Description: Some say about the resurrection of Jesus: this couldn't happen, so it didn't happen. This is anti-intellectual, anti-historical, and anti-fact.
Resurrection Life For Us
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
A little more than a week ago, a gaunt old man with a straggly beard and hair down to his shoulders
died 3,000 feet above Houston [in a jet flying him for medical treatment] with no friend or relative
at his side. And the funeral was a 17 minute thing. And no one, of course cried at all at the
funeral, or felt they should cry. And the main concern after the autopsy was really who would get
hold of the $2 billion that he’s worth.
And the whole death is filled with irony. It really is. He was one of the richest men in the
Western world and yet he really died of malnutrition, living in a penthouse that cost him $1,000 a
day. And then it’s more ironic when you see what his own will and attitude was to it all, because
this man, in 1938, received a ticker tape welcome in New York for a record breaking flight. And yet
this man who had received all that kind of attention spent the last 20 years of his life in darkened
rooms with no one talking to him and talking to no one and communicating by written notes to his
This man, who died because of the poisoning in his own body due to kidney failure, had spent the
past 20 years of his life trying to defend himself against infection and poison. And so there were
Kleenex everywhere in his rooms. He would not have air conditioning in his rooms, lest it bring in
germs. In his determination to defend himself against people and against infection, he isolated
himself from everybody and rushed, as all of us know, from the top of one hotel to another in
secrecy. And perhaps the most ironic fact about the death is that he refused continually, after the
accident that he suffered in London and had that pin put in his hip, he refused continually all the
doctors’ encouragements to him to walk and to exercise. And if he had done that, he could have
lived well beyond 70 and there was no need for him to die. Moreover, he refused any encouragement
on their part to begin to eat sensible food; he lived on cookies and milk. And so really he
virtually killed himself.
And do you know what he boasted to an executive in 1960? “I have never done anything in my life
that I did not want to do.” You know what? It’s ironic, isn’t it, that he had never done anything
in his life that he didn’t want to do and it was that very attitude that brought about
self-destruction, really. And, so it’s ironic because he, who defended himself from people all the
time, found himself dying in loneliness. He who defended himself against infection all the time,
found himself dying of infection. And he, who boasted that he never did anything that he didn’t
want to do in life, killed himself by the things that he wanted to do.
And, loved ones, that’s only one extreme example of this stream of death life that seems to flow
through our world. Because there isn’t one of us here that hasn’t touched it at times. There seems
to be a flow of death life that moves through individuals and communities, and wherever it moves, it
takes the beauty of the world and it turns it into ugliness. It takes the love of warm
relationships and turns them into loneliness. It takes the plentiful, really infinite resources of
our universe and turns them into scarcity and deprivation. Wherever this flow of death life comes,
it darkens and destroys all that it touches. And you know that it really is a supernatural power.
It has to be a power, loved ones, hasn’t it, to make a man kill himself. It has to be a power to
make people do what they don’t want to do and destroy themselves in the process. And you know that
somewhere in that book [the Bible], that power is described as a power that is a murderer. It is
determined to destroy life and to kill people. And Howard Hughes’ death is just an extreme example
of a death life that probably all of us in this room have touched at some time.
I suppose the condition is pretty obvious that he fulfilled to let that death life come into him.
The condition he fulfilled was simply, he was out to defend himself against any person that might
inconvenience him in any way, or against any pain that he might possibly undergo, or against
anything that might be a nuisance to him. He was determined to defend himself and keep himself away
from that at all costs. And he was also determined to do in this life exactly what he wanted to do.
Now, loved ones, if you fulfill either of those conditions, the death life touches you. It does.
Every one of us who has started off with a bright Easter Sunday morning and have ended up at the end
of the day bickering with our wives, know that the death life touched us because we began to fulfill
those conditions. Because there’s something we wanted our way and that death life began to be
released. And the end of the day was a tragedy compared with the way it started out. And you could
multiply the examples where that flow of death life seems to have come in, if you look at the ruins
of a day on your hands, or you look at the ruins of a marriage on your hands, or you look at the
ruins of your business, or your job on your hands, and you think, “How could this come about? It
started off so beautifully. How did this happen?”
