April 6, 2016

March 27, 2016 - Easter Sunday

This morning, as we celebrate and rejoice in our Lord’s resurrection, I’d like to remind you that this very part of our faith is under attack from many sides. We might tell ourselves that we would never lose the resurrection, and the peace and hope that it alone can give us. But in reality, many deceiving agents have crept into God’s Church at-large and sowed seeds of discord concerning our Savior’s life after death. It’s important that we today recognize this danger and be ready to confront it when we witness it. It’s also necessary that we are ready to defend every teaching of God’s Word that the world attempts strip away from us. To do so, we have to be on our guard, and we have to train regularly through reading and studying the Word and also strengthening our own faith through the use of the Sacraments. And we must also have keen eye to detect error when we see it.

I’d like to read for you two different confessions of faith that speak about the resurrection, which are printed in your bulletin as well. Both statements are from Christians. Both statements are from Lutherans. Both statements are from teachers. And yet, the two statements completely differ on the validity of the resurrection of Jesus.

Statement #1: “Mythological symbolism contributed to the interpretation of the event of the resurrection. The question has become acute in modern theology whether in the resurrection we are dealing with only a myth or with a truly historical event.”

Statement #2: “It is necessary for every Christian to have before him the testimony of Holy Scripture concerning the resurrection of the dead and then also the resurrection of the Lord Christ; proved and attested by certain revelation; that he must rest firmly on these and abandon outward appearance and the experience of reason.”

The long and short of it is this. One Lutheran, Christian Theologian believes in the historical reliability of Christ’s resurrection, and the other does not. How could they conclude such opposing views yet associate with the same faith and belief? Does it dampen our celebration of this day knowing that scores of other Christians, even Lutherans, are taught that Christ is actually still in the tomb? I hope it doesn’t, because the source of our joy today is not in the reaction or beliefs of others, but in the undeniable truth that Jesus is alive, that He promises the same to those who believe in Him, and that our very faith is built on this pillar.

It’s frustrating to see such a divergence of beliefs among Christians regarding the most important teaching of our faith. But you can’t allow that frustration to overshadow your own hope and joy. You can’t believe in Jesus just because others do, so you also can’t abandon faith in Jesus just because others do. Statement #1 was taken from a textbook for training future pastors which is used by the largest Lutheran denomination. Statement # 2 came from Martin Luther. These kinds of statements are important for understating what people believe about the resurrection, but for ourselves we go back to what the Holy Spirit says, written through Paul to the Corinthian congregation:

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-- unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

What do we believe about the Resurrection? It’s important to know what is being taught in the world today. It’s important to listen to the scholars, and the professors, and the pastors. But most important, you must know what the Bible says. Therefore, we consider what Luther wrote long ago. We pay attention to what people are saying today. But to know the truth we must go back the beginning, to the source, for truth does not change.

When we go back to foremost chapter in the Bible that addresses the validity of the resurrection, we see how the matter is quite simple. Simple for our faith, but also simple for how we confess and defend that faith. Already at that time, before the turn of the first century, people were doubting whether or not Christ actually rose from the dead. These words were written at time when some of the very people who saw Christ alive were still living themselves. Paul listed himself in the category of those who witnessed the resurrected Christ in visible form as well as other notable apostles who were still working in the Church. If people wanted eye-witness testimony they had plenty. If people needed proof they need only ask. And yet, even that testimony, built on the human senses, was not good enough to prove the resurrection. People still doubted, and so like us today, teachers like Paul had defend the resurrection.

The answer to the resurrection is not in proving by reasoning. Even those who killed Christ knew He wasn’t in the tomb but they still tried to cover it up. The answer is in faith. Faith in Jesus. Faith in what Jesus has done for us. And Faith from the words of Jesus in the Scriptures. That’s the only way anyone can belief in a resurrection. And that’s precisely where Paul started with the Corinthians.

Before he even talked about himself as an eye-witness or others, he led them to the testimony of God’s Word. In verse 1 he said, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you…” He continued in verse 2: “if you hold fast to that word which I preached to you…” And on in verse 3: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” And finally verse 4: “and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Four verses, four statements about the validity of Christ’s death and resurrection from the Word of God. It’s only after Paul lays this foundation, from the word of God, that he proceeds to give evidence of the eye-witnesses. What Paul said was exactly what the Church needed to hear. But things haven’t changed that much either, for it’s precisely what the Church needs to hear today. Paul’s telling us: The best way to defend the Resurrection is to believe the Resurrection. Romans 10:17

Those who question it or deny do so because they just can’t believe it. It’s either too miraculous or too good to be true, or too different from the way that logical life goes. And so new terms are introduced to explain it away, things like “mythological symbolism,” and “questions of modern theology.” But it’s actually not that complicated, not even close. Think of how easily Paul expresses the resurrection. He says, I simply gave to you the very same thing that Christ Jesus gave to me, the truth. The truth He suffered and died, and that He rose the third day. Truth that is based “according to the Scriptures.”

