January 18, 2004
In what ways did Jesus’ resurrection impact Christianity—and why are people still trying to disprove it? Alistair Begg addresses these questions from a historical perspective, responding to many of the common ways skeptics try to refute the reality of an actual, historical resurrection. As Scripture makes clear, Jesus’ triumph over death challenges believers to live with joy and hope in the unmistakable reality of the risen Christ.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, grant that in the study of the Bible we may see Christ in all of his risen power and glory, and that we might see ourselves in need of him as a Savior and a friend, and that we might be reminded of the glorious privilege that is granted to us to go and tell others about this living Jesus. Help us now, we pray, in the study of the Bible. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please be seated. Can I invite you to turn to Luke chapter 24? Although we’re not going to expound Luke 24, at least I want us to turn to it this morning to get us back on track with our studies in Luke’s Gospel. We’re coming to the final chapter—fifty-three verses, which we’re going to study consecutively and systematically, as is our pattern—a chapter that begins with the empty tomb and ends with the ascension, and a chapter that we want to take great care with, as we’ve done with the others. I don’t know how long we’ll be here; be here for some time, as long as it takes us to get to grips with what Luke is telling us.
But what I want to do this morning is, by way of introduction to what is essentially the subject of the resurrection, is to consider with you the resurrection from, if you like, an historical perspective: to ask two very simple questions and make two straightforward observations. And the first question is simply this: Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the shape that it did? Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the shape that it did? Any student of history knows that a careful consideration of the events, of the facts of history, will call from the student a necessary investigation. Why did the invasion take place at this time? Why were the troops put here? Why did Churchill decide to do this, and so on? And how was it that such events came about?
Now, when we read our New Testaments, we need to be reminded that we’re dealing here in the realm of history. We don’t have, in the Bible, a series of atomized proof texts that have been thrown together in clusters so as to give us information that will help us to prop ourselves up as we’re making our way through our lives. But no, we have been entrusted with material that reflects accurately the way in which these events unfolded. And so, to ask the question “Why did Christianity arise?” is to ask a very necessary question, although one that we may not have considered. Some of us may never, ever have asked the question. So convinced are we that it did arise and so familiar are we with the shape that it took that we never actually stood back long enough to say, “How in the world did this even happen?” We’re just so convinced that it happened.
Well, in that respect, we’re very, very different from the first disciples, aren’t we? Because these early disciples, any hopes that they had—and surely they had some—had been obliterated by the crucifixion. The events that we’ve just considered in chapter 23 had closed down all their hopes and their dreams.
Verse 21 of chapter 24—and it’s probably the only maybe one of two verses that I’m going to refer to this morning in this chapter—helps us to grapple with this, doesn’t it? Jesus has come on the road to Emmaus, and he’s linked up with this couple, a despondent pair, as they make their journey some seven miles from Jerusalem. They don’t realize who it is that has joined them, and they’re surprised that he is asking the questions he’s asking. And in the course of answering Jesus’ questions, one of them says in verse 21, “We had hoped,” past tense, “that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” The inference clearly being, “Of course, we know that he wasn’t the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Now, again, you just need to look at the material as it’s provided for us in the various Gospels, and you will begin to put this together very clearly. John 20:19, John records, “On the evening of [the] first day of the week, when the disciples were together,” and then he says, “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews…” And what was this about? Well, all of their hopes and dreams had come to a dreadful end—all of the messianic expectations, all of this stuff about the kingdom of God. Somehow or another, the King was no longer reigning and ruling. Somehow or another, the Messiah had been closed down. They had high hopes that Jesus would fulfill their expectations. But here it was, the afternoon of the first Easter day, and frankly, they haven’t got a clue. They haven’t got a clue. “We had hoped that he was the one. There’s been some news,” they said, “this morning that has come out with some of the women. They were apparently there early in the morning at the tomb; they are reporting that it was empty. Peter shot off, he came back completely confused as to what that might mean, and we left the rest of them sitting, chewing the cud in relationship to this. And the two of us just decided, let’s shoot off for Emmaus. But frankly, really, it is a dreadfully sad and hopeless story.”
