What difference does the Resurrection make?

sunriseNote to reader: I preached this sermon on Sunday, April 1, 2018 at University Church of the Nazarene on the campus of Africa Nazarene University, Ongata-Rongai, Kenya.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the Common English Bible.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Scripture reading: Acts 2:22-36 (CEB)

–prayer–

I. INTRODUCTION

Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed]. Several times today, we’ve repeated those words. But what would we say to a child who asks: “What difference does the resurrection make?” By the end of this messsage, we’ll know the answer to that question.

II. LIGHT ALWAYS FOLLOWS DARKNESS

Traditions have grown up around Easter that have little to do with the meaning of the day. The word “Easter” itself is of obscure origin. It may have come from an old English word referring to the goddess of Spring.

As a child, Easter meant wearing new clothes, a special outfit bought just for the day. Easter was also the day for the Easter Bunny who would deliver chocolates in a basket that we had to find hidden somewhere in the house. Or maybe there was an Easter egg hunt, children dashing about, looking for colored eggs.

These activities are fun for children but have little to do with the meaning of this day. And so instead of “Easter” we often now simply say “Resurrection Sunday.” For Christians, Resurrection Sunday is the surprise ending in a story that could have turned out much different, much darker. The joy and celebration of our living Christ is only meaningful when you linger at the foot of the Cross and behold the shame of a naked, lifeless Jesus. Only then does our Lord – clothed in glory and majesty, powerful and alive – stand magnificent in contrast. The bright light of Resurrection Morning is to us so precious because we have known the utter darkness of Holy Saturday.

And so here is the first answer to the question, “What difference does the Resurrection make?” It gives us hope that no matter how dark our lives may seem, light always follows darkness. The words of the song by Bill and Gloria Gaither ring true:

Hold on, my child!

Joy comes in the morning.

Weeping only lasts for the night.

Hold on, my child!

Joy comes in the morning.

The darkest hour means dawn

Is just in sight.

Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed!]

III. EVIL SHALL NOT PREVAIL

When I look at the story of the Resurrection, and when I ask – “What difference does the Resurrection make?” – I’m drawn to the battle between good and evil.

If you zoom out from the Resurrection and look at Jesus’ broader ministry, this epic struggle between what is true and holy vs. what is wicked and deceitful comes into clearer focus. In Acts 2:22-36, our main passage for today, Peter recaps in a few short verses this cosmic drama. Verse 22 reminds us that Jesus did “miracles, wonders, and signs.”

There’s a reason people loved Jesus, because Jesus loved people.

Out of a good heart, Jesus brought forth good things. He was moved with compassion, Matthew 9:36 tells us, “because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” And so Jesus embraced them, he healed them, and he showed them the way to his Father’s loving heart.

And yet many rejected Jesus. John 3:19 (NIV) insists: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” You can hear the evil taunts the day they crucified Jesus. Pilate asked: “What crime has he committed?” And they shouted: “Crucify him!” And even as Jesus hung suspended between earth and heaven, some mocked him: “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” (Matt. 27:42a). Or: “He’s the King of Israel, so let him come down from the cross now. Then we’ll believe in him” (27:42b).

crucifx regina mundi

If the story had ended there – in mockery, in shame, in blood, in a lifeless, rotting corpse in a borrowed tomb – you and I would not be gathered today in worship. Likewise, Peter knew that if the bad guys had won, there would be no good news to preach. But listen to Acts 2:24:

God raised him up! God freed him from death’s dreadful grip, since it was impossible for death to hang on to him.

Referring to Psalm 16, Peter rejoices that God did not abandon his only Son to the grave. God would not let Jesus see decay. It’s as if God stood up and looked down from heaven at Jesus’ lifeless body and said: “This shall not stand!”

So what difference does the Resurrection make? The Resurrection is God proclaiming for all to hear: “Evil shall not prevail.”

We live in a world where too often it seems like evil wins. The old saying that “nice guys finish last” too often is true. We live as children of light, and where do we end up? On a cross, mocked by the crowd. And in those excruciating moments when no good deed goes unpunished, it is then that we must catch another glimpse of the Empty Tomb. God will not abandon us; evil will not triumph. As we sing so often in church:

Who has the final say?

Jehovah has the final say.

Peter believed it. Acts 2:36 concludes: “Therefore, let all Israel know that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” Christ is Risen! [He is risen, indeed!]

IV. BECAUSE HE LIVES, SO SHALL WE

A few years ago, I posted a question on Facebook: “What happens when we die?” I’d been having a discussion with Michael, a philosophy lecturer who was an atheist. He’d mustered all of his arguments against me, trying to deconstruct my Christian faith. And I doubt I made much headway with him. But he replied to my FB question, “What happens when we die?” His answer was short: “We become worm food.”

Paul acknowledges the logic of Michael’s view, and he strongly rejects it. Now, there’s no question that when we die, our bodies decay, but is that the end of the story? In 1 Corinthians 15:16, Paul answers the Michaels of his day: “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.” He continues is vv.  17-19:

If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only for this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.

Yet Christ was raised. Anyone who has gardened knows that there is always one tomato that ripens first. And when you taste that juicy red tomato, you can be sure that more are on the way. So Paul affirms in 1 Cor. 15:20: “Christ is the first crop of the harvest of those who have died.”

1024px-Ripening_tomatoes

What difference does the resurrection make? Because He lives, so shall we. Listen to 1 Corinthians 15:52: “The trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised with bodies that won’t decay; and we will be changed.” When Jesus returns, what began with him on Resurrection Sunday will continue with all who have loved God and served Christ.

Christ is Risen! [He is risen, indeed!]

We’ve been surrounded by death a lot lately. Last week, one of our first year students at ANU lost his dad and mom on the same day when thieves robbed their business and shot them dead. (His young sister witnessed the atrocity). In my own country, we mourn the loss of children and teachers in Parkland, Florida who went to school and never came home, victims of an angry former student with a semi-automatic rifle. We take life for granted, yet none of us is guaranteed a long life. James 4:14 (NIV) reminds us:

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

In the face of death and heart-wrenching tragedy, the atheists of our world can only offer cold logic. They cannot offer hope. Only God can offer that in the form of an Empty Tomb and a living Christ! Because he lives, so shall we.

Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed!]

V.  CONCLUSION

Today is Resurrection Sunday. The lessons for us as the people of God are clear, and they give us hope for this life and the life to come.

What difference does the Resurrection make? It teaches us that:

  1. Light always follows darkness.
  2. Evil shall not prevail.
  3. Because Jesus lives, so shall we.

Let us pray.

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Image credits

Sunrise and crucifix: G Crofford

ripening tomatoes: By Naposia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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