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Why I Believe In The Resurrection

John 20:1-18

Few of us, who ever sat at the feet of Dr. Kenneth Phifer, my professor of preaching at Seminary, will ever forget the things he said and the lessons he taught. One of those lessons jumps to the forefront of my mind today. This is what Dr. Phifer said, “Because Christians celebrate Sunday as the Lord’s Day in remembrance of the resurrection, there is a sense in which every sermon ought to be an Easter sermon. Every sermon either, directly or indirectly, ought to proclaim Christ’s resurrection victory.” That is so true, and certainly, all through my preaching ministry, I have tried to be faithful to the teaching of Dr. Phifer. But his words are especially true for Easter. It is the grandest of all the days of the year. For it is the day when we, as Christians, celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is alive, and because Jesus Christ is alive, you and I are Easter people and Hallelujah is our song.

Oh, I know it sounds fantastic, unbelievable, too good to be true to say that Jesus Christ is alive. However, it is no more fantastic and unbelievable today than it seemed two thousand years ago when those women went to the tomb early on Sunday morning. They carried with them nothing but their pain-drenched memories. They never expected the sun to rise that day, because, as far as they were concerned, the sun had gone down forever on their hopes and their dreams in life. They certainly didn’t expect the Son of God to rise that day. Oh sure, He had talked about doing that before He died, but Pilate, Herod, the Jewish authorities, and the Roman soldiers had certainly taken care of all of that. They had conspired together to guarantee that there would be no resurrection, real or imagined. They sealed the tomb up tight and set a squad of soldiers to guard it day and night. So the women approached that tomb in the dawn’s early light—eyes clouded by tears; hearts heavy with sorrow—but there wonder of wonders, they met Jesus Christ, not dead, but very much alive. That earth-shaking bit of news wound up toppling a whole empire and changing the world. Mind you, the Roman Empire was not tipped over by the Sermon on the Mount. It wasn’t brought low by any miracle Jesus ever performed. It wasn’t knocked flat by any parable that Jesus ever told. It wasn’t even crushed into nothingness by the brutality of the death Jesus suffered on the cross. No, that Empire was ended by the undeniable fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and, since then, no individual, no group of people, no land, no nation, no empire, no earthly power has ever been able to silence the trumpet blast of this great truth: Jesus Christ is alive! Because Jesus Christ is alive, you and I are Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song.

I believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, therefore we cannot be defeated by evil.

I will have to admit that on that first Easter morning it looked like Jesus was a loser. There He was bottled up by a great stone set against the mouth of a borrowed tomb. There He was thirty-three years old and already wiped out—a failure by most people’s standards; a colossal flop—but then something incredible happened. Get the picture, please. The stone cold corpse of the Galilean carpenter stretched out on a rock-hard slab, eyes glazed over in death—no life, no movement, no color—but then suddenly by the power of God where there was no life now there is life. Where there was no movement, now there is movement. Eyes see. Ears hear. Heart pounds. Lips form words. Limbs move. Where there was no color now there is color—rainbow within rainbow. Jesus Christ is alive. Here then is the miracle which has transformed the ages. We have a God who sent His Son to a cave stable in Bethlehem, and we have a God who delivered His Son from a cave tomb in Jerusalem. We have a God who would not let His Son be defeated by the evil that infects this world, and therefore, we have a God who will not let us be defeated by that evil either.

Some years ago now a man walked into a New York City bookstore. Joy radiated from this young man’s face, so much so that the clerk in the bookstore was moved to say, “You certainly seem to be very happy.” The young man replied, “I am. You see, I’ve just returned from the Viet Nam war. I was a prisoner of war for four years, and then, just recently, was released.” The clerk said, “Well my, you do have good reason to be happy.” But the young man then said, “Actually, I’m happy about much more than that.” He then went on to explain that while he was in prison, a fellow prisoner gave him an old beat-up, dog-eared book to read. It happened to be a book about the resurrection of Jesus. It was called Who Moved the Stone by Frank Morison. Morison sat out to write a book to disprove the resurrection, but, when he gave himself to a study about all the evidence, he wound up changing his mind. He converted to the faith. He affirmed the resurrection. So the book, Who Moved the Stone, is a book that Frank Morison never intended to write, and yet that book was given to this young POW to read, and it wound up changing his life. For it was through reading that book that he learned that the people who belong to Jesus Christ have a strength and a power which other people do not seem to possess. The young man said to the bookstore clerk, “I claimed that power for myself, and I was changed. I realized that I could not be defeated by the evil that surrounded me in that prison camp. In fact, I was freed two years before I was released. So I have come here to see if you have a copy of that book because I want to share it with my wife. I want her to know what I now know.” And what does he know? He knows what I know and what I want you to know. He knows what it is to be one of the Easter people. He knows what it is to have the strength of the risen Christ so living in you that you cannot be defeated by the evil that exists in this world.

I believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, therefore we cannot be discouraged by difficulty.

I will have to admit that on that Sunday morning in Jerusalem, things looked rather discouraging. Here was Jesus, the hope for so many hearts, the light for so many lives, now cold, dead, locked away in a grave. But He didn’t stay there and with his march from the darkness of the grave into the dawn of a new day, there came the end of discouragement.

I learned about a young man in Scotland who developed cancer of the throat and tongue—terrible for anyone, of course, but especially for him. You see, he was a professional singer, a tenor. Radical surgery was going to be required. He was told that after the surgery he would never speak or sing again. As he was on the operating table, and the anesthetic was about to be administered, suddenly the surgeon, so very aware of what was about to happen, said to this young man, “Is there anything you desire before we begin the surgery?” The young man said, “Yes, there is.” With that he proceeded to sit up right there on the operating table and he began to sing, his glorious tenor voice echoing around the cold, sterile operating theater. He sang the words of an old hymn written by William Cowper:

“There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.”

On he sang, verse after verse after verse, until there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole operating theater except his own. Then he came to the final verse of the hymn—a verse that he sang even more triumphantly than the others:

“Then in a nobler, sweeter song I’ll sing thy power to save:
When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue lies silent in the grave.”

His voice would be laid aside, but would he give in to discouragement? No, no, a thousand times no. Why? Because he had in him the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. That is the testimony of a young Scot’s tenor who today is mute but who still praises God. He knows what I know and what I want you to know. He knows what it is to have the strength of the risen Christ so living in you that you cannot be discouraged by anything that may happen along your life’s way.

I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, therefore we cannot be destroyed by death.

I will have to admit that on that first Easter morning, it looked like death had the upper hand and the last word—not so. It’s so clear when you read carefully what actually happened. In fact, let me acknowledge to you today that there is something in the story of the first Easter that I had missed until now. I had always thought that the sequence of events was as follows: the angel came down, rolled away the stone, then Jesus stepped out of the tomb. That’s not what happened at all. I didn’t see it until now. Here is what actually happened: first, Jesus came out of the tomb, then the angel came and rolled away the stone, so that the women could see into the tomb and realize that Jesus was alive. That is an incredibly important detail. It means that no stone, no tomb, no grave could hold the master, and because that’s true, you and I can face death unafraid. No stone, no tomb, no grave will ever hold us either.

Now, I know that we will go on weeping when our loved ones die and because we love them we ought to weep for them. However, we do not weep as those who have no hope because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We can lift up our bowed-down heads, and we can wipe away the tears from our eyes because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We know that, while we may be separated for a time from those we love, ultimately we shall be reunited with them in that place where the load is lifted and the gate is open wide because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We know that our God is the sure and certain conqueror of death and that love can never ever lose its own because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We can know that beyond death, beyond the grave, beyond the river there is a land where the fields are ever living green because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. So let the glad anthems of the Easter people ring with the news that the Easter people cannot be defeated by evil; cannot be discouraged by difficulty; cannot be destroyed by death because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again.

Beloved friends, this is the only Gospel the New Testament knows. Beloved friends, this is the only Gospel I could ever preach. Jesus Christ is alive and because Jesus Christ is alive, He can come to live in your life and in mine. He can bring us safely through our earthly journey. He can lead us triumphantly through the gates of Heaven. Jesus Christ is alive. And because Jesus Christ is alive, you and I are Easter people and Hallelujah is our song!

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