Now, what we need to realize in this is that the expectations of the Jews for the messiahship of Jesus were actually more significant than that which many of us bring to the subject. When most of us, I think, if we’re honest, consider the notion of Jesus as a Messiah, we think of it in immediately personal terms: “Jesus is a Messiah for me; he’s a Messiah who can forgive sins; he’s a Messiah who can come and live in me and give me a new kind of life”—all of which, of course, is true. But if we’d been moving in the first century in these early days and talking with the Jewish people who had messianic expectations, we would have discovered that their hopes were far grander than this. And essentially, if I might summarize them, they were expecting that a Messiah would do for them three things: that he would defeat the pagans who held the sway over them, that he would rebuild the temple, and that he would establish God’s just rule upon the earth.
Now this, of course, is something that had run all the way through their history. Now, let me give you one Old Testament cross-reference, and you may turn to it if you choose. In Psalm 42 and 43 we have what is an extended poem, and the psalmist is calling out to God, the God he has waited patiently for. He begins with familiar words that you have considered often:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
And he recounts how he used to enjoy going with “the procession” and the crowds “to the house of God,” but now he’s cast down. He remembers how it used to be, and he is disappointed by the fact, in verse 9, that God the Rock has apparently forgotten him, and he must “go about mourning” now, and he’s “oppressed by the enemy.” Then he tries to take himself in check; he says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you so disturbed within me?”
Now, this is the kind of material that we tend to turn to when we’ve had a flat tire, or when we find that our pay rise was not just what we hoped it might be, or when some difficulty has come into our lives—not that it is insignificant, but that it is decidedly trivial in contrast to the thought forms of the psalmist here. And you will notice, into Psalm 43, that he cries to God for vindication: “Plead my cause,” he says, “against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men.”
Now, let me just pause with you here for a moment and try and bring this into a context that is understandable. Imagine that dad is now tucking his children into bed. And as he tucks his children into bed, he says to them, “Now kids, what we’re going to do is we’re going to read one of the Psalms tonight.” And he reads with them, “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; [and] rescue me from deceitful and wicked men.” And when his children say to him, “Why is it that the Romans are so obnoxious? Why is it that they overrule us and press upon us?” he says, “Well, God, is our stronghold. It does seem that he has rejected us. It does seem that we’re going about mourning, that we are oppressed by the enemy. So children, let’s, before we fall asleep, ask God. Here’s our prayer tonight:
“Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then [I’ll] go to the altar of God,
… my joy and my delight.
[Then] I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.”
Now, what were they holding out for? What was their hope? Well, their hope was messianic. Their hope was that the Messiah would come and would vindicate his people. And they expected that when the Messiah came, he would do all of this and more. And with the arrival of this Galilean carpenter, with the miracles he was performing, the stories he was telling, the things that he was doing, this had all built to a great crescendo of expectation. Admittedly, there were opposing forces, but they might have anticipated that. There was confusion even within the ranks of Judaism. The secular authorities joined ranks with others in seeking to bring this Messiah—at least the apparent Messiah—down.
And just when they thought that he was the one to redeem the people of Israel, just when they thought that he might stand up and defeat the pagans and rebuild the temple and establish justice, they walked past Calvary and saw a sorry sight: all their messianic hopes hanging up on a Roman gibbet. And when he cried out, “Tetelestai,” “It is finished,” many of them must have said, “Absolutely it is finished.” Because, you see, the crucifixion of a Messiah did not say to a first-century Jew that he was the Messiah, or that the kingdom had come. In fact, it said exactly the opposite. It said to the Jewish mind, “He is not the Messiah, and the kingdom has not come.”
