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Text: Luke 24:36-49
- Picture the scene – Jesus has just been executed on a cross, crucified horrifically, brutally
- The disciples are in despair, many fled during the arrest of Jesus, now their leader is gone
- Confused, troubled, grieving, a group of them gathers to console one another and to figure out what to do from here
- Remember, they gave up everything to follow this man and now he’s dead
- Suddenly, in the midst of swirling emotions, Jesus stands among them. He says, Peace to you
- And it says, they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost
- This is a very dignified and composed way of expressing what really happened
I grew up watching a fair amount of horror movies
- I don’t recommend this
- Esp now that I’m a Christian – learned about spiritual battle, Satan, demons
- This stuff is real, better be careful
- Just to say, I don’t scare very easily
But put yourself in the shoes of these disciples
- What if we were hanging out after service and then suddenly, a figure appeared right in the middle of the sanctuary?
- What would be our reaction?
- I don’t think you would describe your reaction as being “startled”
- You’re startled when you’re out jogging and a dog suddenly barks at you from behind a fence
- This scene is more than a little startling
- A modern day translation would be, Jesus stood among them and everyone was Freaking Out!
- Earlier in his testimony, David mentioned being a Christ-like man of God, but I wonder what he would do if a figure suddenly appeared
- I bet him and Joel and a bunch of single men would be climbing over infants and pushing aside expectant mothers as they stampeded toward the door
- Understandably, the disciples were terrified and they thought they were seeing a ghost
The work of God is always like this
- It’s as if you are seeing a ghost, it’s so terrifying, so odd, so out of this world
- Yet there is a peace that draws you
- That’s the work of the Holy Spirit
- You used to be so skeptical, so hardened, so convinced that Jesus is just like any other human
- Then, suddenly, He shows up in your life and you resist, yet eventually, Jesus draws you to Himself
- This is the work of the Holy Spirit
Let’s look at how Jesus engages people and meets them where they are
- For some of the women who saw Jesus at the empty tomb, they’re already convinced – Jesus is resurrected! They came running to tell the rest of the disciples.
Some are not as convinced.
- Luke 24:38-40
- The initial shock has worn off. many are starting to believe it’s really Jesus
- They saw him die on a cross 3 days earlier and now he is really standing among them
- But others still doubt
- Doubt is okay
- Jesus is not discouraged by our doubt
- If you are having your doubts this afternoon, don’t turn away from Jesus
- Be encouraged because He sees your doubt and comes after you
- Some must have been doubting – is this a ghost, is this a figment of our imagination, are we just using Jesus as some kind of emotional crutch?
- You might think, if Jesus showed up in the flesh right here, right now, I would believe
- If Jesus does something miraculous right in front of me, I would believe
- Maybe, but maybe not
I can’t think of a better situation for people to believe that Jesus really is the Son of God than this
- Jesus, the man they saw bleed and die, the man whose body was placed in a tomb, has just arrived, not just to a single person because individuals can claim that they received divine revelation but there is no one to validate their experience
- But this is a room full of people, Jesus is appearing before them simultaneously
- Can you think of a better situation for saving faith to be born?
- Yet, some doubted
I love that Jesus is not discouraged by your doubt
- Why does he say to those doubting?
- See my hands and feet, remember the nails that pierced them for your sin, look
- Come and touch them
And just in case there were people still on the fence, he asks for food
- Luke 24:41-43
- If there were some who were still clinging to their unbelief after Jesus suddenly appeared, now they have seen the scars on his hands and feet
- They’ve touched his hands and feet
- Now they see a piece of fish disappearing right in front of them
- Jesus is not a ghost
- During certain religious rituals when you leave food out for your deceased ancestors, But I’ve never heard of a case where a grandmother who died showed up and ate the food
- I think if the food disappeared while you were watching, you’d be sufficiently freaked out and I’d bet that you wouldn’t try that again
- On Christmas Eve, kids put out milk and cookies for Santa and the next morning, they wake up and it’s gone and they are so overjoyed–Santa was here
- But we all know that Mom and Dad ate the cookies and drank the milk
Jesus is not a ghost
- This is not the figment of someone’s imagination
- This is not a private revelation to a single person
- This is Jesus, the Son of God, in his glorified state, with a resurrection body intersecting our physical reality
- This is holes in hands and feet, fish eating flesh and blood appearance before not just one person, not just a dozen people, but Jesus appearing to hundreds and hundreds of people over 40 days after he rose from the grave
This is a historical event
- The Roman Emperor was so threatened by this growing movement of Christians that they had Christians burned and beheaded and burned alive and torn to pieces by lions, yet these Christians were fearless
- If Jesus has taken the sting out of death and he has conquered sin and death on the cross by overcoming death itself by resurrecting from the dead, what do we have to fear
- I have absolutely no fear of death
- God could take me right now and I’d be at peace, I’m ready to go
- These early Christians risked their lives and many died
- It takes so much work for the Roman Empire to send out soldiers and round up Christians and persecute them
- If they wanted to stop the Christian movement, all they needed to do was to produce the body
- You say your leader is alive, well, you’re lying, here’s his body
- But they couldn’t because the tomb was empty
What were those first century Christians so passionate about to the point of death and what do Christians over two thousand years later still to this day proclaim?
