[Editor’s Note: This is a slightly edited sermon manuscript.]
This sermon is going to be as easy as 1, 2, 3. In fact, that is the outline: 1, 2, 3. I want to present you with one “WHAT,” two “SO WHATS,” and three “NOW WHATS” for Easter.
So, let’s begin with the one “WHAT” of Easter. WHAT is Easter all about?
One WHAT: Jesus is risen.
The resurrection, before it is anything, is first a historical fact. If you are researching Christianity, you must understand that we do not proclaim a spiritual resurrection; we are not saying the ghost of Jesus appeared. We do not proclaim a metaphorical resurrection; we do not read these stories as mere literature or symbolism. We do not proclaim a mystical resurrection; we do not say that Christ has simply risen in our hearts. On Easter, we remember and proclaim a historical resurrection; we proclaim a literal, bodily, evidence-based resurrection. Let me read one account of the resurrection from a historical record from antiquity.
Luke 24:1-27 (ESV)
“ But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they [the women] went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  And they remembered his words,  and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.  Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,  but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.  But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,  and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.  But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.  Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”  And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.  Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning,  and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”  And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther,  but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.  They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”  And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,  saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”  But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.  And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  They gave him a piece of broiled fish,  and he took it and ate before them.
 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,  and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
So, that is the central fact of Easter: Jesus is risen. And that news traveled around the globe and through history like wildfire, right up to your doorstep today.
About evidence. And I do think, by the way, there are solid, follow-the-science kind of evidences for the resurrection of Jesus. And I started to include some of these evidences in this message, but then I changed my mind because that quickly becomes a different kind of message. It is more about historical record and less about good news. But the resurrection is good news to be declared. So I thought we would continue on to why the resurrection matters so much, why it is such good news. And if I figure, maybe if you see how good this truth is, you will then have the energy to do the research. But for now, if you’re a skeptic, I invite you just to try on the resurrection as if it were true, and then let’s see why it such good news and why you might want it to be true.
So what does it all mean? How is this good news? How does a Jewish man in the first century rising from the dead impact my life? These questions lead us to our two SO WHATS…
Two SO WHATS:
1. Jesus was telling the truth.
In his ministry, Jesus often made bold statements about who he was, sometimes plainly, sometimes in veiled ways. But the people at the time heard him loud and clear. Two such claims were that he was Lord and that he was the Christ.
A. Jesus is Lord. When we say Jesus is Lord, we mean Jesus is YHWH arrived in the flesh, that Jesus is equal to, though distinct from, the LORD of the Old Testament. This is an audacious claim, but Jesus made it. In John, Jesus says, “…[B]efore Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). That is strange grammatical construction, but to Jewish Old Testament readers, they recognized the allusion. For the God of the Old Testament called himself the I AM. When he sends Moses to Pharaoh, he tells Moses to say I AM sent you (Exodus 3:14). So, when Jesus says before Abraham was, I AM, everyone knows the reference. And sure enough, the people who hear this claim pick up stones to stone him as a blasphemer (John 8:59; John 10:33). And so, part of his condemnation was that he was a blasphemer, that he had made himself equal to God (John 5:18). Part of the transcripts of his trial read: “ So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”  Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips” (Luke 22:70-71). This was part of the sentence and condemnation. And indeed, God himself had commanded Israel to condemn such fakes. So, Jesus is crucified as a blasphemer.
B. Jesus is Christ. The title of Christ was a title of Kingship. It meant the “anointed one,” “the one” to come, like the one who could pull the sword of the stone, or the prophesied deliverer in The Matrix. Jesus both hinted at this claim and stated it baldly. He hinted at it when he said someone greater than Solomon is here (Luke 11:31). He admitted it plainly when Peter said Jesus was the Christ (Luke 9:20). And yet, he was condemned as an agitator. In Luke 23:2 we read, “And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” He was then, after the trial, mocked as “not the king.” He was killed because if he had any rightful claims to the throne, he wasn’t the kind of king they wanted. He was condemned as someone who would disturb the nation (John 11:48). And so the sign that Pilate hung over the cross said mockingly the king of the Jews (Luke 23:38).
His death denied the claims and confirmed the condemnation. In both cases, the thought was that they were right in condemning him and that his death just confirmed their verdict. And so, as the sun set on that Friday, the feeling was that this crazy chapter was at last over. That was that. And as Jesus was dying, they pointed out this very logic. They were saying if you’re really the Messiah come down from there (Matthew 27:40). We read, “ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine  and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:36-37). And so forth. The logic was plain: His death proved them right. But what if he didn’t stay dead? And for all the naysayers, that is the problem.
But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He was raised to new life. So, it is like they tried to get the charges to stick as best they could, all the way to the silence of the grave. They went to bed Friday night saying, “See, we told you. He’s not the Messiah, and he is not the Lord.” But when they saw him walking around that Sunday. They were confronted with the reality that the sentence did not stick. That God himself, in restoring his life, had reversed the verdict. He really was Lord and Christ. And this is what Peter would later declare: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
What else might be true? I am here pointing out these two claims, but we could extend this. He said he would do this very thing: die and rise. What else did he say that maybe we should give a second listen to? Jesus was telling the truth about who is was. What else might he have been telling the truth about?
Your path runs through Jesus. And if you’re not a Christian, and Jesus really is raised form the dead, you must understand that all roads run to him. If he really is Lord and King, all roads run through him. Your life, your priorities, your ideas, your destiny, the verdict on your life, all run through him, if he has been raised. It won’t matter what you say about you, what others say about you. It will only matter what this Jesus says about you, for the resurrection has shown that he really is Lord and King.
