Easter Message 2019

Series: Special Occasions

April 21, 2019
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

I was ordained as a pastor in October 1993. That’s 25 and 1/2 years ago. I’m getting old.

If you factor in the 4.5 years I wasn’t pastoring and do the math, I am standing behind a pulpit on Easter Sunday preaching about the resurrection for the 21st time.

I will never forget that first Easter at the church where I was ordained. They had an Easter play at sunrise, and I do mean sunrise. I was a Roman guard. And then they had a prayer breakfast and then SS and then preaching!

It’s easy for Easter to lose its luster when we’re exposed to it over and over again. It ought not be that way, but it is.

This resurrection Sunday morning, let’s go back and read the account of the original Easter…

Luke 24:1–12 (ESV) — 1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

I can’t guess how many times I’ve read that text in the last 25 and 1/2 years. For sure I’ve preached it on Easter more than once. Surprisingly, I saw something in it this week I don’t recall seeing before. Something that no preacher in his right mind would focus on Easter Sunday morning…

11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Verse 11 reveals that the disciples, eleven of the original twelve chosen by Jesus to preach the message of his kingdom, the ones who saw him work miracles, thought the testimony of the women was foolish story telling. They thought, this just can’t be true.

Even the ladies, bless their hearts, went to the tomb expecting it to be occupied with Jesus’ corpse.

It never dawned on me until preparing for the message today, that the first Easter Sunday morning was filled with doubt. And that’s not a bad thing.

I don’t know when or why, but somewhere along the way Christianity started selling the idea that doubt is bad and that facts aren’t to be factored into our faith. And that’s why, I believe, many folks’ live what I call a watered-down walk with God.

I talk about this often: doubt is an opportunity to have your faith strengthened. It’s the times in my life I’ve faced doubt in my faith that I experienced breakthroughs.

Some of you here today, if you were really honest, might confess doubt about the resurrection. Maybe you don’t reject the message of hope in the Easter story. Maybe you accept the example of a risen savior as your faith’s figurehead. But, just between you and me and the lamppost, you’re just not so sure the resurrection is factually true. 

Faith isn’t about facts; it’s about feelings, right? Whether it really happened or not doesn’t matter.

And if believing in Easter, in Jesus, helps you make it through the day; if that’s your truth and it works for you, then you can believe it if you want to. You have your truth and I have mine and we all lived happily ever after.

I hear you. Those are legitimate thoughts. If they resonate with you, please don’t think what I’m about to challenge you with is a slam or judgment. Just hear me out.

What brought about the Easter story to begin with? 

Some say a group of Jesus fans who lived long after he died and far away from where he lived found some old stories about him being a great teacher and example. They took those legends and dressed them up and made him into a savior, using some old Greek myths and such. 

But all credible, honest historians (Christian or not) know that’s not accurate. They know, from ancient documents and writings outside the Gospels as well in, that a Jewish man named Jesus existed, that he was crucified, died, and buried.

In fact, even skeptical historians, even those who don’t believe Jesus was anything more than a 1st Century Jewish rabbi, admit three things:

(1). Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of women the Sunday following his crucifixion.

This itself provides stunning confirmation that what Luke and the other Gospel writers wrote is true. Let me tell you why.

Women were not highly valued in ancient Roman or Jewish culture. That’s why the many men who were all hiding out of fear didn’t believe them at first. That’s why they thought it was silly talk, just the easily excitable women getting all hysterical about what they thought they saw.

NT Wright comments on the significance of this…

"If Luke had been making this story up a generation or more after the event, as people sometimes suggest, not only would he not have had women going first to the tomb (women were not regarded as credible witnesses in the ancient world, as this story itself bears out); he would have had the apostles believe the story at once, ready to be models of faith and to lead the young church into God’s future. Not so: it seemed to them a silly fantasy, exactly the sort of thing (they will have thought) that you’d expect from a few women crazy with grief and lack of sleep."

I could share so much more with you the credibility of the gospels, but this alone is evidence that the accounts of the empty tomb cannot be fantasy or legend; they have to be an attempt to record the facts as the disciples understood them. Something attested to at the beginning of Luke’s gospel…

Luke 1:1–4 (CEV) — 1 Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. 2 They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. 3 So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. Honorable Theophilus, 4 I have done this to let you know the truth about what you have heard.