Now, let me paint this in the clearest of terms. You remember our question? Three of you do. Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the shape it did? Because after all, crucifixion was the final, complete devastation of their hopes—therefore begging the question: In light of that, why then did this first-century group of Jews, whose messianic hopes had come to a crashing halt buried in a Palestinian tomb, why did this little group not only continue to believe that Jesus was the Messiah but actually to hit the streets in an unashamed declaration of the same? Why did they do this?
Well, the answer which comes—and it comes reverberating through the pages of the New Testament—the united chorus of the disciples is this: the reason they did what they did was the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Not the notion that somehow or another Jesus had been transmuted to heaven, not the idea of a resuscitation, not the idea of a spiritual renaissance, but the actual expectation of a reembodied, resurrected Christ with a body that was both physical and transphysical, with a frame that could be seen and handled and touched and yet possessed capacities to do what his preresurrected body had not done. It was this which struck them. Because if the body of Jesus had remained in the tomb, there is absolutely no explanation as to why anyone would have taken seriously his claims to messiahship. And there is no form of early Christianity that we are introduced to—apart from a few inventions that I’ll mention later—but no serious explication of New Testament Christianity is absent the affirmation at its heart that after Jesus’ shameful death, God raised him to life again. And what we’re going to look at in Luke 24 is simply Luke’s provision, his record, provided for these early believers so that they might have the information to encourage and bolster their faith, a faith in a resurrected Christ.
Now, Gary read for us from 1 Corinthians 15, and I’m not going to turn there, but I commend the chapter to you. You’re familiar with it. It is the classic chapter, certainly in Pauline writing, on the resurrection. And the one thing I want you to note, if you read it for your homework later on, is that you can’t go far into chapter 15 without recognizing that the resurrection is woven thoroughly into all of Paul’s understanding and his practice, and that if you remove the resurrection, then his whole tapestry of life and faith completely unravels. In other words, the resurrection is not, for Saul of Tarsus, now Paul, the resurrection is not for him like a U-Haul trailer that he has now hitched onto the back of the car of his faith, which may be unhitched without any real detriment, at least to forward progress—you can take it with you or you can leave it behind you; it doesn’t really matter. No! The resurrection for Paul is absolutely interwoven into the totality of every conviction and fiber of his being concerning his proclamation regarding Jesus. And if you take that away, then you take it all away.
Now, you will also notice when you do your homework that Paul is quick, especially in the portion that was read for us, to say that what he had received he passed on: “that Christ died for … sins according to the Scriptures,” and “that he was buried,” and “that he was raised [again] on the third day according to the Scriptures.” In other words, says Paul, when you take the whole sweep of the Bible and try and make sense of it, you cannot do so without this essential piece of the puzzle—namely, the resurrection itself.
Now, we’ll get to this in Luke 24, because these guys could not make sense of it, could they? Actually, it may be a man and a woman; there’s a fair chance that it was a couple. And they couldn’t make sense of it. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. We thought that he was going to do something here, that our lives and everything would be radically changed. But apparently not.”
And then Jesus says to them, “You are very slow, aren’t you, to believe all that the prophets have written?” What does he mean by that? He means, “You know, you haven’t really been reading your Bibles. If you’d been reading your Bible properly…” And then he began to show them, and Luke says, “And beginning at that very place, he began with Moses and the Prophets, and he explained to them everything in the Scriptures concerning himself”—a sermon that all of us would love to have heard. And then in the breaking of bread, it says that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” And then they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the way and as he opened the Scriptures to us?” It was only in the recognition of his risen presence that the story of the Bible made sense.
It is quite staggering to me to discover how many clergymen do not believe in the resurrection and yet stand Sunday by Sunday in front of a congregation, giving them bits and pieces out of the Bible. Why bother? Why bother?
Well, that’s the first question. We haven’t exhausted it, I think you’d agree. Some of you don’t even understand what I said. Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the shape it did? Think about it.
