A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, Farmville Baptist Church, Farmville, Va., on April 8, 2012.
“Did the resurrection of Jesus actually happen?” That was the question that I asked myself as a twenty-year old student at Rice University. I had been a baptized Christian since I was twelve. I was a leader of my church youth group. I was appointed as a Baptist Student Union summer missionary, and I even served as President of the BSU on my campus. And yet, there I was having questions and doubts about this central belief of Christianity – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Ironically, it was my religious studies classes at Rice that challenged my Sunday School faith. I took a class called “Jesus in History,” and for the first time in my life, I was exposed to scholars who had doubts about the historicity of the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. As modern historians, these scholars could find no historical proof that a Galilean peasant who was executed by the Roman Empire could have actually been raised from the dead. As an impressionable college student, I took those arguments to heart, and I struggled to figure out what I believed about the resurrection of Jesus.
On that first Easter morning, Jesus’ own disciples also struggled to figure out what they believed about the resurrection. The women who first came to Jesus’ tomb at first didn’t know what to believe; they were bewildered and afraid. They found Jesus’ tombstone rolled away, and when they entered the tomb, they did not find Jesus there, only a young man dressed in a white robe who told them to not be alarmed, that Jesus was not there, but that He had risen! These women were instructed to go tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter this good news; instead, they fled the tomb, and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. When Mary Magdalene finally told the disciples that Jesus was alive, she was rewarded with disbelief. Jesus then appeared to two of his disciples, and when they reported it to the rest, they did not believe them either. Later, Jesus himself appeared to the Eleven as they were eating, and basically said: “Hey guys! Yoo-hoo! I’m back! What does a resurrected Son of God need to do to get some credibility around here?”
Instead of the pageantry and showy excess that we often associate with a typical Easter celebration, on that very first Easter, there was no fanfare, no big productions, and no alleluias on the part of Jesus’ disciples. There was only bewilderment, fear, silence, and a stubborn refusal to believe. So, let’s not be so hard on those people today who are struggling to believe in the resurrection. I finally overcame my doubts when I came to realize that the truth of the resurrection was not going to come through history or science. The resurrection became real for me when I considered the transformation of Jesus’ disciples. Christianity is the only religion in the world in which its disciples proclaimed that its founder was raised from the dead. But if you read the Gospels carefully, you’ll quickly realize that those first disciples were not the sharpest knives in the drawer, not the brightest crayons in the box. Their antennas didn’t pick up all the channels. They were a few a few cards short of a deck, a few fries short of a Happy Meal, and they were one man short of a full dozen. These folks were not smart enough to plan—much less carry out—a conspiracy, or brave enough to propagate a lie about Jesus rising from the dead.
Chuck Colson once talked about how he and his colleagues tried to cover up the Watergate scandal. These smart men lasted only two weeks. After that, everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. In that situation, nobody’s life was at stake, only their reputations and perhaps imprisonment. Colson then said: “But what about the disciples? [These] powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead. Don’t you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned? That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? None did. Men will give their lives for something they believe to be true; they will never give their lives for something they know to be false. The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity. Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally. But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead.”
Something happened to the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection, and that something radically transformed their lives, and they in turn changed the history of the world. The fact that we are here today is a testimony to the power of Jesus’ resurrection to transform powerless peasants into powerful proclaimers of the way. The resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples and said to them: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Because they had seen and experienced the living presence of the risen Christ, the disciples no longer feared death, which meant they were freed to live into Jesus’ mission! Because of the resurrection of Christ, there is not only life after death, but just as importantly, there is life before death! The disciples were commissioned to live transformed lives as evidenced by these signs: they would have the ability to drive out demons; to speak in new tongues, to place hands on sick people, and to pick up snakes or drink deadly poison and still survive. Those were the signs of Christ’s living power that were appropriate for that day and age, even though to us modern people, some of those practices seem a little “out there.”
