About 15 years ago I was watching a television interview of Desmond Tutu, being conducted by TV presenter John Bishop. The interview was taking place in the days preceding Easter. Bishop asked Mr. Tutu if he believed that Jesus Christ actually, physically rose from the dead. Mr. Tutu evaded answering this clear, straightforward question, and so Bishop asked him again, only to receive the same evasive religious-sounding, yet empty response. Bishop was obviously not going to let go of this question and thus with appropriate forthrightness he demanded a direct answer to his question, “Do you believe that the body of Jesus Christ actually came back from the dead after three days?” Mr. Tutu answered with great enthusiasm, “It does not matter whether or not Jesus’ body came back to life. What matters is that the spirit of Christ lives on today.”
Well I, along with millions of others, beg to differ. It does matter. It matters a lot. For the resurrection makes all the difference in the world. It makes all the difference to us who live in this world. It makes all the difference as to where and how we will live in the next world. Yes indeed, it does matter whether or not you believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
This morning I desire to show you how much it matters by looking at two portions of Scripture—Psalm 2 and Acts 4—portions that are historically separated by about 1,000 years but nevertheless are intimately connected.
In Acts 4 we find the early church of Jerusalem in a prayer meeting. The events surrounding this prayer meeting will be explained later but, for now, I merely wish to highlight the fact that, as they prayed, they quoted a portion of Psalm 2 (see Acts 2:25-26). Now this, as I am to show, was very significant, for the psalm actually portrayed the resurrection of Jesus Christ—1,000 years before His incarnation!
As we will see, when this church was opposed by those who conspired against her, she sought refuge and resolve in the biblical and historical truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus Christ mattered to them—it mattered in a doctrinal and thus a practical way. And thus it can and must matter practically to us. My prayer is that we would leave this study with a firm and practical conviction that even today the resurrection of Jesus Christ matters.
But before we look at the way in which the church of Jerusalem found solace in this psalm we must first grasp a general understanding of its context. Let me then take some time to briefly expound the words of this inspired song, which laid such a strong foundation for the faithful prayers of the early church.
Setting the Stage
According to Acts 4:24, Psalm 2 was written by David. It was probably written for the practical purpose of being sung at the coronation of Israel’s king but, quite obviously, its ultimate purpose was to celebrate—yea, to prophecy—the then-future coronation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Briefly, the Psalm pictures Jesus being opposed by the world (2:1-3), which the church of Jerusalem applied to the political conniving of Herod and Pilate (Acts 4:25-27). The next part of the psalm (2:4-6) informs us that man’s attempts to thwart God’s purposes were/are absolutely vain. The scene in the throne room of heaven upon Christ’s resurrection is then recorded (2:7-9). Christ is enthroned as King, He is promised the reward of the nations, the rule over all. The psalm concludes with the admonition to human rulers to beware to submit to the rule of Jesus Christ, for His sovereignty is not to be taken lightly (2:10-12).
As indicated, the church at Jerusalem understood this psalm to point to the resurrection of Jesus Christ; it thus gave them great encouragement in the midst of intense opposition from those who conspired against them. They knew that the resurrection of Jesus Christ mattered because this psalm clearly identifies four ways in which it mattered. Let’s take a brief look at how the resurrection of Jesus Christ practically matters. We will perhaps find that it matters a lot more than we actually think.
The Futility of Rebellion
The resurrection matters because it reminds us of the futility of rebellion. Rebellion is a very serious issue. All rebellion is aimed ultimately at God. Sinful man resents God’s authority and the result is a concerted effort to “cast away” these “cords.” This hostile attitude is clearly revealed in the opening stanza of this psalm:
Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.”
The text describes two issues that are at the root of this rebellion.
First, we see the hostility of man towards God. This is astounding: man conspiring to commit deicide. It is very evident throughout history that sinful, natural man hates God and thus, given the opportunity, will seek to murder God. The natural man does not want God telling him what to do. Fallen man sees God’s law as an undesirable constraint and thus he despises God’s authority. Clearly the history of the evil world system is one of man’s concerted effort to do away with the knowledge, and hence the interference, of God in the affairs of man. And this was the whole issue behind the crucifixion. Jew and Gentile joined hands in seeking to dethrone God. Though the Romans and Jews were bitter enemies, their shared enmity toward God was one thing upon which they could agree. And thus they conspired, albeit unwittingly, to murder the God-man; He who was the express image of God. As much as the Jews despised the rule of the Romans, they hated the rule of God a lot more.
