January 22, 1995
The meaning of the resurrection is a central issue in Christianity. Paul taught that to fully grasp the significance of Christ’s rising from the dead, we must first understand the basics of the Gospel. To demonstrate its priority in the life of the apostle, Alistair Begg traces a line through Paul’s various letters, reminding us that it is only by this Gospel that we are saved. If we marginalize the resurrection, we water down the good news of salvation
Sermon Transcript: Print
Can I invite you once again to take your Bibles and turn to 1 Corinthians 15?
Before we turn to the Word of the Lord, let us turn to the Lord of the Word:
Father, we pray now that you will take my words and speak through them, that you will take our minds and help us to think clearly, that you will take our hearts and change them, and that you will take our wills and make them obedient to your truth. We ask you to help us now, that we may be able to focus on you. We pray that you will enable us to turn to your Word undistracted and quickened by your Spirit. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In coming to 1 Corinthians 15, we come to a chapter in the Bible which, as much as probably any other chapter in all of Scripture, is able to stand alone. Certainly, if we were to take one chapter out of 1 Corinthians in totality—the whole sixteen chapters—and be able to study it absent of the wider context, 15 is that chapter. It wouldn’t be 13, although many would immediately guess that—and hopefully none of you, because we saw how important it was to study 13 as it existed in the middle of 12 and 14. But here in chapter 15, we come to fifty-eight verses which are addressed to one doctrine in particular, to one express area of teaching and instruction—namely, the whole question of the resurrection.
Now, we said prior to Christmas that in studying the truth of the incarnation, we were at one of the very foundational aspects of biblical theology, and that the other was the truth of the resurrection. So I’m very glad that in the course of study we find ourselves here this morning. All of Scripture is timelessly relevant; therefore, 1 Corinthians 15 is too. But there is a sense in which, at this particular point in our culture, 1 Corinthians 15 and the truth that it contains speaks to us in a way that is quite striking in its application. Because we are living in an environment at the present time that is increasing preoccupied with the issues of death and dying: “Now, what will happen when I die? Where will I go when I die? Do I go immediately to heaven? If not, then where? How do I know if I will go anywhere? How do I know if there is anything after death? Is it significant? What will it mean?” And out of all of that has come a great preoccupation with out-of-body experiences, a renewed focus on ancient religion’s preoccupation with reincarnation, and by and large, it is not difficult at the moment to engage people in conversation on the whole question of eternity, spirituality, and the matter of the afterlife. So 1 Corinthians 15, I believe, is going to be an expressly helpful tool for allowing us to engage in dialogue with those who are unconvinced concerning the claims of biblical Christianity.
It takes until the twelfth verse of the chapter before we recognize just why it is that Paul is writing in this way. And in the twelfth verse, he asks the question, “If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” There were some people in the Corinthian context, and that’s what they were saying: “There isn’t going to be a resurrection.” They may have thought that it was over, that it had already happened, whatever—we’ll come to that in the coming weeks—but for the time being, we need simply to notice that Paul is addressing some who were declaring, “There is no resurrection of the dead.”
Others, according to verse 35, were actually more struck by the sheer practicality of it all. They were stumbled by the idea of it. And in verse 35, he’s going to address this question of the resurrection body: “Someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’” And these are the questions, of course, that our children ask us—and over which we stumble, most of us. And hopefully, by the time we conclude our studies in 1 Corinthians 15, we will at least be better able to answer the questions which our children are asking.
I must say to you that I am anticipating this series of studies as much as any that I have done in a long time. I have not studied a tremendous amount in 1 Corinthians 15. I’ve been reading it, I’ve been sketching outlines on it, but I have not done much of the work on it, and frankly, I’m on my tiptoes; I can hardly wait to find out what I’m going to say, to tell you the truth. It’s a tremendous, exciting chapter.
Some may be tempted to believe that it is actually far from that—that it may be interesting, but it is an exercise in arm’s length theology. And Paul addresses this in verse 16 and 17 of the chapter, where he says, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” In other words, the issue of the resurrection is not of marginal significance. It is a crux issue; it is the crux issue. It is, I would suggest to you, the one issue, more than any other, that believers need to mug up on, need to understand, need to read books about, need to be prepared to dialogue on. Because it allows us to go directly with our friends to this baseline of discussion. And we’re able to say to them, “Listen, let’s discuss the resurrection for a wee while, because if the resurrection is invalid, then the rest of it is a total waste of time discussing.” And so often our friends will want to discuss this and that and the next thing—many things which are of interest and not insignificant—but I want to encourage you to be schooled and enabled to be able to engage in dialogue at this level.
