Jn. 20:1-18; , Mt. 28:5-6; Phil. 3:10
Today we have come to celebrate the most important event in the history of the world. There is no event in all of history that has the power to change our disposition, to change our way of life, and to change our destiny than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.Of course, we also think of the birth of Christ, that God took on flesh and entered this world as a human being in the infant Jesus. We can’t begin to measure the significance of that.We also remember the crucifixion of Christ, which we observed two days ago on Good Friday. There Jesus bore our guilt as He offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sin so we can be forgiven and reconciled to God.It is difficult and perhaps not necessary to separate these crucial events and decide which is most important, for they are all indispensible to God’s plan of salvation for human beings.But it is the resurrection of Jesus that really confirms to us that He is God the Son. We don’t believe in Jesus just because of what He taught, or even the miracles He did, although all that is important. Rather we believe in Jesus because His resurrection confirms He is God the Son, and thus was qualified to bear our sin. And it is the resurrection that shattered the power of death, and so gives us the assurance that while we still must one day die physically, we will spend eternity in the loving presence of God.What I want to do today is talk about two aspects of the resurrection of Jesus. First, it is a fact to be believed, for it is an event that really happened. Second, it is a reality to be experienced. It’s crucial that we hold both of these together.The Christian faith is not like some religions that have no meaningful rational content and offer only some kind of mystical or emotional experience. No, the Christian faith is based on truth to be believed – the truth of who God is, what God has done for us, and how we are to live as His followers. Central to this truth to be believed are the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.But believing the right things is not all there is to being a Christian. The Christian faith is not simply a philosophical or theological system to study and dissect and debate. The Christian faith is also a reality to experience, and more specifically, the resurrection is a reality to experience, for Jesus is the living Lord who is with us always, touching our lives with His grace in countless ways.If the Christian faith was only about experience and feelings, there would be no truth to undergird, support, and confirm our faith or to direct our living. But if the Christian faith was only about its rational content, it would be cold and dry and of interest only to academics. Fortunately, the Christian faith engages and satisfies our minds, and it also something we experience in our daily lives, and the resurrection of Jesus supplies us with both these aspects of our faith.So let’s first consider the fact of the resurrection. Probably no theological doctrine has been attacked as much as the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus. Both atheists and proponents of other religions have tried to disprove the resurrection of Jesus, but none have been successful.Several weeks ago at our Springboard Bible study I shared ten reasons we can be assured that Jesus really rose from the dead, ten events that really can only be explained by the resurrection of Jesus. I’m not going to go into all the details today, but I’ll just briefly mention a few of them.There is obviously the empty tomb, for which no one has ever been able to explain except for the resurrection.We see how the disciples were transformed from hiding in fear to boldly proclaiming that Jesus is alive, and they did that even at the cost of their lives. What led to such a profound transformation if not that they saw the risen Christ.Then there was the apostle Paul, who was a fierce opponent of Jesus and His followers , and then he was changed and boldly preached that Jesus is Lord, and Paul even died for his faith. How do you account for that except that the risen Christ appeared to him as Scripture declares.If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then the story of the resurrection was made up, but no one had any reason to make up such a story. The Bible is clear that no one, not even the disciples were expecting Jesus would rise from the dead, so why would they make such a story up? It was only seeing the resurrected Christ that led them to believe.And the Bible states that the women were the first ones to witness and then testify that Jesus was alive, which because of the low status of women at that time and that their word was not considered credible, no one would have made up. If the story was made up, it would say men were the first to see and proclaim that Jesus is alive.There are so many factors that confirm the resurrection of Jesus, and every argument opponents of the resurrection have put forth has been answered and answered convincingly. So we can be confident that our faith in Jesus is well-placed. His resurrection truly happened.The Christian faith is not simply a mystical or emotional experience. Nor is the Christian faith like some modern thinking that says if you simply believe there is a God, that is all that matters; it doesn’t really matter what you believe about this God. No, there is rational content to our faith and truth is very important, and that includes the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. We need to hold firmly to that, and we can because the evidence for the resurrection is more than convincing.When we believe in the fact of the resurrection, we can then experience its reality and significance in life-changing ways. So the second point I want to speak about today is what difference the resurrection of Jesus means for us.To help us understand the resurrection as a reality to experience, I want to mention a certain literary device authors sometimes make use of in their writing, especially when they are writing fairy tales or some kind of make believe stories. It is called a portal. In literature, a portal is a kind of passageway that