Happy Resurrection Sunday! Today we’re going to talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God and I hope none of you are surprised or disappointed, because you came for the redneck jokes, but today I want you to know the essential truth of the Christian faith, and that is that Jesus Christ is alive. I want you to know this for yourself personally, because this is a big deal for Christianity, it’s really the heart of what it means to be a Christian. As a matter of fact, let me be so bold as to say, that apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no Christianity. The basic sequence of events that forms the foundation of Christianity is the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus was a great teacher, but Christianity is not based on his teachings. He was a great healer, but Christianity is not based upon his ability to heal. He was a great servant who loved and cared for others, but Christianity was not founded on his acts of kindness. Now all of those are important and I don’t mean to minimize any of those, but you can be a non-Christian and believe that Jesus was a good teacher, that he healed, and that he helped people. The mark of what it means to be a Christian is that you believe that he rose from the dead. And that is Scripture’s greatest claim, that God’s Son, Jesus Christ is risen, he’s alive, and so that’s the focus of this message and this day.
Let me read to you the Scripture from Luke 24:1-4 and Matthew 28:5-6 as the basis for our time together this morning. The title of today’s message is “A Bout with Doubt” and we’re going to be addressing the real life struggles of believing in the resurrection. And so here’s what the Bible tells us at verse one:
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them…The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.’”
Is it possible? Is the resurrection of the dead possible? I like the story of the guy whose dog showed up at his door one night with his neighbor’s pet rabbit in its mouth. He panicked thinking of the consequences and quickly devised a plan so that his neighbor wouldn’t get angry with him or his dog. He grabbed the dead rabbit from his dog, went into the bathroom, and began washing the rabbit in the sink. He carefully put shampoo on the rabbit, cleaned it off really well, took out the “hare” dryer, and dried the rabbit. He quickly brushed the rabbit’s hair and then under the cover of darkness, jumped his neighbor’s fence, crept over to the rabbit hutch, and propped the little dead bunny up inside the hutch so that the neighbor would never know what happened. Sneaking back across the fence into his own yard he was assured that his neighbor would never know what his dog had done. The next morning, as he was in the kitchen pouring a cup of coffee, he heard this bloodcurdling scream. Hurrying out into the backyard, he discovered his neighbor who was greatly disturbed. Rushing over to the fence he asked if everything was okay. The neighbor standing there trembling, pointed to the rabbit hutch where the bunny was propped up and said, “My rabbit… three days ago he died and I buried him and now he’s back!”
Is the resurrection possible? Is it possible to die, be buried, and days later come back to life? Well, the Bible tells us that God so loved the world that he became one of us, sent his only Son, born of the Virgin Mary, born without sin, lived the perfect sinless life, shed his innocent blood on a Roman cross, was buried and three days later witnesses discovered that he’d risen. Now, here we are a couple thousand years after the discovery of the empty tomb and so we have to consider what this means to us today?
Well number one, that is our greatest hope. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:17 that, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” In other words, what we’re doing right now, it may make us feel good, it may help us to be better people, but if Jesus has not risen this whole church thing is really just a big joke. “If Christ has not been raised, (the Spirit of God tells us) our faith is futile.” But listen to what the Bible says, if in fact this is true, if he is indeed risen; 1 Peter 1:3 tells us, God “in his great mercy…has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” If indeed he is risen, that is our greatest hope, because he has given us a new birth. You see, because of the resurrection we can be born again spiritually, our sins can be forgiven, and we can have a spiritual do over becoming new creations in Christ. Therefore, we don’t live as people who have no hope, because we have a living hope, we have a Resurrected Savior. So we have hope in God today, and hope in the world to come, that we can live forever in the presence of our good God. And so my goal today is to show you that the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely worthy of your trust. And not only that, but that you would have the confidence to share this truth with others, knowing that there are good reasons why we believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
You know, there are a lot of people who have doubts about this subject and so we’re going to talk about the resurrection and we’re going to build a foundation, understanding that there are different kinds of believers, and that you can believe in something without necessarily believing it to be true for you. Now I would imagine that if you’re here today that most of you would say that you believe in God. Well, James wrote about believing in God and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recorded in the Bible, James 2:19 he wrote, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” In other words what James says is that there are different kinds of believing. Just because you say you believe in something doesn’t mean that you believe with a saving faith. So what I want to do in the remainder of our time together is take you through the Scriptures so that together, number two, that we may move beyond belief.
