EASTER SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 4 April 2021
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Clicek to Watch Sermon Video: https://youtu.be/2A3mxH8gtMw
I. Testimonies of the eyewitnesses
II. Some questions on Jesus’ resurrection
Earlier this morning, the sun rose like the way it did yesterday and the day before; there was no special glare in the sky, nor did birds sing in a special tune this morning. The wind blows as usual and nothing special is there with this morning and today. It is as ordinary as any other morning.
But today is a very special day for us – it is Easter! Today is another Easter morning we gather together in worship and give our adoration and praise and thanks to our Heavenly Father for the Lord Jesus who did in our position, yet, was raised from the dead. It is the day we commemorate and rejoice in the truth of Jesus’ rising from the dead which ensured our future rising in Him, the Lord. Today is a special day of celebration and joy. This joy is on your face and I noticed your joy when I greeted many of you earlier this morning. It is Easter, a special day all true Christians celebrate and give thanks to God.
Then, allow me to ask this question – ‘Why is this ordinary day so special to us?’ The answer is simple – because a special meaning is given to this very day, based on our faith in Jesus Christ. It is the day we corporately celebrate and rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection which means two things; firstly, if our faith in Jesus is removed from today, it’d be one of the ordinary, if not meaningless, days of everyone’s life which is the case for all unbelievers. Secondly, the more you realise the significance of Easter, the longer your joy will last beyond today, the deeper its spiritual blessings will be in your heart and soul.
Having said, today’s message for us to hear and contemplate is about objectivity and subjectivity on the message of Easter, that is, Jesus’ bodily resurrection. By objectivity, I mean what is an unbiased description of the Saviour’s resurrection – in another word, the biblical truth of Easter – and the subjectivity is about how this truth of Easter is usually received by individuals, especially the unbelievers and sceptics.
I. TESTIMONIES OF THE EYEWITNESSES
So, let’s turn our ears to the Apostle Paul’s testimony to Jesus’ resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:1-11. His testimony may sound to you like a part of a Christian creed. So, hear this from vs. 3b-4: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Before telling this to the readers of his letter, the apostle says that he delivers this truth as of first importance which he also received.
We know that Paul means here that he is an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection who has heard about Jesus’ birth and life, and seen and met Him the Lord before and after His resurrection. He testifies to Jesus’ rising from the dead, and he proves that his testimony is true by pointing out other eyewitnesses like Cephas (or Peter) and other disciples alongside 500 plus brothers and James (that is, Jesus’ half-brother). Most of them Paul mentions in our text passage are alive at the time of Paul’s writing of this letter to the church in Corinth.
When you prove something as true, you need another person’s approval and support. Often the number you need is one person. Depending on situations, you might require more than a person or two. But it is not common that you’d need more than 500 attestants. When you do have that many people, the thing you prove is most likely, if not absolutely, true.
Among these attestants of Paul, James is an interesting person as much as Paul is in terms of their conversion history. James was a half-brother of Jesus. As Jn. 7:5 tells us, he did not believe that his older and half-brother, Jesus, was the God-sent Messiah. Disbelieving, he with other brothers and their mother, Mary, visited Jesus at a town, most likely intending to ask Him to stop disturbing the whole nation. You know what usually goes among brothers and sisters, don’t you? Like a brother usually does, he disbelieved in Jesus. And that was until after the resurrection. The risen Lord appeared to James, as v. 7 of our text passage says, and having converted and believed in Jesus as his Saviour and Lord, James became head of the church at Jerusalem and later recorded James, the 20th book in the NT. This James is listed as Paul’s attestant and his testimony to the Lord and His rising from the dead is weighty.
To many of these people, the risen Jesus showed the scars on His hands and side; He ate food with them; He cooked breakfast for His disciples one time by the Sea of Galilee; He talked with them about the future of the church. Having spent 40 days with many of them after resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven as the disciples were watching.
All eyewitnesses in Paul’s list make one unified message – that is, the truth of Jesus’ bodily resurrection! He is alive! As the OT foretold, He died on our behalf, to wash our sins away and impute His righteousness through faith in Him. He surely died on the cross. He was buried in a cave of Joseph of Arimathea. The Jewish leaders and the Roman officials confirmed it. But on the third day, He arose! He walked out of the tomb as the Scriptures foretold! He then appeared to Mary Magdalene and the disciples and more than 500 people at one time. James met Him and Paul met Him!
Jesus’ resurrection is true according to these testimonies and even truer than anything of the world because the word of God testifies that it is true! Jesus’ resurrection we celebrate on Easter is an objective truth.
II. SOME QUESTIONS ON JESUS’ RESURRECTION
Unfortunately, some people have such a hard time believing this objectivity of Easter. To them, Jesus’ bodily resurrection seems a myth, or, to some others, a foolish fiction, if not fraud. Their ‘scientific’ mind demands something better to prove resurrection; they ask more tangible evidence than 500 plus eyewitnesses recorded in the Bible, that is, the world’s most ancient yet trustworthy book.
