Happy Easter everyone! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!
Today we’re beginning a new series called The Easter Challenge, a 30-day Journey to a Deeper Faith. We’ll be talking about the evidence of our faith, the need, the truth, the mission, and the journey. Whether you are just being introduced to Jesus or you are a long-time believer, this series is designed to help you take the next step into a deeper faith. And starting today, each week you’ll get a different challenge to do that will help you take that next step.
As we go through the message today, you’re going to need a few things. First, at the end of the message, we are going to celebrate Holy Communion. The good Lord can bless the elements from wherever you are today, so you’ll need a piece of bread and some juice. Before you get up to get those things, you are also going to need a cross, one you can hold in your hand. It can be a cross necklace or bracelet, a decorative cross on the shelf, one on the wall, or one you carry in your pocket. If you don’t have anything that like that, then get a piece of paper and draw one.
I ask that you hold on to the cross while you hear the message today. Take a good look at the cross you are holding. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cross necklace, or bracelet, or a decorative cross from your home. They come in all different designs and colors. Some are gold, some are sliver, some have diamonds in them, some are wooden, some metal, some are ceramic. Whatever type of cross you are holding right now, whatever it looks like, it’s a special piece because it’s the symbol of our faith.
Have you ever thought about what the cross really is though? Originally, 2,000 years ago, the cross was the tool Rome used to execute its criminals. It wasn’t just a form of execution; it was a form of torture and humiliation where the victim suffocated to death from the weight of their own body.
If you had worn a cross necklace around your neck at that time, it would be like wearing a symbol of death and torture. Now don’t stop wearing your cross because I said that. In fact, such an ugly instrument has become a thing of elegance and beauty. It’s actually a testimony and a clear picture of what Easter is all about.
The Resurrection took things that were broken, cruel, harsh, and ugly and made them beautiful again. The Resurrection is redemption, a transformation. The Resurrection doesn’t make the cross a little less barbaric, a little smoother, or a little kinder. The Resurrection is so powerful and so all-encompassing that it has taken a symbol of death and transformed it into our symbol of grace, salvation, and life.
Maybe you haven’t thought of the cross you are holding like that before, but today I want to take you back to the reality of what really happened on the day that is being celebrated by more than two billion people across the world this weekend. We’re going to look at two important aspects of the Resurrection: The evidence of the event and The amazing beautiful transformation it brings.
The Great Proof
Jesus foretold several times that His death and resurrection would happen. We can read them in passages like:
“[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
Now even if disciples like Peter didn’t want to believe Him in the moment, soon enough Jesus’ Resurrection would prove, especially to them, that what Jesus said was true.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:17–22, “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.”
This is the Christian faith. Belief in the Resurrection is the Christian faith. It is proof that all Jesus did and all Jesus said was true. Without the Resurrection, Jesus’ claim in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” doesn’t make any sense. But with the Resurrection, that same claim now becomes our great and only hope for salvation.
While scholars may argue over what some of Jesus’ words meant, no serious Bible scholar denies that Jesus was a historical figure who had a profound impact on His immediate world. In fact, historical witnesses outside of the Bible confirm that Jesus lived and was crucified. Amazingly, historical witnesses also prove that Jesus’ earliest followers were extremely serious about their devotion to Him, His teachings, and His resurrection.
For example, around AD 116, the Roman senator and historian Tasitus wrote about how the Emperor Nero burned Rome in AD 64, then blamed it on, “the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Chris-tus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate.”
Other non-Christians such as the Jewish historian Josefus wrote about Jesus and His followers as well. Before Tasitus wrote his history, a Roman governor, Pliny the Younger, complained in a letter about how the early Christians he persecuted and punished would “sing hymns to Christ as to a god.”
Dr. Paul Maier called this “positive evidence from a hostile source. In essence, if a source admits a fact that is decidedly not in its favor, the fact is genuine.” These and other witnesses confirm that something monumental and transforming had taken place in the followers of Jesus. Even the pagan Roman rulers testified to the fact that the earliest followers of Jesus, who knew Jesus, did not consider Him to be an ordinary man.
