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Category Archives: Easter & Good Friday

Is the Resurrection a Myth or a Miracle?

The website Hoaxes.org lists the top April Fool’s Day pranks of all time. They include the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest (1957), the eruption of Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka, Alaska (1974), Taco Bell buying the Liberty Bell (1996), and Burger King introducing the Left-Handed Whopper (1998).

What if the resurrection of Jesus Christ didn’t happen? What if it was just an elaborate April Fool’s Day prank? Is the resurrection really that important to faith? In 1 Corinthians 15:1-19, the apostle Paul asks the question, “What if the resurrection isn’t true? What have we lost?”

The first part of verse 3 tells us we are not dealing with minor or secondary matters.  These are matters of “first importance.” Just as the heart pumps life-giving blood to every part of the body, so the truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of the good news about salvation.

Even if they miss everything else, Paul wants his readers to understand that there are two key facts about Jesus. Jesus died for our sins and he came back to life. The first fact is that Christ died (3). The proof of his death is that he was buried (4). The second fact is that Christ came back to life. He rose (4). The proof of his resurrection is that he appeared (5-8). Notice the connection:  “Christ died (how do I know?) . . . He was buried.” “He was raised (how do I know?) . . . He appeared.”

But suppose for a moment, as the apostle Paul does, that the critics of the resurrection are right. According to verse 12, some false teachers in Corinth taught that Jesus did not really rise from the dead. The resurrection was just a hoax.

If that is true, then what happened to Jesus? Down through the years, four primary theories have been advanced as to what happened.

The first one is the “Swoon theory.”  This theory states that Christ was indeed nailed to the cross. He suffered from shock, loss of blood, and pain, and he swooned away; but he didn’t actually die. In the coolness of the tomb, he revived sufficiently to roll away a two-ton boulder covering the entrance of the tomb and walk out. Not knowing any better, the disciples insisted it was a resurrection from the dead.

Look at the facts. Christ was beaten with a cat-of-nine-tails with 39 heavy strokes. He was nailed to a cross and hung in the sun for 6 hours. A Roman soldier ran a spear through his heart. He was wrapped in yards of graveclothes weighted with pounds of spices. He was placed in an airless tomb for 36 hours.  With no medical attention, he revived, undid the graveclothes, rolled away a stone that three women felt incapable of tackling, and walked miles on wounded feet.

Another prominent theory is that the disciples stole the body on Sunday morning. The religious authorities at the time paid the Roman soldiers to tell this lie. Once again, consider the facts. To steal the body, the disciples would have had to get past a guard of probably 16 heavily armed soldiers. A variation of this theory is that the Roman soldiers fell asleep. However, they would have been executed if they had been caught asleep on duty.

The other possible explanation is that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. It has been claimed that Jesus’ female disciples went to the ‘wrong’ tomb and mistook it for the actual sepulcher in which Jesus had been placed. Even if this were possible, Joseph of Arimathea, who owned the tomb, would have known where it was.

In each of these theories, the authorities could simply have gone to the proper tomb and produced the body of Jesus if it had still been available.

All of these theories break down at some point. But suppose for the sake of argument that one of them was true. Suppose that the resurrection did not happen. Would that be so bad? We would still have Jesus’ ethical example and moral teachings, his miracles and parables, his good deeds, and his model of sacrifice. If the resurrection is false, what have we really lost?

That is the question that Paul asks in verses 13-19. He bases his argument on the logical consequences of the belief the resurrection is false. He pushes the argument to its logical extreme.

Our Faith is Lost (14, 17). If the Christian message does not include a risen Christ, and we have put our confident trust in Him, then we are leaning on something that will ultimately collapse.

 

 

Our Forgiveness is Lost (17). Without a substitute who died in our place, there is no satisfaction for a holy God who demands that sin’s price be paid. If Christ is not risen, forgiveness for sin is an impossibility.

Our Future is Lost (19). If Jesus is not raised from the dead, we only have hope in this life. All the promises of heaven are false. Death should terrify us for there is no hope beyond the grave. If there is nothing beyond today, why bother enduring persecution, suffering, and trials? Why bother trying to live a moral life?

Our Family & Friends who Embraced the Christian Message and then Died are Lost (18). If all of this is a hoax, we still have time to find another way, another hope, another Savior. But our loved ones and friends who have died believing the Christian message about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are hopelessly lost. They do not have a second chance.

Our Integrity is Lost (15). If the apostles, the prophets, and the New Testament writers lied about the heart of the gospel why should they be believed about anything else?

