From Fear to Faith
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From Fear to Faith

John 20:1–9  (ID: 2217)

After Jesus’ death, the disciples secluded themselves in fear. A few weeks later, these same men believed and were proclaiming He had risen from the dead. What caused this shift from fear to faith? Alistair Begg points us to the answer: the resurrection, Christianity’s greatest apologetic. The historical facts of Jesus’ victory over death confront our doubts and bring us to face life’s most important decision—with eternal consequences.

Series Containing This Sermon

Journey to the Cross

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23801

Encore 2020

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25911

Sermon Transcript: Print

“[And] early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. [And] running to Simon Peter and the other disciple … said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’”[1]

By any standards, the disciples were in a complete shambles. One of them, the betrayer, Judas Iscariot by name, was already dead, a suicide. The unofficial spokesman of the group, Simon Peter—the one who had declared to Jesus that although everybody may run away and hide, although everyone may desert Christ, that he never would[2]—he had crumbled before the questionings of a young girl just hours before. And so, to go and look for them is to discover a dejected and paralyzed company. They had enough players left for a soccer team, but they would have been an easy team to beat. There was no heart in them at all, if they had ever taken to the field. They were huddled together for fear that the opponents of Christ may come now to get them—highly unlikely, given the fact that they were such a dispirited and sorry bunch. The wind was out of their sails, they were going absolutely nowhere at all.

On the way up to Jerusalem, Jesus had made it clear to them that he needed to suffer and die in Jerusalem and that on the third day he would be raised from the dead.[3] But they just didn’t get it. Whatever hopes and dreams they might have shared had been dashed and broken by the events that had so recently taken place, and when they had finally removed themselves from the scene, they had looked at one another and said, “Well, it was fun while it lasted, but it’s over now,” and in a Palestinian tomb this great story of salvation had apparently come to a grinding conclusion.

You see, these men had no concept of a Messiah who would die, nor did they have a concept of a Messiah who would rise from the dead. Their Jewish background was such that the story that they had understood was one in which the Messiah, when he appeared, would “remain forever.”[4] So how could it possibly be, then, that Jesus was the Messiah when he so clearly wasn’t remaining forever? He was gone! And they said to one another, “We had our hopes that he was the one to redeem the people of Israel,”[5] but apparently not. And even on the occasion that we read in John 20, they still had no way of grabbing the fact from the Bible that this empty tomb was significant in relationship to the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Our experience of Christ within us is on the basis of his work for us, which is grounded in the very historicity of that which we discover in the Gospel records.

And then you allow the clock to tick and the pages in the diary to turn, and you go out approximately seven weeks, just forty-nine days, and everything has changed. These same men, this paralyzed crew, this dejected bunch, are now back out on the streets of Jerusalem. It would be one thing if they had covered up their shame and they were now back at their work—back to tax collecting, and back to the business of the zealot of Simon and his cronies, or back to the fishing with Peter. But it wasn’t that at all. They were actually out on the Jerusalem streets, and they were declaring to the people—all who would listen to them—that God had raised this Jesus to life and, says Peter, “We’re all witnesses of the fact. You can ask anyone of us, and we’ll be able to tell you that this Jesus, whom you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ.”[6]

Now, the question is obvious to any thinking person: What was it that turned these men from fear to faith? What was it that transformed their paralysis to such an emboldened expression of power? What was it that took what was apparently a Friday evening catastrophe and turned it into a Sunday morning victory?

Now, what I want to do in the time that I have before me (and it’s not a long time) is not work exegetically through a text; I don’t want to work expounding a passage of Scripture. I don’t even want to work as much topically concerning the resurrection as I want to work apologetically—the Greek word apologia, which simply means “to give a defense.” And I want, I think, quite unashamedly, to speak first to those who are agnostic, who do not believe, in such a way that it may create a crisis in your own view of the world and perhaps become for you a link in a chain that will lead you to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, because you really do need to know him; also that, at the same time, that it would be a source of encouragement to those who do believe, enabling us, hopefully, in the following days of this week to have an opportunity still, with the lingering notions of Easter in the minds of people, to speak to our friends and neighbors about the fact that there is more to our Christian expression than simply our devoted statement, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”[7] Because if you think about it, some of our friends have not been particularly impressed with that, because they had a number of things living in their heart too, and they had met a number of people who also had other figures of religious influence who were living in their heart, and so they’ve said, “You know, the fact that you have Jesus in your heart, it doesn’t really help me get off the blocks here. Is there anything more to it than just your subjective experience?”

