“Resurrection: Myth or Miracle”
Well I've been here five-and-a-half years now and that's the most rhythmic clapping I've ever heard in this church…pretty cool. I cannot think of an Easter in recent memory where there was bigger need for hope, for something that would breathe life into the human spirit because so many people, who a year ago felt like they were on pretty solid ground, find themselves in circumstances they never would have predicted. A lot of people find that they are feeling anxious, they have pressures or weights that they did not have. They're regretting decisions they've made over this last year. They wonder where things will stand a year from now.
You know, nobody ever wants a season of hard times or challenges to come, but when they do, they have a way of making you stand back and ask, "What am I really counting on? Am I building my life on a foundation that's solid enough that circumstances beyond my control cannot take it away?" That's why I've been looking forward to this weekend so much because this weekend we gather to remember the only hope capable of sustaining a human life through everything.
People have not gathered for the past 2,000 years to say, "The stock market has risen. It has risen indeed." They're not gathered to say the dollar has risen, or the employment rate has risen, or the gross domestic product has risen, or General Motors has risen, or the value of your 401(k) has risen. Here's the one hope that has held human beings across every continent and culture together for two millennia in the face of difficult times of poverty, of disease, of pain, of hardship, of death itself: Christ is risen. People always respond back with one additional word: He has risen indeed. We're going to say that a little later in the service with much more octane than you said it right there, but I want to kind of prep us for that before we do.
I want to talk to you about that little word indeed. Why do we say, "He is risen indeed?" I thought about that a lot this last year. I was in kind of a public discussion this past year (about Jesus) at Stanford. The other man involved in this discussion was saying he believed the resurrection was not a miracle. It wasn't something that actually, literally happened. It was more, he said, kind of a metaphor. The idea being that after Jesus died, His disciples found themselves still thinking about Him and His teachings, still moved by His Spirit. It was kind of like He was still alive in their memories, and that over time, the idea of resurrection kind of evolved as a symbol.
This idea says, essentially, we all know when you die, you die and that's it. So the resurrection is really just kind of a metaphor for the human spirit or for human optimism, but it didn't really happen. There is still a body in that tomb. It's a metaphor.
Of course, the problem is that something happened to galvanize a little group of people 2,000 years ago, and they did not gather…they were not transformed by the idea that Christ is risen metaphorically. They did not form the world's first community to include Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female, rich, and poor, to break down every ethnic and cultural barrier based on a metaphorical resurrection. They did not sacrifice land, property, possessions, reputation, vocations, and positions based on a symbol. They didn't go to their death voluntarily…by the thousands…believing they would be resurrected metaphorically. They did it because they believed Christ is risen, He has risen indeed. It really happened.
They understood all about death. They knew what it looked like. This Jesus they followed died, and then three days later, the tomb was empty. You might think at first that the body had just been moved, and at first, that's what they thought too. Then they said the strangest thing happened, this same Jesus began to appear to people, to responsible people…to Mary Magdalene in the garden, and to all of the disciples, and to a man who doubted…a man by the name of Thomas. Jesus came and appeared to him.
Then, within two decades of Jesus' death, the Apostle Paul wrote to a church at Corinth that after Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters, "…most of whom are still living," Paul wrote. In other words, this really happened. You can go ask them. Now you don't write words like that unless the eyewitnesses will actually back it up.
One indication of how seriously they took the reality of Jesus' death and resurrection…in the gospel of Mark, we're told that Jesus buckled under the weight of carrying the cross, and then Mark says, "A certain man of Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross." Now that's an odd little sentence. Why would Mark bother to give the names of the children of the guy who helped Jesus carry His cross? Well it was because they were alive and known to the audience to whom Mark was writing. He's saying, "If you have questions about His death and resurrection, go ask them."
See, this is not the kind of thing you do if you're writing a myth, if you're writing about a symbol. This is a different genre. This is a different kind of literature. Jesus appeared to two of His followers on the road to Emmaus, and they were so struck, they said, "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us..." They ran to His disciples and they said to them, "It is true. The Lord has risen." That's the phrase right there it is true, that the word indeed in the church's Eater greeting comes from. It's true. It really happened. It's not a metaphor. It's not a vague hope. It is not a saccharine illusion that is given to comfort children who lost a pet or sick people who have lost their health.
There is only one explanation that accounts for the overnight transformation of an impoverished, confused, frightened little group of people into a courageous, emboldened community that would sacrifice everything including their lives to turn a world upside down and that is that they actually believed this. That this Jesus, their teacher, their master, who they saw die on a cross, whose body they put in a tomb, He did what He said He would do. He is who He claimed that He was. The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. It really happened, they said.
I want to tell you what that means for you and for me. For one thing, the resurrection means that now your worth does not fluctuate. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with people over the last few months who say things like, "I'm worth 40% of what I was a year ago." Or, "My net worth has dropped in half." No it has not. A year ago you were worth the life of His Son to God. That's still what you're worth today. That will still be what you're worth tomorrow.