- The answer is in Luke 24:44-47.
- For the Christian, the main message that we proclaim is the gospel of Jesus Christ
- You can’t understand the Bible without seeing how everything points to Christ
- God created humanity to be in loving relationship with us
- But Sin entered and the relationship of love between God and man was destroyed
- God sent priests and kings and prophets to get rebellious man to repent and turn back to God
- But humanity kept rebelling
- So God has no choice to send His one and only Son, Jesus Christ
- Jesus preached and healed and served and loved and he had the same message as the messengers of God sent before him–you need to repent because the kingdom of God is near
You would think, okay, humans for generations might reject human messengers, but surely they would respond to the Son of God
- A man of such compassion and miraculous power and authoritative teaching, surely they would repent
- Instead of repenting, they nailed him to the cross
- That’s Good Friday
- But thank the Lord that Friday is not the end of the story
- Easter Sunday has come
- Jesus overcame your sin and mine by resurrecting 3 days later
- God did all of this for you
- If you are a parent, can you think of something more painful than losing your child?
- God loves you THIS much to send His one Son to die on a cross
- Christianity is not blind optimism
- Christians are witnesses
- You can’t see you are a witness unless you saw or heard something
- Like a witness at an accident
- Likewise, for a Christian, we are witnesses of something supernatural
- We have seen things and heard things
Thomas refused to believe in Jesus until he became a literal witness of his scars
- Thomas wasn’t there during Jesus’ initial post-resurrection appearance
- The disciples told Thomas, man, you missed it! Jesus showed up!
- But Thomas refused to believe – If I don’t see the nail marks and I don’t touch his hands and side, I won’t believe
- So Jesus appeared a second time to the disciples in John 20 and this time, his focus was Thomas
- Thomas gets his wish–he gets to put his finger in the hole in his hands and he gets to touch his side
- Thomas finally believes, he says, My Lord and my God!
Jesus responds in John 20:29
- Who is Jesus talking about here?
- He’s talking about you and me
- He says, you and I are blessed because we believe even though we did not see
- We are blessed because of our faith
- We were not there in that room with the other disciples in 33AD when Jesus first appeared
- In that sense, we have not seen Jesus physically
- But that does not mean that we are not witnesses
There’s that adage, Seeing is believing
- Many things we believe that we cannot see
- Gravity, Wind, Love
- You see the effects
Listening to David and Jimmy’s testimonies
- They were witnesses of God speaking through His Word
- Through conversations with people
- Answered prayer
- God even intervening into Google’s search algorithm and displaying results which were not there a day earlier
I, too, am a witness
- I have heard the voice of God, not audibly but there were times when I heard the Word so clearly, it felt like there was a spotlight on me and I was the only one in the room
- That’s the work of the Spirit
- After certain messages when I was a young baby Christian, I remember literally being unable to move, in a puddle of tears, cleaning up after me
- Such a strong sense of the Holy Spirit convicting me of sin
- That’s the work of the Spirit
- I remember the call of God to become a pastor in 1996 as I prayed about my future upon graduation
- I believe that was from God
- I remember some incredible answers to prayer, medical miracles, amazing provisions
- I remember witnessing the miracle of salvation, people you never thought would come to faith in Christ, like a Tokyo University japanese grad student who never even heard the name of Jesus before he met me
- I remember God’s intervention through doctor’s who diagnosed Jeremiah’s kawasaki and he got discharged from the hospital on the very first weekend we met as a church in Pasadena
- I’ve been witnesses of God throughout the years
- And I know there is so much more of God to experience so that I can be a better witness
- You’ve heard the Word of God preached
- Some of you will hear this word and say, Amen, I am a witness
- Some of you will hear the same word and say, what’s the big deal? What’s for dinner?
