Sunday April 4 Easter Sunday
He is Risen He is risen indeed
Reading Acts 2: 22 - 33
22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
1 Corinthians 15: 1 - 20
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
12 But 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? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep
As evidence of the resurrection, Christians speak of the empty tomb and the witnesses who saw the risen Jesus. But today we do not know where that tomb is, and none of those people are still alive for us to ask them about their experience with Jesus. But another lasting evidence is the difference meeting the resurrected Jesus made in the lives of people.
I have heard it said, “I know Jesus is risen from the dead, because He is risen in me.”
Maybe one of the most convincing evidences of the resurrection is not found in history, but found in the lives of believers all over the world today.
If we accept that premise as reasonable, then as we come to Resurrection Sunday, I think there are two questions we need to be asking:
What do you believe about the Resurrection of Jesus?
What difference does that belief make to your life?
Let’s take a step backwards. What did the first century Christians believe?
What difference did it make in their lives?
We usually work from the Gospel narratives, but Paul wrote his letters decades before the gospels were written.
What would Paul say if you asked him, “Paul, what do you believe about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the saints?”
For Paul, the resurrection was central to his theology. The resurrection of Jesus and His followers are key to his faith.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve”.
In Galatians Paul explains that what he received he wasn’t taught by other people, but that he was taught by Jesus Himself. The problem is that it seems that Paul never met Jesus before Jesus was crucified.
What Paul is claiming is that his message was directly from the resurrected Jesus.
Think of the implications.
If Jesus was not resurrected, then Paul has no message, only a head full of dreams. But what is fascinating is that when Paul was confronted and challenged about what he was preaching he went and met with Peter and James and John and the rest of the 11 original disciples, and shared with them what he understood Jesus to have told him, and they all agreed that Paul had received the true gospel.
In the preceding verses of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that if we hold firm to the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead, we are saved.
In verse 17 Paul says that “if Jesus was not raised from the dead, our faith is futile, because then we are still in our sins, those who have died are lost, and we are to be pitied more than anyone else.”
For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus is the lynch pin which holds the entire Gospel together, and if we pull that pin out, the entire gospel comes unraveled. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then He was no different from all the other would-be messiah’s who rode into Jerusalem claiming to be the liberator of Israel, who died and were buried, but who stayed dead.
When Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, he said that if we confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts THAT GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
When we consider what we believe about Jesus, there are libraries full of books full of theories and counter theories, but for Paul the one thing that is essential is that we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead by God the Father.
Paul explained to the Ephesians and the Colossians that when Jesus died, we died with Him. Our old sinful selves died. In our baptism, our old sinful person was buried, and as we came out of the water we were raised from the dead, as Jesus was raised from the dead.
So if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then we are left in the water with no hope ourselves. We go down to the grave and stay there.
This is important. For Paul, our resurrection is not just some future event, our resurrection started the day we were baptised. We are already on the path of the resurrected life. We are already citizens of another world, another kingdom, another economy, because we are already participating in our resurrection.
The resurrection has broken into our current world.
So what would Paul say if we were to ask him, “So what difference does your belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of Christians make in your life?”
The resurrection has changed everything for Paul.
If you took a snap shot of Paul before he met the resurrected Jesus, it would be 180 degrees the opposite to after having met Jesus.
In Acts 9, Luke tells us that Paul was a persecutor of Christians. When Steven was stoned, the people doing the stoning laid their cloaks at the feet of a young Pharisee by the name of Paul. Laying their cloaks there meant that Paul was overseeing the execution. Even though he never threw a stone, Paul was the authority by which Steven was stoned.
Luke tells us that Paul had letters from the Chief Priest and he was travelling into Asia to persecute, arrest and bring back to Jerusalem those who were following Jesus. Paul confirms this in his letter to the Galatians.
But Luke tells us in Acts 9 that on that road, Paul met the resurrected Jesus. Luke doesn’t tell us what Paul saw, Luke writes about bright lights and a voice speaking. What the resurrected Jesus who appeared to Paul looked like is hidden from us, but that it was Jesus is certain, and that certainty had a profound impact on Paul’s life.
It changed him from the worst persecutor of the Christians, to the greatest Christian missionary. He goes from being a hitman for the Pharisees, to being an agent of grace and reconciliation.
In Galatians 1:1 Paul shares his credentials. He says He was not called to be an apostle by men, but by the resurrected Jesus and God the Father.
In Philippians Paul says that everything that he thought made him great, he now considers rubbish, waste. His whole value system, his economy has changed.
Paul is like an all or nothing roulette player who has staked everything, even his very life, on the resurrection being true.