And, loved ones, it’s just true that there is a flow of death life that moves in and destroys and
tears apart everyone who fulfills the conditions that it needs to begin to energize a person’s life.
I suppose the amazing thing is that today is so different for us. Today is Easter and it’s so
different from all that gloomy stuff. Today you remember all the kind of life that there is, and
that’s amazing too, isn’t it? In a world that is so filled with the death life, the death life is
in Lebanon. The death life is in Ireland. The death life is in Russia. The death life is in cities
that are being terrorized. The death life is in bickering families. The death life is in businesses
and jobs. It’s amazing that though so much of this death life is produced by us men and women, yet
there seems – oh the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it, “There lives the dearest freshness
deep down things.”
And it’s amazing that at this time of the year, you look out at ground that a month ago was hard,
and dead, and cold, and there are little purple hyacinths and little yellow daffodils pushing up
through it. And it’s all so fresh and new. And you look out at trees that were dry and were
surrounded by dead brown leaves, and now you begin to see little buds that are just so beautifully
wrapped up that you really feel there’s been a huge manufacturing company working night and day all
through the winter, because they’re all just ready there to burst out. And they’re all clean and new
and fresh. And, oh a month ago, you looked out and there wasn’t a thing on the water, and there
wasn’t a thing on the earth. And now, you look out and all the ducks are quacking and paddling like
mad, and all the birds are whistling and flying.
And, it just comes home to you that we seem to have death life flowing all around us in all our own
relationships, but there seems to be this new resurrection life that’s coming in. And that’s hard
to explain, isn’t it? I mean, I can see how we human beings get fed up with winter, and I can see
how we get fed up with misery, but how do we manage to produce summer and spring and joy? And you
know fine well that we really don’t, that we certainly don’t produce spring, and we don’t produce
summer. But the truth is that we have great trouble producing joy, too. How do you explain it? How
do you explain the phenomenon?
And I push you further, which is reality? Which is final reality? The old man with the dialysis
tube hanging out of his body, gaunt and emaciated, and a straggly beard and the hair, and the lost
look in the eyes, and the plane, and death — is that final reality? Or is final reality spring, and
flowers, and daffodils, and new life? We’re all in the same boat in trying to answer that question.
We’re in the same boat as Mohammed, and we’re in the same boat exactly as Confucius, and Buddha.
They’re all mere men.
All they can do is do what you and I can do this morning. They can examine the phenomena in the
world and come up with some personal opinions to explain it, but they really have no more
information at their disposal than we have here this morning. So, really, they’re all in the same
situation. All the great leaders of the religions in the world are in the same situation as we are
this morning in trying to answer that question. They’re going to give their personal opinion based
on observable data here in our closed universe.
Of course, why Easter is so great for us here in this auditorium is not because of the daffodils, or
the Easter bonnets, or the summer dresses, or the Easter bunnies, but it’s so great because one of
us died and disappeared from the earth, and then came back, and for more than a month, showed that
he was physically more alive than he had ever been before and showed that he had a spiritual
aliveness that was greater than anything we ourselves possessed. And this Person said, “I have been
out of this world and have seen our Creator and I tell you that he’s my Father and that this life
that he’s given to me, it is final reality. It is reality that death and death life is something
that can be defeated by this stream of life that he has given to me.”
And, loved ones, it’s because of that man’s rising above death, it’s because of the careful
documentation we have of his resurrection as compared with all the fakes and all the bluffers who by
holding their breath or by self-induced comas, have tried to imitate that resurrection — it’s
because of the certainty that he did really die and did really rise that we ourselves answer,
“Resurrection life is the final reality.” And the death life that made that jet over Houston so
tragic and so miserable is not final reality, and is, in fact, something that we have reduced
resurrection life to ourselves. That final reality is resurrection life.
Now, of course, there’s a real problem for us here this morning because we live in an environment of
death life. We live in an environment of that old life that is destroying. We live in a life, an
environment that is full of the depression and the loneliness and the bewilderment of the death
life. And so when we come to this kind of a phenomenon, we describe what is true in our
environment. We say, “Listen, in our environment, dead people don’t rise, that’s just a fact. Now
let’s face it, dead people don’t rise.” And, of course, we’re like a little mole that is speaking,
trying to describe the blue sky while we’re underneath the earth. We’re talking about something that
we cannot see and that we have no experience of. But yet, you know what we’re like. We’re so proud
and we’re so sure that the bit of the world that we have seen is all of reality that we proclaim,
“Yeah, dead people don’t rise, so this man couldn’t have risen. He couldn’t have risen.” And that’s
been the argument down through history.
