Although often crowded by the attention given to Spring or the expectation of the Easter Bunny, today has been the foundation of the Christian faith for 2,000 years. Resurrection Sunday is why Christians exist. It is what separates Christianity from all of the world’s religions. It is the deal maker. It is the day that we gather to say: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Jesus has had a monumental effect on human history. Consider the following statements made by both believers and unbelievers. H.G. Wells, British writer who died in 1946 said:
“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as an historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history. Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to [Jesus].”
Daniel Webster, 19th century American politician and the founder of Webster’s dictionary, said: “All that is best in the civilization of today, is the fruit of Christ’s appearance among men.”
Kenneth Scott Latourette, former President of the American Historic Society:
“As the centuries pass by, the evidence is accumulating that measured by its effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet. The influence appears to be mounting. No other life lived on this planet has so widely and deeply affected mankind.”
And finally, Will Durant, popular modern historian and philosopher, when asked what he felt the apex of history was, replied: “The three years that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth.”
Jesus said many powerful things. His Sermon on the Mount has been acclaimed as the most powerful message delivered in all of history. But His influence is not due to the fact that he was a sage. Sages come and go. It is not because He was wealthy, because he was not. Jesus was born into poverty. It is not because of His great heritage. This is why many could not get past that He was apparently the son of a carpenter from Galilee. Rather, it is because of His resurrection from the dead and its practical and historical effect on all who follow Him.
The influence of Jesus’ life is found in the short verse of Romans 4:25: “Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” To explain this statement, let us compare these two sections of Scripture, found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter four and Mark’s version of the resurrection, found in Mark 16. We first understand that…
JESUS WENT TO THE CROSS FOR A REASON.
The Apostle Paul gives us that reason in verse 25: “He who was delivered up because of our transgressions….” Jesus did not die a passive death, as if he was a victim of a horrible circumstance. His death was a part of God’s ultimate plan to provide the means of atonement for our sins. Each person has a deep spiritual need that cannot be met by himself or philosophy or money or sex or relationships or a career, etc. It is only met through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Each of us has a God-shaped void that can only be filled by Him. The fourth century church father Augustine once prayed: “O Lord, our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in You.”
If you are a member of the human race, you are a sinner. Jesus said in John 8:34: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. But if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Sin is defined as any transgression against God’s moral law. By being a sinner, you are at odds with God. You cannot conquer your sin by “doing better next time.” As someone once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Each of us has a sin problem that can only be adequately dealt with by God.
But God, in His love, has reached out to you in the life, death and resurrection of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Both Jesus’ death and resurrection addresses our two greatest spiritual needs, which are forgiveness and restoration. You cannot have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. That tells us that our greatest need is not to have a good self-image. Our greatest need is not to feel positive about yourself. It is not to overcome the trials that come your way or achieve your greatest potential. Rather, your greatest need is to be reconciled to the One that you have offended. And that One is God. As Charles Sell wrote: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior. He has provided the means of your forgiveness. This is why Jesus went to the cross. “He was delivered up for our transgressions.” Secondly, we are told that…
JESUS LEFT THE TOMB FOR A REASON.
If you’ll notice from Mark’s resurrection account, that reason was not automatically known. In fact, you see that the three ladies who went to the tomb on that Sunday morning, fully expected to see the body of Jesus there, awaiting anointing, which was a gesture of devotion. They are met with shock to see the stone rolled away and the angel seated, announcing Jesus’ resurrection. So griped with fear and amazement that they ran back to the where Jesus’ disciples were and talked to no one on the way. They are not sure what just happened. Common in all of the gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection is that the disciples did not expect it. As, they all meet an angel and they all react in fear and amazement.
Mark was written, most likely before the other three gospels were. Matthew and Luke are thought to have used Mark as a template for their accounts. Mark and Romans were probably written at the same time. Mark describes the resurrection event, Paul interprets it. Paul says that Jesus coming back from the dead is a testimony that God can do the impossible. He links the resurrection faith with that of Abraham. Abraham is the father of all those who believe, mentioned at least three times in Romans chapter four, verses 11, 16 and 17. Only God: “…gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” And verse 21: “…what He had promised, He was able to perform.”
This event occurred in 33 or 34 A.D. Fast forward about twenty years, when Christians were going through persecution and the expansion and dispersion of the church. Now, Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, seeks to teach these new converts of the similarities between them and Abraham, the father of the believing. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.
Verse 25: “…who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Jesus died for your transgressions and mine. Each of us needs a right relationship with God. Justification means “…to set free, acquittal.” Jesus death and resurrection are two sides of the same coin. We cannot have forgiveness of sin without His death. Nor can we have justification/acquittal without His being raised from the dead. Charles Hodge, was one of America’s greatest theologians who taught at Princeton in the 19th century. He said: “This verse is a comprehensive statement of the gospel. His death and His resurrection were alike necessary; His death, as a satisfaction to divine justice. Had He not risen, it would have been evident that he was not what He claimed to be. We should be yet in our sins, and therefore still under condemnation.”
Therefore, there are four spiritual laws that are important for everyone to know before they leave this earth. One is that God loves you and has a plan for your life. In other words, you were made for a reason. You are not here by chance, a product of circumstance. You were made by a loving Creator God. But your sin has separated you from Him. You have offended Him by Your deeds. Some may judge a deeds ethics by the hurt it does to others; and if it causes no hurt, then it is not wrong. But God does not believe in situational ethics. He has established eternal standards of what is right and wrong and demands their obedience. When one of His principles is broken, it is as if we’ve broken them all. And we are worthy of His wrath. Hell is a real place because God is a just God.
Thirdly, Jesus came as the God-provided means for your forgiveness. He gave His life so that you could be reconciled with God, your Creator. Lastly, you must receive Christ by faith, in which the same way that Abraham believed God’s promise, and it was credited to His account as righteousness. Jesus lived the life God demanded from you and died the death you deserved. For your salvation, Jesus left the tomb on that morning so long ago. Jesus’ resurrection means life-giving change for you and me. That is why Christians are people of tremendous hope.
Because of Easter, we can have a new life. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can have a new identity. Because of Jesus being raised from the dead, we can go to heaven when we die. But you must follow Him. You must seek forgiveness for your sins. You must become a disciple.
Jesus dying on the cross and being raised from the dead has been the hope of Christians for 2,000 years. Governments can try to stamp that out, to no success. In some of the places where the church is heavily persecuted, it is also expanding at an unprecedented rate. When all is said and done, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only hope that we have.
As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross.
Following Jesus remains the most important, the most critical decision you can ever make. Have you done so?