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Corinthians 15:1-4, 12-22
As the pastor introduced his children’s sermon on Easter, he asked the little ones, “Do you see anything different about our church today?”
Little Heather quickly figured out the difference and blurted out, “It’s full!”
A guy attended church one Sunday and became increasingly annoyed as the pastor preached. After the service, he decided to speak to the pastor about it: “You really have to do something about your sermons; every time I come here you speak about death and resurrection.”
The preacher shot back, “What do you expect, you only come on Easter.”
Death and resurrection; sounds like a good theme to me. Let’s start with death.
In AARP’s magazine a couple of years ago, (not that I get it) Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were interviewed about their feelings about death. Tomlin, 80, recalled a time when she was four-years-old, visiting her grandmother in rural Kentucky. A little girl had died and they laid the body out in the house. “Everyone was oohing and aahing over her,” said Tomlin. “Death didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make any more sense now.”
Jane Fonda, 82, had a very different reaction. “I feel the opposite,” she said. “Death is inevitable, so why not try to make peace with it? 1
In the same article, John Mellencamp, 65, said, “I intend to make my ending good. I’m hoping it’s one of those long, lingering deaths. A lot of people go, ‘Oh, I hope I just die quick.’ Not me; I need time to put things right.” 2
And then there’s Sting, winner of 16 Grammy Awards. In a recent interview for Rolling Stone, the 64-year-old admits that he spends a lot of time thinking about death. He often stares at old photos of family members passed on. He also thinks about all the rock music icons who have died. “I’m 64; most of my life has been lived already, I have more days behind me than in front of me. Most people die in panic, there must be a way to die peacefully.” 3
Whether you have more days behind you or in front of you doesn’t really matter. The simple truth that we are all aware of but choose to ignore is that someday all of us will lose consciousness, our hearts will stop pumping blood to our organs which starved for oxygen will begin to shut down and we will be pronounced ‘dead.’
I am sorry to remind you on this otherwise glorious Easter morning of the cold, stark reality of that which awaits us all.
But how else can we truly appreciate the words of Paul? “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” (I Corinthians 15:20).
Of course, not everyone believes what Paul proclaims.
Many today, perhaps some here today tend to agree with Elon Musk who in a recent Rolling Stone interview was asked: “Do you have a spiritual practice? Not really; I believe in science. Well, what do you think happens when you die? I think you cease to exist; I hope I’m wrong in a positive way. But most likely, you’re just gone.” 4
Paul is addressing anyone in Elon’s camp:
But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. (I Corinthians 15:12-19).
In other words, if all of this stuff about Jesus dying and being raised is a lie, an elaborate but cruel hoax, a sham, pie in the sky; then it is true that we of all people are to be most pitied! If Christ is dead, we may as well go home turn on Netflix and vegetate life away. For if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is in vain, our sin remains un-forgiven, and those who have died believing in Christ they are just, well, dead, gone forever, nothing. If that’s the case, then I go along with Paul “if there is no resurrection, let’s all eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”
But we don’t go along with that line of thinking at all, do we? We believe that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first of a great harvest of all who have died.” (I Corinthians 15:20). Allow me the privilege of giving you three reasons why we believe it.
First, we believe in the resurrection because none of us would be here today if the resurrection was a lie, in other words, there would be no church.
The reason that there is a church at all today is because many people saw the Risen Lord Jesus alive again back then after He was clearly dead. Luke states that He appeared many times over a period of 40 days. Paul says that Christ was seen by a crowd of over 500 people at one time. Those early Christians staked their reputation on the resurrection of Christ and the church caught fire, spread rapidly and continues to thrive today!
On March 30th The Wall Street Journal published an article by a George Weigel titled The Easter Effect and How It Changed the World in which he begins by asking:
How did this happen? How did a ragtag band of nobodies from the far edges of the Mediterranean world become such a dominant force in just two and a half centuries? What happened to them was the Easter Effect! There is no accounting for the rise of Christianity without weighing the revolutionary effect on those nobodies of what they called “the Resurrection”: their encounter with the one whom they embraced as the Risen Lord, whom they first knew as the itinerant Jewish rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, and who died an agonizing and shameful death on a Roman cross.” 5
I ask you, why did all the disciples who followed Jesus before He was crucified spend the rest of their days afterward traveling to distant places preaching and teaching and ministering to others in Christ’s name? Why did all of them give up their lives for the cause of Christ? I tell you why; the only reasonable explanation is that they were absolutely convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus alive again after they watched Him die on a Roman cross! Those disciples would surely not have given their lives for a lie!
As Weigel states it:
It was the Easter Effect: the joy of people who had become convinced that they were witnesses to something inexplicable but nonetheless true. Something that gave a superabundance of meaning to life and that erased the fear of death. Something that had to be shared. Something with which to change the world.” 6
And change the world it did! And here we are 21 centuries later celebrating the greatest news ever heard! “That Christ died according to the scriptures, that He was buried and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (I Co. 15:3-4).
