Posts Tagged ‘raised from the dead’

Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! An Easter Message On 1 Corinthians 15

April 20, 2014

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  That millennia-old paschal greeting sums up the essence of Easter.  Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, as prophesied in the Old Testament as a future event and as described in the New Testament as a historical fact, was crucified and His dead body was placed in a guarded tomb.  But on the third day, on that first Easter morning, He was raised from the dead.  And by being raised from the dead Jesus was able to offer His resurrection life to anyone who would believe in Him.  According to Romans 10:9, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

In our modern age, the Christ of Easter has been replaced by what we can call an “Easter Bunny Jesus.”  2 Corinthians 11:4 points out that false culture, false religion and false science manufacture false Jesuses.  The Easter Bunny Jesus was a good man, a moral teacher, who was killed for preaching socialism, pacifism, and whatever other politically correct “-ism” is in vogue with the secular humanist, anti-supernaturalist, postmodernist, existentialist, moral-relativist crowd that has anointed itself the arbiters of truth.  Their Easter Bunny Jesus, of course, died and is still very much dead.  One of their favorite assertions is that the biblical accounts of Jesus are myths and fables written after the fact by people who were not eyewitnesses.

The problem with the Easter Bunny Jesus is that such a Jesus, like the Easter Bunny itself, ultimately means nothing, because he is nothing but a fabricated story with a fabricated theological meaning.  And a dead Messiah can’t do anything for anybody for the very simple reason that he is DEAD and BURIED.  And it is a doubly fabricated story because it has no connection whatsoever with the real Jesus and what the real Jesus really did on Easter.

So what really happened on the first Easter morning?

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15 we have an early Christian creed that dates to within the time of the crucifixion of Jesus that defines the meaning of the Gospel of Easter and defends the HISTORICAL REALITY of Easter.

Turn with me in your Bibles, if you have them, to 1 Corinthians 15:

   1Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

What is the meaning of the Christian Gospel of Easter?

First of all, the Easter Gospel is that by which we are saved.  According to the Bible, there are ultimately only two kinds of people: those who are saved, and those who are lost.  Jesus believed in the reality of hell.  We avoid discussing hell, because a lot of modern people find the concept very unpleasant.  But the fact is that Jesus talked more about hell than anyone else in all of Scripture.  In fact, Jesus talked about hell almost more than everyone else in Scripture COMBINED.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:23 that there will be many to whom He will say, “Depart from me.  I never knew you.”  In Matthew 8:12 Jesus spoke of a place of outer darkness, and said “in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”   According to Matthew 25:41 Jesus will say to those who are not saved, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

No Easter Bunny Jesus can save you.  Only the power of the real Resurrected Son of God can save you.

What do you have to believe to have the Easter Resurrection Life of Christ?  1 Corinthians 15:3-4 tells us: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”  Forget the Easter Bunny Jesus; we’re talking about the REAL death and the REAL Resurrection of the REAL Christ Jesus who came in fulfillment of the Old Testament that prophesied the coming Christ.  And this real Jesus REALLY died.  The body of this real Jesus REALLY was buried.  And the body of this real Jesus was REALLY raised from the dead.

Who is Christ?  As Peter confessed to Jesus in Matt 16:16, He is the Son of the Living God.  He is God the Son.  The Gospel of John begins by teaching that Christ was with God the Father from the beginning, and ALL things came into being through Christ.  Colossians 1:16 confirms this truth about Christ Jesus, teaching that “in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

God the Son took on a human nature.  He created man and woman in His own image knowing that one day He would assume our image, so that He could live the perfect life in our place that we could not live, and then die the death that we could not die in our place for our sins.  And all you have to do to be saved, according to the Bible, is accept what He did for you on the cross, and believe that God raised Him from the dead with the kind of Resurrection Life that He alone can offer to YOU right here and right now as He takes your sin and gives you His righteousness.

Now comes the question: why should anyone believe this Gospel?  Why should anyone believe that this Christ came, died in our place for our sins that separate us from God, and was raised from the dead as the Lord of Life to offer that Life to us?  What evidence does St. Paul present that he’s telling the truth about the first Easter?

In verses 3 through 7 of 1 Corinthians 15, scholars identify an early Christian creed (there are SEVERAL early creeds preserved in the New Testament that were passed on from the very first Christian witnesses).  St. Paul – who began his own career as a Jewish rabbi and a Pharisee – in saying, “For what I received I passed on to you” – is actually using technical rabbinical terminology for the receiving and passing along of established oral tradition.  He’s pointing out that he received this creed from someone else and is now passing it on.    Paul points out that he had ALREADY given the Corinthians this creed on his first visit, which history confirms happened in 51 AD.  He uses the past tense: “I passed on to you.”  So we’re already within twenty years of the cross, aren’t we? But St. Paul tells us that just as HE passed the creed on, it had been previously passed to HIM, right?  So who did St. Paul receive the creed from?

