Apr 1 - Easter Sunday - Encountering The Resurrectd Christ

Encountering The Resurrected Christ

April 1, 2018

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

 

ENCOUNTERING THE RESURRECTED CHRIST

April 1st, 2018

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

 

Some people reject Christianity because they think that Jesus did not actually rose from the dead - it wasn’t a historical event. 

 

Others reject Christianity, because they can't see what difference that it would make in their lives today.  The good news about Jesus seems to be insignificant or irrelevant to what really concerns them, what really goes on in their lives.  They can't see how going to church or believing in Jesus, including believing in his resurrection, will affect anything. 

 

The question regarding the truth of the event and the question regarding the meaning of the event are most often so intertwined that it becomes hard to deal with one without dealing with the other as well.

 

So I want us to consider both of these questions this morning:  The question about truth: "Did Jesus really rise from the dead?".  And the question about meaning: "If He did, what difference does that make?"

 

The Resurrection of Jesus Really Happened Because:

 

1. Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead.

 

On at least three different occasions, Jesus told his disciples, those who were closest to him and followed him around to listen to his teaching, what would happen to him.  On the overhead you will see the record of one of those times from Mark 10:

 

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.  Again Jesus took the twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.                                                       Mark 10:32

 

"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him.  Three days later He will rise."                                                            Mark 10:33-34[1]

 

Jesus never said this to any but the inner circle,[2] however, he did hint at it.

 

Jesus answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; but no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.   For just like Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."                                                                    Matthew 12:39-40[3]

 

Obviously, Jesus' predictions do not prove that he in fact rose from the dead.  However, some of those who reject Jesus' resurrection, such as Mahatma Ghandi and Albert Schweitzer, still think that he was a man of absolute integrity. 

 

But Jesus' integrity is called into question if he predicted something that really didn't happen.[4]  It is hard to honour Jesus as a good and honest man, or even a psychologically healthy individual, if he didn't live up to his claims to divinity and to rising from the dead. 

 

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), in his book, Mere Christianity, put it this way:

 

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the devil of hell

 

You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. .... We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative.  This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what he said or else a lunatic, or something worse.                                                  C.S. Lewis

 

The enemies of Jesus could not produce his body.  If they were able to do so, it would have ended Christianity before it even got started. 

 

Some people claim that Jesus never really died on the cross.[5]  He revived in the cool of the tomb and moved the stone blocking its entrance.  However, anyone who knows the horrible reality of what it meant to be crucified, and the lengths to which the Roman soldiers went to make sure that Jesus and those crucified with him were dead, would realize that this is just not possible.

 

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.  The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.                  John 19:31-32

 

But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.   John 19:33-34

 

Others have tried to say that the disciples came and removed the body and disposed of it so that no-one could find it.  However, that would mean that Jesus' followers would be willing to go to their deaths for what they knew was a lie and a hoax.

 

It is clear from the Biblical accounts that after Jesus' death the disciples did not expect to see him again.  They were demoralized and hiding in Jerusalem in a locked room, afraid of being arrested, imprisoned, and possibly executed as revolutionaries. 

 

They did not think that Jesus would rise from the dead.  Some of them went back to Galilee and returned to fishing for a living. 

 

Then, when they first heard the reports of Jesus’ resurrection (by the women at the tomb), they did not believe them.  

 

However, seven weeks after Jesus' death, they were no longer ashamed or afraid to be publicly identified with Jesus - instead they were outspoken in proclaiming him to be the Messiah. 

 

When this brought them into the expected conflict with the Jewish authorities, they were prepared to be imprisoned, flogged and even put to death, rather than to disown Jesus or to keep quiet (Acts 2-4).

 

The most outspoken of them, Peter, John and James, were extremely fortunate that they weren’t executed in those first years.. 

 

The first death that we know of, an impromptu stoning for proclaiming Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, happened about 5 years after Jesus’ execution.  It was the deacon Stephen (c. 36 AD).[6]  The coats of the executioners were laid at the feet of the person who would become the apostle Paul, the ring leader of the murderous mob and possibly the one who told them to stone Stephen.[7] 

 

The next execution that we know of was of the apostle James, about 8 years later (c. 44 AD), by King Agrippa.[8]  But there are indications that other Christians were imprisoned and executed between those two events (for example, we are told that Paul persecution the church in a murderous rage).  Within the next 25 years, most if not all of the apostles and many church leaders had been executed. 

