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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An Idle Tale?

Luke 24:1-12 [Slides]
1But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

An Idle Tale?
            Verse 11 is the key verse for this blog.  In the NRSV it says, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
            When the women told the Apostles they’d found an empty tomb and two men dressed in dazzling robes saying Jesus had risen, the Apostles dismissed it as an idle tale.  They didn’t believe.
             And that’s the way many people view the Easter story today (maybe some of you view it that way too).  You think, “It’s a great story.  It’s inspired a lot of people.  But it’s just a story—an idle tale.”  
            What if that’s true?  What if Jesus was just another nice guy?  What if he was just another figure like the prophets and kings and great world leaders who taught us some good lessons and then died and the story ends?  What if Jesus’ bones are still lying in an unmarked tomb somewhere in Palestine?
            Peter had to see for himself.  It was too important a question to leave unanswered.  So Peter jumped up, ran to the tomb, and looked inside.  He saw the tomb was empty, save for the empty linen wrappings.  And he went back home puzzling over what had happened.  He still had not seen the “risen” Jesus.
            We have to be like Peter in this story.  We have to go and look for Jesus ourselves.  It’s too important a question to just write off as an idle tale without an investigation.

Why I believe Jesus is Alive
            Now, every person has to decide for themselves if Jesus is really alive.  I have decided he is.  But I can’t decide for you.  No one can decide for you.  You have to decide for yourself.  But I would like to share with you why I believe Jesus is alive; and maybe this will encourage you to have the faith to see the risen Christ.  So briefly, I want to share 7 reasons I believe Jesus is risen.
First of all, I asked God to show me the Truth and He did.  I grew up going to church and knew the story of Jesus.  But when I was 20-years-old, I really began questioning the validity of everything I had been told about Jesus and Christianity.  What if it was all just idle tales?  So I prayed to God to show me.  I prayed with all sincerity, “God, show me the Truth—the only Truth that really is.  I’m willing to reject everything know if You will show me the real Truth.”  And I began a quest to know the Truth.  I studied about Christianity, the Bible, other religions, and even atheism.  And what I found was the Christian faith Jesus brought to our world makes sense.  I found I believed it was the Truth God wanted me to know.  God answered my prayer.  As Jesus said, “Seek and ye shall find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you.”

The second reason I believe Jesus is risen is Jesus changed my life.  I was not a very good person growing up.  I had a terrible temper.  I was violent.  I enjoyed being “bad” and looked for ways to actively rebel.  I bullied other children.  I was a vandal and a thief.  Now, I understand i was just a child and how "bad" can a child be?  It wasn't the degree to which I was bad that mattered.  It was the path I was on; it was the trajectory of my life that wasn't good.  If I had stayed on the road I traveled as a child and as a young teenager, I would have lived a very immoral life.  I do not know how it would have turned out, but it would not have been godly at all.  I know how it turned out for many of my friends who stayed on that road.  Some went to jail.  Some fell into addictions.  Some wasted years of their lives before they turned around.  Some died and others committed suicide.  Some I know are still wasting their lives in rebellion to God.
That could have been me, but my path changed because I decided to follow Christ.  I became a Christian when I was 8, but it wasn’t until I was 17 that I started actively following Jesus down a different path—a path to life instead of death.  I am who I am today because Jesus is alive and not dead.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not perfect.  There’s still a lot that needs to change.  But because my Jesus lives, I know I’m gonna get there One Day!

The third reason I know Jesus rose is because I have been resurrected.  I don’t mean that I have died and come back to life—though I know that will happen at the end of my days on earth.  What I mean is, I have faced times in my life when my strength ran out, when I just couldn’t go on.  I have even wondered at times, how can I continue to be a minister.  But then Jesus fills me with new life, new energy, and I come back stronger than I was before.  That kind of resilience is not because of me—it’s the resurrected Christ living in me.  It’s the power of Jesus who conquered death and rose from the grave that empowers me to rise from any gloomy situation in this life and will one day even raise me to new life when my body wears out and I die.

Fourth, I know Jesus is alive, because I have seen miracles.  I don’t have time to recount all the times I have seen Jesus intervene through miracles.  I have seen people healed.  I have seen doors open that should have been closed.  But let me just tell you one miracle that involved people in this church.  
In 2013, when we took a group on a mission trip to El Salvador, we carried thousands of dollars of medicine with us to treat illness among the people we went to serve.  And just as our plane was about to take off from Atlanta, we learned from our partners in El Salvador that the paperwork for our medicine did not go though and our medicine would be confiscated at customs in El Salvador.  Our whole team prayed and asked our friends to pray too.  When we arrived in El Salvador and worked our way through customs, the authorities allowed everyone on our team to pass right through without checking our bags for medicine.  The only person they stopped was Jason Denson.  They asked him if he had any medicine in his bag and he said “yes”.  The guard opened his bag, glanced right at the medicine, and then closed the bag and told Jason he was free to go.  Our team loaded the bus as fast as we could and left to begin our week of mission work with all of our medicine intact.  That is the work of a living Savior, not a dead man still in a grave.

