Jesus Shows…and He’s Brought Gifts
APRIL 15, 2019
I remember the first time it dawned on me that a dead man got out of a grave. It made the hair stand up on my head. (Those were the days when I had hair.) I had taught it, preached it and written about it but that particular Easter Sunday, for some reason I can’t explain, it was real. Maybe for the first time I realized that the King was in the audience. I don’t remember what I said but I do remember that the sermon was—maybe for the first time—more than words. Whatever I said was powerful and I laughed a lot.
Do you know one of the great dangers of our faith? It is the danger of reducing our faith to words, propositions, doctrines and concepts to which we give intellectual assent. It’s the “stuff” we believe and we think that’s enough. James said, “Big deal!” Well, he didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what he meant when he said, “Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).
Don’t get me wrong. I taught in a theological seminary and think that the propositions are important. Feelings hardly ever last…doctrine does. But if our truth is only words, concepts and doctrines, it isn’t enough. It is like a thirsty man or woman holding a photograph of a cold glass of water. It just won’t quench their thirst.
It’s the same issue with Thomas who doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20). I suspect Thomas would have eventually been convinced of the resurrection. Doubt, as a matter of fact, is probably the greatest motivator for faith because it drives us to check. The genuine can always be tested and Thomas would have probably gotten around to testing it. I suspect the same questions and doubts that Thomas had (“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe”) would have brought him to a conviction concerning the resurrection of Christ.
But then Jesus showed!
“Put your finger here,” Jesus said to Thomas, “and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.”
When I realized the “King was in the audience,” it was similar to Thomas. It was the difference between doctrine and reality, between propositions and passion, and between theology and experience. Feelings, reality and experience are important. It’s one thing to believe the doctrines of grace, for instance, and quite another to be forgiven. It’s one thing to defend the truths of the Christian faith and quite another to be able to sleep at night because they are true. It’s one thing to exegete 1 Corinthians 13 about love and it’s quite another to love and to be loved.
We will celebrate on Easter. But if the Resurrected Jesus doesn’t show, it will be no different than celebrating any event in our history—we’re glad that it happened but it’s in the past. The celebration will never answer the “so what?” question.
Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17 & 19).
You’ll Live Forever
So this Easter don’t just celebrate the resurrection of Christ…celebrate yours. I think I’ve told you about the worship leader who overslept and missed the Easter sunrise service. The next year, his pastor called him in the wee hours of the morning and woke him up with, “Jesus is risen…and you better too!” Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also.”
Anybody here want to live forever?
Easter is the time when Jesus comes himself and says, “Okay, wish granted.” And in fact, he’s the only one who can make that promise because he’s the only one who has been there, done that and come back to talk about it.
You’re Forgiven & Free
Don’t just celebrate the victory of Christ…celebrate yours. Forgiveness isn’t just a desire and a hope for us; it’s a reality. Jesus said, “It is finished!” When he said that, it really was finished. You’re covered, you’re forgiven and now you’re free.
All of us believe in the forgiveness of sins. We repeat it in the Apostles’ Creed, we claim it as the touchstone of our theology of redemption, and we tell others about it. But there is always the suspicion that our sins might be so big, so horrible and so deep that it won’t be, can’t be, for us. So we pray and hope.
In fact, this Easter you might take Martin Luther’s admonishment to heart: “There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of freedom and insist upon their goodness…These people you must resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly…For the sake of liberty of the faith do other things which they regard as the greatest of sins…use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and stubborn so that they may learn that they are impious and that their law and works are of no avail…”
And don’t just celebrate the joy of the past…celebrate yours right now.
Michael Kelly Blanchard’s lyrics are profound and powerful:
In these days of confused situations, In these nights of a restless remorse, When the heart and the soul of the nation, lay wounded and cold as a corpse. From the grave of the innocent Adam, comes a song bringing joy to the sad. Oh your cry has been heard and the ransom, has been paid up in full, Be Ye Glad.
So be like lights on the rim of the water, giving hope in a storm sea of night. Be a refuge amidst the slaughter, for these fugitives in their flight. For you are timeless and part of a puzzle. You are winsome and young as a lad. And there is no disease or no struggle,
that can pull you from God, Be Ye Glad.
This Easter celebrate Jesus, celebrate the empty tomb, and celebrate God’s power, his goodness and his sovereignty…but don’t forget to celebrate what he’s given you too.
And have a really good time, okay?
Time to Draw Away
Read John 20
Do you remember the first time Jesus felt real to you? What does it mean for him to show up in your life? If the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ really happened (and they did), then so what? You are never alone in your struggle and sin. You are forgiven and free. You will live forever. It’s all good news. After all, Jesus always brings the best gifts to the celebration.