Two thousand years ago, more or less, there was a group of about a dozen guys who took up with an itinerant preacher, in another part of the world. They were 6,500 miles from here, actually. The guy was a bit of a radical. He had long hair, which wasn’t so uncommon in the day, and worse a robe and sandals. His attire wasn’t so radical, but his message was.
He was Jew and preached among orthodox Jews in their synagogues, where his message was not always well received, and he also preached in open fields, beside rivers and on hillsides and in villages and even on the steps of great cities. He went wherever people would gather to hear him.
He preached about loving one’s neighbor as much as one loves oneself. Now, I can tell you that is hard to do because I am really fond of myself and the pleasures I’ve known and these people in the world around me are just so —well, you know — they are so not me — but that’s what the man said. He preached to women and small children and scorned traditional gender and racial biases.
And he was tough on the religious leaders. Wow, was he ever tough on those birds. Called them a brood of vipers one time, which might have been the nicest thing he said about them. Called them serpent and blind guides and fools and — this is my favorite — “white sepulchers full of dead men’s bones.” He didn’t like them.
He didn’t much care for sin, either, and preached against it. A lot of folks today have misconstrued that young preacher’s words and paint him as all accepting and all tolerant, but there was an edge there. He was full of grace, and slow to condemn, but in every story I have run across about the man, when he forgave someone of a sin, he would say something like, “neither do I condemn thee,” or “your sins are forgiven” and then add “go and sin no more.” Modern preachers tend to like to overlook that “go and sin no more” part. Bad for the bottom line.
He didn’t condemn, you see, but he didn’t condone. In fact, he once promised that “the unrighteous will be condemned to a place of blazing fire and utter darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We sure don’t want to be preaching about that in 2019! That won’t get fannies in the pews or folding money in the offering plates.
But hell — that’s why he was even around in the first place. He was around to teach and preach and offer his love so that people of his generation and those to come could escape that eternal fate. We are talking about Jesus Christ, of course, the Savior of the World. History tells us that the historical Jesus was beaten, flogged and crucified on a cross on a certain Friday, dead and buried and placed in a tomb by sundown.
Christians believe Jesus is the son of God and carried the sins of the whole world into that tomb with him — and even into the depths of hell itself. He had to. It’s like the scene at the end of the Nicholas Cage movie, “National Treasure,” when Cage’s character was sitting on the church steps telling the FBI guy that he really didn’t want to go to jail for stealing the Declaration of Independence. The guy said, “Somebody’s got to go to jail.”
God promised us that the wage of sin is death. Somebody had to die and go to hell for those sins. Jesus did. For yours and mine — not his.
But on Sunday, Christians believe that Jesus had defeated death and that when the stone was rolled away the tomb was empty, allowing all who believe in him to have eternal life. That’s what I believe and I have empirical proof, for you doubters.
What proof? You say — because I know there are skeptics among you.
Go tell a secret to any 12 people you know. A big secret. One with some meat on it. One for which there’d be consequences for keeping. Check back in a few weeks, months or years on the security of your information. No dozen people will keep that secret. I’ll give you an example.
Watergate. Twelve of the most important men in the world were involved and once they were found out they couldn’t keep a lie for a week.
After his arrest and before the resurrection, Jesus’ apostles were scared to death and ready to run. His best friend denied three times he even knew him. Yet, hundreds saw Jesus after the resurrection and even at the threat of death — a threat that was often carried out in the most torturous of ways — none ever recanted. Not one. To a person, they went to their graves proclaiming Christ Crucified and Christ Arose. That’s proof enough for me — on top of my faith, on top of the fact that He walks with me daily. On top of the fact that I’ve experienced his miracles and seen them manifested in my family and despite the fact that he has spoken to me in the stillness of the night and that he tells me what to say whenever I am asked to preach.
Happy Easter. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed.