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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC Easter Sunrise Service, 2017-04-16

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:20

The title of this sermon is “Christ Is Risen from the Dead!” Among all the teachings of the Bible, there is none that brings greater comfort and hope than this one! The reason for this is that death is a grim reality of life. The sober fact that we all learn to accept is that life ends in death. No matter how hard we try to avoid this truth, it keeps coming back in one form or another! We hear of it in the news every day. In fact, there is not a single day that ever goes by without death, and so the pages of obituaries in the newspapers are never empty. Right at this moment, someone out there is taking his or her last breath. Death especially brings sorrow and pain, when a close friend or loved one is taken away.

And this sometimes makes us wonder: When will it be our turn to lie down all cold and lifeless in a narrow casket? Dear friends, if death is your final end with nothing more after that, then all the joy of living becomes quite meaningless, for there is nothing at all to look forward to in life if this is the way it ends. Surely there must be a better answer to death than this. And this is how the resurrection of Jesus from the dead becomes so relevant to us...

1. The Resurrection of Jesus Is the Answer That We Need, to Death.

His resurrection is relevant because death is a fact of human life. If death does not exist, there would be no need for a resurrection at all. And so to understand and appreciate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, let us first know what really happens to a person at death. 

Death is the total cessation of life. When a person dies, his body becomes cold and stiff. The cells and tissues begin to break down. These are only the visible effects of death. What cannot be seen is the separation of the soul from the body. The soul leaves the body and cannot return to it. Hence, death is irreversible. All the changes that have taken place in that body render it incapable of sustaining life. How can cells and tissues that have broken down be restored to function once again? How can organs and muscles that have decomposed be perfectly re-formed? And how can the soul ever return to a reconstituted body and animate it once more?

Well, this then is the real wonder of the resurrection – it actually reverses an irreversible change! To resurrect the dead back to life is to do the impossible. And it would take nothing less than a very great miracle to do this. And that’s precisely what the resurrection of Jesus is.

2. The Resurrection of Jesus Is a Very Great Miracle.

The question that needs to be answered now is – Can this miracle of Christ’s resurrection ever be proved? This question seems to be very difficult to answer, because miracles can never be repeated. It is impossible to replay them to observe how they took place.

Because miracles are such rare events in history, the number of people who were eyewitnesses to them is understandably small. But when we say that they were “a small number” we do not mean that just 1 or 2 of them experienced each miracle. It may be possible for 1 or 2 witnesses to be deceived by what they saw. But this is most unlikely for the witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. On one occasion the resurrected Christ was seen by more than 500 people at once (1 Corinthians 15:6). But when all these witnesses are added up, they are still few compared with the rest of humanity who did not see Him, including us.

And so we must depend entirely on the testimony of these ‘few’ witnesses, and we accept them on the basis of their reliable character. Is that unreasonable? No, it is actually something that we all do every day when we read the news about an event that happened in some part of the world. Were any of us there to see it? No. Then how can we be sure it really happened? Only by trusting what is reported by those who were there. We can only rely on the testimony of a few reporters at the scene, and yet we fully accept what they have written because of their reputation as truthful reporters. And when all the reports from different reporters are consistent with each other, then we have much more confidence to trust them.

This is in fact, the way that all our courts of law verify the facts of a case – it is all based on the unified testimony of some credible witnesses. Hence, the proof of miracles lies in the character of their witnesses, and in the quality of their testimony. If the witnesses are of doubtful character, then the miracles are also doubtful. And if their testimonies do not agree, then there is also good reason to doubt that the miracles really happened. This leads us now to consider whether the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection are reliable and consistent.

Now, it is impossible to call those who had witnessed the resurrection of Christ to come here and tell us what they saw. They have all passed away a long time ago. But we do have the next best thing that will be accepted in any court of law – their affidavits. The witnesses have left behind their written declarations for us to read, and they are all recorded in the Bible.

Take, for example what one of them wrote at the end of his written record –  “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24) The disciple mentioned here is John. John also wrote in his first epistle –  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)  That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you…” (1 John 1:1-3)

Since we now have the written testimonies of the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, we can scrutinize them thoroughly and compare them one with another. For instance, the four gospels give parallel accounts of Christ’s resurrection, and these can be compared with each other to verify the accuracy of their witness.

