Enabled by His Resurrection
(March, 2003 POL)
I am fascinated by what appears to be at least a temporary attitude change in the secular media toward the Christian faith.
In recent decades, the week of Christmas and of Easter have been highlighted by cover articles in Newsweek magazine and TIME magazine, built on the latest questions raised by skeptics about the basic claims of the Christian faith.
One year, the attack would be on the divinity of Jesus. Another year, questions would be raised about the very possibility of miracles, such as His resurrection. Another year, questions would be raised about the authority of the Bible. One recent year, extensive coverage was given to those who questioned whether Jesus ever said most of what is attributed to Him by the writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
This year is a quite different year. It appears that, at least temporarily, we’re raising more profound, insightful questions instead of concentrating on popular, attention-getting, novelty critiques of the Christian faith. Our whole attitude toward people and issues has been sobered by what we’ve seen going on in the world around us as we’ve continued to dig through the rubble of the Twin Towers, observed the explosive situation in the Middle East and are heartbroken over the revelations of sexual abuse by some even in the clergy.
The Sunday, March 24, 2002, Los Angeles Times pokes fun at the Oscars in a cartoon by Michael Ramirez. It shows a presenter surrounded by giant Oscar replicas, holding in his hands the Oscar trophy, declaring these words: “And I would like to thank America for finally getting past its adulation of policemen and firefighters and again worshiping those who pretend to be heroes. . . .”
The cover of Newsweek, April 1, 2002, shows a large star of David with these words emblazoned on it: “The Future of Israel – How Will It Survive?”
And TIME magazine, dated April 1, 2002, shows a back-side silhouette of a priest doubled over in shame with these words in bold letters: “Can the Catholic Church Save Itself?”
Instead of cynicism being the spirit of our day, I would suggest that we are living in the malaise of “lament.” We are not certain where our world is going. The institutions we once trusted, we now question. We spend hours upon hours standing in airport security lines, supposed guilty until proven innocent by intimate body and luggage searches. Racial profiling, once considered a most denigrating activity, has now advanced as an acceptable and even necessary manner of self-defense.
I’m not for a moment saying that doubt no longer exists. Where would we be if we could not raise our honest questions? Gullibility is not a virtue! Ascent to faulty myths is nothing positive. What you and I need is truth.
So, on this Easter, I proclaim the Good News that has for two thousand years echoed throughout human history: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!”
Frederick Buechner, in The Magnificent Defeat, makes this statement:
“We can say that the story of the resurrection means simply that the teachings of Jesus are immortal like the plays of Shakespeare or the music of Beethoven and that their wisdom and truth will live on forever.
“Or we can say that the resurrection means that the spirit of Jesus is undying, that he himself lives on among us, the way that Socrates does, for instance, in the good that he left behind him, in the lives of all who follow his great example.
“Or we can say that the language in which the Gospels describe the resurrection of Jesus is the language of poetry and that, as such, it is not to be taken literally but as pointing to a truth more profound than literal.
“But in the case of the resurrection, this simply does not apply because there really is no story about the resurrection in the New Testament. Except in the most fragmentary way, it is not described at all. There is no poetry about it. Instead, it is simply proclaimed as a fact. Christ is risen!”
Let me assure you that in spite of all the beautiful rhetoric, a dead Jesus, buried in some undiscovered Middle-Eastern grave, is of no use to any of us other than as an inspirational speaker and teacher who was either a charlatan who pretended to be God when he knew he wasn’t or a lunatic who thought he was God when he wasn’t. I believe that Jesus was precisely who He said He was – God in human form who came to transform all human history, you and me included. I find it quite difficult to believe that with the great succession of false messiahs who came and went that this One wouldn’t have just disappeared from the scene as did the others unless He was who He claimed to be. During the past two thousand years, hundreds of millions of followers of Jesus have celebrated His resurrection and declared Him to be their Savior and Lord. Today hundreds of millions more are, right now, celebrating His literal resurrection!
So, today, in which we lament so much loss of meaning and so much uncertainty about the future, I declare to you what is the historic faith of the church in its most basic confessional form. It is the words of “The Apostles Creed.” I am now going to state it as my bottom-line affirmation of faith. I invite you to declare it with me, if you truly believe. If you cannot declare it as your confession of faith, I welcome you to consider these basic truths that underline all that we call the Christian faith. I welcome you to commit yourself to Jesus Christ and discover what it is to be enabled by His resurrection.
THE APOSTLES’ CREED
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
“And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
“I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Having placed before us our basic Christian affirmation, let’s look at four of the enabling implications of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf.
