Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - The Third Day He Rose Again from the Dead

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, November 19, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the tenth message in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith.You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.
 


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I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.  Amen.

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In a few days, we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving. And I’ll tell you, during the last week, that’s kind of been the theme in one of my favorite shows on television. In fact, it’s one of the few television shows I ever get to watch, because it’s on from nine to ten, which is really good for me. You see, I generally get home kind of late, and so it gives me something to watch while I’m eating my supper. Now the show is named Chopped, and it’s on the Food Network. And the idea behind it is pretty simple. At the beginning there are four professional chefs, and they have to fix an appetizer, a main course and a dessert within a certain period of time using ingredients they’ve been given in these baskets. Of course, it starts with four, but that’s not the way it ends. Each course represents a round, with judges eliminating the chef whose food just doesn’t measure up. You see, during the sixty minute, three chefs will be chopped (get it, chopped) until there’s only the winner left. Now that’s the show. And like I said, I generally watch it as I’m eating my supper.

And this last week, Chopped had a Thanksgiving theme, with the chefs putting together a dinner using holiday ingredients, you know, like turkey and sweet potatoes and pumpkin. Now, that’s the kind of stuff they had to work with, but what they made, I’ll tell you, it was nothing like anything I’d experienced back when I was a kid. For example, I can’t imagine my mom wasting our time with appetizers; they would have just gotten in the way of the gluttony that was coming. And when we sat at the table, we weren’t looking at a single mouse, just mashed potatoes. And we didn’t chow down on anything covered a remoulade, just gravy. And after the main course, we weren’t facing a brûlée, just a wedge of pumpkin pie with Cool Whip slapped on top. You see, in spite of what they made on Chopped, we didn’t have any of that fancy, smancy stuff at the Rudiger house on Thanksgiving, no siree.

And I’ll tell you something else, when we talked about the stuff for which we were thankful, rarely did religious-sounding things come up, not when I was growing up. I mean, although we might have mentioned “God” and “Jesus”, when I was a kid that was about as deep as we got into theology.  Man, our focus was on friends and family and of course food. As a matter of fact, I can say, with absolute certainty that in the thirty or so Thanksgivings I celebrated at 8038 Moose Ave., the resurrection was never mentioned as a reason for us to be thankful.

Of course, I really don’t think that’s surprising. Good night, unless you’re having Thanksgiving dinner with a minister, (Something I’d never recommend.) it’s pretty doubtful that this kind of thing would be discussed. But you know, I think that’s kind of a shame, and I’ll tell you why. Of all the events in human history, I believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was and is the most important, and I’m talking about the most important to each and everyone of us here this morning. And since, as we’re going through The Apostles’ Creed, the “expression du jour” is “the third day he rose again from the dead,” we’re going to focus on why the resurrection should be one of the first things we mention on Thursday, you know, right before we eat.

And I’ll tell you something else, I think spending some time discussing this stuff, well, I think it just makes sense, because as it relates to the resurrection of Jesus, I believe most Christians feel a whole lot more comfortable talking about what happened than why it’s important. Of course, I believe the reason for this is fairly obvious; I mean, I think most of us believe we’ve got a pretty good handle on this what business. In other words, I think most of us assume that we know exactly what happened on the third day. My goodness, we’ve all seen the pictures, right; you know of Jesus stepping out of the tomb. And if we’ve ever seen one of those passion plays in person or on television, man, we know the resurrection is the part on which they spent the most money, you know, with lasers flashing from behind the stone and a machine pumping out smoke. And all of that happens before Jesus, usually dressed in white, steps out onto the stage. In fact, it kind of reminds me of this biblical-sounding story about the resurrection. “But in the night in which the Lord's day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it two by two in every watch, there was a loud voice in heaven; and they saw that the heavens were opened and that two males who had much radiance had come down from there and come near the sepulcher. But that stone which had been thrust against the door, having rolled by itself, went a distance off the side; and the sepulcher opened, and both the young men entered. And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from the sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’” [The Gospel of Peter, 35-43] Of course, even though it’s called a gospel, that story’s not from any Bible we use, but still, it sounds pretty good, right: you know, all dramatic, like a Steven Spielberg movie. And the same must have been with the resurrection. And so we think we know about the what, but the why, you know, why it’s important, well, other than it being a really big miracle, most Christians tend to be a little fuzzy on the specific reasons why the resurrection of Jesus is all that important.