You see, the problem is that we’ve all been spiritually abused by Scriptures taken out of context. For example we’re all familiar with John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever (What?) …whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So everybody jumps up, raises a hand, and says “I believe!” But what does that mean to believe? You know, we just read the passage from James saying that “Even the demons believe….and shudder” and we know where they’re going. So obviously we can’t just pluck a verse out of the passage and build a doctrine of happy believism. And so here in John’s gospel, beginning in verse 14, Jesus was talking to a religious man named Nicodemus, an expert in the Scriptures, and he referred to an Old Testament illustration to make his point that there was no excuse for Nicodemus to be ignorant of the way of salvation. Jesus pointed to an incident with the Israelites recorded in Numbers chapter 21, verses five through nine, pointing to and illustrating his sacrificial death on the cross.
Listen to what he said in John 3:14, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” And there’s that word again “believe… “Everyone who believes in him.” So what happened in the desert when Moses lifted up the snake? Well, Numbers records this event during the time of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and because of their constant complaining, the Lord allowed poisonous snakes to infest their camp. The people in desperation begged Moses to pray for them and God answered with a display of mercy to his rebellious people, telling Moses to make a bronze replica of a snake and to raise it up on a pole. Those who were bitten would be healed if they looked at it, admitting their guilt, and expressing faith in God’s forgiveness and healing power. Of course the point of Jesus’ analogy was that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so that they might be saved, so must the Son of Man be lifted up on a pole and crucified so that we may be saved. And so therefore if we’re going to be healed from the venomous poison of our sin we must look to Jesus, apart from any works or righteousness of our own, but looking by faith alone, completely dependent upon the crucified Christ, and in him and him alone we’ll find forgiveness and eternal life.
So what we discover is that to believe unto salvation is much deeper and far beyond a casual profession of believing in Jesus. To believe is way beyond having good morals, being polite, and paying your taxes. To believe is way beyond attending church for what you can get, what the church can do for you, or even becoming a member of a church. To believe is to believe with such conviction that you allow the teaching of Christ to change your daily life. It’s a deeply held faith that causes a godly sorrow which brings repentance unto salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).
In Matthew 16:24, when Jesus asked if his disciples wanted to follow him he didn’t say just believe, he didn’t say just go to church, he didn’t say just be good, he said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is a lifestyle of following Jesus, where as we talked about last week, our prayer becomes, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). This is where our goal is to know God and to make him known. It’s existing for the sole purpose of glorifying God in everything that we do and so that the truth of God consumes us and impacts every area of our lives. In Luke 14:27 Jesus said, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” So believing is not just a thought, it’s not just a great idea, believing is beyond that. Believing is an action; it’s a life lived in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ where one is transformed by the power of His resurrection. To believe is to be committed regardless of doubts, regardless of circumstances, ridicule, or persecution. And so number three let’s look at the path to commitment.
As we do I want to look at the faith journey of Thomas. Most of you know who he is, and you may have heard him called Doubting Thomas, but I think he gets a bad rap and that he’s no less of a believer than Mark who fled naked from the garden when Jesus was arrested, or Peter who denied Jesus three times. You see, Thomas was a man of great biblical faith. Thomas believed that Jesus was who he claimed to be. And just last week we read in John 11:16, that as Jesus prepared to return to Jerusalem, it was Thomas who spoke up and said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." And so I see Thomas as a great man of faith; one just like any of us who would have doubts because life has thrown you a curveball.
