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Easter: Knowing the Power of Resurrection Life
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I think that God has something to say to us and I pray that I’ll be able to get it over simply. We in this room will be a little bit different from so many people that will gather in the churches today because we all know the certainty of the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. And I’d just repeat to you that certainly for me that’s been – really I suppose it’s terrible to put it this way and maybe some people don’t like it, but the intellectual certainty of that has been a great rock for me. And I think its right; I think that’s the historical orthodox faith because I remember James S. Stewart wrote a book Heralds of God he was an old homiletics preacher in the New College Edinburgh years ago. He wrote a book Heralds of God and he said the whole task of preaching and the whole task of the Christian witness is as a herald of God to proclaim what God has done in Jesus and that that’s a fact, a historical fact. And so I think it is right that that should be the rock like base of all that we do.
But I’d just repeat to all of us again today that we do not believe in God because he has blessed us, and we do not believe in God because he has given us faith, and we do not believe in God because he has answered our prayers about sales, and we do not believe in God because of the things that he does for us in answer to prayer. If he didn’t answer one prayer of ours we would still believe in God. And it’s good to be clear on that in our own hearts especially, in today’s world when existentialism has emphasized so much the importance of personal experience.
I think personal experience is great but I don’t think it is any more than an affirmation that God has done the work in Jesus. It’s not even a confirmation. I mean, a confirmation seems to me too strong. “Oh well, I mean, God has answered my prayer so it kind of confirms me in my belief that Jesus has died for me.” Well, no I don’t think it’s anything as strong as a confirmation, it affirms, it’s an affirmation. When we experience answers to prayer, when we experience victory over sin here in this world, it’s maybe affirmation. It’s saying, “Yes, that is true because here it is once more happening.” But that’s what it is.
But really we’re different from so many people in the churches that will gather today because we are certain of the historical fact of Jesus’ death. And I’d just remind you that the historicity of that fact depends on several simple questions, and I’ll just flip them up quickly on the overhead so that we don’t have to spend a lot of time on them. If Jesus died and rose from the dead, did anyone observe it? Yes, the whole first century observed it, the whole of the first century world. There’s a verse in scripture, you remember, that says, “These things were not in a corner.” Paul says that to the King Agrippa, or someone isn’t that right and he says, “No, King these things weren’t done in a corner.” Well Agrippa didn’t reply, “Oh they were, I’ve never heard of them.” Because everybody, it was a buzz among the people of the world at that time that this miracle had taken place in the first century.
And I’d just remind you, of course, that’s why a man like Tacitus, the historian of imperial Rome wrote this. I mean, he didn’t want to write something that they were uncertain about. He was one of those very official historians really. He said, “The author of that name Christian was Christ who in the reign of Tiberius suffered under his procurator Pontius Pilate. Tacitus wrote that in 100 AD. He wrote that because he had examined all the accounts. The Roman historians did not write
of things that were uncertain. They didn’t write about Judas Maccabeus, they didn’t write about little revolutions and little things that had happened, they wrote only about things that were certain and sure. And so I’d just remind you that the whole of the first century virtually observed the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Are the details of it known rather than just the vague rumor? Because you might say, “Well, I mean, maybe he heard of a vague rumor of this and so it was a general kind of thing and he wrote that the author of that name Christian was Christ, da-da-da.” So, are there any details? Yes, I mean 1 John 1:2, the details of Jesus’ death and resurrection were carefully observed by these apostles who wrote the New Testament. 1 John 1:1-2, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,” they were eye witnesses, “Which we have looked upon and touched with our hands,” so it wasn’t Tacitus writing in 100 AD, these men were writing now at the very moment just a short time after Jesus had died, “Which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.”
And we’ve dealt often with the obvious question, “Well, well, maybe they observed an ordinary man Jesus of Nazareth and maybe they saw an opportunity to make themselves important in the world at that time by trying to pretend he was the son of God, and trying to pretend he had risen from the dead.” And you know the answer to that, that’s alright as long as they were becoming rich, as long as they were becoming famous, as long as they weren’t being harmed. But what when they started to be persecuted and men started to kill them, and they killed their children? Well then surely they’d have said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, okay the joke is over. Okay, okay he was an ordinary man he didn’t rise from the dead.” And then everybody would have said, “Oh, that’s alright we accept his teaching its beautiful teaching. We’ll accept that.” But they didn’t say that. Despite the fact that they suffered persecution and that they were executed, and their children were destroyed, and their children’s children were destroyed for their teaching of the resurrection, they continued to teach it.
