Easter. So what?

This is a the sermon preached on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013 at Victorious Life Christian Church in Troy, NY.

The Resurrection, a historical event

Legend or History?

He_Is_Risen_Arthur_Hughes

 

1 Corinthians 15:3-5

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Christianity from earliest times viewed the Resurrection as a historical, physical event.

Notes

  • The Resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith, along with Jesus’s death on the Cross.
  • Yet we frequently don’t pay close attention to, except around Easter.
  • No blame for genuine intellectual doubts, but many “doubts” arise because we would rather not be convinced.
  • Many skeptics try to suggest this was a later “legend” added to a Christian mythology.
  • Yet there are excellent reasons to believe the Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letters were written in the first century, when eyewitnesses were still alive.

 

The judicial case

La_scuola_di_Atene1 Corinthians 15:5-6

… he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

These were all men, able to present legal testimony to a skeptical court:

  • Peter (Cephas)
  • The “Twelve”
  • 500 brothers at one time

Notes

  • These are all legally-qualified witnesses who could testify they had seen Jesus alive after death: Peter, the 12, the 500.
  • Paul is pointing out to his readers they could still call on these people.
  • Paul is making these statements to people who are questioning whether or not there is a resurrection, daring his contemporary readers to validate these claims.
  • Thus, these witnesses can not be dismissed without cause. Evidence would need to be produced, e.g., a body or bones, demonstrating these witnesses are liars, etc.
  • Keep in mind that Paul’s generation was as cynical about religion as modern people (even if they were more inclined to play along).
  • Serving many gods amounts to serving no god but self.

The existential case

820px-The_Conversion_of_Saint_Paul-Caravaggio_(c._1600-1)1 Corinthians 15:7-8

 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

  • James, the Apostles, and Paul were transformed after seeing Jesus.

Notes

  • James was the Lord’s brother. During Jesus’s ministry, he thought Jesus was insane. Something changed him.
  • The Apostles may include more than the 12, but let’s look at the 12. They were fearful of going to Jerusalem before Jesus’s death, and went into hiding after. Something change them.
  • Saul was a persecutor of the church, arresting Christians and attempting to make them blaspheme, and voting to put them to death. Something changed him.
  • What religion has legends about how cynical, or how weak and cowardly, or how treacherous, its earliest leaders were?

 The eyewitnesses

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasJohn 20:30-31

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

  • Other witnesses include the women who first saw the risen Jesus, the soldiers guarding the tomb, and other disciples.

Notes

  • Additionally the Gospels tell of other witnesses:
    • Soldiers (Roman or Jewish) guarding the tomb, and not exactly friendly witnesses. Clearly something happened!
    • The first witnesses were women! This would not count as legal testimony, and careful legend would overlook them.
    • There were other disciples, like those on the road to Emaus.
  • John indicates there are many untold stories.
  • Luke mentions that Jesus gave “many convincing proofs” to his followers that He was physically alive.
  • Even skeptics acknowledge earliest Christians were Jews. Something they could validate overcame their understanding that anyone crucified was cursed.

What the Resurrection means to us

The Resurrection shows us that God is real and personal

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Miraculous_Draught_of_Fishes_-_James_Tissot_-_overall1 Corinthians 15:13-14

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

  • Jesus is marked as the Man who reveals God to us.
  • We can take His claims and teachings seriously.

Notes

  • The Resurrection of Jesus is what proves to me that God is real and personal.
    • Clearly “Something” is eternal, but why should it be personal?
    • I could only know the “Something” is personal if it revealed itself somehow…
    • One way would be if there were a “Transcendant Man” in history, and clearly Jesus is uniquely that Man.
  • Falsify the Resurrection, and you have falsified Christianity. Yet the enemies of Christianity did not do this when (presumably) it would have still been possible.
  • Paul affirms that ultimately our faith depends more on the Resurrection than on, say, the Creation story.

The Resurrection gives us the Bible

toolswithbiblejpg1 Corinthians 15:15

We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

  • Four different Gospel accounts – these are eyewitness accounts, not fiction or legend!
  • The Gospels validate the Old Testament, and point to a coming New Testament.