And in order to realize just the primacy of it all, I noted down ten things that are immediately true if the resurrection is not a reality. Now, I went through these very quickly in the first hour, and I’m going to go through them just as quickly in the second. I apologize for that, but these are not the ten points of my sermon, alright? If you get them, fine; if you don’t, call the office, we’ll give them to you.
If the resurrection is not reality, a number of things follow. Number one, preaching is empty of meaning. Preaching is empty of meaning. There is no point in me being up here at all, and there is no point in you being out there. Secondly, faith is empty also, because it has absolutely no foundation. Any professions of faith are empty and devoid of substance. Thirdly, Paul and all the others who proclaimed the resurrection are guilty of deceit. Fourthly, those of us who have trusted in Christ to save us are actually still living in our sins. Fifthly, death is proving stronger than God. Sixthly, the claims of Jesus, then, are untrue. Seventhly, to say that “Jesus is Lord” is a meaningless statement. Eighthly, Jesus will not be returning. Ninthly, history has no goal or purpose. And tenthly, as a human race, we’re going nowhere.
Now, if you think about just the last two for a moment—as a human race, we’re going nowhere, and history has no goal or purpose—you begin to understand what accounts for the angst that is represented in so much of the alternative music that blares out from our radio stations at the moment. I’m talking now about the kind of music that has always been and will always be somewhat out on the fringe. And the kind of stuff that is being written and sung and embraced by many in the youth culture expresses this dimension. Namely, they have concluded that history has no goal or purpose and that as a human race we’re going nowhere at all—so that life is meaningless, it is empty; it is, in the words of Macbeth, like a candle: “Out out, brief candle! Life [is] but … a poor player [who] struts and frets his hour upon the stage …. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing [at all.]”
Now, the exciting thing is that when we turn to our Bibles, we have the opportunity to go out and reach into that culture and say, “Hey, wait a minute, not so fast! Don’t let’s conclude that history is going nowhere. Don’t let’s conclude that. Consider this issue of the resurrection.” So, for those of us who like to get at the bottom line quickly, we are at the bottom line—and that is this issue of the resurrection of the dead.
Now, it’s important for us to understand our terminology. When we speak about the resurrection of the dead, the Christian claim, as we’re going to see in these studies, is not a claim for the immortality of the soul—not simply that our souls are going to be somewhere, we don’t know where, for how long, we do not know, and that there is “something more.” People say, “Well, you know, I believe there is something more.” Well, that’s fine, but that is not the Christian claim. Nor is the Christian claim the transmigration of the soul—that our souls are going to be eternal and they’re going to another zone, but we’re not sure to which zone they’re heading. Nor is the Christian claim any notion of reincarnation. But the Christian claim is the actual resurrection of the dead. Not simply the resurrection of personality, not simply the resurrection of soul, not simply the resurrection of body, but the resurrection of the whole shooting match—that God is going to instantaneously resurrect from the dead those who have died in Christ. He is going to put the whole package together in some miraculous way, just as he did in the creation of the universe.
That’s why, you see, loved ones—digressing for a moment—the issues of Genesis 1–11 are not marginal issues. For those of you who’ve grown too smart for your own intelligence and have begun to play around with Genesis 1–11, and have begun to mythologize it and change it and move it and amalgamate it with great and wonderful scientific theorems, listen: you’re going to have a hard time believing in the resurrection of the dead if you can’t believe the fact that God Almighty is able to create ex nihilo—just zap! and he’s got a universe, and zap! he’s got fish, and zap! he’s got people, and zap! he’s got flowers, and zap! he’s got days. You tell me you don’t believe that God is able to do that in the beginning of the universe, and you think you’re going to die and live in your tomb, and then he’s just going to zap you and you will be instantaneously alive again? Well, why would you believe that if you won’t believe this? And if you believe this, you’re not going to have a problem believing this. There’s not a telescope big enough to figure out what’s going on here. You can take me to the bank on that one. They will never find a telescope that takes them to the end. They will only find a telescope that takes them to another place where they need another telescope to go somewhere else. They still haven’t worked out that God is omnipresent, he is everywhere.
