Easter Day 1998 Raised From The Dead

At Jesmond Parish Church last week we started a new series of sermons for Sunday mornings entitled "Paul and his converts". We are studying the converts that made up the church at Thessalonica. But why were these people converted? What was at the heart of Paul's preaching? Did he start off with lessons about church going or a course in Christian ethics? No! Oh, he knew that corporate worship and Christian morality were important. But what he taught at Thessalonica, we are told in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 17 verse 3, was that "the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead." That was the message he preached in the synagogue at Thessalonica on three successive Sabbaths. He preached about the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what is at the heart of the Christian faith. If you get that right you have got everything; if you get that wrong you have got nothing. So this morning we are to focus on the Resurrection of Jesus. There are bound to be three types of people here in a congregation of this size. They are the three types that you will find anywhere and everywhere. First, there are those who along with millions of others down the centuries and across the world believe that Jesus did rise from the dead that first Easter Day and his tomb was empty. It was a real resurrection and transformation. It was Christ's body yet different. It was a glorified body without the limitations of time and space. It was a new creation. There are many here this morning who believe that that is what actually happened. If you are one of them, this morning you need to remind yourself once again of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to Timothy, his young friend, these words:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead (2 Tim 2.8).

It is possible to forget even things you strongly believe in. Secondly, there will be some - and there are many more outside - who believe that this is all a myth. You say the Resurrection of Jesus is a nice story. It is helpful to think of it at times of bereavement. But it is not hard truth. It is simply an emotional prop. It is on the same level as the canned music at the crematorium - the "abide with me" that comes over the loudspeaker. If you are like that this morning, can I respectfully say you need to examine (or re-examine) the evidence. And you need to question your own "faith" because "faith" you certainly have. As someone once said to a sceptic:

in the face of the evidence I can't believe that Jesus did not rise. But you can.

It really is harder not to believe in the Resurrection than to believe - if you look at the evidence. Then thirdly there will be some here this morning who really have not given much thought to the Resurrection at all. You have come here because your wife, husband, friend or someone else wanted to come to church because it is Easter. And you have come with them. That is great. It is good you have come. But can I say that you really do need to think about the Resurrection. So much hangs on it. If it is true, it proves that God exists - the sort of God that Jesus proclaimed; the one who not only made us but loves us. If it is true, it proves that there is life after death; that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and the only way to God; that there is hope for the future; that suffering and death are not the end. But if it is true, it also proves this - that one day there will be judgment before almighty God. Paul taught the intellectual Athenians (Acts 17.30-31):

now God commands all people everywhere to repent. {31} For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed [ie Jesus]. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.

A huge amount is at stake. So this morning everyone in this building - whatever your condition or beliefs (or lack of them) - needs to think hard and carefully about the Resurrection of Jesus. And I want us to do that by looking at 1 Thessalonians 1.8-10. And my headings are first, THE TRUE CHRISTIAN; secondly, REASONS FOR BELIEVING, and thirdly, THE RESULTS. First, THE TRUE CHRISTIAN Who do you consider to be a "true Christian"? Someone like the late Mother Theresa? Someone like Billy Graham? A lot of people are put off by some so-called Christians and then put off the Church. C.S.Lewis, before he was converted, said that:

Though I liked clergymen as I liked bears, I had as little wish to be in the Church as in the zoo.

But when C.S.Lewis was converted he admitted he was looking at the wrong things. The "true Christian" isn't someone who scores well on a range of aesthetic performance indicators or even personality types. No! The true Christian, says Paul here in 1 Thessalonians, is someone (verses 9-10) who

turn[s] to God from idols to serve the living and true God, {10} and to wait for his Son from heaven.

So you have three marks if you are a true Christian. First, you "turn to God from idols". You say "no" to everything else except "the living and true God" of the bible (as Paul describes him here). How many here this morning have not yet turned to God from idols? Oh! there are primitive idols - or false Gods - even in modern Britain. It was sad to read last week of the new book by Princess Diana's Medium. The late Princess had regular meetings with this Medium. This woman claimed to get messages from the spirit world to guide Diana in her life and her loves. Diana was in the grip of what the bible would call idolatry. The bible denounces mediums, spiritualism and the like. But idolatry is not just primitive. There are more sophisticated idols (or God-substitutes). There is selfish ambition and wrong desires for money, sex or power. Ephesians 5.5 says:

of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Immorality and greed are forms of idolatry. They both lead to an allegiance that is due to God alone. A true Christian turns to God from idols. Secondly, a true Christian "serves the living and true God" - by living for others. If faith in God doesn't result in good works, then it is not genuine faith. It must produce, in time, the fruit of the Spirit - "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23} gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5.22-23). Thirdly, a true Christian "waits for his Son [Jesus] from heaven". The true Christian believes that one day Jesus Christ is going to return. There is going to be that "Second Coming". This world will not go on forever. So that is the true Christian - someone who "turns to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven." And the Thessalonian converts turned to the living and true God because they believed in him. You say, what were their reasons for believing? That brings us to our second heading. Secondly, REASONS FOR BELIEVING Look at how that verse 10 goes on:

[to wait for his Son from heaven,] whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

