I was thinking—if we took a poll in which we ranked holidays Christmas would come first—with Easter a very distant second.
I say this for several reasons.
First, far more countries and cultures celebrate Christmas than do Easter. And—here in the U.S. the Christmas holiday is MUCH more popular than the one we observe today. I mean, it begins to “look a lot like Christmas every where you go” sooner and sooner ever year. Last year I saw decorations in stores BEFORE Thanksgiving. During those four to six weeks leading up to December 25, there are endless parties, house decorations, tree-lighting ceremonies, gift exchanges, caroling, eggnog, and ugly sweaters. Communities stage special Christmas light shows. Local theaters always perform a Christmas play like—“A Christmas Carol” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I mean, we throw the kitchen sink at Christmas every single year.
Compare that to Easter. For starters, no one even knows what month Easter is going to be in. In fact, the main reason for ASKING when Easter will be is because people want to make sure it’s not going to interfere with spring break—which, in the minds of Montgomery County-ites, is almost as holy as the holiday itself. For Easter we boil a dozen eggs for the kids to paint and lose in the backyard. Guys shell out enough money for a pastel tie and shirt combo. Women get a new dress. Moms force their little girls to wear bonnets. We make an appearance at a church for an hour. We buy a ham and have a little Easter dinner. But, usually, by three o’clock in the afternoon, Easter is in our rear view mirror for another twelve months.
Well, why is it like that? Why is there such a huge disparity between how we treat Christmas compared to Easter?
While you’re pondering that question—I want to point out that this disparity is nothing new. In fact, the Apostle Paul faced it way back in the 1st century. Anyone want to guess which church dealt with this Christmas/Easter disparity issue? Right—the church in Corinth—a church that sadly is known for its problems. And one of those problems was the fact that these FIRST century Christians were apparently doing the same thing we do in the TWENTY-first century—they were devaluing the significance of the resurrection of Jesus. The problem got so bad that Paul included admonitions against this way of thinking in his first letter to this congregation. He wrote and reminded them what had happened in Jerusalem that first Holy Week—those days that are absolutely crucial to our faith. I picture him using the power of his God-inspired writing to kind of grab the Corinthians by their collective lapels and say, “Listen—you need to remember the events of those days! What I received I passed on to you as of first importance—Christ died for our sins—He was buried and He ROSE to life on the THIRD DAY—JUST AS THE SCRIPTURES FORETOLD!”
To silence anyone in that church who would dispute what happened that first Easter Sunday morning, Paul cites six quick proofs of Jesus’ resurrection. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to 1st Corinthians 15. Look at verses 5-8 as I review these proofs:
- PROOF #1 – Jesus appeared in risen form to Simon Peter.
- PROOF #2 – He then appeared to all twelve disciples at once.
- PROOF #3 – He appeared to a crowd of five hundred people at the same time.
Paul adds that most of the people who saw the risen Christ are still alive—inferring that if there are still any doubts, the Corinthians could go interview those people.
- PROOF #4 – The risen Christ appeared to James.
- PROOF #5 – He appeared to all the apostles, a group of seventy high-capacity leaders.
- PROOF #6 – Paul says with great humility and awe, that the resurrected Christ appeared to him.
This imprisoned apostle says, “I saw him. I saw Him with my own eyes. I believe in the resurrection of Christ to my toes, and I will proclaim it until the day I die.” If you know anything about history, Paul did exactly that until the day He died. In fact, He was martyred—beheaded outside the walls of Rome—because he kept talking about what happened that first Easter Sunday. He kept preaching about the significance of it. In the next part of this 15th chapter God uses Paul to remind the Corinthians—and us—of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection.
Follow along as I read what he says beginning with verse 14:
14 – If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
15 – More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead.
17 – And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
18 – Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
19 – If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Do you feel Paul’s intensity here? He’s saying that the entire Christian faith hinges not just on the birth of Christ or the atoning death of Christ—but on the victorious RESURRECTION of Christ. Without that—everything else is meaningless. Without EASTER, a Christmas celebration is pointless.