In a court of law, “Exhibit A” of the evidence for the resurrection would be the empty tomb. It was in the interest of both the Roman and Jewish authorities to produce Jesus’ dead body and thus squelch the rumors that he had risen from the tomb. Their failure to do so increases the likelihood that the resurrection actually did take place as described in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 15.

The second evidence of the resurrection was the post-resurrection appearances by Christ (4-8). In a Jewish court of law, the presence of two or three witnesses was mandatory to prove the veracity of an event. By appearing to five hundred believers at one time, Jesus provided overwhelming proof of being alive. In addition, by appealing to the witnesses still alive, Paul was inviting his readers to check his facts if they had doubt about his words.

The third prominent piece of evidence for the resurrection was the changed lives of the early followers of Christ. Following His death, the disciples ran for their lives. But something happened after the resurrection. Peter boldly proclaimed Jesus alive, even on threat of death. Thomas the doubter affirmed the risen Jesus as “my Lord and my God.”  James became a leader of the Jerusalem church. Paul went from persecuting the church to preaching the gospel.

If you honestly consider the evidence, you must conclude that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . . that He was buried . . . and that He was raised the third day according to the Scriptures . . . and that He appeared.

Our faith is not futile, but well-placed. Our forgiveness is not lost, but complete. Our future is not hopeless, but hope-filled. Our family and friends who have died in Christ are safe in the arms of Jesus. Our integrity is not compromised, but maintained.

We can only conclude one thing, He is not dead.  He is risen indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached online to the congregation of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Is the Resurrection a Myth or a Miracle? – 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 – Video Sermon

On Easter Sunday 2020, I shared a message with the congregation of First Central Bible Church that asked two basic questions. One is what happens if the resurrection is not true? The second asks what is the evidence for the resurrection? The video starts with a five-minute countdown followed by an opening song. There is also a song following the message.

 

 

Egg-citing!

We got egged last night!

Thanks–Jack, Simcha, Josh, Abi, & JoJo Gilbert. We appreciate the love and encouragement!

 

Reflections on Isaiah 52:13-53:12

These are the thoughts I shared last night during our Good Friday Reflection Service. Focusing on Isaiah’s portrait of the suffering servant prepared us to partake of communion, or the Lord’s Table. (The Scripture is taken from the New Living Translation.)

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Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 paints a prophetic portrait of the Messiah as the suffering servant. Through five stanzas of three verses each, the prophet describes the inconspicuous, unappreciated servant of the Lord who will suffer and die for the sins of the people.

This is perhaps the best-known section in the Book of Isaiah. It is widely quoted in the New Testament. Most of the passage concerns the suffering and rejection of the Servant, but the main point is that his suffering will lead to exaltation and glory. This passage is at the heart of the gospel message.

Stanza 1: Exaltation – Though unrecognized, the Messiah will be successful (52:13-15)

13 See, my servant will prosper; he will be highly exalted. 14 But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. 15 And he will startle many nations. Kings will stand speechless in his presence. For they will see what they had not been told; they will understand what they had not heard about.

Isaiah directs our attention to the servant of the Lord. He says that the servant will act wisely, doing what the Lord wants him to do. As a result, the servant will be highly exalted.

By human standards, Jesus was not attractive when he was on the earth. During his trial and crucifixion, he became so disfigured that people were repulsed by his appearance. The first thing we notice about the crucified savior is that he looks, well, crucified. Yet, it was his extreme suffering that gave him the power to cleanse us from our sins.

In response, people will be struck dumb. They will stand in silent awe, in slack jawed amazement.

Stanza 2: Rejection – Though unimaginable, the Messiah was rejected (53:1‑3)

Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

So few people will believe the message about the servant. So few will acknowledge the message as having come from God. The responses move beyond simple astonishment to outright rejection.

There is nothing about his appearance that would automatically attract a following. Jesus did not have Hollywood leading-man good looks.

People might say pleasant and complimentary things about Christ. They will praise his ethics and his teaching. They will proclaim him a good man and a prophet. They will say he has the answers to the problems of society. They will not, however, acknowledge that they are sinners and deserve punishment, and that Christ’s death satisfied the justice of God and reconciled us to God. Today, the servant is despised and rejected, and we do not value him at all.

Stanza 3: Redemption – Though we deserved the punishment, the Messiah took it on himself (53:4-6)

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

The servant is characterized by griefs and sorrows, but not his own. God was not punishing him. Instead, he was bearing the consequences of our sin.