takes the characters of the story from this world to another world, to another realm of reality that is much different than what we experience in this world.For instance, in the classic Alice in Wonderland, the portal was the rabbit hole. When Alice journeyed down the rabbit hole, she found herself in the world of the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, and a host of very different and even strange animals and creatures.If you are a Harry Potter fan, you know that King’s Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4 was the portal by which Harry and his friends took the Hogwarts Express to a very different world.And one more example, one that is filled with Christian symbolism, is the C. S. Lewis classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Here it was the wardrobe that functioned as a portal, for when Lucy and Susan, Peter and Edmund climbed into the wardrobe, they would sometimes tumble through the back side of it and into the Land of Narnia, filled with all kinds of talking animals, the white witch, and of course Aslan the Lion, the Christ-figure of the story.A portal is a very handy device if one wants to travel from this world to another and very different world. Unfortunately, such portals exist only in the realm of literature and I suppose our imaginations, where we may journey to a different world, but this world is the reality in which we live and finally die.However, there is one exception. There is one portal that is not limited to the world of literature and it is not about the land of make believe. This portal is real, and the world it opens up to us is as real as anything we see or experience in this world. In fact, it is even more real than anything in this world, for as we read in I Jn. 2:17, this world will pass away, but the world on the other side of this portal will last forever. The portal that opens up this new world for us is the resurrection of Jesus.When we place our faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord, we live in a new realm, what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. Thus, Paul wrote in Col. 1:13-14, ” For he (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has rescued us from this world ruled by the forces of darkness and transferred us into His Kingdom; Easter becomes a portal that leads to a new way of living in the Kingdom of God.Of course, we are all too acquainted with life on this side of the portal. This is a world filled with disappointments and anguish, selfishness and oppression, pain and sickness, and ultimately death. When we read the news we see this on a large scale – terrorist attacks, human trafficking, domestic abuse, racial strife, horrific crimes, diseases that cannot be cured, etc.And it is true for our individual lives as well. Not that we don’t experience good things in life, for surely we do, but it’s a mixed bag. We have our personal disappointments and dreams that never came true. Fears haunt us and sin enslaves us. Perhaps we have been treated unfairly at work, were the victim of a crime or a scam, or have had more than our share of sickness. We’ve been hurt by others, sometimes by those we love. No matter how healthy our lifestyle, as we age our bodies start to let us down and don’t perform as they used to. Finally, the process of dying takes over, and we succumb to it. That is life on this side of the portal of the resurrection.That was the fate of Jesus. He lived a perfect life. He brought hope and healing and joy to His followers, but what He got in return was a cross, where His body was nailed and His life came to an end. The only appropriate thing to do was to seal His body in the tomb. That is the nature of life on this side of the portal.But then to everyone’s surprise – everyone but Jesus that is – Jesus rose from the dead to live and reign forevermore. Jesus is the living Lord who is with us and His Spirit indwells us. Thus, the power of the resurrection is like a portal that opens up a whole new world for us.Actually, this new world comes to us in two stages. The first stage takes place while we live in this world. Of course, this world didn’t change the instant Jesus rose from the dead, and it doesn’t change the moment we place our faith in Christ. We’re not instantly transported to a different world as was true for the four children in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We are still in this world, and the world doesn’t change, but we do. A new world opens up for us because we can live differently than before, for incredibly the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us! That is what Paul was getting at in Eph. 1:18-20.“18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”Think how much power it took to overturn the reality of death and bring Jesus back to life, to put life back in that corpse. Of course, there is no way we can imagine such power. Paul said that this same power is available for those who believe. When we believe in Jesus, including in His resurrection, the same power that brought Jesus back from the dead is there for us, to transform us into new people in Christ. What hope and encouragement this gives us!We all have areas of our lives that we are not happy about – habits that control us, behaviors that disappoint us, characteristics that embarrass us, fears that haunt us. Try as we might, we just can’t seem to change; we’re unable to overcome these traits.Now the Christian life is not simply about trying to be a good person. Some people think, “I could never be a Christian because I’m not good enough.” That misses the point. The heart of Christianity is not trying to be a good person; it’s realizing that we are not and never could be a truly good person in our own strength. But amazingly God has accepted us as we are through the death of Christ who paid for all our sins. The Christian faith is all about God’s grace. But then in response to God’s grace, and by His grace, God helps us become what we never could on our own. We don’t have to live the same old way, trapped in the same old patterns.Since the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in us, a whole new way of life is opened up for us, one with