The Incredibleness Of Easter

1 Corinthians 15:12-21 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

INTRODUCTION
Good morning. Once again, we’re exceedingly glad that you chose to join us for our Easter celebration. To help us truly celebrate, I need you all to do your best to imagine a few scenarios.

What if I told you that this church building was constructed 1,000,000 years ago by a blind but highly intelligent badger from outer space? What would you think?

What if I told you that the breakfast we ate earlier was leftover food from George Washington’s first presidential meal, preserved for this morning by the same carbon-freezing process used on Hans Solo?

What if I told you that the fabric on your chairs was magically woven by fairies from thread made of powdered dragon scales and the frames were made of hand carved moon rock by the same fairies?

And what if I claimed that my sermon for this morning was written by an angel and delivered to me last night by unicorns who rode to my house from the heavens?

What would you think? If you know me well, I imagine you’d assume I was joking. If you’re a kid you’d probably hope at least one of these things were true—if so, this place just got a whole lot cooler. If you’re a guest, perhaps you’d rethink the wisdom of your decision to come here this morning. These are some pretty spectacular stories.

Certain claims fall into a category of being so fantastic that we must either dismiss them as nonsense (along with the people who make them and believe them), or they must change everything about how we see the world.

Here’s the key: the claims of Easter fall into that category. In fact, even though tradition and sentimentality often hide it, Easter’s claims are far more fantastic and incredible than anything I’ve said so far.

The main point of my sermon this morning is that given the incredible claims of the Easter story, there are only two appropriate responses: either: 1) we reject the claims as false and have nothing to do with Easter, pitying and distancing ourselves from those who do, or 2) we accept the claims as true and celebrate with unrivaled joy and thankfulness, inviting and pleading with those who don’t to believe and join us.

That’s it. No other options make sense. Therefore, it is my aim this morning to name the most incredible of Easter’s claims, help you become convinced that they’re true, and then call us all to respond appropriately. Let’s pray that God would do these great things…and more!

THE INCREDIBLE CLAIMS OF EASTER
Again, the central claim of this sermon is that Easter’s claims are so fantastic that we must embrace them with our entire lives or reject them entirely. I believe this because the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit believed and taught it. He laid out the same dichotomy of choices in 1 Corinthians 15:12-21, our passage for this morning. He left no room for anything other than utter rejection (if Jesus’ resurrection—the central claim of Easter—did not actually happen) and complete surrender (if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead).

He wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God …and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Likewise, he wrote, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ [that is, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, we [those of us who believe and teach that he did] are of all people most to be pitied.”

If the claims of Easter are not true, being involved with it or those who are, is vanity, deceit, futility, death, and pity. Those are pretty strong terms.

However, in the very next verse Paul also wrote, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…[and, therefore through it] has come also the resurrection of the dead.”

Again, if the claims of Easter are true, there is life, eternal life and joy, eternal joy in fellowship with God. Those too are pretty strong claims.

With that, then, let’s take a few moments to consider some of the bigger claims of Easter in order to remind ourselves of how incredible they are.

  • Easter is based on a man named Jesus who was born in a Middle Eastern village called Nazareth (Matthew 2:23). The bible teaches that before being conceived as a man in a virgin by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20), Jesus had eternally existed as the second Person of the Trinity. During his life he reportedly performed miracles (Matthew 21:14, 19; Luke 22:51; John 11:38-44), made predictions concerning the future (Matthew 24; 26:2, 13, 21, 31-34, 64; Mark 13; Luke 19:43-44; 21; 23:29-30, 43), and claimed to be the Christ (Mark 14:61-62), the Son of Man (Luke 22:70), the Son of God, equal with God, and the only way, truth, and life of God (John 14:6-7).
  • The central events of Easter are said to have been prophesied over many centuries prior to their happening (Matthew 21:4-5; 22:42; 26:54; Luke 24:27; John 12:38-41; 13:18; 19:24, 36, 37).
  • Jesus was tortured and killed (crucified) by the Romans according to the wishes of the Jews. His crucifixion was accompanied by supernatural darkness for three hours (Matthew 27:45), the supernatural tearing of the curtain of the temple (Matthew 27:51), and the supernatural shaking of the earth splitting of rocks, opening of tombs, and raising of the dead (Matthew 27:51).
  • Instead of staying dead, however, the main claim of Easter is that three days after his crucifixion Jesus rose from the dead (Matthew 28:1, 6; Luke 24:34). He came back to life.
  • After his resurrection angels of the Lord opened Jesus tomb and spoke to Jesus’ followers (Matthew 28:2-7), Jesus appeared glorified and unrecognizable to his followers (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:36-43; John 12:16), taught his followers (Luke 24:27, 44-49), promised an omnipotent, constant, helping presence to his followers (Matthew 28:20), promised to send, and then sent the Holy Spirit of God to strengthen and guide his followers (Luke 24:49), appeared and disappeared at will in the presence of his followers (Luke 24:31), visibly ascended to heaven after 40 days (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:50-53), and promised to return one day to judge the living and the dead (Matthew 25:31-46) and marry the Church.
  • Jesus, along with his disciples, claimed that the point of all of this—of Easter—is that through it, God rescued his people from his wrath produced by their rebellious, treasonous, death-producing sin ().
  • Those who trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also be raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:21).