- What’s the difference? The Holy Spirit
- Maybe today the Holy Spirit will come from on high and will descend upon you for the first time
- Maybe He will open your eyes to the truth and beauty of Jesus
- Maybe He will convict you of your sin and your need for a Savior
- Maybe the Spirit will come like a wind and you can’t explain it
- You don’t know where it came from or where it’s going
- You just see the effects
- Effects: your heart melting, God touching you, it’s like a fire has descended into the core of your being, he is forgiving you, you’re terrified yet there is a peace
- This is the supernatural, saving work of the Holy Spirit
Every day, for the Christian, we must be in a posture of waiting for this power from on high
- So that we can have real testimonies that God is real
- He answers my prayers
- He’s healed me
- He’s delivered me from addictions
- He’s changed my life
- And He can do the same for you
Main text: Matt 28:1-10
Happy Easter! He is risen. Did you know that every Sunday is a resurrection Sunday? When we gather for Sunday worship each and every week, we are gathering to celebrate His resurrection. Worship has to be the dominant flavor of our Sunday gathering. Because God so loved us, He loved us in this way, by sending His very own Son to die on a cross for our sins and to raise him 3 days later so that those who repent and believe in Jesus can have personal victory over sin and death in this life and in the life to come.
On this particular Easter Sunday, I am happy for 3 reasons, not including the obvious reason that Christ is alive. One reason I am happy today is because we get to hear the salvation testimonies of 3 brothers and sisters, 2 of whom will be baptized toward the end of service. I’d like to welcome family members and friends who came to witness this special day in the lives of 3 freshmen at Caltech: Jessica Lam, Lisa Beckman, and Cody Han.
The second reason I am happy today is related. Due to the sharing of the testimonies and the baptisms, I have given myself permission to preach a shorter sermon. Some of you are happy to hear that. I bet my kids are happy. I don’t know why the rest of you look so happy. Isaac, why are you so happy? It’s okay, even if all others don’t want to hear me preach, I’m happy in Jesus.
Third reason I’m happy: we are wrapping up the book of Matthew today. For every book I finish preaching through, I feel like throwing a party. 15-20 pages per sermon per week. I did some math. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s the Caltech influence. Preaching through a book like Matthew with 28 chapters is like writing 900-1000 pages. It’s like publishing 3 novels. When we finish a book of the Bible, I feel like someone should throw me a party or give me a bonus or at least treat me to some coffee. I covered 3 books of the Bible in 2.5 years. Only 63 books to go. At this rate, I don’t think we are going to make it through the entire Bible. Either Jesus returns soon and praise the Lord, my preaching ends. In heaven, I think the preaching is going to be pretty fantastic. Or if he doesn’t return soon, I’m 38, 63 books to go, by the time I finish preaching the Bible, Lord willing, I would be around 101 years old. Considering how I eat, that’s not going to happen.
Testimonies are great to hear precisely because an actual person is speaking about their own lives. It’s not some character in a story who lived thousands of years ago, but it’s a real living person in the year 2013. It’s not words on a paper. It’s flesh and blood and tears and struggle and light piercing through darkness. It’s individuals like the 3 we heard today acknowledging that the gospel is not merely an event in history, but it is a personal event. Jesus died and rose, not for the world in an abstract sense, but he died and rose for me. He loves me.
This is what I want to talk about today. What does it mean to have a personal faith in God? Isn’t that why you are here? You could be watching the game or running your errands, but you decided to come to a church service because you want to know that the God in heaven loves me, loves you. And so, you and I want to know how to make faith personal. More specifically, in light of Easter, what does it mean to have resurrection faith?
We start with the tomb where the body of Jesus lay. In Matt 27 at the end of the chapter, Joseph, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who is probably Mary the mother of James, not James one of the 12 who penned the book of James but another lesser known disciple, they went to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body so that they can provide a proper burial. The preparations for the burial are made and Jesus’ body is laid in a tomb and a great stone is rolled against the entrance.
