Is God dead?
It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?
Immorality is increasing at an incredible rate. New science studies “prove” that it was a Big Bang and not God. “And the article had 10,000 likes on Facebook so the conclusions must be true!” Random acts of nature – mudslides, disappearing planes, capsized boats. “If God were here, he wouldn’t let that happen.”
Then, there are our personal struggles – barely able to pay rent, job on the chopping block, strained marriages, struggles in school, life threatening illnesses. They all tempt us to one sad conclusion --
God is dead.
That’s a pretty scary conclusion isn’t it? It’s the exact same scary situation that a few women followers of Jesus found themselves in early the first Easter morning.
Their leader. Their God. Was certainly dead. And there’s plenty of reason to believe this to be truth nearly 2000 years later. Just look at the witnesses:
1) The crowd at the crucifixion. They had seen Jesus’ body go through a brutal beating. Punches, slaps, and kicks on Thursday evening. A barbaric scourging at the hands of professional Roman torturers Friday morning. A crown of thorns to rest his head, then, stakes through the hands and the feet all by lunchtime! Then, they watched for three hours until his body wore out, unable to push up at the bottom of the cross, Jesus took his last breath. Then knew he was dead.
2) But so did the soldiers. They were professionals at torture AND killing. If they didn’t get it right, they might die! So they were extra careful. Even though they were positive Jesus was dead, one soldier took a spear and stuck it into his side -- aiming for the heart. Now they knew he was dead.
3) The two men who had prepared Jesus’ body for burial knew he was dead, too. So they began traditional preparations for the dead. They covered Jesus’ hands, his feet, and his wrists with linens. They never saw his chest move. They felt no pulse. They didn't see his eyelids flicker. They knew he was dead.
4) His enemies even knew it! As the body was prepared, they came to Pilate and asked that armed guards watch over the tomb. Jesus had promised that he would rise again, but since they knew him to be dead, they were nervous that the disciples would steal his body. They asked for the guards to prevent a hoax.
5) The man in charge of the crucifixion allowed it. Because he knew Jesus was dead too. Likely, he had ordered plenty of crucifixions. No one came through them! Jesus was no different. His guards said he was dead. He was dead. They could have a guard if it made them feel better.
6) The grave workers then took their places. They helped ensure the body made its way into the tomb. They pushed a boulder in front of it. They sealed it with wax. They probably worked in shifts. One group Friday night. Another Saturday morning, Another Saturday evening. A final set early Sunday morning. None of these soldiers heard movement in the tomb. Because Jesus was dead.
7) Which is why the women early that Easter morning were so certain. They carried spices towards his tomb – not to repair him to health, but because that's how you honored the dead.
And Jesus was dead.
Even modern medicine agrees. Some people have this idea that Jesus went into a coma. "Maybe, he didn't really die. Maybe, the blood thirsty beatings, the extreme blood loss and the slow death on a cross didn't kill him. Just put him a coma." Modern medicine scoffs at such an idea. Dr. Robert Stein, one of the world's foremost pathologists wrote, "Jesus couldn't possibly have faked his death, because you can't fake the inability to breathe for all that long. Besides the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all...And EVEN if in some kind of miracle, he had only been in a coma, what would he have done? When he awoke in the tomb, he would have been so pathetically weak that he would have simply lay there unable to move the giant boulder that sealed him in!"
This is key then to understanding the Easter story. Jesus was certainly dead.
II. Certainly Alive.
As the women came to the tomb any fear they had from their leader having been killed must have intensified. There was an earthquake. The stone had been rolled away!!! The soldiers were passed out with shock! They appeared into the tomb.
IT WAS EMPTY! What had happened!?!
Then, they met their first witness.
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. An angel. “He’s not here; he has risen…come and see the place where he lay! Then, go quickly and tell his disciples.”
So they hurried away from the tomb! Excited, but nervous. Who would believe them? Is an angel to be trusted?
Then, they saw someone they knew could be trusted. The women saw Jesus! “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet. At that time, I'm sure they saw the wounds on both his feet -- right where the nails had been. As he clasped their shoulders to comfort them, they saw the holes in his hands. This was no imposter. This wasn't some groggy, just out of a coma Jesus...and since they all saw Him...it wasn't a hallucination.
Who was not dead, but alive!
But those women weren’t the only witnesses.
Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalene. A woman who could have no doubts it was him. She would never forget the face of the man who would heal her and changed her life.
Jesus showed himself to two disciples walking to Emmaus. His knowledge of scripture was unmistakable. It was him!
