Summary: A sermon for Easter or Any Day
The Beatles came storming into the United States in 1965 and not only changed history but effectively changed the calendars of American culture from BB to AB: “before Beatles” to “after Beatles.” Whether younger generations in our culture are aware of it or not, they relate to history as if we are in the year 52 AB. Everything before 1965 is ancient history.
If you watch many of the popular street interviews you see on TV, you’ll be shocked and chagrined at how many young people who came up through the American school systems don’t even know when the Civil War was.
You will be shocked and chagrined at how they can quote verbatim the words to the latest Beyoncé or Adele song, but have no clue about the basic concepts contained in our Declaration of Independence.
Our whole culture has been uprooted from its connection to history. As far as we are concerned, the actual factual events of history are no more real (perhaps even less real) than scenes from the latest fantasy movies.
So there was a day when on Easter Sunday preachers around the country would preach sermons making the case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that would do it. That would be enough for people who might have never heard the evidence to say, “Wow! I did not know there was so much evidence. It must be true. I should become a Christian.”
Things have changed. You can preach sermons presenting historical evidence, but that won’t make a dent in the irrelevance of history to the post-modern citizen. For lots of people today, even a winning case for the resurrection is met with a mild sniff and a silent so-what.
I’m not going to take our time this morning trying to lay out that case. Anyways, if there is one thing the Bible proves, it’s this: Believing in Jesus Christ ultimately happens by a different kind of persuasion than intellectual argument. The ultimate experience of persuasion occurs in the heart of a person who humbles himself and knows in the depths of his soul that he needs to be saved from sin and self. Until that happens, no amount of proof will do the trick.
One day Jesus made that point to some Pharisees, people who thought they were too good to need salvation. He told a story of a rich man who died and went to hell, because during his lifetime he showed no compassion to a suffering beggar named Lazarus.
When this rich man appealed for mercy and comfort and found that his condition was irreversible, he pleaded for Father Abraham (the God-figure) to allow Lazarus to return from the dead to warn his family members to be more careful to show compassion. Listen to the conclusion of the story (Luke 16:29-31):
Abraham: They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.
Rich man: No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.
Abraham: If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
This is why I say trying to prove the resurrection in hopes of converting people is almost pointless. Instead today I want to talk not about proving the resurrection but about what the resurrection proves. This, as you will see, was the more important issue for the early church.
To get started let me point out how one of our traditions on Easter Sunday misses the whole point of the first Easter and the early preaching of the gospel. It has become the tradition of the church on Easter Sunday to say, “Christ is risen” and the people respond “He is risen indeed.” I am not saying that is wrong; it’s just not the profession of faith that the earliest Christians lived and died for.
Perhaps nothing reveals that better than the very first Christian sermon ever preached publicly a mere 50 days after the event. On the day of Pentecost, under the clear influence of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s sermon never once mentioned “Christ is risen.” Not once. What he did proclaim—and it made all the difference in his world, their world and should make all the difference in our world—was not Christ is risen. But “Jesus is risen.”
Acts 2:22-24 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs… This Jesus was handed over to you… and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised [this Jesus] from the dead… because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Acts 2:32-33 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.