The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 21, 2019 – Easter
One unique aspect of the Christian faith is that it – unlike, say, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or atheism – hangs everything on a particular event believed to have happened on a particular day in history: After Jesus was killed by people who knew how to do that job, and after his stone cold body had been entombed for days in a pitch-black grave, Jesus rose, fully alive.
After Easter, Jesus remained on earth for weeks, meeting with old friends and others, sometimes in one-on-one encounters, but more often in groups (one involving 500 people at once). In those meetings, people saw Him, touched Him, heard Him, and even observed Him consuming food. As a result, they who days before had watched Him die and immediately lost their faith became, overnight, confident enough about the reality of His resurrection that they were telling everyone they could about it. Moreover, they who for days had been cowering in hidden corners, out of fear for their lives, overnight, started risking everything, and suffering anything (including martyrdom), to get out the news about His resurrection.
What accounts for such a drastic change?
Believers say that the disciples encountered Jesus in first-hand experience, solid and real.
Skeptics say that the disciples so wished He was still around that they talked themselves into believing He was – being, it is supposed, products of a more gullible, pre-scientific age.
Yes, some Jews in Israel backs then believed there’d be resurrection; but not all did, for it was still a matter of theological debate among them. More importantly, none those who did believe in a resurrection conceived it happening in the way the Bible says it happened on Easter. The only possibility for a resurrection they entertained was one accompanied by great changes in the world at large – and the world at large had, on Easter, not changed much from how it had been before.
Let me give some background. The Jews of Jesus’ day believed that history was moving to an end point when everything would be set right: evil would be vanquished, justice would be established, creation would be healed and everyone would live in peace.
Resurrection would occur, if it occurred, only in concurrence with the end of history as we know it, with God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Resurrection then was not something that would happen in the middle of history, as the Bible says it did for Jesus. Moreover, in the Jewish worldview back then, resurrection would involve more than one person. The idea of a resurrection of just a single individual was as absurd to them as supposing that the Dodger’s third baseman would this year win the World Series but that the rest of the team would have to wait at least another year. Just as the World Series is a team deal, the Jews believed resurrection a team deal. That’s why, when Jesus predicted His resurrection, the disciples did not expect His particular resurrection. They figured He was, as He often did, speaking in poetic language to describe the resurrection at the end of history. No other interpretation would have made any sense to them.
And that’s why, after He was executed on Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples didn’t say, “Everything is going according to plan. Three days from now will be great!” No they thought it was all over, and they were dismayed, disheartened, disheartened and despairing.
So what dislodged them from the worldview in which they were raised dogma and caused them to believe that this one man, their Lord and Teacher, had been resurrected? There was 1) the witness of others in claiming to have experienced Jesus as a living, breathing person after His crucifixion and 2) their own experience in finding Him fully (even physically) alive.
The skeptics of Jesus’ day had to deal with the fact that people they otherwise trusted testified that they’d had genuine interaction with a living and breathing Jesus. Were the people they knew lying? Were they delusional?
The skeptics of today have to deal with the same fact, and have to ask the same questions – in particular this one: Is it more plausible to doubt the integrity, or the mental health, of those who say they have met up with Jesus, or to doubt their doubts about there being anything real behind those experiences?
Of course, if you weren’t there, you can neither verify nor disconfirm what such people report. But, if there really is a person like Jesus still around and interacting with His friends, you have reason to expect some signs of His ongoing influence upon them. Are those who used to be selfish growing more giving and caring? Are those who once were cold and cruel becoming more warm-hearted, kind and generous? Are they becoming more just? More courageous? More loving?
If Christ really did rise from the grave and really is alive to this day, He would be putting His life and love in those who have opened their lives to Him. Engulfing them with His life, He would be making them more and more like Him in conduct and character. They would change, maybe not becoming immediately perfect but improving over time, maybe not becoming better than many others but becoming better than they used to be.
Easter is about Jesus still being around, and engulfing the willing with His higher life.
An evangelist named Dwight Moody used to illustrate the meaning of Easter with a glove. A glove is made in the likeness of a hand. It has fingers, a palm, a wrist. So too, human beings are made in the likeness of God. They have freedom of choice and moral capacity.
A glove on its own can do next to nothing. If, however, a hand is inserted into it, it can do about anything a hand can. It can move things. It can caress a human being. It can sign out messages. When a hand has entered a glove, the life of the glove becomes engulfed in a higher life, a life which can fill it but which it can never contain.
The message of Easter is that we can have Christ’s resurrected life in our life, and that we can therefore be more than ourselves – and live beyond ourselves. A risen Savior is standing at the door of every heart here, knocking and waiting for an invitation to come in and become your life from the inside out.
Open your heart to the One who is alive and loving you – and He will engulf your existence in His higher life.