Sermon Manuscript . . .
Modern Reactions to the Resurrection
Acts 4, 17 and 23
Go to 31-Flavors and you have a choice–taste a sample or buy a cone. Go to a local car dealer and you have a choice–take a test drive or buy a car. Go to a home show and you have a choice–look around or buy a home. Go to church on Easter and you have a choice–taste a little religion or seek to be transformed by a relationship with Jesus Christ . . a taste or a buy-in.
Easter calls for a buy-in. When you consider the reason for Easter, you must make a decision. You see, Easter isn’t about bunnies and baskets. Easter isn’t about new dresses or nice weather. Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And that is where the buy-in comes in. Easter will force you to choose concerning Christ.
Either Easter is the most hideous lie ever told, or it is the most wonderful truth to embrace. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then every true Christian and every genuine church in the world is wasting their time–all of this is a joke. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then all He said about this life and the life to come is true, and that demands a respond. And today, all of you here will either taste a little religion or be transformed by Christ–but I guarantee, you will react to the truth of the resurrection of Christ.
Do you remember walking into a room where your children were playing, and even though you were not present in that room for the last hour, you knew exactly what had been happening? Their reaction told you exactly what had been happening. Well, you can look back 2,000 years and see how others reacted to the resurrection of Christ and tell exactly what was going on. And by looking at the reactions of others, you can see yourself.
Turn to the book of Acts 4 and see for yourselves. Acts is the history of how the Church began and how people back then responded to the message of Christ, especially that Christ had bodily risen from the dead. And the similarities between the people of the first century and the people of the 21st century are striking. Each reaction has a counterpart in this room. Could you be . . .
#1 DISTURBED by the Resurrection
In Acts chapter 4, the apostles Peter and John have just healed a man who was crippled for 40 years, then told everyone in a powerful message that they were able to heal only because Christ bodily rose from the dead. They told that crowd to turn from their sin and depend only upon Christ for their salvation.
Peter taught in Acts 3:26, “‘For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.’ 4:1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
The priests, temple guards and Sadducees were the political elite of their day–the religious wealthy class. They believed the first five books of the Bible and knew about God, but they did not know God personally. In fact, the Sadducees didn’t believe anyone was resurrected from the dead, and because of this, when they heard Peter teach Jesus was risen, they were greatly disturbed because it didn’t fit their already preconceived notion of reality.
Greatly disturbed literally means to get all worked up over, to be really annoyed within yourself. Resurrection? I don’t buy it and it really makes me mad. So they arrested the apostles in order to shut them up. Maybe you are like the elite–you have it all figured out. You have come up with your own position and when anyone else contradicts it, you reject it. You think, “It isn’t true–it’s just another religion.”
But you have a problem–and the problem is this. Christ rose bodily from the grave. What difference does that make? Every difference in the world. If Jesus was who He said He was and He really came back from the dead, then biblical Christianity is true and every other religion in the world is false.
I’ll never forget sitting in front of the TV with my Dad in the late 60’s as we watched a news reporter stick a microphone in the face of a shaggy-haired quarterback from New York who said, “I think the NY Jets are the best football team in the world.” That was before the days when athletes were allowed to be arrogant, so the reporter got all nervous and said, “Well, Joe Namath–I guess we’ll all find out tomorrow at the Super Bowl, won’t we?”
Joe said, “Yes, you’ll find out and I’m going to prove it.” People couldn’t believe it. Anticipation for the game skyrocketed, since everyone wanted to know if Broadway Joe would do what he said he would do. Only 24 hours later, everyone found out. Joe Namath put his name on the line, and they won.
Jesus Christ lived 33 years on earth. He taught thousands about love, ethics, eternity, marriage, money, and suffering during His last three years of public ministry. The people marveled at what Jesus had to say–they wondered at His miracle-working power and they were awed by His personal integrity.
But they choked each time He told them He was God in the flesh and He’d come to provide the only way in order to be right with God and spend eternity in Heaven. Only lunatics or liars make those kinds of claims. People struggled believing Jesus’ claims until one day the Lord Jesus threw down the gauntlet.
In Matthew 12:40, Jesus said to those who wanted proof, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Then in Matthew 16:21, “From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”
Speaking of Himself in Mark 10:34, “And they will mock Him and spit on Him and scourge Him and kill Him and three days later He will rise again.” When Jesus said this, people were jolted. I’m sure some said, “Excuse me–you want to take that back?” Golfers would say, “You want a mulligan on that one?”
But Jesus stuck to His Word and that prediction led to a first century Super Bowl-like showdown, because all would know in three days if Jesus was who He said He was. Was Jesus the Creator God in the flesh? Was Christ the only way anyone can know God and get to Heaven? If Jesus comes back from the dead, then what proof would anybody in history ever need?
