A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on April 24, 2011.
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
We thank you, Father, that we have risen this day to the promise of life and we offer praise to you as the God of all life and the God of each of our lives. We thank you for everything around us which ministers your presence to us, for the glory of creation, for the joy of these children in our midst, and for the witness of faithful lives. Now that we know that your son, our Lord, has won his throne by the cross of shame and risen ever to reign in our hearts, we also know that nothing can separate us from your love. Grant us knowledge today that in all conflicts we face that we may conquer if our souls seek you, that in all the dark and hostile challenges we face that each one could be transformed to a blessing if we but love you. Banish from our hearts the fear of the shadow of death. We fill them instead with the hope of glory. O God, all sin, all temptation, all that is dark, all that separates us from you loses its appeal on this Resurrection Day. Grant us the faith and the resolve to abandon every weight, every hindrance, so that we might press forward to know the fullness of your presence. Place your spirit upon us, and with new power, we pray that we would be able to live up to the challenges of the day, that we might seek you first and above all every day. We pray that on this day the hope that reaches to the depth of our being might be a power which inspires our living. May your power which did raise Jesus from the dead and defeat death be real to us always. In His name we pray. Amen.
Paul learned everything he needed to know about resurrection in that one blinding moment: That God has power beyond all human understanding, that life is stronger than death, that none of us can ever say for sure that everything is over for us. If God can raise the dead—and, just as important, if we believe God can raise the dead—then our despair will be temporary and our hope invincible, not because we know how to keep it alive but because God has never forgotten how to breathe life into piles of dust. —Barbara Brown Taylor in God in Pain
I have three un-Easter questions to start an Easter sermon. The first question is, What are you afraid of? We can get rid of all the phobias—agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces), arachnophobia (the fear of spiders), etc. I am talking about the things that really drive your life in a bad way, those unspoken and almost unconscious things that shape the way we react to other people and the way we live our lives. What are you really afraid of?
Are you afraid of failure? Everybody loves a winner, which means that if you lose that tells you where you stand. Are you afraid if you don’t make the grades to get into an Ivy League school your parents won’t love you as much? If you make a B in AP chemistry, you are not going to make the grades, which means you are scared to death of the final in AP chemistry.
You may have a fear of being poor or a fear that you might look poor to other people so you have to keep the image up. Recently, one of the classic movie channels was showing Gone With the Wind. There was the great moment just before intermission when Scarlett had been eating raw radishes out of the ground and she stands up against the sunset and says, “As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again.” Her whole life is lived trying not to be poor. It was her fear.
You may have the fear that people will figure you out. You fear they will be able to look inside your soul one day and figure you out, and that is one of the deepest fears that many of us have. What are you afraid of?
Question No. 2: How do you make moral choices? When you have to decide how to react in a given situation or decide if something is right or wrong, how do you make moral choices? Do you have an image of yourself as a pretty good person? That is a great Southern expression. I try to live in a way that I will keep that image to myself and everybody else. I try to come across as being a pretty good person.
Do you have standards? Do you have a standard that you say, I am going to live by this? I am going to live by the Golden Rule. I am going to live by the Ten Commandments. I am going to live by the law of the land or the honor code of the school.
Do you live by whatever helps you get by? If something is expedient or if something helps you reach your desires, then that is how you make your moral decisions. Do you remember the example of fear about not measuring up in some way? A lot of us would say cheating is bad but making a B in AP chemistry and not making the grades to get into an Ivy League school and disappointing your parents is worse. If that is the case, then I make my moral decision based on what I need. I need an A so I will cheat.
Lying is bad unless you are caught. If you are caught, you look really bad to everybody else. Everybody else may figure out who you really are and that is one of your deepest fears. Lying is bad but it is not as bad as being found out.
How do we make our moral decisions? Do we have some standard or do we do whatever helps us get by and helps us keep face in life? How do we really decide?
