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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why Easter Matters (1 Corinthians 15.13-22)

EASTER SUNDAY Sermon by: Robert Austell - March 31, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Prelude at Dawn" (Handbells) (Lynn Shaw Bailey)
Prelude: "Now the Green Blade Rises" (Handbells) (Hal Hopson)
Choral Call to Worship: "Processional Alleluia" (Choir/Handbells) (C. Harry Causey)
Hymn of Praise: "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" (EASTER HYMN)

*The Word in Music: "O Sons and Daughters, Let us Sing" (Richard Nichols)
*Song of Response: "You Have Been Raised" (Altrogge, Kauflin, Boer)
*Offering of Music: "Savior's Here" (Kari Jobe)
*Hymn of Sending: "Thine is the Glory" (MACCABEUS)

Postlude: "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" (Reuss)

Easter Sunday Music Sampler - short sections of the music above

"Why Easter Matters"
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Text: 1 Corinthians 15:13-22; Luke 24:1-7; John 20:11-18

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

“Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping…” (John 20:11)

Does that sound familiar? It’s a different Mary, but just a few weeks ago (and a few chapters earlier in John), we read of another Mary, weeping over the death of her beloved brother and wanting to know why Jesus had been absent. This Mary in chapter 20 – Mary Magdelene – is also weeping because Jesus is absent. His body is missing, as she explains first to the disciples she runs to find, then to the angels back at the tomb, and then finally to someone she thinks is the gardener.

Then the gardener calls her name: “Mary!” And she recognizes him at once. “My Teacher,” she exclaims! And she makes her second trip to find the disciples, this time to tell them that she has seen the Lord.

Every Easter, in churches all over the world, that story is read and told again and again. We have told it here in sunrise services and in Easter worship year after year. For weeks now, we have been preparing to hear that story, especially as we have dug into the story of Lazarus and how Jesus raised him from the dead, a last great sign demonstrating God’s glorious power over death.

Today you have heard the Easter morning narrative in word and song. I want to take a few minutes to move beyond the details of the story and talk about why Easter matters… why the resurrection matters. It turns out that the Apostle Paul wrote about this very thing in his letter to the Corinthian church, which one of our adult Sunday school classes is studying this spring. The topic of resurrection – something after death – has come up, and that leads Paul into a very focused teaching on resurrection, the Easter resurrection of Jesus, and why it matters for us.

So I invite you to turn to 1 Corinthians 15:13 as we consider why Easter matters so much.

Without Resurrection (something after death), No Easter (Jesus Raised)

The text we read from 1 Corinthians comes in a chapter where Paul is writing about Christ’s resurrection. Paul writes earlier in the chapter: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (vv. 3-4). These three facts are most important to Christian faith: that Jesus died for sin, was buried, and was raised. That’s Good Friday to Easter right there.

Paul goes on to chronicle a number of people to whom the risen Jesus appeared. These would serve as eye-witnesses to the resurrection. They were people for a generation that could say, “I saw him after he was raised.” It was Peter, all the disciples, then over 500 who could be identified. All this is leading to Paul addressing a problem in Corinth. There are some in the church that do not believe there is resurrection from the dead.

And so, in answer to the question, “How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Paul writes the text we read this morning. Twice he walks through this piece of logic:

Without resurrection (something after death),
there can be no Easter (Jesus raised). 

He says it in verse 13: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised…” And he says it in verse 16: For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.” Remember, good Jewish communication emphasized things through repetition. So twice he makes this basic argument:

Without resurrection (something after death),
there can be no Easter (Jesus raised).

If there is no resurrection at all, then Jesus would not have been raised. And even if you wanted to think for some reason that Jesus alone was raised, it defies the reason for his death and resurrection, which is something after death for humanity.

