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?

Resurrection Reflection

I love this season in the Christian calendar – The Easter season – with all these wonderful accounts of Jesus appearing to His disciples.  It’s well worth reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, they are so encouraging and uplifting, particularly as we cope with Covid-19.  These resurrection appearances of Jesus are the opposite of this time, so do read them; they are so uplifting as they point us to the only one who is the source of all life, hope and love. 

Acts 1:3 gives the impression that Jesus had several live encounters with the disciples – “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

In many of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, people who saw Him had a difficult time recognising Him.  Mary thought Jesus was the gardener (John 20:14 – 15) before He spoke her name (John 20:16).  The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not realise they were talking to Jesus (Luke 24:15 – 16).  The disciples had difficulty recognising Jesus on the shore (John 21:4).  In these resurrection accounts, all of the people ultimately do recognise Jesus.  Yet there is something that makes His appearance different than it was before His arrest and crucifixion.

As we seek to understand our own resurrection in Christ, it’s important for us also to appreciate the new quality of His re-emergence, because Jesus’ resurrection was experienced by His Disciples as something far beyond the resuscitation of a corpse.  Rather, Jesus had taken up a wholly new and transformed humanity that was beyond anything they could fully describe or had ever experienced.

But what about us today?

The ultimate hope of all believers is not heaven, but the new heaven and new earth, of which Jesus emphatically says, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).  Was he eluding to this in John 14 when he said he was going ahead to prepare a room for His disciples? – just a thought.  The essence of the word “new” in that phrase from Revelation 21 is not “different,” or “new” in terms of time, but rather “new” in terms of QUALITY.  One day Jesus will make all things that do exist new or better, fuller, more complete; this is certainly resurrection language.

In other words, the ultimate hope of the believer is the resurrection—when God will do for us and for all creation what He did for Jesus on Easter Day.  The resurrected Jesus was still the same Jesus who had lived for more than thirty-three years and worked among the disciples for more than three years, but He was changed — He was “new,” He was more, He was resurrected.

Paul gives us an exciting glimpse of this coming reality (1 Corinthians 15:42–44; 49–54).  These are such amazing life affirming words of Paul that it is worth spending a little time looking at them. 

In these words, Paul discusses what our resurrected bodies will be like. If you could select your own body, what kind would you choose: strong, athletic, beautiful?  Paul explains that we will be recognised in our resurrected bodies, yet they will be better than we can imagine, for they will be made to live for ever!  We will still have our own personalities and individualities, but these will be perfected through Christ’s work.  The Bible does not reveal everything that our resurrected bodies will be able to do, but we know they will be perfect, without sickness or disease (see Philippians 3:21).

This time is showing us that our present bodies are perishable and prone to decay.  However, Jesus shows us that our resurrection bodies will be transformed.  These spiritual bodies will not be limited by the laws of nature.  I do not believe that this will mean that we will be super people, but our bodies will be different from, and more capable than our present earthly bodies because we will become spiritual bodies, and these spiritual bodies will not be weak, will never get sick, and will never die.

We all face limitations.  In one way or another we all have physical, mental, emotional disabilities.  However, Jesus spoke how the blind will see life in a new way, how the deaf will hear God’s Good News, and how the lame will be able to walk in God’s love.  As Jesus spoke such words we, His followers, should have the encouragement that any disabilities we may have are only temporary, for Paul tells us that we all will be given new bodies when Christ returns and that these bodies will be without disabilities, never to die or become sick. This can give us hope in our suffering.

Satan may have seemed to be victorious in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and at the cross of Jesus. but God turned Satan’s apparent victory into defeat when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. (Colossians 2:.15; Hebrews 2:14, 15),  Thus death is no longer a source of dread or fear.  Christ overcame it, and one day we will also.  The law will no longer make sinners out of us who cannot keep it.  Death has been defeated, and we have a glorious life beyond the grave.

This all goes to show that God’s plans for His people in Christ are so good!  The sure hope that we as believers have is that, one day, the whole creation will be made new, and all will be made right.  As this happens, God himself will dwell among us His people, and He will wipe every tear from our eyes.  More than that, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).  All because Christ is the resurrection and the life.

