Category Archives: Sermon/Homily

Easter meditation: Jesus’ justification and ours

Below is the manuscript of a meditation delivered at Cleveland Park Bible Church on Easter morning, 2014. I’ve lightly edited the text for easier reading.

How many of you celebrate Independence Day on August 25? Anyone? It’s an important historical event. On that day in 1825, Uruguay gained its independence from the Empire of Brazil. But we don’t celebrate August 25, because we aren’t Uruguayans. No one here gets much benefit from Uruguay’s independence. But I know for a fact that most of you celebrate July 4. Why? Because what the Second Continental Congress did in early July of 1776 has a direct impact on all of us: it gave us freedom – giving due credit, of course, to the Continental Army, the drafters of the constitution, and many, many others.

My point is that we don’t just celebrate July 4 because it’s an important day in history. We celebrate it because we have a stake in what happened that day.

That’s how it is for the Resurrection of Jesus. Of course, it’s a remarkable historical event. On Friday, a man dies a gruesome death. He’s buried in a tomb. He’s definitely dead. Then on Sunday morning, with no medical intervention, no help from anyone, he rises from the grave. And he never dies again, but instead, he ascends to heaven. That’s a great story, an astonishing event. But the reason we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus is not merely because it’s remarkable. It’s because we have a stake in it. What happened then still matters to us.

In the next few moments, we’ll reflect on two verses about the Resurrection: one of them is about what the Resurrection meant for Jesus, and one of them is about what the Resurrection means for us. And I’ll try to show you how those two things are related.

The first verse is :

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness [what comes next is a short hymn]:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

The first line of the hymn talks about the incarnation of our Lord: he was manifested in the flesh. The eternal life and glory of the Trinity broke into human history. God the Son became a man, and he was manifested: his contemporaries saw him and heard him and touched him.

The second line says: He was vindicated by the Spirit. Some translations say in the Spirit. Either way, this is a pretty clear reference to the Resurrection. And here we learn one meaning of the Resurrection. Here we discover one reason the Resurrection is so important. In the Resurrection, Jesus was vindicated – it’s the same Greek word that’s usually translated justified – he was justified by the Spirit.

Why did Jesus need to be justified? We’re used to thinking about the kind of justification we get: we’re guilty, and God clears away our guilt and declares us righteous. We’ll come back to that. But in a normal court, that’s not what’s supposed to happen. In a court of law, someone is accused of a crime, and the judge looks at the evidence. If the evidence is against the accused, he condemns the accused, declares him guilty. But if the evidence is in favor of the accused, the judge vindicates the person, justifies him, declares him not guilty.

That’s what God did when he raised Jesus from the dead. During his life and ministry, Jesus said he was God’s Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus claimed — outrageously, many thought — claimed that he always did the Father’s will. And then Jesus was arrested by the police, tried by a religious court and tried before a secular court. And he was condemned. And they executed him. And then, three days later, God raised Him from the dead. God said, by raising Jesus from the dead, “I vindicate you. I accept your work. Your faithful obedience in life, I accept it. Your faithful obedience in death, as a sacrifice for sin, I accept it.”

So the Spirit of God vindicated, justified the Son in the Resurrection.

What does this mean for us? What it means, is that we can be vindicated, too. The other verse I want to look at is – we’ll read . Paul says that “[Faith] will be counted [as righteousness] to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” So here again we see a connection between the Resurrection and justification. But this time, it’s not the justification of Jesus, but instead our justification.

Now, it’s not the Resurrection alone that justifies us. says that we are justified by Christ’s blood – by his atoning, sacrificial death. So our justification, the verdict of righteousness God grants us, is grounded in both the death and the Resurrection of Jesus. But our focus this morning is on how the Resurrection plays a part in our justification.

The reason this works, I think – the reason that the Resurrection of Jesus justifies us – is that Jesus was raised for his own justification. Think back to . The sinless son of God, a sacrifice for sin, was raised from the dead, and in that Resurrection, God vindicated him, declared him righteous: righteous in life as a faithful Son, righteous in death as a perfect substitute – which he was. You and I, through faith, are united to Jesus in his death. And united to him, all our trespasses are punished in him. And united to him, we share in his Resurrection, which means we share in his vindication, his justification. When God affirms the righteousness of his son, we share in that affirmation – not because we have produced our own righteous works, but because united to Jesus through faith, we receive all of Christ, including his perfect righteousness. And united with Christ, we receive everything that he receives: death for sin, Resurrection for justification, and one day, unending life and glory.

And so we celebrate the Resurrection today not just because it’s a momentous event, like somebody else’s Independence Day. We celebrate because the Resurrection of Jesus is our Resurrection. Because in the Resurrection, the righteousness of Jesus becomes our righteousness. Because Christ’s new life of perfect fellowship with the Father is now our privilege, our new life.

16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (ESV)

25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (ESV)

24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (ESV)

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (ESV)

16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (ESV)