A resurrection after redeeming the sins of His children was a big “W” in the score column of proof. But if He dies and stays dead, then He is utterly exposed for being what He would have been–yet another self-appointed, clever phony with a neat bag of tricks. And in this Super Bowl, Jesus did die for the sins of his own on a cross, just as He predicted.
Good Friday happened just like He said it would, so people started counting the days. Day 1–He’s still dead. Day 2–He’s dead and gone. Day 3–BOOM, Easter Sunday morning hits and the resurrection erupts. Christ bursts forth from the tomb. Christ did it! A group of ladies went to the tomb on Sunday morning, but what they saw was an empty tomb and an angel who said, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6).
The resurrection proves Jesus is the Son of God–the Christian faith He taught is absolutely true and all the other religious leaders in the world are frauds and every other religion in the world a fake. Do you know what Confucius, Mohammed, and Buddha all have in common? They are all dead. That is why no religion is to be stacked up against the truth of Christianity, because Jesus is alive. He proved everything He said is true.
All that Christ taught about eternity, salvation, and how you and I can be right with God was true. The resurrection proves Jesus is the only way. And that makes Christianity totally unique. The resurrection proves Christianity is absolutely true and it exposes every other religious leader and religion for what they are–false. No wonder the Sadducees were disturbed by the resurrection.
People today have difficulty with absolute truth. People today want to keep their options open. People think as long as they are sincere, they’re okay. But Jesus alone said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). And Christ proved that was true by rising from the dead. How do you react to that? Maybe you’re disturbed, or maybe you . . .
#2 SNEER at the resurrection
As the apostle Paul traveled around the 1st century Roman world, he made his way to Athens, Greece and there he ran into the intellectually elite. Turn to Acts 17–these were the university Phd’s who debated belief systems all day long. As Paul is up on Mars Hill, look at how these intellects react to the resurrection in Acts 17.
“And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. And some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’– because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; we want to know therefore what these things mean’” (Acts 17:18 to 20).
Then later beginning in verse 32, “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this’ 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”
To sneer is to jest, mock or jeer. It’s the, “Ha!” when you’re convinced you’re right and someone else is wrong. It is an attitude meant to show how stupid someone’s belief is compared to yours. This happens to Christians, especially when they rightly conclude, if Jesus rose from the dead, then everything He said is true, which means life doesn’t end at the grave–because Christ says in the Bible there is an eternal Heaven and an eternal Hell. And there are many today who sneer at that truth. If there is no God and life does end at the grave–how does that affect our day-to-day lives? Radically!
Who am I? If there’s no God, you are a freak of nature, a blind product of matter plus time plus chance. Simply, from the goo to the zoo to you. You’re just a lump of slime that evolved rationally. Why are you here? If there’s no God, you’re here because of an accident of chance thrust into existence for no reason at all. You’re no more significant than a barnyard of pigs. The same blind cosmic process that coughed us up in the first place will eventually swallow us up again.
How should I live? If there is no God, if life ends at the grave–then it makes no difference whether you live like Adolph Hitler or Mother Teresa. In a universe without God, there’s no right and wrong, because there’s no standard of morality nor anyone to be accountable to. Some will say, “Society will determine what is right and what is wrong.” Just like the German society determined that a Jew was a non-human and as a result they slaughtered 6 million, when society determines truth. If there’s no God, it’s impossible to condemn crime as evil, or praise self-sacrifice as good. In a universe without God, good and evil don’t exist–there’s only self-serving existence.
Where am I going? If there is no God, if God doesn’t exist, then man is doomed. Without God, there’s no immortality–and without that, your life leads only to the grave. Your life is but a spark in infinite blackness that appears, flickers, then dies forever. No one fully believes all we are is sophisticated pool scum or educated apes. No, we humans are concerned about soulish issues.
The Bible teaches us the reason we feel like more than pond scum is because we are more than that. Paul explains who God is and how we should relate to Him when talking to the philosophers of Athens in Acts 17. “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, 25 neither is He served by human hands as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24 to 25).
And what is the result of God’s creation? He says in verse 30 that God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent–why? Verse 31, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man who He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men–what proof? By raising Him from the dead.
The Bible teaches the living God created the world. And His crowning achievement came when He created men and women after His own likeness. God gave them souls, personalities, the capacity to love and to enter into relationships, a sense of justice and a sense of humor. God breathed life into human beings (Genesis 2:7) so that life would not end at the grave, because it came from the lungs of an eternal God.
