In the Church of Christ we have no "special" services for religious holidays like Easter but the fact that Easter Sunday is celebrated by many seems to motivate people to make an extra effort to be at church service at this time. And with good reason, for on this day nearly two thousand years ago Jesus Christ rose from the dead after being crucified, then buried for three days.
He appeared to over 500 of His disciples over a period of 40 days and then, as His Apostles watched in wonder, He ascended into heaven promising them that one day He would returns. This, in a very brief summary, is the story of Jesus' resurrection as it was recorded by the eyewitnesses and preserved in the New Testament for our instruction and edification. Now if I was preaching to a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, or who had little faith, I would spend more time explaining the details of:
- His miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- His birth through Mary the virgin.
- His spectacular ministry of teaching and miracles among the Jews.
- And of course His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection three days later.
But most of you know and believe these things and have even taught others about Jesus' life and ministry followed by His death and resurrection. So this morning I won't delve into this familiar material, instead I'd like to pursue the reasons why Jesus had to resurrect.
You see, Jesus could have gone straight from death on the cross to heaven, His work complete, but He didn't. Why? Why did He resurrect and remain here for an additional 40 days? The Bible gives specific answers to this question and this morning as we contemplate the resurrection, I'd like to share these with you.
1. He had to resurrect to prove who He was.
If I ask someone, "Who is Jesus?", the answer would be, "Jesus is the Son of God; or He is divine; or He is the Messiah." All of these answers would be correct, this is who the Bible says that Jesus is. Now if I were to ask, "What proof do you have that He is divine, or that He is the Messiah, the Son of God?," what would your answer be then? If you said that your proof was:
- His wonderful teachings
- His many miracles
- His kindness and goodness
...you would be wrong. Jesus did all these things but the Bible doesn't present these as the final proof of His divinity; the sign that He was the Messiah.
No, the Bible says that His resurrection from the dead was the undeniable event that God established as the one true sign of His Divine nature. Paul explained this to the philosophers and thinkers in Athens when he preached to them saying, "(God) .. has fixed a day in which He will judge world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Acts 17:31 Paul told them that the proof that God provided all men that Jesus was the legitimate savior and judge, was the resurrection.
Yes the miracles, the teachings, the life pointed to His true identification. But the resurrection was the primary evidence given by God. And this was not something new, the fact that resurrection from the dead was to be the key sign pointing to the true Messiah and Savior was also spoken of by the prophets - long before Jesus' arrival.
Isaiah spoke of the necessary suffering death and resurrection of the Messiah in Isaiah chapter 53. And Peter quotes David's Psalms 16:8-11 where David prophesies the eventual resurrection of God's righteous one. Paul summarizes this entire argument in the first few verses of his letter to the Romans:
1Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.
- Romans 1:1-4a
Many prophets and special servants of God spoke the words of God, lived good lives, and performed miracles (even raised people from the dead). Many have begun religious movements with millions of followers. Many have died as martyrs defending their causes or their gods. But only Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead according to prophecies made about Him. No one ever prophesied about Mohammad's coming or the Buddha but the prophets spoke of Jesus and His resurrection.
Jesus had to resurrect in order to prove that He was indeed the one true divine Messiah sent by God to save all men, spoken of by the prophets. When someone questions your faith in Jesus and why you believe that He, and only He, is the divine Son of God your answer should be that you believe because God has provided His resurrection as proof of His true identity.
2. He had to resurrect to demonstrate His sinlessness.
Paul the Apostle summarized what the relationship between sin and death was. He said,
"..The wages of sin is death."
- Romans 6:23
In other words, the result or outcome of sin in your life is the eventual decay and death of your body and the separation of your soul from God. Jesus was executed and when the Roman officials were sure He was dead (they put a spear into Him and blood and water poured out signifying death) they placed Him in a tomb. Had Jesus gone straight to heaven from the tomb, many could have accused Him of not being without sin since death had the last say in His life.
When I die and am put in the ground there will be no doubt that I was a sinner. My death is proof that I carried around a sinful flesh for a short number of years. Had Jesus remained in the tomb, the same conclusion would have been drawn about Him. Now someone might ask, "What's so important about Jesus being without sin?" That Jesus was without sin was important because in order to make a sacrifice good enough to remove all of our sins, that sacrifice, that life offered had to be perfect, had to be without a single sin.
Paul says it this way,
"For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous."
