The Heart of Easter
The Life Spirit
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
What do you think of when you think of Easter? You think of Easter bonnets and the Easter parade and the tulips and the daffodils and the sunrise services and the crowded churches and the rites of spring and the clearing up of the yard. And you think of the facts of this man rising from the dead. I mean you think to yourself, “Well, rising from the dead, that’s a nice idea but that’s a hard one to really believe.”
I think it’s very easy for us to reflect quietly to ourselves after all the preachers have finished preaching and after all the choirs have sung and after everybody has put away their Easter bonnets, it’s very easy to think to yourself, “Well, wait a minute, the whole thing revolves around a local rabbi from Nazareth whose followers suddenly shot Him into prominence by saying that He had risen from the dead. How do we know? I mean who really knows what happened back there in that little obscure town, who really knows what happened? Maybe it all became famous and popular after these few people said He had risen from the dead. But do we really know what happened before He was crucified, before He was supposedly risen from the dead?”
Loved ones, the truth is the whole world knew. That’s why Paul when he was being cross-examined by Agrippa, (one of the Roman authorities), said, “These things weren’t done in a corner.” The fact was that the Roman and the Jewish authorities knew this man Jesus well before He died. Throughout the three years of his ministry, He was known by the authorities of the ancient world. That was because He was actually accused by the Jews to the Romans of stirring up the people against Rome.
So it was a matter of common knowledge and public record that this Jesus of Nazareth was carrying out this kind of ministry. So actually he wasn’t just a little local rabbi that shot into publicity after His disciples had said He had risen from the dead. This man’s ministry had been observed and closely observed by both the Jewish and the Roman authorities and oh, you remember, Tacitus, the historian of imperial Rome writes, “the author of that name Christians was Christ who in the reign of Tiberius suffered punishment under a procreator Pontius Pilate.” So the Roman authorities knew about Jesus. He was not some little guru in some little Indian town holding His breath while He was buried alive to pretend He was really dead. This man was somebody that was observed carefully down through the three years of His public ministry.
There is a tendency for us to think, “Well, yes, that may well be but His resurrection was observed by His close associates. They spread the word around, and maybe they did it to extend their own influence and their own authority. There were all kinds of rabbis with all kinds of disciples, but they were the only ones that observed that He came alive after being dead. Maybe they just spread the word around so that it would reinforce their influence and their authority in their generation.”
But in fact you know, it wasn’t His close associates that saw Him first. It was a woman called Mary who went to the tomb to put spices on His body to counteract the smell of decay that death brings. She was so sure that He was dead for good that she came to do that. And when she actually saw Him, she didn’t recognize Him. She thought He was the gardener and she asked Him, “Look, where did they take my Lord? Where did they take His body?” Then you remember later on, He appeared to ten of His followers who had locked themselves up for fear of the Jews. And they were so sure that He was dead
for good that when He appeared they thought He was a ghost. They wouldn’t believe it was really Him until He showed them the holes in His hands and the holes in His side.
Then, you remember, He appeared to hundreds of the people who had heard Him speak in the open air. They weren’t His close associates. On one occasion, He appeared to about 500 of them at one time. On another occasion, He appeared to two of them who were walking to a village called Emmaus. They weren’t close disciples. They were just two men who had known of Him and were discouraged because they had thought He was the Messiah. Now it was the third day and nothing had happened. And so they weren’t predisposed to believe in His resurrection. You weren’t facing a lot of people who wanted to have a hallucination. You were facing men and women who were bitterly disappointed; who thought that this man was something and now realized He was nothing.
They were so sure that He was dead that when Jesus came alongside of them, they didn’t recognize Him at all. In fact they didn’t know it was Him until later on in the village of Emmaus. He broke bread at suppertime and they recognized that it was Him.
Then we say, “Well, maybe these close associates spread the belief in His resurrection to expand their influence and authority.” But loved ones, that’s the one thing it didn’t do. The Roman authorities had faced rabbis before. Jewish history kept turning up rabbis that stirred up the people. Even the Jewish authorities recognized that there were always rabbis coming — outstanding men who produced enlightened teaching.
