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Why Celebrate Easter?

Sermon by James Baird on Apr 11, 1993

Luke 24:1-10

Let's take our Bibles and continue this worship of our risen God as we take His holy and infallible word and turn to the Gospel of Luke. It is the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, and as you open your Bibles, you would understand again that the word resurrection means “life from the dead,” “life from the dead.” That's why on this day we celebrate because we are emphasizing that Christ rose from the dead. It's called the Day of Resurrection.

Now, as we celebrate, we go back to that first Easter. This is the scene: Christ was crucified on a cross on Friday; He was placed in a tomb. There were a number of women who were faithful, followed to the tomb, watched where He was buried and on the Sunday, the day after the Old Testament Sabbath, early in the morning they show up at the tomb so that they can anoint the body with the oils and spices, anoint His body with its covering, like a mummy. They think they are going to have a problem because a huge stone had been rolled in front of this cave. When they arrive, the stone is rolled away and there are two angels who question them and make an announcement. Now the thing that I want you to be aware of is their reaction. What is the reaction of believers on that first Easter? And it is repeated a number of times. So let us hear the word of God. It is from the gospel of Luke chapter 24, verse 1.

Luke 24:1-12:

1 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher, bringing the spices that they had prepared, and certain others with them. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher. 3 And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: 5 And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, 7 Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. 8 And they remembered his words, 9 And returned from the sepulcher, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. 11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. 12 Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulcher; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.” God give us insight into His holy word on this day.

When you examine, you understand again that the first Easter was met with doubt, unbelief. There was a consternation; they simply didn't understand. When we come to this account, I am reminded that the Bible teaches that there are three resurrections. The first resurrection is that of Jesus Christ, and the other two resurrections, they spring right out of the resurrection that takes place on Easter morning. All three of these resurrections are met with doubt. Anybody who comes to believe in Christ works his way through the doubt and the unbelief. I shouldn't say anybody; there are some people who never once doubted, but there are many who have to work their way through the doubt as did the disciples, the apostles of the Lord Jesus on that first Easter day.

I. The first resurrection: of Jesus Christ
Let's deal with the first resurrection; that is, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I remember the philosopher Matthew Arnold saying, “There are no resurrections because there are no miracles, and therefore no man has ever been raised, truly, who was dead.” No ordinary man? I agree with you Matthew Arnold. There was a French philosopher, the literary giant Russo. Russo had heard these arguments centuries ago; Russo put it like this: “It would have been a far greater miracle to invent the life of Jesus Christ than should He have lived it.” Russo was saying that for these unlettered disciples to invent this life of Jesus Christ, which has absolutely captured mankind down through all of these centuries…it would be a far greater miracle for somebody to believe that these uneducated men made up this story and have absolutely captured the imagination of mankind all of these years. It would be easier to believe that there was a Jesus of Nazareth who lived it than that somebody made it up.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, which never claims to be a great Christian document, the Encyclopedia Britannica gives 20,000 words to the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, more words and space than the combined lives of the following people: Aristotle, Cicero, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Why would they give so much space? It is because there is the uniqueness about Jesus of Nazareth. He was raised from the dead. That's why they give all that space.

There were two great historians in the first century; neither one of them was a Christian: one was Tacitus the Roman, and the other one was Josephus the Jew. Both of them acknowledged that the early church firmly believed that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. They didn't endorse it, but they said, ‘These people, they believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.’

The disciples work their way through the doubt. Peter ran to the tomb; John was with him, as John tells us, and they didn't even bother to go. It is not until later in the day when they meet Christ, two of them, on the road to Emmaus, and this is what they say about it: “And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures? And they arose and they returned to Jerusalem.” They had quit. They are on their way home, out; it's all over with. But they rush back and in the upper room say, “He is alive,” and then Christ comes and meets with them.

