Monday, April 6, 2015

Doubting the Resurrection

(This is the text preached at Orrington Center Church on Easter Morning, April 5th, 2015.)

If there is one thing life teaches us, it is that no one returns from the grave. Someone you love dies, and you have a funeral. Then you travel to the cemetery to bury the body in a grave. That’s the end of it; you never see that person again. The body lies six feet under and decomposes, and it never lives again. That is what life teaches us.

Ah, but does life tell the truth? That is the question. The answer is: Emphatically, NO! Not if you look inside the pages of Scripture because the Bible clearly claims there is life after death. It even offers the resurrection of Jesus as proof positive. You see, the Bible tells us a couple of things, three actually, that I want to share this morning.

First, in John 5:28-29, we read:
28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
The Bible clearly tells us the grave is not the end. Everyone will be resurrected someday. Some will live forever in heaven and some will live forever in hell. Hebrews 9:27 is quite clear and quite final: “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Judgment comes after our physical death.

Death is universal, but so is life after death, or should I say a conscious existence since hell is considered a living death. Everyone will have to stand before God and give an account. There is a judgment day someday for all. The grave is not the end, but a transition to eternity.

But how really, do we know that’s true? Well, the Bible says something else. The second thing I want to point out is this: The Bible tells us that one person has been resurrected already, and that person is Jesus Christ. We celebrate that event every year at this time.

When the women went to the tomb to finish the burial process that Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, they found the tomb empty, and an angel made an announcement. Here’s how Matthew describes it in Matthew 28:1-7:
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. 5 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.”
Jesus is one person who rose from the dead to live again, but He will not be the last.

That brings us to the third thing I want to point out from the Scriptures. 1st Corinthians 15:20-22 assures us:
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
Because Christ rose from the dead, we shall too. That’s like a guarantee - His resurrection guarantees we will too. His resurrection is described as the firstfruits of ours. That’s like being a fore runner. Just as the first ripening grain heads lead to the full harvest that follows, likewise, the resurrection of Jesus leads to ours. Our resurrection will someday follow.

Obviously, then, what life teaches us and what the Bible teaches us are in conflict. So who do you believe? Do you believe your eyes, or do you believe the Bible? Unfortunately, most people believe their eyes. What we see seems so real, it’s right there in front of us, but what the Bible says – why, we are told we have to accept that by faith. How do we do that when it seems like everything is stacked against faith? After all, don’t the learned people of the world all claim the Bible is just a bunch of myths, that it’s like those fairy tales we used to tell our kids, entertaining for the kids, for sure, but not something anyone over twelve takes seriously?

If that’s what you think, you are not alone. Even the disciples struggled with belief, and it took a lot to convince them. Following the resurrection, for instance, even with the rumors of Jesus walking around talking with people, and even after seeing Him in person, some of the disciples still struggled with doubt at first.

In Matthew 28:16-17, we can see their doubts expressed:
16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
Yes! Some doubted at first. There He is – right there in front of them - but now they won’t believe their eyes, at least not yet. The possibility of the resurrection was too much for them to take in. But they became convinced – convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt - convinced to the point that they were each ready and willing to lay down their lives. If necessary, they would die for their Lord. And all but John eventually did lay down their lives – each dying horrible deaths as martyrs. And John was tortured and exiled to a barren isle in the Mediterranean. They all suffered greatly for their faith, but their faith was a great faith – a faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ – a faith built on solid evidence.

Each of them were transformed from frightened rabbits hiding in their holes to courageous ambassadors for Christ boldly proclaiming the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as fact and demanding that people everywhere repent of their sins and receive Christ in faith.
John R.W. Stott wrote: “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection.” That makes a lot of sense. Who would die for a hoax? Who would undergo torture and violent death for a manufactured story? And the disciples were the ones that were telling it, and telling it everywhere they went as first person witnesses.

Now, maybe if they were lunatics, it might be plausible they died for a lie, but they weren’t – far from it. As Paul Little asks,
“Are these men, who helped transform the moral structure of society, consummate liars or deluded madmen? These alternatives are harder to accept than the fact of the resurrection, and there is no shred of evidence to support them.”
Of course not. Obviously they were neither liars nor lunatics, but they were fully convinced, and they eloquently preached it, wrote about it, and died for their faith in Christ’s resurrection. They were neither liars nor lunatics. The disciple were the ones who gave us the highest ethical teaching the world has ever known through their writings. Even their enemies gave testimony to their moral character – they lived the life they preached. How could they conspire to all write about, and preach about a lie then die for the lie they manufactured? It makes no possible sense.

No friends, something transformed these disciples from a defeated group of men cowering in fear in their hideouts into a group of people who fearlessly proclaimed the message of the resurrection to the world and who would allow no amount of persecution to shut them up. What could possibly cause this transformation? The answer is, they were transformed by the Resurrection, by the fact that the grave is not the end, that we will live forever somewhere, and the where is determined by the decisions we make in this life. We can follow Jesus to eternal life in heaven or reject Him to our eternal death in hell.

No fabrication foisted upon the world could ever account for the kind of transformation we see in the disciples. But if the Resurrection is true, that would account for it. That could transform them, and us. So, if you have doubts that the resurrection really happened, we can understand – it’s really common. But that shouldn’t be the end of the story because really, there is overwhelming evidence that the resurrection of Christ did in fact happen.