 

So what had happened, that this band of Jesus’ followers, scared, in hiding, fleeing Jerusalem, were willing to put their lives on the line by openly proclaiming that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah?  They themselves said, that the reason was that they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

 

Norwood Russell Hanson was a philosopher of science at Yale University prior to his premature death.  He wrote a well-known essay entitled "What I Do Not Believe", about the reasons why he didn't believe in God.[9]  Let me read you what a portion of what he wrote:

 

Suppose ... that on next Tuesday morning, just after breakfast, all of us in this one world are knocked to our knees by a percussive and ear-shattering thunderclap.  Snow swirls; leaves drop from trees; the earth heaves and buckles; buildings topple and towers tumble; the sky is ablaze with an eerie silvery light. 

 

Just then, as all the people of the earth look up, the heavens open - the clouds pull apart - revealing an unbelievably immense and radiant Zeus-like figure, towering above us like a hundred Everests.  He frowns darkly as lightening plays across the features of his Michelangeloid face.  

 

 He then points down - at me! - and exclaims for every man and child to hear, "I have had quite enough of your too-clever logic-chopping and word-watching in matters of theology.  Be assured Norwood Russell Hanson, that I do most certainly exist! ... if such a remarkable event were to transpire, I, for one, would certainly be convinced that God does exist.                  Norwood Russell Hanson

 

While such a thing never happened, when the disciples saw Jesus alive after his execution, it was an earth shattering event.   

 

Paul, who was confronted with the risen Christ, totally changed his life and endured immense loss and suffering, and ultimately execution in Rome because of his absolute conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead.

 

Now think about it.  If you knew that you were propagating a lie, would you be willing to be imprisoned and flogged and killed for that lie?  Yet many in the early church who had been with Jesus during his earthly ministry were willing to risk martyrdom.    

 

In the church at Corinth, apparently some teachers denied the possibility of an afterlife, much like the party of the Sadducees in Jerusalem. 

 

Paul felt he had to address this teaching in part because a denial of an afterlife also puts into question the historicity of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.[10]  

 

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, that if Jesus’ resurrection was not a historical fact, then Christians are deluded and derive no benefit from claiming that he did. In fact, he writes, that Christians are, of all people, most to be pitied.[11]

 

If, however, Jesus in fact rose from the dead, then, as Paul put it, Jesus was the "first fruits of those who have died" and the first of those who are permanently raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20).[12]  His example would then be proof positive that there is an afterlife indeed. 

 

Paul believed that Jesus was not only the one who was resurrected first, but also the one who made an afterlife with God for the rest of humanity even possible (1 Cor. 15:21-23).  He begins his argument by reciting what appears to be a creedal formula, possibly the earliest creed of the Christian church.

 

For what I received I had 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 Cephas,[13] and then to the twelve.[14] 

                                                1 Corinthians 15:3-5

 

The creed ends with Jesus appearing to the apostle Peter and then to the 12 apostles.  However, Paul goes on to write about more post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

 

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally (or: untimely) born.

                                                1 Corinthians 15:4-8

 

The point that Paul was making is that these eyewitness testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection prove that he in fact did rise from the dead.  The writer of Luke mentions that Jesus appeared for 40 days after his resurrection.

 

After Jesus’ suffering, he also proved himself to be alive to them through many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke of the things concerning the kingdom of God.             Acts 1:3

 

Even 20 years after the event, Paul could write to the church at Corinth that many of these eye-witnesses were still alive.[15]  Those who were skeptical could find almost 500 eye-witnesses who could verify that they had seen the risen Jesus. 

 

Some would say that the followers of Jesus wanted him to be alive so desperately, that they just envisioned or hallucinated about it.  The problem with this theory is that while individuals can have hallucinations, it is unheard of that groups of people have the same hallucination at the same time.  And, as I have already mentioned, there is no proof that the disciples were even expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.