My wife and I go every summer when we are in that portion of the state of Mississippi–the corner of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama–we go and visit the battleground of the battle of Shiloh, built around that little Shiloh Methodist Church. It's an interesting place. In some reading I discovered one thing, that after the battle of Shiloh during the Civil War, down from Chicago came the minister who ministered both to the Southern and the Northern troops. His name was Dwight L. Moody. There was also an officer who fought on the side of the Union; he was a very brilliant man; he’d been in the Mexican War and now he was in the Civil War. And at the end of the war, after two wars, his spiritual life was totally shattered: he was a man in absolute conviction of doubt. He encountered a man who furthered that doubt into complete unbelief. The soldier's name was Lew Wallace. The doubter, who was going around the country making speeches to destroy Christianity and the religion of superstition all based on the resurrection, his name was Robert Ingersoll. Robert Ingersoll committed this military man, middle-aged at this time, to help him destroy Christianity by disproving the resurrection. And so for one decade after he left the military, Lew Wallace gathered the material to write a book that would destroy the Christian faith. The United States government made him the territorial governor of New Mexico in the years 1878-1881. It was while he was the territorial governor that he published his book, but something had happened. You see, after a decade of study, being of an honest mind, in his own library one day he got down on his knees and received Christ as Lord and Savior, because he was absolutely convinced that there was no other explanation but that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The book that he published was not a theological journal; it was a novel. You've seen it on television; most of us have read it; it's Ben Hur, a tremendous account about the days of Jesus Christ.

Well, the mind would say, ‘If it's so clear and all the evidence is there, and the disciples believed it, and over the last 100 years a series of lawyers have examined the resurrection to disprove it and have written a number of books coming to the conclusion that He really was raised from the dead–why doesn't everyone believe? Why is it that as I'm driving to church here, early on this Easter morning, I see a group of people going out on their bicycles to have a nice day in the country? Why aren't they here or in some other church on Easter morning worshipping, if it's evident that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead?’

On an Easter morning Aldous Huxley was in a party of people. Huxley came to prominence right at the turn of the century, a philosopher, literary giant, brilliant man from a brilliant family, you know. Huxley had a group of folk at this party who got up early on Easter morning and were going to the local church to worship. Huxley grabbed one man that he knew and respected as a Christian and said, “You stay and you talk to me and you tell me what Easter is all about and what Jesus Christ means to you.” The man said, “You’re too brilliant. You’d just argue me like you do everybody else.” Huxley said, “I won't say a word. You just tell me.” And so the man stayed and he began to tell Huxley about Christ and His resurrection, and what had happened in his own life as he received Christ, and how he had served him, and the peace and the joy and the service that was his. And at the end, Huxley bowed his head and said, “I would that, God, I could believe that.” “Why don't you believe it, Aldous?” “Well, you see,” he writes in another place–Huxley tells the story–he writes in another place, “For me to acknowledge Christ would mean He would be my master, and I would have to give up my lifestyle and my women and I don't choose to do that.” You see, there are many people in the face of evidence who for their own chosen morality style will not believe, but we believe that He was raised from the dead and is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. That's the first resurrection.

II. The second resurrection: of the human soul
Out of that first resurrection comes the second resurrection, and it deals with men like Huxley. The second resurrection is the resurrection of the human soul. Here's what the Bible teaches once again: the resurrection of the human soul is fraught with doubt and unbelief. Here's what the Bible teaches, you know this verse: “The wages of sin is death.” Sin produces death.

Death in the Bible always means separation; now there are three kinds of separation, but always it means separation. When Adam sinned in the Garden, he was cast out, separated; as a wage he earned death, separation from the Father. “The wages of sin is death.” And the Bible says that death is, first of all, a separation from God Himself. Man who is made for God, he does not know, doesn't even love his great God in Heaven. Not only that, man finds himself, because he does not have God in His soul and his soul is dead to the things of God, he finds himself with the power of evil in his soul; he is overwhelmed by temptation. He will get into things that he never dreamed he would do and he finds evil in this world. He finds it in the continents of the world; he finds it in his hometown; and he finds it in his own family and among even church people. He finds a power so that men cannot be and do what they want to do and be, because they’re separated from their God. And, finally, he finds himself separated from his fellow man in conflict, hating, loving a few and even having problems with those, but the stranger at the gate or somebody else or somebody whose different we can just despise. That's what the Bible says, that man is dead in his soul in his trespasses in sin.

Now man will say, “It's not like that.” Here's where the doubt comes in. Man will say, “I may not love God as much as you love God, preacher, but I don't hate Him. I-I-I pray, and certainly there are many good things in my life. I do many good things and also I don't hate all people. I love many, many people and I have many, many friends. And so I doubt that the soul is dead and it needs a resurrection.”

How do you answer that? Now I'm not a fisherman but I've seen some men fish. I saw a boy on a pier in Florida hook a big fish, as far as I was concerned. He took that thing, and flip! and that fish landed on the pier and it showed every evidence of life not death. That thing flopped all over the place, but I knew, and that boy knew, that fish was dead, because that fish was out of its element. Its element was the water and out of the water that fish is dead. Now we may give some signs that we are alive, but when we're out of God, we're out of our element, because we are made for Him. And we can flop around and we can say, “I love God. I pray, and I do good things, and I don't hate people.” We just flop around a little bit.