You may have heard this—but tonight, ABC is doing a live broadcast of the Broadway Musical: Jesus Christ Superstar. I remember when that musical first came out. I was a junior in high school. I was thrilled that the budding “Jesus movement” of those days had inspired this musical that put Jesus in the spotlight. But when I actually looked at the play—my thrills turned to chills because it leaves out the resurrection. Listen, Jesus Christ Superstar may have some great songs—I’m sure there’ll be some great performances tonight—but let’s face it. Without the resurrection there is nothing to sing about. Without the resurrection, the performances are just that: performances.
If it weren’t for that EMPTY TOMB where Jesus conquered death—the Christian faith falls apart. This is what separates our faith from other world religions. You see, no other religious leader in human history has been able to conquer the grave. Buddha, Joseph Smith, Zoraster, Confucius, Muhammed, Guru Nanak, Mary Baker Eddy, Bahaullah—the bodies of all these guys and gals lie in tombs with “Occupied” signs posted on the doors. But Jesus’ tomb is empty—because HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!
Christians like you and me—we are the only ones who can say that about the Leader of our faith—and as I said, that’s what differentiates our faith from every other religion of the world. Always has, always will.
Now—if you were here last week you know that we took an imaginary travel through time back to the first Palm Sunday. Well, as a lover of sci-fi one thing I know about “time travel” is that if you have to be very careful when you do it. You see if you go back and change something in the past—it could change everything in the present. For example, I have learned from Back to the Future that if I were to go back in time to the year 1952 to Louisville, Kentucky—and find a young student at the Carver School of Missions named Virginia Josephine Williams—if I were to then feed her false information about a young man who is a student on the other side of that campus—a student at Southern Seminary—a man named Charles W. Adams—if I were to convince her NOT to date him. If I succeeded in that—I would disappear. I would never be born because my parents would never have married.
Well, that’s the idea behind what Paul is getting at. He’s telling the Corinthians—and us—that if you take the resurrection out of history—Christianity as we understand it—would disappear. To underscore that he cites FOUR things that would instantly change if we went to the tomb of Jesus and found His body still there. Two things would disappear—and two other things would not. Let’s begin with the first two.
(1) WORSHIP as we know it would disappear.
I’m referring to verse 14 where Paul says that if Christ did not rise—if His tomb is occupied, “our preaching is useless.” Paul is saying that if Christ did not rise from the dead, not just the preaching, but every part of every church service all over the world be a ridiculous waste of time.
Would you listen to someone like me talk every Sunday for 30-40 minutes if Jesus didn’t conquer death? I wouldn’t. What could I possibly talk about? Would you get up early to hear a praise team or choir sing—if Easter didn’t happen? Not me. What could they possibly SING about? Would you leave your comfy homes to sit in pews or padded chairs for an hour every weekend if Jesus’ tomb was occupied? I don’t think so. What would be the point?
But—since Jesus DID rise—since He lives, promises like the one He made in Matthew 18:20 can come true. I’m referring to when Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them.” You see, the thing that prompts us to GATHER to hear sermons and sing songs is because when we do we experience Jesus’ presence in a life-changing way. Wherever or whenever even two or three people gather in Christ’s name, He will join that gathering. Our RISEN LORD will be there—just as He IS here right now! This is a miraculous part of the Christian faith. No other faith has anything like it. You see, because Jesus rose—since He didn’t STAY in that tomb He can be with us anywhere any time. This is why every time any group of believers gather in His name—in any church service, any location, any culture, any language, anywhere in the world—He joins that gathering with His supernatural, mystical, miraculous presence. In those gatherings He makes Himself available to everyone present.
