Now I declare to you, brothers, the Good News which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold firmly the word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers at once, most of whom remain until now, but some have also fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as to the child born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who is not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the assembly of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. His grace which was given to me was not futile, but I worked more than all of them; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Whether then it is I or they, so we preach, and so you believed. Now if Christ is preached, that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain. (WEB)
If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory. (WEB)
Message from Pastor Greg
The question that is in our bulletin for you – “Does It Really Matter?” – may cause you to think about that kind of title. I want to take you back to help you understand what this kind of phrase is used for. Back in the New England days of my life, the churches in the local village and community were usually led by people – lay people, of course, but also ministers from the state convention – and I found out that these were men to whom the things of God really didn't matter. And there was a big set-to when it became known that in a church newsletter, it said that nobody knew anymore where the body of Jesus was. And I didn't let that go by me. And still it wasn't finished, because it said, “It doesn't really matter” – you could hear that sound of his voice, although he's writing it – “It doesn't really matter at all where the body of Jesus is.” And the group of people in the congregation that wouldn't have this, rose up and said, “It will matter in every way possible.” So it's all these years, and it's almost forty-three years since that whole thing occurred. It helps me to understand very much to ask that question of you, of me: “Does it really matter? Does it really matter?”
Does it really matter that Jesus claimed that he would rise from the dead? Does it really matter that the disciples claimed that they saw him numerous times after the crucifixion? Does it really matter that they said he then went up into heaven, in the clouds, right before their eyes? Does that really matter? Did he do all these things? Did all these things make a difference? You may decide for yourself this glorious Easter day. Did he do all of those things, and does the answer to that question, that one question – does that really matter at all?
There are, of course, many who do not believe in Jesus at all; many who believe in some other pagan god or whatever; and many who claim to believe there is no god – small 'g', believe it or not – at all. Does that matter? Does it matter to you, does it matter to me this Easter day? Does it make any difference whether or not there is or is not a God? That question is also hotly debated, but it is not the question we are considering today, because that question and the response to it matters and makes this Easter day in your lives, in your hearts, in mine and in my life – it makes all the difference. All the difference.
By speaking of Easter, we who are here affirm that there is a God and that Jesus is the divine-human one who completely embodies the things of God. It refers to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many would say, “No, it doesn't matter.” Those people who say 'no' go on to say that what does matter is that the spirit, the ideals, the essence of what Jesus stood for – that does matter, and that lives on. Let's look at that belief a little bit more.
Jesus taught that people should speak the truth; I could easily go on and say, “the whole truth and” – want to say it with me? – “nothing but the truth.” And how do we know what that truth is? We go directly to John 14, don't we, where Jesus goes on to say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus said that he would die and then rise from the dead; he said this at least four times before he was crucified. If Jesus didn't bodily rise then, then he was an intentional liar. He was a totally deceived self; or he was, as some writer said, “just crazy” – and now he is dead, still in the tomb. In any case, Jesus wasn't a good man, or at the very least, not one worth following. But that does really matter, doesn't it? That really does make a difference, doesn't it? That really does matter.
Also, Jesus said that it was his death that would pay for our sins and open the way for us to come connected to the Father; but he said that it was his resurrection that would prove that he had supreme power over it – over death – and his resurrection that would defeat and discern the spiritual enemy of us all. Because that mattered. Also, Jesus' disciples claimed that Jesus did rise from the dead. If he didn't, then they were liars, and they became martyrs for a cause that they knew was all a lie – something sane people don't do!
St. Paul says that if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, Christianity crumbles. All God's promises to his people depend on the truth that we serve a risen Savior! “We serve a risen Savior, / he's in the world today, / I know that he is living” – what's next in that verse? – “whatever men may say! / I see his hand of mercy, / I hear his voice of cheer, / and just the time we need him, / he's always near.” Always. Always, always. And does it matter? Yes, it does, and it matters always.
We serve a risen Savior, because “all of God's promises are 'yea' and 'amen'” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). The whole Christian faith hangs on the truth of Jesus' bodily resurrection. Once again, listen to Paul's words and let the significance of them sink deeply into your heart: “If Christ has not risen, we have nothing to preach, and you have nothing to believe” (1 Corinthians 15:14) – nothing! Well that really matters, to have nothing, doesn't it?
But Jesus Christ is risen. Because he lives, we too can live. Does that matter? That matters, doesn't it? Jesus Christ is risen, and because he lives, we too can live, if we receive God's gift of forgiveness and eternal life that come only through Jesus. And so we rejoice today for the three big things this Easter day: Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again – and he lives today. Thanks be to God and hallelujah. In gratitude for Christ's death, which paid for our sins; in joy in the daily power of his resurrection; in trust and obedience, because Jesus is coming again to take us home with him – all belong to him. Christ is risen, and we did a wonderful job this morning to open the service: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Thanks be to God! Hallelujah!