And you know what we’ve often said, that there’s an ethical and psychological impossibility in people dying for a lie. People will die for something they think is true, but they won’t die for something that they know is a lie. Actually we have a very cast iron example here because if I died and I didn’t rise from the dead and you proclaimed, “Oh this Ernest O’Neill rose from the dead,” and then they not only persecuted you but they killed Nathan, I mean, there’s no question you’d say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute it was a lie. It didn’t happen.” Because, blood is thicker than water and really we will not die for things that we know to be lies. So yes, I mean, the witness of the apostles is rendered more sure because of the fact that they didn’t in fact become famous and wealthy. They became infamous if anything and they suffered persecution for what they taught.
Of course you know that the only thing you’re left with is, “Well, I mean they wrote it down here, okay you say that but are we sure that what we have here written is what they wrote?” And of course that concerns the multitude of manuscripts that lie behind the whole writing of the scripture. And of course, I can really highlight it pretty easily by reminding you that for instance, in the case of Plato, the Republic, the Republic was written round about between 427 and 347 BC. The earliest copy we have of Plato’s Republic is 900 AD. So you can see there’s a gap of 900 years in there between the earliest manuscript we have and when he wrote it. Really, a gap of 1200 years and so there was plenty of opportunity during 1200 years for people to forget Plato even but certainly for many people to get at the manuscripts and change them especially, since there are only seven of them. And so it would have been easy, relatively speaking, to get to those manuscripts, switch them
around, change them, put in new stuff and then just bury ancient manuscripts. But of course, no one in the universities of the western world question but that our copy of Plato’s Republic is the Republic as he wrote it.
It’s the same with Tacitus’ history, nobody questions that what we have as Tacitus’ history is Tacitus’ history in spite of the fact that it was written about 100 AD and the earliest copy we have is 1100 AD so there’s a gap of 1000 years during which anybody could change it. It’s a little more difficult because there were 20 manuscripts they’d have to change and they’d all be different dates so it would be a little more difficult but there was plenty of time for them to do it, yet nobody questions that when you read of Tacitus’ history you’re reading what Tacitus wrote. It’s the came with Caesar’s famous Gallic Wars any of us who had to translate it out of Latin, all we were working on was stuff that came from a manuscript of 900 AD which was a 1000 years after he wrote it and yet none of us ever questioned that what we read is what Caesar wrote. And again, there were only 10 manuscripts and so there were only 10 manuscripts to change.
And so it just goes on, it’s incredible whether it’s Livy or whether it’s Pliny, right on down. Whether it’s Thucydides, the same thing 1300 years gap between the earliest manuscript we have and the time it was written, plenty of time for people to change. And you notice, even with Suetonius it’s only eight manuscripts and the oldest one is 800 years. Lucretius, the two manuscripts and the oldest one is 1100 years after he wrote it. Euripides is the same, only nine manuscripts and 1500 years between when he wrote it and the earliest manuscript we have. Aristotle, you know, and which really so much of our philosophy is based, Aristotle is the same, till five manuscripts 1400 years’ gap.
Of course, when you come to the New Testament it’s like entering into a different world. You talk about 4000 manuscripts, 4000 manuscripts and that’s 4000 before the year 1100 AD and one of them actually is as old as that, it’s dated 125 AD only 25 years after John wrote this, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” Twenty five years after he wrote that this manuscript came into existence, I mean, it’s incredible.
I remember saying this once in a Sunday morning at Campus Church and some girl came up from the university history department and said, “You know, in university history departments now we regard any manuscript as eye witness if it’s written earlier than 200 years after the event took place.” And of course, this one was written 25 years after it took place. And so really, ordinary historians regard that of course, as really eye witness account and that’s it you know, that’s it there it’s in the Manchester Museum library you remember, it’s John’s gospel. Sorry, it’s too big to get on the screen, but it’s John’s gospel, fragment of John 18:31-33, John Ryland Library Manchester England dated about 125 AD. I have a slightly better copy of it than that but that’s the date.
So when we talk about Jesus’ resurrection we’re talking about something that is intellectually proven as history can ever be proven. In fact, if you don’t recognize the truth of Jesus’ resurrection you don’t recognize any history as true at all and actually you have to withdraw into absolute skepticism from which position of course, there’s no point even in living.
Now you know that then the normal teaching in the churches today will be, yes but I mean what good is that if Christ lives now at God’s right hand? What we need is him here to do the same things he did in that day, so what good is it that he rose from the dead and went off to be with his Father in
heaven? And then of course the minister answers, “Well, you now have to try to imitate Jesus. You now have to try to follow him. That’s why he lived and died so you would then follow him and be like him and begin to change the world by following his example.” And of course, we know that the heart of the gospel is that there’s no way we can do that. There’s no way because of what we are.
It’s in Romans 3:23. There’s no way we can be like Jesus because of the simple fact, even if we didn’t observe it within ourselves how unlike him we are – well, just what we were saying about children, we are born it seems selfish and ever since we were children we’ve seen how evil we are inside. But the Bible says it plainly Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And of course, we find that we try to be like Jesus but we can’t and the fact is that we have sinned. And of course, the consequences of that are stated in Romans 6:23. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The wages of sin is death and so there is no way in which we can imitate Jesus because we are sinners and we’re miserable creatures unlike him in every way and God has determined that he will destroy all such as ourselves.