Well, of course, what we discover is that our experience of Christ within us is on the basis of his work for us, which is grounded in the very historicity of that which we discover in the Gospel records. And what I want to suggest to you is that when you examine the circumstances… And a number of you are here this morning as attorneys—far more than we really want to welcome. No, sorry. That’s to go to a stereotype. I disdain that. I’m sorry I did that. I don’t mean that. But there are a little more than we need, so… you can perhaps help those around you to think in terms of the evidence that is contained here and perhaps enable us to the conclusion that the only reasonable explanation is that the transformation of the disciples can only be traced to the resurrection of Jesus himself—that the resurrection then meant that Jesus could be proclaimed as Messiah after all.

What possible forgiveness could there be in a dead Messiah? But in a risen Messiah, suddenly the picture is dramatically changed.

You remember they believed that a Messiah would remain forever—“He’s gone, therefore he can’t be; he’s back, therefore he may be”—and that the resurrection would allow them to look at the scene of humiliation on the cross, the shameful death of this Jesus, and to realize, in light of the fact that he has now risen from the dead, that this explains why Jesus was making the point that forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name.[8] What possible forgiveness could there be in a dead Messiah? But in a risen Messiah, suddenly the picture is dramatically changed. Without the resurrection, the disciples may have continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, but they would have no basis for believing him to be their Messiah. So they could have got together and had little conversations about the wonderful things that Jesus taught them, and then a month later have another little coffee meeting and discuss the wonderful places that Jesus took them, but we would never have found them discussing the marvelous reality of the risen Christ and his continued presence with them without the fact of the resurrection.

The Evidence for the Resurrection

Now, for some who today may be wondering about Christianity and asking themselves, “What evidence is there, if any, for the resurrection of Jesus?” you will find that if you go to the source text you can gather the evidence under three separate headings. I don’t have time to extrapolate from all of them, but I just want to give them to you.

First of all, as I’ve suggested, part of the evidence is to be found in the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. I didn’t say “in the disciples’ belief in the resurrection,” I said “in the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection.” What brought about the change? Any serious investigator has got to ask, “How do these people, hidden for fear, suddenly arrive forty-nine days later declaring that Jesus is alive?” And even the most skeptical critic who denies the historical event of the resurrection is still left with having to come up with some mysterious X factor that got the movement going. So, for example, you come this morning, and you say, “Well, I don’t believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place, so that can’t possibly be the explanation for the change.” Well then, the onus is now on you, and we will call you to the stand to explain to us why is it that these disciples were so radically different and so completely different in such a short period of time.

If you want to investigate, you need to go there: to the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection.

If you want to investigate, you also have to consider the postmortem appearances of Jesus—the postmortem appearances of Jesus. The evidence shows that the disciples witnessed physical bodily appearances of Jesus after his death.[9] Of course, the claim is offered up that these appearances were merely hallucinations, or they were subjective visions; that these disciples found that the visions emerged as a result of their faith; that it was not that these encounters with Jesus were reality, but they were actually products of a hallucinating mind, and that the reason that they were hallucinating in this direction is because they were so full of faith.

What? So full of what? They weren’t full of faith! They thought it was over. One of them committed suicide, one of them royally tripped up, ten of them were sitting around in the darkness of the night saying, “If you come back to this door, make sure that you do the … because we just don’t want anybody opening the door. We never know when someone will reach in, grab us, and we’ll be the next one up on the cross.” So what “faith” was it that produced the hallucination, that produced the subjective vision, of this risen Christ?