Paul was repeating it in I Corinthians 15. People said, “No, dead men don’t rise, so this man
couldn’t have risen.” And I think so caught are we in our own death life environment that I think
many of us have problems with it. Loved ones, there’s no way around it, you can’t get around a
historical fact, you can’t. You can’t, by bleating some kind of presuppositional philosophy that
dead people don’t rise, say, “Therefore, this fact can’t have happened.” Loved ones, the historical
fact of this man’s resurrection is so obvious and plain that no presuppositional philosophy about
dead men not rising or the supernatural not being possible will meet the case.
And I think we all know, you could all repeat the old arguments off by heart. But the fact is that
old Caesar, you remember, wrote the Gallic Wars. He wrote the Gallic Wars, I suppose in the First
Century sometime. And the first manuscript we have of those Gallic Wars is 900 years later. That’s
the earliest manuscript. And we have only nine of them. Yet we have no doubt that old Caesar fought
the Gallic Wars, led his soldiers across the bridge, and met Hannibal.
We believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the basis of 4,000 manuscripts. And the earliest one we
have is not 900 years after Caesar wrote his Gallic Wars, but 30 years after John wrote his gospel.
30 years after an eyewitness wrote his account of Jesus’ life. In other words, the historical fact
of Jesus’ death and resurrection is better attested than any other known fact.
You know that the two facts that you can’t get away from are the empty tomb and the resurrection
appearances. I won’t draw it out at length, but some of you may be sitting here with the old
arguments that we learned at high school. And they’re still running in your mind. And we still are
basically unhistorical and unintelligent people. I hate to tell you that, but we are. We hate to
take things intelligently, we take them emotionally. And so we tend to take an attitude that, “No,
these things can’t have happened, so they didn’t happen.” And then we begin to try to make up
possible explanations that would do away with this apparent historical fact. It’s basically a
non-historical attitude towards history, but you know the way we go. We say, “Oh well, wait a
minute I’ll tell you how it could have happened.”
And then we get into our old arguments. And the truth is the arguments to explain away the
resurrection are more difficult to believe than the resurrection itself. And you know that, and so
I won’t draw it out, loved ones, but there’s someone here who’s sitting with the old skepticism. So
you know how it goes. The disciples stole the body. The disciples stole the body. That’s how it
happened. That’s how you explain the empty tomb. They stole the body.
And you know you come up against a real problem with that one, because you have these men stealing
the body of a man that they respected and loved, going out and preaching that this man actually rose
from the dead. And yet they know full well that he didn’t rise from the dead — that they actually
stole the body and pretended. And that would be all right, loved ones, if they did not come into
persecution because of this, and if they did not end up walking into lion arenas with their children
in their arms. And then you have to face the fact that these men stole a body, they then proclaimed
that he was alive, and then they died willingly for that lie that they knew to be a lie.
And there, of course, you have a psychological and an ethical impossibility. Men who followed
Hitler may have followed a lie, but they didn’t know it was a lie, they believed it to be true. They
didn’t make it up themselves. But for the disciples to steal a body and for that to be an
explanation of the empty tomb, you’d have to believe that really they were masochists, they were
determined to destroy themselves and their families. And men don’t die for what they know to be a
lie. They may die for what they think is the truth, but they won’t die for something that they know
is a lie.
And then, “Well, the authorities stole the body. The authorities, the Roman authorities, the Jewish
authorities.” You know, if we don’t want to believe, we’ll almost go to any authority, we’ll make
it Kissinger or Nixon, as well. But, “The authorities stole the body.” Well, if they stole the
body, all they had to do was present the body to everybody. Parade the body of Jesus through the
streets of Jerusalem, through the streets of Rome, and say, “Look, here is this Christian lie for
what you see it to be: just a hoax. Here is the body of this man that they say has risen off the
And then, loved ones, “Well, maybe they didn’t steal the body, maybe he really just swooned. Maybe
he didn’t really die.” And then you’re faced with just a towering feat of physical strength: that
this man, who was bleeding from wounds inflicted by the most efficient killers in the world at that
time — that this man, who bled right through two nights and three days in a tomb had the strength
to unwrap the grave clothes from himself, then had the strength to get up and roll back the heavy
stone from the tomb and then had the incredible strength to travel really 20, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90
miles in different directions, appearing on fourteen different occasions in different parts of the
country, and giving an impression, not just of a man that had managed to overcome his wounds, but a
man who was more gloriously alive than he had ever been before. It’s just impossible to believe
that Jesus just swooned.