These are just some of the remarkable claims surrounding Easter. But they are the central claims that Christians have believed for over two millennia. Strung together like this, it’s easy to see how incredible they are and how obvious it is that there really is no middle ground in approaching them.

THE INCREDIBLE EVIDENCE FOR EASTER
Again, I hope to have just helped you see the incredibleness of the claims of Easter in a newer and clearer light. I also hope to have convinced you that in light of the absolutely incredible claims there are only two appropriate responses. If so—that is, if I’ve been successful in convincing you of these two things—then I hope that you’re all already asking yourselves an important, indeed crucial, question: how do I know that the claims are true? Or, why would anyone accept them as true?

There are two main answers to that question.

Historical evidence
First, a careful examination of the historical evidence will attest to it. It’s important for Christians and skeptics alike to understand that Christians don’t believe the claims of Easter in merely spiritual or religious or sentimental terms. Christians believe that they actually happened, and their actual happening is necessary for our salvation. In other words, it is the Christian position that if a video camera had been present in Jerusalem during the final week of Jesus’ life it would have recorded all of the things the gospels record, including the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

But again, why would we believe this? Consider the following two simple, yet powerful answers.

First, immediately after the fact, Christians claimed that the tomb of Jesus was found empty on the third day after his public crucifixion. What’s more, they also claimed that Jesus had, in fact, been raised from the dead and appeared to them along with hundreds of others (1 Corinthians 15:6). Everyone involved, especially the Romans and the Jews, had a vested interest in quickly and loudly disproving the claims of these claims. And historians universally agree that none of them did. No one was able to locate the body.

The second key piece of historical evidence is found in the inadequacy of all of the attempts to explain the missing body. Historically, there have been two main explanations offered by skeptics. Some have claimed that Jesus wasn’t really dead; that his death was faked; that he survived the beatings and crucifixion and was placed in the tomb alive (later to limp away under his own power or with the help of others). Others have claimed that Jesus did in fact die, but his body was later smuggled out by the disciples in an attempt to keep the myth alive. It is argued that these are two realistic and possible explanations for the empty tomb.

And yet, the account of Jesus’ torture and the historical evidence of the precision, brutality, and success with which Rome crucified people (Roman soldiers would be put to death themselves if they let a prisoner down from a cross before he died) make his survival virtually impossible. What’s more, if he had survived and escaped, or if his followers had stolen his dead body from the tomb, it’s inconceivable that Jesus’ pitiful condition and the hoax he was trying to perpetuate would have been unnoticed by his followers. And certainly, then, they would not have continued to proclaim his name at the cost of their own lives.

The simplicity of these rebuttals to skeptical explanations of the missing body of Jesus is their greatest strength.

There is, of course, a good deal more that could be said, but the simple fact remains: a true and accurate understanding of history will demonstrate the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and it is right, therefore, to believe in it.

The Spirit of God
Ultimately, however, the bible teaches that because of the spiritual blindness caused by our sin, in spite of any and all of the historical evidence for Easter, its claims will remain folly (either rejected as actual foolishness or embraced only nostalgically as another children’s fairytale) to all mankind apart from God’s intervention.

Of this, Paul wrote (in 1 Corinthians 1:18-24), For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Paul’s point is that the great hope of the unbeliever isn’t that enough evidence will be presented to them to convince them. An actual video recording wouldn’t even suffice. The cross and resurrection of Jesus will remain folly to all apart from God’s intervening grace.

Concerning this reality Jesus said to a man named Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

To the people of Ephesus Paul wrote that it was only after, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened [by God], that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:18-21).

The ability to see and believe the great claims of Easter is a gift from God. But the good news of the gospel is that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Call, therefore, this day on the name of the Lord and be saved. Salvation is offered to you by grace through faith in Jesus because of the events we celebrate today.

And yet, once again, then, this leaves us with the question of what we’re to do with all of this. If they are not true, as I said earlier, there’s no sense wasting your time here. Indeed, our best bet would be to back away slowly and do our best to get proper help for everyone who thinks otherwise.

But if it’s true—if the events and claims of Easter are true—well, then…that’s a different story and that story leads immediately to two things.

THE INCREDIBLE RESPONSE TO EASTER
It leads to unrivaled joy and thankfulness and inviting and pleading.

Unrivaled joy and thankfulness
For those of us who believe that God did raise Jesus from the dead to pay for our sins, today is a day of unrivaled celebration. Nothing in history comes within a million miles of being on equal footing with Easter—no sports victory, relationship, birth of a child, healing from sickness, promotion at work, angelic visit, nothing.

In our hearts and lives, nothing must compete with Easter for our greatest affections and celebrations. Have gladness today with family or friends. Drink special drinks, eat special foods, wear special clothes, play special games, but do it all, not to produce or generate celebration, but as an expression of your satisfaction in God at his glorious, saving work in your lives.

Inviting and pleading
And second, we must not keep this good news to ourselves. We must boldly take it to our homes—tell your parents and kids about this great news. We must take it to our neighborhoods—tell the gas station attendant on the way home and your neighbors when you get home; invite them to join you. And we must take it to the nations—pray for our missionaries today, write them a letter and consider giving in greater measure or even preparing to go yourself to the nations.

Again, these are the only things that make sense. Let’s give ourselves entirely to them—to unrivaled celebrations and courageous inviting and pleading.

CONCLUSION
And so let’s conclude where we began.

1 Corinthians 15:12-21 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

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