He showed himself to the Eleven. Well, actually, ten of them first. Thomas was missing. But when Thomas complaind that he wouldn’t believe in the resurrection until he saw it, Jesus reappeared. He showed him his hands. His feet. He ate food in front of him. He allowed Thomas to stick his hand in his side! And even doubting Thomas was convinced – this isn’t Peter trying to play a trick on me. This is "My Lord and God!"
In fact, there is no shortage of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. over 500 people in many different places, in different times and different places. Different people. All of them were convinced it was him!
Even one of Jesus' greatest enemies – Saul -- who was convinced that Jesus was dead and that this was all a lie...so much so that he imprisoned, beat, and killed anyone who confessed to following Jesus...Saul saw Jesus. He believed he was alive. He became a follower. He went on four missionary journeys, started over 20 churches, and wrote 13 books in the Bible! Why did he make such a change? Why did it happen over night?
Because he saw that Jesus was alive!
But Paul isn't even the greatest witness. The greatest witness lie in that empty tomb.
I like Chocolate Easter bunnies. But, at our house, you aren’t supposed to eat them until Easter Sunday. So, if Julianna finds a little bit of chocolate on the corner of my mouth and accuses me of eating the bunny, all I have to do is produce the chocolate bunny—whole, in package, and untouched.
If Jesus was still dead, all the Pharisees would have to do would be to produce the dead body.
"But the disciples probably stole it!" Right! An accountant and a few fisherman overpowered the first century equivalent of heavily, armored Navy seals, and threw open the sealed rock all before the soldiers knew what hit ‘em.
There’s another problem. Why would the disciples have perpetuated the lie even to their own deaths?
What happens on crime dramas when the perpetrator is confronted with absolute evidence that he is guilty? He stops lying. He gives the truth – no matter what it convict him of.
The disciples NEVER did this. Why? Because it was the truth! They had seen Jesus die and they had seen him alive! He was their God and God was not dead!
Brothers and sisters, no explanation fits the empty tomb except for the fact that he only thing that does fit and explain the empty tomb is a historical. Very real. Resurrection.
III. What it means for Us
What interesting is that there isn’t an Empire Strikes Back to the Easter Story. The Pharisees never find Jesus and try to kill him all over again.
The truth is this: God couldn't be killed then and listen to this God can't be killed now!
Now what we normally don’t try to do is kill God with a nuclear bomb or biological warfare. No, we use reason! "I don't think God could exist and it's not reasonable that Jesus could rise from the dead, so this is nothing more than a fairy tale." We use science. "I read an article that said science still can't find scientific proof for a God that created the universe. We use emotions, "I hate that God tells us that the way I want to live my life is a sin! Therefore, he must not exist."
But God didn’t stay dead at the hands of one of the most violent deaths in the history of the world. No amount of unbelief, no amount of scientific evidence, no amount of immorality, no amount of bad circumstances, no amount of hatred can kill God!
In fact, if you still insist that Jesus is not God and definitely not alive or even real, - especially in the face of today’s testimony - I’m very nervous for you. It’s not God's who's dead…it's you.
And it happens so easily. Guilt over past sins smothers any hope in a God who forgives. Pride stamps out any obedience to a divine authority. Reason. Sinful, human reason loves to attack and destroy faith. And fear of what it might mean that God is real and Easter is true...kills your desire to find out.
But even if we are spiritually dead, there’s still hope. Because God’s not dead! In fact, he can’t be held down by death. That’s mortal stuff.
Why then did God die in the first place?
Scripture says, "He was put to death for our sins"-- the very Jesus who proved his authority to say things with his unmistakable death and resurrection – He taught all human beings are morally corrupt individuals who have done wrong against God and, as a result, die – and, when they die apart from God – die eternally!
Scripture says, "He was raised to life for our justification!" In other words, his death was the punishment for your sins. God’s wrath has been wiped away! Now, through faith in Jesus, you are forgiven and God declares you innocent of wrongdoing. In fact, he no longer threatens hell, but promises the eternal life of heaven.
3) This leads to the final truth: With faith in the God-Who’s-Not-Dead, you’re not dead! A more eloquent way of saying it this: With faith the God who Lives, you will Live! On high. With the Lord. In heaven.
This is huge!
I wish you could have met my Grandpa Dave. He was a wonderful man. I used to sit on his lap and eat Easter candy with him. I’d also try to keep the Easter candy away from the tattooed panther he had on his bicep. It didn’t like bunnies – he told me.
I haven’t celebrated an Easter with Grandpa Dave in years.
But I will. Because God lives. Through faith in him, you will too.
Dear friends. May this same ever living God be your hope this Easter and always. Amen.