And you know then we say, “Well, maybe the women went to the wrong tomb.” And we all know women, and
they could just do that kind of thing. But you have a real problem, we men are not as dumb as you
and we just – then you have to believe that everybody else kept going to the wrong tomb, that Peter
and John, that all the Roman soldiers, everybody kept going to the wrong tomb. And it’s harder to
believe the explanations, loved ones, than to believe that Jesus really rose from the dead.
It’s the same with the resurrection appearances. “They were hallucinations.” We all do a few books
in psychology and we’re right in there with hallucinations. And you know there are laws that govern
hallucinations and those laws are not met by the appearances of Jesus. A hallucination has to be
experienced by someone who wants it to happen. For example, a mother who has lost a son in the war
and she wants to see him coming through the door of the kitchen. And she wants to see him.
These men, you remember, confessed to each other, “We had hoped that it was he that would have
redeemed Israel, but we’ve now given up hope.” And they had so given up hope that they were
absolutely amazed and could not believe that this was anything but the gardener that appeared
outside the tomb. They had lost any hope that he would rise from the dead.
Hallucinations have to appear really over a long, long period of time. These appeared for a little
more than a month and then stopped.
A hallucination is a subjective experience. One person sees it. Jesus appeared to all the
disciples in the upper room, then to about 500 people at one time. It’s impossible, loved ones, to
explain away the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection on the basis of hallucinations.
The fact is, he rose from the dead. You know, you just have to face it. It’s the best attested
fact in our history that Jesus did rise from the dead. And how did he do it?
Well, loved ones, if you’d look just at one verse before we close, it’s Romans 1:4, “And designated
Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus
Christ our Lord.” The power came from the spirit, you see the capital S in Spirit. The power for
Jesus’ resurrection came from the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God’s uncreated life and it is him that brings resurrection life. And wherever
he comes, he brings resurrection life. And you yourself can experience resurrection life, loved
ones. Resurrection life touches a dank tomb and turns it into brightness and life. Resurrection
life touches misery and turns it into joy. Really, believe me. Resurrection life can come through
the Holy Spirit into your own life. Really, that’s true. And you have a lot of things in your life
that can be touched into life by this power of the Holy Spirit that raised this man, Jesus, from the
What have you to do? Well, Hughes shows you what you’ve to do for death life. Just defend yourself
against anything that would hurt you. Spend your life, spend your days defending yourself against
people. Spend your days avoiding people who would be a kind of a nuisance to you. Spend your days
avoiding pain or hurt or discomfort in any way. Do that and the power of satanic death life will
flow into your life. And your life will get smaller and smaller and smaller. And you’ll become a
wizened old man or woman, dried up inside. That’s what happens. You’ve already seen it partly in
your own life and partly in others’ lives.
To experience the resurrection life of the Holy Spirit you do the very opposite, loved ones. Jesus
said, “I am the good shepherd and the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” Stop defending
yourself. Stop trying to avoid pain. Stop trying to avoid discomfort and inconvenience. Stop trying
to avoid people who would be a nuisance to you. Stop trying to protect yourself. Lay yourself out
and say, “Lord God, whatever you want to use me for in this life, I’m for it.” And, loved ones,
there’ll be a power of life that will come through you.
And you’ve known it at times. You know you’ve known it. You know you’ve known days when you’ve been
out on some picnic lunch or you’ve been out on some expedition of some kind, and a lot of other
people have left the work to you. And while you resisted it and resented it and were bitter about
it, the going was tough and it was heavy, and you were getting tired. Then, when you suddenly took
a new attitude to it and said, “Ah, I can do it. I can do it.” Suddenly, when you took that
attitude, there was a flow of energy that came into you, and you ended that day having done far more
work than anybody else, but it seemed that you had more energy than you started off the day with.
