As of First Importance – an Easter sermon

By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you.  Or else you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… I Corinthians 15:2-5

Jesus Christ is risen!  What a fantastic Good News this is!  How precious this fact is, because it deals with things that are of such basic concern to every human being on this planet.  Here is something that can give us strength and confidence each day, and can set our hearts and minds a rest in regard to the future.  What a joy this first Celebration of Christianity can bring!

And yet how much it seems challenged more and more as the years go by.  It seems that more than ever, we are called upon to hold fast to the Bible.  Over the years, the accuracy, the reliability, the truthfulness, the sexual bias of the Bible – so much of the Bible is being ridiculed, rejected, re-translated.  Some of the programs on TV have been pure blasphemy under the guise of scholarship.

For instance, a few years ago there was an “Easter special”, a program telling us that Jesus was a stonecutter, who studied Buddhism (of all religions), and spent time in Japanese monasteries.  Another program recirculated theories once proposed by the Jews already back in Biblical times, theories now offered by “Christian” theologians, such as Jesus was drugged and revived, or that the Resurrection appearances of Jesus were merely mass hysteria brought about by grief.  Now we have Morgan Freeman starting a series which basically tells us that all religions basically boil down to the search for peace.

One fellow most wisely proclaimed that should they really find the body of Jesus, that that would not change his faith at all. In other words, he proclaimed a better religion and better religious understanding than that of St Paul Himself, who simply stated to the Corinthians in his first letter [15:14,17] “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…. your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

What bothers me is the frequency of such programs and newspaper items and magazine articles, all under the guise of scholarship.  There is a real danger that we might begin to feel that with such heavy ammunition coming from all sorts of different directions, that they just might be right.  As Jesus Himself put it “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible” [Matthew 24:24].

Unfortunately, we will be challenged more and more based on these interpretations, and we have to be ready to think through the logic of what is presented.  For instance, by the time of Jesus the Romans had had decades of experience in crucifixions, yet it is to be supposed that the uneducated disciples were able to slip Jesus something which dropped Him into such a coma that the Romans would be convinced that He died.  Why do you think that the soldier put the spear into the heart and lung of Jesus??  Because Rome knew about that kind of trickery, and if He wasn’t dead then, He was now.

Or was it merely some “mass hysteria” that would have two men going to Emmaus joined by a Third, Who went through the Old Testament showing how God’s Messiah was to suffer and die AND ALSO would rise from the dead?  Only in the breaking of Bread, because this was something they had experienced just 48 hours before in the Last Supper, did they finally recognize Him.  You mean to say that a figment of their imagination taught them things about the Messiah that they had never understood before?

No, unless you start out with a flat denial of the Bible, there is no room for such trivializing of the greatest event that God could do on this human earth.  That’s why the Christian Church has got to constantly pay attention to the only eyewitness accounts that there are, and to celebrate Easter according to the Bible.

The Gospel [Luke 24:1-11] this morning declares the skepticism of the disciples – they themselves were fully aware of the all the pitfalls of “seeing things”, especially loved ones, in the midst of grief.  The Bible has no mere idealism about it, but already addresses the reality of human nature – even to the likes of a “doubting Thomas.”  The evidence is that the disciples were NOT sucked in by mass hysteria, but they themselves fought the idea that the One Whom they loved, the One Whom they watched die, the One Who was “signed, sealed and buried” – how could He be alive?!

What the Bible proves over and over is that the Resurrection had to FORCE itself into the acceptance of the disciples.  Thomas had to have something real and physical to prove that Jesus was alive; when Jesus first appeared to the disciples He had to physically eat something, only then, the Bible says, were the disciples glad.  When Jesus appeared to the women returning from the tomb, he had to insist that they stop holding on to Him.  The important thing for us to realize, despite our age of sophistication is that those who were closest to the event, who experienced the event were forced to be convinced that Jesus really was alive.

