This sermon was preached on Easter Day, 1st April 2018.
In 1957 the BBC’s Panorama broadcast a piece on the Swiss spaghetti harvest. With the dulcet and authoritative voice of Richard Dimbleby, viewers watched as women plucked spaghetti from spaghetti bushes, and placed them in baskets to dry. It was an elaborate April fools joke, perhaps the best one ever broadcast. Not all saw funny side, of course. Many hundreds, however, wrote to the BBC to find out where they could get their own spaghetti bush.
Fake news is not so new after all.
Christianity itself makes an audacious and mind-blowing claim. The Bible claims that Jesus, who people had seen publicly killed on a cross by the Romans, in full view of everyone, was taken down and placed in a tomb. He was dead. But was then seen alive three days later. In fact, he appeared to not just a few but many. And those men and women claimed to be eyewitnesses to this astonishing event.
So is Christianity good news or just fake news? Is it the best news ever, or the worst April Fools’ joke? And if it is true, why is it good news for me?
For any skeptics, you’re not the first to doubt it. In his letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul writes “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins;’” (1 Corinthians 15:17) and then, “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v18) In other words, if the resurrection isn’t true, then Christians deserve only pity; we’re fools. Easter Day really is April fools’ day.
And it’s here that Christianity stands or falls – it’s either solid enough to take the weight of all my hopes, or it’s just a house of cards.
Amongst all the other things Jesus said, he himself predicted that he would die and rise again. But if the rising from the dead thing didn’t happen, then he was either deluded – or a liar. He certainly wouldn’t be the great moral teacher that many hold him to be.
The first Christians went round telling people not just what a great guy Jesus was, how useful and inspiring his teaching was, and how everyone should try and be nice to each other. They went round telling people that Jesus had died (which everyone already knew) and risen again. They said why he died – for our sins, so we could be forgiven and have God’s eternal life in us through a mended relationship with him.
And why he rose again. Death was beaten, a spent force. Our sin was taken to the cross and nailed there. Jesus proved he was who he said he was. He was the Son of God, with the power to forgiveness sins alone, the Lord and Saviour of the entire world. The ruler of the cosmos.
The alternative is that they just made it up. The truth of the matter is this: The resurrection of Jesus is either the greatest hoax in history and the cruellest lie ever told; or it’s the most important event in history and the greatest thing you will ever hear. And believing it and accepting Jesus will change your life for ever.
What we can’t do is just take it or leave it; or think that if it did happen it really doesn’t matter to me very much; or treat it as one truth amongst many truths. The resurrection either didn’t happen, in which case, we might as well all go home now; or it’s the most life and world changing event the world has known. There’s no middle ground.
If we’re here this morning and we’re not sure whether the resurrection is true, or whether it’s just a myth, here is something to consider. It is clear that the gospel accounts of the third day after Jesus had been killed on the cross agree that the tomb of Jesus was empty, and that he appeared to his disciples. In fact, one of the criteria for being an apostle was that they had been witnesses of the resurrection.
In Acts, Peter stands in front of the crowds and says ‘God raised him on the third day and made him appear…to us who had been chosen as witnesses.’ We saw him, he said. We ate and drank with him. It happened. It was real. The question then is whether we believe them. The gospels are unique in any ancient literature. They are written not just as a record of Jesus, a biography, but as an accurate account – eye-witness statements of what happened.
Lots of people die for their religious beliefs. They die because they believe in them. After the crucifixion, the disciples were broken, downcast and disillusioned. But then we find them with a renewed hope, with enthusiasm and a message: Jesus had risen. Most of the apostles faced persecution, hardship, torture and were killed. They didn’t die for what they believed – they died for what they knew – what they had seen for themselves and knew to be true. It’s hard to believe they would die for something they knew never really happened.
If we’re here this morning, and we’re going through a tough time, we’re not sure whether God is real, what’s going on, if we’re doubting the goodness and provision of God, then look to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. See there the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead. See there that Jesus is alive now, that he is your Saviour, your friend and that he will be with you as you trust in him.
Jesus said that nothing would separate those who trust in him from his love, because Jesus has beaten death. He has succeeded in taking your sin and shame and dealing decisively with them on the cross. And we know it worked because he rose again. In a battle between Jesus and death there was only ever going to be one winner. Be encouraged today by this truth: Jesus Christ is risen.
When we look to the cross, I hear Jesus’ words…
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
…and I hear that I matter to him. I hear that my sin, my desire to walk away from God, or have God at a comfortable distance from me, or to ignore him completely is what brought God to send his Son in the first place. And it’s what took Jesus to the cross. His love for me is greater than my indifference or hostility to him. Jesus died not just for those who loved him, but for his enemies.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make me a slightly better person. He didn’t come to start a new religion, to set up some really helpful ethical guidelines. He came to die on a cross for my sins, because God wants me back with him. He came to be your Saviour. And the resurrection is the wonderful proof that he is that, that he is the Son of God – who loved me and gave his life for me. It is the proof that his death succeeded, and that my sin has been dealt with, if I would trust in him and accept him as my Lord and Saviour.
So the resurrection – good news or fake news? Hope or hoax?
Or just background music to our culture? We believe it but we don’t really know what that really means.
This morning, if you’re here today and you’re not sure whether it’s true; or if you think it is true, you don’t really know what difference it makes to your life, then can I urge you to really look into it. To fi nd out, to see for yourself who Jesus is and why he matters.
You matter too much to ignore it. Your life is precious to God and he wants you to know his forgiveness, his love and his life.
If it’s not true, it’s not worth thinking about. If true, it’s the most important and life changing truth you will ever know. We can know it for ourselves, we can know Jesus – his life, his love, his future, when we trust that Jesus really did die for our sins, and rose again.