The Bible confirms–even though God gave you existence, you rebelled against His rule. So God calls you to repent–to turn from your way to God’s way. But how do you know it is all true? The end of verse 31, Jesus proved it was all true through His resurrection. When Jesus burst forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday, His resurrection was the unmistakable demonstration of what the nature of life is all about. Namely, life comes from God, not from a big bang.
And life continues on into eternity–it doesn’t go out like a candle when you die. And life is important–it has value, to God, to you and others. That is in stark contrast to how many live life today. Many want to believe you and I are all just cosmic accidents. They sneer at the resurrection. They’re the people of Romans 1:18 to 22, who are suppressing the truth, becoming futile in their speculations–their foolish hearts are darkened. They profess to be wise, but become fools.
When you begin to think all you are is matter plus time plus chance, it devalues life. The murders, lies, corruption on the news every single day demonstrates how that thinking is played out. Mindless violence, the worship of pleasure, the exaltation of self, the killing of the unborn, the murdering of the elderly, leaders who lack character, the pre-occupation with personal rights.
But God says, “Wake up and understand what life is.” Life is a gift from God to be enjoyed in relation to God now and forever. But unless we’re rightly related to God through Christ, who proved by His resurrection that life is forever, then your eternal existence will not be with God in Heaven, but separated from Him forever in Hell. That’s what causes some to sneer at the resurrection. It doesn’t seem scientific, it doesn’t seem intellectual–but friends, it’s true intellectually, scientifically, and in every way true.
Jesus did live, did die on the cross for sins, then rose bodily from the dead and physically ascended into Heaven. It wasn’t a hallucination–Jesus appeared to more than 500 at one time. The cowardly disciples didn’t steal his body and Jesus didn’t merely faint on the cross after having a spear thrust into His heart. People, He rose from the dead and changed all of history. Christ alone changed our calendar–2019 years ago Jesus, God Himself, took on human flesh, lived among us for thirty years, ministered for three, willingly took our place and our punishment on the cross for our sins on Friday, rose bodily from the dead on Sunday, showed himself to hundreds who later gave up their lives, refusing to deny the truth of the resurrection.
Easter Sunday is the crossroads of your eternity. If you sneer, this life will be the only heaven you will ever experience. If you submit, this life is the only hell you will ever experience. Are you one who will be disturbed, but do nothing? Will you sneer and write off the truth? Or will you submit to Christ today? Possibly your heart is so hard, you will . . .
#3 Not SURRENDER to the resurrected Christ
Turn to Acts 23. The apostle Paul has been arrested in order to protect him from the crowds who were upset by his teaching. Paul is brought before the Jewish leaders and it says, “But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!’ 7 And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all” (Acts 23:6 to 8).
Here were the Sadducees, who dogmatically do not believe in the resurrection, and the Pharisees, who dogmatically believe in a physical resurrection–yet neither party had surrendered to Jesus Christ. They had dogmatic religious convictions without reality–strong beliefs in God without a relationship to Him. Serious commitment to religion without surrender to Christ.
That is the curse of religion–it can blind us to our need and to the truth of a risen Christ. They are religious–but they have, in fact, rejected Christ and His resurrection. Like the decorative chocolate bunnies of Easter, they look good, even taste good, but they are hollow. There are people in this room who have prayed prayers, believe Christ is risen, believe in a resurrection like the Pharisees, but have not surrendered to Christ.
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22 to 23).
I will never forget the TV interview of a 104-year-old man who was watching the launch of the Apollo 11, headed for the moon. I remember them asking what he thought about what he was seeing. And he said, “I don’t care what I see or what you tell me, they are not going to the moon. It didn’t matter what anyone said, he was not going to believe it.
Maybe some of you react the same way. Maybe you’ve been burned by religion, been rejected by a church. Maybe you prayed a prayer and it didn’t seem to stick. Some have seen too much hypocrisy. So you’ve decided to formulate your own beliefs, based upon your own opinions. You are your own authority and reject God’s authority.
But if Jesus is God and has risen from the dead, then He is the authority all men are accountable to, including you. Romans 2:16 says God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. Second Timothy 4:1 says, “Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead.” And the Bible says in Philippians 2:10 to 11, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
To bow before Jesus now means salvation. To bow before Jesus later means condemnation. Because all of what Christ taught is proven by His resurrection, which is what Easter is all about. Jesus Christ alone came back from the dead alive. How do you react to that truth?
Are you one who is solidly religious, having strong convictions as to who Jesus is, even believing in His resurrection? Yet even though that’s all true, you still have not submitted to Christ–where He is your Lord and you follow only Him? You’ve not said to Christ, “I am helpless without you. I can’t save myself. I’m sinful and I now come to You alone, exchanging all that I am for all that You are.”