It gets exciting: most scholars argue that Paul had to have received this creed when he made the trip to Jerusalem described in Galatians 1:18-19 to meet with Peter and James – the very people specifically named in the creed. That event is fixed historically: it happened in AD 38.  That’s just a few years from when Christ was crucified.

But the stylized, structured wording of this creed strongly suggests to many scholars that it predates even Paul’s visit to meet with Peter and James.   The underlying wording is clearly Aramaic rather than Greek, for example.  When the passages are re-translated into Aramaic, they possess the rhyme and rhythm that clearly reveals they were originally developed in that language.  That is why it’s “Cephas” rather than “Peter.”  And in the words of this creed, we are back right to the moments right after the Cross, to the Resurrection, as the eyewitnesses described what they saw and who saw it with them.

Let’s look again beginning with verse 5: “and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

For the first thousand years after the Crucifixion of Jesus, the ONLY polemic from Jews – who saw the rise of Christianity as a threat to Judaism – was that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body from the tomb.  That was the only rival explanation that was offered.  Jesus died and stayed dead, and His disciples stole His body and started preaching a lie.  But here’s the thing: that explanation has largely been abandoned by even the most skeptical scholars today.  Do you know why?  Because in the thousand years SINCE the end of the first millennia, critics have had to contend with a brutal fact of history: that these twelve men who claimed they had seen Jesus resurrected from the dead CHANGED THE WORLD preaching about that resurrected Jesus they claimed they saw and heard and touched.  The calendar on planet earth is dated in A.D., Anno Domini, In the Year of Our Lord, BECAUSE of the testimony of the apostles about Jesus.

History records the fact that Jesus’ disciples traveled across the known world preaching about what they witnessed that Easter morning.  With the sole exception of St. John – who was himself tortured for his testimony – all of these men gave their lives as martyrs proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, whom they had seen crucified and whom they saw raised gloriously from the dead.

Here’s the problem for skeptics and for those who prefer the Easter Bunny Jesus: these disciples were in a UNIQUE position to know whether or not they had really witnessed what they claimed they had seen and heard and touched.  While it is possible for people to be sincerely mistaken, the disciples were in a UNIQUE position to know for certain whether they saw, heard and touched what they claimed they had.

Would you be willing to die for something that you categorically KNEW was false?  Do you think you could assemble a dozen other people who would likewise all be willing to die for something that they knew was not true???  No.  Nobody dies for a lie.  Everyone pretty much agrees that the disciples clearly, sincerely believed that they had seen their Lord Jesus gloriously alive after His death by crucifixion and after having spent three days in a tomb.  There are some who want to argue that Jesus was the one who pulled off the fraud, having somehow survived being crucified, having a Roman spear shoved through His heart, waking up in a tomb and climbing out to deceive His disciples.  But the problem with that is that it makes JESUS a horrible, lying fraud and in fact the greatest villain in all of human history.  Does that work for you that the Man regarded as the greatest moral teacher who ever lived was a dishonest imposter???

So modern skeptics have devised a phenomena of mass hallucination, whereby all twelve of the disciples over and over again all thought they were seeing the same thing, hearing the same thing, even TOUCHING the same thing, but of course they had to be somehow mistaken every single time.  And when 500 people all saw and heard the same thing at the same time, well, what else could have happened except that they were suffering from a mass delusion?  A delusion so powerful most of them ultimately sacrificed their lives as martyrs for what they thought they had seen but of course hadn’t really seen.

I find it easier to simply believe that there really is a God who can do what the God of the Bible says He can do.

St. Paul provides three specific witnesses that we have to briefly discuss: Cephas (or Peter), James, and last of all, Paul adds himself to the list in verse 8.

These three men cover the panoply of possibilities and responses to Jesus: When Jesus was crucified, Peter – who had believed in and followed Jesus – was a completely broken man even before Jesus was crucified.  He had fled like a coward from the One he had previously declared he would die for.  He had denied Jesus three times that night while Jesus was on trial for His life.

Question: what would it take to make this completely broken man the boldest of the disciples who would preach until his own martyrdom by crucifixion?  What would it take to make such a man – facing his own cross of execution – ask the Romans to crucify him upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the exact same manner as his Lord Jesus?  What would it take to restore Peter?  Only one thing: an appearance by the resurrected Lord of Life who forgave him and restored him and gave him a mission that he would doggedly pursue to the moment of his own martyrdom.