As Jews, they would never have imagined a risen Christ who ate fish with them, either. Because the Jewish mind believed in the resurrection. Not the Sadducees. The Pharisees, other members of the Jewish sect, believed in the resurrection, but they believed that the resurrection would take place at the end of the world—and apparently it wasn’t the end of the world—and they believed that the resurrection would be general in its impact, involving all people, rather than that it would be specific, involving an individual. So therefore, if you want to argue for the fact that the disciples imagined this, created this, that they subjectively materialized it in their psyche, then what you have to say is that what they would have materialized in their psyche is something akin to what happened to Enoch, who “walked with God and he was taken to God”;[10] he was translated. They may have imagined a translated Christ who had now gone up into the glory, but they would not have imagined a Christ who made breakfast for them on the water,[11] who said “You can put your hands in here and you can touch me here,”[12] and who walked on the Jerusalem streets and who encountered them in such a variety of manners.

Now, if you’re honest in your investigation, you will be well repaid by further research here. Time does not allow me to pursue this.

Incidentally and in passing, in talking about doing research, in seeking the best historical explanation of the evidence concerning the resurrection of Jesus, let me affirm for you that we do not operate in this respect any differently than we would do in any other discipline. The same kind of inductive reasoning that you use in the realm of science or in mathematics, in anthropology, or in determining the nature of history—the same inductive reasoning is to be applied to the facts that you find just here. And that, incidentally, is one of the reasons that some people have never given any serious consideration to the claims of Jesus Christ: partly because of the way that Christians in such a facile fashion communicate their faith, or attempt to. The average thinking fellow says, “I don’t want to get involved with those weird people! They don’t seem to have any historical basis for what they say, and they’re always talking about their experience. But it doesn’t seem to be built on any facts, it doesn’t seem to have any foundations, there seems to be no reason at all why I would give it any consideration. And indeed, if I were to give it consideration, apparently what you have to do first of all is have a frontal lobotomy. Once you’ve had your brain put under the pew, then you can get about the matter of Christianity, but until you have, then don’t even touch it. Now let me get back here to my biomedical research. Now let me get back here to my air traffic control. Now let me get back here to my mathematics. Let me get back here to my task as a CPA for April 15. And I’m going to use inference from the best explanation, because that’s what I do in this discipline.”

Christianity is prepared to stand up to rigorous investigation.

That’s the exact same thing you need to do with this evidence. You need to take all of the options and lay them out, sift through them, select the best of the competing explanations to explain why the evidence is as it is and not otherwise. That’s what you need to do. Christianity invites it. It is prepared to stand up to rigorous investigation. And the reason that some do not believe today is not because you did the rigorous investigation and you found it wanting, but because you never did the rigorous investigation. And Easter comes, and Easter goes. You walk in, you walk out. You pay scant attention to what’s going on, and you look at the eggs, and you look at bunnies, and you look at your wife or you look at your father, and you say, “I don’t know why these people are involved in this at all! Mercifully, it didn’t last too long, and I’m sure we’re going to have a wonderful lunch. Let’s get on with life.” That’s the kind of thinking.

Do you realize that your eternal destiny hinges on this? That the events that we are considering are the pivotal events in world history? That there never has been or will be in the whole of time a more significant event than this? That the question, and the answer to the question, of the empty tomb is absolutely fundamental to living life and facing death? That this is not some esoteric interest for religious professionals? That this is not a matter for which we are interested simply by dint of the fact that we like a certain kind of singing? For the scientist, the chosen explanation is his theory, which he then tests by performing various experiments. He takes the inference from the best explanation, he says, “Of all of the options here, it would seem this. That’s my theory. Now let me test it.” The historian does the exact same thing: constructs history on the basis of all that he sees, and then he takes that construction and he sees how well it elucidates the evidence. Have you ever done that?

Well, if you do, then you’ve gotta go to the evidence for the origin of the belief in the resurrection on the part of the disciples, you’ve gotta go and do something with the postmortem appearances of Christ, and you’ve gotta go, finally, and do something with this empty tomb. And when you look at the evidence concerning the empty tomb, and the evidence that supports the fact of the empty tomb, it is vast—far more than I can give to you just now.