Second question: But aren’t there alternative explanations? Someone says, “Well, I hear what you’re saying, but I was having a conversation with someone the other day, and they’ve got a completely different spin on it altogether.” Well, yes, there are alternative explanations. The question of Jesus’ resurrection is perennially fascinating. I mean, there’s hardly a year passes without somebody doesn’t do something in terms of a book—The Tomb of God, or whatever it might be, an amalgamation of Gnostic notions and bits and pieces of the Bible, all jumbled together enough to confuse people. The very fact that two thousand years on people are still writing books to refute the resurrection says something in itself, doesn’t it? You would think that after two thousand years we could’ve put that to bed, said, “Goodness gracious, nobody cares about that anymore. That’s old news!” But no, it just won’t go away, somehow or another.
Well, when you look at these things—and you can find them all over the place—you discover that the attempts to disprove the resurrection haven’t changed a great deal over the years. In the little book that I did, What Angels Wish They Knew, I tackle this in a fuller form, and also the subsequent pieces that I’m going to mention, if you want to pick up a copy. You could take the sales up to ten, as opposed to six. But anyway… It’s a great seller. But you can find the material there if you choose, and other places. There’s nothing unique about it. So, at the risk of being condemned for stating the obvious, let me just remind you. Alternative explanations.
Number one: the idea that Jesus didn’t die—that he wasn’t a dead Christ, and therefore, there was no need for resurrection, that he just was resuscitated. One of the most recent spins on this is done by a lady called Barbara Thiering, who suggested that not only did Jesus not die, but neither did the other two men on either side of him die, and that one of them was a fellow called Simon Magus, who was actually a doctor, and despite the fact that he and his buddy had their legs broken, he somehow or another, in the tomb, managed to come up with some medicine, which he passed onto Jesus, enough for Jesus to get reorientated and put together so that he could go out and resume his career.
Now, you smile at this, but this is the kind of nonsense that our friends and neighbors swallow with their orange juice while at the same time saying, “How ridiculous to believe in a resurrection!” So we have to be prepared to say to them, “Well, which do you think is the most ridiculous?” Because even if that were the case, we would then be forced to confront the issue that the disciples then went out to proclaim the truth on the basis of a gigantic lie—that knowing that he hadn’t been resurrected, knowing that he had never died, they went out to proclaim this glorious truth that was founded on a false premise.
Alternative explanation: the idea that the disciples stole the body. Why they stole the body and what they did with the body and how they then went out and preached on the strength of a stolen, bloodied body is just really hard to imagine, isn’t it? It’s hard to figure this amazing transformation in someone like Peter.
“Oh, but,” say others, “it wasn’t the disciples. It was clearly the Jews that stole the body.” Well, if the Jews stole the body, why did they not, as soon the message of the resurrection was being proclaimed, did they not just go and produce the corpse? Or at least take tours to the tomb where the body had been laid, and say, “For those of you who are tempted to believe these crazy apostles that are on the streets of Jerusalem, we want you to come at three o’clock this afternoon, and we’ll show you the body of Jesus. We have it!” They didn’t. They couldn’t. They can’t!
Now, we can go through these; they’re legion. Contemporary ideas that when the followers of Jesus went to the tomb, their minds were so full of light and hope that, in the end, it didn’t really matter whether there was a body there or not. They were so jazzed. Well, it doesn’t fit the facts, does it? They weren’t jazzed. They were hiding. They were despondent. Everything was broken. They were done.
But this is the nonsense that is proclaimed from pulpits all over the Chagrin Valley. This is what many a man in my place believes. And it allows them then still to use the phraseology of resurrection while not affirming the reality of the resurrection.
Why did Christianity emerge? Why did it take the shape it did? Because of the fact of the resurrection. Aren’t there alternatives? Yes, there certainly are. Should we pay attention to them? Well, it’s good to know them.
Thirdly, if we’re going to engage our friends and neighbors in this matter, there are a number of facts we need to keep in mind. We’ve mentioned one or two; let me just run through them for you.
