On Thursday night during our Maundy Thursday service, I shared with the congregation a moving story by Buzz Aldrin about his first experience upon landing on the moon in July, 1969. When the lunar model settled on the moon, Aldrin asked Houston for a moment of silence as he took out a packaged set of elements and observed communion. The first food and drink ever taken on the moon were the elements of communion.
It was a moving story, but it reminded me of a conversation I had at the time with my 84 year old grandfather. He didn’t believe for a minute that someone had landed on the moon. He went to his grave a short time later convinced that it was all staged on a television set in Hollywood.
If Buzz Aldrin were here he would like say to my grandfather, “You can believe whatever you want. Whatever you happen to believe about the moon landing makes no difference! It makes no difference as to the facts. I was there!”
Some people don’t believe in the Holocaust. They write a revision of history that claims the Germans never mistreated the Jews during World War II. They say the statistics are wrong, the photographs are doctored, and the Holocaust never happened. But we might have a Jewish person her with a number tattooed on his arm who would say, “Whatever you may believe about the Holocaust makes no difference! It makes no difference as to the facts. I was there!”
Some people still believe that the earth is flat. In fact, you can look up their website, as I did, at www.flat-earth.org and learn that they are a non-denominational, non-profit organization dedicated to overcoming the politically correct view that the earth is spherical. They claim that the earth is flat with five sides, and that every place on earth named “Springfield” has a mystical connection to some higher order of reality. You can believe the earth is flat if you want to. But whatever you believe about the shape of the earth makes no difference. It makes no difference as to the facts.
Some people don’t believe in the Resurrection either. And the same rule applies. Whatever you believe about the Resurrection makes no difference. It makes no difference as to the facts. Our text for today says, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead …” (1 Corinthians 15:20)
Even the disciples of Jesus at first were too shocked to believe. His resurrection was too good to be believed. Their fear of His enemies and fear of the unknown kept them from believing.
Some time ago the U.S. News and World Report ran a lengthy article entitled, “The Last Days of Jesus” (U.S. News, April 18, 1989). The article said:
“…for an event so momentous, the crucifixion of Jesus is even today the subject of much historical controversy. (Skeptics) found disappointingly little to corroborate the Gospel texts, a compendium of oral traditions written 20 to 60 years after the events and sometimes differing on important details of the story. Some scholars, frustrated in their pursuit of a purely ‘historical’ Jesus, have come to reject the Passion as pure fiction. Still others have put forth intriguing evidence that the truth lies somewhere in between: That the Gospel narratives are a mix of legend and fact that attempt to describe a historical and mystical human encounter with one who called himself the Son of Man.”
In some circles, the term “resurrection” itself has become a matter of debate. Some theologians have sought to reconcile the resurrection with a more rationalist view by describing it as a metaphor appropriated by early Christians who “thought mythically” and for whom a resurrection of their fallen leader had occurred “in their hearts and minds.”
Others suggest that the resurrection of Jesus is another way of speaking about the rebirth of nature after the death of winter. They say it is simply a poetic way of speaking of the cycle of the seasons.
Still others suggest it is a psychological attempt to explain the persistence of a person’s influence by the impact that he had upon the lives and hearts of his followers. They say that Jesus is immortal like Shakespeare’s writings are immortal or Bach’s music.
All of the arguments prove what Tennyson said, “Nothing worthy of proving can be proved.” I cannot prove to you in scientific terms that Jesus rose from the dead, but there is evidence. Evidence, as Josh McDowell said in his famous book, that demands a verdict.
The article in U.S. News goes on to say:
“Yet despite its centrality, the resurrection has been, for believers and nonbelievers alike, one of the most problematic of Christian doctrines. The Gospel narratives contain no resurrection stories per se, no eyewitness accounts of Jesus rising from the tomb. For modern readers of the Gospels, as for the disciples on the first Easter, the resurrection is largely a deduction drawn from two pieces of data: The discover of an empty tomb and reports of post-crucifixion appearances by Jesus in Jerusalem and Galilee.”