amazing possibilities. Those aspects of our lives that we long to change but are powerless to, now can be changed as we believe in and surrender to the working of God’s power in our lives. We can live a new, different, and better way.Because Jesus is alive and with us always, He will give us the power we need to be victorious over sin and harmful patterns in our lives that have kept us in bondage. By the power that raised Jesus from the dead, we can replace hatred with love, resentment with forgiveness, despair with hope, selfishness with generosity, anxiety with peace. We can love people in new ways. We can be delivered from fear. We can be filled with purpose and set free from false gods -be that money, pleasure, popularity, the applause of others, power, worldly success – all those things we are tempted to live for but ultimately will disappoint us. We don’t have to be conformed to the short-lived and empty values of this world. We can know the satisfaction of making a difference in this world as we obey God’s will for our lives and follow His leading, because we do that in the power of the resurrection.Timothy Keller writes, “The power of His resurrection is the very life energy that took His dead body and raised it up to life again. So for me to know the power of His resurrection is to have the same power that came into Jesus and raised Him up come into my dead soul and raise me up” The result of all of that is we come to look more like Jesus in our character, attitudes, and behaviors. This is why Paul wrote in Phil 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” It was so that by that power he could become more like Christ. God offers that to all of us.Now God doesn’t just barge in the moment we place our faith in Him and take over our lives, changing our attitudes, habits, and behaviors in spite of us. No, we must desire such change, for it’s not a power that overwhelms us, but a power that cooperates with us. As we seek after that transformation in our lives and sincerely ask God to help us with that, His resurrection power helps us do what we could never do on our own and we become new people in Christ. It won’t be all at once, but over time as we continually, daily surrender to the Lord, by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead He will remake us into people who bear the character of Christ.That is the first stage of life in the Kingdom of God, life on the other side of the portal of the resurrection. It’s a new world for us because His resurrection power helps us live a whole new way in this broken world – the way of love, the way of joy, the way of peace, the way of goodness, the way of confidence for He is with us always. And we live without fear of death, for we have the sure hope of eternity because the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will raise us to eternal life with Christ.That brings us to the second stage of this new world on the other side of the portal of Easter. There is a whole new world coming, one that will totally eclipse the very best we could hope to experience in this world. The Apostle John caught a glimpse of this world in his vision we know as the Book of Revelation, and this is what he wrote in Rev. 21:1-6:Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.The resurrection power that raised Jesus to life is the same power that came forth when God simply spoke and the universe was created, and when Jesus returns that power will create once again a new heaven and a new earth. As we place our trust in the resurrected Christ, it really does become a kind of portal leading to a whole new world where all the pain and tears, all the mourning and even death, all the disappointment and heartache that mark this old order of things will be no more.When the resurrected Christ returns it will be a whole new reality for us that will not only be so different than what we know in this world, but it will far exceed anything we can understand. Jesus said, “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” In other words, all we thirst for, all our deepest longings will be satisfied. All we were created to experience and enjoy will be ours forever for as it says, God will dwell with us. We will forever be in the presence of perfect love, perfect holiness, perfect goodness.As we are promised in I Cor. 2:9-10, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” What David wrote in Ps. 16:11 will be true for us, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” That is our eternal destiny when we place our faith in the Christ who rose from the dead and who will one day return to make all things new. I Cor. 6:14 assures us, “By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also.” The resurrection of Jesus gives us the assurance that we, too, will be raised by the same power of God to experience eternity in the new creation.As we read in our text today, when Mary was at the tomb of Jesus early Easter morning and saw it was empty, she was crying. The two angels who were there asked her why she was crying, and she replied that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. A moment later the resurrected Christ appeared. Mary did not recognize Him at first. She was still crying, so Jesus asked her the same question, “Why are you crying?”By asking this question, Jesus was really saying, “Mary, don’t you understand, you don’t need to cry? What you feared did not come to pass. I have been raised. I am alive now and forevermore. And because of that, everything will be different for you. You can experience a whole new quality of living because My resurrection power will be at work in you. And one day, the same power that raised Me from the dead will raise you also. You will spend eternity with Me in the new creation, experiencing the fullness of love, peace, and joy. A whole new world awaits you.”And it awaits us as well when we place our faith in the resurrected Lord. The resurrection is not only a theological truth we believe or an historical event we proclaim. It is those, and those are central. But the resurrection is also a reality we can live in and live in light of, filling us with confidence, freedom, and joy.Thanks be to God!