Resurrection Belief ~ 20140420 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/20/14 Resurrection Sunday Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140420_resurrection-belief.mp3
Today is Resurrection Sunday, the day we celebrate our Lord and King triumphing over death. Experiencing deep emotional distress, betrayal by a friend, run through multiple courts that made a mockery of justice, having been whipped, beaten, mocked, spit at, nailed to a cross, a spear thrust into his heart to verify he was dead, taken down, quickly embalmed, and placed in a tomb. And those are merely the physical things he endured. The scriptures tell us that he died 'for our sins'. He endured the wrath of God toward every sin I have ever committed. And after all that, Jesus didn't stay dead! Some of his followers showed up after the Sabbath was over, on the morning of the first day of the week, and found the stone had been removed from the entrance to the tomb, and the body was missing. Jesus began to appear to his followers, and over the next 40 days, he presented himself alive, walked, talked, cooked, ate, and taught his disciples, sometimes with one or two, sometimes with the 11 disciples, sometimes in large groups, even appearing to more than 500 at once. At the end of the 40 days, he went out with his disciples to Bethany, commissioned them to make disciples of all nations, and then ascended into the sky while they were all watching and disappeared from sight. This is amazing!
What do you think of this story? Different people respond differently to news like this. There are several possible responses to a supernatural event like this.
Let me tell you another story. Early morning April 17, 1897 something crash landed near the north Texas town of Aurora. A newspaper described a mysterious cigar shaped airship that ran into a windmill, spreading debris across several acres. Among the wreckage, there was a small humanoid body discovered, which an eye-witness described as “not an inhabitant of this world.” That body was buried at the local cemetery in Aurora. Is there an alien buried in Aurora, Texas? Is it a hoax? What do you think of this story? I tell that story, not because I think there is any truth to it, or any similarity between it and the resurrection of our Lord, but only to demonstrate that there are several different responses we can have to unbelievable supernatural news.
Resurrection of Lazarus
Turn with me in your bibles to John chapter 11. I want to look at the resurrection of Lazarus, and some of the different responses people had to that supernatural manifestation of Jesus' divine power. I think as we look at this, each of us will be able to identify what our response is to Jesus' resurrection. What you think really happened in Aurora, Texas in 1897 doesn't make much difference at all in your life today. What you believe about the resurrection of Jesus makes all the difference, and the way you live life will be radically different depending on what your response is to this amazing news.
In John 11, we read that Jesus purposely waited two days after he had received news that Lazarus was ill, then he told his disciples that Lazarus had died and that he intended to go raise him from the dead so that his disciples would believe. When Jesus arrives near Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days. Jesus talks with Lazarus' sister Martha outside the village, and then sends her to get Mary. There was a group of Jews who were there mourning the death of Lazarus. They followed Mary and Jesus to the tomb, and Jesus ordered that the stone be removed from the opening of the tomb. Jesus prayed to his Father out loud for the benefit of the people that were present. Then he commanded Lazarus to come out. Lazarus, who had been dead four days, came out of the tomb, bound hand and foot with the linen burial strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Then Jesus ordered the bystanders to set him free from the burial cloths. That would have been an amazing event to witness!
Here we see some of the responses to the supernatural. Many of the eye-witnesses believed in Jesus. They saw what Jesus did. They drew conclusions based on the evidence they had seen, and they believed him to be the life-giver, the Messiah.
Predisposed to Disbelieve
But some went and told on him to the religious leaders. They gave their eye-witness accounts to the chief priests and the Pharisees. The religious leaders had a problem. There was no denying the evidence. Jesus had done many supernatural signs, identifying himself as the King who comes in the name of the Lord. They were worried that if they let him go on doing miraculous signs, everyone would believe in him. We begin to see another response to resurrection. These religious leaders were predisposed to disbelieve. They were so hardened in their own opinion that they refused to consider the possibility that they were wrong. Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is already made up. They were presented with the evidence, but the implication of that evidence was a threat to them. They had a place and a people. They had power, authority, control. Because so many were believing in Jesus, they were in danger of losing their privileges and their position. These men were not interested in the truth. They knew the evidence. But they personally had a lot to lose, and they considered what they would lose as more important than the truth.
Verse 53 gives their shocking conclusion:
They are so threatened, that they want to discount and demolish and destroy the evidence. The evidence poses a threat to them that they must dispose of the evidence. Jesus must be stopped. He must be killed.
Let's keep reading.
This was quite the dinner party. Both Jesus, the miracle worker who raised his friend from the dead, and Lazarus, the one who had been in the tomb four days, who is now alive, were having dinner together. Then down in verse 9:
There were pharisees who actually wanted to take Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, and put him to death. Lazarus was incontestable evidence that Jesus was who he claimed to be, but rather than reconsider their conclusions in light of the evidence, they simply wanted to do away with the evidence. These religious leaders were willing to bear false witness and even commit murder, in order to get rid of the evidence. If your leaders are willing to break the commandments in order to protect their position, it is time to stop following those wicked men.
This tells us that the Palm Sunday crowd that welcomed Jesus as 'the King of Israel, who comes in the name of the Lord' came because they had heard about the resurrection of Lazarus. The crowd that had witnessed that supernatural event had continued to testify to the truth of the identity of Jesus, and they were gaining momentum.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Many say that if they are only presented with enough evidence, they will be convinced. But that is simply not true. Some are so content with their pride power, privilege and position that there is no evidence that would persuade them, in fact they will seek to destroy the evidence. Jesus told a story about a rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. Both died, Lazarus was carried to the side of Abraham, and the rich man to a place of torment, where he was in anguish in the flame. When he could get no relief, he asked for Lazarus to be sent back to warn his brothers, so that they would not also end up in the place of torment.