But, for example, when you look at this material with an open mind, the burial story itself is historically credible. I mean, this is one of the questions you should be asking as an agnostic: “Is there any credibility in this at all, or does this give me the impression as I read it that somehow or another a group of individuals went in a room and came up with a religious idea, and they hanged it on the cross of Jesus Christ?” Well then, you’re a sensible person. You must look at the evidence. You must read it. And you know what you’ll discover? You will discover that not only is this a book which is capable of your investigation of it, but you will discover as you read it that this book actually investigates you. You will discover—it will creep up on you—that the person who wrote this book made you and that this is actually a handbook that explains your existence. The fact that you’ve had it in the glove box for so long and have driven for forty years of your life without reference to it is only an indication of God’s gracious provision. But it will be a wonderful day when you take it out of the glove box, and you’ll say, “I wonder why it is that I am as I am? I wonder if there is an answer to death? I wonder if there is an explanation of life? I wonder what this matter of the empty tomb is?”

And you discover that, for example, Joseph and his tomb makes perfect sense. Joseph of Arimathea—people knew who he was—he said, “I have a tomb, it’s never had anyone in it. Can I have the body of Jesus?”[13] The women did what women did at that time. It was customary for them to be the embalmers, the carriers of spice. What do we read? The exact same. There are no conflicting reports concerning the burial of Jesus. And, in fact, the awareness of the tomb’s location was apparently something that everyone could understand. If there was a body in the tomb, it would have been impossible for the resurrection story to survive for five minutes. How can these men go out and say “Jesus is alive” if they’re giving tours between two and four in the afternoon down through the catacomb area and saying, “Here is the coffin, and here is the body, and here is the Christ”?

Also it is underpinned by the fact that the empty tomb and its discovery is recorded as being encountered first of all by women—women, of all things! In that context they didn’t have a vote. They couldn’t give testimony in a court of law. Shepherds couldn’t either. And the women were regarded as the lowest when it came to these matters. And yet you read the story, and what does it say? “Early in the morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re putting together a mythology and we’re sitting in the room, and I decide, making my contribution to the Jesus Seminar, “Let’s say that early in the morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” Any sensible person in the room is going to say, “No, don’t say Mary Magdalene went to the tomb!” “Well,” I say, “well, how about the mother of Clopas?” “No, don’t say a woman went to the tomb! Say a man went to the tomb. ’Cause nobody will believe the testimony of a woman. I mean, if we’re gonna make a fiction, let’s make it a good fiction.”

So the fact that it is the women that go to the tomb substantiates the fact of its historicity. Otherwise we have to believe that the formulators of this nonsense determined that it would be a good idea to take the leaders of the Christian church and right out of the chute humiliate them, as writing a little piece that said, “‘And all the future leaders of the church were hiding in a room, and they were very frightened.’ But let’s say now, ‘And all the women went to the tomb—the big brave women went to the tomb—and all the leaders of the church were hiding in a room.’” Who’s writing this stuff?

The earliest Jewish argument presupposes the empty tomb, doesn’t it? When they discovered that the tomb was empty, what did they say? Not “The tomb is not empty”! They said, “The disciples have come and stolen the body.”[14] They substantiate the fact that the tomb was empty by the argument that they present. If they could have shown that the tomb was not empty, that would have been far easier than coming up with this notion of the disciples going out to steal the body. And the fact that the tomb was not venerated as a shrine indicates that the tomb was empty. For it to become a shrine needed a body; it needed bones. No body, no bones, no shrine.

It’s very difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds. Those who object to it do so for other reasons.

It’s actually very, very difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds. Those who object to it do so for other reasons.

Some of you are about to walk out to your Easter lunch, and this is the kind of thing that you’re hanging your hat on. And I want to ask you, do you really want to do that? You say, “The reason the tomb was empty is not because Jesus had risen from the dead, but because the disciples stole the body.” First of all, why would they steal the body? Secondly, where would they put it? And thirdly, having put it there, why would they hit the streets with a lie and get themselves killed for it? I’ll gladly take that one in a court of law. I’d be glad to deal with that one. “No,” says somebody, “I actually don’t believe that. The women were at the wrong tomb.” Well, I’ll take that one as well. “No,” says somebody else, “I don’t think it was that. I think it was that Jesus was not really dead. And once he got in the cold tomb, he revived, had a bowl of cereal, and then went and hit the Jerusalem streets.”

Let me say to you, as I draw this to a close, that those kind of alternative explanations are more incredible than the idea of the resurrection itself. They demand more from a man or a woman than faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The reason you do not believe is because you will not believe.