But note secondly that the hostility of man is accompanied by—yea, fuelled by—the depravity of man. The psalmist asked in astonishment, “Why such a vain thing?” That is, what folly to oppose almighty God! And he is right. How can man seriously think that he can fight God and win? The answer to this question lies in the fact that man is totally depraved. Natural man has a reprobate mind, which cannot think straight, and thus his perverse mindset seriously thinks that he can oppose God and be victorious.
When we study the events leading up to and following the crucifixion we see this depravity at work. There is so much blatant dishonesty and injustice in the arrest, trial and crucifixion of our Lord. No one comes out from this looking clean; not even Pilate, who sought to wash away his guilt by water and by anaemic words of blameshifting. Depraved indeed! But let us note that the problem is universal: the “people” and “the kings of the earth.” Rich, poor, black, white, male, female, developed or undeveloped: all are depraved and thus in grave rebellion against God. The manifestation of the rebellion may vary from culture to culture but the root is the same: hostility due to depravity. And in every case, whether in the civilised or uncivilised world, the attempts to dethrone God are absolutely futile! And the reason for the futility is because Jesus Christ has risen.
The conspirators thought indeed that they had removed the threat of God’s rule from their midst. But the empty tomb three days later proved that they had failed. Yes the resurrection of Jesus Christ matters, for it shows the futility of rebellion against God.
Will you not cease your vain efforts and fall the feet of the risen Saviour? Believer, will you please consider this and be emboldened in your faith as you realise that God’s purposes will stand and the world’s evil plans will fall!
It would also be helpful for us to see that it is precisely the resurrection of Jesus that often further highlights the rebellion of man. For the resurrection declares loud and clear the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and it is this which so threatens the natural man. But note also that the resurrection solves the problem. Because Christ is God, He has all power and thus no one—no one—can stand in His way.
Hence, the resurrection highlights the depraved hostility of man as well as the futility of rebellious man. In spite of a comprehensively evil effort to keep the Anointed One from becoming King, the King arose and today rules!
The Sovereignty of God
The resurrection matters because it points us to the sovereignty of God:
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.
This is a wonderfully encouraging portion of this psalm. These verses highlight what God thinks of man’s rebellion towards Him. He is not threatened in the least. On the contrary, He laughs at man’s attempts to dethrone Him. His response is akin to, “Who do you think you are? You—despise me?! You must be kidding!” God is seen here responding with both scorn and wrath. He is not threatened by their attempts but is angry nonetheless, and justifiably so.
When we observe the text it is very illuminating that when God enthroned the Lord Jesus Christ as the Head of the church He did so in the context of righteous anger. Psalm 2:5 clearly sets the tone for the action of 2:6. Thus, with righteous anger God the Father sovereignly enthroned Jesus Christ as the Head of the church, as the King of the kingdom of God.
The church of Jerusalem understood this and they both prayed and proclaimed this truth (see Acts 4). Man’s attempts to dethrone God are futile precisely because of God’s sovereignty, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ visibly portrays this. Consider that the Jewish mob and Roman authorities assumed they had removed this political threat to their power. But, as the songwriter said, “up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.” The resurrection was the Father’s righteous scorn of the hatred of man. Man attempted deicide. What they actually accomplished was political, national, and religious suicide. The risen Lord defeated both apostate Judaism and pagan statism.
We need to note again that there is wrathful tension here. God the Father was indeed angry at this wicked deed. Yes, in His sovereign plan He allowed and used it, but it was nevertheless evil. Thus He coronated His mistreated Son and gave Him all authority, all sovereignty, over His enemies.
Believer, be encouraged by the resurrection of Jesus. God is angry with the wicked every day and there will be an accounting. Yes, the resurrection matters, for it points us to the gloriously comforting sovereignty of God.
