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Wednesday, April 03 2013

Luke 24:1-12; I Corinthians 15:12-26

          So how are you doing with your brackets?  Now if you’re scratching your head over that question, I’m talking about March Madness – you know – the NCAA college basketball tournament.  My bracket’s doing just find because I didn’t bother filling one out this year.  But if you’ve been following the games – then you know that there have been a lot of upsets.  The biggest one being that college down in Southwest Florida – Florida Gulf Coast University.  Made it to the Sweet Sixteen.  That’s as far as they got.  

          But they upset a lot of teams.  They upset a lot of people’s brackets.  Maybe it’s because of teams like Florida Gulf Coast University that they call it March Madness.

          Folks – let me tell you on this Resurrection Day – that there are people out there – people who you know – people who are our relatives – maybe even people that we live with – who would say, “You Christians and your celebration of Easter.  You insist on believing that stuff about Jesus.  You actually believe in that resurrection stuff.  You Christians.  You’ve got your own version of March Madness.”

          You know that there are people out there who say that.   For the moment, let’s just call them skeptics or non-believers – people who way, “Jesus–back from the dead? I don’t think so.” Or, “The resurrection is a lie!”  “You Christians are mad!  What you believe in – it’s madness.”  

          But you know what?  Every time we tell the resurrection story, there’s just going to be someone out there who will say, (whispering) “The story’s not true, don’t believe it. Somebody made it up. Somebody is trying to trick you. Dead men don’t rise. God doesn’t forgive sin. You’re a miserable loser and don’t deserve the love of God.”

          Can we take just a few minutes here this morning to take those lies head on?  I’d like to confront that nonsense and tell you the truth about why we’re here today.

          It seems to me that there are three and only three responses that you can make when you hear the good news of Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen from the dead.  Three responses:

  •       You simply don’t believe it.  It’s either a legend – a story that somebody, or somebody’s made up – or it’s a grand hoax.  But regardless of how the story came to be, it never happened.
  •      A second response is that you’re not sure.  You’re a skeptic.  Maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t – but you’re just not sure.
  •       And the third response is that you believe it.  You believe that Jesus was crucified.  He was dead.   He was buried.  And that he really did rise from the dead.

 

          There are no other choices.  But let me tell you that there is one thing non-believers and believers agree on.  One thing atheists and genuine disciples of Jesus Christ agree on.  Christianity rises or falls on this one thing – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  IF it is a lie – if it is a hoax – if it is a legend – than what in the world are we doing here?  What in the world?  If the resurrection never occurred – then the atheists are right.  But if it did occur – if it really did occur – then the atheists are wrong.

 

          Let me throw a few things at you – information that every one of us needs to know before we make up our minds about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  And this is not an exhaustive list by any means.  I just don’t have enough time this morning to present all of the evidence to you.  I mean – it’s one of the things that I get excited about – preaching an Easter morning sermon.  I love throwing this kind of stuff out to you.

          What do we know?  Well, what we know is that the early followers of Jesus proclaimed that Jesus was literally raised from the dead!  A physical, bodily resurrection in space and time.  And furthermore, he appeared to well over 500 people in at least 12 different episodes over a period of 40 days. 

          And what I want you to think about is this.  I know.  I’ve said it numerous times before – and I’m going to keep on telling you this.  If the resurrection is a lie – if it is a hoax – then who made this story up?  Obviously – the ones who told it – believed it – proclaimed it – wrote about it.  Those first disciples. 

          Okay you say.  But maybe the disciples took Jesus’ body.  Just stole it right out of the tomb.  Maybe they staged the whole thing!  But you see – there’s a problem. Many – most – of those disciples died for their belief – for their proclamation that Jesus was risen. Would they be willing to die for a lie?  Would you? 

          When Matthew was being cut in two – when Peter was being crucified upside down – when Stephen was being stoned to death – did any of them say, “Wait, wait, wait!  That whole resurrection thing?  We just made that up.”  No.  None of them – not one of them said that.  And why would they make it up?  They had nothing to gain from it.  Financially – politically – socially or otherwise.

          In fact, it was Paul who said, “I have suffered the loss of all things for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.”