The Romans and the Jews could take that kind of thing but what they couldn’t take was that these disciples kept insisting that this man was the Son of God and that He had power over death. That was why the Roman authorities crucified and slaughtered the Christians and their families. It wasn’t because of the enlightened teaching. They could take the brilliant teaching but it was because they insisted that this man had destroyed death.
So loved ones, there was no reason for these associates of Jesus to lie about the resurrection because that was the very fact that got them destroyed and slaughtered. If they had just been content to teach Jesus’ teaching, nobody would have been concerned. But maybe the biggest reason for being rational and intellectual in your own acceptance of the heart of Easter, i.e. Jesus’ resurrection, is the vested interests that were determined to disprove that this man rose from the dead.
Those vested interests were powerful. The Roman authorities did not want a man who claimed something that their national gods never claimed, let alone could prove that He had power over death. The Roman authorities didn’t want that. They were fed up with this little Jewish nation that had given them so much trouble. They wanted to destroy anything that would challenge their own national gods. They had a vested interest in proving that Jesus did not overcome death. If the Roman authorities could have found His body, they would have paraded it through the streets because that would have solved their troubles with this Jewish nation.
The Jewish authorities were the same. They handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities because they said, “He claims to be God. He makes Himself equal with God. He is claiming to be the Messiah and we know He isn’t the Messiah.” Loved ones, the Jewish authorities had a vested interest in proving that they (the disciples) weren’t wrong. Their reputation was at stake. They needed to prove that this man Jesus was an ordinary man, that He was no Messiah. If they could have got Jesus’ body, they would have exposed it
in a synagogue for weeks and months so that everybody would have seen that this Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. In the history books it says that they even paid money to some people telling them to tell the lie that the disciples had stolen His body. But even that is preserved as a lie down through history.
You may say, “It all happened so long ago. This RSV Bible, this was produced in 1946.” You read John 18:31 about Jesus’ trial. Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law.” The Jews said to Him, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” Who knows, if that’s what really happened back there? Over 1900 years ago, who can be sure that what we have here is what happened?
Loved ones, this Bible is 300 years old. This is the Geneva Bible. It was produced in 1608. Here is John 18:31, “Then said Pilate unto them, “Take ye Him, and judge Him after your own law.” Then the Jews said unto him, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” It’s the same verse exactly and that Bible existed when William Shakespeare was alive. It existed before the Declaration of Independence. That Bible existed 300 years ago and it is exactly the same history as there is in this one that we have today.
Then here is a picture of a manuscript that exists in a library in Manchester, England, that is dated 125 A.D. The Greek has exactly the same verse on it: John 18:31. “Then Pilate said, “Take you Him, and judge Him according to your own law.” And they answered, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”
Loved ones, this history is surer than any other history we have because between this little manuscript that is photographed here and this Bible here, there are 4000 to 8000 different Greek manuscripts that reinforce that what we read about Jesus is what was written about Him barely 30 years after the Gospel was originally produced.
It is a fact that 1954 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was killed, died of His wounds. Then he got up inside the grave and with the holes in His hands and the holes in His sides still unhealed, He overcame and counteracted the symptoms of death that were in Him. He defied the normal physical symptoms of death that we know and He came alive. It’s a fact. There is no fact of history in our world that has been researched, and examined by so many scholars and so many experts and stands so sure and so unquestioned as that one.
Loved ones, this man Jesus did overcome death. Now, if you say, “Well, how? I mean why?” Oh, because “all things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.” All of us were life in Him before we came to this world. In other words, your heartbeat occurs because of His life in you. But you and I have got used to depending on the heartbeat and we think it’s the heartbeat that gives us life. It isn’t, it’s His life that gives you life. It’s because in a real sense, all of us are in Him, whether we acknowledge it or not, that’s where your life comes from.