 

Those who followed Jesus weren't wide-eyed fanatics.  Instead they seem to be credible, rational, eye-witnesses.

 

I realize that this is a very subjective criteria, but don't we have to bank our decisions about something we didn't see ourselves on credible eye-witnesses?  When I read the NT accounts, I find that the insight of the apostles is profound.  They thought through their personal commitment, their teaching was coherent and their moral standard was high. 

 

Now to deal with the second question about relevance.  What possible difference could the events of 2,000 years ago make today?

 

II. The Resurrection of Jesus Has Meaning Today Because:

 

1.  It deals with our alienation and separation from God

 

One of the strangest concepts found in the Bible is that the God who created the heavens and the earth, this infinite, immense, spiritual being, is a God who does not require people to prove themselves to him by how much they can do for him.  Rather, he is a God who proves his strength by serving humanity.

 

That almost sounds like blasphemy, doesn't it?  But consider what the Bible says:

 

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.    Acts 17:24-25

 

God doesn't need anything from us.  He has no deficiencies that we can make up for.  Rather, we have the deficiencies and he is infinite in power and wisdom, holiness and love - and is ready to serve us! 

 

God isn't looking for people to work their way into heaven.  He is looking for people who magnify his power and wisdom and love by admitting their deepest needs and failings, and then letting him do his work on their behalf.

 

We read in the OT that God acts on behalf of his people (Isa 64:4), those who are fully committed to him (2 Chron 16:9).[16]

 

And that is how Jesus characterized his mission.  As one of service:

 

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

 

Without the resurrection of Christ Jesus, the Christian faith is a sham and a lie.  There would be no saving significance (and thus no significance at all) to Jesus’ death if he did not rise from the dead.  The events of 2000 years ago would indeed be meaningless for us today.[17]

 

However, if Jesus indeed rose from the dead, then that proves that he was who he had claimed to be, the Son of God, who is one with God the Father.  It proves that his death had meaning and purpose.  That it made it possible to receive God’s forgiveness, and resulted in God’s resources, God’s Spirit, being active in the lives of believers.    

 

The reason why Easter is more important than Christmas, is because the resurrection of Jesus is a sign to us that God's declaration that HE will meet our deepest needs through the cross is valid.

 

There are two questions that follow from this:

 

  1. Do we know what our most pressing needs are? 

 

And then,

 

  1. Will we let the risen Christ come into our lives to meet those needs?

 

The most pressing need that we have this morning isn't our financial need.  It isn't our need for healing and better health.  It isn't our need for a career.  It isn't even our need for good relationships. 

 

Now I understand that these may be pressing and heart-wrenching needs in your life or mine, and I believe with my whole heart that God can give us the power to help us deal with them.

 

But the most pressing need we have this morning is our alienation and separation from God.  Our sins - the things we do and say and think which we know to be wrong - but we do and say and think them anyway - those separate us from God.  And the result of that separation is separation from God in this life and in the life to come

 

The Bible teaches that Jesus carried all the things we do that offend our conscience and dishonour God, all of the sins we commit, onto the cross.  It teaches that Jesus died for the sins of all humanity in order to make a reconnection with a holy God possible. 

 

What is even more surprising is that in the Jewish Scriptures, 700 years before the crucifixion of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah described the work of the one he refers to as the "Servant of God" in this way:

 

But he was pierced through for our iniquities, he was crushed for our sins; the punishment that brought us salvation was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the guilt of us all.... My servant will justify the many as he bears their sins ... because he poured himself out to death and was numbered with the transgressors.                                                            Isaiah 53:5-6,11-12

 

The debt had been paid, the curse had been lifted.  The suffering servant has done the work we could never do for ourselves - take away our sin and make us right with God.  And the result is that death no longer has a final claim on us. 

 

The apostle Paul put it this way:

 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.                                       Romans 8:11

 

What Paul was saying is that acceptance of Jesus' work on the cross will allow us to re-connect with God and that means that God will begin to live within us and we will live with God forever, even if our physical bodies are frail and will pass away.

