April 20, 2014

Tomb Empty, Faith Full - Apr 20, 2014

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The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was no accident. It was predicted in the Old Testament of the Bible, hundreds of years before it happened. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 contain detailed descriptions of the crucifixion even though Isaiah was written 700 years before the crucifixion, and Psalm 22 was written nearly 1000 years before.

Ancient though they are, these prophecies match up perfectly with what happened to Jesus: His hands and feet pierced, his silence acceptance of mockery, lots cast to divide up his remaining possessions. These ancients Scriptures even tell us that Christ was not suffering because of something he had done. He was suffering for the sins of others.

To many involved, the crucifixion was an unexpected turn of events. But not to Jesus. And not to his heavenly Father. To them, the crucifixion was the culmination of a great plan to rescue sinners from hell.
You see, the God who created the universe is a good God. A God of love, righteousness, and justice. As a just God, he must punish evil. And the penalty for sinning against the Almighty, is separation from him, and all his goodness—forever. In a word, the punishment for sin, is HELL.  This is what the Son of God suffered that Friday afternoon as he hung from on the cross. And he suffered this in your place, for your sins, to save you from hell.

No, the crucifixion was not an accident. It was foretold, and carried out, so that your sins now stand forgiven in Christ.
But today, our mediation does not focus on the cross. On Easter Sunday we focus on what came AFTER the cross: THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS FROM THE DEAD.

Like the crucifixion, the resurrection was also, not an accident.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was foretold in the Old Testament. The resurrection was also expected by Jesus.

To many involved, the resurrection was an unexpected turn of events. But not to Jesus. And not to his heavenly Father. To them, the resurrection was a predicted, calculated event, meant to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything Jesus had said about himself was true.
To help us understand how important the resurrection is, today we’re going to read from a letter written by the apostle Paul. This letter was written to Christians gathering in the ancient city of Corinth.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reveals that there were some people at Corinth who were saying that any type of resurrection from the dead was a fiction, and impossibility. But that’s not what God’s Word says. And that’s not what Paul had been teaching. May the Holy Spirit help us, through his Word, to see how very important the resurrection of Jesus truly is.

1 Corinthians 15:13-23 (NASB)

  13   But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;
  14   and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
  15   Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.
  16   For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;
  17   and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
  18   Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
  19   If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
  20   But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
  21   For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
  22   For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
  23   But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,
You remember that old Jimmy Stewart movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life?” You know, the one that used to play over, and over, every Christmas? In the movie Stewart plays “George Bailey”, a businessman with a beautiful family. George becomes depressed and begins to despair thinking that his life hasn’t mattered at all. That the world would have been a better place without him. Then an angel steps in to help George see that his life has been very important to the people around him. The angel does this by showing George what the world would have been like if he had never existed.

The apostle Paul does something similar here. The apostle Paul helps the Christians in Corinth by showing them what life would be like if Christ Jesus had never been raised from the dead.
Paul says, Okay Corinthians, there are people among you teaching that resurrection from the dead isn’t possible? Don’t you realize what this would mean if it was true?

Let’s start with what this would mean for those who have gone out into the world to teach the Gospel. Do you realize what would this mean for them?

It would mean  that this message that they’ve been risking their lives to spread—is empty. That’s what that word “vain” means in the Greek. Empty. Without substance. Hollow. Nothing there.
And not only would their preaching be empty, it would be a blatant lie. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then all of the apostles who said they saw him alive after he had been dead—they were liars. And all those other people who claimed to have seen him, conversed with him, to have eaten with him, hundreds of people over the span of forty days—they were all liars too. And not just liars, they were guilty of lying about God.

That’s not a good idea to lie about God. We’re all going to stand before God one day and he’s going to judge our choices according to his standards. It’s not a good idea to lie about God.
Not only that. Paul says, Corinthians, do you realize what this would mean? Think about your friends. Your Christian friends who died trusting in Jesus as their Savior from sin. If Christ is not raised, then he can’t be the Savior. And so any who died trusting in him are lost forever.
And think about yourselves, Corinthians. If Christ is dead and rotting, then your faith is empty. Like I said, he can’t be the Savior if he wasn’t raised from the dead. And if Jesus isn’t the Savior, you don’t have a Savior, and your sins are still on you.