The rich man believes that if his brothers just have enough evidence, supernatural evidence, then they will believe. He is wrong. Abraham points them back to Moses and the Prophets, back to the written word of God, the Old Testament Scriptures. That is enough. Supernatural experiences do not save. This is a heart problem. Some of you today might be in this position, your heart is hardened to the possibility that the Bible is true and Jesus is who he claimed to be. Some of you might be so comfortable and content with what you believe about God that even if what you believe is contradicted by all the evidence and the clear teaching of the word of God, you will stay where you are because you feel threatened, you feel you have too much to lose. It's hard to be wrong. It's harder to admit you were wrong. Some people are so proud that they will go to hell before they admit they were wrong. Even if Jesus really is who he claims to be, and all the evidence points in that direction, some will refuse to believe.
What can we say about those who saw Lazarus raised from the dead and did not believe, but instead went and reported to the religious leaders what had happened? They believed, in a sense. They saw what they saw. The dead man came out of the tomb. They may have even helped to unwrap him. They believed that the event happened. But they did not believe what that supernatural event meant. They did not believe in Jesus. They didn't follow Jesus. They went and reported what they had seen. They were curious onlookers. They were fascinated, amazed, excited, they didn't want to miss out on anything, They came to see. There were some who came to the dinner, who were not so interested in Jesus as they were in seeing the man who was in the tomb four days and now was alive. They were intrigued.
Did you ever notice, driving along the freeway, traffic slows to a crawl for what seems hours, and you finally get to the accident scene, and there is a crunched car and a few emergency vehicles with lights flashing, they are not even on your side of the freeway, and there are no lanes blocked? Why is it that everyone slows down when passing an accident scene? They don't intend to stop and get out and help, they just want to see, they want to know what's going on. They might want to snap a picture and post it on facebook to tell their friends how long they sat in traffic. They don't really care about the people involved, and wouldn't think of inconveniencing themselves to get involved. They just want to be in the know. And they want to have the information to pass on to others.
Do you think these people who told the chief priests and Pharisees what Jesus had done intended to play a part in getting him killed? Do you think they cared? They believed that the event really happened. But they went on with life as if it was just one more wreck on the side of the road that they got to see.
Some of you today might believe that Jesus was really crucified, and that he really rose from the dead, but that information doesn't change the way you live. Friends, Jesus is alive, and one day you will stand before him and answer to him. If you knew that I died for you and rose from the dead, why didn't you follow me?
The Fact of the Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact. There was a man named Jesus, who lived in Nazareth, who was executed by Rome on a cross, who was buried in a tomb, that tomb was secured by a Roman guard, and the body went missing. His enemies could not produce the body. Literally hundreds of eye witnesses claimed to see the risen Lord with their own eyes over the next 40 days, many in groups. Many of them were skeptical and had to be convinced. They witnessed him eating and drinking, some even having the opportunity to touch his physical body and physically authenticate the wounds from crucifixion. A large group saw his body ascend into the sky and disappear. Many of his followers suffered execution because they continued to testify to the identity and resurrection of Jesus.
The only viable explanation of the evidence is that Jesus really did supernaturally rise from the dead. If that is true, then we must look carefully at who Jesus claimed to be and what he taught. Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth, the life, the only way to the Father. He claimed to be one with his Father. He calls us to come to him and to follow him. We must take seriously what he said. The only religious leader who claimed to be God and then rose from the dead deserves not just to be talked about. He deserves to be followed.
I imagine that very few of those who were present when Lazarus was raised from the dead doubted that the event really happened. But I imagine that many who weren't there but heard their story were very skeptical. That may be why they showed up at dinner in Bethany. There is nothing wrong with being skeptical. Most of the disciples were skeptics about Jesus' resurrection. The disciples didn't believe the women who first went to the tomb when they claimed to have seen Jesus (Lk.24:11). Peter went back to fishing (Jn.21:3). Thomas refused to believe unless he could touch the evidence with his own hands (Jn.20:25). Jesus gladly presented him with the evidence he desired. Thomas is not rebuked for being a skeptic. But after presenting him with evidence, he does tell him to stop doubting and believe.
Some of you today might be skeptics. To you I want to say 'welcome!' Ask questions. Investigate. Scrutinize the evidence. Passionately pursue the truth. But make sure that you are willing to follow the truth, whatever it costs.
Some who saw the supernatural sign, or heard about it, listened to Jesus and believed in him. They became his followers. Some gave up their business, their livelihood, their families to follow Jesus. Some gave up everything. Many of them suffered horrific deaths that they could have escaped if only they would renounce Jesus as a fraud. Jesus' followers experienced and taught that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead was at work in his followers. That same resurrection power began to clothe the timid with boldness, it transformed fishermen, tax collectors and zealots into heralds of the truth, transformed sinners into forgiven warriors willing to lay down their lives for the sake of their Master, willing to let go of everything and go to the ends of the earth to make him known.
So I ask you again, where do you see yourself? Are you so set in what you believe that you are not even interested in what is true? Are you a curious onlooker, intrigued by the supernatural, even believing that Jesus is who he claimed to be, but it makes no difference in your life? Are you skeptical, but you really want to know the truth? Or are you convinced that Jesus is God in the flesh come to die for your sins, you have come to him to be forgiven of all your sins, and you are willing to follow him wherever he leads?
It is my prayer that wherever you are, God would so work in your heart that you would become a believer, a follower of Jesus and experience his resurrection power transforming you. Experience life!