The Authority of Jesus Christ
The resurrection matters because it assures us of the authority of Jesus Christ. Psalm 2:7-9 are a sound byte from the scene in heaven upon the resurrection and immediate ascension of Jesus Christ:
I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
As the Son arrives in heaven upon His resurrection, He is greeted with the words of these verses. The Father tells him than He is reborn. That is, He will never again carry the flesh of fallen man. As the Last Adam He has a glorified body and will have it forever. He was justified in the Spirit and thus glorified in His body. By virtue of this He has complete dominion over the nations—all of them! All He needed to do was to ask, and ask He did:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Yes, the resurrection matters, for it resulted in Jesus Christ being granted all authority, which He will exercise this until the end of human history (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-28). Jesus Christ rules by virtue of the resurrection.
Someone has written and others have sung the truth that you can’t keep a good man down. How true this was with regard to the God-man!
I was recently asked a good question with regard to the word “redemption.” The enquirer was under the impression that it was the resurrection that secured our redemption and thus the cross, it was assumed, did not accomplish redemption. But this betrays some confusion.
When Jesus Christ died on the cross He indeed paid the redemption price. Redemption was accomplished and applied at Calvary. But had the resurrection not taken place I could not say this. It was by the resurrection that the Father vindicated, justified the claim of Jesus on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The resurrection was the proof that Jesus had indeed fulfilled all the requirements laid upon Him as the Last Adam. And with this fulfilment came the rightful claim to “all authority in heaven and on earth.” The resurrection matters, for by it we see that Jesus Christ is indeed the rightful Claimant of the title “Lord.” He has all authority indeed!
Many practical issues flow from this, but let me focus briefly upon one: the church is assured of victory in the Great Commission. I must confess that, as the week progresses, I often feel my eschatology changing. In some ways, as the week progresses and the weekend arrives, I feel like a “pessimillennialist,” but by the end of the Lord’s Day I am once again an “optimillennialist!” Why? Because resurrection Sundays—all 52 of them—remind me that Jesus Christ is God and thus He rules—absolutely. The nations will come to recognise this.
Believer, Jesus has all authority over whatever it is that ails you (see Acts 4:30). Oh that we would learn to pray and to trust our Elder Brother and loving Father. The Lord Jesus rules over all and every and thus we need to pray and believe that He does!
The Responsibility of the Nations
The resurrection matters with regard to the responsibility of the nations, and 2:10-12 make this abundantly clear. It follows quite naturally from what we have just seen that, if Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, then all are responsible to pay homage to Him:
Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
These verses present a sobering warning to the nations to take this responsibility serious, for all will indeed give an account to Him. The nations can either live under the threat of vulnerability to His wrath, or they can bow the knee and enjoy the security of having Him as their loving and caring Lord.
We live in a very self-assured age. A can-do mentality rages in the West. Nations, political leaders, the powerful and the wealthy often confuse themselves with God. “Might is right” is the underlying philosophy of many. Wealth is perceived to be the key that unlocks all doors to fulfilment. Thus, “Who needs God?”
Well, 2:10-12 make it abundantly clear that if people and peoples fail to properly reverence King Jesus then they will suffer His anger when He decides to unleash it. In other words, a people cannot shun the authority of the resurrected Lord with impunity. He will one day act against the continued rebellion of those who refuse to bow the knee.
Believer, we need to be encouraged that the reckless evil and devious rebellion that so pervades our culture is vulnerable to defeat; and defeated it will be.
Sometimes we are tempted with the thought that all is well in a godless society. We wonder why the wicked prosper. But be assured that the axe could fall any moment. The risen Lord will not tolerate evil forever. Sin is vulnerable to judgement.
But we must also be encouraged that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is grounds for great security; that is, for all who will bow the knee. According to our text, all peoples that persist in hostility toward Christ the risen King will be punished, but all who pay homage to this King will be pardoned, accepted and thus protected from His wrath.
As much as the nations of the world would like to think that they autonomous and they will answer to no transcendent Authority, the resurrection shouts loud and clear that they (and we!) are responsible to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Countries speak much of “national security,” a concept that is important to all of us. But the issue of national security is fulfilling the national responsibility to bow to Jesus Christ. And this usually occurs one individual at a time.
Yes, believer, the resurrection of Jesus Christ matters, for our eternal security depends on it.
The Opportunity of the Church
As we draw this study to a close, let us reflect on the all-importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as it practically applies to the church, to us as the Body of Christ. To do so we need to spend a few moments looking at how the early church, located in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, interpreted this psalm. I believe that we will be greatly encouraged.