Reliable and Relevant

Two questions, and we’re through. Some of you have been through for the whole time I’ve been speaking, but your wife will wake you up.

Question number one: Is this information reliable? Is this information reliable? See, that’s the question that you need to ask. Am I up here on a wing and a prayer? Am I some kind of religious professional, the representative of the Christian Mythology Society, having myself disengaged my brain somewhere in the earlier part of my life and determined that on the base of all of this trumped-up nonsense I will give my life to studying the Bible and to seeking every opportunity to tell others about it? Well, of course, you can conclude safely that that is the case, that I am a crazy person, and we can let that pass. But there are others whom you may respect and whose testimony you may find more difficult to set aside in that way.

You see, you have a belief in the miraculous in relationship to this. You either believe in a psychological miracle whereby normal men and women who were going about the routine of their days became conspirators and liars who were prepared to die for the subterfuge that they hoisted on the world. That’s a psychological miracle that I can’t get my head around. Or you’re embracing a biological miracle in relationship to the death of Jesus. Your assumption is that when the soldiers, in doing the bidding of their headquarters, came to break the legs of the individuals who were on the crosses, when they failed to break the legs of Christ, that they did that somehow because they didn’t understand the difference between life and death; that the man who took the spear and plunged it into the side of Christ was simply being masochistic, when in point of fact what he was doing was giving the determination, in the separation of clot and serum, that what had happened up here was that this life had already gone. The two thieves, their legs would be broken so that the platform in which they were managing to sustain their chest cavity for a moment or two would eventually give out from underneath them, and the chest cavity would be collapsed, and the loss of oxygen, etc., would increase and hasten the time of their death. But when they come to the center cross, he’s already gone, and so they say, “There’s no need to break the legs here. Look, I’ll show you he’s already gone,” and he’s gone. And I know you say that’s not the case. And so, you’re either gonna walk out on the basis of a biological miracle, or you’re gonna walk out on the basis of psychological miracle, or you’re gonna walk out on the basis of, if you like, a theological miracle: that the best explanation of the facts points to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.

My final question is this: Is this information relevant? Is it relevant? Why take this time on this morning to talk in this way? Why not simply talk about one or two things, nice things in the world? Why not give you a word of encouragement and talk about love and peace and happiness and family? I love love, peace, happiness, and family; I just can’t always get them together in the one box. But that’s not what I’ve been given to talk about, at least not this morning.

Without the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is worthless.

You need to determine, as I do: Is this information relevant? And without a literal resurrection the Christian faith is worthless. Without a literal resurrection the Christian faith is worthless. At best, then, Jesus is just a prophet. But you couldn’t put your faith in him as a Messiah. That would be daft! To say that the resurrection is a symbol is equally stupid. And yet you’ll find that propounded from pulpits all around us here this morning in the Chagrin Valley. Congregations will come, and they won’t know what’s being said to them. They don’t understand that the people in the position which I’ve been entrusted with actually do not themselves believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus Christ. They believe that if there was a resurrection at all, it was a resurrection that took place in the minds of the disciples, and that somehow or another, as a result of this psychological transformation that they experienced, they went out and lived and died on the strength of it. Now, I put it to you, is that not a most ridiculous proposition? Because the facts remain the facts: Jesus was dead. So what use a symbol? What use a myth? I have no use for a myth, a Christian myth, that says on the strength of a dead Galilean carpenter I’m supposed to live my life. Why?

If Jesus Christ is alive, then it is supremely relevant. Here is a friendship like no other. Here is forgiveness that can be found in no other. Here is a future that is all wrapped up in the fact that he is alive.

Without the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is worthless. And that is why Paul, with all of his intellect, argues so forcibly in 1 Corinthians 15, “If Jesus Christ is not alive,” he says, “then those who have died are still in their sins. Our faith is worthless. Our preaching is in vain,”[15] the whole thing is a sham and a waste of time. Now, you see, the flip side of that, of course, is, then, if Jesus Christ is alive, then it is supremely relevant, for here is a friendship like no other, here is forgiveness that can be found in no other, and here is a future that is all wrapped up in the fact that he is alive.