I remember when my dad was alive and still pastoring, he told me that several Chinese families moved to Dover. They didn’t have a Chinese church at the time—so these Chinese believers attended dad’s church. Here’s the cool thing. They didn’t speak English—not a word. So—they didn’t’ know what dad was saying in His sermons. They couldn’t understand the words of the songs that church was singing—but they came faithfully every Sunday anyway.
Because HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! They FELT His presence in that church—a presence that broke through language barriers. Jesus IS with us whenever and wherever we gather in His name—because He is not dead.
Have you ever had an experience like that? Perhaps you were on a youth retreat or at a Christian conference or in a Bible Study group or in this room on a Sunday morning—and you felt the comforting, empowering presence of Jesus! Why does that happen? Because HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! Jesus IS with us whenever and wherever we gather in His name—because His tomb is empty.
Listen. Jesus didn’t just come to take away our sin—He came to give us Himself and one way we experience that GIVING OF HIMSELF is as we gather to worship in His name. Christianity is the only religion in the world that promises this kind of thing—promises that when you gather, the risen Christ will make Himself available to everyone in the gathering—doubters, people who have committed mistakes, anyone and everyone who’s willing. I’m so confident that this is true that I’m going to ask you to test God in this for the next thirty days. If you are someone who only attends once or twice a year—and please don’t hear me criticizing you by putting it that way.
We are SO happy you have come to worship today! But, I want to challenge you right now to make a commitment—and this is between you and God; you can take me out of the equation.
Some of you have a need of some sort. Maybe you are lonely or discouraged about something. Perhaps you are facing a scary crisis of some sort. Whatever it is, you need God to visit you. You need to feel Him beside you—comforting and guiding you. Well, here’s the challenge. Go to church.
It doesn’t have to be this church, just any church that preaches God’s Word. Pick a church and go there for the next four Sundays. When you walk in and sit down pray. Say something like this: “God—I would really like it if Jesus would make His presence known to me. I need Him. I need help.” Of course you don’t have to go to church to do this—you just need one or more other Christians. But, try it my way. Go to church. Test God in this. See if anything happens. Then come back and tell me about it. I look forward to hearing your stories—because Jesus IS risen—and He promises to be specially present when believers gather to worship in His name.
That’s the first thing that would change if Jesus were still in the tomb. Worship as we know it would go away. Aren’t you glad that’s not going to happen! Jesus is RISEN. He is here with us today! He is ALWAYS with us—and we feel that in a powerful way when we gather in His name.
Okay—if Jesus’ tomb were occupied here’s something else Paul says would change—disappear.
(2) Our FAITH would.
Look back at our text where Paul says without the resurrection, our faith is “useless” and “futile.” His point is that, if Jesus’ tomb is occupied—then our faith stops being a “faith.”
Without the resurrection Christianity would become just a religion—one that is as false as worthless as all others. Speaking of false faiths and the liars that lead them let’s do a quick review of some of this fallen world’s FALSE or FAKE religions.
The Church of Scientology says that every human being is actually possessed by an alien from outer space—called a thetan. The thetan that is in each of us has had innumerable past lives on other planets. The way to learn from their experiences and get to control over these indwelling thetans is through a practice known as auditing—where you are hooked up to an “e-meter” and asked questions in a non-judgmental way—like John Travolta is being asked in this picture. Of course these auditing sessions are kind of pricey—but the Church of Scientology gives celebrity members like Mr. Travolta a discount—because having someone like him in the “church” is good for business! I could go on describing their beliefs—but it would only get sillier.
Speaking of silly, have you ever heard of the Maradonian Church? It’s a religion started by the fans of a soccer player named Diego Maradona in 1998. It has more than a million followers in more than sixty countries. The supporters of the Maradonian Church believe he is the greatest soccer player of all time. They even have their own “Ten Commandments” which include the following:
- Declare unconditional love for Diego and the beauty of soccer.
- Spread the news of Diego’s miracles throughout the universe.
- Honor the “temples” where he played and his “sacred shirts.”
- Name your first son Diego.
