April 1, 2018

Celebrate the Truth this Easter

Easter Sunday
Readings:   1 John 4:7-12
                  John 14:1-6
                  John 8:31-36
                  Luke 24:1-8
                  John 5:1-45 (select verses)
                  Psalm 100:1-5

Sermon Text:  1 Corinthians 15:12-20

I have a habit of remembering events the way I want to remember them, not exactly how they went down. Once, when with my family, I brought up a vacation from years past. We’d gone through the UP on our way to see my grandparents in MI and stopped at 3 places to camp. I recall days of fishing, biking, swimming, and sitting around the fire as a perfectly functioning family with woodland creatures joining us in campfire songs. When I finished, my brother was staring at me.

I asked why.  He said, “Are you serious? That vacation was horrible. Dad was sick and puking. One of our sister had just broken up with her boyfriend, and she was a trainwreck. It rained most of the vacation.  Mom and dad got into a fight about something. And we locked ourselves out of the van and had to call someone to break in for us, after waiting 6 hours.  It was one of the worst vacations we ever took.”  After he finished, I had with a confused look on my face that said, “Huh.” 

The rest of the day I was bummed out. What I thought was truth – a nice, happy family vacation – never happened. I started wondering what other memories I had wrong. “What if I’m only focusing on what I want to be true instead of on what is true?”  It wasn’t fun thinking that I had crafted an imaginary history that was not true to how things went down.

All Lent we’ve focused on a different holiday each time we met because Lent began and ends on a holiday. We’d tie the holiday together with Jesus’ passion. Today we finish things up with our final holiday - April Fool’s Day. It dates back to 1582. France switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar had the new year starting on January 1. The Julian calendar had it on April 1. Some were slow to get the news the start of the new year had moved and were the butt of jokes. One trick was to put paper fish on their backs and call them “poisson d’avril” - April fish – since April fish were young and easily caught.  To be a “poisson d’avril” meant you were a gullible person who’d fall for anything.

I was a “poisson d’avril” when it came to recalling family memories.  I believed what I wanted to believe, that on all our vacations we were like the Partridge Family.  I was being an April fool. So, here is the question: Is that us regarding Jesus’ resurrection? Are we “poisson d’avril”?  Have we been tricked into believing something that didn’t happen?  Are we not just April fools but June, Sept., and Dec. fools as well?  Are we gullible and have bought into an event that did not take place?

I know Easter Sunday is a day we don’t want to think about doubt. We want to sing, praise, and be filled with hope, peace, etc. Esp. today, we don’t want to think about being wrong in our beliefs. But we live in a sinful world, and inside each of us beats a sinful heart. Even on, maybe esp. on days like today, those two spiritual enemies are working on us.

So let’s ask the tough questions. Did things go down exactly as God’s Word says? Is there a chance we got it wrong?  Sure, there was an historical figure named Jesus – no one denies that. But what if he was just a guy?  What if he died and that’s it?  What if all we’ve heard for years from pulpits and Bibles is like my family memories – not reliable/trustworthy? What if, like my family memories, we are only believing what we want to believe? Are we “poisson d’avril” – April fools?

This struggle is not new. In our text, the people to whom St. Paul was writing had the same issue. They knew what happened when a person dies. They stay dead. Now Paul is saying someone beat that cycle and came back, bucking the system?  Naturally there were some doubts.  Naturally some of the people were skeptical.

Paul’s response? Say you were at a Brewer game. Eric Thames hit 3 home runs. The next day at work, you tell a friend and he says, “No way.” What are you going to do? You’d say, “I was there. I saw it!”  You’d find someone to back up your story. You’d show them video. You know it happened, so you’d try to convince the person it went down just as you said.

Paul could’ve done the same thing.  “I saw the resurrected Jesus with my eyes. He appeared and talked with me.”  He could’ve said, “Talk to Peter and James. They saw him too.” He could’ve talked about the Roman guards who saw an empty tomb or the women at the tomb. A lot of people saw Jesus, and Paul could’ve used any of them to prove Jesus rose.

But he takes a different tack. He focuses on the sad realities if Jesus’ body is still in that grave. He acknowledges some are having a hard time believing Jesus rose. Then he says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless. So is your faith.” He is saying if Jesus was just a guy who was treated poorly, killed, and thrown in a grave (where he still rests), all Paul had taught during his ministry would be pointless.  And everything the people believed would be pointless as well. 

Think of it this way. Someone tells you Meijer is selling prime rib for $1/lb. You go there to buy it.  You checkout, and the meat comes up as $10/lb. If you say to the clerk, “I was told this was only 1$/lb.”, is he going to say, “Oh, I’m sorry.  If you were told that, it must be true. Take the steak for that unbelievable price.” No.  Just because someone said the steak was cheap doesn’t make it cheap.  You believed a lie, a falsehood, and now you have nothing.  If Jesus didn’t rise, Paul is telling the Corinthians and us, then everything I have said and everything you have believed is a total waste of time.

