12 April 2020 John 20v1-18
The Easter message that Christ is risen is either the supreme fact of history or else a gigantic hoax. The early church recognised that. On the one hand there was a small group of men and women who turned the world upside down by the miracle that had changed their lives. On the other hand some denounced the whole thing as blasphemy.
If the Easter message is true, if it is the supreme fact of history, then that must have a profound implication for our lives. If it is not true, if Christ is not risen, then the whole of Christianity is a fraud which has been foisted on the world by liars. And as St Paul said ‘if Christ is not raised then our preaching is meaningless and our faith worthless’ 1 Corinthians 15v14
After investigating the evidence for the resurrection, Lord Darling who was former Chief Justice of England said ‘There exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.’
Let us consider the evidence. You are the men and women of the jury. Consider the evidence, then decide for yourself. It is evidence that demands a verdict.
- Jesus was dead. He was truly dead. Someone suggested that Jesus fainted on the cross and revived in the cool of the tomb. But no. Do you remember that when Jesus was on the cross the soldiers thrust a spear into his side, and from the wound came blood and water. That is medically proof that Jesus was truly dead.
- Ah. You say, perhaps someone stole the body. But who would do that? The disciples wouldn’t have done it, they were far too bewildered and upset. Why would the authorities want to do that? If they had stolen the body, why not say so and nip all this preaching of the resurrection in the bud. In seven weeks time the authorities were trying to stop all this preaching about the resurrection, if they had stolen the body, they could have produced it.
- In any event who would have moved the stone that was across the entrance of the tomb? It was a mighty heavy stone. It was designed to close the grave entrance by being rolled down hill, it was not easy to roll back uphill. Who would have done that unseen? Remember the tomb had Roman guards outside. Roman soldiers never ever slept on duty. Who did move the stone? We read in Matthew’s Gospel that there was a violent earthquake, an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled the stone away.
- It is even suggested that the women went to the wrong tomb. But that means the body was still available for inspection at the right tomb.
- We say the tomb was empty. It wasn’t completely empty of course. Jesus was not there, but the grave clothes were still there. They were not unwound or disarranged, just lying there as if the body had simply passed through them. It is important to note that the key fact of the resurrection is not that the grave was empty, but that Jesus had risen from the dead.
- Jesus was seen alive. The risen Jesus appeared to different people at different times. Mary Magdalen saw the risen Jesus, other women saw him too. Two disciples on the Emmaus Road met the risen Jesus and they had a chat. The risen Christ appeared to the disciples when they were locked in the Upper Room. Thomas wasn’t there at the time, and when the disciples told him, he didn’t believe a word of it – until the risen Jesus appeared to him too. The risen Jesus appeared to the disciples beside the lakeside when they were fishing, they had caught nothing but when Jesus told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat they caught lots of fish. We read that the risen Jesus appeared to 500 all at once. You might try to argue that one or two were hallucinating, but not all of them.
- It wasn’t just that these people saw the risen Lord. It was that seeing him dramatically changed them. Peter was afraid, afterwards he was bold. Thomas was doubting, afterwards he was certain. They were disillusioned and despairing when Jesus died on the cross. Having seen the risen Lord they were full of joy, they threw off their natural inhibitions and went round telling everyone. A little band of defeated cowards were transformed into a company that no persecution could silence.
- The early Christians were so certain that Jesus had risen from the dead that they changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, to celebrate the fact. They were totally convinced.
- Consider Pagham Church, one of thousands across the world. Think of the people in our Church. We are a few of the millions of Christians across the world who today celebrate the risen Christ. (We are prevented from gathering together today because of the coronavirus). We would gather because Christ is risen. If he had not risen, I for one would not be wasting my time. Daily, daily, people’s lives are changed when they meet the risen Lord.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is the evidence that demands a verdict. What is your verdict?
Christians believe that the evidence stacks up, overwhelmingly. Christ is risen. Therefore we can celebrate the defeat of evil, we can celebrate sins forgiven, we can celebrate the destruction of death, its’ chains are broken. Jesus is alive in his resurrection power. We can celebrate because of our own personal trust and faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Because:
- The ultimate proof of the resurrection for us lies in our own experience of the risen Christ. Our own experience can supplement the evidence of history. Thank God that the promise of the risen Saviour still stands: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock: If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into Him and eat with him and he with me.’ (Rev 3:20)
That is why Christians can shout ‘Alleluia’, not only at Easter, but at all times.
Easter Sunday is going to be different for us this year. Easter joy may be lacking, we cannot meet together, we cannot celebrate together, we cannot receive the sacrament together, we cannot sing together the glorious Easter hymns ‘Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia’, nor ‘Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son’, etc. BUT the truth still stands – Jesus Christ is risen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Colin Wood ——
Collect for Easter Day:
Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory:
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity. Amen