"He Is Risen Indeed!"
by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor
April 21, 2019 - Easter Sunday - C
Sermon text: Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’, and she told them that he had said these things to her.” – John 20:18
Jesus is risen from the dead!
Or is he?
On the first Good Friday Jesus died on a cross
set in a hill just outside of Jerusalem.
Yes, Jesus died.
This much is certain without a doubt.
But some say that the dead body of Jesus became alive again.
Could that be true?
Is it possible for a dead person to come back to life?
Our whole Christian faith rest on the resurrection of Jesus.
If he did not rise from the dead,
then there would be no basis to believe in him.
Can you image a world without Christianity?
It would be as if darkness would cover the whole earth.
People would become very discouraged.
Hopes would fade.
Joy would disappear from life.
People would search desperately for happiness, saying
‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.’
Christianity would all be a lie.
Thousands of missionaries would return to their homes.
The lights in the churches would go out
and the doors would be locked for good.
The law of Sinai would be exchanged for the law of the jungle.
The Sermon on the Mount would give way to violence on the street.
And soon the whole world would be in ruins,
if Jesus had not been raised from the dead.
In our New Testament reading for today, Paul wrote:
“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead...”
Yes, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!”
The tomb was empty.
This is what Mary Magdalene said.
This is what the Bible tells us.
“He is not here! He is risen!” said the angel.
For many centuries,
people have stood beside a grave
and watched the remains of their loved one
lowered into the earth.
They have wondered: ‘Is there anything more?’
‘Is there anything beyond death?’
On a long ago morning, as the sun rose in the east,
the Son of God rose from a tomb
and declared that there is something more –
a paradise beyond our greatest expectations!
Yes, there is life beyond death!
How tragic it would be if it were otherwise!
Someone has written:
“If Easter be not true,
Then faith must mount a broken wing;
Then hope no more immortal spring
Love must lose its mighty urge;
Life prove a phantom and a dirge.
If Easter be not true.”
But it is true!
For Jesus on the first day of the week
broke the chains of death
and rose triumphantly to live forever!
But how can we be sure?
How can we be certain that Jesus rose from the dead?
Well, let’s consider the evidence.
First, something had to have happened.
The body of Jesus wasn’t in the tomb.
The stone was rolled away and the body was gone.
Did either the Jews or the Romans steal the body of Jesus?
If they had, then surely just a few days later,
when the disciples began to proclaim
that Christ had risen from the dead,
why did the Jews demand that they stop?
One Christian author has put it this way:
“If the Jews had the dead body of Jesus,
why, instead of going to the trouble
of bringing the Christians in, threatening them,
beating them, torturing them, and finally killing them,
did they not prevent the conversion of 1000’s
by producing the body,
hanging it up in the town square, and saying
‘Here is your glorious Messiah!
Take a whiff” (D. James Kennedy).
Such an act would have stopped Christianity dead in its tracks.
You would never have heard of Jesus.
But no member of the Sanhedrin was able to produce the body.
Neither Jew nor Roman could produce it
because none of them knew where it was!
Some have suggested that the disciples took the body.
The high priest gave a large sum of money to the Romans soldiers
who had guarded the tomb.
He instructed them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night
and stole him away while we were asleep’” (Matthew 28:13).
Sounds possible, doesn’t it?
But the high priest’s explanation has one big flaw in it:
If the guards were asleep,
how did they know that His disciples came
and stole the body away?
Furthermore, a Roman guard consisted
of four to sixteen well-trained and highly disciplined men.
Each carried a six-foot spear with an iron point,
a three-foot sword at one side, a knife on the other side,
and a shield on the left arm,
all which they could use very skillfully.
It was against the law for a Roman soldier
to sit down while on guard duty.
They could be burned alive for that.
A fear of punishment, as well as their discipline,
kept them alertly awake.
That such a guard as this would allow
someone to come along and steal a body is beyond consideration.
Then there was the huge stone that was rolled in front of the tomb, a stone that weighed many tons.
Some tremendous force moved this enormous stone.
The University of Cambridge has determined that
it would have taken over 20 men to move it.
Something rolled that stone away!
The huge size of the stone indicates that it wasn’t a few disciples
who overcame an armed Roman guard
and moved this enormous stone
and took the body.
The second form of evidence is that Jesus himself
said he would rise from the dead.
Was he a liar?
Jesus spoke often about eternal life.
Listen to a few of the things that he said:
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word
and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24a).
“This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son
and believe in him may have eternal life;
and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:40).
