The death of a loved one is a grueling journey. In August it will be ten years since my mother died. I can remember, in vivid detail, the days leading up to her death like they happened yesterday. All of these years later, I still miss my mom tremendously, just as all of you miss your loved ones who have died. I’m grateful for the mountains of memories I have of the time I got to spend with my mom.
As difficult as the journey has been for me, in losing my mom, there’s a difference between my loss of my mother and the loss of those who had hung all of their hopes on Jesus as the long awaited Messiah of Israel. My mom was “my” mom, but I never suspected or expected that she was the Messiah. Yet, for all of Jesus’ followers, they just knew He was the One that they, as well as their ancestors, had been waiting for, and for what seemed like forever. How do I know Jesus’ followers were so certain that He was the One? Well, in John 1 we read that when Andrew met Jesus the first thing he did was to go and find his brother Simon Peter. Turn with me to John 1:41 and let’s read it together.
41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:41-42 NIV)
In John 11, after Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus died, Jesus went to visit them and to raise Lazarus from the dead, even though Mary and Martha had no idea that was what would happen. Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life…,” and then Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha said,
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27 NIV)
I could go on, but for the sake of time suffice it to say that all of Jesus’ followers, even Judas who betrayed Jesus, believed that Jesus was the One who was to come, the One promised by God throughout the Old Testament. But then came Friday…
Today we call the day when Jesus was crucified “Good Friday,” but let me assure you, there was nothing “good” about that Friday. On Friday, Jesus was beaten, His back was lacerated, ripped beyond recognition by a Roman cat o’ nine tails, and then, to add insult to injury, they nailed His hands and feet to a Roman cross. That was on Friday. On Friday, Mary, the mother of Jesus, stood at the foot of the cross looking up at her Son, a bloodied mess, lifting Himself up just to get a breath, and she cried her eyes out at the foot of that cross. That was on Friday. On Friday, while Jesus hung on the cross the disciples watched from a distance…from a distance. God had drawn near in Jesus and yet the disciples, those who were closest to Him, stood afar off. That was Friday. On Friday, the Pharisees and Sadducees celebrated, they had plotted and planned, and don’t we just love it when a plan comes together! They would finally be rid of Jesus once and for all! That was on Friday. And it was on Friday that Jesus took His last breath and gave up His spirit, as Matthew tells us in Matthew 27:51.
Friday was the darkest of days. All of the hope that they had placed in Jesus died when He took His last breath on that cross. No wonder Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” No wonder Cleopas and his friend left Jerusalem and were walking back to Emmaus with their heads hanging down, looking like they had lost their last friend…they had, but they had lost so much more than a friend, they had lost the One they thought was their Savior, the Messiah. No wonder the disciples were hiding behind locked doors in Jerusalem for fear of those who killed Jesus. It was over, finished and done, it was time to go back to life as they knew it before Jesus ever arrived on the scene. Jesus was dead. Everyone knew it. Nobody questioned it. Jesus was dead.
There was a painting that hung in the Louvre Museum in Paris for many years, but is now privately owned. The painting is called, “Checkmate,” and the man who painted it was named Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch, who was born in 1779 in Germany. Retzsch, like many painters of his generation, was fascinated by the story of Mephistopheles in Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s most famous work, Faust. Retzsch was fascinated with the story of Mephistopheles and his bet with God that Faust could be lured away from a righteous and honorable path. Retzch’s interpretation of the story has the devil sitting on one side, there’s a chessboard in the middle, and the young man sitting on the other side. If you look at the young man you can see he has his hand on his head with a look of desperation.
The story is told that while the painting was hanging in the Louvre, there was a tour guide with a group that made its way to Retzch’s painting, “Checkmate.” In the group there was a man who was the world chess champion. The tour guide shared all of the pertinent information about “Checkmate.” He talked about the artist, Goethe and the story of Faust, and then he said, “This is a depiction, an artist rendering of someone who lost a bet with the devil.”
The tour guide and the group moved on to the next painting, but the world chess champion stayed behind, he was fixed on the painting. He just kept looking and looking at the painting. Soon someone noticed that the man was missing from their group. He told the tour guide who went back to get the man. The tour guide said, “We’ve moved on. You’ll need to come with us.” The man said, “Well, I’ve been looking at this picture.” The tour guide said, “Yes, it’s called Checkmate. The devil is laughing because the man lost.” The man, the world chess champion said, “While I’ve been standing here, I’ve noticed a problem.” The tour guide said, “What do you mean?” The man said, “Well, you know I’m a world champion chess player. I’ve spent my life playing chess. Normal people don’t always see what I can see on a chessboard. While I was looking at this painting I did notice the devil laughing, I can see the young man is desperate, but I also noticed something on the chessboard. Either they are going to have to change the painting or they are going to have to change the name.” The tour guide said, “Why would they have to do that?” The man said, “Well, others might have missed it, but you have to remember that I am the world champion chess player and I’ve discovered that the King has one more move!” It may appear that the game is over, but the King has one more move!
