A Journey With God: The Gift You Won’t Want To Return
A personal word, please, before I preach …
Easter possesses an especially powerful meaning for me this year. In my book, Downtown Church, I acknowledged that the two men who have most influenced my earthly journey and most shaped my ministry for Christ are my father, Dr. David Edington, and my uncle, Dr. Andrew Edington. One month ago, my father’s life on this earth ended and his life in heaven began. Three nights ago, just as we were about to begin our magnificent Maundy Thursday service here, I received word that my Uncle Andy had died. Trisha and I will leave this afternoon for his memorial service tomorrow in Kerrville, Texas.
My dad and my uncle were eleven months apart in age. They were so close as children that when it came time for my dad to go to first grade he wouldn’t go without his brother, Andy. The schools in Mobile made an exception they had never made before or since, and permitted Uncle Andy to enroll in first grade with my dad. They were in every class together all the way through school, and they roomed together all through college. Their professional lives began with my dad as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Monroeville, Alabama and Uncle Andy as the principal and head football coach at the high school in Frisco City, Alabama, just ten miles away. The two of them, one as a preacher, the other as a college president, went on to exercise remarkable leadership in the Presbyterian Church. The two of them were quite different, but they were completely in sync with each other. It was a fascinating experience to be around them when they were together to see how their thoughts and their communication meshed so perfectly. How appropriate, then, it seems to me that just a month after my dad’s entrance into heaven, Uncle Andy joins him there. The two of them first taught me what Easter is all about. Today, in their honor, I will try to do the same for you …
A kindergarten teacher was asking her children what they knew about the various holidays of the year. Since it was the spring of the year, she asked if anyone knew what Easter was all about. Jimmy cried out enthusiastically: “I know! I know! It’s when you get a tree and you put lights on it and presents underneath it and you go to bed early and get up early the next morning and open your presents.” The teacher laughed and said: “Well, Jimmy, that’s a good try, but you’re talking about another one of our special holidays, Christmas, not Easter. Does anyone else know what Easter is?” Sally’s hand shot up and she said: “I think it’s when the family gets together around the dining room table and we hold hands and Daddy prays and we have turkey and dressing and then we go watch a football game and before you know it everyone is asleep!” The teacher smiled and said: “Sally, that’s not Easter, that’s Thanksgiving.” At that point a little girl in the back of the class decided to give it a try. She said: “Well, Easter is kind of a long holiday. You go to church on Wednesday night and they put ashes on your face and then you have to give up something like candy or TV for a long time. Then there’s Good Friday when Jesus died and they took Him down and wrapped Him in a cloth and put him in a big cave and they put a big rock in front of the cave so that He couldn’t get out. But Jesus didn’t like it in there, and so three days later, He pushed that big rock away and He walked out. But that’s where I don’t understand it.” The teacher asked: “And what is it that you don’t understand?” The little girl replied: “Because when He gets out of the cave, if He sees His shadow, He’s got to go back into the cave and there’s six more weeks of winter!”
Well, she didn’t quite have the story right. And I suppose that with all that we have added to the celebration of Easter—Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, Easter clothing, Easter candy—it’s easy for people to miss out on what Easter is really all about. Easter is first, foremost and only the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, thus defeating death for all who believe in Him. That’s the heart of the Christian faith, and that’s why Easter is the best day of them all.
What I find fascinating is that in the time in which we are living, more and more people, particularly in the intellectual and scientific communities are moving to belief in the risen Christ. There’s a new book on the best-seller list that you ought to get and read. It’s entitled: God: The Evidence, written by one of the leading thinkers of our day. His name is Patrick Glynn. I want you to listen to what he writes on the opening pages of the book:
“I am the product of a culture which has been agnostic.
There was a certain tendency, which I came to share, to view religious belief and practice as manifestations of intellectual inconsistency, emotional weakness, or a lack of cultural sophistication. Now, I would argue instead, and I try to show in this book, that the situation is in the process of changing.
The day, I believe, is soon coming when skepticism, unbelief is going to be the minority position, not just among the populace at large, but even among intellectuals. What happened to me, the re-discovery of the spiritual is happening to others, and is on the verge of happening to our culture as a whole. The reason lies in a series of dramatic new developments in science, medicine and other fields that have radically transformed the old “existence of God” debate. Essentially, over the past 20 years, a significant body of evidence has emerged, shattering the foundations of the long-dominant modern secular world view. Physicists are discovering an unexplainable order to the cosmos. Medical researchers are reporting the extraordinary healing powers of prayer and are documenting credible accounts of “near death” experiences.
Psychologists who once considered belief in God to be a sign of neurosis are finding instead that religious faith is a powerful elixir for mental health. And sociologists are now acknowledging the destructive consequences of a value-free society. These new discoveries, it seems to me, add up to a powerful, indeed all but incontestable case for what once was considered a completely debatable matter of faith—the existence of soul, after-life and God.
Dear friends, the Christian faith is not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. We have a reasonable faith—and our beliefs are supported by good, solid evidence, which any rational person can understand and accept.
Today, then, I want to lay out as carefully and as clearly as I can the Biblical evidence for the resurrection, and then I want to encourage you to let someone like Patrick Glynn take you through all of the modern scientific and medical evidence which support our beliefs. So today, like a lawyer presenting a brief for our belief, let me spell out for you the Biblical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Exhibit A. Many people, through the years, have suggested that the disciples stole the body of Jesus. In fact, the religious leaders in Jerusalem were fearful that that’s exactly what might happen. Read Matthew 27:62-66 and you will see that because Jesus had been telling people that He would be raised from the dead, the religious leaders feared that His disciples might steal the body in order to foist off on the public the idea of a resurrection. So they ordered the tomb secured by a guard of Roman soldiers. A guard consisted of twelve soldiers. Now, given the fact that Roman soldiers were put to death for sleeping on duty, can you imagine that those twelve soldiers would fall asleep on duty—all of them at the same time? If you believe that, then you are believing something more difficult to believe than the resurrection itself.
Exhibit B. Some people suggested that the religious leaders themselves commandeered the body for safekeeping. Yet if they had removed the body, would it not be reasonable to assume that as soon as the disciples began to claim that Jesus was alive, the leaders would simply produce the body and thus squelch forever the astonishing claim the disciples were making. Why didn’t they do it? The answer is that they didn’t have the body. Furthermore, when you read Matthew 28:11 you discover that the religious leaders never denied that Jesus was raised from the dead but they feared what would happen if that truth became widely known. So Matthew tells us that they paid a large sum of money to the soldiers to lie about what happened at the tomb. They didn’t dispute what happened at the empty tomb, they simply tried to cover it up with “hush money.”
Exhibit C. Let us assume for a moment that the disciples managed to “put one over” on the authorities—let us assume that they did steal the body and stash it in some dark cellar in Jerusalem. Does that explain their subsequent behavior? Read Acts 3 and 4. Look at what those disciples began to do in the name of the risen Christ and look at what it cost them. Also look at what the authorities themselves had to say about it all. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus and they said: ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them. We cannot deny it.’ So the leaders didn’t deny the resurrection, and they were amazed at the impact it had had on these ordinary fellows. And when you look at those ordinary, uneducated fellows, they don’t speak and act like men who know they pulled a trick. My friends, people do not give up everything in life for a forgery, especially if it is a forgery which they themselves have committed.
Exhibit D. Consider the impact that the resurrection story had in Jerusalem within a matter of weeks after the event itself. In Acts 4:4 we read: “Many of those who heard this word believed, and they numbered about 5,000.” Now if those thousands of people were believing in nothing more than a rumor it would have been easy to disprove it. Read on in Acts 6:7—“The Word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem”—and then listen to this remarkable detail inserted in the story—“and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Think of it. The very ones who had been attacking the truth of the resurrection suddenly in significant numbers were becoming believers.
Exhibit E. Consider the widespread acceptance of the resurrection throughout the first-century world. Even secular historians of that day accepted the resurrection as a fact. Tacitus, who was the most widely regarded and respected historian in the Roman Empire, mentions the events surrounding the first Easter in his fisting of the most important events of that era of history. Given his reputation, if he wrote it, you could bet that it was true. Further confirmation comes from the Jewish historian, Josephus, who wrote these words: “When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned Jesus to the cross, those who loved Him at the first did not forsake Him for He appeared to them alive again the third day.” Surely it is clear that these noted historians wrote what was the common knowledge of their time.
Exhibit F. Consider the existence of the church. Had the cross been the end, the disciples would have scattered into anonymity, and the infant Christian movement would have dissolved. It was the resurrection which gave birth to the church, and it is the resurrection which has kept the church going and growing. The church lives because Jesus lives. Interestingly enough, that truth was first articulated by Gamaliel, the most respected religious leader in first century Jerusalem. You can read it for yourself in Acts 5:33-39. His fellow leaders wanted to arrest the disciples and put them to death, but listen to what Gamaliel, speaking of the church, had to say: “If this undertaking is of human origin it will come to nought; but if it is of God you will not be able to overthrow it.” If the resurrection had been a lie, the church would have perished ages ago. But now, two thousand years later, it is stronger and more widespread than ever, and the only possible explanation for it is the resurrection. That and nothing else.
I rest my case. The evidence for the resurrection, I contend, is undeniable and irrefutable. Add to that the modern evidence laid out by Patrick Glynn in his book and I think you have an airtight case.
Of course, I recognize that it is not enough simply to lay out the evidence. We have to render a verdict. You and I have to decide: Is it true or not? Is Jesus Christ really alive and living now or not? If God so loved us that He gave His only Son to die in order that we might have eternal life, is that a gift we want to accept and to keep? There is only one way to know the answer. Sara Henderson Hay expresses it in a little poem called: “The Search.”
I sought Him where my logic led,
This friend is always sure and right,
His lantern is sufficient light
“I need no star,” I said.
I sought Him in the city square
Logic and I went up and down
The marketplace of many a town
But never found Him there.
I tracked Him to the mind’s far rim
The variant intellect went forth
The east and west and south and north
But found no trace of Him.
We walked the world from sun to sun
Logic and I, with little faith,
But we never came to Nazareth
Nor did we find the Holy One.
I sought in vain, and finally
Back to my heart’s small house I crept,
And fell upon my knees and wept,
And lo—He came to me.
My beloved, sometime before this day is out, creep back to your heart’s house, and fall upon your knees and you too will know that Jesus lives. You too will know what Easter is all about. And tonight, before you sleep, you too will say: “This day, He came to me …”