And we can also compare them with extra-biblical sources and also with evidences from geography, archaeology and history. Here is an example: In AD 93, a Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus published a 20-volume work called ‘The Antiquities of the Jews.’ In volume 18 Josephus wrote,  “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Antiquities, 18.3.3) What makes this testimony so valuable is that it did not come from a Christian, but from a Jewish historian.

Many have examined the biblical accounts about the resurrection of Jesus. They have compared them with historical records like this have been convinced about their reliability. One of them was an English journalist with a law degree by the name of Frank Morison. At first he thought that the resurrection of Christ was only a myth or a fairy tale. So he attempted to write a new version of the end of the life of Christ, removing anything that is miraculous from it. But when he studied all the facts of the case carefully, Morison had to change his mind. In the end, he called the book he wrote, “Who Moved the Stone?” and the first chapter is significantly entitled, ‘The Book that refused to be written’. It shows that the evidence Morison found for the resurrection of Christ were so substantial that his book was changed from an attack on the resurrection to a defence of it!

More recently, there was a highly qualified legal expert and district judge by the name of Graeme Smith. He examined the evidence concerning the resurrection of Jesus from a purely legal perspective. In 2014 he published his findings in a 220-page book entitled, “Was the Tomb Empty?” So let me summarise the evidence for you now, and I believe that you too will find that they are substantial.

Firstly there are evidences that Jesus had really died. If He had not died but had only fainted on the cross then there would be no resurrection at all. He would merely have been resuscitated back to life. But there is one detail in John’s Gospel which shows that Jesus really died:  “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” (John 19:34). What John described here is medically consistent with death. When a person dies, his blood will begin to separate into two components – the watery plasma, and the blood cells that clump together into a semi-solid mass. This evidence makes it impossible for anyone to claim that Jesus was not dead.

Now, after Jesus had died on the cross, His body was taken down and wrapped up tightly with a linen cloth. And then it was laid in a nearby tomb. The tomb consisted of a little cave that had been hollowed out of the side of a hill. The body was laid in the tomb, and a big flat round stone was rolled to cover the entrance. This became the second evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, when it became an empty tomb.  

The authorities had taken special security measures for that tomb, like sealing the door of the tomb and posting Roman soldiers to guard it day and night. But despite doing all that, the tomb was found empty on the third day.

Skeptics think that the disciples were responsible for this. They must have come by night, overpowered these guards, opened the tomb and stolen the body of Jesus. But this theory is very weak, since the Roman soldiers who guarded the tomb did not report that the body was stolen. In fact the Jewish authorities bribed them to change their report and say “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept” (Matthew 28:12-13).

But if the soldiers were sound asleep at the tomb, how int he world would they know that the disciples had stolen the body? This theory of skeptics also cannot explain one detail related in John’s Gospel (20:6,7): The linen cloth that was used to wrap the body of Jesus was still found in the tomb. If anyone came to steal the body would they bother to spend the time unwrapping it there?

The third evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, is the many appearances of Christ alive over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). Ten of these appearances are recorded in the Four Gospels and they are summarised in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 – “…He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.”

Some skeptics have suggested that all these were merely hallucinations. The disciples missed Jesus so much, they imagined that they saw Him alive after He had died. It may be possible for one or two people to imagine seeing Christ at the same time. But how can over 500 people imagine that they are seeing Christ at the same time? – That’s hard even for us to imagine!

And the resurrected Christ did not appear briefly like an apparition or ghost at a distance. He was able to walk with those who saw Him and talk with them. They were even able to enjoy having a meal with them. One disciple named Thomas, was at first not convinced when the rest told him they had seen Jesus alive. He replied:  “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) And so Jesus appeared to Thomas and allowed him to do all these things, the only response that Thomas could give was to believe that Jesus had truly come back to life!

Thus far we have considered three evidences that Jesus rose from the dead: Firstly, the water and the blood which flowed from Jesus’ side - this proves that He really died. Secondly, the empty tomb and the linen cloth that was still inside it. Thirdly, the many physical appearances of Jesus to His disciples after He had resurrected.