 

The resurrection of Jesus has meaning for today because 1.  It deals with our alienation and separation from God.

 

There are probably many of you here this morning who can bear witness to the personal life-changing power of the living Christ.  When we put our faith in him, he will come to reside within us by his Holy Spirit, and begin to demonstrate his love and power in us.  As a result we can receive new love for God, new love for people, a new hope and joy - even when things are rough -, new patience in times of trouble, new freedom from the past

 

For some of you there will have been dramatic change over a short period of time.  For others of you, the change will have been less dramatic and over a longer period of time.

 

While none of us are perfect nor will we ever be in this life, there should be change, positive change, which comes into our lives when we believe that Jesus not only died for us, but rose from the dead to substantiate all of his claims about himself and the reason why he came to earth. 

 

Jesus' promise to his followers after his resurrection that he would be with them always.

 

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.                                                       Matthew 28:20

 

But this is not just a promise for those who were with him at that time, because he referenced the end of the age.  This promise extends to us and to those who will come after us.  What does that promise mean?

 

Many people are enslaved to fear or resentment or greed or lust or selfishness, or unconcern, or some other sin

 

  • When we experience the presence of Jesus, then we can be freed from that which enslaves us

  • That means, if the risen Christ is with us, he will change us.

  • When Jesus is with us, then we will learn not only to live our lives for our self-interests, but to include the needs of others as well.  We will learn to love and serve and sacrifice - yet never suffer loss or lose ourselves in the process. 

 

We will still face temptation and we will still make mistakes.  It’s not as if all of our problems are a thing of the past.  Life will not necessarily be easy and free of worries.

 

But it means that our consciences and our hearts are renewed. 

 

At the Last Supper, Jesus encouraged his disciples to love each other. He washed their feet, which at the time was the job of the lowliest of slaves.   With regard to this, Jesus said: 

 

I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  ... My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you. ... I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 13:14-1515:12,11

 

True joy and meaning are found in demonstrations of love and care toward others.

 

I am reminded of Easter already over 15 years ago.[18] Two elderly women were killed in a car accident in Cameroon where the vehicle they were traveling in hit a tree and they were thrown from the vehicle.

 

One of the ladies was someone personally known to be, Ruby Eliason, who had spent all of her life as a medical missionary, first in India and then in Africa.[19]

 

Some of you might remember her because many of the churches of our convention used to support her.  Ruby was 77 years old when she was killed.  The other woman, Laura Edwards, a retired doctor, was 78.

 

Some people thought their deaths were tragic, and in one sense they are right because every death is tragic.[20]  But consider this, Ruby and Laura, at their age, could have been taking it easy living in Canada after their retirement.  But they were so filled with love for the lost, sick and poor that they just continued to serve God in this way.  They spent their whole lives helping others. 

 

There are tens of thousands of people who are retired on the Peninsula and their whole life consist of going from one meaningless activity to another, or of sitting in a care home feeling lonely and useless.  I ask myself, “which is the real tragedy?

 

In “Mere Christianity,” in direct opposition to the saying about people being so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good, C.S. Lewis wrote:

 

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who have done the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.

 

The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this - that is, ineffective in doing something positive for the world.[21] 

 

Following Jesus, the one who was raised from the dead, can and should be a life-changing experience. 

 

Let me close with a quote from the personal testimony of Paul M. Anderson, a university professor in biochemistry (at the University of Minnesota, Duluth):[22]

 

I could ... “probably be considered successful by some standards (wonderful wife and family, a new home, a successful career). ... Yet something was missing. 
What was missing was purpose and meaning in my life, and this was intensified by the tremendous beauty, order and design evident in the world as I observed it as a scientists.  ...

Within my experience with Christianity, my biggest problem had been Jesus Christ.  I intellectually accepted the idea of God, but I could not accept Jesus Christ.  ...

 

(He goes on to relate how the book “Surprized by Joy” written by C.S. Lewis brought about a change).  He went on:

 

Suddenly I understood.  Before I had seen Jesus Christ only as a man.  Now I understood that Jesus Christ is the “visible expression of the invisible God” who came to earth to live, but was put to death on the cross as a sacrifice that we may be saved from our sins. I had not even understood that I needed forgiveness! ...