So this issue of the resurrection, then, is just absolutely central to the issues of Christianity. And chapter 15 is the classic discussion of the subject. John Locke, the eighteenth-century British philosopher, says of the resurrection, “Our Saviour’s resurrection … is truly of great importance in christianity; so great, that his being, or not being the Messiah, stands or falls with it.”
You see, when you think about it, it’s the resurrection that transforms things in the New Testament. The disciples were a gloomy little band of guys after Jesus was taken away and crucified. Indeed, they were fearful, and they were hiding behind locked doors. And then all of a sudden, they are totally different. Jesus has arisen from the dead. And suddenly they’re out and they’re hitting the streets, and their message is very clear. It’s the message of the resurrection.
Acts chapter 2, you can find this in the sermon that Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost. He says to them, “[Listen folks,] God raised [Jesus] from the dead”—verse 24—“[he freed] him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Now, why would he come out and say that if he believed that all that had happened was that Jesus—who by that kind of mentality was nothing more than a super rabbi who had died—why would anybody come out in the street and say, “You know, Jesus has arisen from the dead,” and in Acts chapter 4 stir up the wrath of the Sadducees and the temple guard and the priests by, in verse 2, declaring the fact of the resurrection? Luke records, these people “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” And so “they seized Peter and John … because it was the evening, they put them in the jail,” they gave them a hiding, they put them back out in the streets, and they hit the streets going, “Let me tell you something: Jesus is alive from the dead!”
Now, let us get to the issue before us this morning. The Corinthians were not disputing the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s not the issue. They were confused and they were unbelieving about their own resurrection. And Paul wants them to understand that for the Christian, life down here is simply hors d’oeuvres. It’s just the first course. It’s the soup course. This isn’t it! I mean, frankly, if this is it, even on its good days it’s not that great, is it? It’s certainly not heaven. We lose our loved ones; they die and leave us. We’re confronted by our sins, even though we’ve been redeemed. Shadows fall on our greatest successes. Thorns cut into our fingers when we reach for the beauty of the roses. All around us is touched by pain and by decay. The world is grinding to a halt. So what do we say? We say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” But the fact is that we are only preparing for a day yet to come.
So it is that the Christians in Corinth needed to be reminded of the fact of their own resurrection—that they too were going to be raised to eternal life. And so what Paul does is, before he addresses this fact in verse 12, he begins by rehearsing a series of undisputed facts. He says, “Now, let’s lay down the things upon which we’re all agreed.” And in the first eleven verses, he simply lays down these foundational elements of truth. He is going to then, on the strength of that, go forward and establish these truths concerning what will happen to believers when they die. But he lays down the foundation upon which Christian faith rests, and he gives them, he says, a reminder of the gospel: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you [have] received … [upon] which you have taken your stand [and through which] you are saved.”
Now, why would Paul have to remind them of the gospel? What is the gospel? Well, the gospel is the good news. He articulates it in verse 3 and following. Here is the gospel: “Christ died for our sins … he was buried … he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and … he appeared.” And it is this message of the gospel which, when it takes hold of the life of a man or a woman, transforms them from the realm of merely religious individuals to those who have been brought near by the power of Jesus Christ, to the reality of faith in him.
“Now,” he says, “I want to remind you of this. I want to declare this to you. I want to make it known to you.” Why? Because it’s so easy for us to forget! It’s so easy for us to take things for granted. We do it with our children all the time, so most of what we do is a ministry of reminder in the lives of our children: “Oh, you don’t have to tell me that again, Dad.” Then they come home, they say, “Hey, thanks for telling me that again, Dad. Oh, Mom, don’t tell me that again, I know that.” But the point is, it’s all day, every day reminder of the basics.
And so it is that when we come to this, we discover that Paul’s issue is to remind them of the gospel, the good news of the transforming power of Jesus Christ. The hymn writer says, “I love to tell the story; for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.” They’re kind of like, “Hey, tell us that good one again about the good news! Tell us that—preach us that sermon again about the gospel! Tell us about Jesus dying for us and rising again from the dead! Tell us that Jesus is coming back again! Tell us that again and again and again!” And indeed, to the degree that we feel somehow or another to be sated with the gospel, or to find it irrelevant or distanced from us, is an indication of a great concern in our lives.
