It’s a Fact Jack!

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter Sunday C, March 31, 2013

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“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” [1  Corinthians 15:19, 20]

He is risen.  He is risen indeed?  Are you sure of that?  Can you be sure?  And so begins the incessant drip, drip, drip, of doubt and the voice of skeptics and atheists.  If you don’t believe  me, turn on the Discovery or History channels on your televisions and see how they pick apart our hope in the empty tomb.  See how they love to cast doubt on the completed work of  our crucified and resurrected Savior and King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  I say, through the power of God, let them babble on, because I know by faith my Savior lives.  He IS risen!    He HAS risen indeed!

And yet, even good Christians like yourself, when you hear the Easter story, the report about a man who is also God, whose tomb was empty when his friends came to visit, and who  was claimed by two angels — in dazzling white to be risen from the dead, you may be tempted to dismiss it — or if not that, to doubt it, and attempt to come up with a rational  explanation; attempting to make the miraculous scientifically palatable. Why do people do this?  One reason may be that, they feel it’s just too good to be true and therefore it can’t be t  true.  It must just be a preposterous hoax. But wait just a minute there.  Isn’t the promise that all of our tears will be dried, that all our sorrows will be turned to joy, that all our  tragedies will be transformed to triumphs, that beyond our death there is life, isn’t that really the universal hope of all people?  Then why should we dismiss that hope it if it might just be true?

Another reason for dismissing the resurrection may be because nothing like it has ever been reported before or since.  Most thinking people will gladly tell you that precedents are always indications that thinking people must proceed with caution and really dig into the facts. “Don’t be so gullible” the unbelievers tell us. “It’s an event without comparison. No one else has ever been raised from the dead never to die again; this story about Jesus’ resurrection is just to unique.”  But why should that surprise or confound any of us? History is, after all, a collection of unique events. No two wars are the same. No two works of art or musical compositions are the same. No two sunrises are the same. No two earthquakes are the same. Think of your friends; are any two of them the same? Only machines — like the copier in the church office, are able to duplicate documents and pictures precisely, and that has nothing to do with human interactions that make up events that, in turn, make up history. Yes, Jesus’ resurrection is a unique event — perhaps a little more, but certainly no less than any other. We must get over the truth that it can’t be repeated for scrutiny by scientists, but does its uniqueness disqualify it from having happened in history?

Now another reason, some of your doubting friends will encourage you to reject the miracles recorded in scripture, especially the resurrection of our Lord is the fact that the gospel accounts don’t seem to be reporting the exact same pieces of information.  They will tell you that obviously either the witnesses or the recorders of the witnesses statements didn’t get all of the facts straight. They want the testimonies to mesh like fine gears in an expensive watch, and if they don’t, “Well” they’ll tell you, “you’ll just have to agree that the story is mostly fable.” But these differences in witness statement shouldn’t surprise us. I was a law enforcement officer for 30 years, and I can tell you with certainty that eyewitnesses at the scene of a major accident or crime seldom agree precisely as they relate their impressions of what happened. And if they did, the investigating officers are always suspicious, and then they begin to look for another crime, collusion or witness tampering.  You see, perception is always colored by emotional involvement. And yet all witnesses of a crime can agree that the crime really happened and what’s more, they saw it! And so it is with the Easter stories — the women, the disciples, whoever else were involved — they didn’t see Jesus actually rise, but they saw that He had risen, because they saw and spoke to Him!

Others may shy away from taking Easter too seriously because if they did take God at His word, they’d react just like the women at the tomb — with their eyes cast down. That is to say, if it is real, that Christ really did rise from the dead, well then He must really be the Son of God, and if He really is the Son of God, then all of those who doubt or attack His death on the cross and the resurrection are really attacking God Himself; in other words, they’re in big trouble!

You see, if the resurrection is for real, then it brings sinners face-to-face with a perfect and righteous God. Like the women at the tomb, they too may think that no one can see God and live, so they stare at the ground so as not to see God and die.

