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Worth Your Attention

In an age of information overload, we need to pay careful attention to the message of the Resurrection.

From the editor

More helpful resources for Easter! This week we're featuring a message from Mike Woodruff, pastor of Christ Church Lake Forest in Lake Forest, Illinois. If you read Woodruff's sermon on the Virgin Birth that we posted a few years ago, you know that one of Woodruff's strengths is apologetics. In this sermon he offers six things everyone needs to know about the Resurrection and why these six things are reliable and true.


One of the challenges of life in the 21st century is the amount of information we are expected to keep up with. Newspapers, magazines, television, radio, business reports, emails, phone calls, the Internet—all demand our time. In terms of human history this is relatively new. Some have argued that up until a few hundred years ago, it was possible for an educated person to know almost everything about almost everything. Before the railroad system came along, the fastest information traveled was the speed of a horse or a sailing ship. Now the information pipeline is instant, overwhelming, ever-expanding. It's hard to keep up.

Of course, remarkably little of what comes our way is important—and much of what is critical for today is forgotten within a week. This has led some to complain that Americans know everything about the last 24 hours, considerably less about the last 24 years, and next to nothing about the last 2,400 years. But some of what comes our way is important, and the risk is you will overlook it. All of this means that one of the key questions we face is this: What should I be paying attention to? What should I be focused on? What actually matters?

On this Easter morning, I would like to suggest that the event we have gathered around to celebrate—the resurrection of Jesus Christ—is one of the things you focus on in life. It divides history in a way nothing else has. The world is radically different because of what Christ did. No one else has shaped the world as substantially as he has. Part of the reason for that is what he taught. Another part of the reason is for what he claimed—that he was and is God. And part of the reason is because of his followers' conviction that he conquered death.

Today I'd like to share six things you need to know about the resurrection—things that should not get lost in the midst of the noise and clutter of 21st-century life, but instead should shape how you live and think.

The Resurrection is an historical claim.

When we talk about Christ defeating death, we are dealing with history, not myth. You are, of course, free to believe that it did not happen. This might be because you do not think that the Bible is what it claims to be—that is, God's Word. Many people think that way, and that really isn't surprising. After all, the Bible is an enormously influential and controversial book. It is the best-selling book of all time. It has been translated into more languages than any other book. More books have been written about it than any other. No book has more dramatically shaped the world. You don't enjoy that kind of influence without critics.

We could have a long discussion about the historical merits of the Bible, but let me simply make two points. First of all, there is plenty of evidence that this book is from God for those who want to believe. But there is probably not enough evidence for those who do not want to believe. Belief requires faith. Second, no one contests the central claim that there was a person named Jesus and that the Christian faith was launched by followers who were convinced that he rose from the dead. That claim is made in all four Gospels. These Gospels tell the story from four different angles, but they all agree on the basics: (1) Christ was a popular itinerant preacher who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah; (2) He was arrested in Jerusalem where he had gone to celebrate the Passover; (3) He was crucified on Friday and buried just before sundown on that day; (4) Because of the threat of his resurrection, some guards were placed at his tomb; (5) Nevertheless, when women went to his tomb on Sunday morning to further attend to his body, his body was gone; (6) The tomb contained the grave clothes, but the body was gone; (7) Angels announced that Christ had risen from the dead; (8) Christ then appeared to them, alive.

At this point, then, the church started. This is real history. This is not mythology. These are not like stories about Apollos, Hercules, or Zeus. We are talking about the start of a real church, with real people, all because of an empty tomb.

The Disciples were convinced that Christ rose from the dead.

Not everyone was convinced Christ rose from the dead. Certainly not everyone today is convinced! There are lots of theories about what might have happened. Some say that Jesus didn't die, he just swooned. He simply passed out from the beatings, the scourging, the spear jammed into his side. Three days in a cold, dark cave with no food, water, or air was just what he needed, then, to regain his strength, push away the stone, scare the guards, and announce that he had conquered death.

Others say there was confusion about where he was buried—that the women went to the wrong tomb. This confusion apparently extended to everyone, starting with the angels and continuing with the apostles and the guards themselves.

Still others say the body was stolen. The most common explanation is that the disciples stole the body, but some have argued that grave robbers took it. But grave robbers don't actually steal bodies. They steal the stuff with which bodies are buried. And if you were disturbed enough to steal a body, you probably would go to a tomb that didn't have guards posted around it. This obviously leaves the disciples as the possible culprit, but you only need to read the rest of the Gospels to be persuaded that this didn't happen. Of the 11 remaining disciples, 10 of them die as martyrs for preaching that Christ had conquered death. Not one of them ever wavered from their story. Clearly they believed Jesus rose from the dead. They were weak and timid before the Resurrection, but they were a force no one could stop afterwards.

Christ claimed to be God, and lived that way as well. Therefore, the claim that he rose from the dead is not like the claim that you or I rose from the dead.

It would be one thing if we were talking about someone who was otherwise unremarkable, but Christ is hardly that. This is a man who lived an extraordinary life. This is a man who taught with authority. This is a man who gave us the greatest ethical system we have today. This is a man who performed miracles. This is a man who amazed people wherever he went. This is a man who claimed to be God (which is why the religious leaders wanted him put him to death).

Let's examine that last point a little more. Christ claimed that he had existed from before time, was one with the Father, had created the world. He claimed that in the fullness of time, while remaining fully God, he became fully man so that he could represent us. He went on to calim that he could pay our moral debt by dying in our place. I'd say he is not like you and me!

When I read the Gospels, I am amazed at what Christ says and does. The more I study his life, the more amazing it becomes. He was brilliant. He was perfect. If you look at Christ's life and his teaching, it's no surprise that he rose from the dead. The shock would have been if he had not.