I’m not kidding—and don’t laugh too hard. I know some Christians who worship sports with a religious fervor that is just as silly!
Here’s another fake faith—JEDISM. Here’s some members at a “service.” It was inspired by George Lucas’ Star Wars and was founded by Daniel Jones and his brother Barney in 2008. There have been incidents when Jedi’s have been evicted from public places for refusing to take off their hood including the founder—which led to the beginning of a campaign for Jedi rights.
The Jedi’s believe that the “Force” is a reality and that morality is an innate quality of human beings. The religion asks followers to beware of the dark side of this force which leads to fear which leads to hate and which in turn leads to suffering. There are even guidelines for Jedi marriages.
We may chuckle—but without the resurrection, Christianity is just as silly. Our gathering in the cold morning hours like we did today—would be ridiculous. Praying to a dead leader—talking about an afterlife—it would be just as foolish as worshiping a soccer player or carrying a fake light saber around. Paul is saying if Christ was not raised, our entire faith is a fabrication that falls to floor like a house of cards.
But the fact is He WAS raised. He IS RISEN—He is RISEN INDEED. Unlike very other faith system, we have a rock-solid, historically-defensible faith that not only has withstood a two thousand year time trial—but has mushroomed from a few dozen believers in Christ in the first century to two-point-two billion believers in Christ today. It’s the largest faith in the world. It is the only TRUE faith.
Listen, our faith is a reasonable faith. It’s coherent. It hangs together. And—it’s comprehensive. It speaks to all the needs of the human experience. It’s also radically inclusive. As the old hymn puts it, “Whosever will may come!” The door is open to all who will confess their sins and their need for Jesus. Here’s something else: our faith challenges its adherents to be radically loving people. What other religion challenges all its adherents to love beyond their own capacity to love—to love indiscriminately—across religious boundaries—across racial boundaries? What faith tells its members to love even people who do evil, hateful things. ONLY Christianity.
Most importantly, our faith has a solid foundation. Because of His resurrection we can sing with all confidence, “On Christ the solid rock I stand! All other ground is sinking sand! All other ground is sinking sand!”
Listen—no one ever taught like our Risen Lord taught. Nobody ever loved like He loved. Never has anyone healed like He healed. No one ever spoke against corruption and injustice as fearlessly as He did. Then one day, Jesus willingly and self-sacrificially shouldered the wrongdoing of all humanity, He took it all on Himself. He died an atoning death on the cross for you and me. Now—if it stopped there—I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing—neither would you. But it didn’t stop there did it! He is RISEN! He is RISEN indeed! On the third day He rose from the grave PROVING everything He said and did was true.
Okay—those two things—our worship and our faith would disappear if Jesus didn’t rise. But He did—so THEY didn’t! Here’s two things Paul says would NOT go away if Jesus’ tomb were still occupied.
(3) Our SIN.
Without the resurrection—Jesus would just be another victim of crucifixion—which means He wouldn’t be God—which means He wouldn’t be able to die in our place. If He didn’t rise—it would prove He wasn’t God—and we’d all still be lost in our sins. Remember—the debt sin incurs is death—that’s the WAGE sin pays—and so without Jesus’ resurrection, we would still OWE that unpayable debt.
Bill Hybels tells about a friend who started a small business with a sizeable loan from a bank. Then he worked very hard for twenty years to become debt-free in that business. Hybels says, “I would meet with him from time to time and he would say, ‘Only seven more years’—or however many years were left—’and I’m going to have this business paid off. I met with him when he had only thirty days left. He was counting down the days. And then he learned at the very end that his accountant had been cooking the books all along. When it went to court, he learned that he was in as much debt twenty years later as he was the day he started this business. He was homicidally angry. And inconsolable.”
That’s where we would be if archaeologists opened the tomb of Jesus and found His body. If Christ did not rise from the dead we would still stand accountable for our pile of moral indebtedness. And—I can’t speak for you—but my pile of sin is pretty high. I add to it every day. Maybe you think your pile isn’t as big as mine—but no matter what its perceived size, without the resurrection, we would all be hopelessly indebted—LOST in debt—LOST in sin.