In fact, the unbelievers and sceptics are not the only ones who question authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection, some Christians raise their eyebrows too. In 2017, BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) released a survey result they had carried out and it included surveying people how they believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Surprisingly, slightly more than 50 percent of people who classified themselves as Christians believed Jesus’ resurrection as the Bible taught. About half of those surveyed Christians in Great Britain answered that they either believed resurrection but not as in the Bible or do not believe or don’t know. The title on BBC News for this report was, ‘Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians.’ But the number in the survey result showed a half rather than a quarter say ‘resurrection did not happen.’ I could not locate any similar survey done for Australian Christians, but I hope that Australian Christians would’ve marked a better result than that of the survey done with British Christians.
The unbelievers and doubting/disbelieving Christians alike question and reject the biblical teaching on resurrection. They see no satisfying explanation of this to be true to their eyes. Generally speaking, a sceptic asks questions like these; ‘Why did Jesus appear only to some – like His disciples and followers in Jerusalem – but not to me or to the whole population of this world?’, ‘Why should I believe the Bible, thus, believe Jesus’ resurrection when I see or touch no evidence of His rising from the dead?’, ‘What benefit is there for me if I believe?’ The sceptic would never change his mind and believe unless, at least, their questions like these are answered satisfactorily.
Well, my friends, truth is that the sceptics will never change their mind and believe even though every question they raise is answered. ‘Try me,’ a sceptic might jeer. But it has been tried many times over in history. A great portion of the Bible is about those tries made earlier. Yet the conclusion is always the same, that is, the sceptics, unbelievers, will never be satisfied, thus, will never believe anything the Bible says, let alone Jesus’ resurrection. That is because they disapprove any truth their hearts dislike. In other words, only anything their hearts favour becomes ‘truth.’ And because their truth and the Bible’s truth are always in conflict with each other, they substitute the biblical truth with their own version of truth.
The example of Exodus is a typical proof. God appeared to Israel at Mt Sinai which dreaded everyone of Israel. God performed miracles after miracles daily and every moment in Israel’s walk to the Promised Land. But they disbelieved their God and rebelled against Him at every turn in their journey. Their food, the manna, for example, dissatisfied their appetite – it was too plain to their tongue. And they complained, grumbled, disbelieved God, and demanded Moses and Aaron to lead them back to the land of slavery only to satisfy their tongues with Egyptian garlic or fish or cucumbers or melons or leeks or onions! The promise they had heard from their almighty and gracious God was of the land with overflowing milk and honey. Above all, their land will be a place of freedom guarded by their Protector. But Egyptian garlic and melons and leeks became a truth to their minds and their truth replaced the truth of God, and they forsook God.
It’s just an example, but it’s a type or model or standard of the sceptic’s way toward the truth of God. Reflecting on this type, we can be sure of the way of a sinful man. Guess that the risen Lord Jesus appears to an unbeliever. Would that unbeliever change his mind and believe in the Lord’s bodily resurrection? ‘No’ is the answer, unless the Holy Spirit grants him faith as His gift from above. Otherwise, he would remain disbelieving, probably questioning the authenticity of Jesus who appears before him, or questioning the authenticity of His death. ‘Are you really Jesus? How do I know that You’re truly the historical Jesus? Were you truly dead? How should I believe that You were really and truly dead, and from death You rose?’, Etc, etc. I’m sure that there would be more questions in doubt in his heart and on his mouth than before.
About this doubting and disbelieving heart of man, a Christian brother once diagnosed and said this: ‘A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands, nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.’ In other words, man rejects God’s truth, the Bible’s truth, including Jesus’ bodily resurrection, because he refuses God and His truth to be the Lord over him, but he desires to remain as his own king and lord. So, even the appearance of the risen Lord Jesus to a sceptic will not satisfy his mind, thus, he’ll remain sceptic toward Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
In this way, disbelief in resurrection is not a matter of science or sanity, but of sinfulness – that is, spiritual death. Therefore, someone’s belief in Jesus’ resurrection means his dead spirit rising from its death. Anyone believes in Jesus’ bodily resurrection, that is the rising of his own dead spirit from its death. As surely as Jesus rose, this believer’s spirit rises from its death.
This is why the Apostle Paul begins our text passage, 1 Cor. 15, and says in vs. 1-4 that Jesus’ resurrection is the ‘gospel’ he had received from the Lord Jesus and preached at Corinth. Jesus’ rising on the third day is, alongside His death and burial, the ‘good news’ that saves sinners and revives the believer’s dead spirit with the life of Jesus.
Based on this, the apostle says further in v. 12 and following – especially in v. 14 – that if Jesus has not been raised, then his preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain. In other words, if anyone says that he believes in Jesus but rejects His resurrection, that faith is not a saving faith. The true gospel that saves a sinner leads him/her to believe in Jesus’ death and burial and bodily resurrection on the third day. Rom. 10:9 proves it as true in these words: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Believing in Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the gospel, good news, that saves sinners! As Jesus rose from the dead, believing His resurrection revives the dead spirit of a sinner! On every Easter, we celebrate our rising from the dead together with the rising of the Lord Jesus Christ!
I pray that the Lord may deepen your understanding of the message of Easter, thus, prolong your joy of rising from the dead together with Jesus. I also pray that many people, all people around us may see this Christian joy and seek the same through faith in Jesus, and seeking, receive it and rejoice together with us! ***