 

At that time I bought a Phillips translation of the NT and read the entire book in about three weeks.  I remember reading passages such as, “The preaching of the cross is ... nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world, but to us who are being saved from death it is nothing less than the power of God,” and thinking, “I understand that.” 

Since that time I have had a sense of purpose and meaning in my life and work, and I have come to understand clearly my need for forgiveness, which I am assured of through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. ...

 

I (now) have a responsibility (and desire) to conduct my life in a way that is pleasing to God. ...

 

(And) I find my ultimate fulfillment in understanding God’s plan as revealed through Jesus Christ.  “For it is in him, and in him alone, that men will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.[23]

 

HAVE I ENCOUNTERED THE RISEN CHRIST?

 

IF NOT, WHAT IS KEEPING ME FROM DOING SO?

 

IF SO (if I indeed have encountered the risen Christ), HOW HAS IT CHANGED ME AND THE WAY I LIVE MY LIFE?

 

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?    

John 11:25-26

 

[1] The accuracy of the prediction is actually one of the reasons why liberal theologians think this is an ex-eventu prophecy placed in Jesus’ mouth by the author of Mark or by his source.  They point out the surprise and disappointment of the disciples when the events actually took place.

[2] However, when Jesus predicted that he would rebuild the temple in three days should it be destroyed (John 2:19), John comments that Jesus was in fact speaking about his body, not about the actual temple (John 2:21).  In Mark, this statement was misquoted during Jesus’ trial: “We heard him say, ‘destroy this man-made temple and I will build another without hands in three days’.”

[3] See also, John 2:19-21 - Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  The Jews replied, "It took 46 years to build this temple, and you want to rebuild it in three days?"  But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

[4] The only problem with this statement is that Jesus seemed to have also predicted his imminent return. 

[5] The “swoon” theory.

[6] Acts 7:60 - He enraged the crowd by accusing them of being stiff-necked, of being like their ancestors who killed the prophets, and of not keeping the Mosaic Law. When he said that he saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand, they stoned him to death. 

[7] Acts 7:58

[8] Acts 12:1-2 - Herod Agrippa (also known as Agrippa the Great, grandson of Herod the Great, ruled Judea, Galilee, etc., from 41 - 44 CE) “laid hands” on some Christians and had James executed with a sword.

[9] Norwood Russell Hanson (1924-1967, What I Do Not Believe, and Other Essays (Reidel, 1971), published posthumously.

[10] If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised (1 Cor 15:16)

[11] Because of the persecution and suffering they endured for believing a lie.

[12] Those Jesus raised from the dead during his ministry would die again.

[13] i.e., The apostle Peter.  Cephas means “Rock” in Aramaic.  It is the Aramaic equivalent to the Greek Petros.  Simon was renamed “the Rock” by Jesus (Matt 16:16-18).

[14] Paul likely thought here of Isaiah 53 with regard to the Messiah dying for sins.  The burial and resurrection was never prophesied in the OT, however, Paul may have been thinking about the link Jesus made to the prophet Jonah (Matt 12:40) or perhaps to the fact that the God apparently rescues the person in Psalm 22. 

[15] 1 Cor 15:6-7

[16] Isaiah 64:4 - Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  2 Chron 16:9 -For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.

[17] Paul says that Christians would remain in their sins.

[18] April 19, 2000

[19] From 1954-1980 in Tezpur, Assam, India (apart from 1959-1961).  From 1983-2000 in Cameroon.

[20] http://personalblogofpetermusa.blogspot.ca/2010/08/tragedy-hits-cbc-health-board.html

[21] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 2001 ed. pp. 134-135).  “..... Online at https://github.com/F1LT3R/mere-christianity/blob/master/book-3/3.10.-Hope.md.

[22] Born 1938; edited the book, Professors Who Believe:  The Spiritual Journeys of Christian Faculty (1999).  He is now professor emeritus.

[23] The quote is from “A Scientist’s Search for God” (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1988).