“I am the Resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25,26
As we prepare for Easter, one of the issues we have to address is the Resurrection of Jesus. The problem started the moment it happened and is still an issue today. The key feature of Christianity is the belief in the resurrection. Because of Jesus’ experience, we ourselves have to face the possibility of life beyond what we see.
The Jewish leaders proposed a way of handling the political fall-out of the resurrection on that first Easter by instructing the soldiers to start a rumour. They gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”‘ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed, [Matt 28:12,13,15].
A modern notion proposed is that Jesus fainted and revived in the coolness of the tomb (The ‘Swoon Theory’). Another hypothesis is that the Roman soldiers moved the body. One of the other theories proposed is the ‘Hallucinations Theory”- they just thought they saw Jesus. However, each of these theories begs credulity in one form or the other1.
The reluctant disciples of Jesus struggled with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection, and at first were like those “from Missouri”- (“I won’t believe until you show me!”). And the Bible records that only after Pentecost did they really have the courage to believe it. [see Acts 4:31]. After that, it didn’t matter what was done to them; they carried on boldly telling what they had experienced [see Acts 5:41,42].
The one we know as Saint Paul was a Jewish leader and a member of the Pharisee sect [a very strict conservative group] who was faced with a revelation of the Risen Lord. It dramatically changed his life and he became the foremost missionary of the Good News to the non-Jewish world of the first century [see Acts 9 and the rest of Acts]. The pattern has continued through time, and the history of the martyrs is a colourful story of pain, suffering, and death rather than accommodation or even compromise their faith and beliefs. (For modern and historical information on martyrs, visit The Voice of the Martyrs website.)
Even in modern times, many have believed in the truth of the Power of God demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; so much so, that they have taken the message to every corner of our world. Often they will learn the language and construct a method of writing in order to give the message of the Good News in such a form that it could be taken to every corner of the earth in the native language of every person in the world2.
The Jewish people had a belief in resurrection and life after death, [not all, of course – see Mark 12:18] and as Jesus prepared Martha and Mary for the ‘Raising of Lazarus’ their brother, Jesus spoke of resurrection as being a part of His own character. “I am the Resurrection and the Life, [John 11:25]. In John 10:14-18 he also explained “I have authority to lay it [my life] down and authority to take it up again”, and then proceeded to do exactly that on the days we call Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
But if this is just another story to you, the truth of the resurrection won’t do you any good. The only way to demonstrate its reality is to put your belief into action.
I want to share with you a story. Its based on fact, but could be told with variations by every one who has come to experience what the Apostle Paul calls “The power of the resurrection” [Phil 3:10, compare Romans 8:11]. Edith Burns3 had a habit of introducing herself, “Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?” Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would respond to the Gospel.
Her doctor Will Phillips called her in one day, and with a heavy heart said “Edith, your lab report came back and it says you have cancer. You are not going to live very long.”
“Why, Will Phillips,” was Edith’s reply, “Shame on you. Why are you so sad? Do you think God makes mistakes? You have just told me I’m going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and my friends. You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!”
She landed in the hospital, a few months later, just after New Years. Everyone was exited about her except the head nurse Phyllis. Phyllis had been a nurse in an army hospital. She had seen it all and heard it all. She was the original G.I. Jane. She had been married three times; she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book. To her, Edith was a “Religious Nut”.
When she walked into the room, Edith said with a smile, “Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I have been praying for you. And I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family.”
One day Phyllis was drawn to Edith’s room like a magnet. “You have asked everybody here the question, ‘Do you believe in Easter?’ but you have never asked me.”
“Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked…”
Easter Sunday, Phyllis came into work, did some of her duties, and went to the flower shop and got some Easter lilies to wish Edith a happy Easter.
There lay Edith, a sweet smile on her face, and her hands in her big black Bible…
Phyllis left Edith’s body walked out of the room and over to two student nurses. “My name is Phyllis Cross. Do you believe in Easter?”
1 Little, Paul E., Know What You Believe, Chicago, Inter-Varsity Press, 1968, chapter 4. [return to sermon] also see McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Here’s Life Publishing, 1979. (Amazon.com has both Volume 1 and Volume 2 available.)
3E-mail story courtesy of Walt Seward. [return to sermon]