Because Jesus was resurrected, Jesus was able to reveal Himself to Paul and to call Him to be an Apostle. But if the resurrection is nonsense, then Paul has given his entire life to a delusion, a delusion for which he will die.
If there is no resurrection, then the suffering he has suffered has been in vain. He says in Ephesus he fought wild animals, and if there is no resurrection, that was just stupid human behaviour.
Because he met the resurrected Jesus, Paul went from being the persecutor who destroyed the lives of Christians, to the persecuted, not a logical choice. And yet rather than seeing himself as a victim, Paul saw his persecution as sharing in the suffering of Christ, and rather than being a punishment, being a prisoner was an opportunity to share the gospel. Paul’s belief in the resurrection empowered Paul to prosper through his suffering, rather than being a victim.
Because of Paul’s belief in the risen Jesus, even though Paul was entitled to financial support from the churches he served; he often waived that right and worked to provide for himself. He took on temporal suffering because he knew there was an eternal consequence, and there can only be an eternal consequence if there is a resurrection.
Believing in the resurrection changed everything for Paul. He was stoned because he believed in the resurrection. He was beaten, whipped and flogged because he believed in the resurrection. Ultimately, Paul was beheaded in Rome because he believed in the resurrection.
Paul puts it beautifully. “If there is no resurrection, then we might as well eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” If there is no resurrection, then there is no eternal consequence to our actions today, and we might as well get the most out of this life while we are alive.
But if Jesus was raised from the dead, then we too will be raised from the dead, and if we are raised from the dead, then our lives here have eternal consequence.
What impact did the resurrection of Jesus have on other people?
One text we seldom link to the resurrection of Jesus is Acts 2, which speaks of Pentecost. Peter preached an awesome sermon explaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter explained how Jesus was crucified, buried and raised to life. Peter then says “We are witnesses to the fact” and he is referring at that moment to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is evidence to Peter of the resurrection.
Peter explains that Jesus ascended to the Father, where He received from the Father the Promised Holy Spirit, and He then poured out the Holy Spirit on those in Jerusalem. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is proof positive that Jesus has risen and ascended and arrived safely with the Father.
Pentecost was this proof of the resurrection which cut people to the heart, and 3000 people came to faith that day. The resurrection impacted 3000 lives, and they repented and were baptised. Not only were their beliefs changed, but their actions were changed too.
We know that because of this, the Christians in Jerusalem started a brand new way of living as a community. They shared everything so that everyone had and no-one went without. Their lives were changed.
Let’s reverse engineer that. If the resurrection did not take place, then the Holy Spirit would not have been poured out, and we could not be baptised in the Holy Spirit, and the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit would be non-existent. The Church, which is the domain of the Holy Spirit, would not have been born.
So let me put the question to you again,
What do you believe about the Resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection of the saints?
If you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that we too will be resurrected, What difference does that belief make to your life?
James says “Faith without works is dead.”
Does the way you live prove that you believe in eternity, or does it reveal that you think all the rewards and all the payouts are only for this life, and it all ends when you die? If we believe in the resurrection, we work for deferred rewards. If we don’t believe in the resurrection, we want everything now.
Do you live as a servant for Jesus, or do you wait to be served?
When you arrive at a function, do you take the best seats in the building, or do you take the humblest seat?
Do you forgive others, realising that Jesus is the eternal judge, or do you demand justice and revenge now?
Do you walk across the room to make other people feel welcome, that they may see the love in you and be drawn to know God better? Or do you protect yourself, hiding quietly, avoiding the risk and humiliation?
I think the way we park in parking lots says a lot about our beliefs. I watch people at Metlife Plaza, who almost demand to park right at the entrance to the shop they are visiting. For them, it’s all about their convenience.
Then there are the people who see an open parking, and wave another car in, or park further away, because they value other people higher than themselves.
At Rick Warren’s church, they built another parking lot across the freeway with a foot bridge, and the members park there and walk, so that the visitors can have the closer parking.
What decisions have you made differently, have you changed your actions because you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
Sometimes we have been Christians so long; it is hard to compare a snapshot of today with a snapshot of before we became Christians. So maybe you need to think about your neighbours. If other people observe your life, would they see evidence that you are investing in eternity, or would they say you are making all the withdrawals on your account with God here on earth?
Paul and Peter and the 500 and 3000 others were radically changed because they believed Jesus rose from the dead.
Maybe at the end of the day, we don’t need scientific proof of Jesus’ resurrection, we just need to be able to say, “I know Jesus is risen, because He is risen in me.”