But the history of mankind and the examination of our soul will tell us that apart from God my soul is dead. I need the resurrection. God says, ‘Your sin I deal with on the cross through My Son the Lord Jesus. That's Good Friday. Not only that, I will prove it on the third day by having Him raise from the dead by My power and I will have Him ascending into heaven forty days later. And from heaven He will send His Spirit to touch your heart, and you will repent, and you will have faith, and you will believe in Him.’ That's the Christian message for our day.

But the unbeliever of our day says, “There's nothing wrong with my heart that a few little things can't change.” Or the unbeliever will say, “You cannot change these people because of what's happened to them.” The unbelieving world says in our day, “Let's change circumstance,” and so often that's what we swallow. Let's change this and this and this and this, and add all of these things and programs, and we will change the circumstance. God says, ‘What you need is an inward change of your character.’ What a world of difference. And so the world says, ‘Circumstances: that's what we need changed.” But God says, ‘Your soul is dead. That's what needs changing. And what you need is a resurrection by the touch of God.’

Now you’re going to find this hard to believe, that there are some things in my life that are a little strange. I want to tell you about one of them. I live in the South because I don't want to wear a coat and I don't want to wear gloves–but it got cold recently, I went looking for my gloves. And I pulled open this drawer and sure enough there are four black, shiny, leather gloves. I never give my gloves away. One of those gloves I am absolutely convinced I wore at least thirty to forty years ago. And so I open up that drawer and there are my four gloves; every one of them fits the left hand. I keep them and I am not going to throw them away because surely I am going to find one of the others somewhere. I use the illustration about the glove–when that glove is just there and it's just lying there in the drawer, but then I put that glove up, and I put my hand in it, and it fits in this glove–so it is with the deadness of my soul until the nail-scarred hand of the Lord Jesus comes into my soul, and then suddenly things begin to happen. I understand the things of God. You’d be amazed at the messed-up ideas I had about God and my attitude, my attitude towards other people and towards myself. I often wonder what would have happened to me. I fear what would have happened to my wife and my boys if it had not been for the living God taking and moving into my life. That's God's answer. That's what's called the second resurrection. It is a resurrection of the human soul, and it comes from the first resurrection, because He's alive! He can do it.

III. The third resurrection: dealing with death
Now there's a third resurrection. The third resurrection is in the future. The third resurrection deals with death. I was, this week, in a nice place in another state with another man, surrounded by thousands of people. At about forty or fifty yards away, a man was walking by with two teenage children and my friend says, “See that man?” and pointed him out, the color of his jacket. I said, “Yes, I see him.” He said, “That man is the chief executive officer,” and he named the enterprise, one of the great enterprises of the South. And he said, “Three weeks ago his wife was driving out of the home, going down the street not far from their home; a truck came out of a side road and instantly killed her.” I looked at that man as he disappeared with his two teenage children. It happens to the great and the small. The government will take care of the other one, taxes, but the other sure thing is that every last, single person in this place will die–every last one of us.

And here comes the good news. First, there is doubt, doubt about death. There will be those who with absolute dogmatism will tell you that when you die, you die and it's all over with. And they have no reason to believe that. They have no proof: it is all by speculation. There is nothing else; it is against, contrary to everything in science. But everything that God makes He never does away with–nothing. It simply changes form, but He never does away with it. And yet these people will say with more dogmatism than any preacher ever had, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” Young people, you ever hear that? Or they will say, “If it's your time to come, that's it.” It is fatalism: nothing you can do.

I recently found this guy on the golf course and he was playing alone and I was playing alone. He went to a certain church, and we began to talk, and I found out that he believed in reincarnation. I said, “What?” He said, “Is there something wrong with that?” I said, “You ever been in India?” It is amazing how some people believe that when you die you are going to wind up some animal or another person. They have the wildest ideas. But you are who you are forever, my friend. You will be who you are forever. You are unique. Are you listening to me? You are who you are and will be forever. And you’re not going to become something or somebody else. That's what the Bible teaches and I can show you.

Now the Bible says that when you die, with the next breath, as a Christian who believes in Jesus Christ, you will be in the presence of the living Savior who died for you, who took away your sin that you may be in heaven. That's why the grave has lost its victory. Oh, we grieve for our loved ones, and it hurts. If they die in an accident, it is a shock. If they die a slow, painful death, it is suffering. We hurt, but I want to tell you for them it is like that, and they are received into heaven; and they are with Him in their soul and spirit in heaven, and that's what the book of Revelation, much of it, is all about.

