We live in a remarkable day. There are so many discoveries that have been made in our lifetime that it is truly mind-boggling. As remarkable as these days are they are not anywhere close to the greatest day ever experienced by humanity. With all of the various discoveries and ideas that have made an impact on society there has been none more long lasting, more transforming, than the event that took place almost 2,000 years ago. There were no satellite trucks present. MSNBC and Fox News were nowhere to be found. There were no reporters. Spielberg didn’t try to buy the script. Grisham has never written about it. The event didn’t win an Academy Award. As a matter of fact, hardly anybody even noticed–except a few. Those few people who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus went on to change our world.
This is Easter Sunday! The day in which God announced to the world, “I Can!” I want to read to you the story for those who might not be familiar with what took place at a garden tomb in Israel almost two thousand year ago. Turn with me to Matthew’s Gospel as we take a look at the greatest event to ever occur in the history of the world.
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” 11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:1-20 NIV)
What a wonderful story of the love of God for you and me! What a wonderful story of the power of God to overcome the grave, the greatest enemy of humanity! What a wonderful story about God’s power to transform the lives of ordinary people like you and me. That really is the story of Easter.
I want us to do two things this morning before we close out our time of worship. First, I want us to examine the validity of the resurrection of Jesus. If the resurrection is merely a myth, a comic book tale told long before Marvel ever ushered Superman onto the scene, then all of this is for nothing. Paul said, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:17). If Jesus did not rise from the dead then let’s go home and hunt Easter eggs! But if Jesus did truly rise from the grave so that we might be forgiven for our sins, then that one event can change everything for you and me.
Secondly, I want us to examine the promise of Jesus’ resurrection for you and me. Maybe it would be better to phrase it like this: “If Jesus is alive, so what?” What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in my life as I try to pay my bills, hold my family together, and live my life? That is a great question!
Let’s begin at the beginning. Is the resurrection of Jesus a myth or is it the truest fact of history? There are over three hundred verses concerned with the subject of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament. We are told that this event is a sign for unbelievers. Jesus said in Matthew 12:38-40.
39 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40 NIV)
The New Testament tells us that the resurrection is the answer for the unbeliever’s doubts about Jesus. Jesus Himself took time after His resurrection to show Himself to doubters who couldn’t believe that He was alive. In Luke’s Gospel we read,
38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Luke 24:38-52 NIV)
There are so many other Scriptures that point us to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and how God proved Himself true through this one event. The resurrection serves as the guarantee that Jesus’ teachings are true (Acts 2:22-24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20) and it is the center of the gospel itself (Romans 4:24-25, 10:9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Furthermore, the resurrection is our motivation for evangelism (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 10:39-43), it is the key indication of the believer’s daily power to live the Christian life (Romans 6:4-14, 8:9-11; Philippians 3:10), and it is the reason for the total commitment of our lives to our Savior (Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians. 15:57-58).
The resurrection even addresses the fear of death. Have you ever stopped to wonder, “How did those early followers of Jesus stand strong in the face of death?” How do people today, in countries that persecute Christians, give up their lives when they could deny Jesus and live? They did in the past, and still do today, because the resurrection is true. Because Jesus has overcome the grave they have lost their fear of death. The writer of Hebrews put it this way,
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV)
Many times in the past several years I have been with people who were facing the prospect of dying. I will tell you that people face the end in many different ways. Some are fearful. Others are arrogantly assured that they’re gonna “whip this thing” — as if they hold the power of life and death. There are folks who die in peace, who face the final days of their life with confidence, but it has nothing to do with their strength, status in society, or genius. Their confidence rests solely on the foundation of the resurrection of Jesus.
The New Testament goes on to say to us that the resurrection of Jesus is a model of the Christian’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:2; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and that it provides a foretaste of heaven for the believer (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Peter 1:3-5).
In the early part of the last century, a group of lawyers met in England to discuss the biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. They wanted to see if sufficient information was available to make a case that would hold up in an English court of law. When their study was completed, they published the results of their investigation. They concluded that Christ’s resurrection was one of the most well-established facts of history!