It is very important for us digest the fact that the first New Testament Church saw this psalm as fulfilled in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ, with specific reference to His death, burial and resurrection. And the truth of this psalm was a great encouragement to them long after Jesus Christ arose. That is, the resurrection of Jesus Christ mattered to them, not only as a historical fact (which it was), but also as a day-by-day, practical truth. We see this in the way that they made reference to it in their heartfelt prayer as recorded inActs 4. Let’s understand the backdrop for the inclusion of this psalm in this early church praise and prayer meeting.
In Acts 3 we read that Peter and John were used of God in a dramatic way at the temple. A man who was lame asked for money. Peter and John confessed that they had none but that what they could offer was infinitely more valuable than coins. In the name of Jesus Christ they commanded the man to rise and walk. To the astonishment and joy of all (except the ungodly religious leaders) the man was soon seen to be “walking and leaping and praising God.”
Peter had no desire to be the centre of idolatry and thus very quickly he took advantage of the opportunity to witness to the Person and Work of Christ. With no small amount of courage he pointed to Israel’s guilt, as a nation, for rejecting the Lord Jesus and choosing a murderer over Christ. Peter presented this condemning evidence and then proclaimed the astounding news that this same Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father. And lest anyone should doubt, the apostle offered himself and John as witnesses of the resurrected Saviour. He then appealed to them to repent and to turn to God through Christ for forgiveness of their sins. He added the warning that Jesus will come again, soon, in judgement and thus they should not delay their repentance. And thus, this message of conviction and condemnation ended with the glad tidings that God is willing and able to bless and turn them from their iniquities. Forgiveness was available because Christ had risen!
Word soon spread to the religious and civil leaders and they arrived on the scene at the beginning of Acts 4. Among these religious leaders were those had been instrumental in the conspiracy to put Jesus to death: what goes around comes around! These religious and Jewish civil leaders arrested Peter and John upon hearing that they preached the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But, despite their hostility and persecution, many were converted and the church grew to some 5,000 men.
Alas, there is nothing like success to enrage the hypocrites and so they proceeded to interrogate these faithful preachers. Again, the apostles gave witness to the resurrection (Acts 4:8-12). The scene that follows in 4:13-22 is very heartening. The officials commanded Peter and John to no longer preach in the name of Jesus. They politely refused this request, and boldly proclaimed their first loyalty, which was to preach the gospel, that which they had personally witnessed. Thus, after further threatening, the officials let them go. It is in what follows that we see the significance of Psalm 2.
Upon their release, Peter and John assembled with many of the church and reported on what had transpired before the Sanhedrin. What happens next is very instructive. The people did not praise Peter and John, as the modern day church might do, but rather praised God. A spontaneous prayer meeting broke out, and what a prayer meeting it turned out to be! Those that chose to stay home and watch TV that night would have been sorely disappointed!
When the early church prayed, they quite literally prayed biblically. In Acts 4:24-30 we read the words and catch the feel of their prayer, and in 4:31 we see the beginning of the answer to their prayer:
So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ.’ For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
When they began to pray they acknowledged the Sovereign Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth. This is vital, especially with regard to the day in which we live. We pray to the one and only true God; the God who rules all. The early church quoted Psalm 2 in their prayer—2:1-2 verbatim. But then they seem to have used poetic license in the remainder of their prayer, for the content of these words, though not a verbatim quote of Psalm 2, lines up very significantly with the rest of the psalm. God then dramatically responded to their prayer and the church went from strength to strength as they continued to be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection (4:33).
Let me summarise the vital issue that presents itself in this scene: this whole picture is one in which the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is central. It was because of His resurrection that the lame man was healed; it was because of Christ’s resurrection that the apostles were arrested and persecuted; it was Christ’s resurrection that laid the foundation for their gospel preaching, preaching which they were now commanded to cease; Christ’s resurrection was the focal point of this church’s prayer, for it was Christ’s resurrection which was central to Psalm 2, the psalm that they prayed; and it was Christ’s resurrection that they continued to proclaim long after this event. My point: the resurrection mattered to them; it must also matter to us!
Dear believer and beloved church, let us be convinced of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then live in light of this historical fact. Just as the early church persevered with boldness in the proclamation of the truth, so can we. But only if, like them, we see that Jesus Christ has risen and that He thus currently reigns. Oh, that we would believe this! Oh, that we would, with true faith, pray like this! Oh, that we would be done with a woe-is-me attitude and rather with biblical faith say, “Woe unto the people who refuse to submit to our risen King!”