You ask any medic, “Explain to me why my heart beats?” He’ll say, “I can’t, I can’t tell you. I can tell you where the beat starts, I can tell you how it operates, but I cannot tell why that life starts.” It is because the life is in Him but we have got used to looking on the heartbeat as if that’s the life. It’s the same with our abilities, it’s the same with our talents, and it’s the same with our jobs. We keep on thinking that they are the source of life. It is His life that gives those things.
So often we think when those disappear life has ceased. We think when the heartbeat stops, life has ceased, when the jobs and the ability cease, life has ceased. It’s wrong. The life is not in those things. Those just happen to be the symptoms of life. That’s the significance of His wounds remaining open. He still had the signs in Him that should mean death but His life spirit is so real that it exists co-existent with those things, (the symptoms of life) and at times independent of them. That’s because it’s His life that keeps us alive. These other things are only symptoms.
That’s why when He went off this world, after the month or so of appearing to different people, He left the earth and His body has never been found. He went at that time right to His father and stood beside His father.
Peter and John were going to the temple and at the Beautiful Gate of the temple they found a man who had been lame from when he was born. You remember what Peter said, it’s in Acts if you like to look at, it’s in Acts 3:6-10.
“But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and walked and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
Jesus gave to His disciples faith, in that life spirit of His. Faith in that life spirit that was able to come into a man whose ankles and feet were too weak to keep him standing and that life spirit enabled him to stand as it were without the feet and ankles. Loved ones that life spirit is the essence of reality. I don’t blame you, we’re used to saying, “I am alive, and I am breathing.” But actually you could be alive without breathing because of this life spirit.
It is incidental and arbitrary the symptoms and signs that God has given in our world that this is alive or that this is life. It’s the life spirit of this Jesus that enables us to continue in life. That’s why so many wee souls have been apparently dead and come back. That’s why there are so many miracles. You remember the little girl who was in Lake Superior for hours and hours. She should have been frozen to death. Many of us here know how destructive that cold water of Lake Superior is to human life. Yet the little girl stayed overnight for hours in that lake.
It’s because it is Christ’s life spirit that keeps us alive independent of symptoms. It is arbitrary in a way in regard to symptoms. You remember in that particular case of the lame man, this life spirit strengthened the ankles and the feet so that they were strengthened. But there was another case with Paul himself where the life spirit operated but did not actually affect the outward physical signs. That is in Second Corinthians 12:7-9.
“And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; 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.”
In that case, Christ’s resurrection strength was made perfect in the weakness. That is, alongside the weakness, coexisting with the weakness but nevertheless, by that life spirit of Jesus, Paul was
enabled to go on and complete what he had to do on this earth. Loved ones, that’s it. The essence of reality is that life spirit, independent of the symptoms or signs that happen to be there or do not happen to be there. The truth is, when Christ died, He died for all of us here and therefore all of us have died. And if we died with Him, we shall certainly live with Him. So reckon yourself to be dead indeed unto sin and alive to God and Christ Jesus. And the power that raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.
There was a dear man who died at the age of 87 in 1946. He was an ordinary plumber in England. This is what happened in a meeting that he was speaking at. “A person came to me and said, ‘I have had 16 operations and I have had my ear drums taken out.’ I said, ‘God has not forgotten how to make your drums.’ I anointed her and prayed asking the Lord that the eardrums should be replaced. She was so deaf that I do not think she would have heard had a canon gone off. She was as deaf afterwards as it was possible to be.”
Yet he doesn’t turn a hair, because he knew she had been healed. He knew that the life spirit had come in because He had done what God had told him to do and the life spirit had come in and she was healed, irrespective of whether the physical symptoms were there yet or not, she was healed.
“She was so deaf that I do not think she would have heard had a canon gone off. She was as deaf afterwards as it was possible to be.” There was no coming up, kneeling, anointing with oil and then asking, “Can you hear, can you hear? If you can hear I believe it happened.” No, but a certain day you are healed.