The Resurrection is hardly the whole story.

If you only show up for church on Christmas and Easter, you are privy to a few pieces of the story. It's just not enough to make sense of what is happening in the life of Christ. The Bible is like a two-act play that unfolds over thousands of years. If a theater was presenting the Bible as some sort of production, "Genesis 1-11" would be written in your program. This is the information you would scan while the orchestra is warming up. It lets you knew what is happening in the story at the moment it opens. It would tell you that: (1) God made a good world; (2) He put mankind in charge of that good world; (3) Mankind rebelled, and as a result, everything, including all subsequent children born to them, would be broken. You would understand that man had been cursed by God because of his rebellion—a curse that leads to death. But you would also understand that God had promised that one day he would send a Rescuer to make things right.

At this point the curtain would rise for Act One—the Old Testament. This first act would tell the story Abraham and his descendents—the Jews—through whom God would bless the nations. The initial scene would focus on Abraham and then move along to the Patriarchs. You would watch as they made their way to the Promised Land, only to leave it because of a famine. Soon the Jews are slaves in Egypt for 400 years.

On the story goes. You watch their supernatural escape from under pharaoh, their 40 years in the desert, their eventual return to the Promised Land. You watch as they grew as a nation, enjoying God's blessing under David before they fell apart, divided into two through jealousy and anger.

The story grows darker and darker as the Jews are overrun by other countries. Soon all that remains is a remnant in exile for 70 years.

Throughout Act One, one thing you notice is that the people are always on the lookout for the promised Messiah—a Rescuer who would be sent to liberate them. Promises are made that he is coming and what he would be like. But he never shows up in Act One.

Now, the intermission—a 400-year break between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. During this time, God is silent. He does not speak to the Jews.

Then, Act Two begins. It opens with the Christmas story where finally, after all this time, the Rescuer is sent. His name is Jesus.

In the first scene, you learn that is born to a virgin. He enters the world in this unusual way to avoid the curse that is over all mankind. You learn just a little of his childhood before things pick up speed. He is baptized and tempted in the desert. He recruits of his disciples. He begins a public ministry of teaching and healing and loving. He grows in fame. His increasingly bold statements about who he is culminate in a declaration that he is the one they had all been waiting for.

You watch as his claim to be the Messiah leads to charges of blasphemy and political insurrection. All of this eventually leads to his crucifixion—which was actually why he came. You discover that his death on the cross is not a mistake, nor is it something a Roman governor decided. His death in our place is the moment to which everything was pointing.

After Christ dies, on the third day, he rises from the dead as he had promised in Act One. He tells the disciples to spread the news throughout the world, and they do. Most of the New Testament is made up of letters from the apostles to the churches they started—gatherings of people who have been forgiven and are trying to figure out what it looks like to embrace Christ's teachings and share them with others.

As the play comes to a close, you see that over the next 2,000 years, that church has grown right up until today. So in many ways, the play isn't over.

Christ has changed my life.

So far I have said that: (1) The resurrection is an historical claim; (2) The disciples believed Christ rose from the dead; (3) Christ claimed to be God, and his resurrection is consistent with those claims; (4) The resurrection is hardly the whole story. Let me offer this, too: Christ has changed my life. He has changed my heart. He has changed my values.

It took some time for me to wrap my mind around the claims of Christ. I doubted. I had lots of questions. My moving from doubt to faith took some time. But God changed my heart, and I believe. No one is more surprised than I am that I am here today. I did not set out to do what I do, but I feel as though I have no choice. This is a story that must be told. It is Good News that demands to be shared.


In the end, there is one final thing that you need to consider as you push past all the information of the day: What are you going to do with this news about Christ?

The Resurrection either happened or it did not. Either way, it is the biggest story out there! If it did not happen, those who believe it did are among the biggest fools of all time. Those are not my words. They are the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. If Christ didn't rise from the dead, then all bets are off.

But if it is true—if he did rise from the dead—we have every reason to believe everything else he told us. We can be forgiven. We can have hope. We can have peace in tumultuous times.

You have to do something with this information. It should not be overwhelmed by the news cycle of the day. You have a decision to make.

My take is that there are four different groups here today. On one end of the spectrum are those who woke up smiling, because this is the best day of their year—a day to celebrate. You believe Christ conquered death and have organized your life around that truth. If you are in this camp, then celebrate and share the story.

There is a second group that is made up of those who sort-of believe. Maybe you think this is true, but you're not doing much with the information. You used to be active in church or in a Bible study, but not so much right now. Christ said you must be either hot or cold—not lukewarm. You need to move towards God in your actions and thoughts.

There is a third group, comprised of those who are thinking, Well, you kept me awake. This wasn't what I expected, but I'm certainly not convinced. I'll think about it a bit. Well, do just that. Why not audit church for the next six weeks? Show up, sit in the back, and let God meet you here. See what happens.

Finally, there is a group that is ready to take the next step. There are people here who are ready to cross the line. If you're in that group, we'd like to give you a chance to respond to the Resurrected One.

To see an outline of Woodruff's sermon, click here.

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.

Mike Woodruff is senior pastor of Christ Church Lake Forest in Lake Forest, Illinois.

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Sermon Outline:


Today I'd like to share six things you need to know about the resurrection—things that should not get lost in the midst of the noise and clutter of 21st-century life, but instead should shape how you live and think.

I. The Resurrection is an historical claim.

II. The Disciples were convinced that Christ rose from the dead.

III. Christ claimed to be God, and lived that way as well. Therefore, the claim that he rose from the dead is not like the claim that you or I rose from the dead.

IV. The Resurrection is hardly the whole story.

V. Christ has changed my life.


In the end, there is one final thing that you need to consider as you push past all the information of the day: What are you going to do with this news about Christ?