Topical Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1-20
I have been prepared all week to defend the relevance of Easter theologically. It bothers me that we ask Americans their favorite holiday, and Easter gets 2%. It bothers me that we ask non-Christians why Christians celebrate Easter, and 46% don’t know. And they don’t care.
I was ready to show you why we should care, theologically and biblically; why Easter isn’t just another nice holiday.
Then I realized that would not be the sermon I would need to hear if I were coming to church along with you, if it weren’t my job to preach to you today. What would I want to hear, sitting in the pew beside you today? What do you need me to talk about this morning?
Our text defends and explains the relevance of Easter. Let’s see if these words help us.
The risen Christ gives purpose
The first issue I need to hear about today is stress, burnout. The Northwestern National Life Insurance Company recently did a survey, and discovered that 40% of America’s employees feel either “very” or “extremely” stressed.
I learned recently that there is an American Institute of Stress. What does that say about us? They estimate that between 75% and 90% of our visits to the doctor are caused primarily by stress, with a loss to American industry of $200 to $300 billion annually. We are stressed people.
I need to know that my life matters beyond the day to day struggles and issues we all face, that God can give my life a purpose which makes the daily grind worth it all, that Jesus can use my life to accomplish something beyond myself, something significant. Don’t you?
We’re not the first. Peter gave up after the cross. Jesus had died, and Peter had failed. He had bragged publicly about his courage, then denied three times that he even knew his Lord. The proud fisherman turned out to be a coward. And his life had no more purpose or meaning.
So he went back to what he knew, to fishing. And just there, as Paul says, the risen Christ “appeared to Peter” (v. 5). He forgave him, and restored him. And he called him to “feed his sheep,” to lead his church. He gave his life purpose and significance.
The risen Christ can still do this today. He alone can give purpose and meaning to anyone, no matter our past or even our present. No matter the bad or the good we’ve done. Anyone.
John Grisham’s books have sold more than 40 million copies. He has wealth, fame, and success. But they haven’t been enough. In recent years Jesus has become more real to Grisham than ever before. His salvation, which occurred at the age of eight in a Southern Baptist church in Arkansas, has become more real than ever before. He has donated millions to missions, taught Sunday school, and been part of mission trips sponsored by his church across the world.
In fact, his last book, The Testament, was inspired by a recent church mission trip to Brazil. I read it recently, and recommend it to you. He grapples with faith and life, and presents the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ in a powerful way. And he says that his relationship with Jesus is now “the most important part of my life.”
This morning Jesus reminded me that he is my only purpose. Only he can give my life meaning and significance. Knowing him, and then making him known. Not my work, or schedule, or stress. Knowing the risen Christ personally gives me purpose, meaning, and significance. I needed that.
Do you need “north” on your compass? A reason to be, in the midst of the stress and pressure of life? Only the risen Christ can give you the purpose your heart yearns to find, and only because of Easter. Only because this isn’t another nice holiday. On this Easter morning, why not ask him for the purpose he alone can give?
The risen Christ gives peace
This morning, I need his peace as well. The fighting in Kosovo had us all worried. Where is God when soldiers are captured and civilians are slaughtered? Closer to home, what will the stock market do?
For many of us, fear is much closer to home even that that. Some of you are worried about keeping your marriage together, or your finances; some of you wonder where your children are today, or your parents; some are waiting for the next hospital test or doctor’s visit with great apprehension. Some wonder where you’ll go to college next year; some wonder how you’ll pay for college. We all have fears and worries. We all need peace. We’re not the first.
Consider “doubting Thomas.” After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples, but Thomas was absent. He wouldn’t believe them without proof.
So the next Sunday night after Easter, the risen Christ appeared to “the Twelve” (v. 5). And when Thomas saw him personally, his questions were answered, his doubts disappeared, and peace was his.
Consider the early Christian movement. They are supposed to take the gospel to the entire world, 25 million in the Empire alone, almost none of whom had ever heard of Jesus. How on earth would they do it?
Then on a mountain in Galilee, the risen Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (v. 6). And to them he said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… And I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).
He promised them his help, his presence. And the risen Christ gave them his peace.
We have many questions, many doubts, many fears. Psychologists list over 700 phobias in our society today. Everything from “arachnibutrophobia,” the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth, to “phobophobia,” the fear of fear. What do you fear? What causes you anxiety and worry this morning? Where do you need peace?
There’s only one place, or Person, where you can find it.
A few years ago the American Red Cross was seeking donations to help a group of suffering people in Africa. A box came with a note which said, “We have been converted, and as a result we want to help. We won’t ever need these again. Can you use them for something?” Inside were Ku Klux Klan sheets, which the Red Cross tore into strips and used to bandage the wounds of black people. Because the risen Christ gives peace.
