1 Peter 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Of all of the complexities of life none is more daunting than death! It’s a rather ghoulish thought to consider this Resurrection Sunday, but it’s the truth... Everyone is going to die! Every single person in this room is going to die at some point in their life. As a matter of fact, everyone you know, will know, or ever have known is going to face the same fate. For every man, women, and child regardless of economic status, religious persuasion, ethnicity, or political party death is our fate and our fate is the same! Roman poet Horace said, “Pale Death beats equally at the poor man’s gate and at the palaces of kings.”
While you might not like to think about it… Death is an inevitable part of life itself! On June 12, 2005 former Apple Founder and CEO Steve Jobs was honored with the chance to deliver the Commencement Address at Stanford’s graduation. This is a section of what he said, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”
Greek philosopher Epicurus once said, “It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men live in a city without walls." And it’s to this point that we can all sympathize with what William Shakespeare wrote that “death is a fearful thing.” Because death is such an ominous and scary proposition our progressive and health-conscious society has become obsessed with extending life.
In order to prolong the inevitable we’ve become obsessed with eating correctly, exercise, as well as investing large amounts of money into cutting-edge medical research. It was eccentric director Woody Allen who once stated, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying!” He also famously said, “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
And yet, in spite of all your novel attempts at prolonging your biological life, it is life itself that ultimately kills you! No matter what you try your death is not only unavoidable - a destiny you cannot escape, but ironically is one you don’t have all that much control over! Avid runners die of heart attacks. Children contract untreatable diseases. Non-smokers develop lung-cancer. Responsible motorists are killed by drunk-drivers. Innocent people are murdered. I had a friend I played baseball with in High School who checked out of school one Friday not feeling well and was dead by the following Tuesday from Meningitis.
It’s a maddening truth that death schedules it’s appointment without my consultation!Have you heard about the website DeathClock.com? It’s a site that’ll tell you what day you’re going to die. I’m going to die May 26, 2068 just three days shy of my 85th birthday.
One of the main reasons we don’t like thinking about this reality is that the very notion and uncertainty of death freaks us out! English poet Barry Cornwall has described death as “the tyrant of the imagination.” You might say the concept of death is morbid!
Though many would prefer to ignore the inevitability, it’s simply a truth that this becomes difficult when death strikes someone close to us. The death of a friend, family-member, even acquaintance is unsettling because it reminds us of our own mortality and future destiny.
Have you ever noticed how convoluted and weird things get when someone famous dies and their friends and colleagues seek to pay tribute? Example: When Sportscaster Stuart Scott passed away almost instantly everyone on T.V. became a theologian. Not only did everyone believe in an afterlife as they conveyed the idea that Stuart was “looking down on us all,” but one commentator even remarked, “He’s entertaining someone for sure in heaven.” Of all the reactions none were stranger than Ray Lewis’ theological observation that “while we may have lost a friend we all gained an angel.”
One of the main reasons death is so menacing to so many is that it’s often hard to reconcile this fixed destiny with our Practical Philosophy concerning life. Today, in science classes across the world the Theory of Evolution preaches Naturalism to the masses.
Bear with me, but Naturalism states that natural laws and forces operate in the world and nothing exists beyond the physical universe. Nature is the only reality and matter is all that has ever been or ever will be. Everything that “is” is best accounted for by reference to material principles such as mass, energy, and other physical and chemical properties accepted through empirical study and intellectual reasoning. Furthermore, Naturalism holds the position that the supernatural concepts of spirits, deities, and the miraculous are not real and have no room in the intellectual community.
Man is therefore only one piece of the physical universe. No part of man separates him from the rest of the plant, animal, and mineral universe. Man’s existence can be completely explained by natural processes. Since man is a chance result of biochemical evolution, he is not duty-bound to adhere to a set of moral rules and can therefore live to please himself. The only rules that are available are those of man’s own making, and since people differ on which rules are best, none are binding.
Understand, death for the naturalist only brings about the extinguishing of life! When a man dies he simply no longer exists meaning Stuart Scott is not looking down on us, isn’t entertaining anyone, and certainly hasn’t become an angel. According to one naturalist, “Human destiny is an episode between two oblivions.” Man is born, lives, suffers, then dies.
