I… love… Easter. It is a very special time to remember the wonderful sacrifice that God made so that we – His enemies – could be His friends. I often say this: When I was a child, I grew up thinking that Christmas was the most important Christian celebration of the year. And why wouldn’t I think that? I got presents at Christmas time! But over the past several years I’ve come to realise that Christmas isn’t the most important Christian celebration in the year – Easter is. In fact, Christmas only happened so that Easter would.
So, I love the story that we’re reminded of over this time of the year.
Jesus, the Son of God, who never did anything wrong, allowed Himself to be betrayed, beaten and bruised, sneered at and shamed, nailed to a tree so that He would die – a death He didn’t deserve, faced God’s wrath, which He didn’t deserve but so I wouldn’t have to. He paid the penalty of my sin.
Of course, that’s not the end of the story. Three days later, Scripture tells us that He rose again from the dead. Barry spoke about that wonderful event this morning. It’s a beautiful story that Christians love to tell. It tells the story of death being overcome by life, of light overpowering darkness, good conquering evil.
Almost every movie has this plot line: A development of characters, a crisis, hope of a solution, a terrible fall to near hopelessness, and a final triumph of the heroes: When the main characters step onto the hill, silhouetted against a clear, clean sunrise. It’s a popular plotline because (without knowing it) it reflects the great, overarching story of God’s world and our history.
But as I’ve prepared to preach this morning, I’ve been enlivened with the realisation that the Resurrection of Jesus is MORE than this; MORE than an incredible ending to the scene; MORE than a story of good conquering evil.
I realise that I – and I’m sure many of you – have a poor understanding of just how important and significant the Resurrection is to God’s salvation story. Sure, the Cross is important; but the Resurrection?
Due to the fact that we don’t have a proper understanding of what the resurrection of Jesus means, many people treat it as the cherry-on-top in the story of the crucifixion – a nice end to a rough story. Many even begin asking ‘What difference does it make whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, or whether it was just a parable to help us understand deeper spiritual truths?’
Maybe that’s even a question you ask.
What is your relationship to the Resurrection? Do you see it as central to your salvation? Is it one of the first points that you bring up when sharing the gospel with an unbelieving individual? Or is it something you don’t really think about. You know it’s important if pressed, but you don’t know why it’s important?
First of all, let’s lay a foundation. Let’s start by PROVING that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead undoubtedly did happen. How can we be sure that it did? Let’s look at a few arguments for the reality of the Resurrection:
Jesus did die – He did not simply faint on the cross and recover after a three-day sleep. Theories that he was buried while still alive and somehow recovered full health and strength again are absurd. Anyone who has watched the Passion movie will know that there’s no coming back from the violent abuse Jesus went through before the crucifixion.
Not even his worst enemies denied that by Sunday morning his tomb was empty. What happened to the body of Jesus?
If for some strange reason the Roman or Jewish authorities had removed the body from the tomb, they would have produced it as soon as Jesus' followers claimed that he was alive again and the Christian church would have collapsed on the spot.
For the disciples to have stolen the body, they would have had to overcome an armed Roman Guard stationed at the tomb.
The disciples were unable to do this, because they were a small, terrified group of untrained men and women. They couldn’t even stand with Jesus at His trial! And after His crucifixion, John tells us they hid behind locked doors ‘for fear of the Jews' (John 20:19). This is not a trained, brave A-Team ready to do a quick extraction exercise.
Again, even if the disciples had taken Jesus’ body out of the grave, we already know they were a small and terrified group who couldn’t stand up to a mob of soldiers; yet a few weeks later they courageously faced persecution, imprisonment, torture and even death because they had seen Jesus alive again. People sometimes die for something they believe to be true (even if it can be shown that it is not), but nobody is prepared to die for something they know to be false, especially if they concocted the lie.
Six independent witnesses record Jesus appearing after his death in eleven separate incidents over a period of forty days. On one occasion over 500 saw him at the same time, and when the apostle Paul recorded this well over half of them were still alive and could confirm the fact (see 1 Corinthians 1:6).
The Christian church is the largest religious body the world has ever known, and no other group, religious or otherwise, has made a greater contribution to the well-being of humankind. Yet the church is not based on the moral example Jesus set, nor on his death, but on his resurrection. For 2,000 years this has been its driving force and the only explanation for its existence.
