Part 2 of our sermon series based on Adam Hamilton’s book Creed. Our series seeks to explore the fundamentals of our beliefs as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed. Today we’re talking about Jesus, the most essential component of the Christian faith.
Do you remember the old Snickers commercial?
The one where the announcer says, “No matter how you slice it, it comes up peanuts?” That’s what it’s like to talk about Jesus and Christianity. Because no matter how you slice it, it comes up Jesus. You can’t talk about the one without the other. Everything about our faith hinges on his life, death, and resurrection. All the arguments Christians have with each other – about same sex marriage, about the beginning of life, about whether women should lead worship – mean less than nothing unless we first agree on who Jesus was. More specifically, whether or not he was resurrected. Because pretty much everyone agrees that Jesus lived. Pretty much everyone agreed that Jesus died. But what we don’t agree on is whether or not Jesus was able to bring himself back from the dead. Buddhists believe Jesus was a great moral teacher. Hindus revere Jesus as a sacred prophet. And even Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet from God. Some even believe in his virgin birth. But could he bring himself back from the dead? That’s the part other people have trouble with and what has always been the key aspect of our faith. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Well, yeah, he could bring himself back from the dead, but that’s nothing special.” Resurrection is a game changer. One of my friends told me that if anyone could convince him it actually happened, he would believe it all.
However, the resurrection is a hard pill to swallow.
If you’ve been Christian for a long time, you might not think it’s that tough. But take a moment to look at it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t share your faith. How would you convince them that it really happened? The resurrection of Jesus is an event that occurred only once in all of recorded history. And what makes it unique is also what makes it hard to believe. It’s never happened before or since, and why would it happen to the son of a carpenter who’d only been ministering to the people for three years? Even Jesus’ closest followers, the Eleven disciples who were with him all the way up to his crucifixion, didn’t believe when they first heard the news. Mary Magdelene came to them and told them she had seen him after he’d been buried and they blew her off. When the two travelers walking to Emmaus came running to tell them about their encounter with Jesus, they didn’t believe them either. It wasn’t until he appeared to them directly that they finally believed. We don’t have that luxury. But Paul knew how important this event was. He knew that belief in the resurrection was essential to our faith and he shared it in this passage from 1 Corinthians 15:
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
The resurrection is the central belief of Christianity.
It is today and it was two thousand years ago when the apostle Paul was around. It’s hard to get around that fact. In Paul’s day, there was a fierce debate at the church in Corinth about whether or not people could be resurrected. Some believed in it and some didn’t. But Paul was adamant. He wrote to them, “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…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Paul knew how much hinged on this one essential question – was Jesus raised from the dead? The answer to that would reveal the truth or falsehood of Jesus’ entire life and ministry. Because if he wasn’t risen, if he was simply a ghost or a spirit, then everything they were preaching about was based on a lie. And it wasn’t just that resurrection itself was the greatest feat anyone had ever done. It also meant Jesus was master over life and death and if Jesus could conquer death, then he truly was the Savior. If Jesus could conquer death, it meant that his promise for something greater than this life was true. But if he hadn’t come back then Paul said we should be pitied the most because we are wasting our lives believing and advocating for a lie.
Trust is at an all time low.
If people back in Paul’s time were having difficulty believing in the resurrection, then today its no wonder that it seems to be worse. Maybe that’s why we are seeing so many young people choosing to disassociate themselves from the church. More than any other age group, Millennials (people aged 21-36) are the most religiously unaffiliated at 29%. They are also the least trusting with only 19% of them believing in the trustworthiness of others. Knowing that, it’s probably no wonder they are also the least likely to pray, believe in God, believe in Heaven, believe in Scripture as the Word of God, or to consider religion an important part of their lives. Our society has cultivated an atmosphere of distrust and its affecting Millennials the most. If they can’t trust in us, then how in the world can we expect them to believe in something as out of this world as the resurrection of Jesus? How can we hope to show that Christ is relevant and important to their lives – not only after their time here is through, but right here, right now? The answer: We have to do a better job of showing the love of Christ to those around us. We have to be less judgmental, more loving, more accepting, and more willing to share our faith. We have to stop worrying about whether or not we know enough, because we don’t. You don’t, and either do I. None of us can ever know enough. But that shouldn’t stop us from sharing what we DO know. We have to stop making excuses about why we don’t reach out and instead find ways we CAN reach out.
