This is the Easter sermon that I preached at Queen Street Baptist Church.
Easter Sunday is by far my favourite Sunday of the entire year. Christmas is wonderful with all of the carols and nativities and everything else that goes with it. But it is Easter that really fills me with joy and gets me excited to worship. And it is not just because of the chocolate!
When it comes to the birth of Jesus, we really do not know when in the year he was born. Whenever it was, it is very unlikely that it was December 25. Why is it such a mystery? Because the early church did not celebrate Christmas. It is not the Christmas is bad or sinful, it is just that the birth of Jesus was not the foundation of the Christian faith.
But Easter is very different. Easter is grounded in history. The death and resurrection of Jesus took place during the time of Passover. We have a pretty good idea of when these events took place. It is not just because of the connection to Passover. The earliest Christians knew immediately that Easter, not that they called it that, was the foundational event for the Christian faith.
How do I know this? Christianity emerged out of Judaism and many of the earliest Christians really valued their Jewish heritage. There was some flexibility in how observant but the most outward aspect that people noticed was Sabbath observance on Saturday. But soon the time for worship was moved to the Lord’s Day or Sunday because of the resurrection of Jesus. Think about how difficult it is for some churches to move worship from 10 am to 10:30 am and then imagine moving worship from the Sabbath to Sunday mornings. That is a huge shift not just in tradition but in theological emphasis. It was saying that worship was no longer a response to the first creation, the day God rested, to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus was that important. I will add that people did not worship on their day off. At least in the Jewish areas, the Sabbath was still the day of rest. Christians would need to get up very early in the morning to worship before they went to work for the day. They would do this because they saw the importance of a weekly remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus.
What I want to do is to help you see the importance of the resurrection by looking at four things you need to know about the resurrection of Jesus.
The Resurrection Does Not Take Away From the Pain of the Cross
There is a danger when we come to celebrate the resurrection that we have already forgotten Good Friday. Easter Sunday is about victory and life and resurrection, but all of that takes place in the shadow of the cross. I have heard people suggest that Jesus’ death on the cross was not so horrible because he knew that he would rise on the third day. That is simply not true.
First of all, crucifixion was and is one of the most terrible ways to execute a person. Is designed for maximum pain, shame and humiliation. Crucifixion was used by the Romans to make examples of people. It was not just to end a life. Jesus, Son of God as he is, still had a completely human body and felt the pain as much as any other person who was crucified on that day.
But there is something else. We should be asking why Jesus died. Was it because the religious leaders were jealous of him? Was it because the Romans wanted to remove a troublemaker? While there is truth to both suggestions, the real reason for Jesus to die was to take the penalty for our sins. Sin, not just individual things that we do wrong, but general rebellion against God separated us from God and the life that God wants for us. Jesus chose to go to the cross, to suffer and die so that we might be reconciled.
What I want you to get is that as the Son of God, Jesus was the creator of all things, including not only the wood of the cross and the iron of the nails but the very people who crucified him. Think of the emotional and spiritual pain of submitting to such treatment.
The resurrection does not erase any of this suffering but it does illuminate it. Thousands of people were crucified by the Romans in the first century. But only one man was resurrected. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that something more than a travesty of justice took place on the cross. The resurrection of Jesus reveals that God was working in that suffering and death to bring forgiveness and eternal life.
The Resurrection Really Did Happen
Something else that we need to know is that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. It is not uncommon for people to affirm the resurrection but in a very qualified way. They might say that Jesus was risen in that the first disciples felt his continued presence in a way that almost seemed like he was there. Jesus was alive in their hearts and memories. Jesus was alive because the disciples were continuing his mission. But that is not what Christians claim.
Christians believe that Jesus really died on Good Friday and really rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Christians believe that before the resurrection, his body was in the tomb. After the resurrection, the tomb was empty and Jesus was interacting with people in a physical way. He was not a ghost. Luke’s Gospel presents a story of post-resurrection Jesus eating fish to demonstrate how solid he was. John’s Gospel has Jesus cooking breakfast for his disciples after his resurrection.
What is unique about Christianity is that it is the only falsifiable religion there is. If we went back in time with a camera, we could not tell if a particular religious leader was receiving a revelation or experiencing enlightenment. But we could tell if Jesus rose from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most historically reliable truths of all religions. According to Paul, Jesus appeared not just to one or two people, but to over five hundred people. These people were from a variety of backgrounds, from Jesus’ close friend Peter to Jesus’ half-brother James, who was skeptical during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
I share all this to say that we need something solid on which to build our faith. Life is too hard to hope on something that may or may not have happened. There are many stories in the Bible that are hard to understand and uncertain in meaning. But the resurrection of Jesus is clear and demonstrable. This is something we can build a faith on.
