EASTER Worship 4-17

Series: Special Occasions

April 17, 2022
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

Many years ago I found myself needing a new funeral sermon because the few I had were getting worn out. I consulted different resources and came across an interesting story about DL Moody. Now DL Moody went from being a shoe salesman to Sunday School teacher to one of the most well-known revivalists of the 1800s. Along with his chorister Ira Sankey, Moody preached to enormous crowds in the British Isles and US. He founded a Bible institute in Chicago which bears his name today.

The story goes that someone asked Moody to preach at a funeral. He agreed and in preparation searched the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) hoping to borrow a good funeral sermon from Jesus. To his surprise, he discovered that Jesus never preached a funeral message because he undid every funeral he got within five miles of! 

I was blown away by that and decided to see for myself. So I looked up every time in the gospels Jesus was at or near a funeral, and this is what I found out.

In Mark chapter 5, a ruler of the synagogue came to Jesus begging for his sick daughter’s healing, but before Jesus could get there she died. While the body was barely warm, Jesus said to her, “Litle girl, arise.” And that’s exactly what she did. So, Jesus undid a funeral that had yet to start.

In Luke chapter 7, as Jesus neared the gate of a city called Nain, a widow carried her only son out in a funeral procession. Jesus said to that corpse, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And that’s exactly what he did. In this case, Jesus undid a funeral already underway.

In John 11, we read of the sickness and death of Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus. He was the brother of Mary and Martha, and he had become very ill. Jesus was summoned to come and heal him but He tarried too long and Lazarus passed away. 

When Jesus finally arrived four days later, all of Lazarus’ family was well into an extended time of mourning. Lazarus was already sealed in the tomb. Jesus himself wept when he saw it all. 

Jesus stood at the tomb and shouted, “Lazarus, come out.” And that’s exactly what he did, linen bindings and all! Here, Jesus undid a funeral that had already taken place.

Moody was right: Jesus undid every funeral he was near or attended. You’ve heard of crashing a wedding. Well, Jesus was the great funeral crasher. By the way, what I’ve just shared with you became the most popular and most requested funeral sermon I’ve ever preached. 

Now you might be wondering, why in the world is Pastor Brad preaching his best funeral sermon on Easter Sunday? Shouldn’t this be about the resurrection? Well, keep studying the gospels, and you realize:

There’s one more funeral Jesus undid…. His own! 

Let’s look at that this morning…

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they [the women] 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.  Luke 24:1–12 (ESV)

Jesus was crucified on a cross. He died and was buried in a tomb. His body lay in that tomb for three days. But on the third day, he did something no one had ever done. He came back from the dead, never to die again (unlike the widow’s son, the little girl, and Lazarus). 

That’s why the Scripture calls Jesus the “firstborn” among the dead (Col. 1:18). That’s why He is declared the victor over death. Think about that. Jesus, God’s only Son, is so powerful, so full of truth and light that He overcame death and undid His own funeral.

That should give us all the fuzzies this beautiful Easter morning because Easter is about believing in the risen Jesus. But I want to tell you it’s more than just a “belief.”

To help us understand that, let’s talk about beliefs. Some things we believe are subjective, and some are objective. Let me explain. Subjective beliefs are not based on raw data or evidence but personal preferences, opinions, convictions, and experiences. An example would be, “Purple looks best on women with light skin.” Subjective beliefs like that are valid for you but not necessarily others (I bet some women are thinking everybody knows pale girls look best in baby blue).

Subjective beliefs are not a bad thing. We are built to engage with our feelings, emotions, convictions, and intuitions. We have to be careful, though, because our feelings and emotions can’t always be trusted.

Objective beliefs, on the other hand, are things we hold to be true because something outside ourselves convinced us so. Objective beliefs are about taking facts, data, or evidence and using them to conclude something. An example would be, “Barney is a pretend purple dinosaur.” There’s no feeling, emotion, or opinion in that, just fact. You can check that out and discover it’s true apart from any feelings or opinions. In fact, if you told me Barney was a real, giant yellow butterfly (and we were talking about exactly the same thing), I’d worry about you.

What kind of belief do we most associate with Christianity? With the resurrection of Jesus? Subjective. Most Christians’ testimonies are about what they felt, what they experienced as they came into the faith. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how I came into the faith forty years ago. That night in my room, I hadn’t been to seminary; I hadn’t been investigating the claims of Christianity. I just knew Jesus was dealing with me, and I responded.

Much of what we believe about the Bible and God is subjective because we cannot provide empirical evidence to prove it’s true, yet we just know it is true (proof could very well be under our noses we just aren’t aware of it). Christianity wouldn’t work without subjective beliefs, as atheism would not since it’s an unprovable belief system as well.

Yet, at the same time, there are many things both in the Bible and the natural world that, when investigated, point to the fact that there is a God, and he came to us in the person of Jesus 2,000 years ago. In other words, if investigated with an open mind, there is much to move us toward objective truth in Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus, more so than anything else, is something Christians can believe based on raw and undeniable facts as well as feelings. 

I want you to know that contrary to what you may have read on a blog or saw on a TikTok post, the evidence does not support the myth that centuries ago, a group of Jesus fans who lived long after he died and far away from where he walked found some old stories about him being a great teacher and example. They took those legends, dressed them up, and made him into a savior, using some old Greek and Egyptian myths. 

All credible, honest historians (Christian or not) know that’s not accurate. They know four undeniable facts derived from ancient documents and writings outside the Gospels. In other words, there is quite a bit of raw data and factual evidence associated with the resurrection. So much so that we can confidently hold to our belief in that first Easter objectively and subjectively. This morning, briefly, I want to share four undeniable, incontestable truths about Jesus and the resurrection that absolutely no credible, peer-reviewed historian would ever deny.

