Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sermon for April 4

The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord
April 3-4, 2010
Text: Luke 24:1-12

Dear Friends in Christ,
It has been said that Jesus Christ is liar, lunatic, or Lord. There can be no middle ground when it comes to Jesus Christ. Christ Himself said that He would divide people one from the other. That prediction has come true in spades, as they say. Christ and His Church are today under attack by the Islamic and Hindu terrorists. There weapons kill the body. The Church is under attack by proponents of philosophical Scientism. Their favored weapon is Darwinian evolution and their goal is to kill the soul. More direct assaults come from the rise occultism in our age, led by people like Oprah Winfrey . And post modern philosophy with its roots in Nietzsche and Fascism would likewise attack the Church by denying that man even needs God. For after all, who needs a Savior from sin when man determines for himself what is right and what is wrong. The world is betting on liar or lunatic. For the world, the idea that Jesus might be Lord is too just ghastly to contemplate.
But unlike other religious systems, Christianity poses a unique challenge to the world. History does not record for us with certainty even what century Budda or Zoaraster lived. There can be no certainty about the events of their lives, or what they said. In contrast we come to the morning of Sunday, April 5, 33 A.D. The place is a small garden just outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem - just about three hundred and fifty yards from the Palace of Herod the Great which was used as the principle residence of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Real places, real dates, real people.
A group of women came to that garden. We don’t know how many were there. Luke lists three names, but the other gospels add an additional name. So we can only say four or more. Very likely more. Why were they there? To anoint the body of man who had been hastily buried at sunset the previous Friday. It is likely that the body was not as fully prepared as usual because of the need to complete the burial by sunset, which would begin the Sabbath. You know you can never trust men to do something like that properly. So the women were there to fix it. But when they arrive, the stone covering the tomb is rolled back and they look inside. The body is gone. Of this there is no dispute. Many sources hostile to Christianity acknowledge this. No ancient source, for or against Christianity, argues that the body was still in the tomb on the morning of April 5, 33 A.D. All argumentation from ancient sources is built around what did in fact happen to the now missing body. Here we have before us the first eyewitnesses to the event. If you were a lawyer, these women would be the first witnesses you would call to testify.
They got to the tomb and it was empty. As they were puzzling over this two angels appeared to them. The angels told them that Jesus was alive. But they also told them something else - remember. Remember what Jesus told you. Remember how He talked about rising from the dead. Remember words like: I lay down my life and I take it up again. Christ is arisen, just as He said.
Now the world at this point simply says the dead don’t rise. Admittedly, even in our circles, it is a rare enough thing. The disciples first reaction was to disbelieve - except for Peter and perhaps also John. Peter runs to the tomb and now becomes the next witness. The tomb was empty and Peter had no explanation for it - unless Jesus was in fact alive.
We know that Peter would not have long to wait. That evening Christ would make at least two appearances. He would appear to the Emmaus disciples, who may well have been a married couple - husband and wife - and very likely Jesus’ aunt and uncle. Then Christ would appear to the disciples in the upper room. He would speak to them and eat with them. They would touch Him. The number of witnesses is multiplying fast.
So is Jesus liar, lunatic, or Lord? Liars and lunatics don’t rise from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead, never to die again. That makes Him Lord. Thomas would sum it up well a week later - My Lord and My God. The dead don’t normally rise. So when it does happen, that means something extraordinary is happening. And indeed, Christianity rests all its claims on this simple fact. Jesus Christ, who was dead, rose to life again. This makes Him our Lord. To the world this is the greatest of catastrophes, for if Christ is Lord, then we are accountable to Him. We can’t do as we please, but must follow Him. To us, the fact the Jesus rose to life is the greatest of all blessings. For that is the seal upon God’s promise that our sins are indeed forgiven. If Christ lives, then we too live. For Christ is our loving and gracious Lord who rules over us by the forgiveness of our sins. He does not desire our destruction, but our life. Because Christ lives, He gives us all manner of blessings temporal and eternal. Fear is a natural response both to God and to the reality of the resurrection, just as the women were afraid. But because Christ lives, we also know that we have the perfect love of God. The fear does not go away, but it is overcome, by the assurance that in Christ, we too live forever.

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