We are doubted every day. Every time we log in. Every time we swipe. Every time we try to unlock our phones.
Are you really who you say you are?
Yes, here’s my password. Here’s my key code. Here’s my fingerprint.
We are doubted several times a day. It’s woven into the fabric of our days. Make up a new password. Set up a user ID. Haul out your ID card.
Are you really who you say you are?
It’s a common problem, and an old one.
During his ministry, Jesus was doubted all the time.
If he was really a prophet, he would know that this woman is a hooker.
If he was really a rabbi, he would wash his hands before he eats.
If he was really the Messiah, he would be from Bethlehem.
Even while he was dying, he was doubted: If you are the son of God, save yourself.
Are you really who you say you are?
And that’s the question that still hangs in the air when it comes to Jesus: Is he really who he says he is? Was he really who he said he was?
The question is not about whether or not he did miracles. Other prophets before him like Moses and Elijah did miracles. Other rabbis around the same time period are reported to have done miracles. The Catholic church has an entire system in place to prove that people have done miracles. It’s not about the miracles.
And it’s not about the good teaching. It’s not about generosity. It’s not about caring for the poor, women, or lepers because other people did and do those things.
What it all comes down to is this: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
Other people have been great teachers. Other people have performed miracles. But only one person claimed to rise from the dead. Only one has followers who say that he rose from the dead.
This is the key identity question for Jesus: Did he rise from the dead? It all boils down to our answer to that question.
And it always has, ever since the beginning of the church. Ever since Paul was traveling the world.
Liar, Lunatic, or Lord
Paul planted a church in the city of Corinth, then part of the Roman Empire and now part of Greece. Corinth was a bustling port city, flush with sailors on leave and products and people from around the world. And like big, bustling multicultural cities of today, this meant that Corinth was a city that didn’t sleep. Corinth was a party. What happened in Corinth, stayed in Corinth. When the sailors were around, Corinth was Mardi Gras, Super Bowl Sunday, and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one.
And this is where Paul, the conservative Jew, lived for a year and a half. A year and a half, this guy tries to tell people about Jesus. Tries to win them over, lure them away from the hookers, the orgies, the pagan temples, away from the gambling dens, corner bars, and into the church.
And people actually listen to him. People actually pay attention. People actually turn away from pagan rituals and pleasure palaces and come to Jesus. It’s amazing!
But then Paul leaves Corinth. And eventually, word reaches him that his disciples are slipping back into their old ways. Church one evening, the temple the next. Sober for a bit, then drunk for a while. Inclusive of the poor, then having a feast without them.
So Paul writes them a letter. And after he writes about sex, marriage, singleness, spiritual gifts, prophecy, love, and worship, Paul reminds the Corinthians what this is really all about. He roots everything in the resurrection. He knows that people are starting to doubt what he said. They are forgetting what he taught them. They are wondering if Jesus is who Paul says he is. They are doubting the resurrection itself.
So Paul takes this challenge head-on. This is his argument:
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we are idiots. We have bought into a lie. We should be pitied.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we have insulted God, because we said that he raised Jesus from the dead and that Jesus was the Messiah.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then he wasn’t the Messiah, and we have got everything all wrong. We are pathetic.
And that is still true today.
According to Paul, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are idiots. In fact, in this room are the chief idiots. We have devoted our lives, our educations, thousands of dollars, our intellectual capacity, our creativity, our very beings—to something very silly.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then you, my friends, are wasting your time. You are giving your lives to something that doesn’t matter.
There will be people, maybe even in our churches, who will say that Jesus was a good teacher, that he was an interesting fellow, that he had a lot of good ideas, but he wasn’t the Son of God and he didn’t rise from the dead.
Let’s be very clear about something: Jesus doesn’t give us that option. Jesus doesn’t give us the option to say that he was a good moral teacher. Have you read the Gospel of John? Either Jesus is the Son of God or he is a nutjob. He is completely crazy. He’s one of those street preachers you find in big cities, yelling at people who don’t listen.
If he is not the Son of God, sent to redeem the world, the one who rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, if Jesus is not that, then he is a nutjob.
C. S. Lewis famously said that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. He was either crazy or the Christ.
You don’t take good advice from a crazy person. You don’t think of a lunatic as a good moral teacher. That is not a viable option.
This is why Paul does a review for the Corinthians of the proof that Jesus rose from the dead. Here’s what Paul says: He died. He was buried. On the third day, he rose. And then he showed up! To Peter, to the 12, to more than 500 at one time! To James, to the apostles, and finally, he appeared to me.
And the Corinthians knew that story. They knew Paul had been anti-Jesus, anti-resurrection, and anti-Christians. They knew that Jesus himself knocked Paul down with a bright light and a loud voice, took his sight for three days, and then brought Ananias to him to tell him the Good News. To tell him the resurrection was true. To tell Paul that Jesus really rose from the dead.
So the Corinthians knew that Paul was a late adopter. They knew that he struggled to believe. They knew that Paul understood their lives. That their friends think they’re stupid. That their families think they’re nuts. That it’s much easier to just blend in. Paul gets it. And so he reminds them of how many people saw Jesus after he rose, including him.