The account in Acts 3—4 is a tremendously encouraging study, for we see in it parallels between that which the early church experienced and the prophetic events of Psalm 2. In both cases, we see a conspiracy to remove God from the picture of human history. And in both cases the conspirators are seen to fail. The rulers were defeated by the living Lord in both instances. The early church realised the futility of man’s sinful rebellion, grasped something of the sovereignty of God, believed the authority of Jesus Christ, and understood the responsibility and accountability of the nations to the risen Lord. We need this same understanding in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The fact of the matter is that all conspiracies aimed at dethroning God are doomed to fail. Consider that Satan, the mastermind behind all these efforts, has sought to defeat the seed of the woman ever since the garden. And he has consistently failed. The world conspired against God in the days of Noah and God destroyed them; the same diabolical conspiracy emerged at Babel and God subsequently destroyed their efforts, laughing at their futile attempts; the nations of the world sought to destroy Israel, the vehicle for the seed, only to be destroyed, with most of them never rising again. The history of the world is the history of evil conspiracies to thwart God’s plan, and thus it is the history of God gaining victory after victory.
Make no mistake: conspiracies abound today. Governments seek to silence the voice of the church by legislation, often labelling the truth of God as hate speech and refusing the church permission to preach this truth. In many cases, there is outright persecution. Powerful social and religious figureheads seek ungodly alliances, manifest in such movements as Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). Paganism, as displayed through New Age philosophies, the practice of witchcraft, radical feminism, the homosexual agenda, and such like all have one aim: to dethrone God from His rule. But let us be encouraged that these will all fail, just as did the conspiracy at Babel. And just like the conspiracy in Jerusalem. Yes, because Jesus Christ is risen, the knees—even pagan knees—will bow.
The church of Jesus Christ needs to return to the tonic of Acts and realise that the same Jesus who powerfully intervened time and again in the early days of the church is willing and able to do so today. In fact, we may still be in the days of “the early church!” The issue is: will we believe and pray, as did the church in Jerusalem?
Does the resurrection matter? Of course it matters! But the real question is, Are you making it—are churches making it—a matter of practical truth in daily living? Does the resurrection, in practical ways, matter to us?
Is it not interesting that the early church was not moved by the opposition of its enemies, but that she rather sought the Lord to so work that her enemies would be silenced and that Christ would be glorified? Yes, they were outnumbered, but that did not matter, for what mattered was that Jesus Christ was alive and thus very real to them.
In one of his books, Peter Jones quotes Pastor Tim Keller in Manhattan, who notes that the early church soon forgot the location of the empty tomb because Jesus, through the Spirit, was so real to them that they had no need for a shrine to honour Him. Oh, that He would be so real to us! The early church in Jerusalem was a witness of the resurrection, not merely of doctrine. Jesus was real to them and thus they were neither ashamed nor fearful to speak of Him; they were not hesitant to call others to their responsibility to pay homage to the Son of God.
And so it can and must be with us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a promise of great victory for His church. Let us go forth with boldness, believing that He is indeed with us, even to the end of the age.
A word of biblical caution is appropriate at this point: we must guard against a false triumphalism, by which we deceive ourselves into thinking that all will be rosy ahead of us if we only get a glimpse of the reality of the resurrection. There is nothing in Scripture that would paint that kind of picture. Suffering is indeed a part of the Christian life. In fact, as you continue reading the Book of Acts you encounter a church that faced much conflict. The church indeed experienced the power of God in Acts 4, but they also experienced satanic problems in the next chapter, and a sectarian problem in the chapter following that. And yet, in all of this, they experienced the grace of God and, indeed, nations were reached. We should expect nothing less. The thorns in the church’s side may never be removed until death, but God’s grace will always be sufficient.
Contrary to what Desmond Tutu claims the actually, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ does matter. To say all that matters is that the Spirit of Christ lives is utter nonsense! If Jesus Christ did not rise, then what would be the value of the example of a liar? For Jesus claimed that He would rise physically. If He did not, then we have no meaningful motivation to follow His teaching. But Jesus did rise! And His resurrection does matter! Does it matter to you?