In Acts 1:1-3, Luke gave us this assurance:
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by (Listen) many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
“Many infallible proofs” is a legal term indicating the strongest type of legal evidence, the kind that can stand up in any court of law. May I say, the kind you can bet your life on. And these “infallible proofs” need to convince you, if you are one of those who need convincing, that the resurrection is fact, that the evidence demands that conclusion, that the Biblical account of Jesus rising from the dead is absolutely true. So, let the Scriptures and common sense convince you today. Don’t stay a “Doubting Thomas,” but believe, and let that belief fortify your life.

Josh McDowell, in his wonderful book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, writes this:
“After more than 700 hours of study, and thoroughly investigating its foundation, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the ‘most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men,’ or it is the most fantastic fact of history.”
His point is this: if the resurrection isn’t real, it is one of the most incredibly impressive hoax. But it being a hoax is harder to believe than to believe that it is real and that it is indeed “The most fantastic fact of history.” The simple fact is, the resurrection is exactly what the disciples claimed it was from the very first.

On the day of Pentecost, as the church was given birth, Peter stood up and preached the very first sermon. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost centered on the resurrection. Rather than avoid a shaky speculation, he boldly proclaimed an unshakeable fact. Acts 2:22-24 records a part of his sermon:
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up (Raised up from the grave. Raised up out of death), having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.
How could death hold Him? Death was the penalty for sin, but He never sinned, so God raised Him from the dead. The Old Testament promised He would not see corruption. Acts 2:25-27 records the prophecy as it quotes from Psalm 16:8-11:
25 For David says concerning Him:
‘I foresaw the LORD always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was
glad; moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will
You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
“Corruption” means the decomposition of the grave. No other religious group has ever made that claim before that their founder was alive. None of the early accounts of Buddha’s death made any mention of a resurrection. Buddhism doesn’t even offer resurrection. In fact, the account stated that when Buddha died, it was “with the utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains behind.” Mohammed died at the age of 61 on June 8, 632 A.D. His tomb is still in Medina, in Saudi Arabia, and thousands of Muslims make pilgrimages there every year. But Christ’s tomb is empty.

How do I know? One simple way is this: If you wanted to check if Buddha had been resurrected, just go to his grave to see if he is still there. “Yup, still there!” And you can do the same with Mohammad. His tomb is still occupied. But Jesus’ tomb is empty.

Did you notice in the Gospel accounts that no one jumped up and said, “Oh, you guys claim a resurrection. Let’s just go have a look in the tomb.” No one did. Why not? They all know Jesus was gone. It was common knowledge across Jerusalem. As Fairbairn states, “The silence of the Jews speaks louder than the voice of the Christians.”

This was the time to destroy the rumors of the resurrection, and they would have if they could have. How simple – just produce the body; but they didn’t. They came up with some cockamamie story about the body being stolen that nobody believed even then. But they never explained how a frightened, rag-tag band of disciple could overpower the Roman guard at the tomb, or why the guard wasn’t executed for their dereliction of duty. Remember? The authorities knew Jesus had promised to rise from the grave so they placed a large contingent of Roman troops at the tomb to assure that it didn’t happen.

Nor did they ever mount any door to door search to find the body. They just bribed the guards to lie. Just looking at their actions is plenty of evidence that Jesus rose from the grave just as the Bible says because producing the body would have caused Christianity to be still-born. But they could never refute the empty grave.

Even more important, there were numerous sightings of the resurrected Jesus for a period of forty days. Paul makes a list of them in 1st Corinthians 15:3-8:
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
These people who had seen Jesus alive with their own eyes, they were still around. They could’ve been called in mass to give testimony. The accounts were well known, the people well known, and the eye-witness testimony was irrefutable.

This is why, when Peter preached about the resurrection on the Day of Pentecost and accused them of having called for His crucifixion in Acts 2, they were cut to the heart. Acts 2:37 says, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’”

And Peter told them exactly what they must do. Acts 2:38 – “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

These people experienced genuine repentance brought on by their obvious guilt. They knew all about the crucifixion. Many of them had been part of the throng calling for Christ’s death. And they knew the grave was empty – they’d heard all the accounts. Now Peter had explained the significance. It was all by God’s eternal plan. Christ was the sacrificial lamb offered to atone for the sins of man. The death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord was all God’s eternal plan, necessary to purchase our salvation.

As 1st Peter 1:18-19 says:
18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold . . . 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
As we draw to a close, what can we conclude? Let me tell you what one man concluded. He is Simon Greenleaf, the Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University. One of his most famous works is entitled, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence. It is still considered the greatest single authority on legal evidence in the entire literature of legal procedure. Here is what he wrote of the accounts of the resurrection as proposed by the disciples:
“Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, opposition, revilings, bitter persecution, stripes, imprisonments, torments, and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate; and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay, rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only prosecuted their work with increased vigor and resolution. The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unblenching courage. They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidence of the great facts and truths which they asserted; and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency. It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead.”
Did you catch his conclusion? “It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead.”

So, what does the evidence force us to conclude? Jesus actually rose from the dead. And if Jesus did, what did Scripture also promise? That He was the firstfruit guaranteeing that we too will be resurrected.

This is what the true church has always believed and always affirmed. The earliest creed adopted by the church was the Apostle’s Creed. I want to read it to you:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
This is what the church has always believed. Is it what you believe? According to Romans 10:9-10:
9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
If so, if Jesus really rose from the dead, can you trust Him with your life? The answer should be, YES!