The Resurrection Will Be Shared
What is Easter about? Is it just ancient history? Is it just a happy ending to the sufferings of Jesus? The truth is that Easter is something relevant to all of us today and it points toward something in the future, something will directly affect us.
Have you ever wondered why some of the disciples (not just Thomas) had trouble believing that Jesus rose from the dead? After all, they had seen Jesus raise Lazarus and a number of other people from the dead. Surely Jesus could rise as well.
The issue is that the disciples knew that the raising of Jesus was very different in kind from the raising of Lazarus and others. Each of those people had their bodies repaired, their spirits called back and their hearts began to beat again. They went on with their life, eventually got sick again and died. Those people were buried and their bodies are little more than remnants of bones today.
What was being claimed about Jesus was not a resuscitation of his body but a resurrection. There was a very strong belief within Judaism that one day God would raise up his people in new bodies that would last for eternity. The Jews even knew when this would happen. It would happen on the Day of the Lord, the day when God rights every wrong.
The problem is that Jesus’ resurrection did not take place then, as that day has not happened. This is significant, as Paul describes Jesus as the first-fruits of the resurrection. That is, the resurrection of Jesus is the promise that we too will experience the resurrection.
What happens when we die? Everyone knows that if you have put your faith in Christ, you will go to heaven. That is true and yet when we read what both Jesus and Paul taught in the New Testament, the focus is almost completely on the resurrection of the body. The idea of being forever a disembodied spirit for eternity is foreign to the Bible. Being only a spirit is limited to the time between our death and and the resurrection.
This is very important. There was a period in my life in which I was an atheist and one of the reasons was trouble over the concept of heaven. I am a concrete thinker and the idea of being a disembodied spirit was so abstract that I really struggled with the concept. I wish someone had told me about the resurrection of the body and that is why I am telling you about it now.
My children get this concept, especially our daughter faith. She can understand that God will rebuild our bodies into something that cannot get sick or wear out. One of my proudest moments was when I heard Faith give a biblically accurate description of the resurrection of the body to another child. And she did it, not to show off Bible knowledge, but rather to give hope to the friend who had a sick parent. That leads us perfectly into our final point.
The Resurrection Gives Hope
What is it that this world needs? Do we need more powerful smart phones? Faster computers? More complex cars? Do we need more toys?
My observation, through life and ministry, is that our world needs hope. What is hope? Hope is having a sense that we see right now is not all that there is, that there is something better coming. A child might live in hope that if they eat their vegetables, that there will be a tasty dessert at the end. A student might live in hope that all their studying will pay off with a fulfilling career after graduation. A parent might live in hope that restless nights and dirty diapers will pay off with being able to watch their children grow and become parents themselves. It is all about hope.
But we need hope in deeper areas of our life than enduring homework and changing diapers. There is real fear and pain that can grip us in a crushing embrace. We need hope.
We have already looked at the resurrection of Jesus as something that we will share in. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope in the face of death. We can be assured that there is something beyond death because Jesus has come back to tell us.
But the resurrection of Jesus is not about enduring a painful life only because there will be a nice afterlife at the end. The resurrection of Jesus speaks to every area of our life right now.
What took place at the resurrection. Jesus went from a broken and bleeding man nailed to a cross,, looking like the greatest failure to becoming the risen Lord, victor over sin and death. Nothing about the cross would have led those bystanders to believe anything else was going on. But something was going on with Jesus and something is going on with us.
I want you to think about the biggest stress that you are facing right now. What is the one thing that wakes you up in the middle of the night? It could be a health scare. It could be relationship problems. It could be a loved one who doesn’t want to hear about Jesus. It could be memories of past trauma or abuse. It could be a million different things.
What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to any of these things? The resurrection of Jesus tells us that God loves us and that he works in powerful ways when all outside signs tell us everything is hopeless.
I am not talking about a name and claim it theology. My children have not been healed of autism, but we have some seen some pretty major miracles in our relationship with them. My father died from a serious illness, but a few weeks before he died, he prayed with a pastor friend of mine to receive Jesus as Lord. God is God and he does things his way and in his timing. We cannot predict how God will act in our circumstances. All we can be issued of is that God is real and God is at work. We can have hope.
Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. We are here to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and we should celebrate it. We should sing the hymns and read the Bible passages. But in all of that, I hope that you remember these four things: 1) the resurrection does not take away the pain of the cross, 2) the resurrection really happened, 3) the resurrection will be shared and 4) the resurrection brings hope. You may be in a place where any one of these four truths are the one that you have to grab on to. Wherever you are, go in the power and love of the risen Jesus.