Mr. Doeksen, Deer Park Alliance, April 12, 2009, The Resurrection of Christ.
Summary: The question is, Did Jesus really live again? In part, a true story is revealed to us in the exceptional way it unfolds. (He tells a true story from his experience to try and show this.) The text is John 20.8, 9. Jesus did live again. For John it’s a growing belief. The story is told that you might believe. It’s true and powerful whether you believe it or not. I invite you to enter into it—see for yourself. Your story matters, but it is invited into this story. What if the disciples had never gone into the grave to see—had never seen for themselves? Enter in at your own point of contact. “Enter in; don’t be bashful about feeling great about who Jesus is and how his story has intersected yours.” I ask you to enter in from this perspective: your story will move forward because of this story. For many of you, your life looks like that of the disciples on Saturday. What happened on that day? It was a setback Saturday. There were stories that seemed to be going nowhere on Saturday. They were following after a Messiah, this idea of a King. All of these teachings and miracles were left hanging. “Where is your story stalled? Where do you seem stuck this morning? Enter in. See for yourself that you might believe.” Did Jesus live again? I’ll answer this question with four answers that unfold in the Bible. (A) Jesus’ resurrection was seen first in the word of God—in prophecy. There was enough evidence to believe in Jesus’ resurrection even before it happened. (See John 2.18-22.) But the disciples couldn’t see it yet. (B) Jesus was seen dead. He actually died, not just swooned, fainted, or passed out. The trial, the pain, the scourging, the crucifixion, the act of the executioner, the embalming, the burial for three days, and the guards posted at the grave all point to an actual death. (C) Jesus was seen alive again. Many who looked to see confirmed this. They saw Jesus. Some touched him. An individual could have an illusion; but a whole crowd will not have the same one. Jesus went out of his way to prove he was alive. You are invited to come and see for yourself. He could command you to just blindly believe. He doesn’t have to be that merciful. He gives reasons and opportunities to investigate. He ate in his resurrected state. A ghost does not eat. The eyewitnesses recorded these things, fulfilling the journalistic standards of today. (D) Jesus’ resurrection was seen, and is seen today, in the transformation of people. Peter, a coward for awhile, turned into a fearless preacher who willingly died for his faith. Jesus’ own family was transformed. The members of this family had thought he was crazy. But because he rose from the dead they ended up worshipping him as their God and Saviour. Jesus’ own enemies, like Paul, turned from being persecutors to Christians. People are changed by Jesus’ life today. His life is imparted to those who believe. In the lives of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, we see faith even before his resurrection. From these instances, do you see the life of Jesus at work from his death? Is your faith delayed? Has it seemed stalled in some way? God’s resurrection life is already at work in your life even before you see its results. Where are you stuck? Jesus’ life is already at work there, on your failed marriage, on your broken relationship, on your illness. The disciples moved from their Saturday of disillusionment to a deeper faith. With Mary, there is this moment when she recognizes Jesus. She enters in. Upon seeing Jesus, her faith is not just moving; it also has a purpose. It has direction. If you’re entering into his resurrection life this morning, there are two directions given to you. The first is, upward to the Father. The other one is outward. Go and tell others. “Jesus is alive today. And his life is bringing faith where there was none, is restoring hope where there was little, and moving our hearts in the direction he wants our hearts to move.” (He finishes with a prayer along these lines.)
Remarks: This sermon is a pleasant surprise, not because we believe it to be a passable address, but because it so far surpasses in every way the first two specimens of his that we have listened to. The question he proposes to give an answer to is, “Did Jesus really live again?” This is well answered. Obviously, some research was done. The sermon is well structured. There are some layers to it. And the application unfolds naturally from the first three points. There is this tactic of repeating, ‘See for yourself.’ This is excellent, though he could have enlarged upon the maneuver. The idea of showing the contrast between a meaningless story and the meaningful resurrection story is good. But by going too much into this meaningless story from the pastor’s life, a comic atmosphere is created and the pastor becomes the center of attention. These things work against the gospel being taken seriously. And it is not true that the truthfulness of a story is necessarily revealed, even in part, by its exceptional nature. He moves on, though, from these early blunders soon enough. He repeatedly presses the listeners to ‘enter in’ without telling them what he’s getting at. But later he puts some content to these pleas by presenting some proofs to be believed. There are some phrases that are borderline inappropriate, like ‘embalming junk.’ This term does not do justice to the fact that the spices were lovely contributions to Jesus by his loyal saints. But he was fumbling around for words to describe the embalming substance, and had to say something. Therefore we won’t make too much of this fault. Next, he says that Paul, even before his conversion, never denied the resurrection. How could the pastor know this for sure? The assertion is probably false, for Saul was a persecutor of ‘the Way,’ which includes this major tenet and fact. Furthermore, it seems difficult to believe that he was not denying this event when he participated in the martyrdom of Stephen. But this is not a cardinal issue. The scriptural anecdote about Peter and John running to the tomb seems mentioned just for fun. This is bad. The incident must be inspired to teach us something, not to make us laugh.