In the New York Times on Wednesday of this past week they had an article on Marc Rich, the man who was pardoned in the final hours of the Clinton presidency, and all of the hullabaloo that there’s been about it. And if you read the article—it was fairly extensive—it talked about how he’d begun in trading as a nineteen-year-old, and he had made all these millions and had got involved in all kinds of deals, and much of it speculative and questionable. But as I read on in the article and I began to imagine the unfolding of this young man, this young Jewish man’s life, how he eventually ends up with all of this money, and as a result of what he’s done he has to be in exile from his friends and from his family… He’s an alone man, really. He’s like the man in Ecclesiastes: “There was a man all alone; [who] had neither [friend] nor brother.”[16] He gets the news in his position of exile that one of his children, his twenty-nine-year-old daughter, has died of leukemia. He knew she was unwell, her death came, and he could not return for the funeral, because for him to return would mean that he’d be arrested, and he couldn’t risk that, and so therefore he had to remain away. Those who were present on that occasion—and they were quoted in the article—said that when the news came to him, “He was just shattered.… He just looked so depressed.… He was in this beautiful office surrounded by gorgeous paintings and flying off to his summer home in Spain, and he wasn’t a happy soul.”[17]

No, how could he be, absent the friendship that is to be found in Christ? “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his own soul?”[18] What did he need? Friendship. So do you. What did he require? Forgiveness. So do you.

You see, the fact of the empty tomb is grounded in the fact of a dying Savior. It is because of what happened in his death—that he bore my sins, that he took my place—that the resurrection gives significance to this, and it is this which gives significance to the resurrection, so both pieces hold together. The reason that we should be so delighted that Jesus is alive today is because of the sacrifice that he made for sins. The fact that he is alive bears testimony to the fact that Jesus made a sacrifice that was accepted by the Father, and that all of my guilt, and all of my wanderings, and all of my rebellion, and all of the stuff that has been part of the chapters of my life that I have tried in vain to deal with can be dealt with because the tomb is empty, because Jesus is alive, and because he is the only one who can take that Delete key and press it in your life in such a way that it’ll never come back up again, and no matter who comes in your room and turns on your life, they will never be able to get to it. Do you know that kind of forgiveness? Or are you here because you don’t know forgiveness, and you figured that an Easter Sunday’s gotta be at least a fifteen-pointer? Now, you coulda got twenty if it had been the 7:30 service, but at least you can get fifteen for 11:00—that’s the way you think. Because everybody who is trying to earn their way into heaven by religious endeavors doesn’t understand forgiveness—therefore needs it!

Is it relevant? Yes, because it gives you a friend like no other friend. Is it relevant? Yes, because he grants forgiveness that can be found in no other place. Is it relevant? Yes, because it answers the question of your future.

Everybody who is trying to earn their way into heaven by religious endeavors doesn’t understand forgiveness—and therefore needs it!

In an article in a magazine this week I read about Joan Baez inserting herself into the Newport Jazz Festival in the ’60s. Apparently she didn’t look like much; it had been raining, her hair was bedraggled over her head, she was a slip of a girl, she was in her bare feet, and somebody said, “You know, we ought to let her sing.” And someone said, “Why would we let her sing?” The fellow said, “Well, she’s a good singer.” He said, “I will give up two of my songs, let her sing.” So the man said, “Oh, fine. It’s been raining; let her sing.” And out she comes onto the stage, and she sings, and she electrifies the crowd. She sings two Negro spirituals. She takes up a song, “You call him David, I call him Immanuel; you call him David, I call him Immanuel,” and she sings this song and sets the whole place alight. Her first album sells without hardly any airplay at all, becomes a number one album from nowhere, from oblivion, and this girl suddenly becomes something of the conscience of the ’60s. And when she finally begins to weave her way through all of the fame, all of the success, all of the opportunity, and she begins to grab for the stuff that she assumed would be the answer to her future, she finally writes these words: “[We] are the orphans in an age of no tomorrows.”[19]

If you doubt that the cry of the ’60s is epidemic in the twenty-first century, you are living with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears. In Dallas this week four youngsters came to me at the end of an address that I had given, one of them all dressed up in her running togs, apologizing for being late—she had run two miles, that was fine—and in the course of conversation, they told me that that day one of their friends had been arrested for carrying a semiautomatic weapon into their high school. “Why had he taken the weapon?” I asked. “Well,” they said, “because some other boys had said they were going to kill him.” Now, his answer was not to stay home; his answer was not to call the authorities; his answer was to say, “You kill me, I’ll kill you, because who cares? I was born without reason, I prolong myself by chance, and I die and the end as oblivion.” Without a resurrected Christ, that is the conclusion. It is legitimate for the child to conclude that. That’s why we’ve got to tell him!