And we see it if you look over the page Romans 7:18. Romans 7:18, “For I know,” and we know it, “That nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” And that’s our situation. Yes, it would be great if we could imitate Jesus but we know we can’t. In fact, we know that we have been condemned to death because of the evil within us. And of course, we’ve seen that the purpose of Jesus’ death is to deal with that, it’s 2 Corinthians 5:21. We were to die because of our sins and in 2 Corinthians 5:21, we see the way God dealt with that in Jesus, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And in fact the meaning of Jesus’ death for us is that he took us into himself and he allowed himself to take all the sin that we have and allowed that sin to be burned out of existence in himself so that you remember, the Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death.”
But when Christ died you died and that’s you remember, in Colossians 3:3, “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” And I’d just remind us this morning that the only option we have in this life is to accept what God has done to us and accept what he has said has happened, that we have died and our life is hid with Christ in God. And every time we refuse to accept that and pretend, “Oh no, Jesus died for us so that we can have a shot at being like him,” every time we do that the Holy Spirit will bring a condemnation of death upon us. And that’s why we have such a heaviness in our consciences at time when we try this old heretical business of following Jesus. We say, “Alright, I’ve sinned and fallen short. Okay, I deserve death but Jesus has died for me. Now, I have to have a shot at being like him.” Every time we try that the condemnation of the Holy Spirit comes upon us and we cry out, “The good that I would I cannot do.”
The fact is the only option we have in this life is to accept, “Alright Lord, I accept I have died and my life is hid with Christ in God.” And every time we get uppity and we make like we’re not dead, or we live as if we’re still alive and we can still have the hopes that we had when we were born into this world, every time we live that way the Holy Spirit brings a condemnation to our consciences. And that’s why we feel condemned and we feel uncertain when we cry out, “The good that I would I cannot do” because it’s God lovingly saying to us, “No, I killed you in my son. That was the answer to your sin. I killed you in my son.” And we’re saying, “Yes, yes, yes, but of course I’m alive that’s just metaphorical. I know Jesus died for me and now I have to…” and God keeps on saying, “No, no, that’s real. That’s real. Only when you begin to regard yourself as no longer alive, only then will you begin to experience my Son’s resurrection.”
And seems to me that that’s the meaning of Luke 9:23. Luke 9:23 and it seems it’s the verse that we need to exercise our faith in every morning we get up because it is mentioned that it’s a daily thing in this verse. Jesus “Said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” And it’s just good to remind ourselves that Jesus meant, “Not let him deny himself sweets, or cream, or chocolate,” but, “Let him deny himself.” That’s what he said. He didn’t say, “Let him deny himself wine,” or, “Let him deny himself meat.” He said, “Let him deny himself.” That means let him deny that he even exists. Let him deny to himself that he even exists. Let him take an attitude to himself each morning when he gets up, “I don’t even exist. I’ve been crucified with Christ. I’ve been destroyed. And now Lord Jesus, there’s no one here so will you come.” And then take up his cross daily and follow me.
And so really, each morning, that’s what God asks us to do. Let us get up and say, “Lord, I’m no longer here I’ve been crucified. I don’t even exist so there’s nobody at home here to run this life. So Lord God, will you do something?” And then here’s what God does Galatians 4:6. But, he can only do it when we have that deep attitude you know. He can’t do it when we say, “Oh, we’re going to be like Jesus with your help.” It’s only when we say, “No Lord, there’s nothing of us left here. We’ve been destroyed. There’s nobody here at home to run the place.” And then we look up to God and God does what is said in Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!” And Jesus’ Spirit then comes in and makes the resurrection personal by the faith of the Son of God. Just back one page Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
So, for us Easter is not just a restatement that Jesus rose from the dead. It isn’t. For us Easter is a rededication to letting Jesus live in us. I don’t know how you all think about these things but I know there is in me, just a heart’s conviction that there’s more to experience of Jesus today. I mean, that there’s a greater liberty to be experienced today. I mean, that there’s a new breakthrough that Jesus has in his living in this body. There’s a new rising into more of his power. Not me, but him and that every day that’s why you get up each morning, “That’s the hope for each day, that Jesus you’re going to really break out today. That you’re going to be able to be yourself this day and leave me way behind and let all that be put to rest in your grave.”
And it seems that’s the purpose of Easter for us, it’s a rededication to Jesus living in us. And Paul expressed the attitude in Philippians 3:7-9, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” And what things did he count for loss? You know, he had plenty of them if you look back at Verse 4, “Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless.”
