[Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8]
There was once a Russian communist leader named Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin who traveled from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a large crowd. His goal was simple: convince this group of people that atheism was true and Christianity false.
He attacked Christianity with vigor and argued well. By the time he was through he was fairly certain he had convinced this crowd to forsake Christianity and embrace atheism. The priest even complimented him on his eloquence. The priest then dismissed the crowd with one simple benediction: “Christ has risen!” And the crowd, as one man, responded with passion, “He has risen indeed!”
A 2010 survey polled people concerning their belief in a literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
78% of Americans believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
Just under half of those who rarely or never attend church, believe Christ rose from the dead.
Of Evangelical Christians, 97% believe he rose from the grave.
87% of Catholics believe in the resurrection of Christ.
So what’s the big deal? Did it really happen? If it did happen, what does that mean? What should our response be to the resurrection? What does it mean to me; the way I think, the way I act and the choices I make?
Let me start today by talking to you about the reality of the resurrection. Then I will finish by answering the second question: what does it mean for you and me.
In Paul’s day, more than 2000 years ago, like some today, there were those who were skeptical of the resurrection. Yet in 2 Peter 1:16 Paul writes:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
The reality of the resurrection is serious business and it cannot be simply passed over or ignored and I’m going to show you why. Paul, in our text today, tells us two things:
1. Jesus really died,
2. Jesus really came back to life
After covering this I will conclude by answering the following two questions
a) What does it mean for you and me if He did not rise from the dead.
b) What does it mean for us if He really did rise from the dead.
First, Paul points out that Jesus really died. None of this nonsense about Him faking his death. This idea that he wasn’t really dead has been floating around for many, many years and you will still hear it on T.V. or in an issue of Time magazine or what have you. Turn to John 19:31-35. A couple of things to note here:
1. In verse 35 we are told that the recorder was an eyewitness to these events. This is important and we are going to talk more about this later. It is enough here to note that we have a witness and we are going to have to make a choice about this witness. He is either lying, deceived, mentally ill or telling the truth. We have to choose. And the choice we make here will affect everything else we know about Jesus’ claims, those of his disciples and other eyewitnesses.
2. We are told that when the guards came to break his legs they found him already dead. You may conjecture that these guards, like the eyewitness, made a mistake. If you and I, who don’t see death very often, who never have participated in an execution, who have never had to, or rarely had to, handle a dead body, had been there we could have made a mistake. However, these men were guards in charge of executions. They did this on a regular basis. It is to be expected that they would know a dead body when they saw one - their jobs sort of depended on it. It certainly would have been easier, in my mind anyway, to simply break all their legs and be done with it. However, they were fairly positive that this one man was dead and therefore the extra effort need not be expended. Could they have been mistaken? Possibly, but I don’t think it very likely.
3. One of the soldiers, wanting to be absolutely sure and to remove all doubt, shoved a spear into his side. He shoved it so far in as to break through the pericardial sac surrounding His heart because we are told blood and water flowed out. If Jesus was still alive he wouldn’t be for long. Some might argue that even this may not have killed Him but rather relieved a buildup of excess fluid around his heart or lungs allowing him to live. Perhaps he was dying of congestive heart failure and this somehow helped Him.
The ridiculous extents people will go to in order to deny the obvious never cease to amaze me. But even if I were to grant that Jesus was not really dead yet; even if I were to grant that he had a buildup of fluid that would eventually have killed Him unless relieved; and even if I were to further grant that reliving this buildup of fluid would allow Jesus to survive and trick everyone around Him into thinking He was dead while in fact He was the whole time playing possum; this argument fails on one point: The soldier wasn’t a surgeon.
It wasn’t a surgeon’s needle he was carrying that day with which he used to pierce our Lord’s side. It was a spear! It is difficult for me to believe that by driving a roman spear, a spear long enough to reach up to the person hanging on the cross, a spear strong enough to shove into the man’s body, would not have left a rather large hole in the victim's side?
Could it be possible that after Jesus had his body torn to shreds by the Roman whip, after being beaten and a crown of thorns smashed on to his head, after nails were driven through his hands and feet, after He hung by those nails on a torture and execution device, after having a spear driven into his side, that He, after all of this, was not really dead? You tell me.
Second, Paul demonstrates that Jesus really rose from the dead. He does this pointing out that there were many eyewitnesses. The way he does this is important to note.
1. There were many of them. If just one person or maybe two or three had witnessed this miracle we could claim they were in cahoots. That they had just devised a myth in order to control people or start their own religion. Many false religions have been started this very way. However, we are told that over 500 men saw the Lord alive at one time. Since it has already been established that he was dead, we can only conclude that he came back to life and that these people claim to have seen Him.
2. There were different groups of people from different walks of life. He didn’t just appear to a crowd of people. If this were the case we might assume some sort of mass hysteria. This has also been known to happen. However, Jesus appeared to individuals, to crowds, to men and women, to believers and nonbelievers, to disciples and none disciples, to the church leaders and to the man and woman on the street. This wasn’t something that just happened in a secret place somewhere, in a tent or house or some isolated mountain retreat. This also happened in the open, publicly, many times and to many people.