The late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say that when he heard the gospel preached, he felt within him a rising anticipation that was such that he felt that he might become a Christian all over again: “I’d like to become a Christian! I wish I could become a Christian all over again!” It’s the same feeling that you get when you go to a good wedding ceremony, is it not? You’re sitting next to your wife, you grab her hand, you go, “Man, I’d like to marry you again! I’d just like to do it again, get married again!” And you go to another one a couple of weeks later, you say, “Man, I’d like to marry you again!” That’s the feeling! “He told me all about the gospel and I said, ‘I keep falling in love with you over and over and over again! I love you! And I love this story.’” There’s nothing rings my bell more than the chance to come to this word, the gospel, and be forced to tell you about it all over again.
So, for those of you who’ve forgotten and those of you have never heard, let me tell you about the gospel. Let me tell you how much of a priority it was in the life of the apostle Paul. Let me show you this by tracing a line through Paul’s letters—and this may seem tedious to some, but I deliberately got all of these here, because I want the impact of it to be striking.
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1:17. Let’s say we ask Paul, “Hey Paul, what are you?” Paul would have said, without question—and we can check this in heaven—he would have said, “I am a minister of the gospel. I am a servant of the gospel. I am a preacher of the good news.” He was a lot of things besides that, but this is what he was. First Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Tremendous verse! We could stay there the whole morning. A great verse! “I’m not supposed to come here and do religious ceremonies,” he said. “I am supposed to preach the gospel. And I am supposed to do it in such a way that people would say, ‘Oh yeah, we know that!’ Not in such a way that they would say, ‘My, that’s really profound! Oh, I’m impressed with his language!’ I’m a preacher of the gospel,” he says.
Two Corinthians. We go to his second letter to the Corinthians, and what’s he talking about there? He’s talking about the Gospel. Two Corinthians 4:2, he says, “[We set] forth the truth plainly[,] we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” And what is the truth he sets forth plainly? He tells us in verse 3, it is “our gospel.” And he says, “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
This, you see, explains what it was like before we ever came to faith in Jesus Christ, those of us who are believers. We used to listen to people talk about the gospel. We used to say, “I don’t know what this gospel is!” And even when the person explained it in childlike terms, we said, “Well, I understand rationally, but you know what? It doesn’t do a thing for me. I mean, I can see that you’re excited about it, that you’re concerned about it, but it’s nothing to me!” Now, why is that? Well, the answer’s right here: the eyes of our spiritual understanding have been blinded by the Evil One. It’s not that he’s used filth to do it. It’s not that he’s covered our eyes in mud. For some of us, he’s covered our eyes in religious orthodoxy. For others of us, he’s covered our eyes in a great quest for spirituality. For some of us, he’s covered our eyes with a desire that simply in the doing of good we will be welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom. And so, when someone comes and says, “You know, the gospel means this,” we say to ourselves, “Well, it must be very important to somebody around here, but it’s clearly not important to me.”
And then there comes a day or a period of time in our lives that leads to a day in our lives where suddenly the same information delivered in the same way within the same kind of context from our same friend over the same cup of coffee around the same kitchen table, all of a sudden… And what happened? What happened was, the veil fell from our eyes. The plugs came out our ears. The hardness of our hearts began to soften up. And we began to see that this was a message for us.
Like in Wesley: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay.” As Ron said, when he says his “spirit” was “imprisoned,” it was imprisoned in religion. It was imprisoned in theology. It was imprisoned in devotion. “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.” “I was a dead man,” says Wesley. “Your eye diffused a quickening ray.” When I get to heaven, I want to ask where he got this idea from. I mean, what is the diffusion of a quickening ray? “Thine eye diffused a quickening ray.” You got this picture of a big beam. But if you want to see it through, then the beam comes from this book—okay?—and “shone right into my heart,” says Wesley: “Your eye diffused a quickening ray, [and] I woke [and my] dungeon was flamed with light.” “I got up and I said, ‘Whew! This is what he’s talking about! And I thought he was talking about “You just go, you get points for going.” I thought he was talking about “You try your best, and if you’ve done your best, you’ll get there.” I thought what he was saying was, “Try and pull your socks up.” But no! This is what he was talking about!’”