Third Question: How do you look at the future? If you are young, when you look at the future, do you see expanding opportunities? If we are older, the opportunities and the options are narrowing and our goal, as we look to the future, might simply be to be faithful in our commitments, to be brave in the face of cancer, or to not disappoint the people that we love the most. When you think about the future, what do you think about?
These are three questions that don’t seem to have much to do with Easter but really have everything to do with Easter. These are some of the foundational issues of life.
In the 15th chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul is trying to explain to the Christians in that early church that resurrection changes everything. This is a long chapter. Paul is trying to explain to the Church at Corinth the difference that resurrection makes in all of these essential primary, foundational points in our life. He must have had a good classic education because he is using the best of rhetoric, logic, analogy, and all of these rhetorical devices to make his point that resurrection changes everything. For instance, what about morality. In verse 32, Paul says, “If with merely hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, then we might as well say, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.’” You see, resurrection changes everything.
“Then comes the end when Christ hands over the kingdom to God, the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and every power, for he must reign until he has put all of his enemies under feet and the last enemy to be defeated is death.” Death is our greatest fear. If death is defeated, what is there to be afraid of?
Think about all of the places in the resurrection stories in the Gospels. The angel says, “Be not afraid.” Resurrection changes everything. If Christ has really conquered death, then what is there to be afraid of, except those things that would, in some way, diminish our relationship with Christ and diminish our faith so that we don’t live as closely to Christ as we would like to live.
And the future? “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. For those who have died in Christ have perished. If, in this life only, we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But if resurrection is true, then we look forward to great glory. We look forward to the power of God that raised Christ from the dead being in us, empowering us for living every single day. Paul, in this entire chapter, is saying resurrection changes everything. If there is no resurrection, you might as well live as you please—eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die. Who is really going to care in eternity if there is no resurrection from the dead, but if we know that God is that powerful creator, sustainer, redeemer, and raiser of the dead, then would we not want to live in a way that pleases God? Of course, if God raised Christ from the dead and has defeated even death, what would we be afraid of? If our hope is in eternity, then it would certainly shape the way we live this life.
Think for a moment about the frustrations of the past week, whatever they may have been. This is Easter Sunday and it is a nice break in the middle of spring, it seems, because Easter comes so late this year. Think about what comes tomorrow. When Easter is over and the family is gone and whatever needs to be cleaned up has been taken care of, what challenges do you face in the coming week?
What would it mean to face those challenges or to have dealt with the frustrations of the past week if we shared in the eternal life of God now? What if God’s power that raised Jesus Christ really was available if we prayed? Really is available to those who believe? Really does transform tragedy into unexpected blessing? Really does take the suffering of Christ and turn it into the triumph of our eternal hope? What if all of that was really possible?
The hope of resurrection is not simply a pursuit for the bored or for people who are a little challenged in life and don’t have better things to look forward to. The hope of resurrection is not a crutch for the weak, but it truly is the key that unlocks the door to sharing in God’s life now. Resurrection really does change everything.
I went to seminary in what was probably the end of a major era of skepticism. There were debates about whether or not we believed in miracles. In New Testament class, somebody penned down a New Testament professor one time and asked, “Tell us what you believe about the miracles. Do you really believe that Jesus fed the multitude? Do you really believe that he calmed the storm?” The professor paused for just a moment and said, “You know, once you believe in the resurrection, everything else is child’s play, isn’t it?” Once you believe in the resurrection, what is not possible for Christ? What is not possible for God to work in our lives? What is not possible for God to empower us to do? But if there is no resurrection from the dead, then we are above all people most to be pitied.
We tend to think of Easter as an historical event, but Easter places Christ on this side of the grave forever. Wherever we stand in the long history of humanity, wherever we are, Christ is present with us. It is not only about history, but it is about the present and it is about the future. It is about the real, living, power of God available to me and to you now. What would it mean to share in the eternal life of God now? It doesn’t make next week look as bad, does it?
Resurrection changes everything.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.