Monday, March 24, 2008

Come Alive: The Difference Easter Makes Every Day

I'm interrupting my posting of messages from The Seven Basic Commands of Jesus to share yesterday's Resurrection Day message.

Romans 4:25, 6:8; Philippians 3:20-21
March 23, 2008

When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, Easter meant that we’d eat eggs on Sunday morning—all the eggs we wanted! My brother and I got Easter baskets with candy and little toys like toy trucks, and that was about it. Maybe we’d have a backyard Easter egg hunt. That’s what Easter meant to me.

Then I became a believer in Jesus Christ during the last month of Junior High. The following year, my Easter changed completely. I attended a sunrise Easter service (which was held at the football field at the local High School), then back to church for breakfast and then Sunday school and then the packed Easter morning worship time. The choir wore their full regalia and the pastor preached his best, home run style sermon. Baskets and bunnies went off my Easter radar. A story of an empty cross and an empty tomb replaced the eggs and the toy cars.

That was many years ago. Now I scarcely think of this day each year as “Easter.” To me it’s become Resurrection Day. The most stunning event in human history occurred on this day in 30 AD. This event has had the most stunning impact of any event in history. And it has the most stunning effect on people’s lives. That’s what I want to explore with you this morning—the “Come Alive!” message of Easter than doesn’t just create a spring holiday, but that changes every single day of our lives.

The Most Stunning Event

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starts with these famous words, “Marley was dead; to begin with. There was no doubt about that.” The Easter story as well has to start with “Jesus was dead; to begin with. There was no doubt about that.”

Crucifixion is a horrible way to die, and the Romans made that even worse by flogging victims half to death beforehand. A lot of you have seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” People have asked me if Jesus’ sufferings in the movie were accurate. As terrible as they are depicted in the movie, the way He was tortured before His death could have been even worse, according to the ancient records.

So Jesus was dead. The disciples were in hiding. The whole Jesus movement was crushed. Who can follow a dead Messiah? How can you trust the words of a man who said He’d come to seek and save the lost when He couldn’t even save Himself?

So now on a Sunday morning the word comes trickling back to the disciples that the tomb had been disturbed; the body was gone. They ran to check it out; it wasn’t that far; maybe as far as from here to Temple City Boulevard.

The gospel reports on “Jesus sightings” that day have the chaotic feel of real events, not a carefully crafted tale. One woman sees Him; more than one women see angels; two men on a road west of Jerusalem; His brother James sees Him. Finally, ten disciples all together on that Sunday night see Him, and He spends time with them. Jesus, who had been dead, was now alive.

Barrels of ink have been wasted by people churning up theories to explain away the resurrection. But the fact remains that a real resurrection is the best explanation of the historical evidence, the best explanation of the behavior of the early disciples and the best explanation of the explosive growth of the early church. It was the most stunning, amazing event in history.

The Most Stunning Effect on People’s Lives

Nothing has changed people’s lives more than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I read some time ago that Larry King of CNN was asked if he could interview anybody from anytime in history, who would he chose? He answered in a second: “Jesus Christ.” Then he was asked, if you could only ask one question, what would it be? “I’d ask, were you really born of a virgin? If the answer’s yes, that answers a lot of questions.”

Another question Larry could ask Jesus would be, “Did you really rise from the dead?” That answers a lot of questions too. If Jesus did rise from the dead, it’s the best evidence that all He said was true—that He is God in the flesh and that His death on the cross really does set people free.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead has done more to change people’s lives than anything else. When He came alive on that first Easter, He paved the road for people in the centuries that have followed to come alive as well.

Less than thirty years after His resurrection, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter that we now call the Book of Romans. It’s probably the most detailed book of the Bible about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are a couple of very short statements Paul makes about the meaning of the cross and the empty tomb that tell us about the stunning effect Jesus has can have on your life every day.

In Romans 4:25, he writes,

He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. (New Living Translation)

This means that as a result of Jesus’ death, those who put their faith in Him have all their sins and misdeeds wiped away. But the job wasn’t done until He rose up from the dead. “He was raised to life to make us right with God.” By the cross, we were forgiven; by the resurrection, we were made right with God—reunited with the God who loves us so much. In Jesus’ resurrection, we come alive—to life, to love, and to God as our Father.

The Easter message doesn’t make sense unless you see the part where we (all human beings) are broken and need to be fixed. We were cut off from the life God meant us to have. We choose our way instead of God’s way. When we did that, we unleashed a world of hurt on ourselves, our relationships and our future.

Jesus Christ came into the world to take all that brokenness and hurt on Himself. That’s way He suffered the way He did. He broke the power of sin by being broken. He broke the power of suffering by His agony. He broke the power of sin by laying down His perfect life. He broke the power of death by dying in our place.

It would not have been right for God to let the body of the Son to rot in a tomb after this sacrifice. The world had to know that He’d won. The world had to know what that death was all about. The world had to know about the hope that is stronger than death. And the world had to know that in Jesus there is life.

We owed a debt we could not pay; He paid a debt He did not owe. That was the cross. But by His resurrection, He secured something more than “debt paid” for us. He rose up from the dead, marched into the throne room of the Eternal Father, and said, “Look, Father, here are the ones I died for. They shall be the people of God for all eternity. And they shall know joy.”