The earliest surviving Christian writings are the letters of Paul, written between 50-57 AD (or possibly 48-57). That means, written approximately 20 years after the event, written by first-hand accounts. Denying the resurrection is like going around saying the Twin Towers didn’t actually fall, or Nelson Mandela never was in prison.
Friends, we don’t need to hold to the truth of the resurrection fearfully – it HAPPENED! Now, what are you going to do about it?
For the early Christians, the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t a side-point; it was a MAIN POINT. Paul said, [this is] of first importance: Christ died for our sins…he was buried…[and] he was raised on the third day.
It was centrally important to the apostles and to the early Church. But let’s ask: What significance does the resurrection have today? Is it important that it happened? Does it make a difference to you and me, here and now? Of course, it is! Let me tell you why: Jesus’ resurrection guarantees wonderful things for you and me. Let’s first read a passage from 1 Peter.
1 Peter 1:3-9 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
The resurrection of Jesus gives us HOPE! (given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead) I’m not talking of the hope that a person has who buys a lottery ticket: One chance in a billion. I’m talking of the hope that a child has who has been promised by his parents that they’re taking him to Disneyland for his birthday: A complete certainty and an eager expectation.
Why does the resurrection of Jesus give us hope? Because it proves to us that God has given us, and will give us wonderful things to enjoy. It’s not uncertain, it’s a guarantee. There are three of these guarantees that I want to talk with you about this morning. Firstly, the resurrection of Jesus guarantees:
1. [The resurrection of Jesus guarantees]: God’s Acceptance of Christ’s Sacrifice
1 Peter 1:3 In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
We see here that God has accepted the blood-sacrifice of Jesus and it has resulted for us in a living hope…through the resurrection of Jesus. God is PROVING His acceptance by raising Jesus from the dead.
Acts 17:31 For [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.
Imagine for a moment that God had looked at the sacrifice of Jesus, and the body of Jesus lying in the grave, and had decided that it wasn’t a good enough sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus tells us in Mark 10:45 that He ‘came to give his life as a ransom for many’. That means Jesus was banking on one thing: That if He died on behalf of humanity, humanity would no longer be subject to the punishment of eternal death. He says in John (6:39-40) ‘And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’
If God had not accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, Jesus would have remained in the grave. He lived uprightly so that He could stand in our place – the righteous punished for the unrighteous. But what if He’d failed to do all that? What if God had looked at Jesus, lying in the grave, and stamped a big ‘NOT … GOOD … ENOUGH’ across the stone that blocked the doorway?
Had He not accepted Jesus sacrifice, Jesus would have remained dead in the grave, unable to stand as the mediator between a Holy God and you, the object of God’s wrath.
But God did accept Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf – and He proved it by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31). This is tremendous news for us! This is why we have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
There are many who say that the reality or non-reality of Christ’s resurrection is inconsequential. What really matters is the spiritual lessons we can learn from the story of the resurrection.
But they fail to grasp that if Christ hadn’t been really and truly raised from the grave, there are no spiritual lessons we can learn from the story of the resurrection. In fact, there is no hope of forgiveness whatsoever – not in Christianity any more than in Hinduism, Islam or the religion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
Think of this: Jesus has indeed been raised – that is PROOF for us that God HAS accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf – that means, there’s certain hope for your salvation! WHAT A GUARANTEE!
2. [The resurrection of Jesus guarantees]: God’s Promise of eternal life
1 Peter 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you…
In these verses, we see that the resurrection of Jesus has achieved for us an inheritance. An inheritance is, by nature, not something you work for but something that someone else works for. And that inheritance is Life: Eternal Life.
Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
There is a common saying that two things cannot be avoided in life: Death and taxes. Taxes are frustrating – but we all know someone who has gone through taxes and survived to tell the tale. We’ve gone through taxes and can talk about it.
Taxes are frustrating, but death can be terrifying. Have you ever stood over the lifeless body of a loved one and wondered, ‘Where are they now?’ You know that they aren’t there anymore, in this empty tent.
For followers of Christ; the resurrection of Jesus assures us that death is not to be feared. We don’t live our best lives now – there is life hereafter. There’s no reason to feel hopeless or afraid. We can tell those looking into the casket of their loved ones that this is not the end of the story.
