“7 Truths: Not All Dead Stay Dead”
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
This weekend we are starting a series I’ve been looking forward to as I planned it over the summer. Occasionally I am sent books to review on my website, one of the perks I suppose. Early in the summer I was sent a book with a very intriguing title. It is called, “7 Truths That Changed The World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas” and it’s written by Kenneth Richard Samples.
In this book, the author takes on the issues which seem to challenge what we consider to be basic beliefs of our faith in Jesus Christ. The topics being challenged are the resurrection, the creation of the universe and all that’s in it, free will, grace and suffering, to name a few.
So we are going to spend the next few months looking at these things we hold to be true about our faith, and how the world is attempting to reject these claims.
It’s no question we are living in a world that is aggressively challenging faith and religion. Declaring loudly that God is not real, and certainly has no bearing on life, the universe or anything.
I would have agreed with this line of thought 20 years ago as a young man preparing to take on the world as a high school grad. But I’ve learned a lot about the world and about God in the meantime. Stuff I can’t deny. And so have others.
With the Olympics passing us by in a flurry of excitement last month, there were wonderful stories of athletes who overcame great adversity to make it to the top of their sport. Leading up to the Olympics this summer, there was a wonderful story of a young Canadian wrestler from Toronto that made the national news.
Khetag Pliev is a 28 year old wrestler who had his eyes on the gold medal. Born in Russia, his family came to North America to start a new life. In 2008, Pliev was the Canadian champion in his weight class, but his nights were spent drinking, smoking and sleeping on a bench in a Toronto park, using his hat rolled up as a pillow.
“I said . . . I’m No. 1 in Canada. Why am I No. 1 in Canada if I sleep on the bench. I don’t have a place to stay — money, food, nothing?” he recalls.
“I’m national champion in Canada, but it doesn’t mean much to me . . . why do I feel worthless?” (from the Toronto Star)
Hitting rock bottom, Pliev was encouraged to start reading the Bible by his father. That’s when his life started to turn around as he discovered a love far greater than he had been able to find elsewhere in his life. He turned from a path of certain destruction and is now representing Canada as a champion and a top athlete in his sport. Unfortunately his dream fell short in a tough early round match, but his strong heart and his love of God continues.
Pliev now helps other troubled young people, offering them hope and support in their lives. By encountering the risen Jesus Christ, Pliev not only turned his own life around, but is actively working to help others do the same.
The question for us today is this: If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what impact would this have?
When we look at the stories of people like Khetag Pliev, would his life, or anyone else’s, been as impacted by a lie?
Today, we’re going to look at Kenneth Samples’ first dangerous idea, the christian belief that people come back from the dead.
As a pastor I am well aware of one certainty. People die. I bury more than enough people in the run of a year to know we all get our turn.
We are born. We live. We die. Every day we get is a blessing and a chance to enjoy life. Yet we all know the reality that death is certain. No matter how much we try to ignore it, it will not ignore us.
So for christians to proclaim Jesus has risen from death, this flies in the face of what we know to be true for everyone we know. Yet we do it anyway. Why is this?
When there is so much opposition in the world to religion and faith why would we continue to stand up and proclaim this man Jesus, the one who came, taught and showed us God’s love in person. What would drive us to do this in a world that refuses to believe that God would do such a thing for us?
The world keeps throwing things in our face like “it’s a myth”, “people don’t come back from the dead”, and other reasons why the resurrection is a bunch of hooey and asking how we can possibly believe in such a thing.
This is where the words of St. Paul come to us this morning. The words from his first letter to the Corinthians where he says,
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)
Let’s look for a moment at the timeline in the years following Jesus’s reported death and resurrection.
Jesus was crucified sometime around 30AD. Within months, stories of his death and his resurrection begin to circulate. Sometime in the next year or so, Paul encounters Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and his life is changed forever.
Over the next 20 years, Paul meets with the Apostles, learns from them personal stories of their lives with Jesus and begins his ministry of reaching out cities and nations all over covering a territory from here to Ottawa and beyond.
In the middle of the first century, Paul writes the words we’ve shared this morning with the Corinthians. In just 25 years after the death of Jesus, the word of his death and resurrection has spread significantly. All done by word of mouth. No email, not telephones, television reporters, nothing!
For some reason, today, nearly 2000 years later, we think we know what really happened. That we know more today than the reports of eyewitnesses, those who were there and saw it, and have shared the stories we read in our Bible still today.
We come up with stories like “the body was stolen”, “it was moved” or “he wasn’t really dead.”