What is interesting about this is that while most believe in this Naturalistic outlook large numbers within this group still hold a belief in an afterlife. Though this position is illogical and inconsistent with Naturalism and Darwinism, for most people the notion that death is the end of our existence is not something they’re willing to accept!
Consider the disconnect… While about 50% of American’s believe in Evolution, according to recent polls, “75% of Americans believe in the existence of heaven or hell, including 66% who think both exist and 11% who only believe in heaven.” Additionally, “Of Americans who are agnostic, atheist, or do not identify with a particular religion, 43% of this group still believe in a literal heaven and hell. Among those who do believe 82% expect to wind up in heaven at the end of their lives with only 2% saying they anticipate ending up in hell. 9% don't think they will be in either place.” What’s crazier is that a survey compiled in 2014 by The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture revealed that of this same non-theistic target group 6% expressed a belief in a bodily resurrection - which is a stunning fact all things considered.
Have you ever considered why it is that death without eternity doesn’t sit well? The reason this is the case is based in the fact human beings were created to live forever. Let me explain why this is happens… Though I might want to fly like a bird, it doesn’t bother me that I can’t because I was never created to be able to fly in the first place. Science fundamentally explains why I can’t fly and this seem consistent with what I intrinsically know to be true. However, when science tells me that death is the end of my existence, regardless of my philosophical bent, I find it deeply bothersome because I was created to live forever. Scripture says we have “eternity in our hearts.” On the surface the two issues seem to be the same. Nature says I can’t fly because I’m not a bird - and that I cease to exist when I die because I’m nothing more than matter. But I think we can agree, I don’t stress out over my inability to fly like I do when faced with death being my end! The reason for the difference is that contrary to the scientific consensus of Naturalism, I was created to live forever while I wasn’t created to fly.
This is why when faced with death the majority of people default to either some kind of unfounded personal theory about an afterlife or some form of religious understanding. Note: All religions have to address the pressing question of what happens when we die.
And it’s to this point that every religions fall into one of three basic categories:
1. Reincarnation based upon Karmic Justice.
Perpetual Reincarnation: No heaven or hell - Buddhism and Scientology.
Purposed Reincarnation: Hinduism - Rebirth cycle ends in Moksha which is a state of enlightenment without suffering and one of ultimate self-realization (Nirvana). From there, with the rebirth cycle broken, the final step is Ioka (heaven).
2. Literal Destinations based upon Religious Moralism.
Islam: Obeying 5 Pillars of Faith determines Paradise or Hell.
Judaism: Obeying the Levitical Law determines Heaven or Hell.
Catholicism: One’s religious works determines Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.
Note: Mormonism and Jehovah-Witnesses also fall into his category as well though their belief concerning the destinations themselves vary dramatically.
3. Literal Destinations based upon the acceptance and rejection of God’s Grace.
And it’s here that we transition to what makes Christianity so different from every other position concerning the reality of death and what follows. You see unlike anyone else and all other positions Jesus intentionally presented his physical resurrection as the litmus test for validating if He was actually right or tragically wrong in His assertions.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul goes so far as to affirm how completely vain our Christian faith would be apart from the resurrection of Jesus when he wrote, “If Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.”
Keep in mind that on three separate occasions Jesus foretold His coming resurrection:
Mark 8:31-32, “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly.”
Mark 9:31, “For He taught His disciples… ‘The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.’”
Mark 10:33-34, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
Jesus’ resurrection was such a dominate theme that in Matthew 27:63 even His enemies affirmed that “while He was still alive, that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise’.”
Luke 24:1-7, “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”
As proof of His resurrection Paul would later write in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
Regarding the weight of so many eyewitness, Chuck Colson (former Special Counsel to President Nixon) wrote, “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
Consider that since Jesus indeed rose from the dead… You can trust He is who He claimed to be! God incarnate, the King of Kings, Lord of all! “The empty tomb, an enduring symbol of the resurrection, is the ultimate representation of Jesus’ claim to being God.”
