Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Christ Has Indeed Been Raised from the Dead - November 23, 2014 - Last Sunday of the Church Year (Proper 29) - Text: 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
In a court of law, witnesses play one of the most important roles. The prosecution, as well as the defense, each get to call their own witnesses and cross examine the others witnesses. The role of the witness is to explain what they saw. As Christians we are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. As we read God’s powerful Word, the Holy Spirit works through that word to work faith in our hearts. Thus, by the working of the Holy Spirit, through faith we have seen and bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Now that witness may be good enough for others who share the same faith, but for those who do not believe, that witness is not always nor necessarily enough. Thanks be to God that we have reliable witnesses so that we have proof positive of the resurrection. If we did not have such reliable witnesses then Paul’s words would be devastating, “19If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 19, 20).
From my Catechetical Helps book I have a list of witness to Jesus’ resurrection. According to this list (p. 90) Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. She is listed with Mary the mother of James, and Salome as having witnessed Jesus alive. Jesus appeared to Peter as we read in Luke (24:34). Jesus appeared to James as we read in 1 Corinthians (15:7). He appeared to the disciples of Emmaus on that first Easter afternoon. He appeared to the disciples when Thomas was absent, again on that first Easter evening. One week later He appeared to the disciples and Thomas. He appeared to the seven disciples by the sea, that was when He helped them catch a large number of fish. He appeared to the eleven on the mountain and possibly these were some of the 500 mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians (15:6).
These witnesses I have just mentioned are written in our Bible. What about witnesses outside our Bible? Are there any witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection outside of the Bible? The answer to that question is yes and no. No, there is no specific witness saying that the Easter Resurrection happened without a doubt, but there is evidence which supports the resurrection. The first bit of evidence is the very fact that the Jewish argument shared with Christians the conviction that the tomb was empty, but the explanations for its being empty are different. Dr. Paul Maier puts it this way, “Such positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest kind of evidence and becomes self-authenticating.” In other words, if the enemy agrees that is one thing, but if the enemy disagrees, which they naturally would, that would mean your case holds the strongest argument. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the Jews agree that the grave was empty, but they disagree as to why. Another extra Biblical witness is that of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who mentions that it was reported that Jesus appeared alive again three days after His crucifixion. As archeology continues to find ancient relics there is no doubt that even more evidence is forthcoming.
There are still other reasons for believing, such as the very fact that Jesus Himself spoke of His resurrection. In passage after passage Jesus told the people that He had to suffer and die and that He would rise again. Another reason to believe in the resurrection is the fact that the disciples are trustworthy historians. The disciples were out to tell the truth, to bear witness to the facts they saw. Why would they make up such stories, especially if they knew that they would be persecuted, tortured and even executed for doing so? More than likely people make up things in order to get out of being punished, tortured and persecuted. Why would the disciples make up the stories of the resurrection in order to be executed?
Another reason for believing the resurrection is the change of the behavior of the disciples, and especially that of Peter who changed from being what I would call a reactionary to being a responder, someone who responded to the needs of others.
Another reason for believing the resurrection is the observance of Sunday as the day of rest. What else would account for the change of the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday? It would have to be something very dramatic. And it was, it was the resurrection which moved people to want to worship on Sunday in order that every Sunday would be a little Easter celebration.
Another reason for believing the resurrection is that of Christianity. Christianity was not some kind of new sect, rather Christianity has its roots in Genesis when God promised to send a Christ, which is the Greek word for Messiah. Christians are followers of Christ, the fulfiller of all the Old Testament prophecies and the way to eternal life. The Jewish faith of today began at the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The Jewish faith began with those who denied Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ.
Another reason for believing the resurrection is because of our calendar. We are living in the year 2014 A.D. that is translated “in the year of our Lord.” The years before our Lord are cleverly referred to as the years before Christ or B.C. In recent times there has been an attempt to thwart Christianity; there are some who are trying to change our references from B.C. to B.C.E. being before the common era and C.E. being common era, but the fact remains that for so many years we have referenced time according to the days of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I really do not think you can get away from the calendar being centered on the life of Christ by simply changing the name to Common Era, whatever that means.
As Christians we can rest assured in the fact of the resurrection and because of the resurrection we know that we too have victory over sin, death and the devil. Going back to our text Paul says, “24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (v. 24). And “26The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (v. 26). Yes, we may still experience physical death, but because of Jesus death and resurrection we are assured that we will never experience eternal death, death in hell.
We have victory over sin, death, and the devil meaning we have victory over original sin as well as actual sin. Going back to our text Paul says, “21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (v. 21-22). The genetically transferred sin of Adam which is born in each and everyone of us is forgiven as well as the sins we commit each and every day.
What does this mean? This means that we are free from the bondage of sin, original and actual sin, sins of omission and sins of commission. We are free from death, eternal spiritual death in hell, and we are free from the power of the devil. We will still have to face trials and temptations. We will still have the struggle of resisting sin and temptation. We will more than likely still face physical death. But now we have the added advantage that our sins have been forgiven and we have the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who is with us to help us resist sin and temptation and to overcome and win out in the end.
This means that we have the promise of eternal life. We may fear the way in which we may physically die, but we do not fear what will happen after our physical death. By grace, through faith in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection we have the assurance that we have a place in heaven waiting for us, so that we may be sure, as the thief on the cross, that in the very day we die we will be with Jesus in paradise.
How is this done? This done by the Holy Spirit working through the means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit uses these means to bring us to faith and to keep us in faith. The Holy Spirit uses these means to impart God’s gifts to us, His gifts of faith, forgiveness, assurance of forgiveness, assurance of life and salvation and the list of gifts never ends.
What do we do? With the help of the Holy Spirit we respond to all our Lord has done for us not because He needs anything from us but simply because of our need to respond. We respond by taking part in God’s means of grace so that He can pour out even more of His gifts on us. When we absent ourselves from His means of grace then we take away His way of giving us His gifts and ultimately we fall away, but when we daily read His Word, when we daily remember our Baptism, when we regularly, once a week, come to Him in worship and confess our sins we then are able to hear those most beautiful and powerful words, “Your sins are forgiven,” and we know that this word does what it says, when we hear the word that we are forgiven then we know we are forgiven. We also regularly, every week, come to Him in worship and partake of His true body and blood in His Holy meal as often as we are able, then He has ample opportunity to give us His gifts and even more of His gifts. It is very much like any sport, art, craft, or talent, playing golf, bowling, playing piano or any musical instrument, the only way to continue to do well is to practice, to make time to practice, no matter how many distractions tempt you away from practice. So it is with the Lord’s gifts. We cannot be given His gifts when we absent ourselves from them and the place where they are given out and believe me the temptations to be absent from the Lord's Word are far greater than any other.
With the help of the Holy Spirit we respond in gratitude and praise for all our Lord has done for us. He comes to us through His means of grace and we go to Him in pray, praise, and giving thanks.
“19If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 19, 20). As we end this present Church Year we end in confidence. We have confidence in Christ’s resurrection and thus in our own resurrection. We are ready for, either Christ’s return or our passing from this world and going to Him. God has said it and that settles it. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.