If ... Then (Easter 2019)
Dr. Kurt Bjorklund looks at several "If... Then" statements about the resurrection and about how the scriptures show us the impact that it had on the believers at the time and on Christianity moving forward.
Happy Easter, and welcome to Orchard Hill. I especially want to welcome those of you in the chapel, those of you in the Strip District, Butler County. It's great to be together and have a chance to think about the significance of this day. This day is a day in which millions of people all over the world will gather, some in school gymnasiums, some in storefronts, some in large auditoriums, some in chapels that are beautiful, some in huts. People gather to celebrate, to worship the life and the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the man who was crucified. The people who gather all over the world this day to commemorate that don't just simply look back and say that he died and left some good ideas, but part of the reason that they gather is because they say this man, Jesus Christ, came back to life.
When you read through the pages of the New Testament, you see that there are several chapters of the New Testament that describe the event, mostly in the gospels. Then, there are some chapters that describe its significance. You heard a little bit of 1 Corinthians 15 read. That's one of those chapters. In 1 Corinthians 15, there are some statements that are couched in some language that you might be familiar with. It's what I call if-then language. It says, if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile. In several different places, it either states it very clearly or maybe it's implied, but the statements are generally kind of stated this way. If Christ wasn't raised, then this is what doesn't work in your life.
Now, I would like us today to focus on just two words, if and then. If you have been introduced to this concept, maybe one of the places you were first introduced to it was in a class on computers. Maybe if you took a computer class somewhere along the line, you were taught how to write something that would work. You got the idea of if this is true, then this is true. It's just a cold, logical thing in a computer class where you say, "If I write this in, then this will happen. The computer will do this." That captures part of this, but only a part because this is also something that's very emotional. What I mean by that is this isn't just logical, if this true, then this is true, but there's also an emotional part.
Maybe it's more like this. If you ever go to the doctor and the doctor says, "If you don't stop this, then this will happen." All of a sudden, it's not logical. It is logical, but you're saying, "I want this because I want the result." Maybe you've been in a relationship where somebody's given you an if-then ultimatum. You know the emotion of that if you've been in that scenario. This has some of that emotional punch because what it's saying is if there's no resurrection, then there's no hope beyond this life. This life everything for you and me. If there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ, then there's no forgiveness of sins. If there's no resurrection, then Satan has never been defeated, and our world is caught in an endless cycle of dualism, good versus evil, and we don't know which way it will go. If Jesus died on the cross, was raised to life, then he defeated sin and death and Satan all in that moment in a way that says Jesus wins in the end.
What I'd like to do today is just look at these words, if and then. We'll start with the word if. Certainly, this is significant if you come here today saying, "You know what? I'm not sure about Jesus. I was brought here because it was part of the family expectation. We're going to brunch in a little bit," or something like that. You say, "I'm not sure," then this word is for you, if. I think it's also for those who say, "I've believed for decades," maybe, because this word is a word that centers us back to the reality of what faith is because even if you've believed for a long time, there are probably seasons where you say, "God, where are you? God, why haven't you worked? God, I'm not certain about this part of my relationship with you." Coming back and just asking the question, "Is it reasonable that Jesus rose from the dead? Is this plausible?" is substantial.
I'd just like to make a few comments about the word if. We'll go back to the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, actually, for this. The first is this. That is the tomb was empty. Now, that doesn't seem like much of a statement because it doesn't actually prove that Jesus rose from the dead, but it's not inconsequential because in order for Jesus to have risen from the dead, the tomb has to be empty. Simply asserting that the tomb is empty is significant. Here's what we see in verses three and four of 1 Corinthians 15. It says, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures." Now, this is something that to simply the say the tomb was empty helps us understand that what we have to do is actually deal with where is Jesus' body if it wasn't in the tomb, if it isn't in the tomb.
We know from history that the tomb wasn't venerated. We know from extra-Biblical sources like Josephus, a historian of that age, that it was assumed by the Roman government, by the society of the time that there was no body in the tomb. In other words, this is something that we can say was thought to be true, known to be true in the world at that time. The question is: How do you explain it? Now, for some people, what they would do is they would say, "Well, the disciples had the wrong tomb. When Mary went to the tomb on that morning, she was just confused. She got turned around. It was a big cemetery. When she had followed kind of thing, a lot of different places where he could have been laid. She went to the wrong tomb. She just literally went to the wrong tomb and said, 'Wow. Jesus isn't here. Resurrection.'"
