Victory of The Resurrection – Easter
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Victory of the Resurrection – Easter
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
About fifteen years ago a father lay dying in a Welsh mining town and his son, who was a Welsh poet, wrote and spoke these words to him, “Do not go gentle into that goodnight. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the night. And you my father, there on the sad height, cursed, bless me now with your fearest tears I pray, do not go gentle into that goodnight. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” And old Dylan Thomas is not the only one among us human beings who have felt like that about death, because we really do feel that though we’re very resourceful about almost every other difficulty we face, this experience we seem unable to do anything about.
So even though we may not be in Thomas’ psychological condition, yet most of us feel a rage rising up inside us when we think of death. And it seems, you know, we can make hydroelectric power from the rivers, it seems we can turn the land into almost any shape we want, it seems we can go to any planet almost that we want, but this thing death, we can do nothing with it but kind of adjust and adapt to it. And really, the cosmetology that our morticians practice is just an expression of us and our frustration about death. We try to make people look as if they’re still alive and that’s about the best we can do and so we use the lipstick, and we use the powder, and the coloring to try to make our loved ones look as if they are alive because all we seem able to do with death, is to adjust to it or to adapt it in some way so that it doesn’t seem to be really there.
Those of you who have been at funerals know fine well that’s what we do. We’ll talk about anything but the death. We’ll talk about football, talk about the twins, talk about the weather, and talk about what the person did years ago but the death we will not talk about. We kind of walk around that subject. Mohammad was one of the greatest and most influential prophets that the world has seen. He described Allah so effectively that thousands of people followed him and were prepared even to treat Mohammad as God. He gave millions of people in Asia strength to live by, and a sense of national identity, and purpose in their lives. And yet when it came to the crucial moment, he too had to humble himself before death and he ended his life as all the rest of us human beings will do.
There are other people like him. The world is filled with people like the Guru Maharishi who have claimed to free us from the bondages and limitations of this earthy life. And it doesn’t matter which one you take Buddha, or Zoroaster, or Confucius, it doesn’t matter which one you examine, when it comes to the matter of death they all are like us ourselves. They may appear to be superhuman during their life time but when it comes to death they die like everybody else. And so death is something that really we haven’t been able to do anything with and that’s why most religions and most psychological techniques are so unsatisfying and so inadequate because when you think of it isn’t it true that everything that spoils our life and frustrates it is really something that is just a stage on the way to death? Isn’t that right?
I mean, when you think of the things that spoil our lives they’re all factors that come from the certainty that we have that we’re going to end our life sometime. You know, sickness is just a step on the way to death. Weariness is really a step on the way to death. Grey hairs are a step on the way to death. The male menopause is a step on the way to death. A man wouldn’t be concerned about 40, or 45, or 50 except that he feels that that’s just maybe 20, 30, or at the most 40 years from when he’ll end his life. Ladies would not be concerned about coming to a time when they cease to
bear children if they didn’t feel that really that’s a foretaste of their life ending. And that’s why so many religious techniques and so many psychological techniques are so unsatisfying, because they cannot deal with this one problem from which all other problems stem. And loved ones, that’s really the reason why all psychology and all other religions are basically like cosmetology, they really are. They’re just the attempt of the morticians among us to kind of ameliorate the more offensive sides of the death experience.
Now dear ones, it’s because death has seemed so absolutely unchangeable to so many of us that we need such good evidence when a man comes along who claims to destroy death because this we can see is the thing we need, but nobody has ever been able to do it before. So when one person comes along and claims to have victory over this death, we need to examine carefully and painstakingly the evidence for this event. That’s why the resurrection has been subjected to more skeptical and critical examination from literary critics, from theologians, from psychologists, from medical people, from lawyers. It has received more examination than any other event in our history because so much hangs on it and because death has seemed so unchangeable. And therefore, in a sense, all the things that spoil our lives have seemed unchangeable because all of them are just a stage on the way to death.
