Easter Sunday                                
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Corinthians 15:19-28 Sermon                                  
March 31, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
199 "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today"
198 "He's Risen, He's Risen, Christ Jesus The Lord"
205 "The Day Of Resurrection"
200 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" 


            TEXT (vs. 19-22):  “19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

            It was on Sunday, May 22, 2011 that I preached a sermon from this pulpit where I talked about a young boy by the name of Colton Burpo.  Colton is the young boy from Imperial, Nebraska who had his appendix rupture.  While he was on the operating table, he had an incredible experience where he reports that he went to heaven.  His father Todd Burpo, a pastor in a Wesleyan church, has documented his son’s experience in a book entitled, “Heaven Is For Real.”  This book has become a best-seller, and it is readily available in most book stores. 

            Now I’m not going to rehash the content of that sermon from a couple of years ago, but I would like to share some observations with you.  On our church’s website, we can access a counter.  This counter keeps track of the number of “hits” we receive in a month’s time.  It also tells us how many times each of the pages are being read.  Now this doesn’t tell us who is reading them.  All we see is just a number.

            With that in mind, I can report that with remarkable consistency, the May 22, 2011 sermon is one of the two top sermons read on our website, each and every month.  When I looked at the figures for this month, March 2013, this sermon has been read a total of 86 times just this month alone.  Some months this number has been well into the hundreds.  I find it rather incredible that it gets this many hits.

            I don’t think it has anything to do with my abilities as a pastor, or how well I can turn a phrase and put things into writing.  I think it has to do with people’s desire to know more about a subject that is either on their minds because of a current experience, or they want to know about something that will inevitably affect them.  Colton Burpo has given people answers that enquiring minds want to know.  And I also believe that people want to know what Christian pastors think about a subject like this one.

            So here are my conclusions.  First, I have no reason to doubt the truth of Colton’s story.  I don’t think he made it up, or he was coached.  Second, I don’t doubt the power of God to be able to take a very small boy and give him a glimpse of heaven.  God can do anything that suits his purpose.  And finally, I think that when something happens to bring people to their Saviour and get them into the Bible, and not lead them away, then it is good.  This is not to say that we are to go seeking after such experiences; but when they happen, then we take them for what they’re worth.  When Colton was asked what one thing he wanted people to know as a result of his experience, he said: “I want people to know that heaven is for real.”  Hence, this is the name his father chose for the book he wrote.  And yes, I would suggest you get a copy and read it for yourself.

            We live in a world full of skeptics.  People want to doubt things they just don’t understand.  This is the way that people are inclined to look at anything miraculous, especially when it comes to Jesus.

            For example at Christmas time, you’ll hear all sorts of cockamamie assertions about the Virgin birth not being real.  People will say that Mary got raped by a Roman soldier, or she had some sort of adulterous affair.  So according to them, the whole “virgin birth” story was fabricated as nothing more than a big cover-up.  Things like that make me shudder, especially when Jesus fulfilled prophecy after prophecy in the Old Testament, including Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Virgin birth.

            When we come to Easter, we hear stories that are just as wild about the Resurrection.  People just don’t want to believe it, so they come up with all sorts of weird explanations.  I tried reading through some of them while I was studying for this sermon, and my head is still spinning.  The most common assertion is that Jesus never physically rose from the dead.  Rather, his “spirit” was resurrected amongst the disciples, so they took his message of love to other parts of the world.  Crackpot theologians all over are denying that any real resurrection ever took place, and that the whole thing was made up to pacify the simpletons who needed this miracle to cling to.

            For example, John Crossan is one of these theologians.  He says, “The metaphorical resurrection does not refer to an actual historical event, or anything that happened to the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth; rather, it is a metaphor for the continuing power of Jesus’ ministry and community.”

            One person even asserted that the Apostle Paul did not believe or teach a physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  I find this quite startling, since Paul wrote his famous “resurrection chapter” to the Corinthians, part of which is our Epistle Lesson for this morning, from 1 Corinthians 15.

            Allow me to share with you some selected verses leading up to our Epistle Lesson for today.  3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” (3-5; 12-14; 17-18)

            Considering just these few verses, I don’t see how anybody could ever come to the conclusion that the Apostle Paul did not believe in Christ’s literal, physical resurrection from the dead.  In fact, this doctrine is so crucial, that if a person denies the resurrection, then their faith is futile!  Paul teaches us that if Jesus did NOT rise from the dead, then it would be a better use of our time to go home and watch TV. If Jesus did NOT rise from the dead, then everything that we do here would be totally useless.