- Romans 5:19
Paul is referring to Adam and Jesus here and he says that by disobedience (which is sin) Adam forfeited his life and became subject to death. Jesus then came and by His obedience (meaning He was without sin) He is able to recover not only the life that Adam lost through sin but also the lives of every person after Adam who lost their lives in this way as well. And so when Peter gets up on Pentecost Sunday to preach the gospel he begins his sermon by establishing the fact that Jesus rose from the dead because death could not hold Him.
"And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power."
- Acts 2:24
Before going on to offer the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation, Peter demonstrates that Jesus, through His sacrifice and resurrection, could legitimately offer this gift. Jesus had to rise from the dead to prove that His was indeed a perfect and sinless sacrifice able to remove the sins from out imperfect lives. Without His resurrection, we could never be sure that what He did actually could accomplish what He said it would.
3. He had to resurrect to prove we could resurrect.
I love "make-over" shows on T.V. Take someone and re-do their hair and make-up, their clothes and it is remarkable the changes it makes. This type of program is especially effective when they're trying to sell exercise tapes or diet books and systems.
Have you noticed what they do? They show a video or picture of someone who is 200 pounds overweight (385-500) and then bring out after weight loss ---> Now! Then they talk about the special diet, exercise book or tape that helped get that result. And you buy the stuff - why? Because you believe - why? Because you saw the transformation before your very eyes - that's why.
Now, imagine if they showed this 500lb. guy on a video and then claimed he was down to 195 pounds of pure muscle but you had no picture, no credible witnesses – just the company's word for it. For example, Tony would love to be here to show you how buff he is but he's at the beach today. Would you buy the stuff now? Maybe, but it would be quite a stretch wouldn't it?
From the moment Adam and Eve were removed from the perfect harmony of the Garden of Eden, man's greatest fear has been the fear of death. He fears it because it's associated with suffering and the unknown. People try to deal with death in many ways.
They go into denial by living exclusively to enjoy their existence here on this earth. They try to be philosophical and accept its inevitability. But no one has managed to come back from the dead (not just an incident where they were clinically dead for a few moments while their hearts stopped). I mean dead and buried for a few days and then come back to say what it was like.
Well, no one except Jesus Christ that is! And the good news He brings is that we don't have to be afraid of death anymore because it's not final, there is life after the experience of death and His resurrection is proof. The Hebrew writer explains it this way:
14Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
- Hebrew 2:14-15
Because we feared death, Satan seduced us into all kinds of behavior that set our hope and love on this world and this life only. But through His resurrection Jesus showed that death has been conquered and we could be free to look forward to another life, a better place than this place. Jesus' resurrection went one step further than merely proving that He had the power to resurrect – He also offered resurrection to everyone who desired it.
"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone believes in Him may have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day."
- John 6:40
Jesus could have gone straight to heaven to be with the Father and sent out the Apostles to preach resurrection for all believers but without a demonstration it would be difficult for many to believe. Jesus had to resurrect to show us, who are hard of heart and slow to believe, that our own resurrection would indeed be possible, because of His.
Some people allow the spring weather and the chocolate bunnies to cloud their vision of what this day, and every Sunday for that matter, is all about. It's about the actual physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. A resurrection done in a very public way. And why?
- To prove once and for all time that He truly is the divine Savior.
- To demonstrate that He was sinless and His sacrifice was sufficient to wipe away all of our sins.
- To assure us that our resurrection was possible because His was accomplished.
What is left is to decide what each of us will do with the resurrection of Jesus:
- You can ignore it or deny it in which case you forfeit your own. You see if you reject Jesus' resurrection, there is nowhere else to go for life after death – He's the only savior who not only promises it, but He also backs up His promise with a demonstration of His power.
- You can believe it and obtain it for yourself. Jesus says in Mark 16:16, "Those who believe and baptized will be saved." This is the way to receive the promise of resurrection – believe that Jesus is the Son of God and obey His command to be baptized. Once you have done this, the Bible promises that all who remain faithful to Jesus to the end will receive resurrection and eternal life.
- Finally, there is one other option, and that is – you can believe again. Some believe and respond to Christ but with time they begin to fade. They live more in this world and forget that death is coming and resurrection will be an important issue.
If that is you, then I encourage you to believe again, be restored to Jesus through prayer and be filled with the hope and joy that comes with the knowledge that no matter what happens in this life, the resurrection is coming. Don't leave this place today without making up your minds about the glorious resurrection – if your decision moves you to come forward please come to guarantee your resurrection now.