You don't have to live in this world very long to learn that good news rarely comes from a graveyard. But the reason that we are in church this morning is because that is precisely what happened--against all odds, good news burst forth from a sealed tomb and Jesus was resurrected from the dead. By His resurrection, Jesus distinguished Himself from all the other religious leaders throughout history who have claimed to be sent from God. To this day, the tribute to those leaders is a row of grave markers with "occupied" signs hanging on them. In contrast, the tomb of Jesus stands open and empty for all to see.
Matthew 28:5-7 (NKJV) But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 "He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 "And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you."
We are here this morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his victory over death. This is a subject we should all be interested in, seeing we all will die.
Thousands of years ago Job asked this question: " If a man dies, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14). Have you ever asked that question? Is there life after death? This seems to be a common concern. A Gallop poll reported that 73% of Americans strongly believe in life after death, and even the 27% of Americans who aren't too sure they believe in life after death have thought about it a lot.
People want to know, "Is there life after death? Is there something beyond the grave?"
Well, If you are looking for information about life after death, Jesus Christ is the foremost authority. Jesus not only conquered death himself but he also conquered death for everyone who trusts in Him.
John 11:25-26 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
That is quite a promise. Jesus is saying, "I guarantee resurrection life, eternal life to everyone who believes in me." Why should we trust Jesus Christ to fulfill an incredible promise like this? Let me give you two reasons why we look to Jesus Christ as the source of truth about resurrection life:
1. What he did for himself.
2. What he did for others. Notice what he did for others:
John 11:35-45 (NKJV) Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" 37 And some of them said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 "And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me." 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go." 45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.
Jesus has the power to conquer death. The kind of power that stops decay, that reverses rigor mortis, that pours new life into rotten organs, that starts a bloodless heart beating and pumping new blood.
How would you respond had you seen Jesus raise this dead man? In verse 45 we see that it caused many to believe in him.
Jesus raised the ruler's daughter from the dead.
Matthew 9:25 (NKJV) But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.
This girl was dead, but Jesus brought her back to life. Jesus stopped a funeral procession and raised a young man from the dead.
Luke 7:11-16 (NKJV) Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. 12 And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. 16 Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen up among us"; and, "God has visited His people."
How would you have liked to have been at that funeral? Think about it! Jesus walks up to the coffin and tells the dead man to arise. About that time many in the crowd were probably laughing to themselves and say, "This guy must be nuts." But their laughter is suddenly turned to astonishment when the dead guy sits up and starts talking. I wonder what he said? "Thanks for coming out to my funeral," or "What are you all crying about?" Had you been at that funeral what is the first thing you would have done upon leaving? Tell someone else what happened. "Guess what happened at Joe's funeral?"
We not only look to Jesus Christ as the source of resurrection power because of what he did for others but also; What he did for himself.
John 2:19-22 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
These things are History, not delusion. So to all atheists and agnostics and skeptics we urge this sign, this evidence. First, they did destroy the temple. Jesus was killed, just like he said.
Second, Jesus did build the temple again in three days. He rose from the dead, and for forty days appeared to many varied witnesses, even five hundred at one time, many of whom were still living, according to the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:6) - a claim that could have been easily falsified in those days so soon after the event. But it was not, nor could the adversaries ever produce the dead body of Jesus. Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead and he did. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational to Christianity. Without it, the death of Jesus Christ becomes the heroic death of a misguided martyr, the pathetic death of a deranged lunatic, or the execution of a liar. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said is either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord.
Did Jesus really rise from the dead? How do we know? The Bible says he did, and that's enough for me but let's think this through. What became of his body? On Friday, he was dead, he'd been beaten, crucified and speared. He was embalmed, wrapped with a hundred pounds of spices, laid in a tomb that was sealed and guarded by a Roman contingency. Sunday the grave cloths were beautifully undisturbed, but he was gone. How do you account for it?
Within days, Peter was standing with the other apostles proclaiming to the world that Jesus had been risen from among the dead and that He lived. For the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, or for the Roman soldiers, who had crucified Him and were supposed to guard Him, all it would have taken to silence Peter and all Christianity forever was to produce the decaying, dead body of Jesus. Why didn't they? They didn't have the body, it had disappeared. Where did it go? We have two alternatives: 1.Either human hands had taken the body away, or 2. Christ had supernaturally risen from the dead. If human hands had taken the body, was it friends or foes? His friends were not capable, the tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers. Maybe the soldiers had fallen asleep. And while they slept the disciples moved away the huge stone, and got his body out of the grave clothes without disturbing them. It seems very unlikely. Maybe his foes took it. That was exactly what they were trying to keep from happening.