The Great Cost
This brings us to another ugly reality that had a beautiful result. In the years after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples faced persecution and rejection. Acts 12:2 tells us the apostle James was killed by Herod. The Jewish historian Josefus told us that James, the half-brother of Jesus, was stoned to death by Jewish leaders. Tradition tells us that all of the other remaining apostles except for John died as martyrs. There is convincing evidence both inside and outside of the Bible that a number of the apostles died for their faith and that they all faced significant persecution for their belief in Jesus’ Resurrection.
Of course, Christianity isn’t the only world religion that has martyrs. But what makes these martyrs so unique is that they died for their belief in something they saw with their own eyes; Jesus’ Resurrection. Peter, James, Matthew and others knowingly and willingly died at the hands of various rulers for either a lie they purposely fabricated or for a historical event they witnessed with their own eyes. Many people in history have died for what they truly believed, as a result of what others have told them. But these apostles willingly gave their lives for what they saw with their own eyes.
Their determined faithfulness to believe and proclaim the Resurrection brought no fame, no power, no status. Rather, it cost them everything! Here is where we find the beautiful truth of this reality. There was a transformation in the hearts of the disciples because of the certainty of what they saw; the Resurrection!
A Change of Heart
You might remember that before the Resurrection, Peter was afraid to admit to a young servant girl that he knew Jesus. Yet after the Resurrection, Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus not just to one young slave girl but to thousands of men and women. In Acts 4, Peter and John spoke boldly about Jesus. We’re told when the high priest and leaders “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” (verse 13).
The beauty of the Resurrection is the transformation power it brings! Peter and John were changed by it. Countless people throughout the ages have been transformed by it. Today you can be transformed by it as well. At the moment the Resurrection comes into our lives, every other moment is transformed from being stuck and bound by the things of this earth to being freed and prepared for the things of heaven.
For the Resurrection to come into your life is to believe in the cross. In that belief, Jesus takes all our sin and all our failures and makes us beautiful again. Even our greatest failures of the past are completely and totally transformed. At the cross, God forgives and redeems our very worst moments. At the Resurrection, those moments are turned into victory, they are a testimony of God’s amazing grace, mercy, and love.
In the Resurrection, you and I can say, “God saves people who have done even the very worst things I have done. My failure is no longer my shame. Instead, it has been transformed by the Resurrection into my story of how good God is, even when I’m not.” How powerful His love can be even when we are unloving. How far His grace reaches when we fail. How completely He can change the way a person thinks, how a person lives, and even who a person is.
Some people point to Jesus’ half-brother James as one of the greatest proofs that Jesus rose from the dead. We read in John 7:5 that before the Crucifixion, James didn’t believe in Jesus. But after the Resurrection, James is the central elder of the Christian church in Jerusalem.
Think about your brother or sister for a moment. In the book ‘Irresistible’ by Andy Stanley, he asked this question, “What would your brother have to do to convince you he was the Son of God?” Wouldn’t the answer be, “Something like rise from the dead”?
Before the Crucifixion, every single one of the twelve disciples deserted Jesus and ran away. After the Resurrection, all eleven of the surviving disciples boldly proclaimed the message of His death and Resurrection. Something happened to them that can only be explained through their first-hand witness of the Resurrected Jesus.
The Empty Tomb
Even the cold, dark tomb itself is transformed into a symbol of hope! Matthew 28:13 shows us that there is very little debate as to whether or not the tomb was empty. Even Jesus’ critics admitted it was empty. Rather than just rolling the stone back across the entrance and saying, “Jesus is still there,” the Jewish leaders bribed the guards and told them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’”
The priests couldn’t produce proof that Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, so this statement seemed to be a reasonable excuse for the empty tomb. However, over the years and decades, their lie unraveled as the disciples faced persecution and death for their insistence that the body could not be found because Jesus actually rose from the dead. More than five hundred different eyewitnesses even saw the risen Lord in the weeks after His Crucifixion.
When you’re looking for hope, my guess is the last place you want to go is to a graveyard. But the Resurrection does more than put a nice stamp on a tombstone. The Resurrection transforms the meaning, the impact, and the result of the grave itself. Now the cold, dark tomb is a symbol of hope and life. Hope is now found in the tomb because Jesus was not found in it. He died for our sins, and three days later, He rose again from the dead. And that changes everything!
