It’s very important to be clear on why we should all be here this morning. It isn’t because of the Easter bunny. It isn’t because it is a traditional thing to do, to go to church on a Sunday designated “Easter.” It isn’t because it is a family thing, and many our family members gather at church on this holiday before doing lots of other things. We should be here this morning because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The most radical, sensational claim that we make as followers of Jesus is that he emerged from a borrowed tomb three days after His body was placed there, and He will never die again. That’s the claim we make, but many of us have problems truly believing that claim in the way that we live each day, 365 days of the year. Many of us actually wonder how an event of such ancient history can have any significance for us today in the 21st century. We are modern people, we are sophisticated, and the world is a much different place than it was in the first century. So if we are really honest with ourselves we may often wonder,
“Why on earth should we make such a big song and dance about the Resurrection? Apart from tradition, what does it matter?” If we take that thinking a step further, do we really believe Jesus is risen? Do our thought patterns, our values, and our lifestyles reflect our conviction that He has conquered death and will never die again? If there has been someone in the course of history who has overcome death and has attained immortality, then that is big deal! For us to ignore it, or to assign it to a place with folklore and ancient myths, would make no sense. For the early Christians, the ones who are described in our New Testament, the Resurrection was central to their message. Luke, in the book of Acts, describes Peter and John of preaching “Jesus and the Resurrection.” Paul had the same mindset when he spoke with the philosophers in Athens. The people there in Athens mocked him. The main issue they had with his preaching was the Resurrection. It would have been one thing to have spoken of a great leader who had died. To say however, that a great leader had died and then had been raised from the dead, never to die again, was too much for them. When Paul summarized his message, here is what he said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” So the resurrection is at the very center of the heart and soul of what it means to be a Christian – do we really believe Jesus is risen?
It is also important to be clear on what the Resurrection means, according to the Bible. We’re not talking about the survival of Jesus’ legacy. We can make that statement about many people who have died and still influence others through their memory and works. We’re also not just talking about Jesus’ spirit going to the God the Father. D.L. Moody once said, “One day you will read in the newspaper that D.L. Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am today.” Moody is now in the presence of God, as are many other believers who have died in Christ. In that sense, he and many other believers live
That’s not what we mean we say Jesus is risen. The resurrection is also not resuscitation. It doesn’t mean that He was brought back to life, only to die again. There is a very popular book on the market entitled, “Heaven is for Real.” It is an account of a small child who died, went to be with God, then was brought back to life. The book is amazing, but that young boy will die again. The Bible tells us about Lazarus who was raised from the dead. It is a powerful account of one of the greatest miracles of Jesus. Lazarus however, died again. He was resuscitated, not resurrected. So as we talk about Jesus being risen we are not talking about His legacy, His spirit going to be with the Father, or his being resuscitated. We are talking about His resurrection. With Jesus God performed a historic, unique act – Jesus was rescued from death, his body was transformed, and he became immortal, never to die again. What God did in Jesus and His resurrection had never happened prior to that time, and it has not happened since then. So when we really believe Jesus is risen, there are at least three things that will characterize us.
First of all, when you really believe Jesus is risen, you are assured of God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the absolute best gifts God gives to us. One psychiatrist has said, “I could dismiss half my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of their forgiveness.” The ugly truth is that all of us have a skeleton or two in a dark closet at home – something we’ve done, said or thought, of which we are deeply ashamed. Our conscience will nag at us, it will torment us, and may even seek to condemn us. If we are really honest with ourselves, we are each ashamed of things we have done in the past. We don’t want them to be public – we’d rather just keep them under wraps, but we still know they are there. John R.W. Stott has said, “Nobody is free who is unforgiven.” Instead of looking God in the face or looking one another in the eye, we want to run and to withdraw when our conscience troubles us. The good news of Jesus however, and it is very good news, is that there is forgiveness with God. A number of times in His ministry Jesus said to people, “Your sins are forgiven.” In the upper room during the Last Supper, Jesus spoke of the cup being his blood that “was shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.” God’s forgiveness and His death were linked. Paul said, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins, but how do we know that it worked? How do we know that the sacrifice was accepted? How do we know that the goal of Jesus to forgive us of our sins was achieved? If there was no resurrection, we’d have no assurance. The Bible says, “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). The truth however, is that Jesus has been raised. The resurrection validates the death of Jesus for our sins. When you really believe Jesus is risen, you are assured of God’s forgiveness. So there is no need to worry about your sinful past or to fret over your sinful past. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Then, when you really believe Jesus is risen, you are transformed by God’s power. For me, I need more than just forgiveness of my past sins. Forgiveness of past sin is a wonderful thing, but what is to keep me from committing the same sins over and over again? I need more than forgiveness in the past – I need power in the present. Is God really able to change human nature? Can a sexually immoral person be given self-control and chastity? Can cruel people be made kind? Can sour people be made sweet? Can a hot-tempered person be placed on an even keel? Can an individual who is dead to spiritual things be made alive? Wouldn’t it be great if you could be given a new disposition, a new mindset, a new way of living that departs from the sin of the past? Because Jesus is risen, that is exactly what is yours. In Ephesians 1 Paul speaks of “having the eyes of your heart enlightened,” and experiencing the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that he worked in Christ when He raised him from the dead. The point is that the resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to each one of us today who call upon Jesus. He can raise you from the death of sin and alienation from God to a close, personal relationship with Him. He can raise you from the death of rebellion against God to a life of service to God. He does as we call upon Him. It is a transformation.
