Today around the world, millions of people will celebrate Easter. Pastors will preach Easter sermons. Families will get together to celebrate this special day each year. The question is: What is it that these people are celebrating?
The answer to the question depends on who you are . . . even in churches. There will be two kinds of sermons preached today. Some Pastors will talk about the “symbol” of Easter. They say it reminds us of the ongoing nature of life. An acorn gets planted in the ground and it grows to a great tree. Seeds are planted and flowers grow. People die and they live on in our memories. I remember hearing just such a message at a Sunrise service one year right here in La Harpe. (I heard it, I did not preach it!!!) The Pastor said, “Easter means that the message of Jesus and the love of Jesus live on in our hearts”. These people believe Easter is a story, it is metaphorical, not real.
The second kind of message preached today views Easter as a historical event that has life-changing implications. That is the kind of message you will hear today. The bodily resurrection of Jesus (which means the actual man Jesus came back from the dead) changes everything! This morning we are going to look at the difference that Easter makes. In other words, we are going to look at WHY Easter should be celebrated.
In the first verses of 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says this,
3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.
There are lots of debates over who wrote some books of the Bible. But no one questions the authorship of 1 Corinthians. It was written within 20 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It would be like me talking about what happened on September 11th. If I wrote something outrageous, everyone would know it because there are millions of people still alive who were here when the events happened. Paul claimed Jesus rose from the dead and over 500 people saw Jesus alive . . . In fact, Paul challenged his readers to talk to the eyewitnesses.
The Bible presents the resurrection account as a historical fact rather than as an analogy of the circle of life. Paul says the Resurrection of Jesus was the event the world had been waiting for. It was the fulfillment of Scripture. So, Easter is a pivotal historical event.
Paul enumerated the impact of the Resurrection in verses 13-20. Paul stated these things negatively. We are going to turn the negatives around so we can see the benefits of the Resurrection.
13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
Faith is Reasonable and Wise
Paul got right to the core of the issue. He said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless.” Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection. If it isn’t true, we are wasting our time; Christianity has nothing to say that is any different from every other philosophy. It has no real message of hope or comfort.. All the talk of life beyond the grave, forgiveness of sins, future reunions, a relationship with the Creator would just be a nice imaginative story if the resurrection did not happen.
However, because it IS true, it means our faith is reasonable and wise. Why wouldn’t you put your faith in the one who spoke with authority, performed miracles, and then . . . actually rose from the grave? Jesus proclaimed that those who believed in Him would live even if they died. That would sound crazy unless this same guy rose from the grave!
I tell people who don’t believe in Jesus to examine the evidence for the resurrection for themselves. There is an old book written by a man named Frank Morrison, it was called, “Who Moved the Stone”. Morrison was a lawyer and he set out to examine the evidence for the resurrection with the thought that he would expose it as a sham. Instead, he became a follower of Christ and wrote a book defending the Resurrection.
Lee Strobel was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. His wife became a believer and Strobel wasn’t happy. He too examined the evidence for the Resurrection as an investigative reporter. He too became a follower of Jesus. He wrote an immensely popular book that I recommend highly, “The Case for Christ”.
It is a good idea for every believer to take the time to examine the evidence for the Resurrection. If you do this research it will be one of the most important studies you ever do. Any time I start to doubt or get discouraged, or wonder if all of this is worth the effort, I go back to the evidence for the resurrection and realize that the reason to hold on is because this is not just some religious system . . . this is fact! The words of Jesus are the words of the Savior who rose from the dead.
Quickly let me remind you of some of the major evidences for the resurrection,
- Jesus died. The Romans were expert executioners. And even if they made a mistake, when they pushed the spear up into his body it produced water and blood He would have died. They pierced the heart (the blood) and the pericardium around the heart (the water like substance). If He wasn’t dead before that, he was at that point.
- He was in the tomb for at least 2 days (which spanned Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). He was not dead for several minutes like many of the “near death experiences” of today.
- On the third day after the crucifixion, the tomb was empty even though it had been under guard and sealed by the Romans. The story that the disciples stole the body has no credibility.
- The stone, which would have taken several men to move was rolled back.
- The body was never found (even though you have to believe the Romans and the Jewish leaders worked tirelessly to find it so they could silence all this talk about a resurrected Savior.)
- There was a remarkable change in the disciples. They went from running away and hiding from fear of being arrested and killed to fearlessly preaching the message of Christ in the temple even though they were threatened with imprisonment and death.
- After all these years there has still not been a shred of evidence that the resurrection did not take place.
- The disciples all chose to die a martyr’s death rather than deny the resurrection. You would have thought one of the 11 would have told the truth to save their life if the resurrection was all a lie.
- Lots of people saw Jesus alive.
This might not seem like a lot of evidence to you. But, it would be a slam dunk win in a court case!
So the first difference Easter makes is that it shows us that our faith is anchored to truth.
Sin Can Be Forgiven
The second difference that Easter makes is that it means our sin can be forgiven. Paul said “if Christ did not rise then we are still in our sin.”
The Bible is direct in telling us that we have rebelled against the rule of God (we call that “sin”). We are also told that the punishment for sin is death. Even though we try hard to earn God’s favor we don’t even come close to breaking even.
The Bible says God came up with a remedy for our sin. He sent His own son, Jesus to live among us without sin, to teach us the way of God once again, and to die in our place and for our sin. He took the punishment that we deserved, upon Himself.
And let’s be honest, that sounds a little hard to believe. We want it to be true but the idea that Jesus was THE Son of God and paid for our sin by His death seems too good to be true. Anybody can say these kinds of things. That doesn’t mean it is true. However, when the person rises from the dead . . . now, it has a different kind of credibility!