When I was a kid, I had better than 20/20 vision.
The optometrist told my mother not to bother bringing me back in unless I started to complain. Save some money; my vision was that good. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I entered high school and told my mom I might need glasses. She said, “No you don’t. The doctor said not to bother bringing you in.” Of course, that was eight years before so my mom conceded that it might be time to at least get a check-up. I was a bit of a hypochondriac so you can’t really blame her for hesitating. I used to hold my breath walking down the detergent aisle because the warning label said to seek emergency help if you ingested any. I took it pretty seriously. I would run down the aisle holding my breath, not taking in fresh air until I got all the way to the other end where I would wait for my mom to finish shopping. So if she was a little doubtful about who to trust, me or the doctor, I could understand. But sure enough, we went in to the doctor’s office and I needed glasses. Turns out the headaches I had been getting were from eyestrain. I remember when I put my new glasses on for the first time, I saw details I had never known I’d been missing. I could actually see individual leaves on a tree! That might seem miniscule to some of you, but if you’ve never seen the leaves on a tree, the sight is pretty remarkable. For me, that’s the difference between a life with Christ and a life without. Christ makes everything clearer. Christ gave me a new perspective and a new way to look at life that was so much better than before. When we use fancy terms like “born again” or “raised into new life” that’s what we mean. Just that living a life with Christ at the center changes you for the better.
I wish I could give that gift to everyone.
To see what I saw when I finally, truly accepted Jesus into my life. And there is a difference. There’s a difference between saying you believe and really allowing Christ into your life in a deep, meaningful way that changes who you are. I guess that’s why I’m so passionate about encouraging you to invite people into a relationship with Jesus. Not because we need more people in the pews, but because to open yourself up to Jesus is a game changer. It changes who you are, how you look at life, and what’s important. By no means am I holding myself up as an example of what life should be like. I have as many problems or more than the rest of you. But I do know what a difference Jesus has made in my life. I know that Christ has made my life better. And I know that despite the fact I have a long way to go, he continues to shape and change me in ways I could not have imagined. So if you are a believer, I hope you feel in your gut this desire to affect people’s lives for the better. I hope you will realize that for all the clothes or food or money we give away to those in need, those are still only temporary salves for a wounded soul. Without Christ, the pain will always return. So start finding creative ways, start finding your own ways of sharing who Jesus is with the world.
And if you have doubts or you just don’t find church to be very relevant to your life?
I want to ask you to give Jesus a chance. Not me, not this church, not any collection of people who call themselves a church, but Jesus. I know it’s not easy to trust in something you can’t see, hear, or touch and I think that’s why so many of us who call ourselves Christian have such a hard time sharing our faith. We don’t want to seem ridiculous and there’s a little bit of the ridiculous in putting your faith in a guy who supposedly came back from the dead. We’d rather believe that he was a ghost than to believe he actually was resurrected. Adam Hamilton in his book Creed mentioned that even some scholars suggest that Christ didn’t really rise from the dead, but that the disciples saw visions of him instead. But as Paul pointed out, without the resurrection there really is no point to any of this. Like the Snickers bar and peanuts, Jesus and Christianity are so inextricably linked that you can’t separate the two. So I’m asking you to give Christ a chance that you might experience him personally in your life. Not see him, hear him, or touch him physically, but experience him through the lives of those around you. There’s probably a person in your life who you respect who has what you would call a deeper relationship with Jesus. Ask them about it. Pray about your own relationship with Christ. Read the Bible once in a while, even the tough parts, maybe especially the tough parts, and ask questions. The people you ask may not have the answers or might have answers that seem off to you, so keep asking and keep seeking and I promise you, God will respond in a way that is meaningful to you. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.