The Resurrection

“I am the Resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25,26

Psalm 116:1-8
Epistle: Romans 8:6-11
O.T. Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Gospel: John 11:17-27,41-45

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.)

2 See Richardson, Don. Peace Child, Ventura Cal, Regal Books, 1974. [return to sermon]         See also Olsson, Bruce. Bruckho.

3E-mail story courtesy of Walt Seward. [return to sermon]

Reconciliation in Preparation for Easter

What does it take to be reconciled to God?

RECONCILIATION IN PREPARATION FOR EASTER

CALL TO WORSHIP:

I am the light of the world, says the LORD; those who follow me will have the light of life. John 8:12

Scriptures: Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; I Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-41.

Month end statements and Income Tax filing get us involved in trying to make numbers add up.  We sweat over them and get frustrated and sometimes hire someone else to do it.  New Years and family reunions get us involved in considering another kind of reconciliation– that of relationships.  We look back and see hurt feelings, wrongs done, practical jokes that got out of hand, and recognize ‘something should be done’– whether or not anything happens.

The Bible is full of such stories and incidents, but I would like us to consider just a few.

The story in John 9 is a study of contrasts and potentials and reconciliation.

On the one hand you have the blind man– unable to function completely in society.  His condition was considered a punishment, and a just one at that.  And the man seems to have accepted the situation.

Jesus comes on the scene and is challenged by his disciples regarding the man’s condition.  Jesus uses the challenge to demonstrate who he really is (and what God’s program really is) by restoring the blind man’s sight.

The Pharisees have their own agenda, and because it does not fit the true agenda of the Father, Jesus challenges it.  God is in the business of restoring what has been broken apart, what has been damaged; the things that have begun to disintegrate and rot.  God wants to restore society to what it should be from His perspective.  The focus in society needs to be on God and bringing praise to him, and then the relationships with other people will be resolved and become all they are meant to be.

Some are like ‘lost sheep’.  They don’t know where they are and they don’t know where the Father is; they just know they can’t help themselves. They need help from someone else.  There are those like the ‘prodigal son’: they know where home is; they know the father.  But they will not come to Him until they get to the end of their own devices and have come to the realization that their own way is a dead-end street.  Very often they think that parents and God are hopelessly out-of-date and irrelevant to their situation and to life.

Peter the apostle was like that. Like a rebellious two-year old, his attitude was, I do it self, until Jesus showed him up at the trial.  Can you imagine the look on Jesus’ face when Peter SAW Jesus?  We know Peter was filled with remorse.  But in the end Jesus has a word for him.  Look at John 21:15-19: “Feed my lambs; take care of my sheep; feed my sheep.”  Peter couldn’t respond to the way Jesus asked him, because Jesus asked, “Do you truly love me?” [Agapeo] and Peter’s reply was “You know I love you.” [Phileo].  The difference in the two Greek words represents the difference between a self-abandoning, selfless love, and a deep friendship.   But notice that Jesus takes Peter from where he is, to where He knows Peter could be.

Romans 5:6-8 says that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us“.  II Cor 5:16-21 sums it up: ” … All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ… not counting men’s sins against them.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God…

What does it take to be reconciled to God?

  • Abandon your disbelief, and turn to Christ, trusting Him completely.  [The Amplified Bible explains believe as– trust in, cling to, rely on. John 3:16]
  • Abandon your hate and forgive others the way Christ has forgiven you– without strings attached. [Matthew 6:9, 18:21-35]
  • Abandon your grudges and hurt feelings, and respond with God’s love from hearts full of gratitude for the immense amount of forgiveness he has poured out on you.  [Colossians 3:12-17]
  • Abandon feelings of revenge and manipulation, and set aside your own agendas and plans to sacrificially serve.   [Ephesians 4:30-5:2]

Look at the contrast between Judas and Peter– both had disappointed Jesus, both had failed in following through on their commitment to Him.  One went out and committed suicide because he couldn’t face it; the other wept and came for forgiveness.

II Peter 3:9 says,  “He is not slow…but patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Will you allow God to reconcile you to Himself? For more information, go here.

© 2000 D. H. Friesen

The Hope of Easter

Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for a life in relationship, both now and beyond this existence.

PREPARATION FOR EASTER — PART 2

Scripture focus- “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal  life.” [John 3:14,15.]