But you know, it’s interesting, when we look into the New Testament, well, it’s kind of reversed. In other words, in the Bible, what happened seems to take a back seat to why it’s important. As a matter of fact, when you read the gospels we use, you know, like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the four gospels in the Bible, the one thing they all have in common is that not a single one actually described the resurrection at all. Trust me, there’s no mention of lasers shooting or smoke rolling or Jesus actually leaving the tomb. Of course there’s a lot of stuff about what came before, you know, like the crucifixion and the burial and even the women deciding to come to the tomb. And there’s a lot about what happened after, like the women finding the stone rolled away and talking to a man or two men or an angel sitting on the rock and leaving the tomb and either telling the disciples or telling no one, you know, depending on the gospel you’re reading. But there’s nothing about the resurrection itself. Instead it’s not described at all. It’s a mystery, not all that different than how God the Father Almighty created the heavens and the earth or how Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. You see, these are all mysteries. And for that reason, before they can have any meaning to us, we really need to make the decision to trust, to believe, to have faith. And that also applies to the resurrection. Unlike the crucifixion which was described in great detail, the resurrection is and always will be a matter of faith.

And I’ll tell you, when we make that decision to trust that on “the third day he rose again from the dead,” we’ll be open to experience the full impact of it’s meaning, something that’s a whole lot more important and frankly more personal than just a big, old miracle. You see, it can be a source of hope as we look into our own future and of peace as we consider those who’ve gone on before us. And this is something that we can find most clearly explained in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. You see, according to Paul, when Jesus was raised from the dead, it affected far more than just him. As a matter of fact, it involved all us, because it started a process in which we’ll all participate. Just listen to what Paul wrote: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.” [1 Corinthians 15:20-28]

Now we’re going to talk more about why this business about being physically raised from the dead was important to Paul and the Evangelists when we discuss the phrase in The Apostles’ Creed, “the resurrection of the body.” At this point, let’s just say that, according to Paul, when Jesus was raised, he was like the first seed that sprouts in a garden. It’s good, but what’s really exciting is that you know others are going to follow. You see, because we trust that Jesus was raised from the dead, we can also trust that a new age has begun, an age that started when Jesus was raised and will end when we experience resurrection too. Of course, how it’ll happen, well, according to Paul that’s just as mysterious for us as it was for Jesus. Listen to what he wrote: “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. ...So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” [1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-44] No, we’re never going to know what actually happens when we’re raised.

Still Paul offered a glimpse of what will happen after. He wrote, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’” [I Corinthians 15:51-55]  You see, this is why the resurrection is so very important. It gives us a reason to hope as we look into the future and think about ourselves and those who’ve gone before us. And it’s also a source of peace, and I’m talking about when we believe, when we trust that this time is coming: the time when we’re all going to be raised and we’re all going to put on immortality and we’re all going to say together, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” You see, that’s what the resurrection of Jesus offers right here and now to those who make the decision to trust that it’s true.

And for that reason, maybe we should work it into our Thanksgiving celebration. I mean, as we think about the stuff for which we can be thankful, maybe we should include the resurrection near the top of the list, because even though we may never understand exactly what actually happened, we can certainly appreciate why it’s important. And that’s going to occur the minute we decide to believe that what happened to Jesus will one day also happen to us and all whom we love. In other words, because his tomb was empty, we can believe that one day ours will be too. And if that doesn’t make you feel thankful, I’m just not sure what will.


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