So, he says to the Corinthians, Jesus is really who he says he is.
And then he asks them this question: Are you? Are you really who you say you are? Are you really living a life worthy of the calling you have received? Are you living as the believers you claim to be? Because if the resurrection of Jesus is true, your life should show it. Come to a sober and right mind, he tells them. Sin no more.
Jesus, says Paul, is who he says he is. Are you? Are you really who you say you are?
Are You Who You Say You Are?
We have been assaulted with examples of Christians, particularly pastors, who were not who they said they were. We have read grand jury reports. We have read New York Times articles. We have been slack-jawed by the testimonies of women and children. We have been nauseated by the behavior of others.
We are angered, yes, and grieved. We may be discouraged. But are we self-aware? Are we asking the hard questions of ourselves? Am I really who I say I am?
A few months after I started in parish ministry, it dawned on me that if I had something decent to say on Sundays, nobody really cared what I did the rest of the week. Sure, I had meetings to attend and people to visit, but on a lot of days the church building was quiet, and there was a lot of time that I was alone. My time was mine. No one was watching me.
You have your stories of colleagues who’ve left ministry for various reasons, and so do I. I didn’t graduate with a huge class from seminary, but two of my seminary classmates are in prison for sex crimes.
Are you really who you say you are?
We can have people watch The Case for Christ. We can have adult ed classes on apologetics. We can have a million proofs for the resurrection. We can preach apologetics 52 times a year. We can have all the arguments for the veracity of Scripture or the alignment of the Gospels.
But if we aren’t living as if Christ is risen, then it doesn’t matter. If we are preaching life but choosing death, it doesn’t matter.
Here’s the thing: The enemy is really good at holding out things that look life-giving, but aren’t. Like the White Witch holding out Turkish delight to a hungry Edmund, the enemy makes death look like life.
The enemy makes gambling look like low-risk fun. The enemy makes obsessive exercise look like a way to stay healthy. The enemy makes porn look like a victimless crime.
What’s he holding out to you? What’s on the tray, dusted with powdered sugar to cover up the poison? Maybe flirty emails exchanged with a colleague. Maybe online sermons easily plagiarized. Maybe the credit card that no one knows about but you. Maybe the bottle of gin.
Where is death hiding behind the façade of life?
Jesus is who he says he is, are you? Are we preaching life and choosing death? Or are we really resurrection people?
After the events of the summer, some people suggested lists of questions for pastors and Christian professionals to reflect on. Here are a few:
As a pastor, where do I feel entitled?
Where are areas in my life where I’m not living with integrity?
Do I have friendships that help me face my dark side?
What are the limits (time, energy, power, money) I’m currently violating?
Our souls are in danger when we go beyond our limits. One could argue that this is the essence of sin, as seen in the Garden of Eden. God set a limit, and humanity willfully crossed it. Whenever we go beyond our limits, we are entering into Satan’s territory.
It may feel like death to confess. It may feel like hell to tell the truth. But it’s not. It’s the first step out of the grave.
As Paul writes, the resurrection matters not just because it was a true historical event. The resurrection matters not just because it happened long ago. Paul says, the resurrection matters because just as it happened once, it will happen again.
Paul says, “Here’s what happened already: Jesus rose from the dead. Here’s what’s going to happen: You’re going to rise from the dead. And you’re going to have a front-row seat to the destruction of sin, death, and hell. Because the resurrection of Jesus is a sign and a promise that God is up to something big.”
Paul says to the Corinthians, this isn’t just a past event. It’s a future event. It’s your future event. You will be raised incorruptible, imperishable. You will be raised and you will watch death die. You will watch evil lose. You will see death destroyed.
And because of that, says Paul, resurrection is a true past event and a promised future event, which means it affects your present reality. God doesn’t just want you to have life then. He wants you to have life now. God wants to raise you now. Today. Stand firm, immovable, your labor is not in vain. God is up to resurrection now.
God wants to raise you now.
God wants to move you from death to life, now. Today. Where is death stinging you today? Where is the enemy having victory today?
Our triune God comes to us, pastors, preachers, students, and God says, “Resurrection is about you. And it’s about now.”
God wants to raise you. Wants to dust off the death of self-preservation, of addictions, of laziness, of lying. God wants to raise you up.
Wants you to stand up, preacher, as someone who knows resurrection. Wants you to stand up, pastor, as someone who knows life. Wants us to stand up, Christians, and say that Jesus is alive and so are we.
Wants us to confess, wants us to come clean, wants us to have a fresh start. Who do you need to talk to today, to move into life? Who needs to know what’s really going on? What habits need to be broken; what habits need to take hold? Where does death need to die in your life?
God doesn’t hold out Turkish delight. God doesn’t hold out death masquerading as life. God holds out the bread and the cup, the body and the blood, and God says, “My son died so that you don’t have to.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We don’t just get to preach resurrection; we get to live it. We get to come out of the tomb and walk into life. We get to shake off death and move into life. We get to preach like people who have been raised from the dead.