The Power of the Resurrection
Summary: Jesus’ disciples believed He was physically resurrected from the dead and this formed the basis for everything that happened in the early church.
We spent the summer looking at some of the Psalms and then taking a topical look at the book of Proverbs. Before that we were in Matthew. We spent over a year moving verse-by- verse, chapter-by-chapter through his biography of Jesus. We learned about Jesus’ life, teaching, and miracles. We learned about His arrest, trial, execution and resurrection.
This morning we begin the book of Acts, the book that tells us, what happened next. Acts shows us how the miracles and teachings of Jesus went from something known by a few blue-collar workers from northern Israel to become a faith held by over a billion people worldwide today.
Luke wrote Acts as a sequel to his own gospel, as we see in the opening lines:
Acts 1:1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
We being our study of Acts with Luke making the point that everything that happened in the early church, happened because Jesus’ first disciples were convinced, by many infallible proofs that Jesus had risen from the dead. This is absolutely essential Christian doctrine. And, for those who are willing to set their biases aside, it’s also a seriously attested historical fact – we’ll get to that bold claim in a moment, but let me begin by pointing out that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to the book of Acts and the Christian faith as a whole.
Here’s the thing: All of Christianity hinges on the resurrection – if it happened, you must seriously consider everything Jesus said and did, and if it did not, you can blow Him off entirely or just pick and choose whatever parts of His teaching you like and make your own little spiritual salad bar.
The apostle Paul would later write:
1 Cor 15:16… if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
In other words: everything, absolutely everything in Christianity hinges on the reality of the resurrection. If there was not an actual, physical, resurrection, Christians are fools. So this morning I want to talk with you about 1) why the resurrection is important, then 2) discuss some obstacles to and reasons for belief in the resurrection and finally, 3) outline some of the differences the resurrection makes in our lives today.
So, let’s start by asking: Why is the resurrection so important? And the answer is: because it provides evidence of our salvation. Throughout the book of Acts we are going to find the gospel presented time and time again – in numerous cities and countries to all sorts of people, and it almost always makes mention of the fact that not only did Jesus die, but He was also raised from the dead. This is what people are asked to believe in order to become a Christian: you need to know that God is a saving God; we are a people in need of salvation; and, Jesus makes salvation possible through the resurrection.
The gospels tell us we have sinned, that means we have done what we wanted to do instead of what God tells us to do, or we have tried to live righteous and holy lives, we’ve tried to make good choices, we’ve tried to be good, moral people, but we just can’t hold it together all the time under all circumstances and so we fall short of perfection. We don’t have what it takes to stand before God as His friend.
And, as you know from life, if a child disobeys a parent, the parent has to respond in some way. If you break the rules in sports, the referee has to make the call – it doesn’t matter whether you meant to stay in bounds, you went out, and she has to call it. A teacher has to fail you if you don’t score high enough. The government will penalize or punish you for breaking its rules. Even the library will fine you for not bringing a book back in time. The whole world teaches us that there are consequences for breaking rules. And God is certainly no less than a parent, a referee, a teacher, a judge, or a librarian – when we break His laws or rules, or don’t score high enough, He has to take action.
Fortunately for us, He has taken action on our behalf. He sent Jesus to score a perfect score on the game of life, never break the rules, and earn the title of champion.
But then, even though Jesus didn’t deserve it, even though He had not earned it, He suffered the penalties of death and judgment for us.
He gives us His righteousness and takes up our failures and rebellion and endures the judgment we deserve. And then, God raised Him from the dead as proof that the debt was settled – the penalty had been endured, and now we, the guilty, the not quite good enough, are marked as innocent and approved. The problem, the shortcomings, between God and man are dealt with for anyone who will cling to the name of Jesus as their justification and not try to earn their own.
All of the gospels tell the story of the resurrection, as we’ve seen, the book of Acts opens with the resurrection, the epistles are built on the fact of the resurrection and Revelation
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shows the return of the resurrected Christ. Every aspect of Christianity hinges on the reality of the resurrection, so here are some additional things you need to know.
First, it was a bodily resurrection. Some people want to say Jesus was a hero and a martyr, someone who had some great ideas, and suffered for it, but after His death, His ideas lived on and eventually gained greater acceptance. They say Jesus was a great man, a great teacher, some say He was a great rabbi or a great prophet, and there are things we can learn from Him today, but they deny that He ever personally, physically, rose from the dead. And yet that is exactly what Christianity and history insist on: Jesus had a literal, physical, bodily resurrection.
