Sunday, April 8, 2007

Why It Matters What Happened

Texts: 1 Corinthians 1-8, 12-20; Luke 19:28-44

IT NEVER FAILS. It just never fails. We just CAN’T get to Easter without some so-called expert coming up with some amazing new so-called evidence that Jesus really wasn’t who the Bible says He is and that He didn’t really rise from the dead.

This year it came early. This year, we got the TV program alleging that archaeologists had actually found the dusty bones of our Savior-- and the bones of His family as well. That’s the truth, according to film makers Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron: Jesus’ bones are going down to dust in a rock-cut tomb outside Jerusalem, along with the bones of His wife (Mary Magdalene, of course!) and His mother and His brothers and His cousins and His aunts.

Yeah, right. And I’m the Easter Bunny.

True, legitimate scholars wasted no time proving Cameron and Jacobovici wrong. It’s true there’s a tomb they found back in 1980 with common names like "Yeshua" and "Mariam" and "Yose" on them. But the evidence doesn’t fit what archaeologists know about how burials were done with various classes of people back in Jesus’ day. And it contradicts what we know about Jesus and His earthly family from the Gospels. And the Gospels are the earliest eye-witness accounts. They’re what scholars call "primary sources," and if an historian or other scholar won’t pay attention to primary sources, he’s no historian or true scholar at all.

James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici aren’t historians or scholars. They don’t even claim to be. They’re film makers. But they still wanted people around the world to believe their story about Jesus never being raised from the dead, about Jesus’ body still being in the tomb.
Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. It’s just unbelievers acting like unbelievers.

We could have a real good time this morning going over all the reasons why Cameron and Jacobovici are wrong. If you want to know about that, I can put you in touch with some resources that prove their conclusions are in error. But today, on this glorious Feast of the Resurrection, let’s look instead at why anyone would want to prove Jesus never rose from the dead, and then why it matters so much to us that He really did.

In our reading from 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul tells us that Christ’s death and resurrection are of first importance to us and our Christian faith. If Jesus is not risen from the dead, we’re telling lies about God to say He was, and God’s wrath will be upon us. If Jesus is not risen, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.

. . . . Oh, yes. There it is. That annoying four-letter word: "Sins." Jesus didn’t die and rise to prove He could, He died to pay the terrible price for our sins and He rose to give us changed, new, godly lives. His death was a thunderous judgement upon the selfishness, the greed, the lust, the unrighteous anger, the idolatry of every last one of us. And His resurrection life given to us is proof that we all need to change. The lives we got when our mothers birthed us aren’t good enough for God. We have to have the risen life of Jesus Christ in us, or be forever condemned.

But it’s not just obvious unbelievers like Cameron and Jacobovici. Before the Holy Spirit brings us to Christ, we all resent being told we’re sinners. We all reject the idea that we have to be given a new life, or else die. It’s of first importance to all the unbelieving world to reject the truth and power of the resurrection and try to prove the New Testament wrong. It would allow them to go on thinking they’re okay just the way they are. It allows them to hang onto their self-image as wonderful people.

But wishing won’t make it so. As St. Paul says, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Our sins could only be covered by the blood of God’s own innocent Son. And, "He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." Eternal life for us could only come from Him. The world may not choose to believe it, but, as the Holy Spirit says, "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."

In St. Luke’s account of that first Resurrection morning, we read that Peter and the rest of the disciples didn’t believe the Good News the women brought. Peter went to the tomb anyway, just in case. But when he saw it was empty, he still didn’t believe. He just went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

It hits me that if that’s all the Gospels had to record, it would make sense for us to try to find the tomb of Jesus Christ-- though if Christ is not risen, nobody today would even care or know about Him any more. Why believe the women? In Jesus’ day, their testimony women would have counted for nothing in a court of law. Maybe they were just deluded! And an empty tomb and folded graveclothes are not conclusive proof that a very dead Man has been raised bodily from the grave.

But we know the story does not end there. When we read this history in St. Luke, we have that delicious sensation of knowing more than the people in that long-ago garden did. We want to say, "Peter! Peter! We can tell you what happened! Jesus really is risen! Just wait! In a few minutes you’ll meet Him face to face, yourself! In a few hours, He’ll come and greet you and all the disciples in person! Rejoice in what has happened, Peter! Christ is risen indeed!"

An empty tomb that morning can be argued against. But Jesus appeared alive among them, time after time. He appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve, then later at one time to over five hundred reliable witnesses, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in AD 55. You can believe them and the accounts they left behind. If you don’t believe them, you may as well not believe anything that history tells us.

I know there are people cannot yet believe that Jesus has been raised. They don’t want to be cheated or fall for something that might not be true. They want reliable proof, and they’re willing to be shown it.

But if you positively will not believe the word of Scripture, very likely it matters to you that what happened that day was not the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Your self-esteem; your whole sense of self depend on it not being true.

But even more it matters to us Christians that He rose that day.

If Christ were not raised, what are we doing here? You want to do nice things for your fellow humans? Go join the Kiwanas Club! You want to embark on a campaign of personal moral improvement or strengthen your marriage? Read any book by Dr. Laura Schlesinger! The Church-- all of us gathered here today and all of us gathered in the Spirit throughout the world-- the Church isn’t about making us nice, helpful, prosperous, fulfilled people! It’s about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. It’s about bringing new birth to others and together living lives that will prepare us to live with Him forever in Eternity. If the Christ you worship is not risen, He can’t help you after you die. For as Paul says, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied beyond all men." If Jesus is not risen, give it up! Quit the church! Why knock yourself out to be helpful and good? You’ll just moulder in the grave anyway!

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus’ physical resurrection gives us a free sample of what we’re going to get when we rise from the dead and get our new bodies, too. More than that, Christ’s physical resurrection is the first portion of a glorious offering He’s going to make to His God and our God, His Father and our Father. He offered those firstfruits going on two thousand years ago. The rest of the offering will be lifted up to God when we-- all we who believe in His name-- are raised up bodily at the Last Day, when we will be just like Him and God will accept us as worthy in His sight.

Our hope is not just for this world, it is also for the world to come. It matters deeply that we can trust with our minds as well as with our hearts that Jesus Christ is risen, indeed.

And if it matters to us, it matters more to Almighty God. For that is really why it matters what happened that April morning around 30 AD. The resurrection of Christ glorifies His Father in heaven. Our resurrection with Christ displays God’s love, honor, and grace. It brings Him eternal praise. It vindicates His righteousness and utterly defeats Death and the Devil, our enemy and His.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is for us. But ultimately, it’s about God. And so we give our Father glory, honor, and praise for what He has done for us in our Savior Jesus Christ. We renounce all sinful ways that contradict the new life He has given us through His Son. We pray diligently for lost souls like James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, and especially for unbelievers who may be our co-workers, our neighbors, or members of our own families, that Christ’s resurrection light will dawn upon them, and they, too, will be saved. And we look forward to the great Day when our own bodies will be transformed to be like the resurrection body of Jesus Christ; to whom with the Holy Spirit and God the Father be all power, riches, wisdom, and strength, glory, honor, and blessing. Alleluia, amen!

[Preached at the main service, the Feast of the Resurrection, A.D. 2007]

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