In the new heaven and new earth, Jesus will reign fully and forever, and everything will be as it should be.  There will be no sin and no possibility of sin, and believers will finally live the lives God had designed them to live from the beginning of time.

For reflection: As you think back on the glorious resurrection of Christ, let it be a reminder to look forward to our future resurrection in Christ.

Based on a sermon from 19th April 2020, 2nd Sunday after Easter

Christ is risen!

Image by TC Perch from Pixabay

Over 10 years ago I said these words….

As I look around, I see great events playing out on the world stage: Efforts are being made to bring democracy to regions of the world where there is none. World health organisations are working around the clock to stem the tide of TB and SARS, diseases which if not fought might become another black plague. We now have an unprecedented ability to communicate ideas and beliefs to any part of the world and to any person in the world. We now have the ability to move produce and goods around the world which makes it possible as never before to bring significant relief to regions of the world that suffer.

All these efforts were to help bring life, and the world appeared to have become so small…

Yet, as I watch the world today, I think, “wow, what a difference Covid -19 has caused”.  We are facing a new black plague… the whole world is in lock-down.  What an impact this is having on our daily lives.  Before our very eyes the world appears to be re-shaping; many things may never be the same again.

But then I am reminded of two things.

First, I am reminded that no event in history has shaped the world like the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and secondly, I am reminded of this simple fact about life; life does not go on forever. There is death.

Every one of us must face our mortality.  Now is the time to think about our own death – what arrangements have we made so that our loved ones know our desires and plans?

Advances in science and medicine cannot prepare us to answer the ultimate questions in life.  And yet this morning through Jesus’ Resurrection I can boldly proclaim hope and life. Yes, there is death.  But life is in Jesus Christ, the hope of our resurrection.

Questions many often ask have taken on a new immediacy, questions such as:

  • Is there hope?
  • Is there new life?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Is there reason for joy?

The answer to such questions has arrived this day (Easter Sunday). It is here waiting for you. It is a three-word message:

Christ Is Risen!

This is good news for the depressed.  Good news for those who have lost loved ones.  Good news to those who have lost their joy.  Christ is risen!

But what are the implications of Easter?

First, the disciples were changed. The most telling evidence of the resurrection is not the empty tomb but the transformation of the disciples to new life. Their disappointment changed to exhilarating joy. Their fear changed to an evangelical boldness.

They assumed a new audacity. In less than two months they went from cowardly disciples who locked themselves behind closed doors for fear of the Jewish authorities, to courageous apostles who stood before thousands in the presence of the Jewish authorities proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, because of the resurrection our view of death has changed.  The resurrection affirms our instinctive conviction that death is not the end of a person’s story.  For Christians their story is rooted in the heart of God, who is the source of all life.

It is, of course, true, that a day shall come when we shall all die and in time no living person will speak our name.  But the resurrection affirms that God will always know our name, that he will never stop loving us because He has gifted us with eternal life.  Death has been swallowed up in the victory eternal life.

Finally, because of the resurrection, our view of Jesus has changed. It is interesting that the story ends as it began. At the birth of Jesus, the angel’s message to the shepherds was: Be not afraid. When Mary comes to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday the message is: Be not afraid.

We have come full circle. Yet it appears that we are frightened of God, despite being taught that God is love!  And we have good reason – we know God’s purity and we know our inadequacy. Yet, because of the resurrection, our whole understanding of God is different. Why? Because our understanding of Jesus is different. The one on the cross and the one who rose from the dead is none other than God incarnate. Jesus the Galilean is God in human form.

The nail prints in his hands tell us that our Almighty God experienced human suffering. Yet, He is none other than your shepherd fighting for your survival in the valley, your bread sustaining you during the famine, your counsellor who defends you on judgement day.

He is the door, the vine, the gate, the light of the world. He is your sacrifice before God for the sins you have committed. So the nail prints qualify Him to stand before God and plead our case.

And how do I know this? One reason….. He lives!

The empty cross, and His resurrection to new life gives us a whole new understanding of Jesus. Because of the resurrection we have a hope and a new life that the world cannot give, and that cannot be taken from us so…. do not be afraid.

The message that all have been waiting for has this day arrived. It is a three-word message:

Christ Is Risen!

Easter Day, 12th April 2020

Bible reading: John 20:1-18