I was thinking about this this week. Imagine a few days after Easter the disciples James and John are talking with each other and John were to say to James, "He is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, but my fishing business has dropped off 40%. I feel like such a failure. I'm not sleeping well. I'm anxious. I don't know when things will turn around. It may be years before the fish ever start biting again the way they used to bite." I think James would have said, "Are you crazy? He is risen indeed, and you're standing here telling me you can't sleep because of how many fish you're catching? I have to tell you the truth, if He has risen indeed, who cares how the fish are biting? They're only fish. It's only money."
He is risen indeed and that means money does not get to define your identity. Money does not get to say how much you are worth. Your job, your vocation, your title, your position, how things are going (up or down) does not get to say your worth. "For you know what was paid to set you free," Peter wrote. It was not something that could be destroyed, like silver or gold. Go ahead and earn a lot of it. It's all going to be destroyed some day. It was the costly sacrifice of Christ.
Some of you have been beating yourselves up this year because of what has happened in your job or to your bank account. You walk out of here today with your head held really high because to the God who created everything, to the God of the universe, you are worth more than every dollar, drachma, euro, peso, rupee, ruble, pound, mark and yen ever printed. You are worth the life of God's Son, and He died on a cross and He was resurrected and He is risen indeed.
Another thing the resurrection means for you is that your future is not at risk. No matter what happens, your future is not up for grabs. One of my favorite characters in history is Winston Churchill. One of the things I love most about him was his sheer pugnacity. One of Churchill's mottos was, "In war: Resolution. In defeat: Defiance." He once gave a commencement address after World War II, after facing Hitler for a time alone and the whole text of the address was, "Never give up, never give up, never give up."
He had a famous running battle with a woman by the name of Lady Astor…very difficult opponent, and no matter what she said, he always had a comeback for her. One time she said to him, "Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee." And his response was, "Lady Astor, if you were my wife, I'd drink it." He was a tough guy, Churchill was, man.
Even Winston Churchill could not defeat death. When he was an old man he died. He planned his funeral, and at the end of it…after every word had been spoken, after the benediction had been pronounced, before the people left…Churchill had a bugler put high up in the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, that fabulous edifice, and the bugler began to play Taps, the universal signal that the day is done. The night has come. There was silence. Everybody in that vast audience thought about this great life and how now it's done.
Then after the silence, there was one more song. There was another bugler on the far side of the dome that began to play Reveille…the time to get up, the song of the new day. Why did he do that? Because one day the greatest man who ever lived said, "I am the resurrection and the life." Churchill was a remarkable guy. Churchill never said, "I am the resurrection and the life." Only Jesus said that.
Will your future have problems? Of course your future will have problems. Is there a good chance that you will die eventually? There is a very good chance that you will die eventually. Does that make Jesus nervous? Not at all. Why not? He already died. He has already taken on Himself the worst that death can do, and He has risen. He has risen indeed. It really happened.
Resurrection means that your past is not unforgivable. Your worth is established. Your future is not at risk. Your past is not unforgivable. No matter what you have done.
There was an engineer about a century ago with General Electric by the name of Charles Steinmetz. He was a genius. He knew every detail of every part of every machine that they operated in those days, and when he retired, when he left, they were sometimes clueless about what to do when things broke down because they depended on him so heavily.
They had a malfunction one time that nobody could solve and they had to call him in from retirement. He looked at the machine for about five minutes, took out a piece of chalk, marked an 'X' on the defective part so that they could replace it and went home. Five days later they got a bill from Charles Steinmetz for $10,000. That was a lot of money for five minutes of work back in the pre-stimulus package day. So they asked him to itemize it. They thought that might get him. So a few days later he sent them back a bill with two items:
Making a chalk mark…$1.
Knowing where to put it…$9,999.
Who do I call when my life breaks down? You have a marriage that falls apart. You mess up as a parent. You damage your child in significant ways. You violate your values. You handle anger in a way that just embarrasses you. You get trapped in deceit. You get greedy and it destroys your business. You get hooked on an addiction that ends in humiliation. You're afraid to say something or do something that you know needs to be said, and you just feel ashamed. Who do you call? You call Jesus.
You see the Apostle Paul said, "At just the right time…at just the right time when we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly." That's you and me. "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us." Nothing you have ever done is beyond God's ability to cleanse and forgive because Christ who died on a cross is risen indeed. Some of you are here to hear this: The resurrection for you means that the best is yet to come. Wherever you have traveled, however old you are, you have not seen the best yet. If you are a resurrection person the best is yet to come.
It's kind of a funny thing in our day. We'll talk about almost anything. We don't like to talk about death. We don't like to think about death. We don't like to say the name. Life is okay, we play a game called Life, we eat a cereal called Life…you ever see a cereal called Death? For people who like to wake up really slowly in the morning? We buy a product called life insurance. This is kind of odd, what do you have to do to collect it? You have to die. You don't buy it in case you live, but nobody calls it death insurance, that would be too depressing. We don't know how to handle death. Jesus does.
Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives by believing in Me, by coming to Me, by following Me, by trusting Me, by putting themselves in My hands…death is ultimately powerless over it." That's what the resurrection can mean to you, but then how do you get to be a part of that? How do you become a part of God's resurrection plan?
Well, a guy by the name of Rick Warren put it real simply, "There are two ways to get to be a part of this resurrection life. One is…be perfect. God is perfect. Life with God forever will be perfect…no more violence there, no more injustice there, no more unspeakable things happening to little girls there, no more greed, no more deceit, no more arrogance, no more deception, it will be filled with perfect people. One plan to get to spend life eternally with God is…be perfect." How are you all doing with that one? Not so well. We need another plan.
Now people have a lot of misinformation about this. Some people are trying the "good enough" plan when it comes to God. "I believe there's a God. I believe there's life after death. I think the way to get in is just be good enough. If I just go to church enough. If I just give to charity enough. If I just volunteer enough. If I just believe enough. If I just do more good things than I do bad things then I'll be good enough to get in."
A lot of people haven't thought about it really deeply, but they have kind of a vague "good enough" plan. The problem is God is not a good enough kind of God. He's a perfect God, and thank God He is. Heaven will not be a good enough kind of place. It will be a perfect place with perfect people. So the "good enough" plan isn't a good enough plan.
Some people try the comparison plan. The idea here is, "I think God will judge us on the curve, and passing grade will be just a few points below whatever my score is when He's grading everybody out." Then your feeling of spiritual security is based on finding somebody who is worse than you. If you're on the comparison plan, you hope on judgment day that you're standing in line behind Saddam Hussein so that you look really good by comparison. But what if you're not? What if it's judgment day, and you're standing in line, and you look and in front of you is Mother Teresa, and God says, "I'm sorry Mother Teresa, you just weren't quite good enough to make the cut. Next..."
So God came up with another way. It's the grace plan. I can't live a perfect life. I can't. Jesus already did. He lived the perfect life, and so He was in a position when He went to the cross to pay the moral debt that I could never pay, to die the spiritual death that I could never die. So that now, see, being loved, being forgiven, being renewed is available just as a gift from God because of Jesus. That's part of what the resurrection means. Here's the thing…you can know all that and still miss it because there is yet one more step. That is…how will you respond?
Some of you know our oldest daughter Laura got engaged last month, and engagement has become an incredibly complex logistical operation from back in the day from when I was engaged. Twenty-five people were flown in from all over the country to celebrate just the engagement. Zach, her boyfriend, had done all this organizing behind the scenes, had bought the ring…it was all to be a surprise, and it was. It all came down to one moment a month ago when the two of them were all alone on the top floor of a tall building overlooking San Francisco. Just the two of them on this floor…
Laura saw a table that had been set up with rose petals and champagne and strawberries, and she thought this was supposed to be a special moment for somebody else, not for her. She thought, "We better get out of here." So she turned to Zach to tell him they had to leave. She didn't know this was her moment. When she turned around, Zach was down on one knee, and he was holding up a ring. He said, "Laura Kathleen Ortberg, will you marry me?" And she said, "Are you serious?" So he had to say it again, and then she said, "Yes. Yes, I will marry you."
What you need to know is…this is your moment. There is a bloodstained cross. There is an empty tomb. There is a rolled away stone. There is a risen Savior. God has done all of this. And in Jesus, God falls to His knees. God says to you, "I will be your forgiver. I will be your guide. I will be your strength. I will be your friend. I will be your Savior." Will you say yes? Will you say yes?
Maybe you have drifted a long way from God. I don't care how far you have drifted from God; it is not farther that God can reach in Jesus. He has reached people a lot farther away than you. Maybe you come from some utterly different religious background. This is not about a religious background. This is not about religion. This is about a relationship with Jesus, and you can say yes. What a great day to do it!
You can let go of the fear or confusion or pride or sin or whatever it is that keeps people from God. It's just this simple…God, I want to commit my life to You. I want to receive Your gift. I won't try to do the performance plan, or the "good enough" plan, or the comparison plan. I receive this gift of grace. Then it's not just Easter on the calendar anymore. Then it's Easter in you.
So would you bow your heads for a moment right now? This is a moment for you and God. Maybe Jesus is already a part of your life. Maybe you have already received this gift and committed yourself to Him and you just want to say to Him right now in this kind of moment on Easter Sunday, "God, thank You, thank You, thank You for the resurrection hope."
But maybe you have never responded to God before. This is your moment. This is when you say yes. Maybe there is more that you have to understand and more that you have to grow. You tell somebody after this service, somebody who is a Christian friend, and they'll help you grow. We'd love to do that as a church, but you can say to God right now, "God, I understand this much…that I have messed up, that I get afraid, that I need a friend and a forgiver like Jesus. So I'm saying yes right now."
God thank You that in a fallen world, in an uncertain season, in a troubled time, Jesus Christ is risen. It really happened. It's good news for us. We're so grateful. Thank You for the hope that is ours in Him. We pray this together. We pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.