But Paul says Christ DID rise! HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!
Because Jesus’ tomb is empty—because He conquered death—anybody who humbly asks for His atoning death to be applied to their pile of moral debt can have their entire past cancelled.
This is a big deal not just for the long term—not just for eternity—but for the short term—for the present—because God’s forgiveness frees you. It takes a burden off our backs. It frees us to live and love as only people with the Risen Lord in them can live and love.
To help you feel that freedom this morning let’s look at some of the metaphors the Bible uses to help us have the assurance of forgiveness.
How many of you love SUNSETS AND SUNRISES? I do. Here’s my favorite sunrise ever. I took this picture when our family was at the Outer Banks last summer. Well there’s a verse for you fellow sunset or sunrise lovers. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Every time you go out and look at the expanse of the sky, just note to self: “My wrongdoing has been removed from me as far as the east is from the west.” If you look up and see that Chinese Space Station falling your way this afternoon—you need not fear. Your sin debt has been paid!
How many of you SNOW? I’m not referring to shoveling all that white stuff—I’m referring to LOOKING at it! When it falls you get out those smart phones and start clicking off pictures. Well there’s a verse for you too. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Every time you see a snow-capped mountain or a cherry blossom covered with the white stuff, remember you used to have a huge crimson pile of sin in your life and now it’s covered—like the snow that makes anything—even dead trees and rusty gas grills—look beautiful. Your internal moral slate is clean. You are now pure in God’s eyes—as pure as new-fallen snow.
How many of you love THE OCEAN? You love the beach and deep-sea fishing and snorkeling. There’s a verse for sinners like you. In Micah 7:19 God says, “I will bury your sins the depths of the sea.” Whenever you go on a cruise and you head out into the parts of the ocean where you can no longer see the bottom—and the water gets darker and darker because its deeper and deeper—remind yourself, because of Easter, you can know that your sin has been buried in the deepest part of the sea—never to be raised to the surface again. It’s at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
And then, how many of you love BRAIN TEASERS? You sit around debating about whether or not a tree that falls in the forest when no one is around makes any noise? Well, there’s a verse for you. In Hebrews 18:12, God says, “I will remember their sins no more.” Now think about that. How can our omniscient God Who knows ALL things—forget something? I don’t know. But He can and does and will.
Whatever metaphor speaks to you—whatever word picture works for you—the fact is since HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!—since Jesus DID conquer death, we can live every single day with a rock-solid assurance that our debt has been paid in full.
This old chorus comes to mind. Sing it with me if you know it:
Gone, gone, gone, gone
Yes my sins are gone,
Now my soul is free
And in my heart’s a song;
Buried in the deepest sea
Yes, that’s good enough for me–
I shall live eternally
My sins are gone!
Here’s something else that would NOT disappear if Jesus didn’t rise.
In verse 18 Paul says, that without the resurrection, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” If Jesus is dead—then we will die and that will be “all she wrote.” Without the resurrection there is no afterlife—no hope. If Jesus’ tomb were occupied—we would all be worm food some day.
You know, since the death rate is still 100% I buy a lot of sympathy cards. I spend a great deal of time at the “Sympathy Card” section of CVS or GIANT. And in all my days of card-shopping I’ve learned that the only cards worth sending—are the ones that refer to our hope of Heaven. The only ones worth buying are the ones in the section that has an empty cross on the divider.
The ones in the others sections—the ones without a cross—are silly. I would even characterize them as being cruel because they offer no hope—no REAL comfort. They are a waste of money.
To show you what I mean. Here are some examples of the pointless words I’ve read in those silly cards:
“Even through sad times like this, know that love goes on and on and on.”