The problem with that is, as the Roman government would have gotten involved in this to try to put down what they perceived to be a coming revolution. They would have simply said, "No, no, no. You have the wrong tomb. He's right over here." We read in Matthew 28 that they instead said, "Tell everyone that the disciples stole the body." We'll come back to that in a moment. Some people have said, "Well, maybe they didn't get the wrong tomb. Maybe Jesus wasn't all the way dead. Maybe he was just mostly dead." This is technically known as the swoon theory. I prefer to refer to it as kind of The Princess Bride theory, just mostly dead, not all the way dead. This is the idea that Jesus hung on the cross and didn't die entirely, was put in the grave, and the cool temperatures helped resuscitate him so that he came back to life or he wasn't dead, so he didn't come back to life.
He came back to consciousness, came back to kind of his place of the capacity to do things and went all action hero on the Roman guard, rolled the stone away, threw the guard off, and then came back and told everyone he had actually been dead. Now, again, the problems with that are substantial. If you want to believe that, it's probably just as easy to believe in a resurrection. Then, there's some who would say, "Probably the most reasonable thing is what was put forward by the Romans in that day." Again, this is in Matthew 28, and Josephus kind of backs this up as well. That is that the disciples stole the body. This actually makes the most sense, to say the disciples stole the body, the disciples came along and said, "You know what? We like this kind of movement, and maybe we can perpetuate the movement if we tell everyone that Jesus came back to life," but there are a few problems with this.
For starters, if you read through the New Testament, what we know is that they didn't actually believe or understand or comprehend that there was a resurrection coming. Most of them were just as shocked by this as the people of that culture would have been shocked. Probably more substantial is this. That is, in that day and in our day, it is very difficult to hold together a conspiracy. Let me just give you a couple examples in our day. I don't know if you've seen the news about this Theranos company that was supposed to be able to prick your finger and get the same results as drawing blood. Instead of drawing blood when you need blood work done, you just prick your finger and give them a little dab of blood, and they'd be able to do a full workup. Kind of a cool idea.
Elizabeth Holmes, who is the CEO of this, had put forward this idea and probably really believed it initially but now is being charged in conspiracy by the FBI and our government for having faked results all the way along in order to perpetuate her $9 billion business. The point of that is that it's hard to fake something with numerous people involved. Maybe you saw this. Just recently, Charles Van Doren died. He is a man who was well-known in the 1950s because he was involved in a game show called 21. I think there was a movie made called Game Show a little later, in I think the 90s or 2000s somewhere, that told the story. Charles Van Doren was given answers from the network in order to perpetuate ratings as if he really knew all the answers to trivia. He won and won and won until later when people said, "You know what? There was something that was fake here."
The point here is this. That is it's very difficult to sustain a conspiracy, but that leads us to a second thing. That is I'm just going to say the disciples believed it. Here's where we see this. This is in reference to some of the appearances that Jesus made. Verses five and six of 1 Corinthians 15, "And that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the 12. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep." What that just simply says is that Jesus appeared, and the disciples came to believe it. He didn't just appear to one or two but to 500 at the same time. That may not seem like much to simply say the disciples believed it because you may assume, again, that what they were doing was just self-perpetuating something that they perceived to be good for them, but where what we know. That is most of these men and women died defending the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.
Again, the Roman government came along and said, "We don't want this Jesus and his followers to put together any kind of uprising. He's called the King of the Jews, and we are not going to let the Jews have their own reign." What they came along and did is said, "Anyone who perpetuates this, we want to eliminate them." Now, I don't know about you, but if you ever tell a lie and it starts to cost you more than the truth, what do you do? You very quickly say, "Hang on." If somebody's about to kill you for something you know to be false, and all you'd have to do is say, "Hang on. We made the whole thing up because we like the movement, but I can show you where the body is and live," what would you most likely do? Certainly not dozens of them wouldn't have chosen this. It's clear, if you look at this, that there's a couple of strong reasons to say it is plausible, reasonable to say that Jesus rose from the dead.
Here's another reason. I don't have a text in this text other than this. That is just to say the reality of Jesus today. You see, of the millions of people who will gather all over this world this weekend, many will gather and what they will say is, "Yes, I believe in the logical rationale for a risen Jesus," but they'll also say, "But I've experienced God personally. Because I've experienced God personally, because I've experienced the reality of Jesus personally, I believe that he's alive." Now, for some, maybe that's difficult, but it's not something to completely dismiss. Here's just simply my point. When we come to this word if, if Christ has not been raised, if Christ has been raised, there is good reason to say that Jesus is alive. In fact, I would say this. That is, for many of us, we believe things all the time that have less weight from evidence than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In fact, if you live in Pittsburgh, if you're visiting from somewhere else, maybe this doesn't apply to you as much, but if you live in Pittsburgh, I know that you do something on a regular basis that requires faith that you don't even really realize how much faith you put in it. That is you all cross bridges. The reason I say that requires faith is have you read the reports about the state of our bridges in Pennsylvania and in Pittsburgh? Here's what you do. You don't actually go through this process, but what you do is, every time you go to drive across a bridge, you do a little calculation without even realizing you're doing a calculation. You say, "This bridge is not going to collapse at the exact moment that I drive across it. Beyond that, I assume that there are people somewhere who are taking care of these things and making sure that the bridges are up to snuff," but if you read the reports about bridges, you are taking your life in your own hand on a calculated risk that it's okay to be okay. Your experience tells you it probably will be.