The essence of sin is going your own way, rather than God’s way. The tendency of sheep is to follow others, even to their own destruction. As human beings, we are no better than sheep.

We are no longer without a shepherd, for the shepherd has given his life for the sheep, namely, you and me.

Stanza 4: Rejection – Though innocent, the Messiah silently submitted to suffering (53:7-9)

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.

Sheep are submissive when being sheared or slaughtered. That is the picture of Jesus as he quietly submitted to his death because he knew it would benefit those who would believe. Though oppressed and afflicted, he went along without a sound. His death was not a capitulation to weakness but an exercise in deliberate control. He was not overpowered. He chose not to fight back.

If his life ended with the grave, his heroism would have been admirable but futile. The empty tomb proved that there was more to his death than anyone realized.

Stanza 5: Exaltation – Though the Messiah’s death appeared a tragedy, it was part of God’s plan and would result in victory (53:10-12)

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. 12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

The suffering and death of the servant was clearly God’s will. None of this was accidental, it was all intended. His suffering was a guilt offering, but not for his own sins, but for those of the people. Still, God made him prosper.

His suffering led to life. Because his substitutionary work was completed, he now can justify those who believe. He bore our punishment so we would not have to die. Because of his sacrifice, he can now make many righteous.

While Isaiah does not identify the servant in his prophecy, we who know Jesus as savior know that all of these prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus took our sins on himself and made full atonement for them. While we were yet sinners, he died for us. He himself knew no sin, but suffered, the just for the unjust, that we, sinners, might become righteous before God.

 

Is the Resurrection that important?

What happens if the resurrection of Jesus was just a myth? What have we lost? That is the question we will consider Sunday morning during First Central online. Just us on Facebook Live at 10:30AM. Here’s a video preview.

 

Is the Resurrection too good to be True?

There are some things that sound too good to be true. Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. Fat free food that tastes good. Guilt free chocolate. Healthy fast food. Sasquatch. All of these things fall into that category. Some people, including some of Jesus’ disciples, would place the resurrection of Jesus Christ into the too-good-to-be-true category. They have a hard time believing it actually took place.

In Luke 24:36-53, Jesus presented his disciples with three types of evidence to convince them that he actually rose from the dead. Rather than continue in our skepticism and disbelief, we need to consider the evidence closely. There is more than enough evidence to believe—physical evidence, biblical evidence, and personal evidence. When we believe the evidence for the resurrection, our lives will be transformed.

Physical Evidence: Jesus Christ had a physical body (36-43). The disciples were meeting in the upper room trying to process the stories they were hearing that Jesus had risen from the dead. Suddenly, he appeared in their midst. Needless to say, they were stunned and shocked. Jesus asked them two questions—Why are you troubled? and Why are you doubting? He stretched out his hands and offered them as evidence that he was not a ghost. Like a sports fan marveling at a last second winning goal, home run, or three-point shot, they disbelieved with joy. If they still weren’t convinced, Jesus asked for some food and ate some broiled fish. Add up the evidence and you conclude that Jesus Christ had a physical body that could be seen and touched.

Biblical Evidence: Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture (44-46). Jesus took them on a journey through the three major sections of the Old Testament—the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms or Writings—and demonstrated that he is the central focus of Scripture.

 

Messiah would Suffer

Messiah would Rise from the dead

Law

Exodus 12

Exodus 3:6

Prophets

Isaiah 53

Hosea 6:2

Psalms

Psalm 22

Psalm 16:8-11

Add up the evidence and you conclude that Jesus Christ is the focus and fulfillment of Scripture.

Personal Evidence: The disciples were transformed (47-53). Jesus gave his disciples a mission to accomplish. They were to tell of what they had seen. Rather than being a change in direction, this too was spoken of in the Old Testament.

Mission

Law

Genesis 12:2, 3

Prophets

Isaiah 49:6

Quoted in Acts 13

Psalms

Psalm 22:27, 28

Before setting off on their mission, they were to wait for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. As the book of Acts testifies, the disciples were transformed and were never the same again. They went from cowardice to confidence, from fearful to boldness, from hiding to public, from worry to worship. Add up the evidence and you conclude that the disciples were transformed by the truth of the resurrection.

How should we respond to this account? Let me encourage you to examine the evidence. Ask God to answer your questions. Believe the message. Receive the gift of forgiveness. Let God transform your life.

When we believe the evidence for the resurrection, our lives will be transformed.

The Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 21, 2019. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Chicopee Easter Egg Hunt 2019

The Chicopee Parks & Recreation Department sponsors a community Easter Egg Hunt the day before Easter. It is normally held at Szot Park, but due to a rainy, soggy day, this year’s event was held in the DuPont Middle School Gymnasium. First Central Bible Church sponsors a refreshment table at the event. We give out water, coffee, muffins, and bags with a coffee mug and literature about the church. It provides us with an opportunity to bless the community and connect with our neighbors on their turf rather than always waiting for them to come to us.

 

 

Before & After the Cross

After reading Romans 5:6-11, I constructed a chart that paints a before & after picture with the death of Christ being a hinge.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Before

 

 

Christ died for us

(6, 8, 10)

After

Weak, powerless (6)

 

Ungodly (6)

Justified (9)

Sinners (8)

Saved (9)

Enemies (10)

Reconciled (10)

 

Rejoicing (11)

This is part of the devotional I shared during our Good Friday service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 19, 2019.

 

Preview of Good Friday & Easter services

 

After the Confetti Settles

Each one of us experiences many turning points in our lives. They are events which paint a distinct before and after picture. Before the event our lives were headed one direction. After the event, we headed off in an entirely different direction. Before we thought one thing; afterwards we had an entirely different perspective.

Sometimes the turning points are joyous occasions. Graduations, weddings, the birth of a child are events that drastically change a person’s life. Sometimes the events are traumatic such as an accident or doctor’s appointment where we are told we have cancer. Sometimes our life changes because of someone else’s action or decision. Whether the turning point is good, bad, or indifferent, life is never the same again.

The day Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is one such event. Matthew 21:1-11 records his triumphal entry. On this occasion, Jesus presented his credentials as the Messiah/King, the Son of David. The crowds shouted his praise. But what happened after the confetti settled and the parade was over? How was life different for the disciples or the people of Jerusalem? In the same way, how is life different for a Christ follower after Jesus enters his or her life?

Matthew 21:12-22 gives us an answer to that question. (Mark 11:11-12 adds the perspective that these events take place the day after Palm Sunday.) These events help us understand that life is never the same after King Jesus arrives. Jesus will challenge our priorities (12-13), heal our hurts (14), confront our biases (15-16), and expect fruit in our lives (18-22).

The day after Jesus entered Jerusalem, he makes his way to the temple. There he observes how the temple complex had been turned into a place of commerce. There were pens of sheep and livestock available for purchase to use as sacrifices. If you could not afford those, you could buy pigeons or doves. Before making any purchase, you had to exchange your regional coins for temple money.

Jesus begins to drive the merchants and money changers out of the temple (12-13). He declares that the temple was to be a place of prayer, not a safe house for bandits. In his actions, Jesus challenged the priorities of the prevailing culture. Instead of focusing on worship, they were more concerned about busyness. By driving the merchants out, Jesus removed the weapons of mass distraction. He called for people to refocus their attention on the purpose of the temple—a place where people of every nationality could come to pray.

In verse 14, Jesus healed those who were blind and lame. Because of their physical disability, they were not welcome in the temple. They could not worship their creator. Beyond the physical healing, Jesus removed the barriers that kept these folks from entering the temple to worship.

After showing mercy to hurting people, Jesus confronted the bias of the religious leaders who were outraged that people were not worshipping in the proper manner (15-16). Ironically, they put up with the noise of commerce but cringed at the noise of praise. As he often did, Jesus comforted the afflicted and he afflicted the comfortable.

Outside of the city, Jesus saw a fig tree in full bloom (18-22). Normally, leaves meant the presence of figs. But that was not the case. The tree had the appearance of health and fruitfulness, but it was all a sham. Because of its hypocrisy, Jesus said the tree would never bloom again. Through his actions, Jesus taught his disciples that outward appearances are not enough. He expects to find fruit in our lives. Jesus also used the occasion to teach about prayer and faith. He explained that God can do what is humanly impossible.

These same lessons should be true in our lives as well. When King Jesus comes into our lives, life is never the same again. He will challenge our priorities. He wants us to pursue a relationship with him rather than settle for busyness. He will heal our hurts and remove the barriers that hinder us from approaching him in worship. He will make us uncomfortable as he confronts our biases. And he will expect us to be fruitful in serving him.

Have you given King Jesus permission to cleanse and change your life? If we’re honest, we might have given him permission to cleanse our lives. We want forgiveness and heaven. But change our lives? Many of us want to continue living by our own standards. But that is just not realistic. When King Jesus truly comes into our lives, he changes everything. Life is never the same after King Jesus takes up residence in our lives.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at the First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.