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Easter Sunday 2018

By April 1, 2018May 11th, 2018Sermons

Did you know that in the United States there are people who are members in the Flat Earth Society?  This society still holds that the earth is flat and therefore if you walk or sail to the edge, you will fall off.  They discount the pictures from space and walking on the moon as hoaxes perpetrated on an unsuspecting and gullible public.

Not only are there still members of the Flat Earth Society, but there those who believe in time travel. If you look on the internet and type in time travel you will find people who claim time travel is certainly possible, there are those who claim to have traveled in time or at least claim to have found proof of time travelers. They will show you pictures of the past, and point out people in these pictures with sunglasses or some other modern product. And they say these pictures are untouched. Wink, wink.

There are people who believe in flying saucers and aliens from outer space.  They believe that Area 59 does in fact house aliens or alien space ships.  These people have found aliens in fossils and in images taken on cameras.  There are all kinds of stories about them—sometimes aliens are simply observing us, sometimes they are bent on the conquest of earth at some point in time.

And this brings me to Easter.  Are Christians similar to those who are belong to the Flat Earth Society, or those who believe in time travel or those who are certain there are aliens among us?  As Christians are we no longer thinking rationally because we believe that a person, who was dead, dead over the space of three days, came back to life?  And not only came back to life but he appeared to his followers and then ascended into the heavens.  Does this strain the credulity of a rational human?  And how important is it anyway?  Can we still be Christians and embrace the core teachings of Christianity without having to accept and necessarily believe all that supernatural stuff?  How important is it that Jesus came back to life?  Can we just say, as some people do, that Jesus came back to life in the disciple’s imagination? Or as I heard several weeks ago the disciples simply dreamed Jesus was alive.  And then as time went on, the disciples understood the transcendental teachings of Jesus and realized that his words and doctrines were ever living and therefore not subject to death.  So perhaps it doesn’t really matter if Jesus in his body really rose from the dead.  Can we go there?  Can we believe that?

Well, of course, we can go there.  But if we do, if we believe that, we are no longer Christians.  We may embrace some of the teachings of Jesus, but if we say that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead—well, we have fundamentally denied THE core Christian teaching.  Christianity is based upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If Christ was not raised the apostle Paul says, “then our faith is in vain.” If Christ was not raised from the dead then our faith is useless, it is futile! If Jesus did not rise from the dead then his statements like “I am the way the truth and the life” are so much nonsense. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then his statement, “no one comes to the Father except through me” is simply narrow minded arrogance and we, if we believe it that Jesus is the only way are also arrogant. But, but IF Jesus was in fact raised from the dead, then all of what he said was validated by God Almighty. And everything he said was true.

Did Jesus rise from the dead?  Or was it all a cruel hoax?  We have a number of convincing proofs that he did indeed rise from the dead.

  1. Without the physical Resurrection, two thousand years of history are left begging for explanation, like a movie missing a key scene. No other event in all recorded history has reached so far across national, ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, political, and geographic borders. The message spread with unreasonable success across the world. During just the first few centuries, it spread without political or military power, prevailing against the ruthless efforts of dedicated, organized and violent opposition. How did a small band of disempowered Jews in an occupied and insignificant territory of ancient Rome accomplish this unequaled act? Something happened that reframed all human history.
  2. With dates established by radiometric analysis, prophecies from centuries before Jesus’ birth predict his life, death, and resurrection. These prophecies include specific details that Jesus and His followers could not control. For example, before crucifixion was even invented, Psalms 22:16 described the piercing of Jesus’ hands and feet. Clearly an Intelligence outside our time confirming Jesus’ authority.
  3. The early accounts of the Resurrection and prophecies predicting it were reliably transmitted through history. As of 2014, more than 66,000 early manuscripts are known, orders of magnitude more than other ancient texts. We see accounts nearly unaltered in the earliest manuscripts. A pattern of consistency emerges. There are variations in the manuscripts, but nothing invalidates the reliability of the Resurrection accounts.
  4. Accounts of the Resurrection include inconvenient and unflattering details that make most sense as these are attempts to reliably record what had happened and keep the accounts free from embellishment. They do not fit expectations of a fabricated account. For example, women are the first witnesses of the Resurrection. In a culture that did not admit the testimony of a woman as valid evidence in court, this detail is surprising. Likewise, all the disciples, the leaders of the early Church, flee as cowards when Jesus is taken.
  5. After Jesus’ violent death, His followers were frightened and scattered. Then, something happened that grew a strong, bold, and confident belief that resisted sustained, murderous opposition. Unlike other movements with executed leaders, once they came back together they did not replace Jesus with one of his family members. They didn’t replace him at all. Their resistance to the civil authorities was entirely non-violent and devoid of political power. Yet they were all suddenly willing to die for what they saw. What changed them? Why was there not evidence at the time to undermine their belief? Clearly something convinced them Jesus was no longer dead.
  6. More than just a fact about our past, 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: Blaise Pascal, Johann Kepler, Robert Boyle, Gregor Mendel, Asa Gray, Michael Faraday, James Maxwell, Santiago Ram”n y Cajal, and Francis Collins.

Jesus was seen after his resurrection.  He was seen by not just one person, or by two; or even just by the eleven remaining disciples who some could argue had a vested interest in keeping the Jesus movement going. No, he was seen by all kinds of people. He was seen by groups of people, groups of three 10, 11, in fact, one time he was seen by over five hundred at once.  He had 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.  These are the men whose witness to these facts we believe.  We believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.  And we can look at historical facts to back it up.

As Christians we are not asked to believe in a flat earth, or in aliens, or in time travelers.  We believe in an historical fact.  We believe that Jesus was crucified, he died and was buried but that God raised him from the dead.  And we believe that because Jesus is still alive, we can know him and by knowing him we can know God. We can experience his presence in our lives.  We can know his forgiveness; we can know his peace.

Yesterday we held our Holy Saturday service in the Memorial Gardens. After the service I counted the number of people that I have buried in that garden—there were 32. Later I looked in our registry and in the 5 years I have been here I have held almost 100 funeral services. In another 5 years how many more services will I hold? None of us gets out of here alive. That’s why Easter is such a wonderful event.  You see, someone did it! Someone defeated death. That someone is Jesus!

This is the great event, the great fact on which our faith rests.  That is why this day, Easter day, is the most important day of the year but not only the year but the history of humanity.  Christmas is wonderful, Pentecost is good too, but Easter day is the holiest, happiest day of the year.  Because Jesus was raised from the dead and because of that our sins are forgiven through faith in him. And we who believe and follow him will be raised to live with him one day for eternity.  Because He lives—we live.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!