Yesterday morning Jesus reminded me that he is my only peace. When I have doubts and questions, I can draw near to him and he will be my peace. When the future looks bleak and discouraging, he is our peace. The world is still in his hands.
Do you need peace today? Peace for your doubts, your fears? Only the risen Christ can give you the peace your heart longs to find, and only because of Easter. Only because this isn’t another nice holiday. On this Easter morning, why not ask him for the peace he alone can give?
The risen Christ gives power
And this morning, I need power, help, strength. It’s been a long week, and I know what is waiting for me tomorrow. The phone calls I didn’t have time to return, the e-mails, the stacks of papers and journals, the office work to organize, the meetings to attend, the sermons to write. Right now, it looks pretty daunting. I need the power to fulfill his purpose for my life, and to live in his peace. Don’t you need his power, his help, this week?
Again, we’re not the first. James was Jesus’ half-brother, and one of his most vocal critics. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, James was convinced he was insane. Once he even tried to get him to come home with him, to save the family further embarrassment.
But then the risen Christ “appeared to James” (v. 7). And the man was never the same. Everything changed. He became the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, the headquarters of the Christian movement; he wrote the book of James, and he was widely considered the holiest man on earth.
His nickname was “camel knees,” since his knees were so callused from hours on them in prayer. He was given Jesus’ purpose, and peace, and power, to serve his brother who was now his Lord.
Consider another example. Saul of Tarsus hated the followers of Jesus. He was the Slobodan Milosovic of his day, bent on an “ethnic cleansing” of Christians everywhere.
But then, Paul says, “he appeared to me also” (v. 8). And the result? “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect” (vs. 9-10).
And God made this murderer into the greatest apostle, missionary, and theologian the world has ever known. The risen Christ empowered him to fulfill his purpose and to know his peace.
The risen Christ still has the power to change people today. Hyun Hee Kim blew up the Korean Air Lines plane in 1983. In jail she became a Christian, and now tells anyone who will listen how the risen Christ has changed her life.
Manuel Noriega was saved in a Miami prison cell, and has been writing letters back to his former drug cartel partners in Panama, telling them of his salvation and urging them to receive Christ.
Lee Atwater was the most hated man in politics. Before he died of brain cancer, he met the risen Christ personally. He wrote to all his political enemies, asked their forgiveness, and explained the gospel to them.
Yesterday morning, as I tried to rewrite this sermon, I felt tired, even exhausted. As I thought about the week to come, I felt even more so. But then I realized that the risen Christ gives me all the power I need to fulfill his purpose for my life. And he did, and he will.
Are you suffering from a power outage, a need for strength and help? Only the risen Christ can give you the power you long for, and only because of Easter. On this Easter morning, why not ask him?
And one day we’ll have his purpose, and peace, and power forever. Not just for Easter, but for every day. We need him every day. And we can have him, every day.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who lives and believes in me will never die.” Never. If Jesus is in charge of your life, your future is secure. When you close your eyes for the last time here, you open them for the first time there. You step out of the car, into the house. And we are with God forever. A thousand years from now, you’ll be with him, and ten thousand years, and a billion years. But only because of Easter.
What a day that will be, when every day is Easter day.
R. G. Lee was, in my opinion, the most eloquent preacher Southern Baptists have ever known. In 1965 in Fort Worth, he concluded his sermon with these words:”One day as a young child, I asked my mother, ‘What was the happiest day of your life?’ I thought she might say something about the day one of her children was born, or the day my father asked her to marry him, or perhaps her wedding day. For a long moment she sat there and then looked across the room as if she could see for a great distance. And then she spoke.
“‘It was during the war between the North and South. The men were all away. My mother, your grandmother, had to do the work of a man in the fields. She eked out a living for us from the farm. One day a letter came saying that my father, your grandfather, Bennett, had been killed. That letter contained a great many kind words about his bravery and sacrifice. Mother did not cry much that day, but at night we could hear her sob in the dark of our small house.
“‘About four months later, it was summer, we were all sitting on the porch shelling beans. A man came down the road, and mother watched him for a while and then said, ‘Elizabeth, honey, don’t think me strange, but that man coming yonder walks like your father.’ The man kept coming along the road, but we children thought, ‘It couldn’t be him.’ As he came to the break in the fence where the path ran, he turned in. Mother sprang from her chair scattering beans everywhere. She began to run, and she yelled over her shoulders, ‘Children, it’s your father.’ She ran all the way across the field until they met. She kissed him and cried and held him for the longest time. And that, Robert Lee, was the happiest hour I ever knew.'”
Then Dr. Lee concluded, “And that is but a small joy compared with the resurrection morning when we shall see the face of Jesus, when we shall see loved ones long gone.” He was right.
Now, is Easter just another nice holiday? The choice is yours.