Stody, Hunworth and Field Dalling
Easter Sunday Morning
We have over 600 churches here in Norfolk, England dedicated to a Jewish carpenter who died two thousand years ago. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit odd?
Have you ever stopped to consider the question:
“How on earth did Christianity ever get
off the ground?”
What do I mean? There are a number of logical reasons why Christianity should never have got off the ground?
1. His background
Firstly, its founder, Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure carpenter from a backwoods of the Roman Empire - the country of Israel.
He wasn’t even a priest, a civil dignitary or a general.
He didn’t come from the one big city in Israel -Jerusalem, but from a rural town – Nazareth in Galilee.
2. Political and Religious support
The “Good and the Great” in the land did not flock to his gospel. In fact quite the reverse. They rejected his message.
Only the common people took him to heart – and at the end they deserted him.
In contrast when the founder of Islam, Mohammed he left an empire and a powerful army in place to defend it.
By the time Buddha died, he had enlisted the nobility of Nepal in his cause.
3. Short term ministry
Jesus only ministered for three years. When Mohammed died, he had ministered a number of years and left a book that he had written – “The Koran”.
When the Buddha died he too had taught for many years and left his “Writings”.
Jesus himself wrote nothing and at the time of his death, none of the New Testament books had even been written.
Unlike Mohammed - who commanded a mighty army until his death, Jesus didn’t even hold a civic office.
4. His death
Jesus was put on trial on trumped up charges and crucified – an event we remember each year on Good Friday. His followers fled and left him to it.
They fled back to Galilee and that should have been the end of it.
In contrast Mohammed died with great honour and had set up a state machinery to continue the religion he had founded.
In short, Jesus had all the hallmarks of a man who wouldn’t take too long to forget.
Now conventional wisdom would say that this is not a way to start a world religion.
But then God seems to have a rather interesting way of turning conventional wisdom on its head.
5. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Jesus made some very curious claims. One of them was: “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Jn 11:25).
When his followers claimed- like Mary Magdalene in this morning’s gospel - to have seen Him risen from the dead, it should have been laughed out of court.
The final nail in the coffin of Christianity should
have come when his disciples dared to suggest that Jesus had risen from the dead, after having been crucified and certified dead by the Roman authorities.
Let’s face it – no one in their right mind would MAKE UP such a ridiculous story about someone coming back from the dead – and even be prepared to die for it as ten of the apostles and St. Paul did for example.
None of the adherents of the other world’s great religions has ever even suggested that its founder has risen from the dead.
Surely making such a claim was a sure way to oblivion. Unless it really happened!!
One English House of Lord Judge Lord Darling said this about the veracity, in his opinion, of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
” In its favour as living truth, there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true “
5. The Witnesses
St. Paul - who was no man’s fool - had this to say:
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance :
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:3-8).
How many people did Paul say had witnessed the risen Christ?
Answer: 514 men.
Obviously as he claimed that many of the witnesses to Christ’ resurrection were still living, Paul’s enemies could have refuted him by challenging him to prove it. But – if you read the book of Acts they never bothered.
And I don’t think there is a book in the NT that doesn’t focus somewhere on the Resurrection.
For example, St. Peter writing in his first epistle writes the following:
“In his great mercy, (God) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Why because the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is key to our faith.
St Paul that great theologian put it like that:
12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. (1 Cor. 15:12-21) .
I would like to suggest to you this morning that Christianity is not just a set of good moral ethics, though it embraces them.
Christianity is not simply how we “worship God” though that is an important component of it.
Jesus and the apostles offered the hope of life after death. And the proof of the genuineness of Jesus’ teaching is that Christ was raised from the dead by God the Father.
The great message of Christianity is that we can know Christ today.
Many Christians today can vouch for the fact that they know a living Saviour.
Story: A Muslim in Africa became a Christian and some of his friends asked him why. He answered:
“Well, it is like this: suppose you were going down a road and suddenly the road forked in two directions. And you didn’t know which way to go. If you met two men at the fork – one dead and one alive – which one would you ask to show you the way?”
The message of Easter is just this.
Jesus made a tremendous claim when he said
“I am the Resurrection and the Life”.
The question you have to answer is “Do you believe him”?.
Do you really believe he rose from the dead as millions of Christians over the centuries have claimed?
If Easter is going to mean anything to us this year may I ask the question:
Do you know the risen Christ in your own life. – as St. Paul and the apostles so clearly did.
It doesn’t matter HOW you come to Christ. For example, Maddy was born into a Christian family and has known Jesus since a child and can’t tell you the exact time she made a Christian commitment. I had “more of a Damascus road” experience when I came to know Jesus in 1972 in my room at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford.
The important question I would like to leave you with is: Do you know the risen Christ today?
Because in the final analysis – that is all that will count.