Take James, the half-brother of Jesus.  The Gospels record that James was highly skeptical of his half-brother Jesus.  John 7:5 openly declares that James didn’t believe.  Mark chapter 3 indicates that James was one of those who literally thought that Jesus had lost His mind.  Here comes the question: what would it take for you to believe that your oldest sibling was the Creator God of the Universe???  Because THAT is the point that James the brother of Jesus had to somehow arrive at.  What would it take?  How about seeing his half-brother, having been crucified, gloriously risen from the dead in proof that everything He had said about Himself was true and that He really WAS the Savior of the world???  We know that James became a believer at the worst possible time, right after his half-brother was brutally executed by Rome as a warning to anyone who would believe what Jesus had believed.

And history records that James, known as James the Just for his godly character, was murdered by a mob as a martyr for preaching, yes, that his half-brother Jesus really was Lord and God.

And we arrive at St. Paul.  Verse 8 says, “and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”  St. Paul started out as Saul, a rabid Jewish Pharisee who despised Christians and literally wanted them all either dead or in chains.  Until something knocked him off his high horse when he was on the road to Damascus to persecute more Christians and changed his mind – and more – his heart forever afterward.  And so Saul the most ardent persecutor of the Church became St. Paul, the most ardent evangelist of the Church he had tried to destroy.  What could cause such a transformation?

Paul repeatedly offered only one answer: he saw the risen Jesus and he believed what he saw and heard.

On this Easter morning, I it is my privilege to declare to you that it all really happened just as the Scriptures declare: that Jesus the Christ, the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, really came, really lived a perfect life in your place, really took your sins upon Himself at the cross, taking the blame for what you’ve done, and really rose bodily from the dead so that you could be raised to the Resurrection Life of Easter with Him.

And all you have to do to have that eternal Easter life is believe in the Lord of Life, believe in Jesus.

In Easter We Can Know That God Loves Us With His Life

April 4, 2010

What is the message of Easter?  It is that Jesus of Nazareth conquered death.  It is that “He is risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6).  And in rising bodily from the grave, it is that Jesus was vindicated in everything He said about Himself.  The One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) put to the lie the Pharisee’s mockery that “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself” (Matthew 27:42).  In rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that He is indeed “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Over the centuries, Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike have provided many arguments for the existence of God.  But the Bible never makes any such attempt.  God’s existence is as much assumed as is our existence; and to question one’s existence would be as silly as to question one’s own existence.  Thus, the first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  We are told, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1).  Paul says in Romans:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).

And James tells us, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19).

There is clearly a great deal more to the Christian faith than merely believing in the existence of God.

On my view, in agreement with St. Paul above, I believe that the existence of God has been made plain.  It is no amazing thing to believe in God; and as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, such belief is properly basic.

Believing in God is not the “hard part” about being a Christian.  You want to know what is?  Believing that God – the creator of space and time, energy and matter – loves me and cares about meTHAT’S the hard part.

And that’s exactly the part that Easter morning speaks to.

Take a look at Eli Weisel’s Night, written from the vantage point of a Holocaust death camp survivor:

The first night in camp turned Elie’s life completely. It was the first time he learned how people could be so cruel to the others, it was the night that turned his dream to dust, and it was the night he lost the faith in God. From that day on, although many people believed the concentration camp is where the God tests them, judges their characters, and proves that God loved them, Elie doubted the God’s absolute justice. As time went by, Elie became accustomed to all the horrors he had experienced. Unlike the beginning of the book, which he take care the neighbors with all he can do for them, now he cared only the food but no one else. He was numb to the burning body, to the beating and to the hard works. But one day, the last hope was torn away from Elie when he had to witness the hanging of a small boy. “For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes.” (62) A man behind Elie asked, “Where is God? Where is He?….Where is God now?”  A voice inside Elie answered, “Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging here on this gallows…” (62) At this moment, Elie’s world was collapsed, and the God was murdered.

In this account, God hanging on the gallows represents the death of God, in the sense of extinction.  But there is another side to this story.  Because God Himself – in the form of the Son of God who had assumed a human nature so that He could live a perfect human life and die a substitutionary death for the sins of mankind – actually DID hang on a cross.

Our suffering certainly doesn’t prove the death of God when God Himself has entered into our suffering.  Rather, God suffered so that He could ultimately put an end to suffering.

God is not dead.  He did die for us.  But death could not keep Him down.  He rose from the grave.  He conquered death.  And He is now gloriously alive forevermore as the first fruits of resurrection life that one day every believer will experience.

Easter assures us that God did not create planet earth to serve as His fishbowl.  He is not looking dispassionately down at earth.  In the Incarnation of the Son of God, God demonstrated that He not only cared about His creation, but was willing to go to the farthest possible lengths to save His wayward creation and win it back to Himself.