So we believe in the resurrection of Jesus because it and it alone could have catapulted the church into the centuries that followed with such vigor.
Next, we believe in the resurrection of Jesus because of all the persistent rumors about life after death.
For example, philosophy tells us that the grave is not the end. Travel anywhere you wish on the planet seek out any culture you find interesting sift through any time period you desire and I guarantee you will discover in human beings an instinctive belief in an afterlife of some kind. I think that old Solomon was right when he wrote a long time ago in a book called Ecclesiastes: “God has placed eternity into the heart of man” (3:11).
Simon Davis, writing for Religion News Service writes about atheist blogger, Martin Hughes, who says “I wish that there was a heaven to go to, and that’s the truth, although I know it’s not atheistically correct.” Davis then writes: “Hughes is not alone in his desire to keep believing in a version of heaven. A recent analysis shows a persistent belief by most in some sort of afterlife.” 7
Medical science is whispering that the grave is not the end as more and more stories appear about people dying and coming back to explain extraordinarily vivid accounts of life beyond.
All of these accounts led Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass M.D. PhD, physician, scientist, and Professor of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine at Washington University in Saint Louis.
to study the gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection. He recently wrote of his convictions as a scientist and a Christian:
I am a scientist, who on Easter, celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. This event, in first-century Palestine, is the cornerstone of everything. In the same way that trust-like faith in science is connected to evidence, so is the faith I have in the Resurrection. The Resurrection creates a connection to God that is perceived by people from all times, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, personalities, and metal capacities, across the last 2,000 years of history. Its reach includes some of the most famous scientists (then he lists them). The final verdict, for me, is that the Resurrection makes sense through the lens of history.” 8
Dr. Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, explains why he and his Christian colleagues at MIT believe in a literal, bodily, historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we must consider the historical evidence, and the historical evidence for the resurrection is as good as if not better than for any event of ancient history.” 9
We also believe in the resurrection of Jesus because we see clear evidence that Christ is also resurrecting us.
The resurrection not only demonstrates Gods power over death, it also demonstrates the power of the living Christ to bring marvelous change to people’s lives today.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for by His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!” (I Peter 1:3).
Nicole Cliff became a Christian on July 7, 2015, after what she called “a very pleasant adult life of firm atheism.” In an article titled, How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life, she writes, “The idea of a benign deity who created and loved us,” she writes, “was obviously nonsense, and all that awaits us beyond the grave is oblivion.”
But later here’s how she describes what happened to her:
First, I said ‘Be with me’ to an empty room. It was embarrassing. I didn’t know why I said it, or to whom. I brushed it off, I moved on, I didn’t think about it again. Second, I read Dallas Willard’s obituary that talked about his faith in Christ and a few minutes into reading the piece, I burst into tears. I read more Christian books and every time I was moved all over again. I emailed a Christian friend and asked if we could talk about Jesus. But about an hour before our call, I knew: I believed that Jesus really was who He said He was. So when my friend called, I told her, awkwardly, that I wanted to have a relationship with God, and we prayed. Since then, I have been dunked by a pastor in the Pacific Ocean. I have celebrated Communion on a beach; I go to church, I pray. Obviously, it’s been very beautiful.” 10
We believe in the power of the resurrection today because we have witnessed Christ resurrecting many of our lives. You see; Jesus offers us a fresh start, a new beginning, another chance to pick up the pieces and really start living.
People who accept what Christ offers are never the same again.
And so they continue to gather with like-minded folks into gatherings like this to celebrate the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection and to rub shoulders with people whose lives are being impacted by it. And we wait with bated breath to see the next person to be captured by God’s grace!
To encapsulate everything I’ve said this morning: Easter offers a better life now . . . and a sure hope for tomorrow. What more could we want?
Do you wish to be found this morning by the One who is the Resurrection and the Life? Then open your heart . . . and receive what He offers.
1 David Hochman, What I Know Now. AARP (June/July 2015); submitted by Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky.
3 Stephen Rodrick, Sting’s Rock & Roll Salvation [Rolling Stone (12-15-16)]
submitted by Jerry De Luca, Montreal West, Montreal, Canada
4 Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky; source: Neil Strauss, Elon Musk on His Fears, Dreams, Twitter, Morality and Mars. [Rolling Stone (11-17-17)]
5 George Weigel, The Easter Effect and How it Changed the World.
[The Wall Street Journal (3-30-18)]
8 Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass. Is There Evidence for Easter? A Scientist’s List. The Veritas Forum (4-15-17)
9 Ian Hutchinson, Can a scientist believe in the resurrection? Three hypotheses. Veritas Forum (3-25-16)
10 Adapted from Nicole Cliffe, How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life. [Christianity Today (5-20-16)]