Many Convincing Proofs
We come together today to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Yahshua - and to glory in the hope of ultimate resurrection for ourselves and our loved ones.
The word "resurrection" comes from the biblical Greek word anastasis, which literally means "a standing up" or "a rising up." It is not resuscitation; it is not reincarnation; it is not the soul separated from the body. It does not mean surviving physical death as some ghost or spirit, floating from place to place, playing harps on clouds, or haunting houses. Not at all.
To be resurrected means to rise from physical death as complete, corporeal, enfleshed and embodied, capable of eating and drinking, speaking and hearing, recognizing and being recognized, materialize and dematerialize at will, and living forever. If the Word of Yahweh is true, and Yahshua rose from the dead with such abilities, then resurrection should catch everyone's interest. For the Word of Yahweh clearly teaches that everyone will be resurrected on his day.
In our Epistle today, Paul the Apostle tells us that the resurrection of the dead is the most vital belief for Christians. His argument is based on four progressive, conditional statements:
1. if there is no resurrection of the dead, then the Savior did not arise from the dead (:13);
Indeed, friends, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, and the dead in Christ are not ultimately raised at his coming then
> What will give a widow courage as she mourns her lost husband?
> What will be the ultimate hope of the desperately ill?
> What confidence in God can be maintained by the parents of a brain-damaged child?
If Jesus did not rise, and there is no resurrection of the dead:
> What can give the blind or paralyzed expectancy in life?
> How else might we justify the martyrdom of a helpless hostage or devoted missionary?
If Jesus did not rise, and there is no resurrection of the dead:
> What prospects are there for the aborted or the abortionist?
> Or what hope might a family have if: a daughter is found dead by drugs; a dad is killed in a plane crash; a son is dying of AIDS?
If Jesus did not rise, and there is no resurrection of the dead:
> What is our final answer to pain, mourning, senility, insanity, terminal diseases, sudden calamities, and fatal accidents?
It is no wonder that we proclaim that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very pivot point upon which the fulcrum of all history rests.
In these days of skepticism and spiritual searching, the idea that Jesus rose from the dead seems pretty fantastic, especially to those who have had limited exposure to God's eternal truth. Tertullian, who lived a hundred years after Jesus' rising, understood how difficult the resurrection of Jesus might be to believe. He teaches us that the idea of a man rising from death is such utter foolishness in the natural that it could only be true! But rather than take his word, let's explore eye-witness testimony to Jesus' rising from the dead.
The historian St. Luke writes in Acts 1:3 that
Here Luke tells us that Jesus not only appeared to his followers, but persuaded them with many convincing proofs that he had defeated death. Besides eating, drinking, and teaching, the Risen Jesus proved he was alive by living with his disciples for over a month before they witnessed his ascension.
One of these eye-witnesses wrote an account of what he saw. St. John tells us that the Risen Jesus first appeared to the woman Mary Magdalene, then to the other disciples, including himself. (That Jesus appeared first to Mary is a marvelous tribute to womanhood, for Jesus always had to invite the men to follow him, but the women Jesus knew always followed of their own accord.) John affirms his experience of seeing the resurrected Jesus with these words:
And when he was old, St. John saw an incredible vision of Jesus' future life on earth and recorded it in the book we call Revelation, which we will look at in a bit.
Next let's consider St. Paul. Unlike John, Paul may not have known Jesus personally before his resurrection. But afterward, Paul interviewed Jesus' closest associates, and learned that there had been many, many people to whom the Risen Lord had appeared. Here is an excerpt of Paul's testimony:
Paul testifies first-hand that the Risen Jesus appeared to perhaps 1,000 or more people after his resurrection. To complete his testimony, Paul admits that Jesus also had appeared to him. The story of Jesus' appearance to Paul is recorded by Luke in Acts 9:3ff. Since Luke was a traveling companion and confidante of Paul, we may assume that Luke received the story directly from his friend. (In the following account, Paul is called by his Hebrew name, Saul):
Other people heard Jesus identify himself, but they could not see him. Only St. Paul saw him, a person of integrity, like you and I. A disciple whose word we can trust as true.
If there were time, we could explore many other clues to the truth about Jesus' resurrection, like the empty tomb, like the witness of secular historians, like official Roman correspondence, like the Shroud of Turin, like the fact that Jesus has appeared to hundreds of individuals through time. We could make an airtight legal case for Jesus' resurrection from the dead, if we wanted. But that's already been done by a group of English Barristers. Their conclusions are not surprising - they found that Jesus' resurrection is one of the most well-documented events of secular history!
Having now established Jesus' resurrection as fact, let's see what it means for us in light of St. Paul's second statement about the resurrection of the dead, which is: if Christ did not arise from the dead, then we will not arise from the dead.
To express this in positive terms, we might say that if Christ did arise from the dead, then we will arise from the dead, as he did. The Bible teaches that on one great day all the people that ever lived will rise. In fact, John saw it all in his vision, and he recorded it in the book of Revelation:
All those whose names are written in the Book of Life will be found worthy to live forever right here, in the wonderful Paradise of God, the recreated, beautified earth. This day will be one of great rejoicing for these who have believed in Christ and have become perfect through his grace.
But resurrection can have negative connotations, as well. Those names not found in the book will be judged. John goes on to tell us that "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Do you think anyone can stand before a holy God in the confidence of her own idea of holiness and get by? The answer is NO. You can never BE good enough to get your name engraved in the book. What a profoundly sad day the final resurrection of the dead will be for millions of people.
Imagine, dying one minute then waking up to find yourself in a recreated, perfect body - as though you were 25 again. Imagine meeting all your departed loved ones, your children, your mother and father, your grandparents - all together and momentarily happy again. Imagine the reunion that might take place just outside the gates of eternity. Not only family, but with friends and coworkers - and old enemies.