So let me give you a real-life example of a sign that, to me, is just as miraculous and powerful in proclaiming the reality of the risen Christ. Several weeks ago, I attended a conference in Alexandria, VA, and I heard many amazing stories of how God’s people were launching “Fresh Expressions” of church throughout America and England. Jo Saxton, one of the presenters at the conference, shared that she was part of a dying church in England. That church started a college/young adult discipleship group that took seriously Jesus’ commission. One member said, “Part of proclaiming the good news to all creation means going into the nightclubs where many of our peers are.” And so this group formed a “missional community” that went out every week to the local nightclub, and for several months, they cleaned up the vomit in front of the club and made sure all the girls got home safely. While the drunk partiers were too wasted to notice anything, the doormen from the night club watched this take place every week. Eventually they said to these Christians, “You need to tell me about this God, because my children need this God.” That is one example of a modern-day sign that accompanies those who believe in the resurrection: In Jesus’ name, they will clean up vomit, treat women with respect, and minister to people who would never come to a traditional church service. In the course of seventeen years, this formerly dying church in England launched over two hundred missional communities, and more than seven hundred people came to faith just last year. Jesus Christ is alive today through His people, bringing eternal life to individuals as well as new life to dying churches!
In 1957, Ingmar Bergman made a highly acclaimed movie called The Seventh Seal. The movie was built around the concept of a chess game. The two players were a knight, who just came back from the Crusades, and Death. The movie comes to an end as Death moves his queen into a position and declares “Checkmate”! Game over! Movie over! A young Bobby Fischer, the world chess champion, watched that scene as the movie came to an end, and he declared: “Why did he give up? . . . The King had one more move!”
Likewise, on a gloomy Friday afternoon, on a hill called Calvary, it seemed all was lost: Jesus was executed and his body sealed in a tomb. Death declared: “Checkmate! Game over!” Ahh, but it wasn’t over. The King had one more move. Three days later, God rolled away the stone and raised Jesus up from the dead, and Jesus’ disciples were transformed from a ragtag group of misfits fearful of death into courageous proclaimers of the way of life!
On this Easter morning, the question for us is “Do we believe in Jesus’ resurrection?” Do we believe, not just intellectually, but by our actions? Today, some of you may feel like you’re checkmated, beaten, and defeated. On this Easter morning, do we believe that because of Jesus’ resurrection, victory is ours? Do we believe that sin and death are defeated? I believe that no matter what dire situation we may find ourselves in, we are not at a dead end because the King has one more move!
The enemy may say you’re at the end of your rope…but we proclaim, the King has one more move!
The enemy may say you’re in a dead-end job…but we proclaim, the King has one more move!
The enemy says you’re enslaved by habitual sin…but we proclaim, the King has one more move!
The enemy says you’re beaten down by anxiety…but we proclaim, the King has one more move!
The enemy says you’re defeated by loneliness and loss…but we proclaim, the King has one more move!
The enemy says you’re consumed by anger and bitterness…but we proclaim, the King has one more move!
But it’s not just about us as individuals; it’s also about us as the Church of Jesus Christ. Reports of the demise of the church are premature and greatly exaggerated. The world thinks that the followers of Jesus are irrelevant, impotent, and insignificant.
They say we can’t end poverty…but we proclaim, the King has one more move!
They say we can’t fight injustice…but we proclaim, the King has one more move!
They say we only care about ourselves…but we proclaim with conviction, the King has one more move!
They say we will never reach out to the needy…but we proclaim with care, the King has one more move!
They say we are out of touch and stuck in our ways…but we proclaim with courage, the King has one more move!
They say God is dead so just live for today…but we proclaim loudly with joy, the King has one more move!
People of God, our risen King is on the move! He goes ahead of us to all the broken places in the world to bring salvation and reconciliation. Will we follow Him? Will we be proclaimers of the resurrection way—the way of truth and the way of life . . . not only life after death, but also life before death?
On this Easter Sunday, let us be proclaimers of the way and be living signs that announce to all creation the good news that “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!” Amen.