The second undeniable truth is…

(2). Jesus’ disciples had actual encounters with someone they believed to be a resurrected Jesus.

The gospels give numerous accounts of encounters with Jesus after that first Easter Sunday. John admitted at the end of his gospel that if you wrote down all that Jesus did before and after the resurrection, the world couldn’t contain them. 

Paul wrote this to the Christians at Corinth…

1 Corinthians 15:1–8 (ESV) — 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Paul wrote this within twenty or so years of the events surrounding that first Easter. Those who witnessed it were still alive. Paul would have never made this statement so boldly if he were telling a fib, not when there were people who could stand up and say it wasn’t true.

Consider this also.

People will suffer and even give their lives for a cause or movement they believe to be true, but they won’t for what they know is a lie.

All of the apostles except for John were cruelly martyred for their faith: some were dragged by horses, others beheaded (like Paul), still others crucified upside down, and others thrown from the temple and stoned to death.

You can say they were crazy, but you cannot say they were part of some conspiracy. The only reasonable explanation for why they risked life and limb to preach a resurrected Jesus is they really believed they saw him alive after the crucifixion.

Which brings us to something the skeptics say: they all suffered from mass hallucination. That makes no sense. 500 different people in different places at different times? It takes more faith to believe that than it does to believe he really came back from the dead.

The last surefire truth is…

(3). These disciples’ preaching of a resurrected Jesus turned the world upside down.

Think about it. An ancient Jewish rabbi born of poor, lowly parents from an obscure little hick town in three years so impacted eleven of his followers they went about preaching the good news of his kingdom. And their passion was so red hot Christianity exploded in popularity and influence to the degree that a few hundred years later Rome actually made it the official religion of the empire. 2,000 years later billions of Christians right now on this Easter Sunday are celebrating a risen Lord.

It’s beyond miraculous.

(1). Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of women the Sunday following his crucifixion.

(2). Jesus’ disciples had actual encounters with someone they believed to be a resurrected Jesus.

(3). These disciples’ preaching of a resurrected Jesus turned the world upside down.

These three undeniable truths don’t prove that Jesus was the Son of God or that he came back from the dead, but do you have a better explanation? 

If Jesus really came back from the dead, and I believe based on the facts as well my faith he did, whatever you think of him, you can’t just accept him as a great teacher or moral example. You can’t embrace him as your truth, as if he were an option among many.

If Jesus came back from the dead that means everything he said was 100% credible. It validated his message and his kingdom. 

Tim Keller says…

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” ― Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

Listen to what Jesus said, what he taught…

John 14:6 (ESV) — 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

That wasn’t a boast. It was simply the truth. We can’t get to God on our own. Sin keeps us separated from him. A perfect God requires a perfect child to be in relationship with.

Jesus, his one and only perfect Son, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died so we could become God’s real sons and daughters. 

That’s what he means when he says you can’t get to God except through him.

Conclusion: As I wind this message down, I’m guessing some might be thinking:

I didn’t get up early on Easter Sunday to come to church for a history lesson. I’m just not into to all this fact stuff. I wanted to be inspired, to get my touchy-feelies on today.

What was it that convinced the women and the disciples that Jesus was alive? It wasn’t a story or a myth. They saw him with their eyes and touched him with their hands. Cold hard facts. What convinced those who didn’t see or touch him? The eyewitness testimony of those who did.

And what effect did it have? They were so transformed, they were willing to give their lives for what they believed.

I’d a whole lot rather deal with a skeptic struggling to believe in the resurrection than a person who says they believe but it’s never made a difference in their life.

If we really believe in the resurrection, and I mean really believe, where it’s as much fact as faith, it changes everything. It transforms us. It invades all of this life and carries us over into the next life.

CS Lewis writes…

"The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the ‘first fruits,’ the pioneer of life,’ He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. " (Miracles, ch. 16)

It’s not just a truth but the truth. And the message of Easter can change you this morning if you let it.

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