The transformation of the apostles clearly supports a resurrection. When they saw Jesus die on Friday, they were plunged into despair and agony. Then suddenly they were boldly and persistently proclaiming , "He's alive." What happened? Did they say, "Let's pretend He's alive, let's say He rose from the dead." Then they all went out and laid down their lives for a lie? They were persecuted unto death, some were thrown into boiling caldrons of oil, some of them were burned at the stake, some of them were crucified and all for a known lie? It's psychologically impossible. They sealed their testimony with their blood because they had seen the risen Lord. He is alive!
The resurrection isn't even on trial anymore, the evidence is in. There is more historical evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead than there is that George Washington ever lived. The only question is whether you believe it.
People would rather talk about bunnies and color eggs than consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because if Jesus Christ rose from the dead as the Bible claims He did, then He is God, and as God, our eternal future rests on our decision for or against the truthfulness of His claims.
Jesus victoriously rose from the dead and promises resurrection life to all who believe in Him.
Why do we need to trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life? Why do men die? Death is a result of man's sin.
Genesis 2:7 (NKJV) And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
God created man and then gave him commandments.
Genesis 2:15-17 (NKJV) Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
Adam and Eve transgressed the Divine command, and fell into sin and misery.
Genesis 3:6 (NKJV) So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
They ate and they died spiritually. Death is separation. And they became separated from God. This spiritual death was passed on to all men.
Romans 5:12 (NKJV) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned;
If man dies physically in a state of spiritual death, he will spend eternity in Hell, separated from God forever.
How can Jesus Christ make this promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him? Does He persuade God to let certain people into heaven despite their sin? Does God overlook their sin and not punish them? No! God is Holy and must punish sin. God punished our sin in Christ. Jesus paid our sin debt.
Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
It was for our sin that Christ died. He took our sin and gives us His righteousness if we trust in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The only way you will get into heaven is by having the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And the only way you can get that is by faith. You can't earn your way to heaven. Eternal life is a gift to all who believe that Jesus Christ paid their sin debt in full. Jesus is alive and offers eternal life to all who trust Him.
It is important for us to remember that this is not religious folklore. The resurrection of Christ is historical, a documented fact. And because it is real, hundreds of millions of people all around the world stop what they're doing on this day and go to church. Some go to remember, some go to rejoice, some go to reflect on the significance of Jesus' resurrection.
In the remainder of our time this morning I want to focus our attention on four brief conversations that Jesus had with people shortly after his resurrection. Each of these conversations can be summarized into simple phrases that carry every bit as much meaning to us in 1998 as they did to Jesus' listeners in 33 A.D. The first phrase is...
1. EXAMINE THE CLAIMS OF CHRIST.
When Jesus first appeared to His disciples, they were all present but one. When the disciples told Thomas about the resurrection of Christ, he said "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
The disciple, Thomas, was from Missouri, in this sense. He was a "show me" kind of guy. Missouri is known as the "Show Me State." Missouri's nickname can be traced to a speech made by one of her congressmen named Hillard Duncan Vandiver. Speaking in Philadelphia in 1899, Vandiver said, "Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me!"
Thomas refused to rely on a secondhand report of the resurrection. He said that he would have to be "shown" the imprint of the nails in Jesus' hands and the wound in Jesus' side before he would believe. For this reason, he is often referred to as "Doubting Thomas."
An old back-woodsman ventured out of his little corner of the world and went to his first circus. He stood before the camel's cage, gaping at the strange beast inside. He wondered in silence as he examined every detail of the camel's crooked legs, cloven hoofs, sleepy eyes and humped back. He continued to gaze for a long time. Finally, he turned away with an air of disgust and muttered, "They can't fool me. There ain't no such animal!"
We are, by nature, rational creatures. God has given us the ability to think, to evaluate, to consider the evidence, and to come to a logical conclusion. In this sense, Thomas' doubts were the normal consequences of what it means to be human. Like Thomas, our natural skepticism is the normal consequence of being human. If we did not sometimes doubt, we would be hopelessly naive.
It wasn't long after that when the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors and suddenly Jesus was with them. The disciples were all frightened. Jesus simply approached Thomas and said,
Luke 24:39 (NKJV) "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."
Jesus didn't confront Thomas' doubts with condemnation, he said, "Examine the evidence Thomas." Thomas and the other disciples learned a lot about Jesus that day--and I hope that many of you will learn the very same thing today. Jesus is not angry with or afraid of honest doubts. In fact, He invites any and all who have questions to come and seek and ask and examine.