Really? Does love go on? No—if death is the end then NOTHING goes on and on! Here’s another one:
“We wish our words could somehow ease your sadness, but in our hearts we know that the most they can do is simply tell you how much we care.”
How does that help? Knowing people care—that doesn’t give us any real hope. It’s nice that they care—but that caring doesn’t bring our loved ones back. At least this one is honest—without the resurrection, words are just words. They can’t ease sadness. Here’s another:
“Your loved one lives on in the kindness they showed and the comfort they shared and the love they brought into our lives.”
No, they don’t! If death is the end, NO ONE lives on—so neither does their kindness. The only part of this particular card I agree with is the last sentence: “Thinking of you at this SAD time.”
Well, without Jesus, it IS a sad time! Here’s another:
“Those we hold in our hearts, never truly leave us.”
YES, THEY DO! Without the resurrection, when they die we put them in the ground and that’s it. We may remember them—but they aren’t WITH us—and when we die that memory dies too.
One more: “Hope you can take strength and comfort in the memories you shared.”
Without the hope of eternity memories don’t bring comfort—they just bring more sorrow. They just make you miss the person more.
I would HATE to be a card writer in the “non-Christian” department of sympathy cards. I mean, what can you say? NOTHING! There is no REAL comfort you can give. Without the resurrection, words are a waste of breath—and a waste of money at $5.99 each!
Let me just take a moment to remind you that not only will we all bury loved ones—if Jesus tarries, we will all BE BURIED. No matter how healthy we eat—no matter how many cookies and twinkies we avoid—no matter how many miles on the treadmill we log—no matter how many vitamins we consume—no matter how much stress we avoid—no matter how many hours we sleep at night—no matter how much coffee we drink, or DON’T drink—we are all going to die someday. We will all be the focus of a funeral. As Hebrews 9:27 puts it, “It is appointed to all men to DIE.”
April 17 of last year this woman, Emma Morano did. She died. She was born November 29, 1899 in the Piedmont region of Italy. She was officially the last person born in the 1800’s still living. She was 117. I wonder—were her care-givers surprised when she died? They shouldn’t have been—because we ALL die. You may make it to 77 or 127—but you will die.
Okay—enough of that.
Since—because JESUS didn’t die—because HE IS RISEN—HE IS RISEN INDEED—we don’t have to fear death. In Romans 8:11 Paul says, “The very same power that brought Jesus to life from the grave is going to be applied to the body of every Christ-follower when they die.” (Romans 8:11)
I hope you hear this correctly—but I hate to do funerals. If you die and your loved ones ask me I’ll do your funeral—and I’ll do my best—but I won’t enjoy it. No Christian would! God’s Word says death is our enemy. I hate this enemy and the funerals it spawns because I hate to say good-bye to loved ones. And I’ve had to do that for a lot of people—dear people. I’ve buried amazing people—like Alvin Grant and Buddy Young and Ann Burke and Dick McLain and Bill Wehunt and Mary Keating and Don Peyton and Bob Dame and SO many more. I’ve buried children like Noelie Davis and Luke Spencer and too many others. The only thing that enables me to do these services—is the fact that since Jesus’ tomb is empty—I know the tombs I’m putting these bodies in will be too. I know death is just a parting—that one day as Christians, we will all be together again. For the Christian who dies, I can say the same thing the angels said about Jesus: “He or she—is not here! He or she has RISEN!” EASTER makes death bearable—it takes the sting out of it. It makes it no worse than dropping your kids off at college for the first time.
Okay—I better wind things up or some hams are going to burn so here goes: If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead: worship as we know it—and the faith that prompts us to worship would disappear. Our sins and the death we all fear—would NOT disappear. But because HE IS RISEN—HE IS RISEN indeed, we can enjoy the blessing of meeting our Lord in Worship as we have done today. We can know our faith has a SOLID ROCK foundation. We can know our sins PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE are forgiven. And best of all, we know that death is not really death. It’s not the end—it’s the BEGINNING!
Let us pray.