Mark 16:1-8; Acts 10: 34-43; I Cor 15:1-11
You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. During his day he was as powerful a man as there was on earth. A Russian Communist leader he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda, and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his harshest criticism at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.
An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men's faith. ‘Are there any questions?’ Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: “CHRIST IS RISEN!” En masse the crowd arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”
My friends. My dear friends. Listen to me as I say to you this morning, CHRIST IS RISEN! (“HE IS RISEN INDEED!”)
And let me tell you – of this I am convinced. All the evidence points to this one thing. That Jesus Christ was crucified, died and was buried – but this is also true – that He rose from the dead – he is resurrected from the dead – and that some day he will come again in glory.
Everything that we believe – everything that we do – everything that that we are about – hinges on this one thing. On this one truth. This historical event in space and time. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Without the resurrection – the whole thing falls apart.
The questions that people have about the resurrection are not new with 21st Century Americans. The first Apostles – the early church – had to defend what they knew to be true. And we know it is true because they experienced it. They were eye-witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s why the Apostle Paul writes in our reading today from I Corinthians 15:
If the dead are not raised – if there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead – then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised – then our proclamation has been in vain – in other words – we’ve been wasting our time. If Christ has not been raised – then your faith is what? – futile – your faith is in vain – and you are still in your sins.
And then what does he go on to say? “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact,” he says, “Christ has been raised from the dead. The first fruits of those who have died.”
Paul's point is this: If Jesus is still dead, then all we have is another great teacher who died like everybody else. If his bones are still stuck in some tomb, then it means there's still no clear path to the Creator, no certainty about our life after death, and no trustworthy teaching about why we exist in this world. If he is still dead, all we have is our emptiness.
Folks – do you see? If the literal– physical – bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not true – the philosophical atheists of our day are right. The literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus form the dead is the best – in fact it is the only reason we have for accepting Jesus for who he is.
Again – this is the central issue to our faith. Christianity rises and falls on the truth and reality of the resurrection. And let me tell you that the resurrection of Jesus defines who I am. The resurrection defines who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.
So since this is THE central event that defines who we are as Christians – and since this is THE defining moment upon which faith is based – then it seems to me that we have some choices to make. One of three. And the choices we make concerning the resurrection are critical. Eternity lies in the balance.
The first is to be bewildered. The message of the resurrection is so stunning – so spectacular – so unimaginable – that some people don’t know what to make of it. Not sure if it’s true or not. Not wanting to believe – and yet – fearful that it just might be true. Some folks choose to remain bewildered or skeptical at best.
The second option is to be in total denial. You can examine the evidence and still choose to ignore it. And let me state for the record that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is overwhelming. Having said that, the resurrection cannot be proved. But neither can it be disproved. All efforts to do so fall flat on their face. But the evidence remains overwhelming in favor of a literal, physical, bodily resurrection.
Listen. This is what I want you to think about – now and after you leave here today.
The most compelling piece of evidence that I can give you is the witness of the disciples. Think about it. If the resurrection is a lie – then those first disciples are the ones who made it up. And what happened to them? All of the original disciples – with the exception of John – who was exiled to the island of Patmos – died martyr’s deaths. And not one of them at the last minute recanted and said, “Hey! Wait a minute! That resurrection thing – we just kind of made that up.” No. They had nothing to gain either politically or financially – and it cost them their lives.
· The disciples recorded it and later willingly died for it.
· Then you have to consider the transformation that came about in the disciples. After Jesus was raised from the dead, these were different men and women.
· And then there is Paul. Paul was a witness to the resurrected Christ – and it changed his life from a persecutor of Christians to the greatest missionary the church ever had.
· Speaking of Paul – he reminds us today – again from our reading from I Corinthians – that there were more than 500 witnesses to the resurrection. Some had died, but the rest, he said, are still with us. The clear implication is that he is saying, “If you don’t believe me, ask them.” 500 plus people could not have imagined this – nor could that many people be part of a mass conspiracy – and never once did any deny what they had seen.
· Neither the Roman authorities nor the Jewish religious leaders ever disproved it. They didn’t even try to. And by the way – if they could have produced the body – they would have. But they couldn’t because Jesus had in fact been raised from the dead.
· And then, in a male-dominated world where women were second class citizens – the testimony of women was regarded as worthless. Why would the gospel writers, like Mark, dare make up a story about women being the first to find Jesus? They would be inviting scandal and scorn; unless, of course, it actually happened – and since that’s the way it happened they did not dare say otherwise.
Listen! I am here to tell you today that the resurrection of Christ is not a fairy tale. It is not myth. It is not a rumor. If you need evidence this is what I offer to you. After this it is a matter of faith. But this was enough for the disciples. It changed their lives. And this is why I believe in the resurrection. Because it also has changed my life.
That then leaves us with a third choice – and that choice is to believe. To believe that the resurrection of Jesus is true. To accept it and believe it by faith. Based upon the evidence – based upon the witness – based upon the changed lives of those first disciples – and the changed lives of those who have not seen, and yet believe.
When it comes to making choices – these – it seems to me – are the choices we make. You can be agnostic and cynical by saying that you don’t know what to make of this. You can deny it as a fairy tale – a product of wishful thinking but not something that actually happened. Or you can accept the fact of the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Not only does it lead to a transformed life in the here and now – but eternity hangs in the balance.
So what will you do with the evidence? Which choice will you make?
My friends – Christ is not dead. Christ is alive! And because Christ is risen from the dead, it means that death is not the end! Death does not have the final word. Jesus has the final word, and that word is resurrection!
Let me finish with this story. “An ancient legend says that in the early church a believer was to be martyred for his faith. As they tied his hands and led him to the stake, he was asked if he had any last words. He shouted out, ‘He is risen.’ Unknown to the authorities, in the surrounding hills, the Christians had gathered to watch the execution. When they heard the words, ‘He is risen’… They cried out with one voice … ‘He is risen indeed.’”
That’s how they greeted one another in the early church.
“He is risen!” [“He is risen indeed!”]
“He is risen!” [“He is risen indeed!”]
“He is risen!” [“He is risen indeed!”]