How different Jesus is from many religious leaders who demand blind loyalty from followers, and who ridicule anyone who has the audacity to doubt. Instead, Jesus says "Come and see for yourself whether or not I am real."
Any of you here today who have questions about Christianity can feel free to consider the evidence...look at the facts...review history...because once you have honestly investigated the case for the resurrection, you will be convinced that Jesus Christ is risen.
That's what Thomas did. After examining the evidence he fell to his knees saying, "My Lord and My God!" (John 20:28)
Jesus invites you to examine the evidence.
The second phrase is...
2. FEAR NOT
Some of Jesus' followers, upon hearing the rumors that something strange had happened down at Jesus' tomb, raced to the place where Jesus had been buried, and ran "smack-dab" into their resurrected leader. They were shocked and terrified. Three days earlier they had watched in horror as Jesus had died a convincing death on a rugged cross--and now He's alive again! As they fell at his feet, Jesus said, "Fear not." (Matthew 28:10)
This is not the first time that Jesus had challenged His followers to get a grip on themselves. As you read the gospels, you see over and over Jesus challenging His followers to conquer the power of fear.
I don't have to spend much time convincing you how destructive and immobilizing fear can be. Fear is real to many people here today. Of course, you wouldn't know it from the calm, polished exteriors that we project, but if the truth were known, many of us are well acquainted with fear. Maybe we live in fear of financial ruin, or a health crisis, or loneliness, or fear of death, or any number of other uncertainties we face.
Fear is every bit as real to us today as it was in the day of the disciples. We can all relate to the reality of fear. And on the first Easter, the resurrected Jesus said with authority, "Fear not!" He could tell us to release our fears because he had conquered the ultimate fear--death--and had proven once and for all that He is Lord. Since Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord of the universe and since He loves us, what do we have to fear? Fear not, is an often repeated exhortation to God's people.
Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV) Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'
Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV) But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.
Jesus Christ has conquered death and he can conquer any problem you face, fear not!
The third phrase we'll examine is...
3. FOLLOW ME
In John 21:19, Jesus looked squarely at Peter and said, "Follow Me." His message was, "If you believe I'm God's Son, the resurrected savior of the world, then follow Me. Follow My example. Follow My teachings. Love people the way I've loved people. Serve people the way that I have. Care for the hurting. Share with the needy. Remember those that are lonely and forgotten. Take up your cross. Do my will. Follow Me."
Whenever we hear Jesus speak these words, there is something within us that wants to cry out, "I will! I will follow you wherever you lead, whatever you ask, whatever you want me to do!" But, at the same time, there's another voice that says, "Hey wait a minute! If you go through with this, you can kiss your freedom good-bye, and you can give up any idea of having fun. You've got a lot going for you--don't waste it by becoming a religious fanatic."
Which voice have you decided to listen to? I challenge you to find out for yourself if following Him isn't the greatest thing you've ever done. Find out for yourself if His companionship isn't wonderful, if His counsel isn't wise, if His strength isn't empowering, and if His plan for your life isn't good. But the only way to find out is to follow Him.
Someone once said, "Christianity isn't untrue, it's just widely untried." Some of you here today need to climb down off the fence of indecision and say to Jesus, "OK. I'll follow you. Starting today, I will follow you."
The last phrase we'll examine today is...
4. GO AND TELL
Just before Jesus returned to heaven, He said to His followers,
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)
He is challenging us to tell family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends, and anyone else we come in contact with--tell them that the good news from the graveyard is that even though they've committed sins and have failed God, He'll forgive them and grant them the promise of eternal life if they'll trust in Him.
When the disciples heard these words from the Lord, they must have been overwhelmed. "You want us--this small group--to tell the whole world? How could we possibly do it?"
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple computers, offered the position of CEO to Pepsi chairman John Skully. Skully wasn't really interested in the position; he was satisfied with his work at Pepsico. Finally, in exasperation, Jobs looked Skully in the eye and said, "Are you telling me that you would rather sell sugared water for the rest of your life, when you could lead a company that will change the world?" Skully made the decision to leave Pepsi, and went to work at Apple computers.
Everyone in this room has been given a similar challenge. Jesus is saying "Go and tell...Go out and change the world through the proclamation of the gospel." There is so much we can do. We can help the guilty experience God's forgiveness. We can help the lonely experience the companionship of Christ. We can help those who have lost hope find it again. The challenges are great, and they're exciting. We have the opportunity to change the world.
The resurrected Savior is speaking to us today. He urges us to examine His claims. He invites us to release our fear, and He beseeches us to follow Him. And he challenges us to go and tell the world of His wonderful saving grace.