The second SO WHAT…
B. Jesus delivered what he promised.
Jesus made some amazing promises that you just long to be true. Let me mention two.
Jesus said he would give his life for the forgiveness of sin. At the last supper, as he poured out the wine, he said it symbolized his blood that was about to be spilled “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The Gospel message is that Jesus’s perfect, sinless life would be given in exchange, as a repayment, for our broken lives. It’s not just that God would be merciful in a dismissive, look-the-other-way sort of way. It is that God would be merciful by accepting Jesus’s life in our place and bestowing on us true, full, all-the-debt-cancelled forgiveness. Like a full pardon where your never have to worry again. And this is what Jesus said he was going to do; he was going to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). If the wages for sin is death (Romans 6:23), then Jesus was going to give his life in exchange for ours. Oh, wouldn’t that be nice! Yes, that is a nice gesture, but how would you know that it worked?
Jesus also said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). He promised eternal life (John 3:16). Wouldn’t that be nice? But who has that kind of power? Even the people who Jesus raised from the dead still died again. So. It’s a nice gesture for sure, but new life? Eternal life? I don’t know that it is really his to command or give.
His death threw into question both claims. In both cases, with forgiveness and eternal life, when the sun set that Friday and his body was laid in the tomb, you had to think, “Well, who knows.” Did he pay the debt for my sin? How about that eternal life thing? Maybe he was be metaphorical. That’s where the death gets you. You did what he said he was going to do, but you’re left wondering if it worked.
But resurrection confirms the promises. But then comes Sunday morning and that first Easter. When you see Jesus walking around again, restored and renewed, never to die again, you know he’s paid your debt! How so? Think about it. He said I’m going to pay your debt for sin. Imagine your in court and you’re about to be sentenced to jail for not making payments. In walks Jesus. He instructs the judge to let you go because he’s going to take care of the debt. So you head out of the courtroom and wait. Three hours go by. You start to wonder if he really took care of the debt. Maybe he’s in jail now. Then, at last, Jesus walks out sipping a coffee, chitchatting with the judge. You realize he really did take care of it, like totally. In the same way, when you see Jesus emerge from the grave, you’re like, “Oh, I guess he really did pay the debt (death) for my sin.” And when you see his life returned and renewed, when you see him in this new body that is still a body and yet clearly different and he never dies again, you think, “Hey, maybe all these promises about giving us life and eternal life… maybe he really can do that.” So, when we say Jesus offers forgiveness, you can look at the resurrection and say, “You know, maybe it really is his to give.” And when we say Jesus offers you eternal life, you can look at the resurrection and think, “You know, maybe he really can give eternal life.”
Of course, there are more “so whats” and we could further nuance those two. Indeed, the New Testament and 2000 years of theology are all about unpacking the “so what” of the cross and the resurrection. You will find that all of your Christian life is, in part, unpacking its meaning. But we will move on to the “NOW WHATS.” I want us to end by thinking about how these truths matter for you today. Right now. Three NOW WHATS…
THREE NOW WHATS
I want you to take the truths we’ve considered this morning and do three things…
Forget your past. The resurrection of Jesus means there is full, complete forgiveness and new life. Remember, if he is raised, then he paid the debt completely. That means you can be done with your past. You can forget it. Do you walk in here with guilt with morning? Jesus says call on his name and he will save you, and now you know, by his resurrection, that he really will. Totally. You can admit your sins to Jesus and know that he really will forgive you and save you.
Look, if you’re new to church, you’ve got to understand that this is the story of everyone here: We are all sinners saved by this grace displayed clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the good news we’re always going on about. The good news is not a new set of rules or tradition or a certain way to dress. The good news is that Jesus offers forgiveness for all our sins. And we know it’s true because he was raised to life on that third day. The debt has been paid, once and for all. And if you have never accepted this gift, if you have never surrendered your life and your heart to Jesus, I invite you to do that today.
Embrace your present. In the resurrection, we’ve glimpsed the end. And there, we saw two things: There is eternal life, and we win. That means 1.) every detail of your reality matters, and 2.) every wrong will be righted.
We have all suffered pain and loss, miscarriages and death, friendships broken, failures in business, the fallout of sin, the sting of shame. But the reality of resurrection and life eternal means our stories continue and are headed somewhere. Think about it. If there is no resurrection, what does it matter if you suffer or don’t, if you learn something from it or not, if you become a better person or not? It doesn’t matter. We’re all dust in the end. But if there is resurrection and eternal life, then your today matters. Because God is preparing you for eternity. It means God will use a year of pandemic for your eternal good.
And because we know Jesus wins, we know that no matter what happens, no matter how it all goes down, no matter the struggle, it will all work out for good in the end. How exactly? Well, we don’t always see it; it’s a mystery. But the resurrection shows it will work out! Wrongs can be righted. Injustices can be corrected. Death can be reversed. The lost years can be returned.
Glory in your future. Have you lost loved ones in Christ? The resurrection tells us you will see them again. Do we grieve? Absolutely! But, as Paul says, in a different way. We grieve as ones who will find comfort. Do you ache with the brokenness of this world? We see shootings; we suffer depression and loneliness; we face terminal cancer. But the resurrection points to a better future, an assured victory. Christ is raised! Therefore, death does not win; evil does not win; sin does not win. So, though we have trials now, we glory in the future resolution of all things as confirmed in this first resurrection.
Oh, friends, if you have not asked Jesus to forgive you, to give you the life he promised, don’t wait. Do so today.