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The empty tomb is a problem for anyone who refuses to believe the Resurrection. But no one would have believed if the tomb had not been empty! At the time, no one debated whether the tomb was empty or not. Some suggested that the Roman soldiers stole the body, or that the disciples stole the body. Both views would be hard to understand. Others suggest that the disciples just went to the wrong tomb. Can you imagine that? I’ll bet every one of you know exactly where your loves ones are buried. Can you imagine the disciples going to the wrong tomb of this one they loved so dearly? I can’t. The empty tomb must be explained away if you deny the resurrection. No one has explained it away in 2,000 years.
And what about those appearances? Earlier in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, Paul says that Jesus appeared to Peter, to the twelve, and to 500 men and women at the same time! Can you imagine that 500 people would conspire to tell a lie about Jesus’ appearance? Further, can you imagine that these same liars would be willing to suffer and die for their falsehood? I can’t imagine it.
Perhaps the greatest line about the Resurrection comes from the famous preacher of another age, J. S. Whale, who said, “The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels.” Read the Gospels and the book of Acts and you cannot help but see that the Resurrection is the foundation underlying everything those disciples did. They were consumed with an amazing truth – the Resurrection of Christ. The truth of the Resurrection is the only thing that can explain the extraordinary behavior of those simple followers of Christ! “The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels.”
In fact, the resurrection of Jesus was something new, a never-before-having-occurred fact. The resurrection is a different order of reality. As Fredrick Buechner put it: “Jesus somehow got up from the grave with life all in him again and the glory upon him.”
This truth is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Without it, there would be no New Testament, no church, no Christianity.
Whether or not you believe in the Resurrection makes no difference! It makes no difference concerning the facts, but it makes all the difference concerning your fate. Your belief cannot alter the facts, but it can alter your fate.
The fear of death haunts everybody. We are terrified of death if we must believe that when we have breathed our last that will be the end of it, that we will return to the dust, that the winds will blow over our grave and we will be forgotten. That fear robs life of all meaning. What does it matter how you live or what you do, if it all comes to nothing when you breathe your last?
Some people say, “Life’s a burden and then you die.” Well, they usually say it more crudely than that, but you get the message. Is that all there is to life? Without hope beyond the grave, then that’s all there is to life!
But if we believe that Jesus has conquered death through the power of God, and that his victory over death can be communicated to us… then all of life and eternity becomes meaningful. We can really have hope!
During the War Between the States a Confederate unit was badly mauled by a superior Yankee force and they fell into hasty retreat toward a distant sanctuary that could be well defended. It appeared, however, because of the flanking attacks by the Yankees that they would never make their destination. Finally, however, the word came back along the ranks of the dispirited men that the head of the column had arrived. What an amazing transformation took place in those soldiers. They had been discouraged and despondent. They walked with no spirit to their step. But when that word came that the head of the column had arrived, this meant there was hope again. They were not yet out of danger, but the head of the column had arrived and that assured them that they would finally be safe.
In Christ, the head of the column has arrived, and our darkest fear has been dispelled.
Our belief makes a difference in our fate right now as well.
John Killinger tells of a woman in his congregation. She was married very young and had a little baby. Then one day her husband deserted her. She was all alone in the world, a long way from home, with her child. All the light had gone out of her life. Finally, in desperation, she took the little money she had and went to Yosemite National Park, where she had once known great happiness. For six days she walked and climbed and sat and thought. The heaviness was almost more than she could bear. And then, on the sixth day, she was sitting on a great boulder and noticed that she was staring at a small tree growing out of the rock. It was a miracle, she thought, the way the tree grew out of the rock. For years, the weather had worked on the rock, heating and freezing it, until finally some erosion had occurred and some of the rock had become powder, and eventually some seed had caught in the eroded section and had found enough nourishment to spring into life.
“It was the message I needed,” she said, “I knew it had taken ages for that rock to break down and for life to grow on it. And I realized that, however long it took, my own barren existence would be fruitful and productive again, that God would make something grow in me the way he had made the tree grow on that rock. It was a turning point in my life. I was able to go home again and live, because I knew that God would bring life out of death.”
Whether or not you believe that Christ raised from the dead makes no difference! It makes no difference at all in the facts, but it makes all the difference in the world in our fate.
Do you believe Jesus is alive from the dead? Your answer will make all the difference.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2001, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.