Then, the chief priests and the Pharisees go to Pilate and they recalled what Jesus had preached while he were still alive, that he claimed that he would die and then after 3 days, he would rise again. As they were discussing, someone proposed a crazy idea. What if the disciples stole the body and claimed that Jesus had risen? His followers would go nuts. There was already quite a bit of unrest between the Jews and the Romans and this kind of deception would push the Jews over the edge so that they would rebel and revolt against Rome. To avoid this possibility, as far fetched as stealing the body and faking his resurrection might sound, they decided to send a Roman soldier to guard the entrance of the tomb to make sure that no one stole the body.
Of course, since that first Easter on down through the centuries, for the past 2000+ years, Christians have been saying the same thing–Jesus is alive. All that the Romans needed to do to end the Christian movement was to point to Jesus’ dead body. But they couldn’t. I suppose it is possible that the early Christians could have stolen the body. And I suppose it is conceivable that they could have claimed that Jesus had risen while knowing full well that he was still a dead corpse.
What doesn’t fit, though, is the historical fact that the Romans harshly tortured and killed these Christians for decades to silence them from voicing their claims that Jesus was the risen Messiah. But they couldn’t be silenced. It doesn’t make logical sense to me that the disciples stole the body and claimed he was alive and then suffer death in order to maintain their deception. It doesn’t make logical sense to me. Because they would have died essentially for a lie.
In Matt 28:11-15, the chief priests and the elders, knowing that the body was missing, had to bribe the soldiers who had been guarding the tomb to say, his disciples came during the night and stole the body while they were sleeping. The simplest thing would have been to produce the body. That would have put an end to Christianity. All we know is that no one has ever found the body, and to this very day, in the 21st century, Christians are still dying because of their refusal to recant their faith in the face of their persecutors. This is the background for the very first Easter.
Matt 28:1 notes that on Easter morning, which is Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Again, this is probably Mary the mother of James, went to view the tomb. One beef I have with the Lord is, why does it seem like every godly woman in the New Testament is named Mary? Couldn’t He have given them different names so that we can keep these women straight. Anyway, in Mark’s gospel, 3 people are listed among those who went to view the tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. In Luke’s gospel, those who went to view the tomb include: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and some other nameless women. In John’s gospel, only Mary Magdalene is mentioned in terms of who went to view the tomb.
Where were all the men? This is not the main point. Allow me to go on a brief digression. Why were the women there? It’s because they loved Jesus. Women, in general, have a greater capacity to love than men. I’ll admit it. Ask my kids who they want to have sleep next to them at night and all 3 would say, mommy. If they want to have fun, who do they prefer? Daddy. I’m more fun. Jackie is more loving.
Have you noticed that at critical times when men are really needed, men disappear? Peter, he’s a man’s man. Right before Jesus was arrested, Peter said to Jesus, I will die for you. Guys love to make lofty commitments. Hey man, we are homies for life. I’ll take a bullet for you. I’d catch a grenade for ya. Throw my hand on the blade for ya. We make these kinds of lofty commitments. Where was Peter? He was hiding. Like the rest of the men.
Men get most of the credit in Scripture, but women are like the glue that hold things together. Who keeps families together? Who is the glue? Isn’t it usually the mom? Men with machismo say, I’d jump in front of a train for ya, but don’t wake me up at 3am when you’re sick. Or, don’t expect me to remember your bday. Give me the big thing, not these small mundane things. Coming out to view the deceased was just a mundane act. Something you would do for anybody you loved. Love brought these women out to view the tomb.
Brothers, it’s time to man up. Be a man, be a man of God. Step up and be a leader. Don’t just pound your chest and say, Lord, I surrender everything, but I got this test so I’m a bit tied up right now, I got some bills I got to take care of first, I got a paper cut you know, after it heals, I’m ready to die for you. Be a man. Step up. Don’t make excuses.
Men, also, learn to cherish and appreciate the women God brings into your life. Without the sisters, honestly, most churches would fall apart. Most families would fall apart. I heard one theologian liken men as consonants and women as vowels. In our alphabet, God gave us 5 vowels and 21 consonants. When you are speaking a language, you need both. You hear the consonants more. They stand out. But without the more silent, more hidden vowels, no speech is possible.
If you use the analogy of music, God has given only a few people the solo parts, the main melody. The vast majority of us are given the harmony. The melody is the dominant sound you hear and take notice of, but without each player doing their part, beautiful music where the melody and harmony blend together seamlessly would never be achieved. If everyone tried to play a solo part in an orchestra, you would have noise. We need to each play our part.
