Summary: An apologetic and evangelistic message on the truth and consequences of the resurrection.
Easter Sunday, 2002
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Quintin morrow
The men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
An American on vacation in Mexico was strolling outside his hotel in Acapulco, enjoying the sunny, warm Mexican weather. Suddenly, his attention was seized by the screams of a woman kneeling frantically in front of a child, and by the now gathering crowd of natives and tourists.
The man knew enough Spanish to determine that the child had swallowed a coin. Rushing into the circle of people, the man without thinking grabbed the child by the heels, held him upside down and shook him violently. After about a minute, an American quarter dropped from the child’s mouth and rolled down the sidewalk.
The woman who had been screaming, obviously the boy’s mother, was overcome with gratitude. In the best English she could muster she said, “Oh, muchas gracias, senor!” “You seemed to know just how to get it out of him. Are you a doctora?”
“No, senora,” the man replied sheepishly, staring down at the pavement, “actually, I work for the Internal Revenue Service.”
According to the old saw, the only two constants in this life are death and taxes. But we would be well advised to call the truth of that statement in question. You see, two thousand years ago a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth was crucified by the Romans for sedition. His body was wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in the borrowed tomb of a friend. The tomb was sealed, and soldiers of the emperor were placed to guard the entrance to prevent his corpse from being stolen. And three days later, this Jewish carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus, son of Mary, and Son of God, was resurrected from the dead. If that story is true, and I am telling you it is, then maybe death isn’t what it used to be. If this man came back from the dead, maybe He has the power to bring others back from the dead. Maybe, since one man wrestled with death and defeated it, death has been de-clawed and de-fanged. Maybe, death is dead. Maybe the only constant left in life is taxes. Imagine that.
It all hangs on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If He didn’t really rise from the dead, then Jesus was a liar, the Bible is fiction and Christianity is the most inviting and persuasive but evil scam ever perpetrated on the human race. Let’s be clear: There really isn’t a middle road, a place for ambivalence or much wiggle room. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead cannot be true for me and not true for you, or true for him and not for her. It is claims to be a historically verifiable event occurring in space and time, like the invention of the telephone, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the D-Day landings on Normandy or the sinking of the Titanic. Either the resurrection is true, or it is false. If false, then the eleven disciples of Jesus vainly died the death of martyrs, the early Christians who were fed to lions in Roman coliseums threw their lives away for nothing, and the Christians suffering today around the globe are suffering for a lie, because they all believed and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. People will suffer and die for all sorts of silly causes, but a lie they know to be a lie isn’t one of them. Paul puts the matter rather succinctly in I Corinthians:
If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those who have died in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (I Cor. 15:16-18).
What if it’s true? What if Jesus Christ really rose from the dead? Well, then, this resurrection has profound, cosmic, universal and personal consequences.
Can we know? I think so. It is as simple as weighing the likelihood of the resurrection against its alternatives. As out- rageous to our reason as the resurrection sounds, the alternatives to it require a greater exercise of faith then simply believing that the resurrection of Jesus is true.
We know Jesus lived and died. Apart from the Gospels, secular contemporary Roman records verify that much. But did He rise from the dead? Perhaps the disciples just hallucinated and thought they saw Him resurrected. The problem here is that you must believe that hallucinations happen to groups and not to individuals. Moreover, at the writing of his First Corinthian letter, the Apostle Paul was able to produce over 500 people who had seen Jesus back from the dead. Maybe Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Perhaps he simply slipped into a coma, and the soldiers thought he was dead. Possibly the cool air of the tomb revived Jesus, he came from the tomb and His disciples saw Him said He had been resurrected. The difficulty here, of course, is that you must ignore three important facts. One, the Romans were masters at crucifixion, it being a form of capital punishment of their invention. Two, Roman soldiers who botched crucifixions were themselves crucified. And three, we know from John’s Gospel that the soldiers broke the legs of the two other malefactors who were crucified with Jesus, and a soldier thrust a spear into Jesus’ side, all to insure that the three victims that day were indeed dead. Could it be that the disciples went to the wrong tomb, found it empty and proclaimed Jesus had risen from the dead? The hitch here is that it isn’t just an empty which is the primary evidence for the claim that Jesus Christ is alive today. It is His resurrected body. The disciples and the women who followed Jesus in His earthly ministry saw Him put to death, helped to bury Him and three days alter encountered Him walking and talking and eating. Moreover, they willingly sacrificed their lives rather than deny that they had seen Him alive from the dead. Maybe the disciples conspired together to propagate a hoax. Chuck Colson, the former Nixon advisor who did jail time for his complicity in the Watergate break-ins, tells how difficult it is to keep a cover-up going. Colson said that when the news media began investigating the Watergate break-in, all of President Nixon’s top advisors got together and agreed to the same story, the same dates, the same facts, all to protect the most powerful man in the world. Yet, Colson says, as soon as the media scrutiny began in earnest, every one of them folded like a cheap suit. Colson’s point is this: If 6 Harvard and Yale educated men could not withstand a modicum of media scrutiny to protect the most powerful man in the world, how likely is it that 11 Galilean fisherman could withstand torture, imprisonment and death to cover a hoax concerning an obscure, itinerant Jewish rabbi. No. As incredible as the resurrection seems to us, the alternatives are more incredible.