My point is that's a leap of faith, and you don't think anything about taking that leap of faith all the time. There's actually good reason to believe that bridges are less secure or less certain than this idea that Jesus rose from the dead. Somehow because it deals with history and past, it seems more remote to many of us. Here's the really significant thing. That is, if this is true, there's a second word, the word then. This is where we move from simply saying, "I affirm something," or, "I don't believe something," to what this really means. I'm just going to offer a couple of things here from this text. The first is this. That is the grave is not the end. Verse 19 and 20 says this, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep."
What that says very straightforwardly is that if Christ has been raised from the dead, he's the first fruits, and that those who die in Jesus Christ can say the grave is not the end. Here's why this is such good news, so filled with hope. It means that when you are at the bedside of somebody you love and you don't know what the future will hold, that if you are in Christ and they are in Christ, you can say with certainty that the grave is not the end of their life and your encounters with them. It means that when you stand by the graveside of somebody that you love, that you can say the grave is not the end. I wasn't just created for my 70, 80, 90, 100 years on this planet, but I was created for more. It means that our lives here and now have meaning. What I mean by that is the Christian scriptures have taught and the church has believed for centuries that Jesus will come back.
What it means is that this world isn't everything. Whatever we do in the cause of justice, whatever we do in the cause of helping this world experience the reality of God has meaning and that our lives have meaning because what we do now counts for eternity. The grave is not the end. It also means that the price has been paid. We see this in verse 17, 18. It says this, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile." See the implied then there? It says, "If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost." Often, when we come to a point like this, and by we, I mean the church on a whole, what we do is we would say something like, "We sin. We fall short of God's glory. We do things are wrong. Jesus is the substitute, the Savior. He went to the cross. He died for us, and he rose again. It means that if you believe that, that then you can have eternity."
That is all true and right and good, but I don't think that it captures the entire story of saying that the price has been paid. The reason I say that is because whether you're here and you think in terms of sin as a category or you say, "I don't really like that category," what's true about most people, if not everybody, is that we have some things that we say, "This is really important. This is what I need. This is how I'm going to think of well of myself." What we tend to do throughout all of our lives is we tend to do things that help us think well of ourselves, help others think well of us, or help God think well of us. For some of us, it will be something moral, something spiritual, where we'll say, "If I can improve the way that I live just a little bit, then I'll think better of myself. People will think better of me. God will think well of me."
If we have success, we'll think better of ourselves. We'll say, "I've made something of my life." We project this into all kinds of areas of our lives, into our relationships, into our physical well-being, into our success and careers, into our morality. When we say, again, as a church, on a whole, that Jesus paid the price, we are saying that he died for sin, so your eternity can be secure, but we're also saying that you are accepted now on behalf of what Jesus Christ has done. You see, the big difference between what I would say Biblical Christianity teaches and other versions of Christianity, other world religions, is really simple. That is Biblical Christianity says that Jesus Christ has done for you what you can't do for yourself. It is finished. It is done. Whereas other religions, even versions of Christianity, what they do is they say you have to perform. You have to do. You have to create your forward movement.
It's almost as if Jesus, on the cross, said, "It is finished," what we've done as a church in our day and age is we've adopted the shoe slogan that says, "Just do it." The teaching that you'll often hear is, "Yes, Jesus died for your sins. Yes, it is sufficient, but now what you really have to do is you have to prove it. You have to do everything in order to show yourself to be accepted," instead of living in the reality that the price has been paid, that Jesus went to the cross, to the grave, rose from the dead to say, "I have done for you what you can't do." I don't know if you've ever seen the TV show The Bachelor. I've been sucked into it a few times. It's been on for years. I've never watched a whole season, but I have been sucked in a few times.
I think part of the reason I've been sucked in is if I've ever watched a little piece of it, it's like, "Why would these people do this?" If you haven't seen the show, what it is you have a bachelor or bachelorette who has like 25 people all kind of living together. They go on these various dates with these people and decide who they're going to continue to date until they whittle it all the way down to one. They have this rose that sits there. After every date, they decide to give a rose or not give a rose to a person. If you've ever seen it, what happens is that the person who's kind of there deciding and the person who's on the date are both having their date be overshadowed by the rose. The way it's usually filmed is you can look, and you see a rose sitting there. They look at it. They talk about it. This is part of the human drama that draws me in just a little bit from time to time because what happens is the rose, the reality of judgment, kills the date.