What a proof there is then in these accounts!  Finally the realization also comes to us that Jesus really did rise!  Something profound and very special did happen!  Now finally the answer has been found to deal with what has kept humanity in slavery ever since Adam and Eve.

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It is dealing with sin.  Actually, as very thrilling as the idea of Jesus returning to life is, there is much more to this celebration than simply that.  It is as if God Himself put up a great big sign and arrow pointing to the Crucifixion with the message that it was all worth it.  It is God Himself jumping around, throwing His hat in the air (so to speak), and just purely delighting in what has been accomplished.

“LOOK! LOOK!” He is saying, “finally the roadblock that has stood in the way for thousands of years, generation after generations is gone!  I am God the Perfect, God the Holy, I must be the Standard as to what makes perfect justice, and that is what has gotten in the way of my relationships with mankind all along!  Even when I chose a special People for My own, and put them into a most extra-special relationship, even then I had to constantly deal with my justice, the penalty that mankind’s constant sin required.  Now *I* am free! free of this requirement!”

Sometimes we so concentrated on the Resurrection benefits to mankind that we forget how the whole heavens must have erupted in celebration.  Just imagine: if the heavens were so wildly enthusiastic at Jesus’ birth – which itself was no small thing – imagine the extraordinary rejoicing that had to have occurred when the grand climax that had been prophesied and waited for finally arrived.  The Resurrection is God Himself dancing on the empty tomb.  Imagine the sense of freedom that GOD must have experienced as well!

But the Resurrection celebration is also for US!  After all, the reality of Jesus walking about alive, in the flesh, also is proof TO US that indeed, “It IS finished!” [John 19:30].   Jesus’ death was not merely a nice thing that someone would do, but rather it is that very experiencing of hell demanded by justice, that had been accomplished as promised.

Obviously, if you do not take sin seriously, then all this would be nonsense and uselessness.  There is nothing to be saved from, no rules, no penalty, no laws, no reward.  Sure then, if suddenly Jesus’ body were discovered it would not change the “faith” of those so disposed.  Actually there is no faith that could be changed anyway.  There is nothing to believe in except some vague sense of goodness, not even God is really necessary.

But if you take sin seriously, and the punishment that the law demands when it is broken, the punishment that God’s justice must deliver, then you just simply cannot have it any other way.  The Resurrection just has to be real — the most crucial information that has ever been given to mankind, and has to be the greatest thing that you ever heard about.

Easter then demands that you discover the freedom YOU also have.  Just as God celebrates the complete removal of the barrier between Him and you, so also we enjoy a freedom of now going to the Father as our own personal Father – no “ifs”; no “well, perhaps”; no “if onlys” – in Jesus, at any moment we pray, we directly enter the throneroom of grace and address God Himself.  No more barriers – what a freedom we have!

In fact, because of the Resurrection, Holy Communion is not merely a vague recalling of Jesus’ presence on this earth long ago.  Instead, this bread and wine have the dynamic reality of the presence of a living Lord, the Master over all things, the King over sin and death, the Ruler over every single thing which could ever touch our lives.  The Resurrection adds vibrancy to what we do here today and what we take with us as we return to our daily lives.

Then Easter adds another most comforting reality: here is the powerful proof that this world is not the only thing there is (as if death is the final end), nor are we locked into depressing endless cycles of reincarnation.  Those who die in the Lord will indeed be seen again, we will enjoy their company once again, we will indeed sit at great banquet table of our Lord and Savior.

We rejoice today in that there is no depressing fear as to whether our only chance in life may not be good enough, because eternity does not depend on your perfection or deeds or misdeeds, but simply on our confession that Jesus died and bodily rose from the dead and is now the Lord and Master not just of creation but also of our hearts, our lives and even over our sins.

Now we can come to the empty tomb; finding it empty, we can rejoice together with God that the cursed barrier between Him and us has been removed with the finality of the Resurrection.  In fact, we too can dance on the tomb together with God Himself at the pure joy and victory which it declares.

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