There was a guy riding in a cab one day. He was new to the city and was looking for a good place to eat, so he leaned forward, tapped the cabby on the shoulder and said, “Hey, Buddy.” The driver let out a blood curdling scream and lost control of the cab. He nearly hit a bus, jumped the curb and stopped just inches from going through a huge plate-glass window and into a crowded store.
For a few minutes, there was dead silence in the cab. All you could hear was two hearts beating like bass drums pounding out a quick march. The driver finally turned around and said, “Man, you scared the living daylights out of me.” The passenger, who was white as a sheet and whose eyes were as big as dinner plates, said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize tapping you on the shoulder would scare you so badly.”
There was a pause and then cabby said, “Well I suppose, it’s not your fault. This is my first day driving a cab. But for the last 25 years, I drove a hearse.”
The reason the taxi driver was startled was because he knew that dead people don’t tap his shoulder and he had forgotten he was driving a live person. Everyone knows that dead people are, well, dead, right? That’s why the Easter story is so remarkable isn’t it? The cabbie knew and we know too, dead people aren’t supposed to tap you on your shoulder. Dead people are supposed to stay where you put them. But what is so exciting about today is the fact that Jesus didn’t do that.
We live and then we die. There are no exceptions. We talk about immortality; the immortal Shakespeare, the immortal Caesar and so on. People remember their lives but these people are still dead, right? Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality by not dying.” Is the only way to immortality through the minds and memories of others? Well, it would be except for the fact of today, the fact of Easter. Today we commemorate, no we celebrate, the fact of someone taking on death and winning. We celebrate that someone died and then became alive again. Richard Dawkins, an atheist of our day once said, “Christianity teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.” Richard is right—that is exactly what we teach—we teach that death is not the end. In his mind, teaching people that death is not the end is crazy, even dangerous talk. Are we as Christians crazy? Are we as Christians simply afraid of the dark? Do we simply dislike bad endings to stories? No, that does not define Christianity. We believe in life after death because we believe that Jesus did really rise from the dead—we actually believe he died and came back to life on the third day.
Is this really some cruel hoax? No, not at all, we have a number of convincing proofs that he did indeed rise from the dead.
First that he did really die can be attested by the different witnesses that we have. In the accounts told to us, Jesus was beaten, scourged, crucified, and pierced with a spear. Prophetic writings tell us that he was beaten so badly that he was practically unrecognizable. The fact is that Jesus was so beaten up he could not even carry his cross to Golgotha. And then he was hung on a cross. He spent hours on the cross and died. To make sure he was dead they stabbed him in the side with a spear. Blood and water came out of Jesus’ side. Medical people tell us that these are symptoms of a ruptured heart. Jesus apparently had died shortly before being pierced in the side by the centurion. Further if he was not really dead, the soldiers who crucified him and removed him from the cross would have recognized it. This was their job-they were professional executioners. And then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who washed his body and wrapped the body in grave clothes and in the hundred or so pounds of spices would have recognized Jesus was still alive as well and they would not have wrapped him up and put him into the tomb. So we can be sure that Jesus really died.
That the tomb was empty on the third day is also a fact. The women on that first Easter morning came to the place where they had seen the body of Jesus being laid on Friday evening. John and Peter raced to the same tomb later that morning. If it were possible to bring out the body of Jesus as proof that he did not rise from the dead, the Jewish Sanhedrin would have happily done this. But the fact is that they never send anyone back to check the tomb and bring out the body. They avoid discussing it altogether. The only time we have any discussion of it is when the guards come to tell them about the earthquake and the angels and the Jewish leadership tell the guards to say that they, the guards had fallen asleep and while they slept, the disciples came to steal the body. (As if anyone knows who is doing what when they are asleep.) And later when the Sanhedrin is talking with the disciples and telling them to stop this talk about Jesus they don’t bring up the ‘stealing of the body’ at all. There were no pointless accusations of the disciples having stolen the body because the authorities knew the disciples had not. Jesus had really died; the tomb was really empty even though there had been guards posted to keep the body in the tomb; both of these were facts.
And then Jesus was seen after his resurrection. He was seen by not just one person, or by two or three; he was seen by all kinds of people. He was seen by groups of people. In fact, one time he was seen by over five hundred people at once. He was seen in a real body. He ate and was touchable; he could pick up things. He was different than before, yet he was recognizable—he was still Jesus.
Not only all this, but the disciples were transformed. These eleven guys turned from depressed, frightened, and disillusioned men from the time of arrest and death of Jesus to excited, courageous, and very focused men; in fact, men through whom the entire world was turned upside down. They had seen. They were witnesses. They were convinced, convinced to point of being willing to be tortured to death as a testament that the resurrection was the truth. These are the men whose witness to these facts we believe.
Easter is not only a great story—it is powerful. It is powerful because a guy who was dead was brought back to life again. Not as a zombie but as a man with a resurrected body. Easter Day without a doubt is the most important day in the history of mankind. We can say that confidently because of the effect it has had on people’s lives. It changed the course of the lives of his eleven disciples; it changed the lives of those who believed their witness. It changed countless lives throughout the ages throughout the world. It changed the course of history.
That is why we believe that there is life after death. This is our answer to people like Richard Dawkins. We are not simply whistling in the dark; we have a reasonable and historic faith. And what are the results of this faith? So what if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead? After all, people are still dying today and we don’t see them popping out of their graves after three days. Just this, if as we believe Jesus did rise from the dead, then everything he said God validated. It means that everything Jesus said was true! It is really true when he told people that believing in him would bring them life. It is really true that we expect eternal life through our faith in Jesus. It is really true that Jesus is the way the truth and the life and no one comes to God except through him. It is really true that through knowing Jesus that we can know God and actually experience God’s presence in our lives and it was really true that we do! That is why as Christians we want to come to church every week, not only on Easter and Christmas. That is why as Christians we want to be here to experience God’s presence with God’s people. That is why as Christians we want and we need to continue to grow in that new life. Christ’s resurrection is not just an historical fact but it changes everything for us because of his resurrection we now can have life with God!
Alleluia, Christ is risen.