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The Promise Realized: He's Alive
Scripture: Luke 24:13-34
Track 16 of 27 in the Transforming Story As God Gave It series
Running time: 23 minutes, 44 seconds.
Easter Sunday.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

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Keith Ehresman Speaker: Keith Ehresman
Keith is the Family Minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

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April 16, 2006 - The Promise Realized - He's Alive

You know, we were talking about the Passover and about Jesus going up into Jerusalem, but Cleopas, these people, they're probably all from out of town. They probably don't even know who Jesus is.

My apologies. You see, Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. He did hundreds, perhaps thousands of things in the name of God and through God's power in front of thousands of people. And whenever someone would do something like that obviously would cause people to question. I mean some would just basically say, isn't this Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter? And there would be others that would see those miraculous things and they would say surely this man is demon possessed. But don't you remember? It was that thought in the back of your mind that just was there and it lingered and it made you wonder, is it possible that this is the Messiah? Is it possible that the one that I have dreamed of to deliver us has come?

Well, one thing is for certain: the chief priests didn't like him at all. I mean they were the ones who gave him to Pilate. Can you imagine that? One day they're praising him like the king and then just a couple days later they're demanding that he be killed like he's just some kind of criminal.

I was crushed. I really believed that he had come to save Israel. I had really grown to believe that he was the son of God. And then you and I, we stood there, we stood there at a distance and we watched him die. And then there were all those events that took place after that. I mean it was just so confusing. I mean literally the sun was just covered over and there was darkness for the entire day. And then there was that earthquake that literally shook the foundation of the earth to get our attention.

I remember.

And then the word, it traveled quickly, that literally there in the temple the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the holy place, it was ripped in two.

And that's not all. We talked to some women who said that they had been to the tomb where they had put Jesus' body and this is the strangest part. They said that when they got there that the body was gone, the tomb was empty. And even more they talked about angels. They said they'd seen angels there who told them that Jesus wasn't dead, that he was alive.

And what were we to do with information like that? I mean, I told them ladies, come over here and sit down. You are sounding like crazy women. You know, dead people don't just get up and walk, do they?

But did you see their eyes?

Yea, and it was passionate and it was in their hearts and the believed it and so we had to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So some friends of ours decided that they would go and find out for themselves. When they got back, they said the same thing. They said that they had been to the tomb and the body was gone. The tomb was empty. What could that possibly mean? What could it mean?

What could it mean? Only everything. Absolutely everything. You know why we're here. There's no hiding Easter Sunday morning, that the topic of the message is going to the resurrection of Jesus. And you have just witnessed the first part of Luke, chapter 24 being lived out in front of you and there'll be more of Luke 24 to come. If you want to turn there, in fact, we're going to spend some time in that particular text this morning just thinking about the things that those disciples on the road to Emmaus must have had to wrestle with on that particular morning. What an incredible statement they must have been thinking about when they heard the women say the tomb is empty. And you know that it makes every difference in the world. You can't read the New Testament without coming clearly face to face with the fact that all of Christianity hangs and falls on that one event, the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, if you'll keep Luke 24 open, just turn briefly to I Corinthians, chapter 15. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, he comes to the end of this letter answering a series of questions, this is the last question that he will address, and apparently those particular Christians had questions about the resurrection. When you come to verse 12 in I Corinthians 15, here's what you would have heard the apostle Paul say, "But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are to be found false witnesses about God for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead, but if he did not raise him, if in fact the dead are not raised, for if the dead are not raised then Christ has not been raised either and if Christ has not been raised your faith if futile. You are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." If Christ is not raised, preaching is vain, faith is vain, you are still in your sin.

Luke, chapter 24, is a fascinating statement to close out the gospel of Luke. This particular writer has focused his attention upon the history of the life of Jesus on earth and there are some fascinating connections between the first part of this book and the last part of this book. In fact, look at Luke 24 and think about these particular words. Verse 13, "That day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, what are you discussing together as you walk along and they stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened these days? What things he asked. About Jesus of Nazareth they replied. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but they didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see. Jesus said to them, how foolish you are, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory? And beginning with these words with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." I want you to just think briefly about that story. Two men on the way out of Jerusalem missing Jesus after a Passover feast. Does it sound at all familiar to the way that the gospel of Luke begins? A Passover feast and two people leaving Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary and what are they looking for? Jesus and they can't find him. And when they do find him, don't you know what he says? Did you not know I had to be about my father's business. And what does Jesus say to these two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Did you not understand that this had to happen?

