Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on EASTER 2017
“Living Out the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”
Scriptures: John 20:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-19
Video is full service. Sermon begins at 36 minutes into video.
Have you ever noticed how casually people talk about Heaven? When we are surprised we utter, “Oh, my heavens!” When we are having difficulty, we declare, “Heaven help us!” When a problem seems unsolvable, we express our exasperation with the words, “Heaven only knows!” There is a perfume called “Heaven Sent” which combines the aroma of the woods and oriental spices. I’m sure some people like it, but to me it gives rise to the expression, “Stinks to high heavens.” There is a flavor of ice cream which embodies our pleasure, “Heavenly Hash.” (The emphasis being on its “heavenly” quality – not on the “hash.”) Frankly, one phrase about heaven perplexes me is, “Heavens to Betsy!” I want to know who is Betsy and why is she in heaven?
Apparently, people say a lot about heaven, but what if there is no heaven? What if everything we believe about eternal life is a fairy tale, or worse, a malicious lie? John Lennon wrote a song titled “Imagine,” which begins with the phrase, “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try.” Unfortunately, Lennon was not the first person to raise doubt about Heaven. We actually find the thought expressed in the Bible by people who claimed to be Christians.
The Apostle Paul’s whole point in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is to refute those who denied the resurrection of believers into Heaven. Paul argues that if there is no resurrection from the dead, Christians are to be pitied as people without hope:
How can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead? If there is no resurrection, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile; and you are still in your sins. And those who have fallen asleep (‘died’) in Christ are lost.” (1 Cor. 15:13-18)
Fortunately, Paul proceeds to demonstrate that this life is not all there is. He shows that the resurrection of Jesus Christ impacts our lives in three vital ways. First, he logically concludes that Christs’ resurrection provides believers with hope for eternal life. No Corinthian believer denied that Christ had risen from the dead. They simply insisted that no one else would rise from the dead. Paul maintained that the resurrection from the dead of all believers is not merely possible, it is absolutely certain and essential to the Christian faith. Indeed, if there is no resurrection, Christians should “be pitied” (15: 12-19).
Continuing in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul turns from the negative consequences of not believing in the resurrection to the positive consequences of believing in Christ’s resurrection. Paul’s second argument shows that Christ’s resurrection guarantees victory over death for us (15:20-28). He reminds the Corinthian Christians that Christ’s resurrection set in motion the defeat of sin, evil and death. Therefore, if Christ defeated death by His resurrection, we are included in His victory over death for Jesus told His followers, “I am going to prepare a place for you, that where I am there you will be also” (John 14:2-3).
Paul’s third argument in support of the resurrection of believers affirms that Christ’s resurrection gives purpose to our life. In verses 30-32 of chapter 15 Paul explains the reason he has sacrificially served God was on account of his assurance of the resurrection to eternal life. The Corinthians were well aware of the hardships, dangers, persecutions and near-death encounters which Paul endured on account of his faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:21-29; 12:9-10). Why did he continue in the faith despite such incredible resistance and suffering? Because he was assured of the resurrection to eternal life in Christ (15:32). If there was no resurrection of the dead, Paul acknowledged that he would be a fool risking his life for nothing. He admitted that if there is no resurrection, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:32).
There used to be a beer commercial which proclaimed, “You only go around once, so grab all the gusto you can get.” That slogan is a simple statement of hedonism: enjoy as much as you can because there is nothing after this life! Once a person denies the resurrection of the dead, that slogan and philosophy seem entirely logical. But since Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and since His kingdom culminates in the defeat of death, we actually go around twice!
Some people may be saying to themselves, “At least I am a Christian. I might not go to church much. I might not practice my faith regularly. Most people don’t know my Christian convictions. But I’m here today to be reassured of the resurrection to eternal life.” A recent survey indicates that 71% of Americans consider themselves Christian (2014 Pew Research Center). The Apostle Paul would have one thing to ask all of us this Easter: “Has Christ’s Resurrection changed your life?” That is not a question about whether you are a Christian or not. The question drills much deeper. It inquires as to whether you are regularly walking with God; confident of your salvation; daily demonstrating the love of Christ to others; and knowing that you are on your way to Heaven!
This morning I want to give you a chance to cross that divide and put away any uncertainty. There is one place where you need to go to realize the importance of your faith to you. You might expect me to say, “Go to the Cross.” It is a good place to go, for there you will find Jesus Christ dying for you. However, today, I invite you to journey to the empty tomb. There you will meet Jesus – He is not dead. He is risen!
There is no historical dispute that Jesus existed and was crucified. The fact that he was a man who lived 2,000 years ago, then died, is not a “hold the presses” new story. The fact that He was reported to perform miracles is not as unusual as you might think. Nor does the fact that Jesus founded a religion make Him unique. The fact that He was crucified through no fault of His own is not even uncommon – as thousands of innocent people were crucified.
However, there is one fact that makes Jesus unique – that marks Him as totally different from every great figure in history. That is the fact of His empty tomb. Within a few days after His death, reports started circulating that He had been raised from the dead and was now worthy of worship. Something dramatic happened to a timid group of Jesus’ followers who became so bold as to turn the world upside down with a message that the “Jesus whom you crucified, God has raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).
Without the resurrection the Christian religion comes tumbling down. Without Christ’s resurrection, we are still in our sins. How could Jesus work in us to forgive us and make us like Him, if He is still dead? Without the resurrection we are singing, worshiping, preaching about, and trusting in a dead man. If Jesus is dead, everything is changed!
But, as Paul declared, “Christ has been raised from the dead!” (15: 4, 20). He is not dead. He is alive! When you come face-to-face with the man whom death could not hold, you receive hope. Strengthen your faith this Easter: live out the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!