Message from Pastor Jonathan
Throughout the Bible, God shows us a clear pattern: where there's an exile, there's a return; where there's a captivity, there's an exodus. Nothing in the Old Testament makes sense unless that pattern comes to a great climax, just as the prophets constantly said that it would. Nothing in the Bible makes sense without hope of return from our exile away from God's presence. Nothing in the Bible or in the world makes sense without an exodus from our captivity to sin and death. Without that, everything is senseless. But the resurrection of Jesus is the restoration of sense. The resurrection of Jesus means that God really stepped into human shoes to be exiled from the land of the living – and to return. For us, all for us. The resurrection of Jesus means that the Lord is alive! And “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has any dominion over him” (Romans 6:9).
The Apostle Paul wrote that, at the time of his deepest despair in the face of death, he knew that he had no reason to rely on himself. No works could save him; no works could protect him. Instead of putting his faith in himself, he resolved that “we would not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). That's who God is. The true God is the “God who raises the dead”. The defining character of God is that he speaks light into the darkness and creates life right under death's nose. In the beginning, he breathed life into dead dust and crowned it his image (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7). This God is a God who guarantees life's victory over death – and if you want to see him in action, look no further than his Son.
The essential mode of our hearts has to be trust in the God who conquers death with life, the God made visible to us in the life of Jesus. That's why “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Without this, we're hopeless, because the scriptures say that Jesus was “handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). If the second thing didn't happen, then the first had no power. So “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is pointless and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
That's a big 'if' – and praise God, it's an empty 'if'! Because Christ has been raised! Jesus is alive! He is King! And that means that the promised resurrection, the long-awaited victory of God, has already started. It started with Jesus, and that's the concrete guarantee that his sacrifice was accepted by God. And since that's the truth, then the gates of forgiveness are thrown wide open. By his grace, all we need is faith to enter in. But it's also the concrete guarantee that death is not the end for us, and even heaven isn't the end for us: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Death's quest to divorce us from God's good creation will fail. Our hope isn't to escape our bodies and leave the earth and flit around in the clouds; our hope is that “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). If the silent tomb of Jesus didn't stay silent – and it didn't – then neither will the cemetery right outside these walls! Jesus Christ is the firstfruits from the dead, and that proves the full harvest to come (1 Corinthians 15:20)!
But since Jesus Christ is risen, then the resurrection-life should already be beginning in our hearts. We are a body, but “he is the head of the body, the church”, and “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). And the body grows from the head, when God grants the growth (Colossians 2:19). That means that we aren't just a random collection of individuals with common interests who are located at the same building now and again. That's not the church; that's a social club! That's not a living body; that's decomposition! We are not called to be a collection; we're called to be a community, the community of the living Christ. We're called to actively live as that holy community, working together as a faithful fellowship on a continual basis, investing in one another's growth and well-being. That is how a living body lives.
So if Christ has been raised – and he is risen! – “set your minds on things that are above”, not on things below (Colossians 3:2). It's the 'things above' that will be obvious everywhere when “Christ [our] life is revealed” and we “also will be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). The rule of 'things below' lost when Jesus beat the Grave and claimed the victory for Life (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). The 'things below' separate; the 'things above' unite – for there's one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one body, one faith, one baptism, one hope and holy calling (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Now, since the physical body of Jesus is glorified beyond death and is ascended to the Father's throne above, the corporate body of Jesus on earth is called with one holy calling to put away anything that diminishes our life together. Our life together is hindered by 'things below' – things like impurity, greed, anger, lies, impatience, unkindness, unforgiveness, and in short, all the things that tear the church apart and make parts of Christ's body pretend they're better off alone (cf. Colossians 3:5-13). If we choose to cling to these 'things below', then we're pretending in practice that Christ isn't really risen. And that's a lie! Because Christ is risen, and that means he sums up all things in heaven and earth under one headship (Ephesians 1:10). Does it really matter? A trillion times, yes!
If we're a body, then we're a community. And as a community, we commune. A real community has to have a communion, and ours is unveiled when we share in the same sacred meal, refueling our body with the resurrection-life made available for us when Jesus was voluntarily broken for our sins. We don't live together under our own power, any more than we live separately in the Spirit – which is a contradiction in terms, since “the unity of the Spirit” is lived in “the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). No, we live together through Christ's life, which broke through death and tunneled out the other side into glory. We're on a journey through the path Christ made for us – together. So, to have life for the journey, let's eat the feast of God from the Lord's table – together. Because Christ is risen!