Notes

  • This seems a bit circular, but what we’ve done is use the Gospels, along with other evidence and logic, to validate the Resurrection.
  • Now consider the Gospels were late documents giving us legends, they would have polished and coordinated their stories better.
  • Instead, the early Christians knew them to be eyewitness accounts. Like all testimony, different perspectives yield different details. They didn’t fear inquiry.
  • We find the Gospels to be truthful about the Resurrection, and thus can be confident they tell us how Jesus lived and what He taught.
  • Further, the Gospels validate the Old Testament, and point to coming Apostolic writings.

The Resurrection gives us Peace with God

jesus-in-heaven1 Corinthians 15:16-17

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

  • We know in our hearts we have fallen short of righteousness.
  • Jesus, after living the life I should have lived, died the death I should have died.
  • His Resurrection assures me that God has accepted His offering for my sin, and thus accepts me!

Notes

  • Because of our sinful state, we know we deserve God’s wrath. That is why we fear death!
  • Jesus, the Rightous One, died bearing the penalty of my sins.
  • The fact that God raised Him proves that God was fully satisfied the penalty for my sins has been fully paid!
  • Further, we see that even while we were enemies of God, Christ died for us.
  • So God loves me, not because of anything I have done or am doing, but because of His own sovereign choice to love me, a choice He paid dearly to make.

The Resurrection gives us the Physical World

NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise1 Corinthians 15:18

 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

  • Jesus was raised bodily, and someday we will be to.
  • This physical world is important to God.
  • God is glorified as we labor in our vocations, even in the face of futility and frustration, failure, sickness, and persecution.

Notes

  • Resurrection is physical and bodily, both for Jesus and (eventually) for us. It isn’t only about “spirit”. (This counters heresies that Jesus was only spiritually raised.)
  • Hence, the physical world matters, and will continue to matter. God called it “good”.
  • Our vocations matter: jobs, families, etc.
  • There is a place for art, science and discovery, culture
  • There is a place for caring for people
  • There is a reward for our labors, as we seek to glorify God in all things, even in the face of futility and frustration, failure, sickness, and persecution.

The Resurrection gives us the Age to Come

glass_jesus_teaching_detail1 Corinthians 15:19

 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

  • The Gospel promises that we too shall be raised from the dead.
  • There is an “Age to Come” where there shall be no more sorrow, sickness, futility, failure, or broken relationships
  • In this Age to Come, God will dwell with His people, and we shall see God face to face.

Notes

  • Part of the Gospel message is that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so someday we will be, and so someday will the Creation itself be transformed and renewed.
  • We do not deny that God will bless in this world too.
  • But the fullness is in the Age to Come.
  • Some things can not be fixed in this world.
    • Some relationships are permanently broken – maybe by chronic misunderstandings or anger, or maybe by forbidden romance.
    • In the Age to Come, these will be healed!
  • Most important, in the Age to Come, we will have been changed to be able to experience the joy, pleasure, beauty, wisdom, glory of seeing God face to face and dwelling with Him forever, each day being better than the last.

Do we live like there is a Resurrection?

Are we taking risks for the Gospel?

Jim_Elliot1 Corinthians 15:30-32b

Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised …

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. – Jim Elliot, missionary and martyr

Notes

  • The Gospel tells us that we will be rewarded for our service to God, even when offered in the face of opposition. (We don’t really know the nature of this reward.)
  • Paul was willing to face death, to be perpetually in danger, because he believed that he would be raised from the dead and rewarded in the Age to Come.
  • Similarly there are rewards for us as we face risks for the sake of serving our Lord – but do we believe we will have this reward, or does it seem a myth?
  • It is the Resurrection that gives us certainty we will be rewarded!

Are we “hedging our bets” concerning the Age to Come?

Cross_on_Observation_Hill1 Corinthians 15:32b-34

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

  • Do our lives make sense to unbelievers?
  • Are we living in a way that suggests we don’t really believe in a future Resurrection, in effect doubting that even Jesus was raised?

Notes

  • For if there is no Resurrection for us, then just enjoy life now. But… forever is a long time!
  • Christian life makes no sense without the Age to Come.
  • Do our lives make sense to unbelievers?
  • Are we living in a way that suggests we don’t really believe in a future Resurrection, in effect doubting that even Jesus was raised?
  • Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. — Luke 12:32-34

This entry was posted in Theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Easter. So what?

  1. Karen says:

    It was an excellent message! Here is the link to the audio from the website! 🙂 http://www.vlcctroy.org/media.php?pageID=39

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *