The Claims of the Christ: I Am The Alpha And The Omega
If you go to the city of Jerusalem today, they will show you two tombs, both of which claim to be the tomb from which Jesus rose. First they will show you what is called “the Garden Tomb.” It is located behind St. George’s Cathedral immediately, and improbably, adjacent to the hubbub of the Jerusalem bus station. It is a beautiful tomb in a shaded garden where flowers bloom and blaze in a profusion of colors. It is a lovely spot. In July of 1987, I had the privilege of preaching at a worship service there, and it is an experience I shall not soon forget. The other tomb which you will be shown is located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The tomb is covered over with marble and silver and gold to the point of gaudiness and the constant burning of candles and incense over the years have covered the place in smudge. While to my way of thinking it is anything but lovely, nevertheless, the best archaeological evidence supports it as the authentic site of the burial of Jesus. I have visited both of those places, and having done that, I have been led to believe that the only reason the tomb is important in Christianity is that the tomb is not important. Jesus left the tomb!
That fact, of course, is absolutely central to our belief as Christians. For we declare that God in Jesus Christ brought all of creation out of absolutely nothing, that He brought Christmas out of a manger, that He brought the Son of God out of a dusty Palestinian town, and a humble carpenter’s shop, that He brought Christianity marching forth out of a tomb, and that in the end, He will bring us the fulfillment of His plan and purpose in the kingdom of heaven. That’s what Jesus meant when He made this sweeping claim for Himself in the Book of Revelation. Actually, He said it twice—once at the beginning of the book and once at the end. He said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Those were the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It was like saying: “I am the A and the Z. I am the first and the last. I am the beginning and the end.” In other words, everything in life starts with Jesus, and everything ends with Jesus, and everything in between is His as well. Jesus is declaring here that He is everything we need in life. Let’s play out that theme together…
Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, validates the power of the Christian life.
My wife sent me a card not long ago. On the front it declared, “We didn’t make ‘Who’s Who’ this year.” Then when you opened it, it said: “But we are on page 47 of ‘What Was That?’ ” Talk about humbling! But it’s true. Like most people, we’re just ordinary folks. The only thing that sets us apart from the crowd is the same thing that can set you apart from the crowd—we belong to Jesus Christ. My friends, there is no power like the power of the Christian life.
For those of us who are Christian, there are four resurrections, not one. There is, of course, the resurrection of Jesus which occurred on the first Easter. After His crucifixion, He was raised from the dead and appeared to many. The second resurrection occurred when the disconsolate disciples who had fled to the hills came back and were empowered to new life by the Holy Spirit and founded the Church of Jesus Christ. The third resurrection occurs when you and I, as modern men and women, in our spiritual journeys discover the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ as our Saviour, our Lord, and our hope for years to come. The final resurrection will be that great day, unknown to us now, when we shall be reunited with the risen Christ and all our dreams shall be fulfilled and we shall experience the gift of eternal life. That’s the melody that runs like a drumbeat through the whole of Scripture: There’s a great day coming! The same Christ who set history in motion will complete it and we shall be the finished product of that process.
Do you see what that means? It means that we don’t have to think of the resurrection as something in the distant past or something that will happen in the far off future. There is also the resurrection of our spirits today. We can become new people in the here and now. All about us these days, I hear people talking about reincarnation, and all it is is worthless chatter. Incidentally, April 3 was Buddha’s birthday, if you didn’t know that—and my guess is that you didn’t. It’s not too well publicized. The whole world stops on Jesus’ birthday. The whole world ignores Buddha’s birthday. That should tell you something. My point is that people go after the vain hope of reincarnation when, in fact, by the power of Jesus Christ they could be resurrected in their minds and hearts as brand new people today. We can heal broken relationships. We can have the pain driven out of our hearts. We can have a new mind put within us so that we are not driven by every wind of fad, folly, or fashion. We can be born again now. We don’t have to wait. We can be resurrected in our spirit. We can change the way we live and the way we love. We can make a significant contribution to life in our time.
Some years ago, a young law student named Will McLaughlin, was visiting the Northwestern University campus in Chicago. His uncle, Dr. Frank Gonsaulas, was a minister there. Will stopped in to see his uncle and said: “Uncle Frank, I’ll be in your church tomorrow. What are you going to preach about?” Dr. Gonsaulas gave him a brief preview of the sermon. It was to be about the life-changing sacrifice of Jesus Christ, based on Jesus’ own words: “For this cause came I into the world.”
As Will McLaughlin left his uncle’s house that day, he was thinking about that sermon and that text: “For this cause came I into the world.” As he walked along, suddenly he heard cries for help and he saw smoke billowing out of the newly built Iroquois Theatre. The theatre was on fire. Will McLaughlin rushed into the burning building and he saw panic-stricken people pushing and screaming. Young Will managed to get to a balcony door, push it open, place a plank down, stretching it across an alley to the safety of the law library on the other side. Quickly, he began helping people across the plank to safety! When all the people were out, Will McLaughlin started across the plank. By now it was on fire. It broke and Will McLaughlin crashed to the pavement below. His Uncle Frank got there just in time to hear his nephew’s last words: “Uncle Frank, I was thinking about your sermon. Those people needed what I could give them. They needed the strength which Jesus gave me at that moment.” Then with his last breath Will McLaughlin said: “For this cause came I into the world.”
Jesus said: “I am the Alpha. I am the first. I am the beginning. Life begins with me. Your life begins with me.” That means that you and I came into this world for a cause, and I have got to help you understand that. Do you know what I want to be more than anything else? I want to be a “fossarian.” Bet you don’t know that word. It’s one of the lost words of the English language. It used to refer to a minister who side-lined as a grave-digger. That’s what I want to be—a minister who digs people out of graves, people who have been buried alive in their despair, their bitterness, their resignation. I want to be a “fossarian.” I want you to know that your life began in Jesus Christ, and you belong to him, and for this cause you came into the world. There is great power in the Christian life. That’s what Jesus meant when He said: “I am the Alpha.”
Then Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, authenticates the power of Christian hope.
It’s time to relax you for a moment. Billy Graham, in one of his early crusades in North Carolina, went one morning to mail a letter. He said to a boy on the street: “Can you tell me where the Post Office is?” The boy pointed it out. Billy Graham thanked him and said: “I’m Billy Graham. I’m down at the stadium having meetings. If you come tonight, I’ll show you the way to heaven.” The boy replied: “How can you do that if you don’t even know where the Post Office is?”
Well, Billy Graham may not know where the Post Office is, but he can show you the way to heaven, because he holds up the same Christ I’m holding up before you now—the Christ who says: “I am the Omega. I am the last. I am the end. I want your life to end in me.” It’s like that young pilot wrote to me just before he left for the Persian Gulf. He wrote: “If you ever hear that I went down, remember that I went up.” Yes! My Christian friends, our ultimate future in Jesus Christ is never in doubt.
Someday the kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ. And He who moves through the history of Israel and through the life of the Christian Church will move beyond us to unite all people—one God, one Lord, one faith, one hope, one great eternal creation. This is the dream of Scripture. So you and I who can number our years need not fear that great sudden breath of wind and dark cloud as we pass from this life into the next and there meet men and women whom we have loved and lost a while. And so shall we ever be with the Lord. That is our hope.
There’s a painting I find rather intriguing. It is sometimes reproduced on Christmas cards. The artist portrays Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus fleeing into Egypt to escape the murderous wrath of King Herod. The painting is set at night, and the little family is resting at the base of the Sphinx, that strange creature that is part woman, part lion, part bird. Joseph is stretched out on his robe asleep. Mary leans against the knees of the Sphinx, cradling the sleeping Christ child in her arms. The Sphinx stares grimly out over the silent sands.
Every time I see that painting, it speaks to me of life and death. You see, in ancient mythology, the Sphinx was the symbol of death. The Sphinx was that creature who stood beside the road and as each person approached it would ask a riddle—and anyone unable to answer the riddle would die. In that picture of the Sphinx and the baby Jesus, held in the arms of His mother, we have testimony to the fact that for generations before the Sphinx of death had stood by the roadside of everyone who ever lived. And all kinds passed that Sphinx—philosophers and pharaohs, patriarchs and prophets, poets and apostles—and no one could answer the riddle, all of them went down to death.. Until that child became a man! What the picture says to me is that here is death and life; but in Christ, life overcomes. Here is darkness and light; but in Christ light conquers. Here is defeat and victory; but in Christ, victory prevails. Here is the grave and here is eternity; but in Christ, eternity is ours. We may not know all the future holds, but we know the One who holds our futures. We shall not go down. We shall go up. That is what Jesus meant when He said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
I counted them up this week. Can you believe it? This is sermon number one thousand for me—644 before coming here, 356 from this pulpit—total: 1000. The message in the first of those 1000 and the last of those 1000 is the same: Give your heart and your life to Jesus Christ that He may give you life now and life forever…