Jesus’ death was not just the noble death of a heroic man who suffered for the sake of his friends who then kept His memory alive. We have men and women like that today – firefighters, law enforcement officers, members of the military who lay their lives down for others and die heroically in the line of duty. We honor them with medals and statues, we keep their memories alive. And we should – they made a sacrifice, but none of them have risen from the dead as a result of their valor and no one claims they have.
Jesus’ death was not the death of a leader who sacrificed for a noble idea. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr worked tirelessly for the cause of civil rights, and was murdered for his efforts. His ideas were right, and we celebrate and remember him today, we applaud the changes he and others worked so hard to bring about. We honor his memory and want to continue his work. Today people travel from around the world to come visit his grave in Atlanta Georgia, to remember what he began, but no one claims the grave is empty.
Compare that with the tomb in Jerusalem – Christianity insists Jesus’ grave is empty because He rose again, with a real, physical body. Luke tells us in his gospel that after the resurrection Jesus invited people to touch Him and see that He was real. He invited one of His disciples, the famous “doubting Thomas” to put his hand in the wounds Jesus had suffered on the cross. Jesus had a real body that really suffered and died, and that same real body was a placed in a tomb and really left three days later.
And that is important. It is important to know there was both a resurrection AND an empty tomb. People saw both. Jesus appeared at least ten times during a forty-day period after the resurrection and once He appeared to at least 500 people. People saw His body and they saw His empty tomb. It was easy to find. It was just outside of Jerusalem and belonged to a rich man who was known in the city. If you wanted to see whether it was empty, you could do that pretty easily.
These two facts are important and they go together.
If people claimed to see Jesus, but there was no empty tomb, well, you might say that sort of thing happens. Sometimes people have a very real sense that they’ve seen something or someone from the other side; you might call it a ghost story. That’s not what occurred with the resurrection: people saw Jesus, touched Jesus, and they saw His empty tomb.
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But what if it was the other way around? What if you saw the empty tomb but there were no appearances, the body was gone but no one ever saw Jesus? Well, then you could suppose someone had stolen the body, or you could say something mystical happened – He was ‘gathered back into the cosmos’ or something.
But if the tomb is empty AND there are physical appearances, now you’ve got evidence of resurrection power.
And that’s the conclusion of most scholars who really dig in and study the issue today. Something profound happened in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. People might debate how it happened or what it means, but no serious historian or student doubts that something exceptional occurred in Israel and spread throughout the Roman Empire. And it is broadly accepted there is no credible alternative explanation other than someone known as Jesus actually rose, physically, from the dead, especially nothing supported by historical evidence from the first century.
Christian, you don’t have to defend the resurrection; those who deny it need to defend their denial. Skeptics have to come up with a historically feasible alternative explanation that deals with some serious issues. Let me give you four. There are more, but we’ll focus on these.
First, if you’re going to deny the resurrection occurred, you have to answer the question: Why did Christianity emerge so rapidly and with such power? As we’ll see in the coming chapters of Acts, in the span of a single lifetime Christianity spread from a room in a house in Jerusalem to the edges of the Roman Empire, and all of this in the face of overwhelming opposition and active persecution! That’s’ super important to remember: no one in a position of power wanted Christianity to grow, it didn’t have the backing of any of the accepted rulers or leaders of the day, there was no sophisticated, organized grass-roots campaign to get the word out, and there was no armed effort to spread the faith at the edge of the sword. And yet, spread it did.
Second, there were other revolutionaries and messiah figures in the days before and after Jesus. The Jews saw their Roman rulers as foreign invaders and occupiers and it wasn’t uncommon for someone to come along and present themselves as the answer to all of Israel’s problems. The Roman Army hunted most of them down, crushing their rebellions and movements and even crucified many of these leaders. And yet, none of their followers claimed their leader had risen from the dead. Why did the disciples of Jesus?
Where did that idea come from, if it wasn’t real? They didn’t automatically believe it themselves, they had to be convinced against their better judgment and everything they were conditioned to believe. Note how Luke, here in the first verses of Acts, makes such a strong case for the resurrection they had to see “many infallible proofs” in order to believe.