This is also the reason why Jesus’ own followers ignored his statements that he would rise on the third day. They listened to him and thought, “Yeah, that’s very good we’d really like it,” but they accepted the statements with a pinch of salt and thought, “Yeah, well if it ever happens that he dies there’ll be no coming back.” That’s why they locked themselves in the upper room after his crucifixion. Because, they didn’t really believe that this man could destroy the unchangeable enemy that had frustrated people for centuries.
This is why, you remember, old Mary Magdalene went to the cemetery to do only one thing, to anoint the body of Jesus. She didn’t expect him to be anywhere but lying in that tomb. That’s why she took the stuff with her, so that she could anoint the body of Jesus. She had no expectation that he would rise from the dead. That’s why also, brothers and sisters, no religious leader ever chooses that as the fact on which to build his message. They just don’t. If you wanted to start a new religion, the one fact you don’t chose is resurrection from the dead, because that hoax is too easy to disprove. You don’t want to get yourself into that thing. You can maybe walk on nails, or you can swallow fire, or that kind of thing because you can do that by illusion. But you don’t build your religion on the fact that you have destroyed death, because that hoax is too easy to expose.
So it’s simple, on a hoax like that you would simply go to the city where the hoax was supposed to have taken place and you’d simply ask those people what had happened. And of course, anybody who starts a hoax like that always makes sure that you ask the people in some remote area far away from the place where it was supposed to have taken place. But the amazing thing is, that though the converts to a hoax like that ought to take place in some place remote from where the event had occurred, the first 3,000 converts to Christianity, took place in the very city where the resurrection had occurred.
And so if the hoax was untrue, really all you had to do was listen to Peter’s sermon in the morning and go the tomb at lunchtime and check it out. And it was just not the way anybody that was presenting a hoax would do it. Normally, a hoax like that is believed first of all by people who live miles, and miles away from where it occurred. But in the case of this hoax, the first converts occurred in the very city where it took place. If you wanted to expose a hoax like that all you had to do was point out that despite all the protests the followers of this man Jesus still venerated
his tomb. They still made pilgrimages to his tomb.
But in fact, for the Jews, and for the Christians, and for the Romans, there’s never any mention of the tomb of Jesus after we read about it in the New Testament. It does not appear in history. Nobody ever talks about Jesus’ tomb. Everybody talks about other people’s tombs but nobody ever talks about Jesus’ tomb. They just did not venerate that tomb. They seemed to be absolutely certain that he was not there.
Another reason why no one would build a religion on the fact of resurrection is that to disprove the hoax all you had to do was go to the cemetery and parade the body through the streets and everybody would see that the thing wasn’t true. But in fact, the Romans never did it and the Jews never did it and yet they knew that this was the one act that would undoubtedly rid them of this harassment from these Christians and yet they never did it.
A hoax like that usually gains credence years after the event. In other words, it builds much like Mohammad’s life. Mohammad’s life is filled with legend, it just built up over years, and years, and years and centuries later they began to talk about the things that Mohammad supposedly did in his life time. Now that’s normally the situation with any hoax like this. You would expect that the legend would grow gradually over centuries and centuries. But within weeks they were talking about this resurrection from the dead in the very city where it occurred. Within 15 years this event was known throughout the first century world. Within 40 years it had taken over the place of Judaism in the religion of the people of that area. Within 100 years it had become one of the main events that contributed to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
In other words, if this was a hoax, or a legend, it doesn’t follow any of the rules or laws that govern legends. That’s why dear ones, if you’d like to look at what Paul said when he was being examined once, that’s why he said this in Acts 26:25-26. Festus, an official, was examining Paul about these things and he accused him of course, of being mad. He said, “Your great learning is turning you mad.” In Acts 26:25, “But Paul said, ‘I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner.”
And loved ones, this thing wasn’t done in a corner. Pliny wrote letters to the Roman Emperor about this event. Tertullian wrote about this event, Josephus who was a Jew who didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah recorded this event in his antiquities. Porphyry and Celsus who opposed Christianity wrote about this in official Roman documents. This thing wasn’t done in a corner and so it’s difficult to believe it was a hoax.