“I am the resurrection and the life;
Those who believes in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26a)
“The Son of man is to be betrayed into human hands,
and they will kill him,
and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” (Mk. 9:31)
The list of Jesus’ words could go on and on.
If we believe all of his other teachings
why would we conclude that all his statements
about eternal life and resurrection
are lies and completely false?
Is Jesus correct at one time and incorrect at another?
If we believe in him,
we believe all his teachings...
including those about resurrection and eternal life.
Thirdly, we have the testimony of eyewitnesses.
Jesus appeared on ten different occasions over a period of six weeks
to many different people:
to a woman here…
to several women there…
to two travelers on the road to Emmaus…
to ten disciples in the upper room…
to eleven when Thomas came…
the following week, to a number of them
by the Sea of Galilee
where he fixed breakfast for them…
and to over 500 people at another time.
He appeared in the morning and in the afternoon and in the evening.
He appeared inside and outside.
He appeared over and over again to them.
The testimony of these eyewitnesses is overwhelming.
Can you imagine how a jury in any courtroom would reason and feel
if over 500 witnesses were brought in
and testified that they had
seen and heard and experienced the very same thing?
This is the case with the risen Christ.
But were they telling the truth?
Could not they have invented a hoax
about the resurrection of Jesus
perhaps in an attempt to promote Jesus
or even their own popularity?
Couldn’t they have just made it all up?
Well, if they did make it all up,
then their P.R. department deserves a F- grade.
If they had invented this story about the resurrection of Jesus,
we would expect to hear about his followers
instantly being so happy to see Jesus again.
Instead, the gospel writers tell us about the doubts of his followers
and their failures to initially recognize Jesus at all.
When on that first Easter morning,
the women rushed back to tell the disciples
that the tomb was empty,
Luke tells us the disciples’ reaction to the women’s news was:
“these words seemed to them an idle tale,
and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).
Mary saw the risen Lord outside the garden tomb,
but didn’t recognize him at first
and thought him to be the gardener (John 20:15-16).
On the afternoon of the first Easter
two of Jesus’ followers walked to Emmaus with a man
who they did not initially recognize as Jesus (Luke 24:13-35).
And when Jesus first appeared to his disciples,
they were frightened at first
and thought that they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37).
And, of course, doubting Thomas did not believe
Jesus could be alive
until he saw the risen Lord in person.
So if the account of Jesus’ resurrection
was a hoax fabricated by the first disciples,
they sure did a terrible job with how they told the story.
It is full of doubts and fear,
and many failures of his followers
to even initially recognize Jesus.
But there is something far more convincing
for not thinking that the disciples
had made up a story about
the resurrection of Jesus.
Blood... that’s what.
These people were so certain that Jesus had risen from the dead
that they would rather die than recant their testimony.
And die many did.
Before the death of Jesus, his followers seemed timid
and were not willing to stand beside him
at his trial and crucifixion.
But after the resurrection
the disciples suddenly change and become bold,
even willing to die for him.
Peter had denied him three times.
Why then would he be willing to be martyred?
If the disciples had been responsible for stealing Jesus’ body,
would they have risked everything and made great sacrifices
all for a hoax?
Their great determination to carry on the mission of Christ
can only be due to the fact
that they had indeed seen the risen Lord!
Surely when Peter hung, crucified upside down on a cross,
it might have occurred to him that the time had come
to call it quits and say,
“Hey, now wait a minute, fellows,
I was only kidding.
Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead.
Let me down from this cross.
I want to live!”
But these first followers of Jesus were willing to die
rather than to recant their account
about Jesus rising from the dead.
The greatest witness of all is the Holy Spirit.
In the final analysis, we cannot “know” with absolute certainty
that Jesus has risen from the dead.
For following Christ is not an intellectual decision of the mind...
but rather a spiritual conviction of the heart.
After he had showed “Doubting Thomas” his hands and side,
Jesus said to him:
“Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen
and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
Obviously, we cannot physically see the risen Lord
as did Thomas.
Nor can we logically prove the resurrection of Jesus.
Our only option is to believe it in faith.
In one of our memory verses last year,
we learned from this verse from the book of Proverbs:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight” (Proverbs 3:5).
Yes, it is not a matter of insight or understanding.
It is a matter of trust… a matter of faith in our Lord.
So we cannot say,
“I know Jesus was raised from the dead.”
But with the help of the Holy Spirit
we can boldly proclaim:
“I believe Jesus was raised from the dead!”
It’s a matter of faith.
It all comes down to being receptive to the Holy Spirit
active in our lives enabling us to say, “Jesus is risen!”
“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”