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
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.