You call yourself a Christian, but you don’t have Christ in you–you’ve not been internally transformed. You believe, but you have no faith. You’ve not surrendered your life to Christ. Faith means life dependence on Christ and repentance means turning from sin to follow Christ above all. What are you waiting for? If He’s calling you, respond.
Remember your days on the playground while you were playing baseball and they’d say, “Jane over there has a crush on you”–and what would you do? You didn’t know if that was good or bad news until you checked out who Jane was. So if you looked over and if Jane was a 10, that was good news. But if she was a 4, but with a $6 million inheritance coming, that works too. So you’d check out Jane and you’d say, “Based on Jane, I’ll make a decision whether it’s good or bad if she has a crush on me.”
But if you were really young, probably what you did was to check her out and say, “I get to play second base,” because when you’re young, you’re pretty sure there is plenty of love out there that’s going to come your way throughout the course of your life. So Jane can wait until baseball season is over.
Then what happens as life goes on? Slowly you make the painful discovery there is less love out there with your name on it than you ever thought there would be. As time goes by, you observe there are not too many people forming a line to make you the center of their world. A little loneliness sets in and protective walls go up around your wounded heart, but you keep pushing your way through year after year, don’t you? But life turns out different than you thought it’d be.
Then you hit some potholes in the road of life. One of the people you really thought would love you breaks trust and disappoints you, or leaves you high and dry. Things at work don’t pan out. Throw in a financial setback or a divorce or a bad medical report–pretty soon you find yourself wandering around the neighborhood at night wondering–is there any love anywhere in the world with your name on it?
The Bible says in answer to that question–yes there is. Romans 5:8 says this to you and me, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That is the great mystery–a holy God loves sinners. As a race of people, we rebelled from God. Every one of you is corrupt in nature. All of us have lied, stolen, cheated, lusted, hated, spoken in anger–and if you somehow say you haven’t, you are very proud. We deserve punishment for our sins and eternal judgment and there is nothing we can do to prevent it.
We can’t do anything worthy of God’s forgiveness. But God loved us, He sent his Son to be born a man, the God man Jesus Christ. He offered Himself as a sacrifice–as God, His death for sin could please God. And as a man, His death for sin could take our place. And that’s what He did. Then He rose from the dead to prove it was all true. He rose from the dead to prove He’d conquered sin and death. He rose from the dead to prove He loves you.
Today, cry out to the relentless lover of your soul. Ask the only one who can love you perfectly to open your eyes to see, and your heart to respond. Plead with Christ to awaken the deadness within and make you alive, so that you can repent of your sin and depend on Him by faith. Those who follow their own way will be led to death. Those who follow Christ will be led to life. Jesus put it this way–“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
How will you react to the resurrection–are you disturbed, do you sneer, or do you know about Christ but have not surrendered to Christ? You will only react to the resurrection properly when you have turned from your wants and trade your life for Christ. And only Christ can do that for you, friends. Nothing else and no one else can transform the human heart–only Jesus Christ.
No law will change a person, better government won’t, no pleasure will fully satisfy, no counselor, no retreat, no reforming, no Lent, no sacrifice of your own, no family, no spouse, no boyfriend, girlfriend or date will give you peace. Only Jesus Christ is in the business of transforming people from the inside out. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, once you are in Christ, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come.”
Let’s pray. Where do you stand with Christ today? If you say, “I don’t know what to do”–come back next week, as we teach the Word of God, the Bible as written and you can continue learning about who God is. If you say, “I want Christ, I want salvation now, today”–then pray to Him and ask Him to awaken your dead heart and give you His faith to depend on Him and repentance to turn from your sins. And talk to those who invited you or brought you–share with them what God is doing in your heart. If God is genuinely working in your life, you’ll not hesitate to share with others what He is doing. And fill out the response card, giving us your phone, address and e-mail. Again, if it is God working in your heart, nothing will stop you from making that known.
If you say, “I am not certain where I am with Christ–I used to believe, I used to go to church, I used to think I was a Christian, but now I am not so sure.” Then come back, sit under God’s Word, get involved with God’s people and grow certain. God’s true children follow Christ and obey God’s Word–don’t play with your eternity, grow certain.
If you say, “I love Christ, I follow Christ, I seek to obey God’s Word in everything”–then make certain today you give Him thanks for rising from the dead to prove everything Christ taught was all true, to prove Christ conquered sin and death, and to prove He loves you. Lord Christ, thank you for your sacrifice for sin and for your resurrection from the dead. Thank you that we love You because You first love us.