Proclaiming Jesus and the Resurrection
Most of the sermons I have heard on the resurrection focus on providing historical proof for the event. They are apologetic – which means they focus on show the reasonableness of the resurrection by exposing the flimsy foundation of objecting arguments and drawing attention to the insuperable evidence that the dead man Jesus did indeed rise from the grave. This is important work, for, as Oxford NT scholar Austin Farrer noted, “though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” As important as this line of Easter-arguing is, I believe the most convincing argument argument anyone can give for the resurrection is a life changed by resurrection power. Just like people in the 1st century, people in the 21st century come to believe that Jesus is indeed alive not by seeing an empty tomb, but by meeting the risen Christ. This is why I Cor. 15-5-11 are taken up with the names of person after person who were encountered by the living Jesus, and whose lives were forever changed.
As we close our series of four Easter meditations, I want us to ask together about the implications of the resurrection. What difference does it make for you and me today that Jesus is alive? There would be many places in the New Testament we could go to carry out such a study, but we will limit it to one – the sermons Luke records in the book of Acts. Luke begins his second book by describing it as a record of “many convincing proofs that Jesus is alive” (1:3). The bridge he builds between his gospel and the Acts sounds like this, “my gospel contains all that Jesus began to do and teach. The Acts show all that Jesus continues to do and teach during the early years of the church.” And a deeply impactful way to see just how active Jesus is, is to study the sermons Luke records in his second book.
Each and every time the apostles address a crowd – whether it is the thousands gathered on Pentecost or a handful in a home – the resurrection of Jesus is the focus and turning point of the message. As we read these sermons, we are hearing how the risen Jesus is working, how he is fulfilling his promise to building his church. We hear, in other words, the implications of the resurrection. Let me try to summarize the gist of each sermon in a sentence or two – and hopefully whet your appetite for deeper personal study.
Acts 2 – Peter explains the coming of the Holy Spirit in this way, “This Jesus you crucified God has raised up…therefore…He has poured out this which you now see and hear” (2:333). So the gift of the Holy Spirit, a promise Peter says is available to all who place their faith in Christ, is made possible by the resurrection.
Acts 3 – Peter and John heal a lame man on the way to the temple. When the crowd gathers because this man is leaping and praising God, listen to how Peter explains what they are seeing, “You killed the author of Life…whom God raised from the dead…and faith in his name has made this man strong” (3:15-16).
Acts 4 – Peter is called before the Jewish council to defend this healing, and he answers their questions in the same way. “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:10). In other words, because of the resurrection Jesus is still able to heal, just like he did during his earthly ministry. Only now, his healing power is not limited to his physical body, but flows through his corporate Body, the church!
Acts 5 – After an angel has released him from prison, Peter again finds himself in front of the council. This time he ties the resurrection to salvation. “The God of our fathers raised Jesus…to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (5:30-31). He made the same point back in chapter 3, “God raised up His Servant Jesus, and sent Him to you, to turn every one of you from your wickedness” (3:26). This is why salvation is found in no one else but the risen Savior (4:11-12). The point is – conversion is not an act of man in response to hearing about the death of Jesus. It is an act of the resurrected Jesus himself! Jesus saves people.
Acts 7 – Stephen finds comfort and boldness in the face of his impending death, and even the power to forgive his persecutors, through a vision of the risen and exalted Christ, standing at the right hand of God (7:55-56).
Acts 9 – Paul is met by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and as a result of this encounter he is sent as a servant of gospel. This story becomes something of a pivot point for the book of Acts, with Paul recounting it at least three more times throughout the book, emphasizing different implications each time. In Acts 10, Peter is preaching at the house of Cornelius, and this is how he explains how he got there: “God raised him up on the third day…and He commanded us to preach to the people” (10: 39-42). So as a result of the resurrection, Jesus is seen as sending out messengers like Peter and Paul, and he still apprehends and commissions messengers today to spread the good news.
Acts 13 – Paul is preaching in Antioch, “He whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from the power and consequences of sin.” So we are both forgiven and set free. We are saved and we are set free from the power of sin. This is sanctification – and it comes from the power of the life of Christ within us.
Acts 17 – In this rich chapter the resurrection is given as proof that the gospel is true, it is given as the hope that we will one day experience our own resurrection, and it is given as the promise that Jesus will one day return to judge the world.
The point I think we should hear in all of this is that the early church was built by the risen Christ and it was built as his witnesses proclaimed the resurrection! The point of every message we find in the book of Acts is to introduce the listeners to a living person! This Person can fill them with His Spirit, he can forgive their sins, he can heal their bodies, he can comfort their hearts, he can free them from bondage to sin, he can give them assurance, he can send them out as messengers, and he can build his church so that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
So the invitation at the end of this final Easter meditation is to ask, since this Jesus is still alive and still at work, the same yesterday, today and forever, what do you need the risen Christ to do for you? Is it more of the Spirit? Is it healing? Is it freedom? Is it comfort? Assurance? Is it a clear commission? Beloved, if you are in Christ, it is yours because of the resurrection. Would you ask for more of Him right now – believing as our prayers are answered, we will continue to see many convincing proofs that Jesus is alive!