Third, it’s important to know your larger history. The Jews had relatively recently returned
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to Israel after spending decades in Babylon, or modern day Iraq and Iran. God had allowed Israel to be invaded and taken away captive because they had turned their back on Him and begun to worship the idols and the foreign gods of their neighbors. The Jews learned a significant lesson from all that war and captivity and they were zealous about ever worshipping anything or anyone besides the Creator God who made a covenant with their ancestors.
So, if the Jews were horrified at the idea of worshipping anyone or anything other than the one God of which they knew, why did the early Christians, who were all Jewish suddenly find it acceptable to worship a man as God?
Fourth, how do you account for the hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrection who lived for years after the event and continually swore about what they had seen and experienced, even when they were put to death for it?
What these people saw and experienced changed them – they went from denying Jesus to dying for Him in a matter of days. During Jesus’ trial Peter denied even knowing Jesus to a young girl serving in the house of the high priest, but then a few weeks later, he boldly stood in front of the equivalent of the Jewish religious and political Congress and said, I don’t care who you are or what you say, I must obey God and what I have seen.
Many of the first disciples suffered horrendous deaths and would not recant. They were martyred for insisting on what they knew to be true. But let me ask: would you be willing to die for a lie? You might be willing to tell one, you might even be willing to defend one, but would you, in the face of death, knowingly assert what you knew to be a lie? What’s the motivation?
If Jesus had only been in a coma for a few days and somehow recovered, or if the disciples were wrong about what they had seen or experienced, Jesus would be a horrible deceiver to let these men die while insisting on His own death, burial, and resurrection as fact. And if the disciples had stolen or hidden Jesus’ body, then they would have been terrible deceivers and you should reject the Christian faith as manipulative and dishonest.
The only reasonable explanation for the significant growth of the early church in light of the opposition and persecution they faced is a deep-seated conviction in the reality of the resurrection enabled by the very real presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
I understand, it can be hard to accept and believe in the resurrection, because, like many things about God, it’s so unusual. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. And, even if you have no faith in Jesus, you should want it to be true, because belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives direction, meaning, and purpose to life that doesn’t exist if we’re just the result of billions of years of random chance on a tiny speck of rock floating in a huge uncaring, undirected, universe.
Tim Keller notes:
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“Most of [my skeptical, secular friends] care deeply about justice for the poor, alleviating hunger and disease, and caring for the environment. Yet many of them believe that the material world was caused by accident and that the world and everything in it will eventually simply burn up in the death of the sun. They find it discouraging that so few people care about injustice without realizing their own worldview undermines any motivation to make the world a better place. Why sacrifice for the needs of others if in the end nothing we do will make any difference?”1
In other words, why get so worked up over matters of justice and equality if we came from nothing and we’re headed no where?
On the other hand, a physical resurrection makes a difference for today AND forever. Christians believe that one day we will receive a new, glorified body, and there will be a new heavens and a new earth, in other words, there will be a Creation 2.0 with all kinds of updates and resets. But, until then, God has left us here to make a difference on this earth. God wants to give us a new life in Christ that begins right now and He calls us to use this life to impact others immediately.
God wants you to make a difference in your classroom tomorrow. He wants you to draft new policies and laws that make a difference for justice and mercy, for righteousness and truth, right now. He wants you to make scientific discoveries and produce works of art that impact people’s lives right here and now. Eternity begins now. Things will improve and change, but it begins now – and that’s what we see in the book of Acts – the reality of the resurrection breaking into our lives today and then continuing to have an impact forever.
Think about what the resurrection means for equality. Jesus insisted He was the only way of salvation, that’s pretty narrow, but He also insisted He was equally available to all people. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what level of education you have or where you got it. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or don’t have, it doesn’t matter what your family is or wants to be or has always been. It doesn’t matter who you know. Salvation, through Jesus Christ is available to all people because God sees all people the same and all lives matter – black lives, white lives, Asian lives, all of them – they matter and they’re headed somewhere.
If, on the other hand, evolution is true, then only the most evolved lives matter, because they’re the ones that will carry the species forward while the rest of us slowly suffer, wither, and die off.
The resurrection also guarantees justice: the whole premise of the resurrection is that there is a judgment ahead. Christianity hinges on belief in eternal justice, and unless you are saved from it in Jesus, justice will exact a heavy, eternal toll.
1 Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 211-212.