And then we have our list because we were born in Minnesota, or we were born of these parents, or we were born – not so much that, we can laugh at those but it’s the old egotism you can always laugh at your mum and dad or laugh at the home but then we get to the things closer to us. You know, “Well, I’m quite a remarkable person I have this talent and that ability. I have these looks and I have
this, and I have that, and I’m this certain kind of person and I am different from everybody else.” Then Paul says, “All these things I count as loss. I count them as nonexistent.” In fact, doesn’t he use the word dumb at one point which is a horrible word but he counts it as dirt he counts all these things as unimportant, all these things as dead and past.
So different from us, who so often think of our own personality as so much alive, he thinks of it all as done, as finished. And so Easter for us is an entry into that again, that all that has past that we no longer exist. That Jesus, “This is your life,” and that there’s a bursting into freedom. I tried to, in my innocence now that I think of it, back in – it must have been back in Ireland, I once did a little model for – I was always dealing with maybe children and I was doing a model for children and I did a rocket for one of the first rockets that had gone up and I did the last stage as the one – that oh yes the earth’s atmosphere and the stratosphere and all that kind of thing, and the last rocket broke clear of the earth’s atmosphere. And I pointed out that once that happens you’re into free air, then you just flew there was no pull of the earth pulling you down.
And it seems that that’s what the Holy Spirit does for us. Such deliverance from self and such an abandonment of what we are and a forgetfulness of all it used to be that Jesus is able to live freely in us and do what he wants. And it seems to me that that’s the hope. I don’t know what you all think but the radio station, it’s just more work, it’s just more work if there’s no new breaking out of Jesus in us. It’s just another thing, it’s another method. But if there’s a new breaking out of Jesus in us so that he lives and he glorifies his Father through us so that people begin to meet a group of people who are freed because they’ve left themselves way behind in the tomb, then I think the healing powers and the miracles of Jesus, but most of all his gentle beautiful life will begin to touch those that are here.
And it seems that that’s what God has called us to. The verse that I felt he had brought to us was Philippians 3:10, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection,” and that’s really it, “And may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” but that I may know him and the power of his resurrection. And of course, the only way to do that is becoming like him in his death. But the whole purpose I think, of our lives is that we may know the power of Jesus rising inside us. And how do you know that? Well, it’s a paradox back in 2 Corinthians 12:9, you remember. 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” But my power is made perfect in weakness.
And it seems that as we live in the light of that that we are good for nothing but to be destroyed, the power of Jesus rises within us. But while we think that thought we’re quite bad we’re not bad enough to be utterly destroyed and there ought to be some little bit of us that we can take into heaven. While we still think in those terms Jesus will not rise within us. We’ll have an imitated life, we’ll have an imitation of Jesus. But if we realize that we are so rotten, so sinful that God condemned us to death and he carried out that death condemnation in his son Jesus so that we have died and we’re no longer alive, when we live like that then the power of Jesus and he himself will rise within us.
And I mean, I’m probably like everybody here but I do see that every time we get annoyed with our own weaknesses or every time we get discouraged by our own weaknesses we are really denying Easter and we’re really proclaiming, “I’m still alive and I’m trying to follow Jesus, and I did make a mistake and I’m mad with myself because I made a mistake because I should not make mistakes. I can do better than that.” Every time we have that attitude we are denying that there is no good in us
and we’re hoping for some good. And on the other hand, every time we forget ourselves and agree with God, “Lord God, the only thing you could do was destroy us because we’re so full of sin and so naturally independent of you. And we thank you for destroying us in Jesus and that we’re dead and Lord Jesus this is your life.” Every time we have that attitude each day and in the morning hours Jesus himself will rise and live in us that day and that for us is Easter.
Easter for us is not just proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Easter for us is Jesus rising in us today again and hoping that tomorrow he will rise even more, or this minute he will rise even more with that immediate faith that Wigglesworth had that Jesus is right here, an immediate faith in him.
Let us pray. Dear Lord Jesus, we thank you that it is nothing less than that. And we thank you that the first Christians made their impact because it was nothing less than that for them, because it was nothing less than you alive in them. We thank you Lord, that it’s nothing less than that for us today. That it’s you, alive in us. Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit, we give ourselves to you for a new and fuller Easter to take place in us today and tomorrow and in these coming days, and weeks, and months so that Lord Jesus, you may rise and live within us every day and do your things in us whether they’re wonderful things or not, they’re your things and that you may live your life and manifest it through us so that others may be touched by you and may again see the word made flesh and dwelling among us.
We thank you Lord, that you’re alive and we thank you that you’re alive to live in us today and that we are the great beneficiaries of your resurrection and we are the ones in whom you show yourself again to the world. Lord, we would step aside and welcome you in to take your rightful place and to take over this life and live in it and live it for your own purposes. Amen.