This sermon is part of the sermon series "Three Days". See series.
Several friends were talking in a restaurant when the conversation came around to dying. They asked each other what they would like to have said about them at their funerals. The first said, "I'd like them to talk about my career successes and all the good I did for people during my lifetime of hard work." The second said, "I'd like someone to tell what a great husband and father I was and how much I loved my family and my family loves me." The third said, "I'd like someone to say, 'His body just moved!'"
That's the story of Easter. Jesus was dead from crucifixion on Friday, and on Sunday morning his body moved! Listen to the record written by Luke the physician and historian.
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. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
What a stunning story! The dead Jesus came back to life again—that is, if he actually died. Some have suggested that he almost died but not quite and that his followers nursed him back to full health and strength. That makes little sense. Beat a man until his body is raw and bleeding. Nail him to a cross for six hours. Run a spear up under his ribs and through his organs. Have his death certified by professional executioners whose careers and lives depended on the prisoner being dead. Bury him for three days. Then nurse him back to normal? I don't think so. He was dead. Dead.
Somehow, spectacularly, supernaturally, Jesus came to life again. I believe it, but his family, friends, and followers had a more difficult time: "They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (Luke 24:11). The whole idea that Jesus was alive again was simply crazy to them.
There was, however, one who was willing to check the situation out for himself. Peter got up and ran to the tomb to see if Jesus' body was gone. Although he still wasn't fully convinced, I admire his open-mindedness. When everyone around you has a settled opinion, it takes a lot of courage to research the facts for yourself. Peter must have thought, It can't be true—but what if it is? What if the impossible has happened? What if God overruled death and brought Jesus back to life?
That was Easter morning. The lesser known story is what happened Easter evening.
Easter evening: hopelessness
Late on Easter afternoon, two people were walking seven miles west on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were full of the news of the day. It seemed that all of Jerusalem was talking about what had happened. Jesus was famous. He had been crucified where everyone could watch. Everyone knew he was dead—some were grateful to be done with him and others were grieving their loss—but everyone knew he was dead.
Now there were stories that his body was missing and claims that he had come back to life. Some remembered that Jesus had predicted this would happen. Others recalled his earlier miracles and figured that if anyone could do this Jesus was the one. For this couple it was too much to hope—too farfetched, too impossible. It was more the delusions of deep grief than anything close to the truth. They had trusted that Jesus was the Savior everyone needed. They had joined his cause. They believed in him as being sent from God. All their hopes were shattered when the Romans killed Jesus. They didn't want to get their hopes back up just to be disappointed all over again.
As they walked and talked, a fellow traveler came alongside them. They should have recognized him but didn't. Perhaps they were blinded by the bright sun low in the western sky; perhaps it was just too unbelievable for them to recognize who the traveler was. When the two travelers finally recognized who this was—when they realized Jesus was alive—they rushed the seven miles back to Jerusalem in the dark to tell Jesus' followers the news. "It is true!" they said, "The Lord is risen!" (Luke 24:34).
What if it's true?
What if it really is true? Perhaps you have no doubt. You are convinced that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to pay for your sins. You believe. You've declared your belief to God. You have committed to Jesus as your Savior from sin and Lord of life. You know it's true!
If it's true that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, then everything Jesus taught must also be true. If everything Jesus taught is true, we can't be neutral. We must be total believers or not believers at all. C. S. Lewis said, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, is of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."
If the resurrection of Jesus is true then we must believe fully in Jesus and follow him passionately. He is our guarantee of life after death and heaven forever. He is the assurance of God's presence and blessing in this life and beyond. If Easter is true, it changes everything!
Blaise Pascal was a brilliant 17th century French scientist and philosopher. His research and theories in mathematics, physics, economics, and social science significantly influence these modern disciplines today. Pascal's Wager is one of the most famous arguments of philosophy: an argument for the existence of God. Stretch your minds with me to hear what Pascal said:
God exists or doesn't exist. Everyone must decide. If you believe in God and he exists, you go to heaven. Infinite benefit. If you don't believe in God and he exists, you don't go to heaven. Infinite loss. If you believe in God and he doesn't exist, you gain nothing and lose nothing.
In other words, those who believe in God have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Those who don't believe in God have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Pascal said that the smart and wise person will choose to believe in God.
The same goes for the Easter resurrection of Jesus. We all must decide if we believe it's true or not true. If we choose not to believe, and Jesus really did rise from the dead, we have everything to lose. If we choose to believe in the truth of the resurrection, we have everything to gain—God, Jesus, eternal life, and more.
Leith Anderson is president emeritus of the National Association of Evangelicals and Baptist pastor emeritus of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.