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I don’t follow much of the news, but I caught a few snippets recently about the case of Jeffrey Epstein. He has been accused of a long history of heinous crimes and a few weeks ago he committed suicide in jail before he could go to trial. I was absolutely fascinated to read the outrage people expressed because he’ll never enter a courtroom, never face his accusers, never hear the sentence of a judge. People are absolutely livid and calling for an investigation into how jail allowed it to happen.
I read their words and felt like I was trying to decipher another language. Because, the people who are so outraged about his ability to commit suicide instead of face trial think he’s managed to escape justice and judgment.
They obviously have no idea that according to the Bible, Mr Epstein actually stood before the most powerful judge in the universe, was pronounced guilty, and will suffer in hell for all of eternity with no possibility of parole or early release for good behavior. There will be no appeals. There will be no charges dismissed on technicalities, there will be no bargains made. If he died without Christ, he has absolutely no hope of ever escaping his crimes.
Friends, we have to remember, Jesus announced Himself as a Savior because we need salvation. Without Christ we all face the same judge as Mr. Epstein, and we’re all guilty of something. I can’t imagine how it feels to live with the thought that someone could escape eternal justice and how frustrating that must seem if you are the one who feels you’ve been wronged.
But you see, as a Christian, I believe there is more to life than just this earth. In fact, I believe this is only the beginning. Justice is coming, and it will last a long, long time. But I believe, I have been granted a pardon in Christ – something I receive only by the mercy of God and all that He has done for me, and I believe you can have that too.
You see, it’s important to know: the resurrection gives us confidence and strength for the life we live today. We do not believe in a dead Christ or a disappearing Christ. We believe in a Christ who was resurrected from the dead and who gives us purpose as well as power for our daily lives. We believe He is, right now, seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us and that He has sent the Holy Spirit to accompany us, empower us, and direct us in our daily life – which is something of a summary of what we will see unfold in the coming weeks and months as we study the book of Acts.
We’re going to close our time together this morning by receiving communion, a physical, tangible reminder of everything we’ve just discussed. We’re going to receive a piece of bread that reminds of Jesus’ body, and we’re going to receive a cup that reminds us that body was broken and it’s blood was shed, as a sacrifice for us.
This is an essential act of the Christian faith; we do it because Jesus told us to do it. If you are a Christian, you should take communion, you should never let it pass you by. You are either on the team or you’re not. Either the resurrection of Jesus Christ has forgiven all
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your sins, past, present, and future, and given you new life, or it has not. You either have something to celebrate and remember, or you do not.
You may need to confess some sins to God, you may need to deal with some issue in your life – but you’re not meant to do that on your own – you’re meant to declare your need for God’s help EVEN IN the issue you’re facing and you’re meant to receive the reminder, in the form of communion, that the help is available.
And if you are not a Christian, you have two options –one, you could let these things pass you by. Be honest. Admit you’re not convinced. That’s fine, we’re still glad you’re here, and we want to see you come back. Maybe you need some time to think about what you’ve heard this morning. That makes sense; we’re talking about some really important concepts. I hope you’ll come back next week and the week after and for as long as you need, until you are convinced. And if you have any questions, I hope that you’ll ask them – there are always going to be some questions, it is a matter of faith, but it’s a reasonable faith.
Your other option is, maybe you’ve heard enough, maybe God has been working in your life and bringing you to the point where you say, OK, I’m convinced. I don’t have all the answers, but I know enough to know that this is right and true – to know that Jesus is real, and that I need to trust in Him for forgiveness of sin and to receive new life. If that’s you, then take a moment to tell that to God while we pass out the bread and the cup and take some for yourself as it goes by. You see, right now is a great time for each of us to pray something like this, join me:
Heavenly Father, thank you for your goodness and truth. Thank you for your mercy and kindness. Thank you for sending your Son to do so much for us. I see the sin in my life; You have shown it to me and convinced me of it. Please forgive me for it, in Jesus’ name. Thank You for His life and death in my place. I believe You raised him from the dead and trust that You will, one day, do the same for me. Help me to live for Your glory and the good of others from this day forward, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you have ever prayed anything like that before – telling God you agree you have sinned and asking Him for forgiveness in Christ, then this communion is for you – a reminder that Jesus did all of this for you personally, but also for all of us corporately. Each of us, and all of us, are bound to Christ and to one another by the resurrection, so let’s receive the elements and then take them together.