So, you see, that is why it is so exciting to sit under the Word of God. That is why it is so exciting to pray for people who are opening themselves up to the Word of God. Because we know that God will use his Word and the prayers of his people to bring out of the dungeons and out of the darkness. And the key to it all is the gospel.
Sorry about that. That was a bit of a sermon there all on its own.
Now, turn to Galatians chapter 1. Galatians chapter 1, you get the same thing. What is he talking about? Galatians 1: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are [trying to throw] you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” He said, “But listen carefully: you need to know what the gospel is. Because if you don’t know what the gospel is, someone’ll come along with another gospel, and you’re so stupid you’ll think that’s the gospel as well. You’ll take the Plain Dealer religious page, and you’ll read all that, and you’ll believe it. Then when you do that and you come and tell me that, I know one thing: I need to labor longer and harder and clearer until you dear folks understand the gospel. And when you understand that, then you will be able to detect currency which is fraudulent.”
You go to the book of Ephesians, it’s all the gospel. Go to Philippians 1:5. Philippians 1:5: “I’m very confident and thankful for the opportunity of praying for you, and because,” he says, “of your partnership in the gospel.” You go to Colossians 1:6, talking about “the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and [is] growing,” he says. You go to 1 Thessalonians 1:5: “because our gospel came to you not simply with words.” You go to 2 Thessalonians 1:8: “He will punish those who do not know God and [who] do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus [Christ].” First Timothy 1:11: “that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” Second Timothy, which is the last letter that he wrote—2 Timothy 1:8: “[Don’t] be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel.” Verse 11: “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.” It’s all gospel! It’s all gospel!
You turn back, lastly, to Romans, and look at this so clearly. Romans 1:16. Listen to him, he says, “[I’m] not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” He then goes on to show, in the remainder of chapter 1 and into chapter 2, that we’ve got a pressing problem, irrespective of our background. And the problem is this: that all of us are accountable; that all of us are in the same predicament; that all of us are confronting a No Entry sign, and there is no way that we can make ourselves acceptable to God.
He says in 3:20, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Isn’t that the truth? You go to church, and they give you more of the law: you’re supposed to do this, and you’re supposed to do that, and you’re supposed to do the next thing. The person goes out and says, “The devil, I can’t do this stuff! I had my best week last week, and I didn’t even come close to what I was supposed to be doing. The best week I’ve had in a long time! And if I’m gonna get up these stairs to heaven, man alive, I’m gonna have to pull up the socks, take off the jacket—I don’t know what I’m gonna have to do!”
Well, you see, what that person’s in need of is some gospel—some good news. What’s the good news? The good news is this: that although the road is flooded out and there is apparently no way through, there is one who stands ready with a way of escape to take you through.
A week or ten days ago, in Los Angeles, so many roads were closed as a result of flooding. We kept coming to signs which simply said Road Out, No Way, No Through Road, Can’t Do, You’re Done. There was a point at which we went round about three or four different streets, and we couldn’t get anywhere except where we were. And so we couldn’t go to where we wanted to go as a result of all the blockages that were in between. And then we discovered that somebody had cleared a way and made it possible for us to go through in safety.
That’s the good news. As a result of sin, as a result of our rebellion, as a result of the fact that I haven’t loved God with all my heart and all my mind and all my soul and all my strength, and whether I’m a very good guy with a little bit of sin or a very bad guy with a lot of sin, I’m still in this predicament. And all of my best efforts to earn acceptance with God will eventually lead to nowhere. So I’m in deep trouble unless there’s some good news coming from somewhere.
Guess what? There is! That’s the gospel! Jesus, once and for all, in his death upon the cross, bore the punishment I deserve, took the pain that is rightly mine, took my place, and in so doing bore the punishment of sin. And when God in his grace opens up my clouded eyes to this truth, I can do no other than run away to him and say, “Save me!”
