The vital importance of Easter

1 Corinthians 15:1-20 and Luke 24:1-12

What a story Easter tells!  The Son of God in the form of Christ came as a man, truly human, and experienced all that we experience, except that he never sinned, and on top of this he rose from the dead.  His disciples had not expected Jesus to do this.

But if there was no resurrection, then Christ was not raised and so there would be no Easter to celebrate and no message of Christ to proclaim. 

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is telling the church at Corinth that if Christ has not been raised then his preaching is in vain which means that their faith is also in vain.  So Paul reminds them of the facts about the resurrection.  He quotes the tradition that he received from those who were in Christ before him.

That:

•           Christ had died and was buried according to scripture.

•           Christ had been raised on the third day, according to scripture.

•           Christ had appeared to Peter, then to the twelve; then to about 500 Christians, to James the half-brother of Jesus, to the Apostles, and last of all to Paul himself.

These are the facts of Christ.  Without them the Christian faith has no substance, no meaning and no purpose.

Paul did not begin this chapter by quoting his own experience.  Yes, Christ, in his risen form had appeared to him, but he does not start from there.  Instead he quotes tradition that can be checked and confirmed by others.  I believe that the implication here is that Paul’s experience of the risen Christ was not a private mystical vision, because it was like the experiences of the others who all believed that Christ had risen because they had seen him.

The appearances of Christ were for the benefit of all his disciples and followers.  The same applies today.  When Christ works in and through our lives, he does so for the benefit of others, not for the benefit of self; like when we pray for others, or help others in a practical way.

And I think that the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead helps us to understand this principle.  Yes, there was a direct benefit for Lazarus, he was brought back to life.  But the implication of this miracle goes beyond that because many came in search of Jesus and Lazarus ‘for on account of him many Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him’ (John 12:11).  It became a selfless act of witness.

Paul is saying that it was on the basis of these appearances that Jesus’ disciples preached his resurrection from the dead.  So the words “Christ died, he was buried, he rose again, and was seen” are the basic historical facts that Christ died for our sins.  And there has only ever been one person who has died for the sins of the world – Jesus Christ.

Paul himself was one of the greatest witnesses of the resurrection.  When he was an unbeliever he was utterly convinced that Jesus was dead.  He was so convinced that he went to extraordinary lengths to stamp out those who believed otherwise. 

But as we know his life was turned upside down: a change occurred that brought him persecution and suffering.  Paul makes it clear that his salvation was purely an act of God’s grace.  But he allowed that grace to work through him as he served the Lord.  And it is only by the grace of God that we also serve the Lord.

Things happen to us in our lives, some good, some bad, and some, we’d rather not have happen, so to some extent we all face persecution.  And I’m sure that when life for Paul was difficult he must have drawn strength from his conversion, and thanked God for his grace toward him.

But whatever our experiences of the risen Christ, we must not cling on to them.  Mary tried to do that when she saw Jesus in the garden on that first Easter morn.  Instead we must take them out with us, building on them, as we serve those who we share are daily lives with.  Life goes on and just as it was for Paul, so it is for us that by God’s grace we are what we are.

But how do we understand God’s grace?

Well for me God’s grace is based upon at least 4 things:

•           His love for his entire creation

•           His love for his Son

•           The death of his Son

•           The resurrection of his Son

All of this resulted in the forgiveness of our sins and the opportunity for us to receive eternal life, and so one day live with Christ in resurrection glory.  And as Paul found out, God’s grace has tremendous power, because if we accept the above we cannot help but let it change our lives.  We become a new creation renewed in body, mind and spirit, making us more like Christ and so drawing us closer to our heavenly Father.

In my experience God’s grace is ALL powerful, where ALL is spelt in capitals, yet it works so gently as it reveals to us his care, compassion, understanding and above all his love for us.  God’s grace brings us home, into the arms of his love.

So again:

•           if there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised

•           If he was not raised, there is no gospel to preach

•           If there is no gospel, then we believe in vain and we are still in our sins

The resurrection therefore is not just important; it is “of first importance,” because all that we believe hinges on it.  Without it we can never get home and my knowledge and experiences are worthless.

Christ is risen…

He is risen indeed!

Living Thoughts

Digging into God’s Word

1.         What is the central point of the Gospel?

2.         What is left of the gospel without Christ’s resurrection?

3.         What are the implications for us of Jesus’ resurrection?

4.         Why did Paul call himself the least of the apostles?

5.         Because he was least, did he just give up trying to accomplish as much as the others?

6.         List all of the implications for us, if Christ did not raise from the dead?

An outline of the Gospel worth sharing; part 1

Last week’s reading from Acts gave us a brief overview of life in the early church in relation to how they understood giving.  They saw it as a spiritual discipline, and through an extraordinary sense of unity they shared what they possessed for the common good of all.  For many this led them to sell what they had, not bric-a-brac, but items of value because they took to heart the teaching of Jesus on Kingdom principles and lifestyle.  This led to an astonishing unity that gave them a mind-set for giving, giving that arose out of knowing the needs of their fellow believers.  In deep fellowship they gave generously because they felt that they belonged to a new family, the family of Christ. 

We also saw that they gave out of the joy and power of the redemptive work of the cross of Jesus.  The grace of God was working in such a way that they gave generously and joyously.  God’s grace empowers us to do things that may otherwise seem daft in the eyes of the world.  Giving as they did empowered them to live wholeheartedly for Jesus, doing things they didn’t do before they became a follower of Jesus.