Peter and the disciples thought it was over, but they didn’t know the King had one more move! Mary, wipe your eyes, the King has one more move! You Pharisees and Sadducees, you might have been celebrating on a Saturday night, but you didn’t know…the King still had one more move! There’s somebody here this morning, maybe lots of you here this morning, who are going through a dark night of the soul. It looks like things are falling apart, you’ve been in the lowlands for so long, and you are becoming convinced that it’s over, but hold on…the King still has one more move!
You see, Friday was a dark, dark day, the darkest day in the history of the world, but on Sunday morning God did the unimaginable–He raised Jesus from the dead just like He said He would. Turn with me to Luke 24 and let’s read together verses 1-8.
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” 8 Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:1-8 NIV)
And from that day forward everything changed, but it didn’t change for everyone. From that day, Sunday, to this day everything has changed for a group of people who are willing to examine the evidence and believe that Jesus is alive and active in this broken, dark, tragic, and lonely world.
When I say, “examine the evidence,” what I mean to say to you is that following Jesus is a step of faith, but it is not blind faith. Believing in Jesus is not like believing in Harry Potter, Spider Man, or King Arthur. Jesus was and is a historical figure, a person who lived and is a part of history. He was written about not only in the Bible, but in sources outside of the Bible. Very few people today will argue that Jesus never lived, but if you run into someone who does then know this, they simply do not know history. The big issue today, which I might add was also the big issue in the days and years following Jesus’ resurrection was His resurrection. People in Jesus’ day and people today know that dead people don’t come back to life. Many people today will snicker or roll their eyes if you tell them that you believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead on the third day and He lives today.
Here’s the thing, Jesus told His disciples exactly what would happen and on more than one occasion. Matthew was one of Jesus’ disciples. He lived with Him and listened to Him teach every day for three years. After Jesus’ resurrection Matthew put pen to paper and today we have Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew 16, Jesus told His disciples,
21 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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21 NIV)
Two more times, in Matthew 17:22-23 and in Matthew 20:17-19, Jesus told His disciples that He would be killed and then raised back to life on the third day. Not just raised back to life, but raised back to life on the third day. It’s one thing to say that you’ll come back to life after you have died, it is quite another thing to pinpoint the third day as the day you will live again. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem for His appointment with God’s will to suffer and die when He told His disciples for the final time.
18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18-19 NIV)
The truth of the matter is that even though Jesus told His disciples what would happen to Him it went right over their heads. They heard Him say that He was going to die and it unnerved them. They didn’t hear another word, plus who dies and comes back to life? But then he did! And when He did, they remembered His words. Do you remember the words the two angels at the empty tomb spoke to the women who found Jesus’ tomb empty? Let me refresh your memory. They said,
6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” 8 Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:6-8 NIV)
In those days following Jesus’ resurrection He appeared to many people. For those of you who are visiting with us today, we’ve been studying Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth for many months now. We’ve made our way into the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. It is the longest chapter in the letter and the entire fifteenth chapter is devoted to Jesus’ resurrection and the future resurrection of all of those who are followers of Jesus. I mentioned to you earlier, the people in the first century were as skeptical of the dead coming back to life as we are so Paul, in the first eleven verses laid out the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
Paul’s first bit of evidence is Scripture itself. Just last Sunday we had the blessing of having Shoshannah Weinisch, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew, share Christ in the Passover with us in morning worship. Shoshannah and her husband Stewart are missionaries to the Jewish people. I hope you caught something Shoshannah shared with us because it is so powerful. She said, “I never use the New Testament in sharing Jesus with my people. There are 300 prophecies of the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible for me to use.” Hundreds of years before Jesus was born God was giving instructions for what to look for when the Messiah arrived. We learn the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem from Micah 5:2. We learn from Genesis 49:10 that the Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah. We learn from Zechariah 9:9 that the Messiah would reveal Himself by riding on a donkey which we celebrated last Sunday, Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We learn in Isaiah 42:6 that the Messiah will be the light, not just for the Jewish people, but for all nations. We learn from Psalm 22 that the Messiah would be tortured and killed. Shoshannah uses all of these Scriptures and many, many more to show the Jewish people that Jesus is the One they have been waiting for. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, summed up all of those Messianic prophecies by telling the people in Corinth,
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV)
It was all “according to the Scriptures.” It is interesting to me that after Jesus’ resurrection, when He appeared to Cleopas and his friend who were leaving Jerusalem believing that Jesus was dead, Jesus appeared to them. He listened to them speak and share how their hopes for Jesus had come to nothing. Then Jesus spoke to the men…
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 NIV)
Like Shoshannah, Jesus used Scripture, the Torah and the Prophets of the Old Testament, to teach Cleopas and his friend about Himself, the One who was born some 400 years after the last book of the Hebrew Bible was written.
