Monday, April 13, 2009

The Meaning of Easter

I. Introduction

Easter is the holiest of Christian holy days. Those who may not be familiar with the Bible may wonder what all the excitement is about. There is a hymn that tells the main points of the story of the Resurrection. It is called “Up from the Grave He Arose” and the refrain goes like this:

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Jesus arose from the grave, despite the heavy stone and the guards. It was a mighty triumph over his foes. Who are those foes? In one sense, his foes were the evil men who schemed to have him executed. In another sense, his real foe was Satan and the forces of evil. In still another sense, his foe is death, which couldn’t hold him, as the hymn says: “He arose a victor from the dark domain,” meaning he was victorious over the dark domain of physical death. Because he arose victorious, we can be assured that we will live forever in glory in our resurrected bodies, which the hymn says: “He lives forever” to reign with his followers, the saints, in heaven (that’s you and me). “He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!”

II. Jesus Was Really Dead

Skeptics say Jesus didn’t really die, he just passed out, and later came to in the coolness of the tomb. However, the Romans were very efficient in what they did – nobody ever survived a crucifixion. We read in Mark 15:44-45 that the Roman officer informed Pilate that Jesus was dead. In the Gospel of John, we learn why the officer could confidently say Jesus was dead (John 19:33-36): a Roman soldier stuck a spear in Jesus’ side, and blood mixed with water came out. In his Gospel, John inserted a parenthetical statement stating that this was an eyewitness account. He did that to remove any possible doubt concerning Jesus’ death. So it’s clear to me that Jesus really died, but then we have to ask, was he really raised from the dead?

III. Jesus Is Really Alive

John R. W. Stott, a British Christian leader, once said: “Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.”

The Resurrection of Christ from the dead is foundational to our faith. The Apostle Paul was so convinced of the Resurrection that he boldly wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is worth nothing, and your faith is worth nothing. NCV

So how can we be certain that Christ really rose from the dead? Skeptics have many different possibilities to discredit the Resurrection. Maybe you’ve even had some doubts yourself – after all, resurrection from the dead is a pretty fantastic claim. But the facts support that Jesus truly did rise from the dead.

FACT: The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:5b-8a about all the people who actually saw the Risen Christ. Paul wrote this to the Corinthians about those eyewitnesses, which included himself:

[Jesus] was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles. After that, Jesus was seen by more than five hundred of the believers at the same time. Most of them are still living today, but some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all he was seen by me… NCV

FACT: Many of the people mentioned by Paul were still alive when he wrote this to the Corinthians. Therefore, his account would have been immediately refuted if what he wrote was untrue.

FACT: The Apostle Peter had this to say along those same lines (2 Peter 1:16):

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. NRSV

Most of those eyewitnesses were martyred rather than deny the Resurrection – pretty strong proof as far was I’m concerned. Nobody’s willing to die for a lie! Furthermore, the Resurrection was prophesied in the Old Testament, predicted by Jesus in the Gospels, and written about as a fact in the Epistles. Therefore, based on the evidence we have to conclude that the Resurrection is real, and Jesus is bodily alive in heaven.

IV. The Resurrection’s Meaning to Us

The Resurrection is real. So what? How is that important to us 2,000 years later? Christ’s Resurrection is important to us because we can be assured that our faith is not misplaced when we trust in Christ. Knowing our faith isn’t misplaced is important these days, because it seems that we can’t trust anyone anymore. Unscrupulous people like Bernie Madoff have swindled unsuspecting investors out of billions of dollars. Most recently the owner of a prestigious New York City modeling agency left his clients short by thousands of dollars they had earned. There are Internet scams, phone scams, mortgage scams, debt relief scams, car warranty scams, and home repair scams. But because of Christ’s Resurrection, we can be sure that our faith in Jesus isn’t in vain.

Every other religious leader who ever lived is dead – Jesus is alive. Every other belief system is man-made – Christ came from God, as confirmed by the Resurrection. Most other belief systems make you earn your way to some sort of better state – heaven is guaranteed based on God’s grace and our faith in Jesus. Christians don’t have to earn their way to heaven – Jesus did it all for us.

Like many of you, I came from a tradition that taught that you had to do additional things to gain or keep your salvation. What a relief to know it isn’t up to me – God the Father accepted what Jesus did on the Cross on yours and my behalf. Moreover, the Resurrection validates all that Jesus taught about himself being the way, the truth, and the life.

Because he raised Jesus from the dead, we can be assured that God will deliver on his promises. What are these promises of God I’m talking about? One is the promise that we also will be resurrected, just as Jesus was. We read about the future resurrection of believers in 1 Corinthians 15:20. St. Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth:

But Christ has truly been raised from the dead — the first one and proof that those who sleep in death will also be raised. NCV

We won’t just be disembodied spirits floating around in heaven, or ghosts wandering the earth in search of peace. We certainly won’t be reincarnated, doomed to living one life after another until we get it right. Instead, we will have new, improved, and imperishable bodies in heaven, as we read in 1 Peter 1:3-4:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. NLT

Like me, you may not be thrilled with your present body, but the new one you will eventually receive at the resurrection will be much better. As Peter wrote, “pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” I can’t wait!

Other promises of God for those who put their faith and trust in Jesus are:
-You have the Holy Spirit to help you while on this earth.
-You can come before the throne of God in prayer at any time.
-You have Jesus interceding with the Father on your behalf.
-You get to spend eternity in the presence of God Almighty.

Followers of Christ have been given so much – why would anybody want to miss out on these blessings?

V. Conclusion

So what can we conclude from all this? First of all, we can conclude that since Jesus was truly raised from the dead, then he is who he said he was: the Son of God and the promised Messiah. If he is the Son of God, then shouldn’t you and I honor him, and not keep him on the back burner of our lives?

Secondly, since Jesus was truly raised from the dead, then we can trust in the promises of God. If we can trust those promises, shouldn’t you and I know what they are? I just mentioned some, but there are many other promises in the Bible. One that can really help get us through the tough times we are facing is very familiar to us, yet how often do you and I apply it to ourselves? “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1) What a promise of comfort and God’s provision during times of trial!

Thirdly, since Jesus was truly raised from the dead, it is a sign that God approved of what he did on Good Friday for you and me. What Jesus accomplished on Good Friday was to reinstate us to our rightful position as children of God if we choose to receive that gift of God. If what Jesus accomplished was all part of God’s plan for us, shouldn’t we make sure we are a part of that plan?

How do we get on board with God’s plan for us? We do that by having a relationship with God thru Jesus Christ – that is, by making him the most important person in our life. That takes a conscious effort, something that I can tell you from personal experience is quite a change in direction. But as I learned, once you’ve made that commitment, your whole life improves and you have a much better outlook than before. If you already have a relationship with Jesus, now might be a good time for you and me to deepen it. How do you deepen it? The same way you deepen and improve any relationship – by togetherness and time spent.

Let’s remember that God created us for a reason, and Jesus died and rose again so that we could live out that reason. Simply stated, the reason we were created is to know, love, and serve God, and glorify him in all we do. If you want to have a fulfilled life now and a wonderful eternity in heaven, then put your faith and trust in the risen Christ.

Jesus was sent to the earth for you and me, died for you and me, and rose again for you and me. As I found out, it may seem strange at first making Jesus number one in your life. But stranger things have happened. Just remember, “The best news the world ever had came from a graveyard.” “He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!”

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