First: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ enables you and me to face the reality of our sin. He offers us total forgiveness.
I will be the first to acknowledge that there is not one of us who is all bad. But I have to admit, wouldn’t you, that none of us is all good.
Each of us needs a Savior.
The Prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before, described Jesus in these terms: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (
Jesus followed through, using the same metaphor of sheep and shepherd, stating that the good shepherd cares for his sheep, the good shepherd knows his sheep by name, and the sheep know the voice of the good shepherd. He went on to say:
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep” (
If you ever need to be convinced of the reality of sin and the depravity of the human heart, just visit one of the Holocaust museums. There you will see clear evidence of how twisted and distorted we as human beings can become.
This week I was reading an article in the February 27-March 6, 2002, issue of the Christian Century titled “Perpetrators and Bystanders in Rwanda Never Again? Stephen R. Haynes, the author of that article, catalogued in detail the horrendous circumstances leading up to the ruthless murder of some 800,000 Rwandans by their fellow countrymen in 1994. That’s just a few years ago.
Haynes went on to state that Reinhold Niebuhr reportedly said that the doctrine of original sin is the only doctrine for which Christians have any empirical evidence. If Niebuhr is correct, certainly the most compelling evidence for original sin is to be found in the study of mass murder.
Although you and I would not associate ourselves with such horrendous activities, we, too, are sinners. Watch us closely enough, any one of us, even the best of us, and you will see us doing that which we should never do and leaving undone that which we should have done. If you had the capacity to read our minds, you would find us thinking thoughts that we should never think and harboring attitudes that break the very heart of God.
Because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, you are free to come to Him in an honest, open confession of sin and find His forgiveness. He bore your sins on that cross in order to set you free from sin. He rose from the dead to finalize His victory over sin.
Years later, the Apostle John stated one of the greatest spiritual facts of life you will ever hear. He wrote:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (
As far as I’m concerned, that’s real good news!
Second, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ enables you and me to face the reality of our death. He offers us eternal life.
I am told by psychologists I respect that we have not come to any degree of maturity unless we have come to grips with the inevitably of our own ultimate death.
Death is one sure fact of life, isn’t it?
Yet the fear of dying underlies so much of who we are and how we live.
I’m not suggesting that you and I become morbid people. I don’t suggest that we develop a casual, flippant attitude toward death. Death is serious business. Yet the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ enables you and me to face this underlying fear of death, whether it be our own death or the death of our loved ones, with a knowledge that death is not the end.
The Apostle Paul stated so eloquently those words quoted by Handel: “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (
Lewis Smedes tells how in the first decade of his marriage he and his wife Doris hoped and prayed passionately for a child. They wanted a child more than anything else in the world. Finally, after ten years, Doris became pregnant. They thanked God and drank a toast to hope.
One night, about six months into the pregnancy, something went wrong. Lew called the doctor. The doctor said that Doris was going into labor. He told him to get her in the car and take her to the emergency room right away. He said, “I’ll meet you there. Oh yes, I have one more thing to tell you. I should have told you before. Your baby is going to be seriously malformed.”
“Malformed? Seriously? How serious?”
“Very serious. It’s up to you now to tell Doris on the way to the hospital.”
Lew describes how he told her. But together they decided they were not going to give up hope. No matter what the doctor said, they were not going to give up hope. “So we kept on hoping all through the night.”
At six o’clock in the morning the doctor came in with a somewhat embarrassed grin from ear to ear. He said, “Congratulations! You have a perfect baby boy. Come and see.”
Lew went with him. There he was, yelling his head off. A perfect man-child. “Praise God! we thought.”
“It’s true. Never give up hope. Never ever give up hope.
“But two days later our baby was dead. Hope can break your heart. If you and I and all of us could get together tonight, we could share the times when our high hopes brought us deep pain.”
This week I spoke twice at the First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I was associate pastor in 1965 through 1968. I was amazed at how many people came up to me after the services, people I had known some thirty-seven years ago. What struck me most was how many of those had suffered death of a loved one. One woman at whose wedding I had presided told me of the loss of her child in a car accident. Others, now widows and widowers, grew misty-eyed as they brought me up-to-date on their losses. There were two women, all I could do was simply hug them and look deeply into their eyes. We communicated in wordless dialogue, at a level deeper than words could communicate. One had experienced the murder of her husband. I used to jog with the two of them, meeting them and several others every Monday, Wednesday, Friday morning at six o’clock. The other was a woman who had not only lost her husband to death by natural causes but whose daughter had been brutally murdered.