You can argue if you will, but the fact of the matter is that the tomb is empty. There is no headstone, there are no bones. You can locate the tombs of King Tut, Mohammed, Buddha, Ghandi, Malcolm X, Stalin, Confucius, and all of the other leaders the world has ever known, but you can spend the rest of your life looking for the remains of Jesus and you will end your life empty-handed. He is alive!
Jesus is alive! The tomb is empty! Because Jesus has been raised from the dead you and I can live with the assurance of Easter each day of our lives. Let me ask you a few questions and see if you can give me an answer. All these questions have the same answer.
What is it that gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave? What is the ultimate hope of those who are terminally ill, victims of abuse, or those who have been abandoned by their families? How can the parents of children with severe disabilities keep from living their entire lives mired in depression? Why would anyone who is blind or deaf or paralyzed be encouraged when they think of the life beyond? How can we see past the martyrdom of some helpless hostage or devoted missionary? Where do the thoughts of a young couple go when they finally recover from the grief of losing their baby? When a family receives the tragic news that a little daughter was found dead or their dad was killed in a plane crash or a son overdosed on drugs, what single truth becomes their whole focus? What is the final answer to pain, mourning, senility, insanity, terminal diseases, sudden calamities, and fatal accidents? I hope you know the answer–He is the Answer! Because God raised Jesus from the grave, we who accept Jesus into our hearts will rise as well!
What difference does it make in my life if Jesus really is alive? Ask those I’ve just described to you. Jesus’ resurrection holds power that the world does not know. The resurrection of Jesus has accomplished three victories in our life that you need to know about.
First, the death and resurrection of Jesus alone can deal with our sin. Sin is not a very familiar word to us as Americans, but the effects and residue of sin are seen and talked about every day of our life. Death, destruction, brokenness, brutality, bloodshed, hatred, lack of forgiveness, animosity, lust, greed, gossip–the list can go on and on. We never name it for what it is we simply see it reported on television, in magazines, and newspapers. We don’t name it for what it is, but oh do we feel sins diabolical effects. Sin even comes into our living rooms and the living room of our hearts.
King David knew sin and the power of sin to separate him from God and those around him. David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5 NIV) Have you ever felt sin’s life-draining power crush you in its grip? Sure you have. You may not have called it sin, but you felt what I am talking about when you cheated on your test and became preoccupied with wondering if you would get caught. You’ve felt sin’s power to drain the life out of you when you did another person wrong and couldn’t sleep at night. You’ve felt sin’s power when you knew you were supposed to make things right, but you wouldn’t do it. You’ve felt sin’s power when you tried to pray and felt unworthy and unclean before a holy and righteous God.
We can seek out the finest shrinks in the world and have them tell us that we are really not that bad, that our misdeeds are nothing to worry about, but that doesn’t alleviate the sin that gnaws at us. The forgiveness that comes through Jesus alone can deal with our sin and remove it from us forever.
It is the shed blood of Jesus, not counseling, not getting caught, not dismissal or denial that alleviates the sin of our hearts. The writer of Hebrews said, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22 NIV)
When Paul spoke to the people of his day, he said to them, “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39 NIV) You can be freed from the sin that is robbing you of life this morning because Jesus has defeated sin and death!
Second, the death and resurrection of Jesus gives us the power to change. So many people today feel trapped in their habits and destructive ways of living. Many of these people are my friends. It is a joy for me to let them know that Jesus alone can give them the power to change their way of living, to give them life, even abundant life. For those who doubt that such power is available to you and me, I wish you could meet Danny Croce.
Danny was only 27 years old that rainy night in February 1985, when his car slid into a barricade and killed a police officer. Danny never saw the man.
Danny was a young ironworker from Brockton, Mass. who loved to box and drink. Brockton was a working-class city as famous for being tough as it is for being the birthplace of another boxer, Rocky Marciano. Danny enjoyed hanging out at the bars with his friends after work. On this particular February day, rain had forced the workers to quit early so the crew went to a local bar, and then another, and then another. When Danny left the bar he decided that he would drive home; then the accident happened. Officer John Gilbert was struck by Danny’s car and he died 8 days after the accident. Danny was sentenced to prison for vehicular homicide.