PSALM –– 33:18-22
EPISTLE — Romans 4:1-5,13-17
OT Lesson –Genesis 12:1-4a
Gospel Lesson –Matthew 17:1-9

The world today is in many ways an ugly place.  Hate, war, violence of all kinds justified in the name of religion or sport…. There seems to be a fundamental ‘rot’ in society…. Nature seems to be reacting with catastrophe after catastrophe….  Rust, and decay, disintegration, and obsolescence have made our planet a difficult place to live.   The ‘Psych’ wards are full, and there are not enough counselors and psychiatrists to meet all of the desperate needs of our disintegrating world.

Many people live in small communities like ours to avoid the “big cities” and all the crime, etc.  And then we have a murder!  We concern ourselves about health, and eat right and exercise, and someone gets leukæmia and dies.   Worry and fear tie us up in knots; we don’t know what to do.  We hope against hope that we will survive, but suicide ‘dogs’ our circle of friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

Our Scriptures today have been directing our attention to a feature figure from ‘yesteryear’.  A man who lived in an ungodly setting, but came to stand out as different.

The man Abram was seemingly a little shy and bashful, and very respectful of his family, and by the look of it did not push himself forward in society.  But he was a man who had put his faith and trust in God — Jehovah.  It would seem from his actions that he followed the ancient custom of recognizing the “Living God” in worship.  And so God came to him and invited Abram to join Him in His work, and His plan, a plan to provide a rescue for mankind in fulfillment of His promise to Adam and Eve after their sin. [“Abraham entered into what God was doing for him and that was the turning point.  He trusted God to set him right.” Romans 4:3 MSG]

God’s original plan was to create mankind to communicate with them and have a relationship with them as they enjoyed His creation.  But God is also Holy, and can only remain in a relationship where there is the capacity for a reciprocal, sinless, relationship.  Sin fundamentally changed all that: we now need someone to provide a way for us to get reconciled with God, in order to re-establish a relationship with him.

God provided that way in Jesus Christ.  His death cancelled the debt of sin we owe.  His resurrection is the basis for a life in relationship, both now and beyond this existence.

What then can we learn from Abraham’s experience?  Abraham survived the hardships, the famine, and the separation from his birthplace because he had hope.  He believed that God’s promises for an effective future were legitimate, whether he saw or understood it or not. And of course God gave the ultimate test when He asked Abraham to give up his son, Isaac: the son of the Promise. [Gen. 22, and condensed in Hebrews 11:17-19 “By faith Abraham… offered Isaac… Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.”]   It was that model of faith that provided the Psalmist in Psalm 33 with the courage to express his confidence that God could be trusted in spite of circumstances.

Jesus’ disciples followed “The Messiah”, but were not always convinced that they were doing the right thing.  So once in a while God would encourage them.   One of those times was the incident mentioned on our Gospel reading: Matt 17:1-9.  Jesus was revealed to them in His radiance and Moses and Elijah as well.  Peter was “blown away” with it all.  But I believe it was one of the things that helped them to “hang in there” when it really got tough.

Jesus gave Nicodemus the strategy for having that kind of hope and trust and faith for himself — and it is for us as well.  Jesus said:

In the same way Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert1 so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up– and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life…  God didn’t do to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was.  He came to help, to put the world right again, anyone who trusts in him is acquitted.”[John 3:14-18 MSG]

Let’s look at Romans 4:13-16:

That famous promise God gave Abraham– that he and his children would possess the earth– was not given because of something Abraham did or would do.  It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed.  If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract!  That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal.  A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never collect.  But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise– and God’s promise at that– you can’t break it.  This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does.”[MSG]

Eternal life comes by faith- not based on our achievements but on His GRACE: the free gift of unmerited forgiveness.

Eternal life is real and it is for us to take by faith — despite the fact that we don’t have any ‘rights’ to it. So we need to:

  1. Admit that we need it.  [See Hebrews 11:6; I John 1:9]
  2. Believe God and trust him that what Christ did on the cross was adequate for everyone and for every sin and wrong.  [See Heb 7:25; John 3:17; I John 2:2]
  3. Commit ourselves to him completely leaving the results and consequences to him. [Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 4:14-16; I John 2:15-17]
  4. And enjoy an abundant, full, complete life here and eternal life in the ‘here-after’. [See John 10:10]

© 2000 D. H. Friesen