Eleven years ago this week, Anne, Carla, Janet and I were praying with all of our hearts and doing everything we could to help our daughter Suzanne fight her battle with Hodgkin’s disease. Yet she is dead. She’s been gone for over ten and a half years. No matter how broken our hearts are, nothing can bring her back to us now.
I love the way Philip Yancey writes about death in the context of Christ’s resurrection in the April 3, 1995 issue of Christianity Today Magazine. His article is titled “The Day I’ll Get My Friends Back.” He muses on his own proclivity towards doubt, identifying with the disciple Thomas. He then declares that the one reason he is open to belief is that “. . . at a very deep level, I want the Easter story to be true.”
He then describes our human obsession of keeping our bodies alive until the very last nanosecond and then preserving them with embalming fluids and double-sealed caskets, trying to resist the idea of death having a final say. He talks about loved ones he has lost to death and notes that even in this scientific age the highest-grossing movies are variations on fairy tales such as “Star Wars,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King.” That old instinct, hope, billows up.
Yancey concludes that there are two ways in which to look at human history. One way is to focus on the wars, violence, squalor, pain, and death. From such a point of view, Easter seems like such a fairy-tale exception. He said there is another way to look at the world.
“If I take Easter as the starting point, the one incontrovertible fact about how God treats those God loves, then human history becomes the contradiction and Easter a preview of ultimate reality.
“This, perhaps, explains the change in the disciples’ perspective as they sat in locked rooms discussing the incomprehensible events of Easter Sunday. In one sense, nothing had changed. Rome still occupied Palestine, the religious authorities still conspired against them, death and evil still reigned outside. Gradually, however, the shock of recognition gave way to a long, slow undertow of joy. If God could do that . . . .”
I, too, look for that day when I will get my friends back, especially my daughter Suzanne.
Third: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ enables you and me to face the reality of our suffering. He offers us total empathy.
He has been there where you and I have been.
Isaiah wrote: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted” (
One of the dangers of so much Easter preaching is that we sugarcoat the reality of human suffering. We are so used to the rich sweetness of Easter chocolates, the bright color of Easter eggs, and the sparkling delight in the eyes of the children as they dress up in their Easter best and get excited about the Easter bunny.
The true message of Easter goes so much deeper!
Do not deny the holocaust that we humans have perpetrated on each other. Do not run away from the reality of your own human pain. Remember that on the cross the heart of God is broken for you. And His heart continues to be broken with you in your pain. He empathizes with you.
One of my dear friends, Greg Asimakoupoulos, is doing his best to hold on to this truth. A number of weeks ago the organization for which he had worked so faithfully could no longer meet the payroll and had to let him and a number of other colleagues go. Try to identify with his anguish as he has been looking for a new job and, to this point, hasn’t found one. He finally has written these words of anguish and e-mailed them to me and some of his other friends. He has given me permission to quote them. They’re titled “A Modern-day Job.”
When you lose your job,
you feel like Job.
It seems you’ve lost it all.
The world looks gray and colorless
and tastes like bitter gall.
You seek the Lord,
but he won’t speak.
You lose your will to pray.
And when your “good” friends
try to help,
you wish they’d go away.
you doubt your worth.
You try in vain to hope.
You feel alone.
You feel afraid
without the means to cope.
It’s so unfair
to be let go.
You gave your heart and soul.
While others loafed,
to reach your boss’ goal.
Your sleep declines.
Your bills add up.
Resentment stays the same.
You don’t know what
or who to call.
You don’t know where to aim.
No business card.
No payroll check.
You have no place to go.
Without a job
in our culture,
you are a big “zero”.
And still I know
deep in my heart
that God thinks I’m a “10”.
My worth to Him
does not consist
in what I do (or when).
He’s gifted me
and knows my skills
but loves me as I am.
And so, from Job,
I’ll take my cues
and trust God’s unseen plan.
Nicholas Wolterstorff has written the following in the midst of his suffering and pain at the alpine-mountain-climbing death of his adult son in his book titled Lament for a Son.
“‘Put your hand into my wounds,’ said the risen Jesus to Thomas, ‘and you will know who I am.’ The wounds of Christ are his identity. They tell us who he is. He did not lose them. They went down into the grave with him and they came up with him – visible, tangible, palpable. Rising did not remove them. He who broke the bonds of death kept his wounds.”
There is an ancient that recounts how the devil tried to get into heaven by pretending to be the risen Christ. The devil, being the master of disguises, took with him a contingent of demons made up as angels of light and shouted at the gates of heaven, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; be lift up ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”
The angels looked down on what they thought was their king returning in triumph from the dead. They shouted back the refrain from the Psalm, “Who is this King of glory?”
