In the movie “Serenity,” a dying pastor tells his
unbelieving friend, “I don’t care what you believe, just believe!”
That’s a strange thing for a Christian pastor to say! Is the
substance of our faith less important than the strength of our
faith? Not according to the apostle Paul! 15:1-4. This is what we
believe – in a word, the
The Gospel is the announcement that God has acted, as He
promised that He would, to rescue the world from sin and death. We
may boil the Gospel down to three facts, two stark and one thrilling:
Jesus died, Jesus was buried, and Jesus rose again. Christian
faith isn’t faith in some nebulous
notion of God. Still less is it faith in “faith.” Christian faith
has shape and weight – the rough shape of crossed timbers, the weight
of a bloody, beaten man hanging from them. Christian faith has
substance. It’s heavy, like the rock that rolled from the entrance
to Jesus’ tomb. Alexander Campbell defined faith as “belief in
testimony.” We are gathered here today because we believe the
eyewitness testimony of the apostles: “God raised Him up.” 5-8
This is why we believe it.
Like a defense
attorney, Paul calls his witnesses of the risen Jesus. He mentions
Peter, James the brother of Jesus, also an unspecified group of 500
eyewitnesses. At the time Paul wrote, a few of this latter group had
died, but most were still alive. In essence Paul says, “If you don’t
believe me, go and ask them!” Why should we believe them? Perhaps
deluded or lying. In Kingdoms in Conflict, Charles Colson writes,
“In my Watergate experience I saw the inability of men – powerful,
highly motivated professionals – to hold together a conspiracy based
on a lie . . . The actual cover-up lasted less than a month. Yet
Christ’s powerless followers maintained to their grim deaths by
execution that they had in fact seen Jesus Christ raised from the
dead.” Colson quite logically concludes that people don’t give up
their comfort, still less their lives, for what they know to be a
he evidence for Christ’s resurrection is solid, but a
question may remain: So He rose from the dead? So what?
9-11 This is what difference it makes. The resurrection of Jesus
makes grace effective in our lives. What’s “grace”? Grace is
the surprising favor God
shows to those who don’t deserve it. Case in point: Paul, formerly
known as Saul. Here was a man who once believed he had God in his
hip pocket. He actually believed He was doing God a favor by killing
believers in Jesus. But God surprised this “terminator” with His
marvelous grace. In Paul’s own words, “Even though I was once a
blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy
because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). As
Paul writes in our text God’s grace to him “was
not without effect.” Not only did God pardon Paul, he changed his
life. Grace became the rope Paul used to tie the ends of an empire
to the cross. Grace was the springboard from which he dove into
humanity, making a splash we will sing about for a million years.
The Gospel gave Paul a new purpose and a new hope. It will do the same
for us. There are people sitting here whom, to use
Lincoln’s words, “the world will little note nor long remember.”
They’re not celebrities. You won’t find them in “Who’s Who,” but
they’re heroes nonetheless. I look up to them; I depend on them.
They’re humble people, keenly aware of their sins and shortcomings.
Yet they’re just as sensitive to the presence of the risen Jesus in
their lives. They live for Him. His grace has been made them more
effective – more powerful – than they realize.
The cross of Christ is the door to a changed
life. The resurrection of Christ is the key that unlocks that door.
But only faith – informed and substantive – will take us across the
threshold. Contrary to the pastor I mentioned at the
beginning, it matters a great deal to me what you believe. Believe
in the Lord Jesus!
Sermon brief provided by: Gary Robinson, Preaching Minister at Conneautville (PA) Church of Christ.