For all of our talk about Easter joy, there is a certain amount of terror that Easter strikes.  The first ones who knew the resurrection was a fact, were “terrified,” says St. Luke. They ran away “afraid”, says St. Mark. Indeed, the resurrection means that God really has forced His way into our reality, and His mighty arm has struck a deadly blow—to death. The fact that God has used divine power, can and should make weak and sinful men shudder.  It should make sinners fall over in terror.  Because you see, if Jesus really did die on a cross and rise from the dead, then that means that death is not the end, and if death isn’t the end, then there really is a place that we will live eternally.  And because there is an eternity, then there must really be only two places that we will spend that eternity… in Heaven, or… in HELL!  If that is true then that means that we really are accountable for how we live; we are accountable for every sin we have ever committed.  And if all of this is true, then that means we really do need God’s intervening help; we really do need a Savior who dies on a cross for our sins, on our behalf.

And this is really what Easter is finally about.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s final physical miracle to prove the ultimate spiritual truth… we need God and His intervention; we need His Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Yes it’s true that if the resurrection were not true, we Christians of all people are to be pitied above all others, because while we were living a life of sacrifice under the cross, we could have been living a life with no rules which daily sought to pursue all manner of pleasures, just like the rest of the unbelieving world.

It is as if we have been living our lives like a mountain climber making a long and painful approach to the summit, clinging to the face of a giant mountain, following a very small ledge for most of the climb, while all others have been walking on a spacious road, complete with safety rails.  Below us is death, and above us are only clouds and more rock.  We know that we can’t go back, because the path has crumbled behind us.  So we push on ahead, and because we will not give up, the others on that broad and spacious path laugh at us.  But we know what lies ahead of us; where some might see uncertainty, we see and push on towards the promise of God; the promise of rest and reward.  Yes, we push on following our resurrected Lord, until one day, maybe sooner than we think, the ledge of suffering will lead to a wide path, which will connect to solid ground; to a meadow of lush and inviting vegetation.  And there in front of us at the end of a short path, will be the beautiful city of Zion.

And as we enter our new eternal home, we will hear our Savior King, Jesus Christ declare, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But (here in your eternal home), be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create (a new) Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  I will rejoice in (this new) Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”  [Isaiah 65:17-19]

Oh what a day that will be; a day when we will finally see our God and Savior face to face.  It will be a time where we rejoice in His presence and He rejoices in gladness that we are finally home.  But for now, we must live our lives by faith; faith in the promise of what is to come.  We must hear the Words which proclaim, “He is risen” and know that “as in Adam all in sin die, so also in Christ all (people of faith) shall be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ (as) the firstfruits, then at His coming (again) those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:22, 23]  Oh what a glorious day that will be.

Of course no one can really describe precisely what it means to say that Jesus rose from the dead. Language itself breaks down when the barriers of space and time are broken down. And I suppose that it really wouldn’t do anyone any good if we were to try to describe what happened as He rose or what he was like once He was risen.  But what does do a person good is to grab ahold of this risen Son of God — to cling to Him alone, and to use him as the Lord of life, your Lord over death, even your own death!

And that is precisely what Easter is all about. It is in using Jesus Christ — grabbing onto and clinging to His promises of mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, and His love for you who are baptized in His name.  This is how doubts are overcome, this is how questions are answered, and this is how death itself is finally defeated. For He is risen.   He is living and reigning to all eternity.  He is inviting all of us who may sometimes think the Easter story is nonsense to make sense of it. And how? By using him as our point of access to God. If we know by faith that He is alive and in our midst, behold, we can not only look at God and live, we can in fact live a life of abundance, right here and now. And as we go on living our lives of faith in this sinful world, our fear of sin, death, and the devil, especially our fear of finding and truly knowing God will melt away once we sense God’s own joy at our future return to Him. And that return will be complete when we, too, are raised from the dead — like Him who really did go before us on that first Easter Sunday to prepare our new heavenly home.  Yes, it really is a fact Jack; He has risen.  He has risen indeed!

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