The amazing thing is that throughout the history of the Christian church none of its critics have ever seriously questioned the whole basis of the Christian church which is the resurrection. It’s incredible, really. The attacks on the resurrection have come within, from the liberal theologians, but no critic outside the church has ever seriously criticized or attacked the creditability of the resurrection because the historical evidence for it, not only in the 4,000 manuscripts that reinforce the New Testament, but also in the Roman and Greek manuscripts that refer to this resurrection are so strong that it is almost impossible to break it. And so you remember, Morrison in Britain who started out as a lawyer to prove beyond all doubt that the resurrection had not taken place, ended up writing the book Who Moved the Stone and became a Christian in the process of his examination. And just became utterly convinced from a legal standpoint that you could not break the fact of the resurrection, the evidence was so strong.
Dear ones, it is so certain that you know even the wildest hypothesis that are based only on our own imagination do not stand in the face of the historical facts of the resurrection appearances and the empty tomb. You know, the way we used to sit at home when we were kids at school and think, “Now, how could it have happened? How could it have happened? Yeah, yeah, maybe the Roman’s stole the body. Maybe they stole the body.” And we used to sit there, we have no historical evidence for this stuff but we just thought, “Maybe fairies fly, maybe elephants fly, maybe the Roman’s stole the body.” And it’s just impossible and we’ve answered it before you know, because if they stole the body all they had to do was present the body and show that this man has not risen from the dead.
The Jews and the disciples couldn’t have stolen the body because no man will commit himself and his family to something that he knows to be a lie. Jesus couldn’t have swooned from his wounds and then lain in the tomb for several days and nights and then had the strength to unbind the clothes that were bound around his body, and move back the stone while he bled from his wounds and then appear at superhuman speed in 12 different places over a period of 40 days and convince everybody that he was more alive than ever before after swooning from his wounds.
It’s impossible. And the disciples and the woman couldn’t have gone to the wrong tomb because there was only one tomb, it was a private cemetery and anyway all the Romans had to do was go to the right tomb and present the body. And the resurrection appearances couldn’t be hallucinations because they don’t fit into any of the psychological laws that govern hallucinations. Hallucinations have to be subjective. Jesus appeared to about 500 people at one time. Hallucinations have to occur just over a week or a short time and then cease. Jesus’ kept going for a long time. Hallucinations have to be wished and desired by the people who see them. It has to be someone whose son has died in Vietnam and who is wanting to see him walk through the door. The disciples and the woman who followed Jesus had given up all hope that he would ever come through the door.
Hallucinations just don’t explain the resurrection appearances. They don’t explain an incredulous man like old Thomas saying, “I will not believe until I have put my hands in the holes in his side, and the holes in his hands. I will not believe.” And then he was able to do that and believed. Ghosts don’t explain the person who came and ate fish by the seashore with the disciples.
Loved ones, it’s just impossible to do anything but accept that Jesus really did shatter death and he destroyed it and therefore he has destroyed everything that leads up to death. And you must agree with that. If Jesus destroyed death he must be alive now, mustn’t he? And if he destroyed death he obviously destroyed cancer because it’s a lesser thing than death and leads to death. And he obviously destroyed sicknesses, didn’t he? So Jesus at this moment as he is alive has absolute power to destroy all those sicknesses and feelings of loneliness that are foreboding of what death itself is. He obviously has destroyed that.
So Jesus has destroyed loneliness, and insecurity, and darkness. So wouldn’t you agree, that as far as Jesus is concerned, none of those things that normally spoil our lives have any power at all against his living life that can destroy even death and darkness, isn’t that true?
So Jesus at this moment is not touched by pain, or weariness, or sickness and those things have no power over him. So he is not hindered from obeying God’s will by any headache because I think we all agree apparently he seems dead. Isn’t that right, we can’t see him at this moment? And yet you know he’s alive here in this place. So apparently death still exists but it has no power to prevent him fulfilling the dream that God had for his life.
Now loved ones, that’s Jesus, those things cannot spoil his life. But do you see that that involves you and me? I’ll show you how it does. Would you look at Romans 6:4-5, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united within him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” And you may say, “Well, yeah but it is the future tense isn’t it? If we have been, that’s past enough but the future is we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Well we know that. We know that sometime we’re going to be freed from these bondages and limitations that spoil our lives.