            But we know differently.  Everything we read about regarding that first Easter shows that there was indeed a real physical resurrection.  There were the folded grave clothes.  The stone had been removed from the entrance, despite the fact that it had been sealed and heavily guarded by Pilate’s soldiers.  And it would be totally ridiculous to think that the disciples, who were hiding out for fear of the Jews, would have mustered the strength and the will to overpower the guards, remove the heavy stone, and steal Jesus’ body. 

            No, this was no fake resurrection, and nobody staged anything.  All of the Old Testament prophecies, and what Jesus had plainly told his disciples had come true.  Jesus had overpowered death, and hell, and Satan.  Jesus is victorious over everything!

            If we look back at the events this past week, on Maundy Thursday we saw how Jesus gave his body and blood into death to pay for our sins.  On Good Friday we saw how Jesus took the burden of our sins, our griefs, and our maladies with him to the cross, where he suffered and died.   And now, we see the victorious Christ.  We see Jesus who endured all these things, and arose victorious from the grave.  Jesus showed himself to be true God beyond any doubt.  And with all things considered, our future in heaven is a guarantee.  It is a sure thing.  We will be raised on the last day.  We will spend an eternity in heaven.

            We put our faith into a resurrected and living Saviour, and not a corpse rotting in the ground someplace.  In John chapter 14 Jesus gives us some comforting and reassuring words:  “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

            This is no metaphor Jesus is talking about.  This is no fabrication or hollow platitude.  This is a real hope and a real home for all eternity.  This is our future guarantee.

            But we’re sinful human beings.  We’re not the people that God expects.  What if we’re not good enough?  What if, when all is said and done, Jesus shakes his head, points his finger, and sends us in the other direction?  How can we be so sure that we will spend eternity in heaven?

            Let’s listen to some words Jesus tells us.  Matthew chapter 11, verses 28-30:  28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  John chapter 6, verse 37: “…him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”  And adding to that the words of the Apostle Paul from Romans chapter 10, verse 9:  “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

            One of the reasons I mentioned young Colton Burpo at the beginning is because of the power of his testimony.  Here we have a young boy, just beginning to read and write.  His young mind hadn’t been bogged down with the wacky theories of man’s logic and wisdom.  What he demonstrated was a simple child-like faith.  And regardless of what happened to him, he is a strong witness for Jesus his Saviour and the truth of the Bible.

            But I can assure you that my hope of heaven does not rest on his experiences.  My future is certain because God in the Bible has told me so.  I trust what God has told me, and I believe that his guarantee is certain.

            Even with what we are told in the Bible, we still wonder what our future in heaven will be like.  Oh sure, we’re given descriptions, we’re told how nice it will be, we’re assured that it will be paradise and that we’ll be eternally happy.  We just have to trust our future to our God who loves us and wants us to spend an eternity with him.

            Down through the centuries, many theologians, philosophers, and historians have investigated the Christian claim of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The historical evidence supports the Biblical account of the crucifixion and it points to an empty tomb.  Eventually, the honest, scholarly historian admits that the tomb must have been empty.  The only question remaining is, "How did the tomb get that way?" Many of scholars have used their imaginations to try to come up with a scenario that explains the empty tomb.  And because of this, there have been many cockamamie theories and stories.  So far, the only one that fits all the facts is that Jesus left the tomb under his own power.  The resurrection is the best attested event in history.

            The bottom line is how you and I fit into this picture.  We’re all going to breathe our last one day.  Our life on this earth will indeed come to an end.  And then what?  Do we believe that the grave could not hold Jesus?  Do we believe that because Jesus lives, we too shall live? 

            Faith alone is what will save us:  faith in our Saviour Jesus Christ, in his sacrifice, in his forgiveness, in his death, and in his resurrection.  The Apostle John records the account of the resurrection in chapter 20 of his Gospel.  Our Gospel lesson is the first 18 verses.  Just beyond that in verse 20, John concludes this account with these words:   “…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

            Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, our future is certain.  We know the tomb was empty because Jesus actually, physically rose from the dead.  Therefore we can exclaim with all certainty:  “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!