17 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.says the LORD through Isaiah. This hundreds of years before Jesus appeared on the scene. Raising somebody from the dead is not a bad way to start that re-creation. It gets your attention. It changes all the rules. Jesus is the centre of it. No Jesus, no resurrection (no resurrection, no Jesus for that matter). No Jesus, no Church. No Jesus, no Easter Sunday or Easter dinner. No Jesus and we’re a bunch of chumps, don’t you think?
But there IS Jesus, “who is LORD of all,” said Peter in p5, v36 of our Acts reading. Jesus, through whom, he also said, God the Father told the good news of peace. Jesus who was (v38) uniquely and wonderfully anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, who went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil. And Jesus was able to do all of that because God the Father was with Him.
The devil does have power, you know. He is real. Our being here this morning is displeasing to him. The opposite is also true. Church going is spiritual warfare. It is especially so for those of you who bring your children. There is a battle for their souls going on. The devil is no match for Jesus, but if we allow ourselves get separated from Him and His church, we and our children are in real danger of being picked off one by one.
And then Peter makes the point in v39 of saying he and the other disciples were witnesses. They had the awful experience of seeing Jesus killed, being a witness is not always a joyful experience, and then, and here’s the amazing thing (v40), they also saw Jesus after God raised him from the dead. Walking around. They even ate and drank with Jesus after He rose from the dead. John’s gospel records a breakfast fishfry on the beach. Jesus, no ghost, eating and drinking and alive again.
This was no fairy tale, mind. It was written at a time when there where people alive who could have contradicted what Matthew, Mark, Luke Luke, John, Paul and Peter wrote if had not been true.
Peter said what he said in Acts after not, at first, (p6, v11 in this morning’s gospel) believing the women who came back from the empty tomb and their encounter with the men in clothes that gleamed like lightning; thinking it nonsense. In the gospel v12, at least Peter took the time to check the story out, but he still wasn’t convinced. Then by Acts 1.22 he had changed his mind. There he organized the brothers to choose a successor to Judas to “become with us, a witness of his resurrection.” What women said wasn’t nonsense at all. It was the truth.
And here we are two thousand years later, gathering to meet and eat with the Risen Jesus.
It’s remarkable how consistent belief in the resurrection has been down through the ages. With one exception all the disciples died nasty, violent deaths because they believed it. Only John died of natural causes. How likely is it that eleven people would agree to die for a hoax? They could have been mistaken, I suppose, and died for something that was false but which they believed to be true. But with the textual consistency of the biblical record, I don’t find that convincing. People like Malcolm Muggeridge, CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, Dallas Willard, Oswald Chambers and Anne Rice; all fearsomely intelligent people; believe it.
Timothy Keller, The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism (Dutton, 2008)—a book that’s in our library.
Sometimes people approach me and say, “I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching [the resurrection]. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.” I usually respond: “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” This is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection. They knew that if it was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything. 202Bishop of Durham and respected New Testament scholar Tom Wright believes it, too. He wrote:
Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers and wouldn't have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were not saying: "I think he's still with us in a spiritual sense" or "I think he's gone to heaven". All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical and theological nerve.How’s your historical and theological nerve this morning? How’s your “faith nerve”? Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Literally. Actually. Unmistakeably. That fact defined and generated the church and has been its message when it has been faithful and true. It must also define us and it must be our message.
Here’s my prayer for you this morning:
For those of you who already have a saving faith in the literally risen Jesus Christ; that your faith be increased and strengthened;
For that those of you who have not yet come to such a personal, saving resurrection faith, that you will do so.
That you all become convincing and fruitful witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Decide to make your saying of the Creed today be a new personal “Yes” to belief in the risen Jesus. Make the Eucharistic prayer a new personal thanksgiving for all he has done and a new offering of yourself for his service.