And loved ones, would you look at Ephesians 2:4-7. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Now do you see the past tense, “Made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised,” and that’s the past tense, the aorist in Greek, “And raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
So I’ll show you one way of getting the first page of the sermon, not the last page, but getting the first page of the sermon over to that mic. I put it in that book and then I throw the book over to the microphone. And where the book goes the page goes. But we have been placed in Jesus by God. Isn’t that what we believe? That we have been placed by God in Jesus. And so if he is raised this morning and has power to prevent death stopping or frustrating God’s dream for his life, then aren’t we in the same situation? If cancer has no ability to prevent him fulfilling God’s plan for his life then aren’t we in Jesus where he is? If we’re in him aren’t we there too?
If you say to me, “Oh but brother, the cancer, there’s a lot of cancer and there are a lot of Christians who have cancer.” Yeah, but loved ones the life of Jesus in us prevents the cancer frustrating God’s dream for our lives. That’s what it means, “My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” If God has a plan for your life and you are in Jesus there is nothing leading up to death that can prevent that plan. So okay, you have migraine headaches, and the migraine headaches may continue to appear to be there as really as it appears at this moment that Jesus is not here. But if you are in him, then the life that is in him will prevent that headache spoiling your life, or spoiling God’s plan for your life.
In other words, if Jesus is raised today, you and I have been raised. And the power that he has we have at this moment. And loved ones, it applies to loneliness, the loneliness that grips us at times, that loneliness that is a foretaste of darkness of death. That loneliness is under the control of Jesus’ resurrection life and if you are in him then you have power over that loneliness.
Loved ones, the message today isn’t that Jesus has been raised from the dead. The message is that all of us who are in him have similarly been raised from the dead, and we’ve been freed from all the bondages that death symbolizes for us, the bondages of sickness, and weariness, and tiredness. And it isn’t the power of positive thinking, it’s simply the faith in the historical fact that has been demonstrated clearly by countless reliable witnesses. It’s faith in that fact that releases the power of the Holy Spirit to actualize resurrection in you.
So the alarm goes off, and you’re about to get up but the back, it’s killing you and you can’t move, and you wish you hadn’t done all that carpentry yesterday. Or the sister, the alarm goes off and you just don’t feel you can do it, you just don’t. The body will not respond. Loved ones, you can
either look at the body as if it’s dead or you can look at it as placed in Jesus, buried with him, that old body is not yours it’s worn, and wearied, and the only good thing you can do with it is commit it a tomb with Jesus, and it’s finished with, and Lord Jesus the Father raised you from the dead and I too have been raised with you. And I thank you Lord Jesus that I cannot do it by the strength of my own body which is worn out, but I can receive the strength of your resurrection body and I can get up out of this bed and go.
And loved ones, it is incredible. But if you take that stand it is not the power of the positive thinking that raises you but that faith opens the way for God’s Holy Spirit to come down and give you the health of our risen Jesus. And it really works, honestly it does. I’ve a back to prove it. Like many of you, I did the same thing lifted something that I shouldn’t have lifted and God is able to change it. But do you see that’s what Easter is about. Easter isn’t just about Jesus raised from the dead and, “Oh, that’s great let us cheer Jesus because he was raised from the dead.” You are in Jesus, and you have been raised from the dead, and he expects every day to be Easter in your own life. And he expects you every time you come up against any adverse circumstance, every time you come up against any problem in a human relationship, to be glad that it’s there and to release the resurrection power of his life into it and to triumph over it.
Loved ones, for those of us who live on the right side of the resurrection there are no problems, there are no difficulties, there are only opportunities for the resurrection life of Jesus to be released and to solve difficulties and problems, and to set forth the power of his resurrection. So I really do hope you do grip that because I really hate to think of so many of us being so happy on Easter Sunday for all kinds of corny reasons, but being so happy and then living so many Sundays overcome by the very things that Jesus destroyed. So loved ones, would you begin to live tomorrow, Monday is a good morning to try it, how about Easter Monday? Let’s start living on the right side of the resurrection.