In this case, brothers, I urge you to grow up. Don’t remain as boys. Be men. Also, appreciate the women in your life. Learn from them, be more like them. In other words, be loving. It is no accident that only women showed up at the tomb. Only love for Jesus will get you through when things in your life get tough. Without love, you and I will give up when trials and testing come. Let all of us, brothers and sisters, grow in our love for Jesus.
Getting back to the main question that we want to answer today–What does it mean to have a personal faith in God? What does it mean to have a resurrection faith? I think the answer lies in Matt 28:6.
I’ve read this chapter dozens if not hundreds of times, but v6 stuck out to me this time around. He is not here! For He has been resurrected, JUST AS HE SAID. In one sense, these women shouldn’t be surprised. This is not a new revelation. Jesus preached about his death and resurrection quite a bit, to the point that even the Jewish religious leaders who wanted Jesus dead caught that point. Which is why they had Pilate send soldiers to guard the tomb in case the disciples got any funny idea to steal the body. Jesus being resurrected was nothing new. They must have heard dozens of sermons about his imminent death and resurrection, they probably sat through hundreds of pages of sermons on these related topics, but for these women, it was as if they were hearing these words for the first time.
Isn’t this how faith in God works? You sit in a church service for 10-20 years and you sit through hundreds of sermons. You’ve heard the gospel perhaps thousands of times. Then, one day, out of the blue, faith in God is kindled and it’s like you are the only person in the room, the heavenly spotlight is one you and you hear the voice of God for the first time.
In John 3, when Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a religious leader, about his need to be born again, he describes salvation using an analogy of the wind. The wind blows where it pleases. You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. You just hear its sound. You hear a whoosh, a whisper and then instantly God saves you on the spot. Everyone born of the Spirit is born like this.
The whoosh of the wind is the sound of the Spirit. And when the Spirit comes, he takes a verse, a passage, a truth–and our eyes and ears are opened and our hearts are stirred, moved, convicted. Something like the resurrection, you’ve heard it so many times before and were unfazed, but suddenly, the wind blows and you are brought to your knees by the blowing of the Spirit. The words that you read over and over again, suddenly, it’s like the words leap off the page and you don’t know how or why but you find tears streaming down your face. The wind blows and you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. You just see the rustling of leaves and the sound the leaves make as it flutters in the wind. When that happens, not just the first time, but every time it happens, faith is born or faith is reborn. You have resurrection faith.
Some of you came to this service and you’ve had a tough year or a tough few years or a tough life. And so the Bible is just words on a page. Your faith is locked away in a tomb behind a large stone heart. If this is you, don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. When you least expect it, the wind may blow and you may be saved for the first time or for the nth time.
Every day is a new day. My testimony from last year to this year is that God can revive a dead heart. Last year, a part of me died. I was faithful. I was obedient. I did what I could to serve others. But my faith lie behind a cold, stone heart. By the grace of God, however, in recent months, God has rolled away the stone. How do I know this? I can just be walking down the street and a thought comes to mind or a verse pops up and I am moved to tears. There were hardly any tears last year, but thanks be to God, my eyes this year are no longer dry. God is good. He loves me. He loves you. He died on a cross for you. And he lives to tell you today that He’d do it all over again even if you were the only person on earth.
I want to end with verse Matt 28:16-17.
Upon the instructions given by the women who first witnessed the risen Lord in an empty tomb, the 11 disciples went to Galilee. And perhaps more shocking than the resurrection was the fact that DESPITE witnessing the resurrection firsthand, they worshiped, BUT some doubted.
They saw the risen Christ with their own eyes and some fell on their knees in worship. And some maybe bowed reluctantly because everyone around them were bowing. But in their heart of hearts, they doubted. Their faith was still dead. We all fluctuate between worship and doubt. One moment, the Spirit blows and we raise our hands in worship and we are ready to surrender all. Then, we wake up Monday morning and the wind isn’t blowing. There is no whoosh of the wind, no sound of the Spirit. The sound of the alarm is going off instead. And doubt creeps in.
If this is you, find some people who know how to worship and stick by them. For me, it is no accident that we have moved into a building which we share with Friendship Baptist Church. Because if you attended the FBC service this morning, those brothers and sisters know how to worship. Spend time with true worshipers. People who are filled with the Spirit. And let’s believe that the wind will blow and our hearts of stone will be rolled away and resurrection faith shall be birthed in our hearts. Just as he said–let’s pray that the words of God would come alive in fresh ways as if we were hearing it for the first time, just as he said.