So let’s look at these claims. Let’s first look at the first two: stolen or moved.
It’s simple really. Clearly the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the leaders of Jesus’ time were not pleased with what Jesus was doing and saying. It’s recorded multiple times in the Bible that they were plotting to kill him.
So, when he’s finally dead and his followers are beginning to spread news that this trouble maker has overcome death, just as he predicted you’d think they would want to stop this immediately before it gets out of hand.
How do you stop a movement in its tracks? You produce evidence to the contrary. In this case, all they had to do was produce a body. Produce the body of Jesus and this troublesome movement never gets any traction. It’s over before it begins. Simple. But it doesn’t happen.
So if the body is stolen, from under the noses of guards who will be executed for not doing their jobs, or moved you’d think they would be quick to use all resources available to them to find out where it went. But they never did. The body of Jesus is never found.
What does this say to us?
So, maybe he was never dead when they took him off the cross? How about this explanation?
Well, again we look to the Romans for an answer. The Romans have been crucifying people for some time, and they are very, very good at it. They know how long it will take for someone to suffocate under the immense pressure on their body and succumb to death. If it’s taking too long, they break the prisoner’s legs so they can’t hold themselves up and will die faster. To make sure the prisoner is dead, they shove a spear into the body, just as they did with Jesus, leaving no doubt the body is lifeless. And again, like the guards, if they fail at their job, that is, if they botch the execution of the prisoner, it is their own lives at risk. So they make sure they do it right. There is little doubt that Jesus was dead when he was taken off the cross and put in the tomb. The Romans made sure of it.
I haven’t even mentioned that there is the whole “Jesus never really existed” camp. Most people tend to think the only source we have of his existence is in the Bible. But there are a number of sources which tell us Jesus did in fact live. Most famously there are the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus.
So, if Jesus did exist, did he really rise on the third day?
The disciples, when they tagged along with Jesus, were nothing more than bumblers, making mistake after mistake, screwing up, not understanding the message at all. Over and over again they missed the point and Jesus would need to take them aside and try to set them straight, which sometimes worked, but it didn’t seem to take very long before they would get all mixed up again.
But look what happens when they meet Jesus after his death. After Jesus meets them and shows him the scars in his hands and his side. The disciples are new men! And on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit is unleashed in their lives, look at what happens. These men cannot be held back in proclaiming to everyone about the risen Jesus.
If it weren’t true, would they be doing this?
If Jesus never met them after the resurrection, would they be so willing to perpetuate a lie? And to what end? To keep telling these stories would cost a number of them their lives. It cost them prison sentences. It cost them beatings. It brought them death.
So why would they do this to themselves if it weren’t true?
And what about Paul? Paul used to hunt down christians, dragging them out into the streets to be beaten and killed. And yet his life takes a 180 degree turn and he becomes the greatest evangelist ever!
I realize I’m just brushing the surface of the issues here. I know there are many other questions out there questioning the validity of what Christians claim to be true about Jesus of Nazareth.
But the facts point to one thing. Jesus lived. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross. And three days later he rose from the tomb for me and for you.
The theories just don’t add up. Those who witnessed these events first hand, who wrote them down to be shared after their own lives have been transformed… and then there’s the stories for 2000 years of people finding hope, finding new life in Jesus Christ. These stories speak to the importance, the significance of what happened on the cross and in the tomb so long ago.
It’s not an easy life to live, putting your faith in God through the life of His Son, in a world which seeks to tell us how futile this belief is. How, in this world, it’s all up to us to make something good in our own lives, we don’t need anyone or anything else.
I know this because I once believed it myself. I was falling to the pressures that if I only worked more, if I only put more pressure on myself to succeed and provide for my family, then I would be rewarded with earthly riches and self satisfaction.
But it never came. I was never quite satisfied enough. That is until I learned personally of the love of God shown through Jesus Christ. Once I put all my trust and hope in him, then I realized there is so much more than the treasures I can build up on earth. That it’s so much more than how far up the corporate ladder I could climb.
It’s about experiencing the love of God and sharing this love with others which brings meaning to our lives, no matter where we are in our lives or our career.
Jesus shows us the way. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the one who changes lives, and only one who lives can do this.
Jesus is alive, my friends. The Bible shows us the facts. It is up to us to open our hearts and let his life shine in and through us.
In a world of many dangerous ideas, we know not all men stay dead.
There is one. Jesus is alive. And because of this, we too can live with our Father in heaven by experiencing the risen Christ in our hearts.