If Jesus is still in the tomb, then Christianity is a truly pathetic religion. I mean, think about it. Jesus never promised to give us good health in this life. He never promised to give us millions of dollars. He never even promised to give us good times in this life. In fact, he promised the opposite to his closest disciples. Jesus told them…

‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV).

Jesus promised his disciples persecution in this life. That’s what he promised. In another one of Paul’s letters he writes…

12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV).

So, let me get this Christianity thing straight. There’s no promise of health, riches, or good times. And the one we trust in, depend upon, and put our hope in—is dead and rotting in a tomb somewhere? If that were the case, our faith is about the most pathetic religion in the entire world. It has NOTHING to offer.

Later in this same chapter Paul writes…

If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NASB).

That would make sense. Enjoy it while you can. If there is no resurrection from the dead. No judgment to come. No afterlife.

But that’s not the case.
Paul says, enough of this pretending. Enough of this “It’s a Wonderful Life” storyline. Let’s get back to the reality. Look at verse 20 again. Paul says…

20   But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
  21   For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
  22   For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
  23   But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 NASB).

I LOVE that first sentence there, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” There’s SO MUCH wrapped up there.

Now I know we’re not all farmers, but I think we can get the idea here. The “first fruits” are the FIRST…   …FRUITS. I mean that’s not hard to grasp! It’s the first stuff that comes out of the field. And that implies that there’s going to be…   …MORE!

Jesus wasn’t the first person in history to be raised from the dead. But he was the first one who never died again. When he was raised from the dead, the Father raised him to eternal life. His body was changed, glorified, so that he could walk around with that hole in his side that they could touch and feel, and these holes in his hands that they could see. And yet he wasn’t in pain. He only let those marks remain so he could show them it was really him. Really their Jesus, the one who had been crucified to death, but was now alive.

He was the first fruits of those who will rise, never to die again.
Paul says, Death came into the world through a man—Adam. Life and resurrection come through Jesus.

Picture two big circles. An Adam circle, and a Christ circle. We’re all in the Adam circle. We’re his descendants, part of the human race. As Adam’s descendants, we’re subject to death because of the sin he brought into the world.

Now think of the Christ circle. Not everyone is in the Christ circle. Only those who trust in him. But for those in Christ, he brings life. He brings forgiveness of sins, reunification with our Creator, and one day, bodily resurrection to eternal life. 

But each in his own order: Christ first, then those who are Christ’s, when he returns. Jesus is the first harvest. When he returns, he will harvest the rest. He will make alive, and bring with him, all who are in him by faith.

And Christ invites each one of us to be in that circle. He didn’t just die for some, he died for all. And he invites each one of us to rely on him. To be in that circle.
It all hinges on the resurrection. If Jesus had remained dead, and they had found him rotting in that tomb on Easter morning—then we’d know that everything Jesus claimed about himself was a lie.

But that’s not what they found. First they found and empty tomb, and then they met their risen Savior.

You know, it’s ironic. When the disciples of Jesus came to his tomb, they were all shocked and confused and full of fear because the tomb was empty! That was actually the best thing possible! If they had found the body of a dead Jesus, any faith in Jesus, would have been an empty faith.

Because his tomb was empty, our faith is full. Everything that Jesus said about himself is true:

He is the Son of God.
He died for our sins.
We stand forgiven.
The Bible can be trusted.
One day he will return, and if we have died by that time, he will raise us from the dead to eternal glory.

This is what the resurrection of Jesus Christ means.
This is what Easter means.

Because his tomb was empty, our faith is full.

Full of God’s forgiveness.
Full of peace.
Full of joy.
Full of power.
Full of solid hope for the future.

He is risen.

And thank God that he is!


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

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