(1). A Jewish rabbi named Jesus existed in the 1st Century and was crucified on a Roman cross.

A big thing making the rounds these days is the claim that Jesus never existed at all. You can’t trust the gospels and there isn’t any credible evidence outside of them to support the claim that he was real.

Did you know that even if we did not have the NT, we would know the story of Jesus from other ancient writings? Tacitus, one of ancient Rome’s greatest historians, mentions Jesus and Christians, as does an ancient Jewish historian named Josephus.

According to one present-day historian, a professor at Purdue University, here are nine things we learn about Jesus from Josephus and Tacitus alone…

1. He existed as a man.

2. His personal name was Jesus.

3. He was called Christos in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah.

4. He had a brother named James (Jacob), as Josephus reports.

5. He won over both Jews and “Greeks”.

6. Jewish leaders of the day expressed unfavorable opinions about him.

7. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed, as both Tacitus and Josephus state.

8. His execution was specifically by crucifixion, according to Josephus.

9. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 C.E.).

One highly respected Bible scholar writes…

“The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the best

attested facts in ancient history. The idea that Jesus never existed is something that no ancient historian would take seriously for a minute. If we take Jesus out of the world of first-century Palestinian Judaism, there are a thousand other things that we simply can't explain. All sorts of evidence points back to the certainty of this figure, and particularly

his crucifixion.” — NT Wright

A while back, I came across a documentary on YouTube called “In Search of a Flat Earth.” It was about — you guessed it — people who believe the earth is flat, not round. I had heard about those folks but never really looked into what they believed. This is an example, by the way, of denying the objective evidence and pretending your beliefs are based on facts when they aren’t. I’m just gonna say it: they are cra-cra. And, of course, almost all of them claim to be Christians. I’m just being honest here: those who claim Jesus never existed live in the same house as flat-earthers.

Let’s move on. Undeniable fact # 2…

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

This provides stunning confirmation that what Luke and the other Gospel writers wrote is true. Let me tell you why. It gives what is called the criterion of embarrassment when validating claims. Historians have discovered that a story is more likely to be true “if it would have been embarrassing or inconvenient to those telling it.”

Women were not highly valued in ancient Roman or Jewish culture (and that’s an understatement). That’s why the many men 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 [the gospel writers] had been making this story up a generation or more after the event, as people sometimes suggest, not only would [they] 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); [they] 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 on 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.

The third undeniable fact is…

(3). 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 declared 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 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 the apostles except for John were cruelly martyred for their faith: some were dragged by horses, others beheaded (like Paul), still, others were crucified upside down, and others were 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 that they really believed they saw him alive after the crucifixion.

The last surefire truth is…

(4). 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 that 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 even later billions of Christians right now on this Easter Sunday are celebrating a risen Lord.

It’s beyond miraculous. The super smart guy who wrote classics like War of the Worlds, Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Invisible Man, said this:

“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”— H. G. Wells

(1). A Jewish rabbi named Jesus existed in the 1st Century and was crucified on a Roman cross.

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

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

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

These four undeniable truths don’t prove that Jesus was the Son of God or that he came back from the dead. But here’s what the skeptics have to wrestle with: can you offer a better explanation? One that makes sense and fits the facts? One that accounts for the miraculous impact such an unlikely Messiah and his followers made? Folks, there is a strong case for the resurrection to be as objectively true as it is subjectively for us Christians.

Many atheists have set out to debunk Christianity by debunking the resurrection and found the facts so compelling they came to Christ! Lee Strobel is one. Be sure and grab his book, The Case for Easter, on the way out.

Conclusion: As we get ready to close, you may be thinking, “So what? That’s nice and all but I didn’t come for a history lesson today. Easter Sunday is a day for the fuzzies, Pastor Brad.” I hear you. 

Justin Brierley, host of the Unbelievable? podcast does an excellent job of relating how the facts and fuzzies go together when it comes to the resurrection:

“I believe in the resurrection as much for personal and experiential reasons as anything else. It isn’t just a miracle that once took place in a borrowed tomb, but it is a present hopeful reality that makes sense of the world I live in. I believe in the resurrection as the turning point in God's ongoing redemption of the world. I believe in the resurrection because I see it happening in the lives of others who place their faith in Jesus. I believe in the resurrection because it is God's defiant statement that, in a world currently ruled by decay and death, there is a purpose, hope and life that goes beyond the grave.

Yet I also believe God has granted us enough evidence to allow us to make a rational case for the resurrection on historical grounds. For many, this has been an important gateway to faith as they've realized that the biblical accounts … deserve to be taken seriously as historical claims.

However, that doesn't mean we dispense with faith in favour of clever arguments. Believing in the resurrection means nothing if it remains merely a belief. Faith must still be exercised in the everyday business of trusting in the presence of the resurrected Christ in a world of hurt and pain. Many of the first witnesses to the risen Christ would suffer and die for their convictions. Belief was the easy part - trusting in his hope and promise in the face of persecution is where faith was put into practice. The same is true for those who call themselves Christians today.”

Last Easter, I wasn’t here because my mom passed away. I preached that sermon about Jesus undoing funerals at her graveside. And I closed it with a final point: Jesus undoes the funeral of every believer today not in person but in promise…

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  John 11:25–26 (ESV)

I take comfort in knowing I will see her again. The resurrection is something I believe in with all my heart and mind. It’s so true it fills my life with meaning and confident hope. And it can do so in yours today if you want it to.

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

Let’s pray.

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