You know, when Jesus called Thomas, just like the other disciples, he left everything. He left his home, his business, and for three years he followed Jesus. That’s why when Jesus died on the cross Thomas was totally devastated. You see, he was all in; when the other disciples gathered together on the evening of that first day of the week he didn’t, because he had disappeared and for days he was gone. That’s why the Bible records in John 20:24 that “Thomas….was not with the disciples when Jesus came.” And I want to suggest that Thomas went off to be alone where he was likely praying and trying to process his thoughts, because his greatest hope was shattered, the beliefs that he’d invested in had been buried, and with everything in him he wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but he didn’t understand God’s purpose in a dead Messiah. And so for Thomas, maybe even more so than the others, his whole world had fallen apart and he had questions. And maybe today, you too struggle with doubts, but I assure you that like Thomas you too can become one of the greatest people of faith that you would ever imagine.
You see later, the disciples met Thomas and told him in John 20:25, “We have seen the Lord!” But (Thomas) said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” And what Thomas was saying is, “I have to know this for myself. If this is true, if Jesus is risen, this demands all of me. I need to see it! I need to touch it!” And so Thomas just had to know, because this was that important. And there may be some of you who have doubts, right now you have questions, or you’ve been in that place where things got really hard and you questioned the existence of God and yet God promises that when you seek him, he will be found by you. If you will let your doubts drive you to seek God, to see him, and touch him, when you find him, you like Thomas will give him your entire life. You see, Thomas just had to know for himself.
Let’s go back to the story as we look at the path to commitment. We read in John 20:26-27, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and (this time) Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t put Thomas down for his doubts, but he gives him exactly what he needed to believe again. And I believe with everything in me that if you take your honest and sincere doubts to God he will do for you what you need to believe, because God did that for me. God did in my life what I needed to believe and I believe that he will do the same for you. Scripture says that if you seek him you will find him “for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9).
Now watch what Thomas said after he met Jesus. Last week we talked about dangerous prayers, but here are some of the most dangerous words recorded in all of Scripture, John 20:28, Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” You might wonder what’s so dangerous about those words, so let me explain. For a Jew to make a statement like this was considered blasphemy and was punishable by death. For Thomas to say that, meant that any witness to accuse him of saying that would justify his immediate execution, because he’d said, “Jesus, you are God.” That’s what happened to Stephen in Acts 7:58, but you see Thomas didn’t care, because at that point he had what he needed to believe.
Thomas believed that Jesus was risen and because of that fact his life was no longer his own, but he gave it completely to Jesus. Historians tell us that between 52 and 72 A.D. Thomas led the greatest most evangelistic mission trip ever to India. And today there are remnants of his work all over India, because of Thomas’s faithfulness to telling people that Jesus had risen. Fox's Book of Martyrs tells us that Thomas preached the Gospel in India where he incurred the rage of the pagan priests being martyred as he was thrust through with a spear.” Tradition says that he looked up to heaven at that moment and said, “Never will I deny the one who died for me.” Doubting Thomas? I think not; this was a guy who surrendered his life to the one who died for him, because great faith often starts with honest doubts. The path of commitment leads to a belief that can never be shaken and Thomas belief in the resurrected Jesus was committed enough to die for Jesus.
This morning is your belief committed enough to live for him?
You see, the bottom line is that either we believe God or we’re just playing church. Either we believe that all things are possible, that Jesus is risen, or your faith is futile and you’re still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). True belief demands everything and if it doesn’t impact our whole life we’re just kidding ourselves. Jesus Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and the stone is rolled away. Jesus is back! Death, hell, and the power of sin have been broken. There is no cause in this world worthy of committing our lives to… than to submit fully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
As we close, either we believe God and take him at his word or we’re just playing church. The Path to commitment often begins with doubts. Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, I will not believe.” Jesus knowing Thomas thoughts said to him, “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas’ bout with doubt ended when he uttered these words, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus told him John 20:29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
March 27, 2016