Luke is so abundantly clear about the way he wraps his gospel in these stories. There is such a clear echo. For example, in Luke, chapter 24, verse 21, "we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." Such a clear echo of what Annis said in the temple grounds the day Jesus was brought in order to be christened, to be anointed as a child. This is the one who comes to bring the redemption of Israel. There is an interesting passage here in Luke 24. Come down to verse 29. We'll see this in a few minutes as we prepare for the Lord's Supper, but in anticipation, verse 29 "they urged him strongly, stay with us for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over. So he went in to stay. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, and he gave thanks, and he broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened." That phrase, their eyes were opened. Now you're going to have to think about this one for just a little bit. Hearken back, clear back to the beginning of January when we started talking about this elongated story, the transforming story, Genesis to Revelation, what happened when they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. What's the first thing that was said? And their eyes were opened. It's as if Luke has pulled Genesis together with Jesus and said now your eyes can really be opened to the new creation. This marvelous story has even been implied to communicate to us that this new creation has begun, that the long exile of Israel, the long exile of God's people has now come to a conclusion. It's interesting, I just toss it out there because I don't know if there's more to it than this, but it's interesting. Earl Ellis says there are eight meals, eight meals in Luke's gospel, this one being number eight, the first one after a perfect week of seven. The first meal of a new creation.

The resurrection, all of life hangs on the truth of resurrection.  And what Jesus does in this particular text is simply to take these two disciples on the road to Emmaus and try to convince them that what they had already heard about Jesus was in fact true. Since we're going to do so much with this story of Luke 24 in other ways this morning, I'm not going to attempt to unfold the rest of Luke 24. I'm going to try to imitate just briefly what Jesus did in proving who he was. On this particular resurrection day, I want to simply address three questions that were posed by Lee Strobel in A Case for Easter. He raises three questions: was Jesus really dead, was the tomb really empty, and was he really seen after his death and resurrection?

The first question is pretty simply: was Jesus really dead? According to this text it's true. Luke 24, verse 20, "the chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death and they crucified him." Was he really dead? Strobel entertains a conversation with Alexander Metherell who was the Cook County, an expert in CSI-like work. Here are the things that he says in trying to establish whether or not Jesus was really dead. Because you see, one of the options was that he never really died. He was put in the tomb still slightly alive and the cool dampness of the tomb allowed him to revive. Well, we'll come to that in a second. He says the Roman flogging was enough virtually to kill a man all by itself. The cat-o'-nine tails in which were embedded pieces of bone and glass intended to literally rip a man's body to shreds. Often, according to Roman history, people died at the flogging. The record of their bodies was often that their internal organs were left visible to human sight. According to this particular doctor, more than likely Jesus would have already entered into hypovolemic shock because of blood loss. His body would have simply begun the process of shutting down to almost nothing. Having done that they then laid him on a cross and they drove nine-inch spikes into his wrists and feet, probably right here, so that he wouldn't be able to slip off of the cross. Then they stood it upright. Death came primarily by asphyxiation. You couldn't hold yourself up so that you could breathe. You would push with your feet as hard as you could to elevate your body to get the weight off of your chest so that your abdomen could take in air, but the pain would be so incredible that you would then slump back down again, taking all of the air out of your system and then you couldn't breathe. It's an interesting side note: the kind of pain that we assume that Jesus endured is excruciating. Do you know where that word comes from? It's a Latin word from out of the cross. Excruciating pain. What ultimately happens is that there is this irregular heartbeat that occurs because of the lack of respiratory abilities and a man simply suffocates. For those of you who have read your bibles, you know that they came along and normally would have broken the legs of the people who were hanging there in order to help them die. In other words, so they couldn't push themselves up again to take another breath. They didn't do that to Jesus because he was already dead. In order to test it, they ran a spear up through his side in which they ... and then saw water and blood come out. According to the doctor, that's a normal course of events for this kind of experience.

There are those who say he didn't really die, that he merely swooned and was unconscious when they put him into the tomb. If that's true, you have some serious questions to answer like, how did a man in that kind of condition after laying there without food and water for three days manage to push that stone back up the ramp that it had been rolled down so that it would not be able to be moved easily out of place? And once he did that, how did he fight off a Roman guard armed and trained to keep people from leaving places? And if that is true, if he did manage to accomplish that and he accomplished getting away from the soldiers, tell me how a man in that condition walked seven miles to Emmaus and carried on a conversation where people didn't look at him as if he were some kind of mangled mess? Dr. Williams Edwards wrote an article in 1986 in the Journal of the American Medical Association in which his conservative opinion was this--three single words summarize the article--Jesus was dead. That's a harsh reality but it's a true reality and it's a necessary reality. Jesus had to die if he was going to accomplish for us the redemption that we needed.