Now we come to the fourth evidence of His resurrection – the changed lives of His disciples. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, how do we explain that a group of weak, demoralised disciples could suddenly become bold witnesses for Christ? How do we explain their willingness to suffer and die for what they believed? Would anyone die for a lie?

Nothing but the real bodily resurrection of Christ could have produced such a tremendous change in them. And nothing but the resurrection of Christ could have produced the amazing change in the most unlikely person some time later: Saul the Pharisee. Saul was leading the Jews to persecute Christians aggressively. But after his encounter with the risen Christ, he completely changed. He became Paul the Apostle. He now promoted the Gospel of Christ to the far corners of the Roman Empire! He was eventually beheaded at Rome.

And today we can still see the lives of countless men, women and children being changed. Many have been rescued out of a life of sin and misery, to become useful members of society. Only a Risen Christ could have such transforming power in a person’s life!

Thus we have seen that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is attested to by reliable, consistent witnesses and by substantial evidence. From this we can safely conclude that it is a truly miraculous historical event. Now we come to the final part of this message where we see that…

3. The Resurrection of Jesus Has Profound Implications for Us

The first implication is that it reveals His true identity. Being raised from the dead does not make any person God. The Bible records eight other resurrection miracles. For example, when the son of a widow fell sick and died, the prophet Elijah brought him back to life (1 Kings 17:17-23). One remarkable miracle was the raising of Lazarus at Bethany back to life: His body was already dead and buried for four days. And yet Jesus was able to raise him back to life!

What makes the miracle of Christ’s resurrection so different from all these? In all these other miracles, someone had raised the dead back to life. But in the case of Jesus, He came back to life entirely on His own. Jesus had the ability to raise Himself back to life, just as He said in John 10:17,18, “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”

The ultimate demonstration of power is to raise oneself from the dead. As Romans 1:4 tells us, “Jesus Christ was… declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” If a person claims, “I am God” but does nothing to support his claim, we would call him a Liar or a Lunatic. But when the person who claims to be God proves it by rising from the dead, then surely we must call him ‘Lord’ and we must then believe everything He says.

This is why we say that the resurrection of Christ from the dead is the central tenet of the Christian Faith. Everything that we believe in stands or falls with it. If the bones of Jesus should ever be found, Christianity would be demolished forever. Well, two thousand years have already elapsed since Jesus died, and His bones have never been found. Why? Because Jesus came back to life, never to die again.

This brings us to the second implication of His resurrection. It makes Him a living Saviour. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, He would not have been able to build up His Church through all the ages of history. His followers would have been left alone to fend for themselves. A dead Saviour would never be able to keep all the promises He made to them. He would never be able to answer their prayers or deliver them when they are in trouble. He would never be able to strengthen them when they are weak.

But many Christians have experienced the presence of Jesus with them. Many of us have found the joy of having Him as our closest friend. This is because Jesus is a Living Saviour. Jesus said this in Revelation 1:18 – “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore.”

And since Jesus is alive, we now have the greatest assurance that He will keep every promise He made. That includes His promise to return one day. Only a Living Saviour is able to return to claim His right to rule the world and to restore peace and order to it. And when He returns, He will raise up all believers who had died back to life! They will have the same kind of incorruptible body that Jesus had since the day He rose from the dead. This is the blessed hope that every Christian looks forward to.

The good news is that this hope can be yours today. It is yours if you turn to Jesus Christ and ask Him to save you from sin and eternal death. And when you are saved, you will have every reason to rejoice in the resurrection of Christ. It means that He has conquered death for you. When you come face to face with death, you can say triumphantly, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?...Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54,55,57).

I trust that through this message, you are now fully convinced that Jesus rose from the dead. You have seen that His resurrection is the answer that we need, to death. You have also seen that His resurrection is a very great miracle, attested to by reliable, consistent witnesses and by substantial evidence. And finally you have seen that the resurrection of Jesus has profound implications for us – revealing that He is truly God and the only Living Saviour of the world.

Now that you know the truth that Jesus has risen from the dead, how will you respond to it? Will you respond by turning to Jesus in repentance, trusting Him to save you from sin and eternal death? Dear friends, the Lord Jesus may be calling you to come to Him right now. Please, do not delay any longer. He says to you, “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) Will you come to Jesus now and be saved?

 
 
 
 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25