Now, loved ones, it’s amazing, but that is your Father in heaven trying to give you a notion, “Look,
this is the way I want you to live your whole life. I want you to take my son’s attitude, ‘I have
come to give my life a ransom for many. I’m not demanding that I have all the comfort. I’m not
demanding that I avoid pain and inconvenience. I’m willing, Lord, for whatever you want me to do.
You want me to brush the floor and really painting the wall is nicer? I’ll brush the floor, Lord.
You want that person to type and be in the front office and me to be in the back stuffing these
envelopes? I’ll stuff the envelopes, Lord. You want that person to be out in the boat this
afternoon and me to be back here slaving at the cooker? I’ll do that, Lord.’”
Loved ones, it’s true, really it is. And you know it’s true, because you’ve experienced little bits
of it. That every time you take that attitude, there’s a power that comes into you. That’s
resurrection life. That’s the Holy Spirit. It’s possible to live your whole life that way.
If you want death life, well, just follow Howard Hughes, “I’ve never done anything in this life but
what I wanted to do. I’ve never done anything in this life that I didn’t want to do.” That’s it.
Live that way and the death life will pour through you and you become a miserable creature that has
no friends, that is loved neither by God nor man. Loved ones, if you live that way, you’ll
eventually destroy yourself. If you live just to do what I want to do, if you govern your whole
life by that, the death life will tear you apart. You’ll be filled with ulcers and hypertension and
then on the final day, there’ll be darkness and loneliness and separation from the dear Father of
To receive resurrection life? O, Jesus said, “My meat…” Meat is something that you need, you can’t
do without, you have to have it every day. “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” If you
want the power of this resurrection life pulsing through your personality and your body, would you
stop living the way you want? Will you stop buying the car you want? Would you stop taking the job
that you want? Would you stop trying to get your way at home, get your way with your roommate, get
your way in personal relationships and would you begin to say, “Lord God, you made me for a purpose
like you made the birds. Father, what is that purpose? I want to do that, Lord.” And every time
an opportunity comes to be Jesus to somebody, be it. Loved ones, if you’re that, there’s a
resurrection life that will come into you, really.
I used to get mad when I was a teenager, at my dad, because the fella always was helping other
people. Or when there was a battle at home, he was the one that gave in, he was the one that
submitted. He was always the one who was giving or giving in. And I would say to him, “Dad,
they’ll destroy you if you keep on at it.” And you know, he had always more energy and more life
than all the rest of us. And it was like that right up until he died. He always had more life and
energy than the rest of us who were protecting ourselves, and defending ourselves, and trying to
keep ourselves comfortable. Loved ones, that’s the secret. If you’re game to lose your life for
his sake, you’ll find it and that resurrection life will begin to pour through. I guarantee it,
loved ones, I guarantee it.
So, I don’t know, are some of you a wee bit wizened? Just little gnarled, tied-up, knotted little
creatures you who are busy defending yourself and, “I’m going to watch my corner?” Well, loved
ones, why not sink it today? Why not see that that leads to one thing. It leads to the kind of end
that Howard Hughes experienced. It really does. That’s the way you end up when you’re always
defending yourself from inconveniences, always trying to avoid anything that will put you out, and
always wanting your way in this life. There’s another dear Person, who is alive at this moment here
in this auditorium, and he’s alive because he lived a different way, and he’s willing to give that
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, thank you for Easter Sunday. Thank you for it, Lord, because it’s not a
memorial day. Thank you, Lord Jesus that you’re here. Thank you Lord that we’re not at the mercy
of that stream of death life that destroys everything it touches and that has murdered that dear man
that you made at the beginning, that dear fella, Howard Hughes, that you enabled to be born as a
little fresh new baby. Father that we’re not at the mercy of that death life that destroyed him,
but that your resurrection life, Lord Jesus, can come into us through the power of the Holy Spirit
this very day, if we will begin to live for you, Father, for your will, not our own. If we will
begin to live ready to face the awkward jobs, ready to take on the difficult tasks. If we are ready
to stop defending ourselves and preserving our lives, if we’re willing to lose them even for you,
then you will enable us to find them. Thank you, Lord. Thank you. Amen.