Imagine seeing a beautiful city just over the valley. You joyfully journey together toward it. Then, after all this wonderful revelation, imagine finding out that, before you could go home, you had to face a judgment in which you could not possibly be found innocent. Then imagine having to take your last steps in your perfect, resurrected body off the pier, into the sulfurous fumes of the Lake of Fire, where you in your newness will be burnt up once and for all.
Friend, too soon you will die - but before you realize you are dead, you are going to find yourself in this resurrection and, if you don't know the Risen Jesus, subject to judgment. This will all happen in a split second - in the twinkling of an eye.
If you're not completely convinced that you are safe from this judgment, then you probably are not safe. For when we are safe from the threat of the Lake of Fire, we know it. The Risen Jesus appears to us, and imparts within us an assurance that no doubt can possibly dissolve. Do you have such assurance today? Are you completely sure that your resurrection will be an eternal one? Have you yourself been an eye-witness to Jesus? Is your name written in the Book of Life?
Many times when people are asked if they know for sure that they'll escape the wrath of God, they reply, "Yeah, I know 'cause I've been a good person." Or they'll say, "I don't smoke or drink very much." Or they'll say, "I've raised four wonderful children." But friends, it makes no difference how good you've been, how many times you've been to church, how many wonderful children you've raised, or how much money you've put in the plate. Such are absolutely meaningless when it comes to God's judgment - for you can never be good enough, no matter what your psychic friend tells you.
There's an old fable - St. Peter is standing at one of the gates to the beautiful city in the day when all are resurrected. He has the books, and he is judging a long line of people. The fat church deacon has been waiting for his turn. He's seen that, so far, none have been allowed to go home. But, because he's been such a good boy, he has high hopes as he approaches the judge.
"Deacon McCoy," says St. Peter, "You only need 1800 points to go home to God's eternal city, where Jesus Christ is Lord. Tell me what you've done to deserve 1800 points."
Deacon McCoy is now sure he's going to make it, and he begins to list his good deeds. "As you know, St. Pete, I've always believed in God, Jesus, St. Jude, and the Angels in glory." The deacon was sure he'd gotten off to a good start, and would be delayed no longer. Peter thought so too. "That's awesome, Deacon McCoy -- worth one big point. Even the demons believe in God, and tremble."
One point! The Deacon began to think hard.
"I've been a church deacon for 40 years, and a Methodist for 55; I taught the adult Sunday School class for 20 years; I gave tithes to the church all my life; and I made my kids go as long as they were home."
"Far out!" replied St. Peter. "That's two more points toward your 1800. Got anything else?"
"Two points more?" the deacon thought with dismay. His newly resurrected body began to sweat.
"Well, St. Pete, you I didn't smoke and drink like the heathens -- I've always been a good person -- a religious person -- I didn't even mow the yard on Sunday."
"Excellent!" cried the Saint. "That's another point toward 1800. That makes 4! Got anything else?"
The Deacon began to get rattled. Then he wet his pants. "Well...now... Let's see. I used call the church bingo games; and I was on the stewardship committee; I was a 33rd degree Mason; I sent a donation to Mother Teresa; I said my prayers almost every night; I only swore when something went wrong; I never cheated on my wife; I always tried to do the right thing! I never broke any of the 10 Commandments, but number eight!"
"You sure know your Bible, Deacon McCoy -- and, say, I was about to ask you if you remembered the eight commandment or not. Now you're really getting somewhere!" St. Peter said with encouragement. "That's another point for you. Congratulations! You've got 5 points. Now you only need 1795. Got any more?"
By this time, the Deacon got his courage back and blurted, "I'll have you know that I raised four children -- only one of them turned out bad. And I was a Boy Scout scoutmaster. We raised a lot of money for the volunteer fire department. And I lead the Easter egg hunt for the church kids every year. Yep, that ought to about take care of it, I guess."
"Yes, that just about takes care of things, all right. I can't even give you a point for an Easter egg hunt. I'm afraid you're a little mixed up there, Deacon," the saint advised.
The Deacon got ticked - he got red-faced and explosive - "For c-c-christ-sake, let me in, will ya!" he swore fearlessly.
"Yes, deacon" said St. Peter. "For Christ's sake -- you would have easily gotten your 1800 points; then you could have gone home. But you never did anything in your whole life for Christ's sake, even though Christ died for you. But you've never lived for him. And I'm afraid its too late now, deacon. We never knew you. So -- go down below." Then two angels usher the terrified deacon away kicking and screaming "not fair ... not fair!" all the way to the banks of the Lake of Fire.
This is kind of a funny story, but it illustrates a shocking truth: Friends, we can prove Jesus rose from the dead,
and we can assent to Jesus' resurrection from the dead,
and we can work for the church and for others,
and we can do more good things than bad things in this life,
but, even so, we still will never see our eternal home,
rather, we most assuredly will be consumed by fire.
What we must do to be saved is we must SEE the Risen Jesus for ourselves - become eye-witnesses like Mary Magdalene, and John the Evangelist, and Paul the Apostle, and Dick Spayd the Lay Leader.
We must see the Risen Jesus with our own eyes of faith,
It really all boils down to what the chorus of the hymn is saying - "You ask me how I know he lives?" It is not that I know by intellectual assent or logical proofs or even by reading about it in the Bible. "You ask me how I know he lives?" I know because "He lives within ME." Can you make that same boast today? Is he vibrantly alive within you? Or are you relying on your own limited ideas of goodness to save you? Are you following the Risen Savior, or your own ideas? Don't be an amateur theologian - that won't get you anywhere but Hell. Rather, KNOW THE RISEN CHRIST! Come and know him now. This may be the last invitation you will ever receive.