Easter Faith

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 2:13-22

If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it will make all the difference in the world for your faith.

The famous eighteenth-century skeptic Voltaire is reported to have said, “It would be easy to start a new religion to compete with Christianity. All the founder would have to do is die and then be raised from the dead.” Voltaire was no friend to the Christian faith and I’m sure he meant his comment to be ironic, but it is also very perceptive. Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of our faith. Christianity stands or falls on the factualness of this event. Christian faith is really Easter faith because it’s all based on what happened that first Easter.

The second chapter of the gospel of John tells us how on one occasion early in his ministry Jesus went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. When he came to the temple and found the temple courts choked with people buying and selling things, he became angry and drove out all the merchants and moneychangers. What happened next was very interesting. Some of the onlookers wondered at the way Jesus assumed responsibility for what went on in the temple. He was neither a priest nor a temple servant and yet he spoke of it as his father’s house and acted as if he personally had the right to decide what happened there. John records the confrontation between these onlookers and Jesus.

Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

The Jews replied: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

(vv. 18-22, niv)

WHAT THE RESURRECTION DID

According to the New Testament record, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead did two things that nothing else could have done. First, it confirmed Jesus’ identity. Notice what he said to those who asked him for a sign to prove his authority: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Jesus was speaking metaphorically, not about the literal temple but, as John explains, about the temple of his body. Nobody really understood him at the time. It’s obvious from the way they mistook him that they were all quite mystified. But Jesus’ disciples somehow recalled what he had said and realized what he meant after he did rise from the dead. The key point is that the resurrection is the sign Jesus offered to establish his identity and to prove his authority. Jesus predicted his own death. There’s nothing very unusual about that. Many great men have had premonitions of their own end, but Jesus also predicted his resurrection from death, and that isn’t usual at all, especially if it actually happened.

We believe that it did, for good reasons. And because it did, Jesus is revealed to be the Son of God. The resurrection is God’s validation of Jesus. The New Testament says that he was descended from David according to the flesh, but he was “designated the son of God in power . . . by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4).

Modern skeptics have trouble with the story of the resurrection. “This is impossible,” they cry. “Everyone knows dead men don’t rise.” Of course they don’t! Christians agree with that. But this is exactly the point. We don’t believe that a mere man rose. When Jesus Christ rose from death, he was shown to be the Son of God. So this is the sign, the supreme sign, that points to his identity. The real question is not which religion is true. The real question is: Did Jesus Christ actually rise from the dead? Because if he did, that changes everything.

The Origin of Faith

A second thing the resurrection did was to create the disciples’ faith. It is important to note that the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is based on the testimony of skeptics. Listen again to what John says: “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” (v. 22, italics added). This statement is an insertion into the story, an editorial comment by John, the gospel writer, who is speaking here from a post-Easter perspective. When Jesus spoke during his lifetime about his resurrection, his disciples seemed neither to have understood him nor even to have paid much attention. A lot of the things he said must have sounded off the wall to them. This was just another one of those cryptic statements. It was only after Easter, after Jesus rose from the dead, that they even remembered all the things he had told them, let alone understood them.

The point is that they were not expecting Jesus to rise. They weren’t prepared for it; they weren’t even inclined to believe it at first. The story of Jesus’ whole life and ministry, including his death and his resurrection, is told as it happened in a way that is natural and artless, not invented. Some of Christianity’s critics say that Jesus’ resurrection was a story made up by the disciples to keep their faith alive. According to this view, Jesus’ disciples were heartbroken and desolate after his crucifixion. But then something strange and wonderful happened. As the disciples sat and commiserated, somehow the memory of Jesus rekindled their excitement. They began to talk and act as if he were still alive and the next thing you knew, they were writing that he was alive. And that’s how the story of the resurrection came into being.

The historical account is exactly the opposite. The apostles’ own testimony is not that they invented the story of the resurrection but that they themselves had to be convinced of it. Faith in Jesus did not create the resurrection. Rather, the resurrection created faith in Jesus. As one leading expert on the New Testament has put it: “If the coming into existence of the . . . (Christians), a phenomenon undeniably attested . . . , rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of the resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?” (C.F.D. Moule, quoted in J. I. Packer, I Want to be a Christian). In other words, if the resurrection did not create the disciples’ faith, then what did?

I BELIEVE

Christian faith is Easter faith. I am a Christian today because I believe that, just as surely as he died on the cross, Jesus also rose from the dead. And because he rose again, Jesus is shown to be God. He is not only to be trusted. He is to be worshiped and served.

But Easter faith is more than just faith that Jesus rose. It is also faith in the truths his resurrection proves.

Because Jesus rose, right will triumph over wrong in the end. It could be argued that the death of Jesus Christ is history’s greatest crime. He was put to death by judicial murder in the grossest perversion of justice. Everyone involved agreed that he was innocent. The man who condemned him to death, Pilate the Roman governor, washed his hands and said he found no guilt in him. One of the men who died next to him, a condemned criminal, said, “We’re getting what we deserve but this man has done nothing wrong.” The man who executed Jesus, a Roman centurion, said when he died, “Surely this was a righteous man.” But still they crucified him. No one put a stop to this horrible act. Jesus’ death was the supreme example of how life can be in a world where the innocent are done in by the guilty, and the weak ground under by the strong, where good people suffer, and where truth is overcome by lies, and the poor are always the ones to be victimized.

But Jesus’ resurrection says otherwise. In raising him, God has reversed man’s judgment. He has established the truth, vindicating the innocent and exalting the righteous, as he will do for everyone some day. Because Jesus rose from the dead, I believe that justice will be done in the end and will be seen to have been done. Every wrong will be righted, with all evil overthrown and goodness rewarded. In the face of the world’s injustice, Easter faith produces not cynicism but hope.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, life is full of meaning and purpose. A news magazine once published an article on the meaning of life in which a number of people were asked to respond to the question, “Why are we here?” Two of the answers I found especially striking. They were from very different people, but they were remarkably similar. One was from a taxi driver named Jos? who said, “We’re here to die, just live and die. You’ve got to be strong about it. Life is a big fake. You’re here. You’re gone. You’re like the wind.” Another answer came from a well-known musician. His response to the question “Why are we here?”: “No why, just here.” If death is the end, then they’re right. There really is no answer, no point to anything, no hope. We live for a while, then we die and that’s all there is to say.

But if Jesus has risen from the dead, then there is something else to say. Then the message of Ecclesiastes that all is vanity is turned into the good news of the gospel, that Jesus Christ is Lord, both of the living and the dead. And in the Lord, our life and labor are never in vain. We have a future, and because we have a future, our present has meaning. In the face of the emptiness of earthly existence without Christ, Easter faith tells us not to despair but to hope.

Finally, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for Christians death leads to everlasting life. Near the end of his life, Paul offered this word of encouragement to his young friend Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” It’s not just that Jesus rose from the dead long ago, but that he is risen here and now. He is alive. He is with us, and because of that, even in the face of death, Easter faith produces not fear but hope.

In April 1945 a few days before the end of the war in Germany, a special order went out to the Flossenberg Concentration Camp to execute a prisoner named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had been arrested several years earlier for his anti-Nazi activities. It was a Sunday morning. As the footsteps of the execution detail sounded in the corridor outside, Dietrich Bonhoeffer looked up at the little circle of prisoners whom he had been leading in prayer. “This is the end,” he said, “but for me the beginning of life.”

Do you know that’s what death can be for you too? If you have Easter faith, faith in the Jesus who died and rose again, then death will be only the beginning of real life for you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, we worship and honor you, who died and rose again and are alive forevermore. All praise to you. Amen.