There you have it - the Resurrection. It was Jesus "whom he [God] raised from the dead." Paul brings in this description of Jesus as "raised from the dead" so naturally. Those early Christians thought of Jesus as the raised and ascended Lord. This was so essential to everything they believed. The evidence for Jesus' Resurrection was for the Thessalonians (and is for us) so strong. There was the empty tomb; no one could produce the body; for more than a month afterwards, the disciples kept meeting Jesus alive, always unexpectedly but usually in groups (from two to five hundred). Nor were these hallucinations. Hallucinations don't happen that way. In our reading this morning Mary met Jesus but thought she had seen the gardener. It wasn't the other way round. Tonight Jonathan Redfearn is going to be preaching on how two disciples met Jesus but thought they were with a stranger. The last thing they were expecting was a meeting with Jesus. In a hallucination Mary would have seen the gardener and thought she had seen Jesus. Then the disciples proclaimed that Christ was risen fearlessly in the face of ridicule, persecution and even death. And the experience of the Church over nearly 2000 years confirms the truth that Jesus rose and is alive and can change lives. Peter preached (Acts 5.32)

"We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."

The evidence comes from the Apostles - what they have written and reported for us in the New Testament. But also, says Peter, there is the witness of the Holy Spirit, "whom God has given to those who obey him." Who needs that witness this morning? You will be convinced of the truth of Jesus and the Resurrection as you submit to the Holy Spirit's leading; turn to God; accept the forgiveness of Christ for your sin through his death for you on the cross; and start to live for him - being obedient to his Holy Spirit. Jesus said (John 7.17):

If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

As you obey so you become convinced. That is the common experience of Christians. Someone once said that belief in the Resurrection is ...

... as if half a dozen signposts, with the name of the same village painted on them, all point one way. Then sincerity in regard to the evidence compels belief that the village exists, even though we have never been there.

But when you trust Christ as your saviour, you have been there and met him, the risen Lord. So these Thessalonians would have turned from the idols of other religions because of the Resurrection of Jesus. They knew that the Resurrection immediately says "No!" to every other religion and philosophy. There may be lessons to be learnt from other religions and philosophies (as well as much that is evil and cruel). There is God's common grace in the world and his general revelation in nature, as well as his saving grace in Jesus and his special revelation in the bible. But you won't find anything that is good and true that cannot be found in Christ. Nowhere else will you find out about a God who loves you enough to let his Son die for you in your place to bear the punishment you deserve for your sin. The resurrection proves that Jesus isn't just the best of the world's religious figures. He is the only Saviour. In the risen Jesus, God almighty himself confronts us. Auguste Comte, the French atheist and philosopher said he wanted to found a new religion to replace Christianity. Thomas Carlyle replied to him like this:

Splendid. All you need to do is to speak as never man spoke, to live as never man lived, to be crucified, rise again the third day, and get the world to believe you are still alive. Then your religion will have some chance of success.

The Resurrection proves that our God, the God of the bible, is living and true and that it is therefore sensible to turn from idols. The second reason the Thessalonians had for their belief and obedience was more negative. They knew not only that Jesus was raised from the dead. Also, as the last part of verse 10 says, he is

Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

If Jesus is the Son of God - and his Resurrection proves that he is - we have to take his words seriously. It was Jesus who taught most about God's wrath or Hell. The modern world is sentimentally optimistic about human nature. It also has lost the doctrine of a holy God. And its moral decadence means a decay of conscience. That is why it is so hard for modern people to believe in Hell as a possible destination beyond death. But these Thessalonians did; and they believed that it was Jesus and Jesus alone who could rescue them from "the coming wrath" of God. The bible teaches that Hell is the place of eternal punishment for those consigned to it at the last judgment. It is described as a place of fire and darkness, of weeping and grinding of teeth, of destruction, and of torment. It is a picture of total distress and misery. These are symbolic terms - fire and darkness are mutually exclusive. But the reality must be frightening. The New Testament teaching on Hell is to horrify us. It is to teach us that as Heaven will be better than we ever dreamt, Hell will be worse than we ever dreamt. These are issues of life and death. You must take them seriously. Don't listen to those Siren voices - even in the Church - that deny the fact of Hell. I saw the TV programme on James Bulger this week. You can try to deny that children can ever act like those two boys acted in brutally savaging and killing James Bulger. But they did. To deny that is simply wrong. You can try to deny the truth that if you reject Christ, there is Hell. But if Christ was raised from the dead and he is the divine Son of God, that too is simply wrong. And it is utter folly. Hell is self-chosen. Those in Hell will realise that they have got themselves there by loving darkness rather than light. All will receive what they actually choose, either to be with God forever worshipping him; or to be without God forever worshipping themselves. No one can complain about the bible's teaching on Hell. It is to stop you going there. It is a warning. It is like those warnings on the cliff top. It is like those danger signs at electric pylon's. So thank God for the teaching about Hell in the Bible. It was this teaching that was one of the reasons why the Thessalonians trusted in Christ. They knew he "rescues us from the coming wrath." Finally, (and very briefly) THE RESULTS. Verses 8-9:

The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia--your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, {9} for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. [They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God].

Where you have true Christians who know why they believe what they believe and their faith leads to action, it is evangelistic. People outside take note. Isn't that what we need today as we approach the 21st century? I must conclude. I do so with a simple question. Who this morning needs to

turn to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, {10} and to wait for his Son from heaven?

In John's Gospel chapter 11 verse 25 we read:

Jesus said ... "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies"

That is how you turn from idols. You "believe" in the risen and reigning Christ and trust him for new life that lasts beyond the grave? If you have never done so yet, why not turn to him, in faith, this Easter, 1998; and like doubting Thomas, then, say and mean it, "my Lord and my God"?

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