Then the devil made a fatal mistake. In every particular, save one, he was just like Christ. When the angels in heaven thundered, “Who is this King of glory?” the devil opened his arms and said, “I am!”
In that act of arrogance, he showed the angels his outstretched palms. There were no wound marks from the nails. With that, the angels saw through his fakery and refused to let the imposter in.
Don’t ever forget those nail-pierced hands. He has been there. He knows what it is to suffer. This God you love and worship is not remote from our human condition. His hands bear the scars as a sign of suffering that equals and exceeds the most you and I will ever bear.
Fourth: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ enables you and me to face the reality of our loneliness. He offers us total friendship.
Ray Stedman used to talk about the fact that there are more people living today in the despair and darkness of dark Saturday ” . . . than have ever lived in the drama of Friday or the victory of Easter.” He referred to “Saturday’s children,” people living in a kind of empty ritual dance toward death with a despair that grips their hearts in an increasingly godless world. He talked about hopelessness, meaninglessness, alienation.
I urge you to allow yourself to be transformed by the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ. If you happen to be “Saturday’s child,” you can join a group that we could call “Sunday’s children.” Without the resurrection we are all Saturday’s children. But because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, you and I are privileged to see ourselves as “Sunday’s child.”
What we’re really talking about is reconciliation.
Dr. Robert Seiple, who for ten years was the president of World Vision U.S., tells a most gripping story of an encounter he had back in the late 1980s in Da Nang, Vietnam.
He describes listening to a father tenderly tell the story of his fifteen-year-old boy sitting there beside him. In the last turbulent days of the war, the man’s wife had had a brief affair with another man. She became pregnant. By the time the child was born her remorse was so great that she attempted to kill the child. She nearly succeeded. Leaving the house, she went to a remote place, dug a shallow grave and buried the child alive. But her husband was already looking for her, and he found her bending over the fresh mound of dirt.
Working feverishly, he dug the infant out, but not before the lack of oxygen had rendered the child permanently blind and severely retarded.
The father took the distraught wife and broken-down child home. He gave the boy a name – his own – Tran Dihn Loi. He loved him as his own, and his love for his wife transcended the enormity of her adulterous acts.
Over the years, a rare and wonderful voice developed in this boy. He uses it now to sing Vietnamese love songs. When he sings, one can feel the love and compassion of the adopted father flowing through his young life.
Wouldn’t you agree that you and I need to remember this grave, uncovered in Vietnam, which serves as a symbol of the resurrecting powers of God’s reconciling love?
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!” This can be your song.
“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” This can be your song.
When all our Easter celebration is finished and you and I get back to Monday morning and the realities of the week ahead, we are able to claim that alienation has been removed by God’s reconciling love on our behalf through the resurrected Christ. Even as that young Vietnamese youth can sing so sweetly those love songs, you and I are privileged, as Sunday’s children, to find our loneliness obliterated by the family of God which is ours in Jesus Christ – His church.
In conclusion, let me ask you a question.
Have you ever repented of sin and put your personal trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation? If not, you can, right now, claim the risen Christ’s new beginning and become “born again” unto salvation in Him. I urge you, right now, to invite Jesus Christ into your life.
I had a funeral the week before last for a friend of mine by the name of Neil Evans. Some of you know him. Back in 1969 his wife died. Neil had the responsibility of raising his three children without her help.
As we prepared his memorial service, they brought to me a little booklet of quotations which he had put together and which he cherished. One page, in particular, struck me to the core. I asked permission to take it out, have it photocopied, and to quote it. What Neil had written stood out as singularly significant among all the other inspirational thoughts he had gathered in that booklet, both from the Bible and from other pastors and writers. This is what he wrote. It’s a prayer, based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a prayer that enabled Neil to live and to die and to live again in the presence of Jesus Christ.
“Dear God, I admit that I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me and save me. I ask this in the name of Jesus who died for me. I trust him right now. I believe that the sinless blood of Jesus is a sufficient price to pay for my salvation. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for saving my soul.”
If you’ve never received Jesus Christ, I urge you to pray that prayer.
If you have received Jesus Christ and have wandered away from Him, I urge you to come back home to the Lord you once loved and served. It is time to come home. The loving Father awaits the prodigal son or the self-righteous elder brother. He wants to reconcile you to himself. Pray for His family reunion.
Whatever your circumstances may be, welcome and celebrate the resurrected Christ as your Savior and Lord. May this be a positive and even transformational Easter as you worship the Lord, enabled by His resurrection!