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8th April; Easter Sunday, 2012

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

 4 and that he was buried,

and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,

5 and that he appeared to Cephas,

then to the twelve.

6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.

7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

9For I am the least of the apostles,

unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.[1]

The message of Easter is simple – that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is as well attested as any historical event

from 2000 years ago – and better than many;

we have more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus

than we have for the very existence of Julius Caesar.

From the very earliest days – this letter from the Apostle, Paul,

was written little more than a decade after the event –

Christians have claimed the resurrection as an historical fact.

Paul can refer to many people who his readers can go and interrogate

and find out for themselves if what he says is true.

He has no doubts about the reliability

or the large number of his witnesses.

He had met many of them himself!

And it’s not just what he has heard from others,

it’s also his own experience;

Jesus Christ appeared to him – alive!

Now it’s not unheard of for bright, intelligent people like Paul

to suddenly convert from one point of view to another,

and even to give their whole lives to the new idea.

Maybe this is what happened to the apostle Paul;

maybe the stress of persecuting Christianity in those very first days

led him to take the completely opposite view

and to become the most vigorous evangelist for Christ.

Maybe you could explain away Paul like that,

but what about Mary, Peter, John, James, and other leaders of the church;

would they all have given their lives for a dead messiah?

Would they have insisted to the point of death that Christ is risen

if it wasn’t the truth?

could they all have been mad

and then all had the same hallucination?

As a mental health professional, I don’t think that is terribly likely!

Nor could mad men have achieved what they did achieve;

so effectively preaching their message of the risen Jesus Christ

that in two short centuries

the entire Roman empire was ready to convert. 

And what about the many nameless Christians

who Paul, before his conversion, arrested and imprisoned and killed,

 because they would not stop believing that Jesus Christ is Risen?

Were they all mad?

Were they all bad – deliberately lying?
If they weren’t mad I don’t think they were bad, either,

because what the records – Christian and pagan –

tell us is that the church lived out the teaching of Jesus Christ:

they sold their possessions and gave to the poor,

they shared everything,

they stayed behind in plague-struck towns to care for the sick and the dying,

they brought slaves and citizens, women and men, Jews and Greeks together,

eating the same meal at the same table

in a world where inequality was the norm.

They refused to kill their children in times of famine,

and they refused to take the normal little ‘gifts’

that greased the wheels of business and civic careers.

They didn’t act like people living a lie;

they acted like people who had been so captured by the truth

that every sort of dishonesty had become repulsive. 

They were neither mad, nor bad.

They simply believed something that they knew beyond doubt to be true.

And today

wherever Christianity is more than just entertainment and big business

or the fading shadow of genteel religiosity,

there are believers in Jesus with a live faith in a living and present God.

And these believers today look no different to that first generation;

they, too, are willing to lay down their lives rather than deny their saviour,

they, too, give generously of time and resources to care for others,

and they too claim to have met the living Lord Jesus.

I stand before you today

as Paul did before the church at Corinth, to say, “He appeared also to me.”

And that is our prayer for each and every one

 – that you, too, can see and believe the risen Lord Jesus.

The whole of the New Testament is unpacking what it means

 to believe that Christ is risen from the dead;

what does it mean for how we live?

What does it mean for how we die?

What difference does it make to my money management?

What difference does it make to my relationships?

The message of Easter is simple enough – Jesus is risen –

But the meaning of Easter is going to take eternity to comprehend;

The human race has a new beginning;

we have been set free from sin and death

religious righteousness has fallen to the ground to die

and from that seed God is growing a kingdom of joy and justice.

 We no longer think of the grave as the end

but look forward to a new heavens and a new earth,

where the home of God is among mortals,

and he will dwell with us as our God

and we will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with us;

and he will wipe every tear from our eyes,

and death will be no more,

and mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.

How is this all possible?

How can it be true?

It is true because Jesus was not simply an ordinary bloke

who happened to come back to life again;

– only to die once more, a few years down the track.

Having suffered death once Jesus lives forever

and is seated beside his Father on the throne of Heaven.

Why is Jesus Christ on the Throne of God?

Because he is the only begotten Son of God;

the resurrection shows us this.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans to say

he “was declared to be Son of God with power

according to the spirit of holiness

by resurrection from the dead;

 Jesus Christ our Lord,”[2]

We can’t really ever quite get our heads around how this works

 – and for that I’m grateful;

if we could actually comprehend everything about God

we’d have to say that such a god was less than God-like.

What we can say is that Jesus and His Heavenly Father are united in the Spirit

so that we have one God in three persons.

What that means practically is that the person who walked around Galilee,

who showed people God’s love and power through miracles and signs,

who taught and lived a life of kindness and compassion,

and who was nailed to a cross and hung out to dry in the desert sun

is also God.

He was, and is, a physical, breathing, laughing, crying,

eating and bleeding human being.

And he is God. 

Now, when we want to know what God is like

we should ask “What is Jesus like?”

In Jesus we see all that is God;

we see self-sacrificing love.

we see ourselves, not just as reject screw-ups,

but as loved creations,

sinking in sin, yes,

but kept from death,

and even lifted completely out of danger into new life

by the one who dared to dive into the deepest places,

to get beneath us in our struggles

and to lift us to safety. 

In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul describes it like this:

...Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8               he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father. [3]

Christ is Risen; Hallelujah!

The challenge to us is to seek to know the risen Lord Jesus,

for the Scriptures say that all who seek him shall find him –

or more accurately, be found by him. 

If you are willing to open your eyes to this most glorious truth,

then you, too will be able to say, “He appeared to me!”

and then you will be faced with this decision;

do I follow this Jesus?

Do I dare to walk in the footsteps of the crucified?

When you ask yourself that Question,

ask another also;

what might it mean to reject the only human being

who has conquered death forever?

This question is life or death – choose life!

Choose Christ,

and let us together walk the way of the God who humbled himself

who accepted death on a cross,

so that the walls of the Grave could be battered down from within,

and every prisoner set free at last. 

[1]1 Cor. 15 NRSV, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[2]Romans 1.4, NRSV, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[3]Ch. 2, NRSV, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.