Fact number one: the empty tomb. The empty tomb. Everyone has agreed that this tomb somehow or another was empty, that this stone had been rolled away. Even with all of the angelic stuff and the women and so on, Columbo has to go and be confronted by the empty tomb. You see him there with his raincoat and the little cheroot, and he’s just looking, and says, “Yep, the tomb is empty.” Right. We need an explanation for the empty tomb. Here is presenting evidence. This is a fact. This is not a fiction. We are all agreed: empty tomb.
Secondly, fact: the origin and existence of the church. The origin and existence of the church. Now, this is simply to reiterate in brevity what we’ve just pointed out. Why was there a church? Why did these individuals who were sad, sorrowful, defeated, crushed, brokenhearted, confused, fed up, why were they all of a sudden the products of joy and hope and power and animation? Why did they begin to gather with one another and to sing songs of praise to this Christ? Why did they begin to tell others about this Jesus? What are you going to do with that fact?
Thirdly, the fact of the New Testament. Why do we have a New Testament? Why would anybody take the time to write down this material in such a way as it is done, were it not for the fact that the Messiah was really alive? I mean, who needs a story about somebody who made these fantastic claims, but yet, like many other spurious messiahs that had been around at the time, he finally came to a crushing halt and was buried in a tomb? What do we do with the fact of the New Testament? How do we explain why it was that Luke and others picked up their pens and wrote this material down? Because they wanted to foist a great lie on their immediate readers and on subsequent history? Because they had a desire to create this bizarre notion that would be foisted down through time and throughout the ages? Or did they pick up their pens because they were compelled to pick up their pens, they were moved, as  Peter says, that they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they wrote as they were led along? We have to do something with it.
Now, last night I had a tangential thought that I just want to mention to you. Because as I was going through this in my mind, I was reminded again of The Da Vinci Code that some of you have been reading—millions of people have been reading. When I asked before, there was about three people at Parkside that had read this book. I wasn’t recommending it, but some of you have read it, and now you’re a downright nuisance since you began to read it, bothering everybody with your questions. And where it really hits the high seas is in chapter 55, which is actually just about right in the middle of the book. Those of you who have read it will know; those of you who haven’t, I can’t take time to tell you. It’s a bit of a good yarn. It begins, and they’re all dealing with stuff, and they’re running away in an armored car, the fender’s hanging off the front, it’s scraping on the ground, the police are chasing them, and eventually they find safety in the home of a chap called Sir Leigh Teabing. Sir Leigh Teabing, a fairly erudite, wealthy, and intellectual soul, as the writer portrays him. And then, just as you’ve turned from page 229 to 230, as a normal casual reader, you’re hit right between the eyes by this amazing diatribe that takes on New Testament Christianity, completely from nowhere.
Now, I’ll read you a little bit: “Sophie sensed a rising air of academic anticipation … in both … her male companions.” A sense of “academic anticipation.” Not “silly-boy anticipation,” not “dumb-dumb anticipation,” but “academic anticipation.” And after all, this is Sir Leigh Teabing. This is not Billy Jenkins, you know, from 43 Carseview Gardens. No, we’ve got this picture of someone of significance and erudition and worth.
“To fully understand the Grail,” Teabing continued, “we must [fully] understand the Bible. How well do you know the New Testament?” [he asked.]
Sophie shrugged. “Not at all, really. I was raised by a man who worshiped Leonardo da Vinci.”
Teabing looked both startled and pleased. “An enlightened soul. Superb! Then you must be aware that Leonardo was one of the keepers of the secret of the Holy Grail. And he hid clues in his art.”
“Robert told me as much, yes.”
“And Da Vinci’s views on the New Testament?”
“I have no idea.”
