Easter

Resurrection? So what?

Lew Wallace had been a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. A decade later he was a lawyer and trying to become an author. Coming into contact with one of the most famous atheists of his day, he was embarrassed. Not embarrassed by the two hours of anti-religion he absorbed during that conversation, but by his own indifference and ignorance of that area of life.

 In an academic way, that encounter convinced him to study Christianity. Even as a nonbeliever he had always enjoyed the story of the wise men who came to Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth. He had even begun a fictional novel based around that event, which he also considered mostly fiction. Now, he thought, he would carry that story down to the equally fictitious crucifixion which would, in his own words, “compel me to study everything of pertinency; after which possibly, I would be possessed of opinions of real value. It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results – – first, the book Ben Hur, and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”

 Closer to our own day, a Chicago Tribune journalist and atheist named Lee Strobel began a similar investigation. When his wife became a Christian, Strobel began exploring the historicity and truthfulness of that faith.

 Explaining his quest, Strobel wrote, "Some people are more experiential . . . but because I come from a law background, a legal background, and a journalism background, I tend to respond to facts and evidence. My way of processing my spiritual journey was to ask the question ‘Is there any evidence that supports Christianity being true?’"

 Ultimately, that two-year process convinced him that all evidence led to the conclusion that Christianity is true. As with Lew Wallace before him, Strobel acted on that evidence and made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ in 1981.

 So what?

 This coming Sunday is Easter. Millions of Christians across nations, cultures, denominations, and churches, will join in the ritual affirmation that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead. As my Orthodox friends express it, “Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!” That is what Easter is all about.

 The 11th chapter of First Corinthians is all about the resurrection. The writer, Paul, might not have personally witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, and almost certainly did not witness the resurrection. By the time of this writing, however, both were as real to him as could be. Paul used this chapter to emphasize the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 He began by saying “by this gospel you are saved…” then explaining this gospel as, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, … he was buried, … he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” And “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. …And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

 True belief in the resurrection of Christ also calls for a response.

 Consider Paul, the man who started out as Saul of Tarsus. In the early chapters of the book of Acts, the resurrection had already taken place, but this Saul did not accept that as truth. Until … on a mission to persecute members of the young church, as recorded in Acts chapter 9, the living Christ appeared to Saul.

 We don’t know how long this encounter lasted, but the recorded events outline a significant change. First the Lord grabs Saul’s attention with a bright light. Next comes Saul’s response, the question asked and answered “who are you, Lord?” Then, demonstrating what happens when a person comes face-to-face with the reality of the resurrection, Saul displays his change in faith/allegiance with the question “what shall I do, Lord?”

 As with Saul of Tarsus, Lew Wallace, Lee Strobel and thousands of others through the last 2000+ years, the realization of the absolute truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ led to the genuine belief that the risen Christ is Savior of the world, and to the conscious commitment to trust in him alone for salvation.

 There’s another point to be made. If the resurrection is genuine and true, then all of the works and words of Jesus Christ are equally genuine and true. “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost.” “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

 No wonder his post-resurrection followers were so determined to share the news of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ with all peoples. They believed, as stated by Peter in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

 Let’s finish this off with words again from the apostle Paul. Many consider Paul to be the first, or, at least, the preeminent missionary of the early church. Essentially, he gave up all rights and privileges to his own life for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wanted everyone to hear this good news and worked diligently so that all who heard might understand and believe as he did. One of his stunning declarations came in 1 Corinthians 9:16 where he wrote, “I am compelled [constrained, required, cannot-do-anything-but] to preach [proclaim, share, tell, bear witness].” And “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

 So what?

 So, do you believe the resurrection?

 So, what does the truth of the resurrection mean to you personally?

 So, what are you doing about it?

It is Finished?

“Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).

Jesus had begun this pivotal week in His life by triumphantly riding through the gates of Jerusalem, acclaimed by the crowds and feared by the establishment. By the end of the same week, He had been betrayed to His opponents, had been tried and convicted of blasphemy by a religious court, had been tried and convicted of treason by a political court, and, finally, had been nailed onto a cross-shaped wooden scaffold to die a slow and painful death.

After just a few hours, He spoke these words and died. “It is finished.”

Something was finished. Jesus was dead. He had come to earth in human form to become the perfect anti-type of the Old Testament sacrifice. By His death the sins of people inside and outside of Judaism could be forgiven by God once and for all.

This was not, or should not have been, a surprise. Jesus had been very open in saying such things as “. . . the Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), and “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“It is finished.”

Not quite.

In addition to predicting His death, Jesus predicted what was to follow. In his gospel, Matthew recorded “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).

“It is finished.” 

At that moment in time, Jesus’ physical human life was over. His suffering was cut short. That part of God’s eternal plan was, indeed, finished. But that was only the prelude to the day we call Easter.

“On the first day of the week [Sunday], very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. . . . suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. . . . the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, . . . ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words” (Luke 24:1-8).

Peter, one of the original disciples, later wrote about the importance of this resurrection, tying it directly to our salvation from sin and our hope of an eternal existence.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Resurrection . . . ? or !

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important doctrine of Christianity.

The 15th chapter of the 1 Corinthians is a wonderful affirmation of the resurrection and its importance to us. The apostle Paul clearly states an objective truth: “. . . 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.”

Paul goes on, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” And, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

Over the past 2000 years, many people have opposed Christianity. Some have argued against Christianity on theological or philosophical grounds. Some have used force in attempts to destroy the faith. Others have sought to marginalize the church and her adherents.