While the sermon is a relief to hear in many ways, there is one significant fault to mention, the consequences of which are extremely terrible. We would call this point: either his use of dainty speech, or his dread of distinguishing between the saved and the unsaved. The proper thing to call this error depends on what comes first: the chicken-like communication, or the egg that seems to have hatched it: his fear. We’ll just call it the fault of dainty speech and work from there. And so, his use of dainty language. That might sound more like a faux pas than a sin. But this faint-hearted communication of his is detrimental. Here is an example of what we mean. In one of his comprehensive invitations that can only be interpreted as going out to the congregation at large and without distinction, he says, “Where is your story stalled? Where do you seem stuck this morning? Enter in. See for yourself that you might believe.” What could be wrong with this? Let’s note right away that a phrase like ‘entering in’ is to the purpose of believing, which invitation is fit for the unsaved; but that those invited by him to enter in he calls ‘stalled’ or ‘stuck,’ which language is fit only for the saved. Speaking to the saved as if they’re unsaved (they are invited to ‘enter in’) is not so bad. But speaking to the unsaved as if they are saved (just ‘stalled’ or ‘stuck,’ and therefore not dead in trespasses) is very bad, about the worst thing a Bible teacher can do, for it causes sinners to think they need therapy instead of the regenerating grace of God. Suffice it to say that he commonly does this: he addresses both the saved and the unsaved without distinction. This is likely the result of his effort to talk in such a fashion that will not cause offense to sinners. He will not single out the unsaved from the saved. This failure to distinguish between the saved and the unsaved is a problem throughout the whole sermon. Some things he says are only applicable to the saved. But he seldom, if ever, lets us know who is being addressed. For instance, without qualification, he says, “Where are you stuck today? Jesus’ life is already at work there.” This is a presumptuous pronouncement unless Mr. Doeksen is a prophet looking someone in particular right in the eye. Here is the same kind of thing again: “Enter in; don’t be bashful about feeling great about who Jesus is and how his story has intersected yours.” Jesus’ story has already intersected with these other stories. How can he say this without qualifying who he is referring to? Is he an inspired prophet? And when he speaks of the day before the resurrection as a ‘setback Saturday,’ this seems, at first blush, to be applied by the pastor to disciples alone, whether those of yesterday or today, for sinners not yet saved are experiencing more than just a setback. So it seems that he’s referring to Christians by this term—Christians who are suffering a setback like the disciples did just before their discovery of the resurrection, saved but cast down, discouraged, and disillusioned. But though the term fits only this segment of the people, he tries to apply it to the unsaved as well, for just after this, he says, “Where’s your story stalled? Where do you seem stuck this morning? Enter in. See for yourself, that you might believe.” Of course, this ‘setback’ language is entirely inadequate to apply to unregenerate sinners who have not yet placed their faith in the risen Lord. They are not suffering a setback, but suffering from a depraved nature that needs much more than encouragement or edification. Does the Bible ever present sinners as being merely ‘stalled’ or ‘stuck’? Is that adequate language to describe souls needing to be saved from the penalty of God’s law? Is it not more true to say that they are dead in trespasses and under condemnation? Sinners need to be born again because they are more than stalled and stuck. They are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2.1.) Jesus said, “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3.18.) Does the word ‘stalled’ imply that we need the Saviour who spoke these words? No it doesn’t. And if you’re stuck, do you need anything more than a little push? If you’re dead in sins and condemned to hell, which is the truth of the matter, you need much more. You need the Spirit to regenerate you and Jesus as your Substitute. Your spirit needs new life and a suffering Saviour. The pastor uses the word ‘transformed’ a time or two. This is much better than what the words ‘stuck’ and ‘stalled’ convey sinners need. And he speaks at least once of ‘God’s resurrection life.’ If he means regeneration by that, this is excellent. But what he means we do not know for sure. The words ‘stuck’ and ‘stalled’ are his usual words to describe the need sinners have. These words imply a need that falls far short of what the sinful condition actually requires. The words come across as your needing, not a creative act of the Holy Ghost, but just a little shot in the arm. However: “YE MUST BE BORN AGAIN,” the Bible says. The ‘stalled’ and ‘stuck’ speech used by Mr. Doeksen has a Semi-Pelagian ring to it, for according to this weak form of theology, man is not dead in sin, but sick; he needs grace, but not to begin his faith, just to assist it. This Semi-Pelagian remedy exactly agrees with the need connoted by the words ‘stalled’ and ‘stuck.’ People who are stuck or stalled do not need to be saved. This is the point. This is why this dainty speech of his is so dangerous.