And standing in a pawnshop, of all places… You don’t have to let it be known that your pastor was in a pawnshop. I went in a pawnshop because I don’t think I’d ever been in a pawnshop. I was in Augusta and I said, “Look at this place!” I went in, “What do they do in here?” And as I stood in there, there stood beside me a mother and her son, and she was buying him, she was putting the deposit down on a semiautomatic weapon so that he could have it to carry with him in his car. Do you think they think they have a future? They do not. Why do they believe there is no future? Because you, dad, have no future either! They don’t like the ladder you climbed. It’s leaning against the wrong wall. They don’t see anything in you that answers the deepest questions of their lives. You have never been able to address for him the issue, “Who am I? Why was I born? Is there a reason for my existence? And what happens when I die?” That’s why they play what they play. And you need to get yourself sorted before ever you can speak to your kids.

But hey,

Spending counterfeit incentive,
Wasting precious time and health,
Placing value on the worthless
And disregarding priceless wealth,
You can wheel and deal the best of them,
And steal it from the rest of them;
You know the score, their ethics are a bore.

And eighty-six proof anesthetic crutches
Prop you to the top,
Where the smiles are all synthetic
And the ulcers never stop.
And when they take the final inventory,

Yours will be the same sad story everywhere;
No one will really care, no one more lonely than
This wretched, selfish man.
Can I have your autograph, endorse your epitaph?

And did you see your children growing up today?
And did you hear the fragrance of their laughter
As they ran around to play?
And did you smell the sweetness of those roses in your garden?

Did the morning sunlight light your eyes
And brighten up your day?
And do you qualify to be alive,
Or is the limit of your senses so as only to survive?

Hey, you better take care of business, Mr. Businessman.[20]

You can’t sidle out of here neutral. You’re either for Christ or you are opposed to Christ. You are either putting your faith and trust in what Jesus said and did, or you’re putting your faith and trust in what you have said and in what you believe.

I commend to you today a resurrected Christ. I commend to you his amazing love, the wonder of his sacrifice, in order that we who are dead in our trespasses and in our sins may be made alive, forever and ever.

Father, I pray that no one will go out of here misunderstanding the urgency of these affairs. I pray that friends and neighbors who have encouraged others to join them may be able to soften up anything that seems harsh, may be able to tighten up anything that seems inconclusive, may be willing just to share their lives with those who are asking the kind of questions that demand careful attention and thoughtful response. We long, Lord, to see unbelieving men and women become the committed followers of Jesus Christ.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] John 20:1–2 (NIV 1984).

[2] Matthew 26:33 (paraphrased).

[3] Matthew 20:17–19 (paraphrased).

[4] John 12:34 (NIV 1984).

[5] Luke 24:21 (paraphrased).

[6] Acts 2:32, 36 (paraphrased).

[7] Alfred Henry Ackley, “I Serve a Risen Savior” (1933).

[8] Luke 24:47 (paraphrased).

[9] See John 20:11–21:23.

[10] Genesis 5:24 (paraphrased).

[11] See John 20:4–14.

[12] John 20:27 (paraphrased).

[13] John 19:38 (paraphrased).

[14] Matthew 28:13 (paraphrased).

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:13–14 (paraphrased).

[16] Ecclesiastes 4:8 (NIV 1984).

[17] Alison Leigh Cowan, “Plotting a Pardon,” New York Times, April 11, 2001.

[18] Mark 8:36 (paraphrased).

[19] Joan Baez, “The Hitchhiker’s Song” (1970).

[20] Ray Stevens, “Mr. Businessman” (1968). Paraphrased.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.