Paul goes on. “More than that, we’re then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God he raised Christ from the dead.” He’s saying, “If Jesus didn’t rise, I’m a liar, and you shouldn’t listen to a word I say.”  The same can be said here.  If there was no resurrection, head home to a ham dinner right now, for all we’ve said here can’t be trusted.

“If the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” All he said so far is far from pleasant. This is downright nasty. The Corinthians knew their sins. All do, for all have a conscience. Well, Paul had preached Jesus died to pay for those sins and rose to assure people the victory was won. If Jesus didn’t rise, then he didn’t do his job. Those sins have to go somewhere.  If they aren’t on Jesus, where are they?  On the person, the Corinthians, you and me.  And we, just like the Corinthians, know the wages of that sin.  It is death – complete separation from God now and eternally.

And Paul puts what should be the nail in the coffin. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  We can talk about Jesus bringing peace, hope, forgiveness, etc. all day, but if he didn’t rise, when we die, that’s it.  We believed a lie, and a lie can’t benefit us at all.  And if Jesus didn’t rise, if it’s all a lie, Paul says we’re to be pitied more than all people. Why? We’re “poisson d’avril.”  April fools, as well as June, September, December, yearlong, lifelong fools.

Is that a situation you want to imagine? Jesus is dead, every minute you’ve spent here or in God’s Word was wasted, you have no hope in this life or the next, and all this because you bought into the greatest hoax/conspiracy theory ever pulled on the world? Of course not. Back to the story from the beginning.  I imagined our family vacation one way.  When I found out the truth, I realized I was trying to convince myself to believe what I wanted to believe. We don’t like to think about Jesus not rising.  We just listed the horrible impact of that.  So is the best we can do is to do what I did regarding that vacation – remember things how we want to remember them, believe we want to believe rather than what actually happened?

No. Here’s why.  We’re not “poisson d’avril” - April fools. Why not? Paul’s final verse. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”  I love that he uses the word but.  Often times when we use that word, it negates everything we said prior to it.  A parent to a child… “I know you mowed the lawn, did all the dishes, and folded laundry.  But I still won’t let you have your phone back because of what you did.” The but cancels out all that was said before it. “Yes,” Paul says, “if the dead don’t rise, Jesus didn’t rise. If he didn’t rise, what I preach and what you believe is useless, for I’m a liar, you’re still in your sins, and you have no hope.

BUT…” Realize the enormity of that word. Paul is negating all that bad stuff. And he is stating the simple truth. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”  It is just that simple.  And it is just that beautiful.
Before we go on, there is the elephant in the room. “How do I know this?  Reason tells me dead people stay dead. I’ve never seen anyone come back. There are no recorded accounts of people rising. Why was Jesus any different? Like Paul, I could come at those questions from a rationale perspective, pointing out Jesus’ resurrection is one of the most well attested to events in history or talk about witnesses vowing it happened. But I’ll repeat what Paul said.  “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” Why take the simple route?  Because you know this. In your heart you know this to be true.

You don’t believe in the resurrection because you have been hearing it for years, because that’s what mom and dad told you, or because you’ve were swept up into mob thinking here at church. You believe it because God convinced you of this.  By the power of his Word, and the Holy Spirit working through it, you know the resurrection isn’t some legend or fancy story that came out of nowhere.  You know that it wasn’t a bunch of guys 2,000 year ago deciding on some tale and then spreading it to the four corners of the earth.  You know it, and you believe it, because God convinced you of its truth.

You know a child was born who was unlike any other child – true God, true man.  You know he lived his entire life without sinning once. You know he offered up that perfect life as a sacrifice to pay for all the times we failed to live in line with God’s will.  You know that by that he removed every sin from us. And you know by walking out of that tomb, he proved his victory.  You don’t believe this because I, or the congregation, or a mom or dad, or a friend convinced you to believe this.  You believe it because God worked a faith in your heart so that you know – know, know, know – that all this is true.

And because this is true, and because God has convinced you of this, take Paul’s words and flip them around.  Christ has been raised. Our preaching is not useless, nor is your faith, because both are found on historical events that happened. When we speak God’s Word, we are not liars, for what is written occurred. We are not lost in sin, because the one who died and rose for us took it away. And far from being pitied by other people, we are to be envied.  Why? In this uncertain, unsure world, we are the only ones with real hope, for we have the most glorious anchor on which that hope rests and foundation on which that hope is built. What is it?  “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”  Your Savior lives.  And so do you.

As long as we are in this world, a part of us will think that all this about the resurrection is a misunderstanding at best and a lie at worst.  That part will be with us, sadly, until the day we die.  But thank God there will always be that other part of us as well – the Christian in us who knows what is truth and, by God’s grace, believes that truth.  Let that part sing out today.  Let that part be filled with real, true, solid hope. Let that part shout out God’s praises. For that part knows you’re not “poisson d’avril.”  That part knows you are not an April, June, September, or December fool.  That part knows the truth, the truth that is all we need in this life and the next.  That part knows that truth that, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” Thank you, Lord, for this amazing, comforting, life-giving truth.  And thank you for hearts of faith to believe this truth.  Amen.