Another commission of the same order is this whole idea of our ‘story.’ What does it mean when we say that ‘our story will move forward’ because of Jesus’ story? Whatever it means, it doesn’t mean enough. Having a story that must move forward does not come remotely close to describing the fact that souls are on their way to an eternity of gloom and distress unless they cast their all on Christ. Indeed, we must not move forward at all, but change direction. That ‘our story matters’ just doesn’t come near to relating the fact that we are souls moving forward to an inevitable end of woe unless we embrace by faith the Prince of Peace. And ‘stories going nowhere’ does not begin to state the gravity of the situation sinners are in. Calling the death and resurrection of Christ this other story that we should enter our own stories into undermines the pastor’s effort to get sinners saved because it’s a weak, ambiguous way of presenting the need sinners have to be delivered from sin’s looming penalty. We do not object to calling the resurrection a story. A story is not necessarily a piece of fiction. What we object to is the idea that we are stories that must enter into Jesus’ story. We object to this because it does not do justice to the gravity of sin and to the glory of salvation. And because this idea is a weak, dainty way of presenting depravity and grace, it undercuts the pastor’s effort to urge sinners to cast their souls on Christ for safe keeping. The ‘story’ language weakens the object of the sermon, which is to convince the listeners to enter into Jesus’ eternal love and care.
The four proofs, as strong as they are, have very little incentive attached to them for achieving this end of getting souls to repent and believe. If you want to persuade sinners to ‘enter in’—then you have to speak about what they must leave in order to it, and what will happen if they refuse. You must discard your dainty euphemisms and speak honestly, plainly, directly, and biblically. You have to get down to what sins these people are hanging on to—what treasured habits are barring their entry—what sinful amusements they love more than a rescue from everlasting misery. If the sermon does not come down to this uncomfortable level, the preaching will likely be taken as a pep talk from which to glean strength to labor on in unbelief for another week, nothing more. You are ‘stuck,’ and so the sermon gives you a push. You enter your stalled story into Jesus’ story, and you are moved by it for a little while. This is all these dainty sayings are capable of. If you’re not dead in trespasses and sins, but only ‘stalled,’ then all you need is to get into a story that will move you just enough to budge you out of your rut. But there you are, out of your rut, but still on the broad way that leads to destruction. There’s the danger of preaching with ‘kid gloves.’ Your listeners will not understand the radical change that must be undertaken, both by the Spirit who saves by grace alone, and by the sinner who presses into the kingdom so much as to take it by force with hands emptied of cumbersome sins. In other words, regeneration and repentance must be preached. If a sermon is going to be all things to all people—to a mixed multitude of saved and unsaved persons, as it seems Mr. Doeksen is bravely and properly attempting to achieve here, then distinctions need to be made. And the only way to do that is to speak of the sin nature and of sins particularly on the one hand, and of mortification of sin and the outworking of faith on the other; of initial repentance for some, and of persevering repentance for others. Mr. Doeksen never tells us why Jesus died or why he was resurrected. If sinners are not told these things, why would they feel compelled to enter in? If the incentives for entering in are the remission of sins and an admission into heaven instead of hell, then should these incentives not be included in a message on entering in to Jesus’ life? To get into the reasons for Jesus’ death and resurrection would necessitate a preaching of sin. Are we being too speculative when we suppose that he does not tell us about the incentives because he does not want to preach aspects of the truth that will make his congregation uncomfortable? And why does he not want to make anyone uncomfortable? Because if he does, this will cause discomfort to himself! This sermon is factual. But it is not convicting, for no incentives are given to compel us to believe. That our story will ‘move forward’ is not an incentive. That we will remain in our condemned state forever unless we believe—this is an incentive. He focuses on God being at work on failed marriages, illnesses, and relationships. What about sin? What about the kinds of sin? What about the sin nature? These are the things we need God to work on. These are the things that need to be preached.
Conclusion: Mr. Doeksen should remember the method by which he prepared this sermon so he can imitate that in sermons to come. Then if he can teach and discipline himself to make a distinction in his address between saved persons and the unregenerate crowd, there might be a glimmer of hope. And then if he can bring himself to preach to the unregenerate as sinners in peril instead of disconsolate persons needing a lift, the glimmer might metamorphose into a little flame. If these things are not done, there is no reason to believe that he has been led by God to execute this holy profession he is presently scrambling, and failing, to discharge.