Now, when you turn back to 1 Corinthians 15—which is where we’re actually studying, believe it or not—Paul summarizes it in just a matter of words in verse 3. He says, “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance,” and here you have it: “Christ died for our sins.” “Christ died for our sins.” And it wasn’t an afterthought. It was “according to the Scriptures.” In other words, you read the Old Testament, and you discover that hundreds of years before Christ, it was looking forward to the death of Jesus. Isaiah 53 is a classic illustration of it: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray,” says Isaiah, “each of us has turned to his own way.” We’re all doing our own thing, we’re all going our own way. “And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Now, Isaiah didn’t understand the fulfillment of this prophecy. Indeed, it says in 2 Peter chapter 1 that the prophets, when they spoke, constrained by the Spirit of God, were like men on tiptoes waiting to see how it would be fulfilled. But he writes and he says, “All of us are messed up, all of us going our own way. The Lord has purposed to have a Suffering Servant, a Messiah who will come, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of all of us.” Paul says, “Here we have it: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
Now, you see, when you tell this to a skeptic, they merely view the scene on Calvary, and they scoff. When you share this with a sentimental, they shield their eyes and simply feel sorry for the dying preacher. But when you tell this to the sinner—to the individual who has been made aware of their sin, has come to understand that they’re “without hope and without God in the world,” has come to realize that what drives them from inside are the cravings of their sinful nature, has come to see that they’re just moved en masse by the ways of the world and they cannot disentangle themselves, they are stirred and moved by all of this—when you spell this out for that individual, then it is like water in a dry land.
And, you see, the task of the preacher is simply to spell it out. The work of God is to bring the hearts of men and women to an understanding of their dead-end street. And when they’re at that point of greatest concern, the news that someone has opened up a way to them is something to which they must run. When Paul describes the Ephesians’ experience, he says, “You know, in Jesus Christ you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
“Now,” says Paul, “this is the message. It is the gospel. This is what I preach to you,” you’ll notice in verse 1, “which you in turn have received, and on which you have taken your stand.” And he says, “It is by this gospel that you are saved.” And only by this gospel. There is no other good news. You can go to Buddha’s tomb. You can go and find where Muhammad was buried. You can find Gandhi’s tomb. You can find Krishna. But the distinctive part about the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is that it is an empty tomb. And Paul says, “When you look at that empty tomb, and when you ask, ‘What is the significance of a resurrected Christ?’ it is that the resurrection finds its significance upon the cross, and the cross declares its applicability in the resurrection.”
Now, can I say to you this morning, dear ones, that you must examine the Bible to see whether what I’m telling you is true? If there is, you see, a variety of ways to go to heaven, then it’s silly for me to get as concerned as I am today about you. If, for example, you may go to heaven just because you were baptized, then I would be better off having a big sort of mass baptism thing. If you can go to heaven simply as a result of showing religious interest, then we will give you cards as you leave which say, “Mr. and Mrs. X have been showing a great deal of religious interest lately.” If you can go to heaven simply as a result of having come from the right kind of background and engaged in the right kind of things, then it is foolishness to speak as I address you this morning.
And so, you must examine this book to see if what I say is true. And I affirm to you, on the authority of this book, that if you do not respond to the gospel as is declared in this book, then you will die in your sin and spend eternity in hell. And if you believe that it is possible to make entry by another route, be careful. Jesus says in Matthew 7, “I want you to enter in at the narrow gate, which leads to the narrow road, which leads to life. I want you to forsake the broad road which leads to destruction, which is amply populated, but it leads down to hell.”
John Bunyan got it as good as anybody in Pilgrim’s Progress, which is probably the second book we should all read after our Bibles. And in Pilgrim’s Progress, after he has dealt with the few guys by the name of Simple and Sloth and Sleep and Presumption—funny fellows—he then encounters two chaps. I can’t tell you the whole story this morning; we did it with the children some years ago. It was a great hit. In fact, it was a great hit with the adults; I’m not sure the children got much out of it, but the adults did learn.
But Pilgrim is on the way, the narrow road to heaven. And he says—and I’ll just upgrade this for our understanding—he says that when he bade farewell to these four characters whose names I’ve just mentioned, he saw two men come tumbling over the wall on the left hand of the narrow way. The name of one was Formalist, and the name of the other was Hypocrisy. And they caught up with Pilgrim as he was walking. And as they caught up with him, he entered into conversation with them.
And he said to them, he said, “Hey guys, where did you come from, and where are you going?”
And they said, “Oh, we came from over there, and we’re going to the heavenly city.”