Through giving, we are not paying God back for anything that He has done for us.  No, we’re joining in the joy for which God created us, and for which Jesus redeemed us.  We are joining in the activity that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit delight in doing themselves 24/7!  I really think that this is an awesome privilege that God has freely given us – in giving spontaneously, generously and joyously we are joining in the activity that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit delight in doing themselves.  Wow!

So on to this morning’s reading from Acts 3.  Here we have Peter being chased by a crowd through Solomon’s Colonnade, which was a covered porch to the temple.  It may well have been a bit of a scary moment, all these people eager to hear what he has to say.  What’s got their attention?  He has just healed a man crippled from birth.  If you want to draw attention to yourself then perform a miracle, people will soon come running to find out more!  The crippled man didn’t get what he asked for, money, but he did get a brand-new life; he became a new creation, for he now had a life he hadn’t been able to experience before, for he had only seen life from the side lines.

Peter doesn’t waste this time to speak.  He capitalised on the opportunity, speaking spontaneously and powerfully about Jesus, because he was empowered by the grace of God.  The same grace that led the people to give to those who had need. 

The way Peter shared the message of Jesus teaches us how we ourselves can share the Gospel with others.  He presented his message by telling…

(1) Who Jesus is; the servant of God, the author of life, the Holy and Righteous One, the Son of God (v14-15).

(2) How the Jews had rejected him; they hounded Pilate until they got what they wanted.  Even though Pilate wanted to set him free the people had clamoured to have Barabbas, a murderer, released instead (see John 19:1-16). When Peter said “You handed him over to be killed”, he meant it literally (v13).  Tough talking, because Jesus’ trial and death had occurred right there in Jerusalem only weeks earlier.  It wasn’t an event of the distant past – so most of these people had heard about it, and some may very well have taken part in condemning Jesus.

(3) Why their rejection was fatal; they murdered the author of life (v15), disowning “the Holy and Righteous One” (v14).  In effect they disowned the God they worshipped!  The religious leaders thought they had put an end to Jesus when they crucified him. But their confidence was shaken when Peter told them that Jesus was alive again and that this time they could not harm him.  He boldly said this because the apostles were witnesses to this fact (v15).

Because God raised Jesus from the dead those people before Peter had an opportunity to change, so he showed them what (4) they needed to do to change, by repenting from their sin and turning to God so that their “sins may be wiped out” (v17-19).  After pointing out the sin and injustice of these leaders, Peter showed the significance of the resurrection, God’s complete triumph and power over death.

Many people want the benefits of being identified with Christ without admitting their own disobedience and the need for turning from sin.  But when we repent, God promises not only to wipe out our sins, but to bring spiritual refreshment (v19).  Repentance may at first seem painful because it is hard to give up certain sins, but God will give us a better way. As Hosea promised, “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3).

Do you feel a need to be refreshed?

So when we present the Gospel we are to say:

•           who Jesus is

•           that He was rejected by those He came to save

•           that we have all rebelled against God.

But there is hope; God raised Jesus from the dead and through repentance of sin we will be embraced by the spontaneous, generous and joyous empowering grace of God.  The significance of this grace is that we receive and know that Jesus’ resurrection is proof that God has triumphed over death itself.  For the Christian there is no death, only eternal life.  All of which makes real to us the power of God’s love for us!

So Peter tells the crowd that they have a choice; accept Jesus as the promised Saviour and Messiah, and repent of their sin, and experience refreshment from the Lord.  God is always offering people the opportunity to believe and receive Jesus as their Saviour and Messiah, and as their Lord.

Displays of God’s mercy and grace, such as the healing of this crippled man create moments when God’s love and divine supernatural power are freely on display for all to see.  Such moments show us how Heaven can powerfully invade earth in a life changing way.  So such occasions are beautiful teachable moments.

In prayer we are to ask that Jesus, not ourselves, receives the glory for the opportunities God gives us to share the Gospel.  It’s important to understand that by using Jesus’ name, Peter showed who gave him the authority and power to heal.  The apostles did not emphasise what they could do, but what God could do through them. Jesus’ name, therefore, is not to be used as magic – it must be used in faith, so when we pray in Jesus’ name, we must remember that it is Christ himself, not merely the sound of his name, who gives our prayers their power (v16).

Our response should be to pray to have courage like Peter to see the opportunities in our daily life that God gives us to witness for Christ, and to use them to speak up for Him.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! 

He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: Acts 3:11-19 & Luke 24:36-48, and let them speak to you afresh in light of sharing the Gospel.  As God speaks to you why not write in your journal what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Please consider this question in light of this week’s sermon:

In Acts 3:11-19 Peter used this phrase about Jesus, “the author of life” (v15).

As Jesus is the author of life, Jesus is to be the author of your life. As Jesus is the author of life, Jesus is also the author of eternal life!

How does knowing these truths help you in looking for and responding to the opportunities that God gives you to share who Jesus is with those you spend your time with? Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond to this question. As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Help us every day to come with anticipation into your presence.  As we take this step we ask you to roll away the stone from the tombs of our hearts, O God that we may share in the fullness of the resurrection life that your Son Jesus offers to all who put their faith and trust in Him and who call on Him as their Lord and Saviour.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! 

He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!