Powerful transformation is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. In our society today, and in many of our churches, we believe that being a follower of Jesus Christ has only to do with personal identification with Christ. “I identify myself as a Christian, I wear a cross around my neck, I go to church when I’m not too busy with other things, and I might even say grace before a meal.” “Because I identify myself with Christ, I am a Christian.” Becoming a Christian however, in the Biblical sense, is not just about identification, it is about transformation at the deepest level. Becoming a Christian and being a Christian is nothing less than a resurrection from a spiritual death to live a life that is continually becoming new in Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” God transforms us. When you really believe Jesus is risen, you are transformed by God’s power.
Then, when you really believe Jesus is risen, you are confident in God’s triumph. It is wonderful to know our sins are forgiven and we are transformed in the present, but what about the future? A friend called me the other day and wanted to get together and talk. We did, and he asked me the question, “Dave, what is this world coming to?” He was advanced in years and had seen changes in society and in people that disturbed him. He was looking for hope for the days to come. Because Jesus is risen, we have that hope. One of the great differences between Christianity and other belief systems of the world is what we believe about the days ahead. We offer hope, others do not. Some people sink into despair when they consider where the human race is headed. Bertrand Russell, a prominent atheist of the last century wrote, “When I die, I believe that I shall rot, and that that is the end.” He continued, “All the labors of the ages – the inspiration, the noonday brightness of human genius – are destined to extinction. The whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried in the debris of a universe in ruins.” In other words, there is no hope for us when it comes to the future. Others believe that there is a future, but that it is only one that moves in a circle. Everything is repeated continuously in a cycle of reincarnations. Christians, on the other hand, are confident about the future of the human race. Jesus is going to return at the end of history, not in humility in weakness as He did the first time, but in incredible power and unmatched magnificence. The second coming of Jesus goes beyond our fondest dreams and wildest imaginations. When He comes, He will bring history to an end. All wrongs will be righted. He will raise the dead, He will judge all people, and He will make everything new. Romans 8:22-24 says, For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…” One day there will be a new order of things and a new world. In that world there will be perfect justice – all wrongs will be righted. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Joni Eareckson Tada is a well-known Christian author. She is a quadriplegic, having broken her neck in a swimming accident when she was young, athletic teenager. She writes in one of her books, “I have hope in the future. The Bible speaks of bodies being glorified. I know the meaning of that now. It’s the time after my death here when I, the quadriplegic, will be on my feet dancing.” We are going to have a new body and live in a new world where all is as it should be. We may think, “Now wait a minute. Aren’t we just being overly optimistic about the future? Isn’t it quite a stretch to believe that God is going to do all those things? Is there any evidence at all for holding to such a promising outcome for our lives and for the future of the planet?” Yes, there is evidence – I’m so glad you asked. The evidence is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His resurrection is the beginning of God’s new creation – it continues in our lives as we trust Him, then one day will transform and triumph over the entire earth.
Do you really believe that Jesus is risen? Will you allow Him to forgive you of your sins, to transform you by His power, and to give you confidence in the future? The power that raised Jesus from the dead can raise you from the death of your sinfulness and selfishness, and make you alive to God.