The Incarnation of God is the greatest love story ever told.  The Son of God – God Himself in every way – chose to temporarily set aside key attributes of deity and assume a human nature.  God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27) so that one day He could become a man.

And so God came into the world, born of a humble virgin into a carpenter’s family.  Perfect God became a perfect man; Jesus obeyed His Father perfectly, and never sinned even once, so that He could be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Jesus said of His own purpose, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus said, “No one can take my life from me.  I sacrifice it voluntarily.  For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:18, NLT).  And Jesus allowed His life to become a sacrifice in such a terrible, humiliating, painful manner that no decent human being could have been able to even look upon His death, let alone endured it.  He allowed men who were literally filled with demons to unleash their rabid hatred upon Him.  And He demonstrated His compassion, love, and mercy even for those who were torturing Him when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Before He was crucified, Jesus was flogged in a manner that literally stripped Him to the bone, and ripped out chunks of flesh and muscle.  His body was very likely already dying.  A jagged crown of thorns was shoved onto His head as a form of further mockery.  And then He was forced to carry His own instrument of execution as He stumbled agonizingly along the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “the way of grief”) while jeering crowds mocked Him.

“And they crucified Him” (Mark 15:24).

Death by crucifixion was the most extreme Roman penalty.  Crucifixion is without question the most painful and humiliating form of official death penalty ever devised.  The word “excruciating” was Latin, and means, “out of the cross.”  The victim was displayed naked, and his slow death by suffering available for all to see as a warning to any who would dare to threaten the supremacy of Rome.

Here is a medical account of the suffering inflicted by crucifixion:

Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood.  The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist.  He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood.  Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexibility and movement.  The patibulum is then lifted in place at the top of the stipes and the titulus reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed.  The victim is now crucified.  As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain – the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves.  As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this wrenching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet.  Again there is the searing agony of the the tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.

At this point, another phenomenon occurs.  As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain.  With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward.  Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act.  Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled.  Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath.  Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside.  Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.

Jesus’ suffering was not merely physical.  His emotional and spiritual suffering were as unparalleled in human history as was his bodily suffering.  The Son of God had known eternal loving relationship with the Father.  But on the cross, Christ became a sin offering – And in His agony His Father was forced to turn away from Him.  Galatians 3:13 tells us, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

Jesus suffered as no human being has ever suffered.  And yet Jesus wasn’t a helpless victim.  We have heard Jesus say prior to His crucifixion that He would sacrifice His life voluntarily (John 10:18).  As the soldiers, priests, and mob came to arrest Him at Gethsemane, Jesus said to His disciples who tried to protect Him, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52).  A legion was 6,000, meaning 72,000 angels would have come to save the Son of God at His bidding.

For the record, ONE angel put one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian warriors to death in one night (2 Kings 19:35).

So why on earth would Jesus have allowed Himself to be so horribly tortured and killed when He could have stopped it?

Because of His love for me.  And for you.

We talk about love all the time.  But we can’t even begin to fathom the depths of Christ’s love for us.

The last recorded word from Jesus on the cross was “Tetelestai.”  It is usually translated, “It is finished.”  But there is so much that we can learn from how that word was used in Roman culture at the time of Christ.  “Tetelestai” was used to stamp “paid” upon a receipt, and it was also the stamp put on a criminal’s charges once he had completed his sentence.  Paid in full.

In His substitutionary death, Christ paid the price for our sins.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  But Christ paid the price for us in full.

As I said earlier, “the hard part” of Christianity is believing the incredible concept that the Creator of the entire universe actually loves and cares about me.  There’s your real miracle.  It’s believing that no matter what my temporary situation might look like, I’m NOT alone and unloved; rather, I am loved by a God who literally loves Me with His life!  But there is more.  There is more than we could ever imagine.

What is the meaning of Easter?

It is summed up in Philippians 2:5-11:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

And because Christ was raised from the dead to glory, so also will those who love Him.

1 Corinthians 15: 50-57:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the meaning of Easter?  On Easter morning, after loving humanity with His life, Christ was raised from the dead.  The Resurrection and the Life conquered death once and for all.  And He paid for our sins so that we could share eternal life in heaven with God. That’s good news indeed to anyone who wants to go to heaven rather than hell, but who isn’t as righteous and sinless and perfect as God.

Before He was taken away to be beaten, flogged and crucified, Christ assured His first followers:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms;
if it were not so, I would have told you.
I am going there to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back and take you to be with me
that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).

And Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead is all I need to know to believe that a beautiful room in the very house of the Father awaits me.  What incomprehensible joy awaits those who love Christ!

Christ loved us with His life (past tense); He now loves us with eternal life in Him and with Him.

And so every Easter, Christians from all over the world joyfully greet one another and say, “He is risen!”  “He is risen indeed!”


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