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St John Lutheran Adult Instruction
Rev. Dr. James Wright
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
April 19th, 2009
St. John Lutheran Church, Champaign, IL

Texts: Acts 3:11-21 -- 1 John 3:1-7 -- Luke 24:36-48

"Eyewitnesses and Resurrection Truth"

Do you believe everything you read in the papers? I remember back in 1981 when white house press secretary James Brady was shot. I remember a news anchor on TV, it might have been Frank Reynolds, who reported that the president was dead. Then someone told him he was alive. Reynolds was angry he had been told a false story. Reagan was alive.

Many are skeptical about the resurrection of Jesus. From the simple to the very learned, they dismiss the resurrection as a mere story, something that was made up by followers of a new religion whose faith was shattered by the death of their leader.

I don’t enjoy watching those holy week documentaries on cable TV because they are always so bias against the possibility of the Bible being true. They try to explain things as if it could happen naturally. “Jesus wasn’t dead, he was in a coma for 36 hours. He revived, and lived, only to die years later of natural causes.” How many people who know very little about the Bible lose what little faith they have because of these programs? It's distressing to consider.

The point of the whole Bible is that things happen that we can’t explain through science. We are not allowed outside the boundaries of biology, chemistry, and physics. But the creator of these laws can do anything He wants. The accounts of miracles in the Bible are just that, supernatural miracles, where the laws governing our existence are suspended and something different happens. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the greatest of these miracles.

But even today’s disciples have their doubts. Every day people who were once believers in Jesus’ divinity fall away from saving faith. So it’s good to review why we continue to believe.

We have before us eyewitness account. Matthew and John were there. Mark and Luke did their research and talked to eyewitnesses such as Simon Peter who was there. All four record how Jesus was dead, stone cold, and then they saw him alive, spoke with him, ate meals with him, even touched him, after his death and resurrection.

Jesus met with the disciples the very day of Resurrection. His first words, “peace” Shalom.

Not only words. Showed his wounds. The only proof they needed. They rejoiced. They believed.

He breathed on them. Emfusato is the Greek word. Sounds like emphysema? Just the opposite. Instead of being unable to catch breath, they give life to others with their breath. Their words. When they told about what they saw.

He gave them authority to forgive sins. That is how Jesus breathes life into us today. You hear it in church from the pastor, and you are commanded to preach it to those who sin against you, or who wonder if God will forgive them. What a commission we have been given. To bring life to dying people.

Believing the truth has benefits. Gives life. Through forgiveness of sins. “Whosoever believes might not perish but have eternal life.”

But the rejection of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection because it isn’t scientifically possible limits your ability to come in contact with the God who made you and offers you His presence today.

Christianity is not a mystery religion. We don’t ask you to follow a God who lives totally in mystery. You can go to many of the places where Jesus did. You can see the city of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth. You can see the steps to the Temple that Jesus’ feet touched. The Jordan River where he was baptized. It’s all there. It’s not a long time ago in a land far away . . .kind of story.

The writers gave us historical data. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” The Romans did this often. The Creed confesses Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. An inscription discovered in Palestine establishes the fact that there was such a man ruling during the time the Bible States.

The Roman Historian Josephus, in explaining the history of the Jews at the end of the first century, confirms that there was a man named Jesus, who some claimed had risen from the dead. Josephus himself is not a believer, but he states that there are many who believe Jesus rose. The idea of Jesus rising from the dead was not something made up centuries later as some scholars claim. By 90 AD Josephus, an unbiased observer, is reporting it as a widespread belief in Palestine.

In 64 AD the city of Rome burned. The fires raged for 9 days. Emperor Nero blamed it on Christians. Just 30 years after Jesus, there were enough Christians in faraway Rome so that even the emperor noticed.

Now it is possible that archeological discoveries might someday be unearthed that would further verify the Bible’s authenticity, and I believe they will, but God does not want people to believe in the resurrection because it’s been proven historically. You can’t go back in a time machine and see it. After all, there are people who doubt the Holocaust and the moon landing, and there is plenty of proof for these events.

We believe because we have been touched by the Holy Spirit and been given the gift of faith. Christianity is a historical religion, but it still requires faith.

What can we do for those who refuse to believe? For those sons and daughters who have left the faith and changed their mind about the authenticity of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead? We can look to Thomas the disciple. He was once a believer and disciple of Jesus, but when he saw Jesus die, he lost his faith.

How many of us know someone like that? What will it take to bring them back to Jesus?

For Thomas it took not only an appearance of the resurrected Jesus, but to see the fatal wounds. He confessed, "My Lord, and my God!"

Would that everyone come to such a blessed conclusion. What will it take? We must preach the gospel in every place, and often preach it again to bring back those who have fallen away. When you consider how big the world is, that sounds like an insurmountable task.

God asks us to witness to one person at a time. I'm in awe of some teenagers who call themselves "the Ongoing Ambassadors of Christ" They meet for a weekend once a month and go door to door telling the good news about what the resurrection of Jesus means to them.

Now you might be frightened by doing something like that with total strangers, so why not try it out on your spouse, your kids, or one of your close friends. How about this afternoon you tell someone how the resurrection of Jesus from the dead has changed your life?

I officiated at the funerals of two of my friends this week. I can't imagine how I might try to bring comfort to their loved ones if I could not mention the resurrection of Jesus, and the coming resurrection of all believers. It is too depressing to consider. How can people live without it? How do they face a single day thinking this is all there is?

A.N. Wilson, an English academic who specialized in skeptical books about famous Christians, like C.S. Lewis, has announced that he has started to believe again, and offers an interesting perspective on his “conversion” to atheism.

"The worst thing about being faithless? When I thought I was an atheist I would listen to the music of Bach and realize that his perception of life was deeper, wiser, more rounded than my own. The same when I read the lives of great men and women who were religious."

How blessed we are to have been touched with the faith of Thomas. He saw and believed, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!

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St-John Lutheran Church is located at:
509 S Mattis Ave, Champaign, IL 61821 _217/359-1123

Service Hours:
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St John Lutheran Adult Instruction