If Christianity’s opponents want to completely destroy this religion, there is one foolproof way to do so. They only have to disprove the resurrection.

From the day of the resurrection in April of A.D. 33 until now, no one has been able to disprove the resurrection. The evidence of an empty tomb is historically accurate. Religious and secular historical sources attest to the resurrection. Jesus’ dead body was never discovered. Quite the contrary, a living Jesus showed himself to his closest friends and over 500 other people in the days following his death, burial, and resurrection.

A little over a week from today, Christians around the world will celebrate Easter, the day Jesus the Christ was raised to life.

If the resurrection did not happen, this celebration is meaningless. Christianity, then, is meaningless.  It doesn’t matter how nice Christians are or how much good they are doing. If Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is based on a lie and is meaningless.

On the other hand . . .

If Christ did rise from the dead, Christianity is true.

 

Jesus is the God he claimed to be (John 1:1, 10:30).

Jesus is the only way of salvation (John 14:6).

Salvation only comes through personal faith in Jesus (John 3:36).

Coming back to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul moved from the reality of Christ’s resurrection to the effect on those who put their trust in him. “For as in Adam [the natural human] all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (v. 22).

Then he looks forward to the culmination of our faith with the awe-inspiring words:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable,

and the mortal with immortality,

then the saying that is written will come true:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

                        Where, O death, is your victory?

                        Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is Easter, my friends. Celebrate!

Looking to Easter Week

It’s hard to know where to start when talking about this week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, to the following Sunday, Easter, when we commemorate the resurrection of the Christ, there is something special to be celebrated about almost every day.

Right now I’m thinking specifically about the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, commonly noted as the Last Supper. This event is adequately recorded by the Gospels writers. We could begin this day from the point at which Jesus instructs some disciples to go prepare a place for the Passover meal (Matthew 26:18). We could note Jesus washing the disciples’ feet or Judas’ betrayal.

Most of our celebration on what we call Maundy Thursday centers around the actual Passover meal, the Last Supper, which has become the Christian ordinance of holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

I, too, would like to stop there for a few minutes today, but not as most people do. I don’t want to talk about the theology of the bread and the cup. I don’t want to talk liturgy. I don’t even want to stay in the gospel accounts.

Instead, let’s go to Paul’s recounting of the centerpiece of this meal, as found in 1st Corinthians 11:23- 26:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

During one phase of my active overseas missionary service, I was administrative head of an isolated ministry centered within a large tribal group. One of my spiritual responsibilities was to lead my fellow missionaries in a monthly observance of the Lord’s Supper. Doing this 12 times a year for three years, I spent a lot of time studying these passages. Each time, I tried to find something new to share with my fellow workers, but after a few months, there just wasn’t that much new to talk about. Part of me was satisfied repeating the same events. Another part wanted to find something new and life-changing within Jesus’ words and actions.

As I look back several decades to that time, the one take-away I have from that study is summed up in the three tenses of English grammar: past, present, and future. Paul wrote, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

When we share in the Lord’s Supper, we are, first of all, doing it in the present tense. We are there. We are actively doing something. Following through with Paul, we are pausing to reflect on our spiritual condition at that precise moment. We are examining ourselves and our lives, measuring ourselves by how we are living up to God’s revealed standards. As part of that, if there is anything found wanting, we should be making the conscious decision to correct that situation.

Examining ourselves by God’s standards, of course, presupposes that we are already in a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense, we are looking back to the death of Christ as full payment for our sins and guarantee of a position of imputed righteousness before God.

John 3:16, proclaims, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That familiar passage follows a verse which speaks of Jesus being lifted up, a preview of his death by crucifixion. Paul explains in Romans 6:6-7, “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” Paul again reminds us in Romans 10:13, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So, as we share the Lord supper in the present tense, we look back 2000 years to the death of Christ which made salvation available to all people. We also look back to the time that we, as individuals, accepted God’s free offer of salvation and committed our lives to the one who gave his life for us.

Finally, Paul reminds us that while we are doing this act of the Lord’s Supper in the present tense, we are actively proclaiming the work of Christ into the future, until he comes again.

What does it mean to proclaim the Lord’s death? Most simply, it means we should be telling other people both what Christ has done, and what it means to us personally. This should be done not just as a historical or factual situation, but with the intent of bringing others into the same relationship so that they too can find salvation in Christ and so have the same personal relationship with God.

This should not be confined within the walls of a church building. Presumably, the people sharing in the Lord’s Supper on any given opportunity within a church setting already know this. No, this proclamation has to burst beyond the immediate present tense and venue. It must be seen in the in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Acts chapter 1 where he tells them “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”

Today – now -- in the present tense -- we who have come to Christ for salvation are his continuing witnesses. We are witnesses to the truth of his life, death, and resurrection as recorded in the Bible. We are witnesses to the unbroken liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist, which has come down to us through 2000 years of church doctrine and history. Moreover, we are witnesses to the power of Christ within ourselves. He took us from the realm of darkness and brought us into his marvelous light.

Within this Easter week, let’s take more out of the Last Supper then just a lesson in history or prelude to the death and resurrection which follow in the pages of Scripture. Let’s see this not just as a ceremony or liturgy, but as a corporate and personal three-dimensional act of faith. Once and for all in the past Christ died for us. Today we live because of that action. As we look forward to the time when Christ himself will return to Earth, let’s fulfill this time to come by being active witnesses to what he has done for us and what he wishes to do among all peoples on this earth.