          Speaking of Paul, there’s a guy who had it all.  A Pharisee who believed that he followed the Law of God so closely that he himself was without sin.  So zealous was he for God and the Law of God that he was a persecutor of the church.  When he rounded Christians up – had them put into prison – or even had them put to death – he thought he was doing God a favor. 

          But Paul had an encounter with the living – risen Christ.  There are three separate accounts of this event in Paul’s life in the New Testament.  One of the best pieces of evidence I can give you is the conversion of Paul.  He went from being a persecutor of the church to being the greatest missionary the church has ever known.  Do you think he would have done this – do you think he would have changed if he was not convinced?  If he knew the resurrection of Jesus was a lie?  Do you think that just before the executioner swung his ax – just as Paul was about to be beheaded by the Romans – that Paul changed his mind?

          No.  The amazing thing is that Paul was a changed man.  All of the disciples were changed men and women.  When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, didn’t they all run away and hide?  And Peter.  Peter later denied Jesus.  On the first Easter morning they were all together in the same room with doors locked and windows shuttered for fear that what happened to Jesus might now happen to them. 

          After the resurrection –with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost – weren’t these changed men and women?  Why?  Because they heard and touched and saw and ate with the living, risen Jesus.  And nothing could dissuade them – nothing – not even the threat of the loss of all things – not even the threat of death – could dissuade them from proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.

          By the way – I like Paul’s argument for the resurrection.  In I Corinthians he says,  “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say  there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our      proclamation  has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.   We are even found to be  misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

                But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

          Listen!  There are many other pieces of evidence that can and should be examined.  But it is enough for us to know that the lives of those first followers of Jesus were changed.  Enough to know that the life of Paul was changed.  And enough to know that my life is changed.  That the lives of many of you have been changed.

          Why?  It’s all because of Jesus.  A dead Jesus can’t do anything for anybody.  But a living, risen Savior can make all the difference.  And since Jesus is risen from the dead – it means that he is alive.  He is alive today!  And if he is alive today – he can make a difference in your life.  Whether you are an atheist – an agnostic – a skeptic –you’re just not sure.  Or whether you’re already a believer.  All I ask is that you examine the evidence.  That’s all I ask. 

          Because none of us was there – none of us can prove the resurrection.  But then again – no one can prove that it didn’t happen either.  And all attempts – all of the arguments I have heard to explain away the resurrection – just fall flat on their face.   For instance, there’s the swoon theory which suggests that Jesus didn’t really but fell into a swoon and just appeared to be dead.  Yeah, and after having his heart pierced with a Roman lance, he just kind of resuscitated in the tomb, rolled back the stone, and overcame the guards outside his tomb single handedly.  Or that the women went to the wrong tomb, saw that there was no body there and declared Jesus risen from the dead.  Or the theory that the disciples stole the body.  Well, we’ve already talked about that.  Or the wackiest theory is that the Romans stole the body, or the Jewish religious leaders stole the body.  Well, why would they do that?  They were the ones who wanted to suppress all talk of resurrection.  If they had the body, all they had to do was produce the body and all talk of resurrection would have ended right then and there.

          Folks, If you’re still saying that it just never happened – or you’re just not sure – examine the evidence.  Try to prove to yourself – try to prove to me – give it your best shot – that the resurrection never happened.  If you can prove it to me – then I will stop preaching.  I’ll live my life differently.  I’ll get into another line of work.  But only if you can prove to me that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

          So let me ask you.  Is the tomb empty?   After you examine all of the evidence – an honest and earnest examination of all the evidence – I’m here to tell you that there’s only one conclusion.  The tomb is empty.

          You don’t have to park your brains at the door to believe the resurrection of Jesus.  That Jesus lives.  And that he lives for you.  And because he lives – because he is raised from the dead – what that means is that death does not have the final word.  Jesus has the final word – and that someday our dead bodies will be raised – and we will live with Christ forever. 

          The bottom line on all this is that He is able – He is able to turn our March badness – our March sadness – or what some might even call our March madness – into March Gladness. 

          Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]

          Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]

          Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]  Alleluia!  Amen

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656
Email:
zionoffice@zionclarencecenter.com

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