So Pilgrim says to them, he said, “Didn’t you see the gate down at the end here, where you’re supposed to come in? Don’t you know that it is written,” he says, “that he that cometh not in by the door, but climbs up another way, the same as a thief and a robber…?” (which is a quote from John 10:1).
And the two fellows respond by saying, “Listen, the people that go down to the gate for entrance are wasting an awful lot of time. You don’t have to go way down there. It’s far easier,” they said, “to take a shortcut. Just jump over the wall! This is a great spot for getting over the wall.”
So Pilgrim says to them, “Will it not be counted a trespass against the Lord of the city where we’re going to violate his revealed will? I mean, if he says there’s only one way, it’s through the gate, and you’re coming over the wall, don’t you think that’ll be a problem when you get to your destination?”
Formalist and Hypocrisy respond, “Hey, you don’t need to trouble your head about that. Because people have been doing this for hundreds of years—thousands of years, people have been climbing over the wall here!”
So, says Pilgrim, “Will your practice stand trial at the law?”
And what they essentially say is this: “As long as a lot of people are doing it, and as long as it’s been happening for a long time, we’re pretty well convinced that when we get to the bar of God’s judgment we’ll be able to say, ‘We know there was a gate, we know there was a way, but we tumbled over the wall, and guess what? Us and a whole big crowd of people—and you’re surely not going to throw us all out, are you?’ There is safety in numbers.”
To which Pilgrim replies… Oh! Listen to what they say. This is good. They said, “If we get in the way, what matter is it which way we get in? If we’re in, we’re in. We see that you came in at the gate; we came tumbling over the wall. What made your condition better that ours?”
And this is exactly what they say. They say, “Listen Al, listen Parkside: what is this stuff about having to admit that you’re a sinner, believe in Jesus Christ, and cry out to him for mercy? We’re good religious people. Why do you have to get onto this stuff? We’re all in it! We’re all on the way! We’re all fine! I mean, don’t make a big fuss about your gate. You can say that if you want—just don’t say it too loudly. We tumbled over the wall, us and thousands of others! And now you’re telling us who tumbled over the wall that we’re in deep difficulty because we didn’t come through the gate. We don’t like that! I mean, we wanna come to your church, and we wanna like you people, and we wanna sing and do the thing, but we don’t want this gate stuff. No gate! You understand that? We don’t want the gate! We are the tumblers. And what does it matter? As long as you’re in, you’re in. Over the wall, through the gate, who cares?”
To which he replied, “I walk by the rule of my Master; you walk by the rude working of your fancies. You are counted thieves already by the Lord of the way; therefore, I doubt [whether] you will not be found true men at the end of the way. You come in by yourselves, without his direction; and shall go out by yourselves, without his mercy.”
There’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin;
There’s a door that is [wide] open [that] you may go in:
At Calvary’s cross[, that’s] where you begin,
When you come as a sinner to Jesus.
The redeemed sinner says,
Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross he was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free
All because Jesus was wounded for me.
Let us bow in a moment of prayer.
Where you are today, without any fancy flowery language, you can cry out to God from your heart, “O God, I understand it now. This is good news. I’ve been trying this stuff. I’ve been trying, trying, trying. And now I understand it. You did it for me, and I want to trust in nothing and no one else save Jesus.”
And for those of us who profess to follow after Christ, let’s take this word of reminder and translate it into action, into daily action, so that not in a bombastic or unkind way, but graciously, with words that are “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt,” “speaking the truth in love,” we may proclaim, as did Paul, the good news.
Grant that the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our minds may prove acceptable in your sight today. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
 William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth, 5.5.
 John Locke, A Second Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity, in The Works of John Locke, in Nine Volumes (London: Rivington, 1824), 6:341–42.
 1 Corinthians 15:19 (KJV).
 Kate Hankey, “I Love to Tell the Story” (1866).
 Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be, That I Should Gain?” (1738).
 Galatians 1:6–7 (NIV 1984).
 Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 53:6 (NIV 1984).
 See 2 Peter 1:21.
 Ephesians 2:12 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 2:13 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 7:13–14 (paraphrased).
 John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909), 42–44. Paraphrased.
 Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, 44.
 E. H. Swinstead, “There’s a Way Back to God.”
 W. G. Ovens, “Wounded for Me.”
 Colossians 4:6 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 4:15 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 19:14 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.