But this truth would have fallen on deaf ears, as it has with so many others, if Paul did not believe; if he did not have faith. And that’s what he says at the end of our text: 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

The truth of the resurrection is not just a piece of information in the Bible. It’s not just a historical fact that we must argue for and defend in the face of higher criticism. It is the basis of our faith. It is the foundation of God’s kingdom in your heart. It is the very reason why you have the promise of change in your life. Change from the daily sins of thought and deed but also change from death to life at the end. Paul says that this aspect of God’s grace changed his life from being to worst sinner to being a humble messenger through which Christ displayed His power.

God’s grace in the resurrection was not worthless to Paul and its effectiveness in His life was not worthless. It changed him. It was not “mythological.” It was not confusing. It was not empty superstition. It was not just a “spiritual resurrection.” It was not backward thinking. It changed him because it was based on historical truth. The victory over sin and death happened in time here on earth and God did it that way so that we could have something to point to for our faith. Just because God’s grace changes the sinful heart and runs contrary to the way we lived before Christ, does not give us the right to discredit its reliability.

In response to skeptics we can cite as many proofs for the resurrection as we want. We can show how no body was ever found. We can quote from secular unbelievers who wrote about the resurrection themselves. We can show how the resurrection has always been a pillar of the Christian faith, all the way back to the first churches and the first creeds, it’s only recently that it’s been doubted by so many. We can show how Biblical writers stressed the many eye-witnesses who saw Christ (beginning of Luke and Acts). We can try to prove and show even more but it won’t matter to those who vehemently deny. Because ultimately, the resurrection is a matter of faith. The best way to prove it is to simply believe it. Believe in the risen Christ and the change of faith will show in your life. Believe that you are helpless sinner and that God did, in fact, have to send His Son to secure salvation for you; believe that that was the only way. God did all that so that you would believe, and that is the best way to defend the truth because the reasons for doubting the resurrection come from the very same place that it seeks to heal, the sinful human heart.

If what the Bible teaches it true; that Jesus had to come to earth to die for mankind’s sin and rise to guarantee that victory, it means that every single person must answer to God. We have nowhere else to turn and no more excuses to give if God’s own Son was the only one who could save us. And ultimately, that means we can’t trust ourselves. We can’t work for heaven. We can’t gain access to God by our efforts. The more we try the worse off we are. And that’s why overemphasizing our reason and logic when it comes to believing and defending the resurrection leads to more problems, because we’re pushing ourselves away from faith to only physical proof. And the resurrection will never make enough sense to us to generate our own faith in Jesus. If everything the Bible says about the resurrection is true, then our only option is to repent and believe. And that, is the kicker, because repentance and faith don’t come naturally for us.

Repentance is so easy yet so difficult, depending on how you look at it. It actually means that everything has been done freely for us already; we don’t have to fight and scrap any longer; but it also means you have to turn from sin. You have to honestly admit wrongdoing and failure. That is hard for us to do. Admitting complete helplessness and leaving all to God grates against our natures more than anything else. Yet, it’s the only way to Christ and without it we cannot believe.

You can spout all the facts about the validity of the resurrection that you want. But that’s not going to convince anyone. It may get them to investigate further but it won’t change them. They need faith, not just bare information. And there’s nothing more powerful to give evidence of faith than the effective working of God’s grace in a person’s life. Evidence that Christ did die for sins and rise again according to the Scriptures.

Do people see the change of the resurrection in your life? Do you see it? That change can be subtle;
  • ·         it can be refraining from vulgar language,
  • ·         a small word or act of kindness,
  • ·         a moment of thanksgiving in prayer,
  • ·         a humble attitude in life,
  • ·         wise use of money and possessions,
  • ·         Regular time around God’s Word.
  • ·         Forgiving your enemy rather than hating them.
  • ·         Looking away instead of lusting after.
  • ·         Something as simple as one thought of patience rather than anger.   

Small things, really. So often we’re looking for the big change, the life-altering proof of a redeemed soul. But, you only see the big changes by building on the little ones. If you haven’t developed the simple, day-to-day habits of faith, which no but God sees, you won’t be moving mountains anytime soon.

It’s frustrating to see people, even Lutherans, cast doubt on the validity of Christ’s resurrection. Let’s be busy defending it. We can learn facts and points of history and studies that have been done in the past. That might help our defense. We can talk about statistics and probability, we can reason about what seems most logical. That might help our defense. But nothing is stronger than the evidence of the Holy Spirit. Because that evidence shows that Christ has changed you through His death and resurrection. It is undeniable proof that God can take sinners like you and I, and shape us into people that serve Him in righteousness. That is proof.  Every fruit of faith, every act dedicated to God’s glory, from the small to the big, is proof that Christ rose from the dead.

He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed. And we have all we need for faith and defense, in the Scriptures. With childlike simplicity we can rejoice, because Jesus died and rose for us. Not in some mythological way. But in reality. And not just for academic understanding, but for life-changing faith in your heart. He is with you now in this very way and you show it each time you listen to His Word, believe it, and live it. And that’s how we defend the precious teaching of His resurrection. Amen.

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

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