3. Could we conclude that all of these witnesses, including the several whose testimony we have in writing, been mistaken, deceived, perhaps a part of some sort of massive, subversive plot to take over the world and control the weak minded? We could, but if you were to do that you would have to conclude the same thing for every witnessed event that has every happened before the invention of audio and video recordings and photographs. In fact, considering how easy it is to fabricate evidence made with modern technology, I would argue that you would have to disregard all the evidence through all of history of every human event that has ever happened. You would, for all purposes, have to become a world class cynic and, perhaps, even doubt your own existence.
The point I am making here is that God has given us enough verified, factual evidence to draw a right and justified conclusion concerning the claim. We don’t have to commit intellectual suicide when we become Christ’s disciples. If we deny the resurrection, it is in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary.
Now these two arguments by Paul force us into a corner of sorts. We find we have only two choices:
1. We can deny what Paul is saying in its entirety. Take a look at 15:16-19. What Paul is saying here is this: If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ did not rise from the dead, and we are, therefore, believing a lie. Now don’t underestimate the import of this conclusion. He is not just saying that concluding there is no resurrection means none of us will rise after we die. That is a part of it, but it goes much deeper than that.
Matthew 16:21 says the following:From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (NIV)
If the dead cannot come back to life, then Jesus did not come back to life. If Jesus did not come back to life then Jesus was something other than what he claimed to be. He was either lying, or insane. Or perhaps Paul and all the eyewitnesses were lying, or insane, or deceived. Anyway you look at it, if Jesus did not really rise from the dead everything Jesus said, did and taught was and is a lie. Not just any lie though, but one of the worse kinds of lies ever told. The worse kind of lie is the one that gives false hope. Think about it, if this is a lie then:
Every person that ever lived thinking they were going to see Jesus and loved ones after they died were and are deceived.
Every man, woman or child that ever died standing up for their faith in Jesus, refusing to bow their knees to persecutors that demanded, “Deny Jesus or be executed”, died for nothing.
Every person that gave up house, home, family, careers and dreams to follow the carpenter from Galilee who claimed to be God, into the mission field in order to love the lost who have never heard of the saving gospel were following nothing, into nothing, for nothing.
And ultimately we are still living in our sins.
This is what Paul is trying to tell us. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then you and I and millions of people for the past 2000 years have been the victims of the world’s most horrid practical joke played by some jerk from some Middle Eastern redneck town and perpetuated by a bunch of his cronies.
Please don’t fool yourselves into thinking you can deny the real, factual, flesh and blood resurrection of Jesus Christ and claim to be a Christian at the same time. You cannot. Either Jesus really did what He said He was going to do, or he did not. Either He was a liar or a madman, or He is God, Lord and Savior of the world. We are not allowed any other choices.
2. For my part, the evidence is clear. I have no valid, substantiated reason to doubt the claims made by eyewitnesses to His resurrection.
So you too can choose to make the second choice. You chose to believe the evidence. You choose to believe that Jesus really did rise from the grave. What will this mean?
If we are going to believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead we are going to have to make some decisions. Jesus was all about forcing decisions, and even after 2000 years He is still doing just that.
When Paul, on his way to arrest some Christians, was met by the resurrected Jesus his life made a 180 degree turn. At one time he was arresting christians, having them jailed and even killed. But now the believers were hearing a different story: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." His life was radically changed. Now he was willing to gladly suffer persecution, pain, hunger, beatings and rejection for the name of Jesus. One day Paul would even die for that name.
When Thomas, who refused to believe Jesus was alive, came face to face with the resurrected Savior he too was changed. Read John 20:24-28. When Thomas was confronted with the reality of the resurrection of Jesus his response was to fall to his knees and cry out, “My Lord and My God”.
Now you may say, “Well I must see him too, or I won’t believe”. But Look what Jesus says in v. 29:
Jesus said to him,“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
You have the evidence. As much as God thinks you need right now, to make a choice. But the next step will take faith. If you don’t have faith nothing will ever convince you, even if someone should rise from the dead.
The resurrection is a game changer. Whether you are here and have never been born again, have never trusted and believed in Jesus, or you have been following Christ for many years, our responses are all the same: We need to fall on our knees and confess with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
This day, the day Jesus Christ rose from the grave, the day when time ran backwards and death was conquered, should be our New Year, not the first of January. Today is the day we should make our New Year’s resolutions.
Resolutions that are of real, lasting and eternal significance.
Resolve to confess Jesus as Savior. Resolve to follow Him from now on to the end of this life into eternity. Resolve to consecrate ourselves wholly to Him for His service. Resolve to make little of ourselves and much of God. Resolve to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. Resolve to love our neighbors, inside this building and all over the world, as ourselves.
I declare that this Easter, this resurrection day to be our new year, this is the day we say no more sin, no more guilt, no more me, as for me an my house, we will serve the Lord and only the Lord.
He has risen!