So he turns to Robert and he says, “Robert, just get me that book down there on the bottom shelf, and give me a couple of quotes from the flyleaf from Da Vinci.” Quote number one:
Many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles, deceiving the stupid multitude. …
“Here’s another,” Teabing said, pointing to a different quote.
Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes! …
Sophie felt a little chill. “Da Vinci[’s] talking about the Bible?”
Teabing nodded. “Leonardo’s feelings about the Bible relate directly to the Holy Grail. In fact, Da Vinci painted the true [Holy] Grail, which I will show you momentarily, but first we must speak of the Bible. … And everything you need to know about the Bible can be summed up by the great canon doctor Martyn Percy.” Teabing cleared his throat and declared, “The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds.”
Now, this is really, really clever. Because that is exactly true: the Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. So I said to myself last night—and it’s months now since I read this book—I said, “Who is canon doctor Martyn Percy? Real or fictitious?” Online, found him! Real! In the university system, at the highest level in England, a self-avowed liberal theologian. The proponent of standard views of the New Testament, which every theological student knows. You’re not theological students; therefore, you don’t know this. You didn’t do these studies. Let me tell you. When you go to school, you learn this stuff: that after the disciples had penned for us the New Testament, there were all kinds of knockoff copies. The argument of liberal scholarship is that the New Testament borrowed it from the Gnostics. But if you look carefully, you will discover that if anybody’s doing any borrowing, it is the Gnostics that are borrowing it from the New Testament. But they don’t want that story out.
Incidentally, I found the quote that gives us the quote here, “The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven.” This actually is in the Promethean Humanist—you can tell how I spent my Saturday night—under a heading, “The Vatican has announced plans to ‘rewrite’ the Bible, adding information from the Dead Sea scrolls about the ‘life and times’ of Jesus as a ‘political activist.’ This won’t cause consternation among believers around the world, says one Biblical scholar”—none other than our dear doctor Martyn Percy. Why? Because “there has never been a settled, definitive version of the Bible.” Then here comes the quote: “Only fundamentalists think it came in a fax from heaven.”
No, we don’t. In fact, we know it didn’t. We know that the Scriptures were not written by the church; therefore, the church has no right to add to them or to redefine them. That the Scriptures were written as men were moved, carried along by the Holy Spirit; that the New Testament that we have is the product of divine-human interaction. It is mysterious. It is compelling. And yet here, right in the heart of this book, it is picked up and it is kicked completely out of the stadium.
Now, why take all this time? I know how this goes: people go, they go to the tapes, they say, “I’d like the Da Vinci sermon.” Which is such a shame, because this isn’t the Da Vinci sermon. I’m just… This is a tangential reference. But unless you are living in another world from me, you are running across people who keep asking you about this. And some of them are folks here from Parkside: “What are we supposed to do with this?” Don’t be unsettled by it! This is standard liberal hogwash. It is routine. It is taught routinely in theological seminaries. It is founded and grounded in the German schools of theology at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century. “There is nothing new under the sun.” But the intriguing thing is that here on page 255 of one of the New York Times best sellers, Dan Brown, for whatever reason, has determined that he’s going to help to dismantle the notion that underlying the New Testament documents there is nothing other than a resurrected Christ.
Now, our time is gone, but the other two points would be the presence of Communion—actually, the presence of baptism and Communion. How do you make sense of baptism and Communion? Especially the joyous way in which they engaged in it? How do you explain how they went up there and said, “Kurios Iesous,” instead of “Kaisar kurios,” “Caesar is Lord.” They went out and they said that the Lord was the Lord of the world, that he was Kurios kosmou. Why, if he wasn’t?
And what about just changed lives? What about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus? And what about the conversion of all the Sauls of Tarsus after him?
Couple of minutes; let me go to one final point. Why did Christianity emerge as it did? Why did it take the shape it did? “Because,” comes the answer of the disciples, “because Jesus is resurrected.” Are there alternative explanations? Oh yes, there are lots of them. We shouldn’t be unsettled by that; we should assume it. There will always be knockoffs. Are there certain facts that need to be considered? Yes, these amongst others. And finally, what then are we to do as we go back to work and school and play tomorrow?