The details of the Messiah’s life weren’t simply revealed in Scripture. After Jesus’ resurrection He appeared to many people. Jesus, the Messiah, sought out those who were doubting and discouraged, and He revealed Himself to them. Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 15 and read what Paul wrote next, in verses 5-9.
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:5-9 NIV)
Jesus appeared to Paul, who had been the number one adversary of Jesus’ followers. When Jesus appeared to Paul He set Paul on a new course for His life. Paul was persecuted, beaten, and run out of town after town. In Acts 26, Paul found himself on trial because of his commitment to Jesus and the message he shared everywhere he went. Paul told King Agrippa that when Jesus appeared to him Jesus told him that He would use Paul to “open eyes, turn people from darkness to light, and teach them about the forgiveness for sins that is found in Jesus.” That is what Jesus is still doing today and it has been my prayer that Jesus would do that for some of you this very morning.
We have to recognize an unfortunate change that has taken place in much of the American Church in the past 50 years. In our day, we have downplayed the significance of the cross and the resurrection and emphasized the moral teachings of Jesus. If you want to be a “good” person then do what Jesus did. Jesus has become a personal coach, a cosmic mentor, a divine Tony Robbins or Oprah Winfrey who can help us get our act together. I’ve got news for you, we aren’t getting our act together. We are a mess, have been a mess, and will always be a mess.
I had a coach in college who used to tell us, “You can powder a pig, scrub a pig, perfume a pig, and even dress up a pig, but a pig is still a pig.” You can wear the finest clothes in town, turn everyone’s head when you walk into a room, and live in the biggest house in town with your own personal gate and security, but you are still a mess. The mess I am speaking of is sin, we are all sinners and try as we might we can’t wash it out or alleviate it no matter how hard we try. What we can’t fix, God can and has provided a way through the death and resurrection of Jesus, His Son.
The Jesus we hear so much about today differs immensely from the Jesus taught in the Early Church. From the first sermon preached after Jesus’ resurrection, and in every sermon preached throughout the New Testament, the core content of the message is that Jesus is the answer to our problem of sin. Our forgiveness and salvation is found in Jesus alone because of His death in our place and His resurrection from the grave.
In the early days following Jesus’ resurrection those scared disciples who were hiding out from the authorities who put Jesus to death were infused with a boldness and courage that couldn’t be silenced. Peter and John were arrested and brought before the religious authorities for questioning. Instead of cowering in fear, Peter spoke up…
11 Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” 13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:11-13 NIV)
The same Paul who saw no value in Jesus whatsoever before Jesus appeared to him, spent the rest of his life declaring that nothing is of greater value than coming to know Jesus and the forgiveness that is found in Him. Paul wrote to the church in Rome,
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:8-10 NIV)
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we who are His followers are the most hopeful, content, and expectant of all people on the planet. Those three descriptive words; hopeful, content, and expectant are becoming more and more rare to describe people today. The reason? We are looking in the wrong places for hope, contentment, and fulfillment. Let me explain.
In 2018, Steven Pinker, who is a brilliant professor of psychology at Harvard University, wrote a book called, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. The book is really an update on the European Enlightenment which sought to replace God with human reason as the answer to all that ails us. In the book, Dr. Pinker says things are better now than ever before and if we will stay the course of humanism and reason the best is yet to come. Dr. Pinker has charts, graphs, and an endless stream of data to prove the rising levels of a sense of well-being among humanity.
Andrew Sullivan has written a review of Enlightenment Now. In his article, The World is Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable? he writes,
As we have slowly and surely attained more progress, we have lost something that undergirds all of it: meaning, cohesion, and a different, deeper kind of happiness than the satiation of all our earthly needs…He doesn’t have a way of explaining why, for example, there is so much profound discontent, depression, drug abuse, despair, addiction, and loneliness in the most advanced liberal societies…What he doesn’t fully grapple with is that this solution of problems definitionally never ends; that humans adjust to new standards of material well-being and need ever more and more to remain content; that none of this solves the existential reality of our mortality; and that none of it provides spiritual sustenance or meaning. In fact, it might make meaning much harder to attain, hence the trouble in modern souls. (Sullivan, Andrew. The World is Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable? New York Magazine. March 9, 2018)
Meaning. Forgiveness. Contentment. Enthusiastic expectation. When Jesus opens our eyes to our true condition, He opens His arms which are full of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. When He moves us from the darkness of this world into His glorious light we see, truly see, for the very first time and everything changes. Everything! We gain purpose we never knew, hope, not because of a lack of trouble and hardship, but in the midst of the troubles of life, and forgiveness and freedom we never thought possible.
I pray that today, someone here in this sanctuary will recognize your great need for Jesus. If that person is you, then won’t you come forward and let me know your desire to become a follower of Jesus?
Britton Christian Church
April 17, 2022
Resurrection Sunday 2022