about David, but about the son of David, Jesus in whom these verses were fulfilled perfectly. He died, and was buried, but he was not abandoned to the grave. His body was disposed in the place where bodies normally decay, but his body did not decay because God raised Him from the dead.
What this way of looking at these Scriptures does for us is affirm the fact of the resurrection. We can know that Jesus was raised from the dead because the tomb was empty. We can know that Jesus was raised from the dead because he was seen by many eye witnesses. We can know that Jesus was raised from the dead because He works in the lives of those who put their trust in Him and continues to change them and we can know because He is building His church in a powerful, miraculous way. We can also know that Jesus was raised from the dead because God promised long ago in the days of David that He would rise from the dead and when He did rise from the dead, that prophecy was perfectly fulfilled in Him and Him alone.
So as we affirm the fact of the resurrection, it gives us courage to live with confidence in the hope of the resurrection and therefore to live in the power of the resurrection. Each of the passages which we have looked at today has things to say about this power and this hope.
In Acts 2 when Peter concluded his message he wrapped it up by saying, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Although there is an element of accusation in this statement which will bring about conviction, there is also a powerful affirmation about who Jesus is. Because of the resurrection, Jesus was made both “Lord and Christ.” These two terms point to the highest position in the universe.
Christ refers to the one promised by God from the beginning of the world who would come and restore all things. In Jesus, we have a promise that all things that are broken in this world will one day be restored. Broken relationships, a broken physical world and a broken moral world can be completely restored and will be completely restored because Jesus is the Christ who came for this purpose. What hope this gives us as we suffer! What hope this gives us as we look for some way out of the awful things which surround us in this world!
The fact that He was made Lord reminds us that because of the resurrection, Jesus is the sovereign over the entire universe. He is enthroned. Whatever kings or powers may rule on this earth, ultimately they must all submit to the Lord Jesus. Because we have a relationship with Him, we are encouraged to also rest in Him in hope because He is Lord.
Both of these chapters also point to the promise of forgiveness and new life.
Following the accusation that they were responsible for the death of the one who was both Lord and Christ, the people responded with sorrow for their sin and wondered what they could do. Peter answered that the response to this promise of the resurrection was to repent, be baptized and receive the forgiveness of sins and the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Acts 2:39 assures us that this promise is for us as well. If you are here today and still living in your sin, the promise of God is that because of the resurrection, forgiveness of sins is possible and to live in the resurrection is to live with the promise that our sins are forgiven in Jesus. The invitation is extended to anyone who is suffering under guilt and the burden of disobedience. Jesus offers both forgiveness and the power to live a new life. If we want to live in the resurrection we are invited to respond to these promises.
In Acts 13:38 Paul says, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” The next verse reminds us that this was written to people who all their life had tried to be pleasing to God by their obedience to the laws of Moses and had discovered by experience that they could not do it. We understand this because no matter how good we try to be, we still fail to comply with all that is required to achieve goodness. Law can never bring us righteousness. But Jesus, who lived in righteousness, was killed violently as a substitutionary sacrifice for us has been affirmed as the way to righteousness by the resurrection from the dead. Because Jesus died and rose again we know that His sacrifice was accepted and we know that we can have our sins forgiven and so accomplish in Jesus what we could never accomplish by our efforts.
From time to time the sins of our youth come to haunt us and Satan may remind us of all the things we did wrong when we were young. Whenever that happens, we have complete authority in Jesus to declare boldly that we are forgiven in Christ and are under no guilt for those former wrongdoings.
From time to time the frequent repetition of sins that we can’t seem to shake discourage us and make us feel that nothing is really different in us and Satan seeks to defeat us by suggesting that our guilt is as great as ever and that there is no hope that we will ever be clean. Once again, on the authority of Jesus we can rest in the knowledge of sins forgiven and know that when God looks at us He does not see our sinful brokenness, but the purity and holiness of Jesus because through the resurrection our righteousness has been guaranteed and we can live in freedom from guilt.
Finally, all of Psalm 16 becomes a living reality because of the resurrection.
As I have suggested, it is a little difficult to know how David understood it. Was he writing in hope that it would be true? Was he overstating the case and just expressing hope that God would deliver him from a present difficulty? Was he expressing hope in something beyond the grave? Was he aware that it was a prophecy that he was writing? I am not certain about these things, but I am certain that because of the resurrection of Jesus the truth of these statements in verses 9, 10 are true for Jesus and for David and for us. Jesus is the only one about whom this was completely and immediately true. He was not abandoned to the grave and His body did not decay. David died, was buried, and his body decayed. But because of the resurrection of Jesus his body will be brought back from the effects of decay when Jesus returns and David will be among those who are raised from the dead in the last day. In the same way, because of the resurrection of Jesus, even though we may die and our bodies may decay in the grave, that decay is not permanent. We also hope in the final resurrection of our physical body and have a certainty, because Jesus rose from the grave that our bodies will not be abandoned in the grave, but will be raised to eternal life.
If that is the certainty we can have because of the resurrection, then we have confidence to also proclaim and express hope in all the rest of the things which are written in this Psalm. When Carla’s aunt passed away we received an inheritance. When that money was deposited in our account, a change took place in our thinking. Although we had always had enough, somehow the presence of that larger than usual deposit allowed us not to worry about some of the smaller bills and even allowed us to do a few extra things. The large deposit that God has given is the resurrection of Jesus. Since that is true, it gives us the freedom to have confidence in all the gifts and blessings of God and to hope in Him in everything.
With David, we can have hope, because of the resurrection, that God will hear our prayer, as we read in Psalm 16:1.
Because of the resurrection, we have even more reason to rejoice in our relationship with God and say with David, “…apart from you I have no good thing.”
The joy of community is expanded because of the body of Christ which has been formed due to the resurrection of Jesus.
No matter what life brings us, God’s blessings and promises are always with us so that we can say with confidence, “you have made my lot secure.” Life now is good with God helping us and we can rejoice in the pleasant places because we know that God leads us in the path of life and gives us joy in His presence.
Finally, because of the resurrection, we can rejoice in our “delightful inheritance” and in the hope of “eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
Spurgeon wrote the following poem:
“Since Jesus is mine, I’ll not fear undressing,
But gladly put off these garments of clay;
To die in the Lord is a covenant blessing,
Since Jesus to glory through death led the way.”
Truly because of the confidence we have in the resurrection, we are greatly blessed and can live in hope and with great joy.
What confidence do we have in the resurrection?
Our confidence comes because of all the evidence – the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts, and the church. To that evidence we add fulfilled prophecy! God fulfilled His promise and Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead!!
With such assurance, may we have great confidence to live in the resurrection!