“She saw other people getting healed and rejoicing. Has God forgotten to be gracious? Was His power just the same? She came the next night and said, ‘I have come tonight to believe God.’ ‘Take care you do not come,’ he says, ‘in any other way.’ I prayed for her again and commanded her ears to be loosed in the name of Jesus. She believed, and the moment she believed, she heard, she ran and jumped up on a chair and began to witness. Later, I let a pin drop and she heard it fall. God can give drums to ears. All things are possible with God, that’s it.”
That’s the life spirit that was released 1954 years ago, the life spirit that created you and me at the beginning. That life spirit is available loved ones, now this very day. Those old eardrums were destroyed with Jesus on Calvary and His new eardrums were given to that woman. Your alcoholism was destroyed in Jesus on Calvary. Your indolence was destroyed in Jesus on Calvary. Your fascination with sex was destroyed with Jesus on Calvary. Your bad temper was destroyed with Jesus on Calvary. Your self-consciousness was destroyed with Jesus on Calvary. His life spirit is flowing down like a river now and is able to give you the life that will enable you to live above and clear of those things.
But loved ones, it’s by faith and faith is not feeling. Faith is not working yourself up into a feeling that this is true. It isn’t, don’t do that. Don’t sit there and say, “Oh I would like to believe that. I am going to feel it, I am going to feel it.” Don’t do that, faith is not feeling, faith is action.
The auto mechanic has just repaired your car. He confidently pops up from under the hood and says, “Turn the key.” You turn it, the engine hesitates, you doubt. You say, “No.” But the mechanic is confident and says, “I have done everything to make it right. Keep turning the key and it will start.” That’s faith.
Christ has overcome death in you and in me. He has overcome all sickness in you and in me. He has overcome all that destroys our own lives, all our selfishness. It is done. Faith is accepting that. It is accepting reality and acting on it. It is going home today fully expecting that you will not lose your temper. And if you lose your temper, still believing that that temper was destroyed with Christ, that’s what faith is. Faith is accepting reality. It isn’t looking at the symptoms like a kind of skeptical Thomas saying, “Does it look as if”, that’s not faith, that’s sight and doubt. Faith is accepting that when Christ rose from the dead, He brought us with Him, that’s it.
Loved ones that’s available for us. Here’s the beauty of it. It’s available for everything in your life. So you have financial troubles, so you have difficulties with your job, so you have things in your life that are crumbling the whole thing up and twisting it and torturing it. Christ’s life has destroyed all of that and has cleared the way for you to live the way God intended. Believe it, have faith in that and live in the light of that certainty. Whenever you see symptoms that don’t align themselves with that, believe again, and continue to believe.
You see you can’t change what Christ has done to your old sick body. You can’t change, it’s been done. You can’t change it by all your doubting. You can only take advantage of it or live in ignorance of it. Oh loved ones, stand up, stand up in your inner man and have faith that this resurrection life of Jesus is flowing like a river through you this very day. It’s flowing and pouring over all of you and washing everything away that is unclean and bringing us health. Believe it because it’s true. Believe it, it’s true. Let’s pray.
Dear Lord Jesus, we thank you for that. We thank you that we can see the signs of it. We see it in the fall, when everything goes dry and brown, and the earth gets old and then we see the springtime and life coming apparently from nowhere. Oh Savior, there are so many signs that life, as we know it, is not the heart of life but that there is something behind the physical life that we have, something behind the natural life that we see, something deeper than the symptoms of life that we observe. That life is your resurrection life that enabled you to stand up in the grave with your wounds still unhealed and live by a life spirit that is more powerful than the signs and symptoms that we observe with our eyes and our ears.
Lord Jesus, thank you. Thank You, Lord that you took us all with our weaknesses and our frustrations and our sicknesses to death with you and you raised us all up with you. We can live that way and see these things manifested in this time space world through our faith. Thank You Lord that our faith is our action. So we intend to go out and live in this truth from this day forward and see it manifested in every area of our lives for your glory. Amen.