The question then becomes well, was the tomb really empty? Did he raise from the dead? And there are multiple arguments against that particular thing. One is the swoon theory: he simply woke up and he left. I think we can dismiss that one as being utterly ludicrous. There is a second option and that is that they went to the wrong tomb. That in their confusion on that particular morning they managed to find the wrong tomb on the hillside. Well, I suppose there could be some credence to that, but don't you suppose that since the Roman soldiers were going to die for losing the body that had they gone to the wrong tomb, the soldiers would have produced the body in a heartbeat just to keep their own life. If it were the wrong tomb, do you not think that the Jewish chief priests and scribes who put him to death in the first place would have not gone to the correct tomb and produced his body so that they could stop the speculation about resurrection? Well maybe somebody just hid the body so that they could then retrieve it later. Well the question you have to answer then is what are you going to do with those soldiers? How are you going to get the body away from them? And again, I think if there was a body hidden somewhere, you would have to assume that the Jews or the Romans would have been immediately ready to reproduce it. And quite honestly, the disciples didn't expect a resurrection. You notice that they went to the tomb looking for a body. They weren't anticipating to find an empty space so they wouldn't have hid it because they weren't anticipating resurrection anyway. Well maybe the possibility is that the body is just still there.

Well if that's true, then you've got to explain the third question–did he appear to all of those people? And when you read I Corinthians, chapter 15, you are struck by how many people he appeared to. He appeared to the women, he appeared to James, he appeared to Peter, he appeared to the 12, he appeared to the 11, he appeared to 500 at once, he even appeared a number of years later to the apostle Paul when he was still a persecuting Jewish leader. Those multiple appearances in multiple settings on multiple occasions would belie the fact that somebody said he didn't show up when he was supposed to.

Now I realize that that doesn't necessarily have to convince you. I'm here to simply proclaim to you on Easter Sunday morning 2006 that the truth of the matter is Jesus was really dead, the tomb was really empty, and yes, he really did appear to a lot of different people on a lot of different occasions and the reason is because he was in fact raised from the dead. But that could be just speculation. It could be my opinion versus anybody else's opinion in the entire world. I understand that that is true, that that's a possibility. But the one thing that you have to wrestle with, the one thing that you have to deal with in light of that information is how do you explain the early church? If this is all a hoax, how do you explain the fact that an entirely Jewish community gave up their most sacred day, the fourth of 10 commandments, something they had honored for 1500 years and in a matter of less than a week turned it over from Saturday to Sunday and began to worship on a different day? How do you explain the transformation of lives from people like a man like Saul who was persecuting Christians into a man who was willing to give his life up for the sake of becoming and helping others be Christians? How do you explain the presence of the church that has over the course of the last 2000 years endured persecution and never been hurt, never been stopped? How do you explain the fact that around the world all of history is measured by A.D. and B.C.–before Christ and after? How do you explain that without the resurrection? How do you explain your own transformed life without the resurrection? That would be my question. How do you explain what happened to you or to your spouse or to your family member? How do you explain outside of the presence of Jesus Christ and his resurrection?

N.T. Wright wrote this little book on the resurrection, uh, it started out to be a 70-page book. It turned out to be 700 and some. This sermon started out to be 11 minutes and we'll see how long it lasts. N.T. Wright says the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus clearly provides a sufficient condition of the tomb being empty and the appearances taking place. In other words, once you grant that Jesus was raised from the dead, all the pieces of the historical jigsaw puzzle of early Christianity fall into place. He's saying that the resurrection is sufficient evidence to explain all of the history of the church coming into existence. But he goes one step further. Here's what he says. My claim is even stronger, that the bodily resurrection of Jesus provides a necessary condition for these things. In other words, no other explanation will do. All the efforts to find alternative explanations fail and they're bound to do so. What he's telling you is, try to come up with any other explanation for what has happened since Jesus rose from the dead and you will discover that there is no single explanation available that makes any sense out of the history of the church except the resurrection of Jesus. My friends, he is risen.