Without Easter (Jesus Raised), then Pitiable Futility and Lies

Then twice – with each example of the previous argument – Paul describes what the consequences would be without resurrection of humanity or of Jesus. It is this basic argument:

Without Easter (Jesus raised),
then there is only Pitiable Futility and Lies 

Let’s unpack that a bit. Paul says it first in verse 14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” He repeats and expands in verse 17: “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Without Jesus being raised on Easter, Paul says that we have no worthwhile message to proclaim. He also says that faith would be vain and worthless, because sin would still reign over us. In other words, Jesus may have won a victory over past sin on the cross, but death would have the last word; there would be no ultimate victory over sin and death. And that would rob us of any real hope for the future.

He also adds these two elaborations in verses 18-19, “Then those also who have died (fallen asleep) in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” This is a very strong statement! For surely there are things in this life that we can learn and follow from the teaching of Christ. And I don’t doubt that Paul would recognize that. But he isn’t talking about the moral teaching of Christ, but of our HOPE in Christ. Hope is a future-oriented thing. And if the cross was the end of Jesus, then it is the end of our hope in something after our own death. Our hope would be limited to this life only, and Paul finds that comparably thin to the great hope of Easter resurrection.

Without Easter (Jesus raised),
then there is only Pitiable Futility and Lies

 Why do I say “lies?” Paul didn’t use that word. But he has gone to great lengths to identify eye-witnesses to the resurrection. He is making clear that believing there is no Easter resurrection is not just a matter of personal interpretation or perspective. There are too many people staking their reputations and lives on having seen a risen Jesus. To not believe in Easter resurrection is to declare all of them liars or worse.

Why Easter (Jesus Raised) Matters (but now…)

Finally, Paul comes to the positive part of his teaching. He has provided the negative case – if this isn’t true, then this. Then in verse 20 he says, “But now.” BUT NOW here is what has happened. BUT NOW, here is what is true if Christ HAS been raised from the dead. There are three results he names here. This is why Easter matters and is, as Paul says, “of first importance.”

First, since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is “first fruits” of those who are asleep (v. 20). In other words, Christ is not a lone example, but the leading example of God’s resurrection power. We may note that Lazarus was raised from the dead, as were others Jesus raised, but they were raised back to this life and would die again. Jesus is the true “first fruit” of humanity raised to life WITH GOD after the first death. He not only is the way to God, but will lead the way to God. We read in Ephesians of him leading a host of captives along behind him as he sets them free from sin and death. He is not only VICTOR OVER sin and death, but SAVIOR FROM sin and death for all who trust and follow him.

Second, Adam’s work and humanity’s curse will be undone (v. 21). The Bible teaches that every one of us sins and is sinful, true heirs of our first father, Adam. Through Adam came sin and the curse of death, which has multiplied out to all his descendants and heirs. Jesus has single-handedly reversed Adam’s curse, multiplying out blessing and redemption to all who trust and follow him – his spiritual descendants and heirs. So Paul can write, “…since by a man came death, so by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.”

Third, in Christ we will be made alive (v. 22). This is another way of saying the same thing, but it’s even more personal. In the preceding verse, death and the resurrection of the dead are named as topics – nouns. In the repetition, humanity is the subject and death and life become verbs. With Adam, we die; in Christ, we will be made alive. There is hope! There is a future! It matters!

You can see that all three reasons Easter matters involve us. Jesus’ sacrificial act and God’s resurrecting power were not in a vacuum, apart from the human race, unrelated to our own death and resurrection; rather, it is intimately connected to our death and resurrection. Our resurrection is the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection: that we might be raised to life with God, the curse undone, and that we will be made alive.

And none of this negates or diminishes how we live today. This is not an appeal to focus exclusively on the afterlife; rather, it is a tether of hope to what comes after death, a foundational reminder that God holds us in life and in death and there is more than “eat, sleep, and tomorrow we die.” That kind of future-anchored hope redefines how we live today and tomorrow, fixing our eyes on the one God raised from the dead on Easter as first fruits, curse-reverser, and death-defeater.

Easter is Good News because God has declared Himself ultimately FOR US, beyond what had been the most final thing we knew. Indeed, as scripture says, “Love [God’s love] is stronger than death.” (Song of Solomon 8:6) And that is Good News worth believing. Amen!

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