Danny was taken to Plymouth County Correctional Facility where he would serve 2 and one half years for his crime. Of all the nights Danny would spend in jail, the first night lives vividly in his memory.
“The door slid open, and I walked in. The door closed, and I went to sit on the bed. I would lay in my bed and the tears would flow. They’d come out hot, hit the pillow and turn cold; I’d have to keep flipping the pillow over to find a dry spot,” he says. “And then I’d look at the wall and I’d envision this dining room setting. There’d be a woman, two children, and an empty chair. And every time I saw that, I just wanted to tear my heart out and die. I just really really thought about ending it all because there was nothing I could do to bring this man back.”
It was at the point that Danny wanted to die that he was given a small New Testament Bible and began reading about Jesus. Danny accepted Jesus as Lord of his life and his heart began to change.
After Danny was released from prison he was encouraged to apply for the Charles Colson scholarship, a scholarship specifically designed for those who have spent time in prison. When he learned that he had received the scholarship, Danny, his wife, Kim, and their two small children headed to Illinois to Wheaton College. Danny graduated in 1995 with a degree in Bible and theology. After graduation Danny Croce returned to the Plymouth County Correctional Facility as its full-time chaplain.
When I heard Danny’s story I was struck by the life-transforming power of the Gospel. Here was a young guy who had no hope, no purpose, who sat in his prison cell, contemplating suicide until Jesus transformed his life.
So let the critics deny the resurrection of Christ: The proof is in changed lives. The apostle Paul says, “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”
Let all the skeptics take notice: God is transforming people like Danny Croce, who is a living testimony of the historic proclamation of believers: “Christ is risen indeed.”
Jesus transforms lives. Not just the lives of inmates sitting hopelessly in a prison cell, but also those imprisoned in the kingdoms they have built for themselves. Millard Fuller was a multi-millionaire. He had it all, but he often wondered why he felt so empty. His business was booming, but his marriage was stagnant at best. He couldn’t find any joy or enthusiasm for life outside of his job.
One day Millard realized he was losing his wife and through a friend’s advice he checked into this One called Jesus. Millard Fuller accepted Jesus as Lord of his life and he has never been the same since. Have you ever heard of Habitat For Humanity? The organization was given birth by Millard Fuller’s millions upon his conversion to Christ. The Lord has used Millard Fuller to build thousands of homes across the world, but more importantly he has put Millard’s home back together again and given him an eternal home in Heaven.
Lastly, the death and resurrection of Jesus gives us hope far beyond this life. Jesus spoke to His followers before He ever went to the His cruel death upon Calvary’s cross. Jesus said to them,
1 Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:1-4 NIV)
We don’t have to look to this life to provide us with everything we’ve ever longed for in life. What we long for lies beyond the capabilities of this life. What we long for is to be with the Lord, to rest in His presence, to glory in His mercy, to marvel at His majesty! Paul said that to be with Christ in Heaven is far better than remaining in this life. He wrote to the Philippians and said,
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:21-24 NIV)
Paul felt it was necessary for him to remain with the people so that he could make an impact on them for God. This is why you and I are still alive today. God desires that we make an impact upon those around us for the Kingdom of God. Those who don’t know of the power of Easter need to know. You and I can be used by God to teach them.
You may say, “I’m not a preacher or a Bible teacher. I don’t even know that much about the Bible.” God can use you like He did a little third grader named Philip.
Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group. The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought Leggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egglike container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh. Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, “That’s stupid. That’s not fair. Somebody didn’t do their assignment.” Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.” “Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted. “There’s nothing there!” “I did so do it,” Philip insisted. “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb was empty!” Silence followed.
From then on Philip became a full member of the class. He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty pantyhose egg.
The lives of children in a Sunday school class were transformed by the least likely student of all. God wants to use you and me to change lives as well, but first He must change our life. Easter can happen for you today. God can resurrect your life from the tomb and give you the abundant life that is found only in Jesus if you will ask Him in today.