Death is no longer a prison, but a passage into God’s presence. Without the Resurrection, death is the tragic ending to life. But with the Resurrection, death is just the beginning of eternal life, where our eternal glory begins.
Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:1–4, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
The Change Is Complete
The Resurrection makes us new. It doesn’t make us a little bit better. It’s not one step on the road to self-improvement. It doesn’t help us be good. What so many people don’t understand is that being good or better isn’t the issue. Being good enough or kind enough isn’t what God is looking for. Look, to be human means to have the potential for incredible goodness and moments of exceptional kindness and generosity. But humanness also means to have moments of selfishness, greed, and corruption. To be separated from God, in need of forgiveness and transformation. Some would say, “Well, if God wants to separate Himself from me just because I’m human, I don’t want anything to do with a God like that anyway.” But we fail to understand that we have separated ourselves. The Crucifixion and Resurrection are God’s work to close the gap. And God loves you so much that He made a way for you despite your human weakness.
It would kind of be like if I threw this huge Hollywood-style party at an incredible mansion, and I handed you an invitation. I then said to you, “In order to get into the party, you have to have an invitation.” And you said, “Well if I have to have an invitation, I’m not coming to your party.” I gave you the invitation—that’s how you get in. It is, after all, my party…however everyone’s invited to Jesus’ party!
God has extended the invitation of the Resurrection to anyone who will simply put their faith in Jesus. He didn’t make it too hard for us. In Romans 10:9, Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” If you don’t want Him on this earth, He’s not going to force you to be with Him forever in heaven. If you don’t want to accept His invitation, He won’t force you to take it.
Understand this though: God’s call is not for you to be better. His plea is not “Get it under control.” His call is “Come.” Come to the cross and die to your will.
- Die to the substitutes for God in your life.
- Die to your sin that lingers all around you.
To take His invitation is to lay down your pride and the weakness of your humanity and to be transformed by the Resurrection. Let the righteousness of Jesus make you right.
- Look to the goodness of God to make you good.
- Look to the forgiveness of the cross to make you whole.
- Let the power of the Resurrection make you free.
He doesn’t just want you to be good. He wants you to be forgiven so that you can be near.
Let me remind you of where we began. The cross that you are holding is a symbol that reminds us that God’s heart is to take what is broken, dark, and ugly and to resurrect it into something beautiful.
Join in on the Resurrection right now
So I want to give you an opportunity to join in on the Resurrection right now. It’s not because I want you to be like me. It’s because I hope for your soul to be beautiful and free. I hope that you will experience what it means to have your most ugly moments transformed into a story of God’s forgiveness, love, and grace.
That change begins with a prayer. But I want you to know it doesn’t end there. In fact, praying this prayer from your heart means that you want to live in the Resurrection for the rest of your life and all eternity. It means that you will ask Jesus to forgive your sins and to guide your life. When you make this decision through this prayer, you will be changed whether you feel it or not. You will be forgiven. You will be a child of God. But it’s not the end. Instead, it’s the beginning of lifelong transformation where the Resurrection works deeper and deeper into your heart every day from here on out.
If you have not experienced the transformative power of the Resurrection in your life, today is the day to enter into it. If you have already put your faith in Jesus, today is the day to move forward in its power to make you bold in your testimony of Jesus. So if that’s the journey you want to begin, if you want to accept God’s invitation, pray this Resurrection prayer with me right now. I’ll lead you in it. You can repeat after me.
Dear God, I admit that I have done some ugly things, I ask for forgiveness for my sin. Thank You that Jesus paid the price on the cross for me. I put my faith in Jesus. I ask Jesus into my heart. I am ready to take part in Your Resurrection. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit. As I give my life to you. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Whether you prayed this for the first time right now or if you’ve given your life to Jesus years ago, your challenge this week is to come back next week to watch Part Two. If you want to take it a step further, share this message with someone, whether through FB, by a phone call.
- Trisha Guise, Pastor