We naturally associate Easter and joy. It’s the joy of “all things new.” In our lives, this joy often takes years to unfold. Let me tell you a story—a real person’s story about how Jesus changes lives. It’s written by a young woman named Aimee Colbert, and it was posted on a website called last December.

My life was never expected or wanted. I grew up in the worst part of the ghetto, raised by grandma with more siblings that hope. I had always been a very depressed child being abused sexually by multiple family members and very poor.

As a teen I was suicidal. I was very rebellious, smoking, drinking, being promiscuous and

running away. Until, I had decided to give my life to Christ at seventeen years old. I had always been raised in church but never really understood or cared. But when I was at my lowest and knew that I was in trouble. I realized that there was only one name to call on, [the name of] Jesus.

I found out that I was pregnant with my first child the next day and my life began a downward spiral in the natural. But in the spirit I was getting stronger and wiser. I had two children by the age of nineteen, with no education and an abusive husband. Everything was going wrong but on the inside of me God was doing a good work.

To make a long story short I am now re-married to a wonderful man of God. I got my education and I am a youth minister studying Biblical counseling. My husband and I are dedicated evangelists. I just want to say that it took me so long to see the results of my faith and I had to sow many seeds of tears.

But when you give your life to God and make him the Lord of your life, do not be deceived, your life will be turned upside down. Things did not get better in my life when I did. It seemed to get worst! But be encouraged, after a long suffering, if you truly love God and endure, you will reap a mighty harvest. Praise the Lord! God is faithful. Amen. When I felt most alone and weary God lifted me up out of the gutter of homelessness, addiction and abuse.

Thanks to the love, wisdom, and faithfulness of God, I am not just a statistic of society. My life is a shining testimony of strength and not death. I am achieving my dreams with God intended favor. The Lord has blessed me to never face a day alone.[1]

Aimee knows what it means to be broken, and she knows what it means to receive a new life from Jesus Christ. She knows what the cross and the empty tomb means. Coming to Christ isn’t easy and it doesn’t make life easy, but He sets you on a path where life opens up to us. When you’re right with God, you’re in a place where you can begin to make the other relationships of life right as well.

In Romans 6:8, Paul writes,

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.

In the context of Romans 6, Paul makes clear that he’s not talking about the future resurrection of the body. He’s talking about a resurrection, a renewal of life that happens right here, right now, when we trust the risen Jesus with our lives. On the cross, we died with Him. That means that everything broken and wrong and disgusting about us went to the cross to die there as well. On Easter morning, we came alive with Him. We’re new people, free people, liberated people. We’re God’s people now; we’re all temples that God lives in now—if we’ve placed our faith in the risen Jesus.

What is to Come

Now, one last thought this resurrection day. God’s word speaks of the present impact of Jesus’ resurrection a lot. The fact that He’s risen validates all His claims. His resurrection is the most important event in history. His resurrection means that our lives can change right now. His resurrection power has been unleashed in the world, and day by day He is transforming people like Aimee Colbert. But His resurrection also means that we can face the biggest challenge in life with hope. We can face death with hope.

In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul writes,

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

When Jesus left that tomb, He had a glorious resurrection body. He wasn’t just a resuscitated corpse, some kind of “Jesus zombie.” He was, in Paul’s words, “glorious.”

And God promises us that that’s our eventual fate as well: to have our “lowly” bodies raised from the dead and to be made “glorious” as well! C.S. Lewis said that if we could see what we are to become, we’d be tempted to fall down and worship that!

This isn’t just some theological idea. I can’t count the number of people I’ve spent time with in the weeks and days and even hours before their death. I also can’t count the time I’ve spent with those who’ve lost someone to death. The resurrection of Jesus becomes to them both power and promise. The resurrection is the spring of confidence and hope and even joy. According to the Bible, the Resurrection of Jesus is the like the bow of an icebreaker. His resurrection breaks the cold of sin and death and opens up a new world. And even death can’t prevail against Him or against His people.

Jesus said, in John 5:28-29,

28 Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.

Another Easter is coming—another day of Resurrection! Jesus will return and call out, “Live!” and all who have died will live.

But—and this is important—some will rise to live, but others will rise to be condemned. All will rise, but it won’t be good news for all. The difference lies in what you do with message right now.

On this Easter Sunday, Jesus is offering you real life. He’s calling for you to come in from the cold and to know the reason you were created. You were created to know God and to enjoy God forever. You were created for the adventure of knowing and serving Him.

How do I come to know Him? First, I need to agree with God that I’m spiritually broken. My sin separates me from God. I have to be clear on that.

Second, I need to recognize that Jesus is the only way I can be made right with God. He’s the only Savior. His Good Friday death was for me, to pay the price of my sins and to set me free.
Third, I need to choose to follow Him. This isn’t a matter of praying a prayer and then doing what I want with my life. It’s a life sentence of joyfully following Jesus Christ as the Lord, Master and Leader of my life.

Come alive! This resurrection day can be a new day for you as well. Trust this risen Jesus with your life. That’s the best thing you can do this Easter: come alive with Him!


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