There are a thousand different ways to unpack the meaning and significance of the resurrection of Jesus. There aren’t enough books in the world that could capture the glory and beauty of this event. Which is freeing, because it means that there’s no need to cover it all in one sermon. Instead, what I’d like to do this morning is answer two simple questions: Who killed Jesus? Who raised Jesus? And then I want to show why the complexity of that answer is good news for us.
Why do I say that the answer is complex? Listen to some passages:
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:23-24 ESV)
and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. (Acts 3:15)
let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. (Acts 4:10)
The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. (Acts 5:30)
And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, (Acts 13:28-30 ESV)
And this isn’t just in the book of Acts.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11 ESV)
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)
And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. (1 Corinthians 6:14 ESV)
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ESV)
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, (Hebrews 13:20 ESV)
From these passages, we can answer the questions. Who killed Jesus? Wicked men killed Jesus. According to the plan of God, yes. But who took Jesus’s life from him? Evil and rebellious men did. And who raised Jesus? God the Father did, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the dominant way that the Bible speaks of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, it’s almost universal. (Sometimes we do get a simple passive: “He has risen” or “He was raised,” without clarifying who did it). But the point is this: According to the way the Bible almost always speaks, Jesus was passive, both in his death and in his resurrection. Death was something that was done to him (by men). Resurrection was something that was done to him (by God). That’s clear enough, and there’s a whole sermon series there, about the importance of the passivity of Jesus in his death and resurrection. You heard some of the reasons in those passages. Because God raised Jesus, he will give life to our mortal bodies. Because God raised Jesus, we are saved from the wrath to come. Because God raised Jesus, he will raise us by his power.
But for this sermon, I want to complicate the matter by drawing attention to the few places where the answer to our questions is different. Let’s begin with John 2. In John 2, after the wedding at Cana where Jesus does his first “sign,” Jesus travels to Jerusalem for Passover. While he’s there, he becomes enraged that God’s holy temple has been turned into a place of trade, and so he drives out the money-changers. At that point, the Jews ask him for a sign. And here’s what he says:
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22 ESV)
How does this passage answer our two questions? Who killed Jesus? The answer is the same: men will destroy the temple of Jesus’s body. But who raised Jesus? “I will raise it up.” This is different. Jesus is not passive in his resurrection here. He will be active in his resurrection, in the restoration of the temple of his body. And when he is raised, his disciples remember that he promised this, and they believe in the word of Jesus.
So now the answer has become more complicated. Who killed Jesus? Men did. Wicked men who hated him and rejected him. But who raised Jesus? God the Father raised a passive Jesus. And now Jesus is active in his own resurrection. One more passage.
In John 10, after Jesus has restored sight to a blind man in John 9, he’s having a conversation with the Jewish leaders. And in it, he uses an extended image of a shepherd and sheep to explain his purposes in his ministry. He is the door for the sheep; you come through him and you’re safe and you find pasture. He distinguishes himself from thieves and robbers, and from hired hands.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11 ESV)
Now, I’ll come back to the distinction between a good shepherd, a thief, and a hired hand at the end. For now, I just wanted you to hear that twice Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Farther down in this passage, he becomes even more explicit.
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18 ESV)
Note this: Who kills Jesus? No one kills Jesus. We actually need to reframe the question. Who is responsible for the death of Jesus? Jesus is. He lays his own life down. And again who raised Jesus? Jesus did. Not only does he lay his life down, but he takes it up again.
Now you can see the complexity. Wicked men take the life of Jesus. No one takes the life of Jesus. The Father raises Jesus from the dead. Jesus raises himself from the dead. Now why does God do this? Why is this complexity in the Bible? Because God wants to make clear, that this man Jesus, this man who was executed and this man who was miraculously raised from the dead after three days, is not merely a man. This man is also God. God alone has the power of life and death.
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV)
God says, “Only I have the power of life and death.” And here in John 10, Jesus says, “Me too.” When Jesus says that he has the authority to lay his life down of his own accord, and that he has authority to take it back up at will, he is claiming to be Almighty God. And that shows that the death and resurrection of Jesus is mind-blowing. It is something completely and utterly unique. A good man who is killed by wicked men is typical. Happens all the time. A good man being raised from the dead is unusual. It gets our attention, and we think that this man must be special. But Jesus is not just a special man whom God especially loves. He is Almighty God himself.