Pastor Tim Keller likes to use this illustration about the assurance of forgiveness.
When you pay for something, you need a receipt. Why? because you never know when someone is going to show up and say, “How do I know you paid for this?”
If that were to happen you would go to your drawer, you pull out the receipts, and you say, “Be gone, nave. Bother me no more. This is the proof I owe nothing. This is the proof that it’s all been paid for
How do you know Jesus really died for your sins? How do you know he paid for it all? You know he paid the penalty, that he paid the debt, because he was sprung. You know he put all of his time in jail because he is out. You know he paid the penalty (“For the wages of sin is death …”) because he is alive. Therefore, the resurrection is actually God’s way of giving us a receipt, stamping it “Paid in Full” across all of history
The way to deal with your conscience, your accusers, and your fears is by getting out your receipts, (remembering the resurrection).
Because Jesus lives there is credibility to what Jesus said. Because He lives it means the sacrifice was complete. Deliverance really is possible. We can stop trying to earn God’s favor (which is impossible) and instead start living as one who has been forgiven, set free, and now can function as a child of God.
Death is not the End . . .Life is not Meaningless
Without the Resurrection of Jesus, hope of life beyond the grave seems more like a coping mechanism than reality. Paul said, if Christ did not raise, then those who have died are gone forever. However, because He lives, those who put their faith in Him will live as well.
The atheist says there is no resurrection. If there is no life beyond the grave, then why not devolve into absolute anarchy? Why not get all you can and indulge all you can since it all leads to nothing anyway? Why sacrifice anything for anyone? If there is nothing beyond this life, there is no moral law. And it is no accident that the growth of atheism has led to a rise in violent and senseless crime.
The Bible says the atheist is wrong. Jesus rose from the dead and it is this same Jesus who promised that He is going to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3). The most famous verse in the Bible says, “God loved the world so much that He gave his one and only son so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5 that when the earthly tent we live in is destroyed (when we die) we have an eternal house in Heaven not made by human hands.” In other words, there is another life beyond this one. There is another life for which we prepare in this life. What we do here is make deposits that will pay dividends then.
The Biblical picture of Heaven is wonderful. The Bible tells us that when we get to Heaven we will be purified. We will be delivered from the body of sin and death. We will be purified to the core of our being. We will see our redemption come to its full expression.
At the moment of death we are immediately in the presence of Jesus. We will meet our Lord. We will long for His “Well Done”. We will live with Him as our Lord and Master and it will be a delightful experience. Tears of sadness will be gone. Pain removed. Broken bodies made new. Damaged people will finally and fully be healed.
And Heaven will bring reunion. Those we have loved who have died before us will be there to meet us. I believe when we die the Lord is there to welcome us. He will say, “Come to the place I have prepared for you” and when we get there it will be filled with people we have known and loved. It will be a reunion unequalled in this world.
Because Jesus rose from the dead we know that there is life beyond death and there is something rather than nothing when we die. We believe all these things that I have mentioned because Jesus said they were true. His authority is validated by His resurrection. Because of the resurrection we know that what He speaks is true.
Putting it All Together
What are we to do with all this information? Let me make several suggestions. First we should embrace the One who was raised from the dead. This good news is only good news to those who believe the testimony and who will entrust themselves to this One who died and rose again.
The Bible tells us that not everyone will embrace Christ. Why would anyone reject this? Because they do not want to admit that they need someone to save them. They do not want to humble themselves before the Lord. They do not want to submit to the authority of anyone.
So on this Easter Sunday the question is: Do you recognize your need for a Savior? Do you understand that without Jesus you are condemned in your sin? Is so will you run to, rely on, and entrust yourself to Jesus? Do you believe He died for you? Do you believe the testimony that He rose from the dead? Or will you walk away and face the consequences of your rejection?
Second, we need to use this truth to encourage us when we feel beaten up and defeated. No matter how difficult life is, we know that we are living now to live again. No matter how defeated we feel because of sin in our lives, we hold on to the fact that Jesus died for our sin and His sacrifice was sufficient payment for that sin. We know this because of the Resurrection. Sin will be exposed. Those who follow Christ will be vindicated. Wrong will be made right.
In the time of heartache because of grief, we know that those who die in Christ will live again. We know that sorrow gives way to victory. The shuffle of weakness and disease gives way to dancing. Loss is tempered by the anticipation of reunion. Death becomes victory, not defeat!
The Resurrection is our lifeline.
Third, we should aim in the direction of Heaven. The Resurrection should change the direction of our lives. Instead of running all over the place looking or some stray hope of meaning, we can live lives of contentment because we know that we belong to the Lord. Our job is to live our regular lives as children of the King. Our job is to spotlight what He has done. It is up to us to show the world the difference He has made in our lives.
Every decision should be impacted by the resurrection. We make every decision in the way we will have wished we had made it when we stand before the Lord. It is as simple as that! If we do this we begin to change from
- Grumpy to Optimistic
- Discouraged to Determined
- Guilt-ridden to Forgiven
- Fearful to Bold
- Hard to Soft
- Indifferent to Compassionate
- Afraid of Dying to seeing death as the doorway to our eternal home and place of rest.
Yes, lots of people will celebrate Easter the holiday. However, for those who understand; for those who believe; this is a day when we celebrate the transforming power of God. We celebrate the exclamation point on our salvation. We celebrate hope, life, and a relationship with God that nothing can extinguish.
 Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).