Jesus says that His resurrection had a purpose: to go and prepare a place for His followers. He said (John 14:3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
What kind of a place will this be? We don’t know all the details, but Jesus tells us it’s a paradise (Luke 23:43), the Bible describes it as the city of the living God (Heb. 12:22), God’s dwelling place (Psalms 33:13), the Father’s house (Jn. 14:2), a better country (Heb. 11:16). It has been described as a place where we will worship without distraction, serve without exhaustion, fellowship without fear, learn without lethargy, and rest without boredom.
John gives one of the clearest pictures of what it will be like in Revelation 21: ‘Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”’
It is a place of great joy and peace and rest. Again, what does the resurrection have to do with this? Jesus assured His disciples: I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is proof – a guarantee – that death is not a fearful thing for believers in Jesus. We stand at the funerals of Christians with a great CERTAINTY.
It is a CELEBRATION. It is not a vague hopefulness that they have their wings, or that they are somewhat comfortable, but a certainty that they are where Jesus is: With God for eternity. They are happy. And if we, too, trust in Jesus, we have certainty that we will one day see them again. The resurrection grants us a guarantee of freedom of the fear of death.
3. [The resurrection of Jesus guarantees]: God’s grace for present trials
1 Peter 1:6-7 In this [hope of an inheritance] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
The resurrection of Jesus and the promise of our own resurrection gives us strength and the reason to be about God’s business, despite all opposition to it – and there is plenty of opposition. The enemy of our souls is out to stop and destroy God’s work in and through you. But remembering the resurrection enables us to fight through and go on.
When you feel like your good work is being forgotten: Lk 14:14 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. When you do God’s work behind the scenes, and you’re often forgotten or your work goes un-thanked – God sees.
When you feel like your good work is fruitless: 1 Cor. 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. When you’ve been faithfully doing God’s work, sharing His word and praying for people, and you don’t see the fruit, don’t stop! Give yourself fully to the work, because you know that your labours for the Lord are not in vain.
When you feel ill-equipped for the work God calls you to: Heb. 13:20-21 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will… May … God … [through the resurrection of Jesus] equip you with everything good for doing his will… When you’ve been called by God to do something you feel ill-equipped for: Being nice to people who hurt you, praying for the sick, sharing the gospel with a stranger…the resurrection of Jesus guarantees that God will give you grace in those trials, and will equip you for the work.
Over the last few weeks, as I’ve contemplated the resurrection of Jesus, I’ve realised that I can choose to be genuinely happy because I know that Jesus is resurrected from the grave. Because Jesus is alive, because God resurrected Him from the grave, I have every reason to be happy in every trial and in every challenging work. And you do too.
Jesus’ Resurrection guarantees God’s grace for present trials.
Finally, friends, we need a sober realisation.
On the one hand we see that the resurrection of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the bedrock and foundation of our hope in this life and our hope for the next. It isn’t a sugar-coating on the crucifixion story, it is the climax of God’s salvation offer to the world. Those who die with Him will also live with Him.
But there’s another side to this great offer. It is promised that there will be a resurrection for all people, not just the followers of Christ.
Jesus’ teachings in the gospel make it clear that there will be a day of resurrection, followed by a judgement, for all people, but two distinct destination points.
One is the wonderful eternity I described in point two, and the other is a terrible destiny. It is described as a place outside of the kingdom, a place of suffering, a place of darkness and loneliness, an eternal place of suffering, a place of hopelessness and pain. This is the destiny of anyone who has not surrendered his life to Jesus. This is how Jesus describes it.
John 5:28-29 Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
Revelation 20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne…And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books…each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Just as the Resurrection of Jesus is a guarantee of many things that are wonderful to the ears, it is also a guarantee of some things that are terrifying and should be terrifying to the enemies of God. Jesus’ certain resurrection guarantees that there will be a time when all people will be judged according to how they lived their lives: Whether they lived surrendered to Jesus or lived as kings of their own destinies.
Here, I stand and I offer you two options:
You can stand on the one side, bowing at the feet of the resurrected Saviour, and receive from His hand the guarantee of God’s forgiveness, the guarantee of eternal life with Him, the guarantee of strength in the trials of this life.
Or you can stand on the other side, bowing to no one. On that side there is also a guarantee: A guarantee that God will judge you according to the pride in your heart; a guarantee that He will find your name missing from the book of life; and a guarantee that your destiny is the lake of fire.
On this Resurrection Sunday, which side will you choose? Go home and consider carefully.
Thank God we have the promise of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”