By asking these two simple questions and noting the complexity of the biblical answer, we can see why the church throughout history has affirmed that Jesus Christ is “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man…one substance with the Father as regards the Godhead, and one substance with us as regards the manhood.” In other words, here at the cross and at the resurrection, we clearly see the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus has two natures—a human nature and a divine nature. And these two natures are joined together in the one Person of Jesus Christ.
Where Do We Put Our Trust?
Now if you’re a Christian, I hope that this sermon is clarifying for you. That in itself is valuable. It’s good to see clearly why it is that we affirm that Christ has two natures, that in his death, he is passive—he’s killed by wicked men—insofar as he is a true man, and that in his death, he is absolutely active and in control insofar as he is true God—no one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord. In his resurrection, he is passive with respect to his humanity—the Father raises him from the dead, and in his resurrection, he is active with respect to his Deity—Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days, because I have authority to take it up again. It’s good to have clarity on our theology.
But that’s not the only good of this sermon, and it’s not the ultimate reason I preached it. To see why this clarity matters, turn with me to Psalm 146.
Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
Notice that we should not trust in a son of man. Why? Because sons of men cannot save. Why can’t they save us? Because they die. Their breath departs, their bodies return to dust, their plans perish. They can do nothing for you. No son of man, no human being, can ultimately do anything for you. And so, if you look at the crucifixion of Jesus, and all you see is a good man killed by bad men, then why would you put your trust in him? But what if there was a Son of Man who was more than a son of man? What if there was a Son of Man who sent his breath out and then called it back in? Whose body went into the ground because he put it there, and he brought that body out of the ground in triumphant power? Whose plans did not perish on the day he died, but instead his plans came to fulfillment in his death? What then? That would be a Son of Man worth trusting in, because that Son of Man is also the Son of God, God Himself.
And why does that matter? Read the rest of Psalm 146.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. (Psalm 146:5-9 ESV)
In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God planted a flag in the midst of this broken and rebellious world, in the midst of the pain and the suffering and the sin and the death, and he said, “Come to me.” Are you oppressed? I will deliver you. Are you empty? I’ll fill you. Are you enslaved to lust or bitterness or anger or fear? I’ll set you free. Are you blind and in the dark and you can’t see? I’ll open your eyes. Has life leveled you so that you’re bowed down in the dirt? I will lift you up. Are you a wanderer, a lost sheep? I’ll show you the way. Are you an orphan? I will be your Father.
Some of you in this church feel so stuck, so wrecked. Where are you going to look for help? A son of man, in whom there is no salvation? When your prayers go unanswered and your deep desires are unfulfilled, where will you place your trust? When your plans fail and come to nothing, where will you look? When your life feels like wave after wave of hardship and suffering? When the missionaries call a few days after Christmas and say, “Our eight year old little girl was running through the house and she tripped and hit her head, and now she’s gone?” When our babies die in the womb, or out of the womb, or we’re desperate to have a baby in the womb and we’ve got nothing? When young moms get cancer and have to seriously face the prospect of never seeing her children graduate high school? When the depression settles in with its numbness and dullness and you despair of ever getting out of the darkness? When tragedies and injustices and threats are magnified across social media so that horrific occurrences that are 1-in-a-million begin to feel real and ominous in our imaginations? And as a result of these, fear smothers your joy and you live in constant dread that those you love will be taken from you. Where are you going to look?
I promised I’d come back to Jesus in John 10. Thief, hired hand, good shepherd. We’re the sheep. Some of you right now feel like Jesus is a thief. You feel like he’s after you, like he wants to take from you, and wreck you, and destroy you. Now you’re a Christian, so you know that’s not true, but it doesn’t stop you from feeling it. Others of you, feel like Jesus is a hired hand—he’s there in the good times, and he bails when it gets hard. When darkness falls, when the wolves come, Jesus seems absent. You don’t think he’s malicious; you just feel like he doesn’t care, like he’s indifferent to your suffering. And if you see Jesus as a thief or as a hired hand, I just want to ask you to lift your gaze and see the cross and the resurrection. Because he laid down his life for you, of his own accord, to protect you from the thieves and the wolves. He took his life back up again, that he might turn around and give it to you. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
This is why we believe in Jesus. Let’s pray.
Table and Font
Normally at this point in the service, I would be inviting the pastors up and directing your attention to the Lord’s Table. This is the Table of Death and Resurrection, where we remember that Jesus is a good shepherd and he has laid down his life for us. But this morning I’m going to direct your attention to the other sacrament of the church—baptism. Baptism too is deeply linked to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 ESV).