Number five, I have had personal encounters with Jesus.  I always feel Jesus is personally present when I pray earnestly.  Now, Jesus has never appeared to me in a bodily form.  I’ve never touched his nail scarred hands like Thomas did in the Bible.  However, when I talk to Jesus, I know he is present in a special way—and I am as sure of his presence as I am that you are here with me today.  I have also heard him speak to me—not in an audible voice—but I have known he was speaking to me, telling me something, comforting me, or guiding me to answers.  It was a Voice from outside of myself, something divine that was a higher power than anything found in this world.
Once, when I was a pastor of a small church and had reached a very low point in my ministry and was so worn out I didn’t know how to keep going, I prayed and Jesus encouraged me as I listened to a praise song.  The words of the band became the voice of Christ as they reminded me, “I Am a Friend of God!  I am a friend of God!  I am a friend of God!  He calls me friend!”  And the words became Jesus’ words to me.  “Don’t give up!  Remember, you are a friend of God!  He can carry you through this.  He has great plans for you.”  
Dead men don’t speak.  Dead men can’t make their presence known.  Dead men can’t encourage you and give you strength to persevere.  I serve a Risen Savior and he calls me friend!

A sixth reason I know Jesus is alive: I have known many people who have been completely transformed by Christ.  I have friends who have been delivered from addiction that they couldn’t beat on their own.  I have known lives that—like mine—have been changed from selfish pursuits to godly lives; and these have changed not only their lives, but have saved their families too.
I know one woman personally, who was molested as a child and grew up very wounded and damaged because of it.  (I will not share her name, but my wife and I know her personally.) And in her marriage she struggled for years because of her own baggage and because of her husband’s sins too.  And she became promiscuous and cheated on her husband and was months into divorce proceedings and a custody battle over their children.  And then, because of the miraculous life-changing power of a risen Christ, she and her husband somehow reconciled and she found healing from her wounded sexuality and they have been happily married now, following Christ together, for around 10 years since that whole episode.  Christ is alive and changing lives everyday!

The last reason I believe Jesus is alive is because of history. Since the beginning of the world, civilizations have risen because of their economic, political, and military power.  But just as soon as they rise, they quickly fall.  At the time of Christ, the Romans were the greatest power in the world.  No one could stand against them.  And yet, Jesus—who was by all worldly measures insignificant, who had no political power, no army to command, no wealth to speak of, who never wrote a single book or held a single governmental post—changed the world by being executed and buried in a grave after only 3 years of active ministry.  A dead man could not do what Jesus did.  Many men and women in history have impacted the world through martyrdom, but Jesus turned the world completely upside down because he not only died, but also rose to life again.  And so the very empire that condemned Jesus to death, embraced his religion within 300 years.  And the Christian faith, which started out as only a handful of followers proclaiming their dead leader had risen, became the largest religion in the world—over a quarter of the world’s population adheres to Christianity today.  This came about because our Lord is not dead, but alive. 

Seeing is Believing

These are some of the reasons I believe Jesus is alive.  What I've shared are not scientific arguments or theological reasons (though there are those as well).  What I've tried to share are my own personal experience.  I am like those first women who went to the tomb and saw the angels proclaiming Jesus had risen.  I am like Peter who ran to the tomb and found it empty and later saw the living Jesus for himself.  Jesus is alive!  He is no longer in the grave!
You may hear my message and think it’s all just nonsense.  You may think it’s just an “idle tale.”  But don’t just dismiss it.  It’s too important. If what I’ve said is true, it changes everything.  And if you are hungry to see him, Jesus may appear to you too.  But you’ve got to be like Peter who ran to the tomb to see if the “idle tale” had anything to it.  And you’ve got to have eyes of faith to see.  You’ve got to let go of your cynicism.  You’ve got to have the faith of a child (as Jesus said).  That goes against human nature; more so in some who are more skeptical than others.  You’ve got to want with all your heart to know the Truth and ask God to show you the Truth.  You’ve got to be willing to be changed and know that Jesus can change you.  Then maybe you can start to see the miracles as you surround yourself with other believers who have been transformed by the power of the risen Savior; and you may encounter the risen Lord for yourself.  

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