Well, we’ve got a story to tell. We’ve got a story to tell. It’s a wonderful story. And at this point in history, apparently people really like stories. Storybooks are selling well. So then, tell them a story. Don’t just throw big lumps of the Bible at them. Don’t just start firing your verses at them like you got a tommy gun full of a few texts that you learned. [Imitates firing sounds.] “Here come the Christians. Try that! Try that!” There’s a reason why many of our friends think that we don’t know what we’re talking about, ’cause we don’t know what we’re talking about. Because we’re like encyclopedia salesmen that have been trained along a certain line: if anybody gets us off the track, we have to start at the very beginning of the presentation again. Why? ’Cause we don’t know where we are in the presentation.
We have a story to tell. And the story is fantastic! Easter morning was the dawn, was the birthday, of God’s new world. I don’t have time to work this out for you. But Genesis 1: “And he looked, and he saw that everything he had made was good. And it was evening and morning, and it was the sixth day. And then on the seventh day he rested from the work of creation.” What do you have here? Sixth day: it is finished. The work of redemption is completed. Seventh day: rest. First day of the week. First day of the new world. First day of the transformed existence. First day of the reality of the power of the Messiah is on that Easter.
Incidentally, I missed one of my points. The change from Saturday to Sunday is a fact to be reckoned with, isn’t it? “What are all these Jews doing this on the first day of the week? Don’t they realize you’ll get in bother for that? Haven’t you read the Ten Commandments? Don’t you know the law of God? Aren’t you supposed to be doing this? What’re you doing here? This is the first day of the week! Why are you doing this?” Oh, he tells us in here. He says that the reason that everybody’s doing this is because Constantine decided that the day of worship should be the day of the worship of the sun, s-u-n, and that everybody since has been guilty of sun worshiping and been hoodwinked into it by Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church. That is, of course, the same story that comes from Seventh Day Adventists, who write to me on a weekly basis to say what a dreadful rascal I am to be leading all you people into worship on the first day of the week when, if I had my head on square, I would know that the worship should be observed on the seventh day. Because after all, they say, the only reason this has happened is—according to Dan Brown; they say the exact same thing—because of Constantine. And who needs to listen to Constantine? Exactly. He’s good, but not great. The fact of the matter is, they were worshiping on the first day of the week long before Constantine! And Constantine just put it together for the sake of the calendar. Why were they doing this? Because it was the first day of the new world. They were up and at it! “Bursting forth in glorious day.”
Now, this is what we gotta get to if we’re gonna do the job. It’s going to take far more than proof texts. It’s actually going to demand much more of us than simply “He lives within my heart.” No first-century Jew would’ve understand messiahship in relationship to “He lives within my heart.” Remember, what did they want? They wanted a rebuilt temple, they wanted the pagans ditched, and they wanted justice served. In other words, it was a far more comprehensive thing. And my loved ones, it is a far more comprehensive thing! There are plenty of people who will tell you about individuals that live in their hearts—not only Jesus, but all kinds of other people they’ll tell you live in their hearts. Some will even tell you they’ve sold their souls to the devil, who lives in their heart. Now, is that not an experience that is real? Yes, it is a continuing experience. But the experience of Christ in us is built upon an historic moment in time. It is the history of the event that gives credence to the experience; it is not the experience that is read back to create the event.
So we must go out. Go out to a world in which meaning is lost. Go out to a world in which people don’t know who they are. Go out into a world where the idea of the story is completely gone. Go back into a world which has… There’s just a big stew out there being eaten by everybody—a cultural, economic, moral, religious, spiritual stew. Nobody knows what it means, nobody knows what it should mean, nobody thinks it should mean anything at all, and the word is just “Poke around in the stew. You’ll probably find something you like. You’ll probably find something to your liking. Find a little religious morsel. There might be some big bits in there. Would you like a little rice with that?”