Consider that since Jesus indeed rose from the dead… You can trust what He said is true! John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” In Jesus alone is found salvation, restoration, regeneration, forgiveness, power and strength, love - peace - and joy, life now and for all eternity. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Consider that since Jesus indeed rose from the dead… You can trust He finished what He came to accomplish! Because of the resurrection you can have confidence the payment for your sins was satisfied, that you have an Advocate in heaven, access to the Father!
In our crazy, messed up, dysfunctional, volatile world people crave hope for a better tomorrow in what’s seemingly a rather hopeless existence. The resurrection of Jesus provides hope that life today can be redeemed from the devastating effects of sin. Once again to this point Paul throws down the gauntlet in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19 when he challenges those who were claiming the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t all that essential to the Christian faith. He said, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins!”
Please understand, the implications of the resurrection of Jesus are not limited to just the afterlife… A Risen Jesus means there exists an Active Savior! Not only does His resurrection produce a hope for a better tomorrow, but it means I have the opportunity to experience a life-transforming encounter with Him today.
Finally, consider that since Jesus indeed rose from the dead… Death is not the end of your life! There is more than hope in the empty tomb. There is a blessed assurance! It’s been correctly pointed out that the historical resurrection of Jesus is the only “proof of His triumph over sin and death, and is therefore the foreshadowing of the resurrection of His followers. It’s the basis of Christian hope. It’s the miracle of all miracles. If Jesus didn’t rise, then we have no assurance of resurrection.”
In a world where every person dies, poets, scholars, theologians, and the like have wrestled with the implications of this reality. As Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.”
And while this horrifying nature of death is the logical result for a secular, humanistic society embracing the Darwinian model of life, the message of the resurrection finds itself very pertinent and incredibly relevant for it challenges the notion that death is the end. Jesus’ resurrection from death validated His position concerning our resurrection! It’s as though He was saying, “I am not only telling you this is what happens when you die, but I’m going to validate my words and prove that I’m trustworthy in my assertions by my actions.”
Jesus made a promise that those “who believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” He was crystal clear that for His followers death was not the end of life, but instead the beginning of a glorious new existence. Then, in a bold move to substantiate His position, He presented His physical resurrection and the empty tomb as proof that He could be trusted concerning such affairs!
Understand… If Jesus failed to rise from the dead the exact opposite reality would be evident. If Jesus wasn’t resurrected He would have been found to be nothing more than a lunatic and liar. And yet, it’s the boldness of this move that differentiates the teachings of Jesus from all other movements. No other world religion or religious leader has ever dared present the same litmus test to validate their views concerning death and the afterlife. Consider: How can anyone be sure Mohammed, Confucius, or Buddha were correct in their beliefs concerning death and the afterlife without the crutch of blind faith?
As it pertains to what happens when I breath my last I can have confidence I know exactly what immediately takes place. 2 Corinthians 5:4-9, “For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.”
New Testament expert and Dallas Theological Seminary professor Dr. Darrell Bock offered this important insight: “Easter matters because it shows how God vindicated Jesus and His message. The empty tomb not only speaks of life after death, but it also speaks to the fact that what Jesus said about Himself and human needs before God mattered. As important as the fact of life after death is, how that afterlife is experienced is more important. Jesus addresses that issue and how to know God in His ministry. Easter is God’s yes to that message. Jesus’ death in our place is God’s program for bearing sin on our behalf and opening a door for people to fellowship with God. Forgiveness is something God offers to us through Jesus’ death, not something we earn. In this the Christian faith is distinctive, offering a way to God not dependent on what we do, but on what God has done through Jesus.”
To this very point in his book “Jesus Himself” famous preacher Andrew Murray wrote, “A dead Christ I must do everything for; a living Christ does everything for me.”
As we close in John 11:25 Jesus made this bold declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live.” My friend if you fear death may I exhort you to place your faith in Jesus! Evangelist Billy Graham once made this glorious declaration at one of his crusades, “The resurrection blasts apart the finality of death, providing an alternative to the stifling settling dust of death and opens the way to new life.”
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) Friend, never forget this one overarching truth concerning the story of Jesus… His resurrection first necessitated His death! May you have know this morning that Jesus died on the cross to proved life, but He was resurrected to remove the mystery of death.
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