Here's what I mean. For the person who has to decide, they sit here saying, "Is this person the kind of person I want to give a rose to? What about the other people? I like the other people better. I'm trying to decide." The person who's there on the other side of it is, "Am I the kind of person who they'll give a rose to?" Instead of loving one another or enjoying one another or getting to know one another, it's all about the rose. It makes for TV that's been on for years, but what if before the date started the bachelor or the bachelorette said, "I'm going to give you a rose today. There's no pressure on this date. I just want to get to know you"? It would turn everything around.
You see, Jesus going to the cross, being raised to life, is like saying, "If you have acknowledged your sin before me, I'm giving you a rose. Now, you can live your life knowing that the price has been paid," meaning that you don't have to say, "I'm trying to impress myself. I'm trying to impress others. I'm trying to impress God with the way that I live. I don't have to have an endless litany of saying, 'Now I'm enough.'" Instead, you're able to say, "I have trusted what Jesus Christ has done," and that has moved you forward. Then, we see this as well. The grave is not the end. The price has been paid. I'm just going to simply say Jesus is accessible and powerful. Ephesians chapter one says it this way, verses 18 through 20. It says, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which God has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."
Now, listen to this, "That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavenly realms." Did you catch that? What Paul does with this, again, a portion of the New Testament tells a little bit of the significance of the resurrection as he says, "If you are in Christ ..." In other words, if you've come to a point of saying, "I have been a person who can't pay the price, but Jesus has paid it for me," he says then the power of the resurrection is available to you today, that same power. Now, here's what I guess because I've been around church a long time. That is there are many of us who are gathered here today who would say, "You know what? I believe in Jesus, but right now, it feels like he is far removed from the reality of my day to day life."
I just want to say to you I believe you're missing part of the reality of the risen Christ because he is available and accessible. That's what the New Testament says unapologetically, meaning that if you are going through your life without the power of Christ, it's a little bit like a person who has a car never driving it or a person who has a refrigerator buying ice in coolers and packing stuff out in the garage in the second cooler even though they have a refrigerator that they could use for these things. It's like a person with a large bank account living without accessing the money. That's what happens for some of us. Let me just ask you: What are you facing today that you haven't been inviting or relying on the power of a risen, living God to address in your life?
There's a verse in Psalm 55 that captures this in a way that I think is beautifully stated. Psalm 55 verse 22, it says, "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken." 1 Peter five picks up this verse, and it says, "Cast all of your burdens onto the Lord. He cares for you." The word burdens here in Psalm 55 means anything in your life. He says, "And the Lord will sustain you." He doesn't say the Lord will take away your issue. He says the Lord will sustain you. He says, "Cast everything onto the Lord. He'll sustain you. He'll never let the righteous fall. He'll never let them slip." The righteous here I don't believe is a reference to our goodness as much as it is to ultimately being the people of God in a right relationship with him.
In other words, if you or I come to a point to say, "I have come to God, and I have put my faith and trust in him," what he says is, "You can come to me any time with anything that you have. You can cast your cares on me because I'm a living God who cares deeply, and I will sustain you. I'll never let you fall." Now, again, I know that some of you are sitting here today, and you're saying, "Well, wait a second. What about this? What about that? What about ..." I don't have an answer for all the "what abouts," but I know that part of the beauty of this idea of a resurrection is that God is still active, alive, accessible, and powerful and available for his people. If you miss that, if I miss that, then I miss something of significance. What do you do with this?
Well, some of us need to go back to the if and say, "Do I really believe this?" For some of us, that may mean simply saying, "I need to investigate this further." Maybe for you, you'll say, "I want to sign on for this next series, this controversial Jesus, where we'll look at some of the interactions Jesus had with people of his day that aren't all that dissimilar to our day to understand is this Jesus somebody that I believe in." For some of us, maybe today, just right now is your time where you've been kind of hanging on the side. Today, it's crystallized. You say, "It makes sense, and I want the then because I believe the if. I want to know that the grave is not my end, that the price has been paid, and that God is available for me today."
Maybe as we're here today, maybe for some of us, it's just coming to a point of saying, "I've believed this for years, but I haven't been accessing the relationship with the living God that's available to me. I've been going it on my own. I've been doing stuff in my own strength, and I don't have any greater explanation than me for my life." Maybe for you today, it's just a day to say, "God, I want to live in relationship with you through Jesus Christ on a day to day, hour by hour basis." Father, today we pray that you would help each one of us who's here to understand the if and the then and to live in the then because we believe in the if. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.