Now that’s the world we live in. It’s not the world of a hundred years ago. The world of a hundred years ago, you could go into Starbucks or its equivalent, you could go down to the local store, and you could sit on the porch, and you could talk with someone about God, about sin, about judgment, about heaven, and about hell. And you would have, within the framework of that story, points of reference to which you could refer and from which you could extrapolate and teach. Not today. There’s no story. There’s no story. I mean, the cultural picture of our day is the personal stereo, is the iPod: stick it in your ears, download the MP3, and live your own reality in a world of conflicting realities! It’s a perfect picture! Now, how are we going to get over that? Well, I say to you again, it’s gonna demand. It’s gonna demand that I live out the resurrection life.
I asked myself this week, “Do I live out the resurrection life?” It’s an easier question to say, “Have I preached the resurrection life?” That’s not difficult. I did that one. The question I asked myself was, “To what degree do I live out the resurrection life? In a world of suspicion and mistrust and fear and doubt, how much of my life is marked by joy and hope and peace and genuine love?” And what about our congregation? A congregation like this this morning, that represents music and art and philosophy and education and medicine and poetry and politics and theology. A congregation like ours, which has the opportunity now to walk out onto the leading edge of culture—or perhaps just stand where we’ve always stood, on the sidelines, shouting the odds about “Everything is going crazy and wrong and bad, and it wasn’t like this in the good ol’ days.” It’s gonna take a tremendous amount if we’re going to do this and do it right.
Living out the resurrection life in a way that will not only challenge but charm. Charm. Is there anything charming about our representation of Christ? Evangelical Christianity’s good at the challenge. You’ll hear it all the time: “We’re challenging the views on same-sex relationships,” and justifiably so. “We’re challenging the view on this! We’re challenging the view on that! We’re holding the line for this! We’re doing the line for that!” Yes, very good. All agreed. I’ve signed up for every part of it. But here’s the issue: Who is doing the stuff with the AIDS victims in the hospital? Who is doing the stuff with the orphans? Who is, in a culture of mistrust, displaying this amazing love of Christ that reaches into people whose lives are despairing, unraveled, broken, shattered, and ended, and communicating the fact that in this messianic story there is a whole new way of viewing the world? And doing it with joy and with gentleness, with humor, with good judgment, with wisdom—yes, and with genuine respect.
See, it’s not enough for us to circle the wagons. That’s too easy. You know, “Let’s all get together, circle the wagons, affirm what we believe, close down the options, become like the Qumran community in the first century, go up in the hills and hide from it all, and hope that Jesus will come back soon.” If the first disciples had done that, we’d never be here to say the benediction. And if not now, when do you think we should do this? And if not us, who do you think’s gonna do this?
Let’s pray together:
God our Father, send us out now with your blessing, in the power of the risen Christ, so that our lives may challenge and charm, that in every avenue of life—in the academy, at the workbench, in the home, in recreation, in information technology, in art and philosophy, in manufacturing and business—the reality of the risen Christ may so permeate all that we are and all that we do that we may be able to tell people the good news that the kingdom of God has come.
And may grace, mercy, and peace from the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore. Amen.
 See Psalm 40:1.
 Psalm 42:1–2 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 42:11 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 43:1 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 43:3–4 (NIV 1984).
 John 19:30 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 (NIV).
 Luke 24:27 (paraphrased).
 Luke 24:32 (paraphrased).
 See Barbara E. Thiering, Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls (San Francisco: Harper, 1992).
 See 2 Peter 1:20–21.
 Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 229–30.
 The Promethean Humanist, January 2002, https://www.gainesvillehumanists.org/files/ph0201.pdf.
 Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 1:31; 2:3 (paraphrased).
 Brown, Da Vinci, 232–33. Paraphrased.
 Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “In Christ Alone” (2001).
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.