The body they put in the grave but God says, ‘I'm not through with your body.’ You talk about holistic life and salvation. You see, we honor the body and have great funerals because God is not through with the body. The body that is put in the grave will one day be resurrected as the soul is now resurrected. The body will one day be resurrected when the resurrected Christ comes from Heaven. Now you say, “Wait a minute preacher.” Well, I'm just telling you, if you think that's strange you ought to read what other people believe about death–they have really wild ideas.

The Bible says that this great God who came at Christmas as a miracle will come again, and when He comes again your body will be raised and resurrected and meet your soul and you will be put together as a perfect human being like He is, a perfect body and a perfect soul; and He will continue and He will come to this earth, and the Christians will reign with Him on this earth and His kingdom will be forever and everything will be right upon this earth–that is the second resurrection.

Now everybody goes through the second resurrection. The man who says, “I don't believe in God. I don't believe in Christ.” Or “I don't believe your Bible. I have my own ideas and my own religion”–he shall be raised also and he shall bow the knee at that time and say, “You really were alive.” But then his soul and body shall be put together and he shall be separated, the final death, separated from God forever. And the description of that place is not that of which you want to be in. It is not where you want to be. You want to be with your grandmother and I want to see my grandmother for the first time, and I want my sons to be there, and I want their wives to be there, and I want their children, and I want my wife and I want us to be together, with all the rest of God's people in the third great resurrection. When that happens, it’ll be final glory.

Application for Today Do you understand the Easter story in your mind?
I want to end by presenting something to you. What I presented to you is the Easter story and I want to present it, first of all, to your mind and then to your emotions and then to your will. So for your mind, it goes like this: Do you understand why we celebrate? Do you understand the implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in these three resurrections? Or do you understand that if Jesus Christ was raised from the dead it is proof that your sins are forgiven; it is proof that this is a moral world? Friday was the most unjust thing that ever happened. Sunday God says, ‘Evil shall not succeed.’ Don't you, young people, ever believe that evil is going to succeed. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that this is a moral world under a moral God and evil may get the fish-my-flop for a while, but evil is not going to win. Suffering on Friday; victory on Sunday. Suffering for the Christian will always have its purpose, and finally that great God will be with you. He is alive. One of the great devotionals I ever read was in the medieval times when they sent a monk out to a monastery into a kitchen and he transformed that monastery. His named was Brother Lawrence and when asked why, he wrote it in a little pamphlet and it goes like this, “Practicing the Presence of Christ.” Why? We don't play games. We are not like the New Age Movement, dreaming things up, seeing ghosts. That's a lie. Mentally do you understand these things and do you believe them?
Does the Easter story touch your emotions?
And number 2, is your heart not moved by this music and by the thrill and the emotion of Easter and what it means? Does the Easter story not move your will?
And finally, am I not moved to say with my will, “I go out to serve You as my King, King of Kings and Lord of me”? I go out to serve You. Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago a man went into a room; he stayed there for almost a month; didn't even come out. When he was through he had written the greatest music this world has ever known. George Frederic Handel, climaxed the “The Hallelujah Chorus,” with the resurrection. I am going to pray in just a moment and I am going to ask you to stand and receive as believers God's benediction, and then the choir is going to sing “The Hallelujah Chorus.” I'd sing it silently but I exalt with them. Let's pray.

Our Father, we thank Thee that we are praying to a living God, not one who's been dead, stays dead, and cannot do anything about it. We are not praying to a memory or someone who lived a life and seeks to influence. Lord Jesus, You can come and You can come into the power of our souls like the hand in the glove, and I pray that You would come, even on this day, and move and live and then make lives count forever, not for a temporary thing. Do good now but forever, forever and forever. And I pray, Father, for the one who's wandered, for the prodigal son, that you would bring him home on this day, not home to this church but home to You with his life and bless him and use him. Oh Father, we ask that You would hear this prayer and especially that You’d send us forth to be your servants, through Jesus Christ in whose holy name we pray. Amen.

Let's stand. Our benediction is God's blessing from heaven; I simply pronounce it upon you because you are believers. It is now unto the Lord Jesus who is able to keep you from falling into unbelief; it is now unto the Lord Jesus who is able at your death, He is able to present you sinless before His throne of grace in heaven with exceeding great joy; to the only wise God who is our Savior: unto Him in our hearts, let there be glory and majesty and dominion and power, now and forevermore. Amen.

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