On Easter Sunday, April 1 2018, I delivered the following sermon at the Church of Christ in Friona, Texas. No recording was made, but I have included my outline below.

On This Day

Scripture Text: Luke 24:1-3

Introduction:

  1. As a teacher of Christian History at Sunset International Bible Institute, I have the opportunity to teach about the various controversies in celebrating Easter that occurred in the early centuries of the church.
    • Controversy was primarily over what date it should be celebrated.
    • The questions and differences first appeared in the 2nd century.
    • It is interesting to note that no evidence exists for or against the New Testament (1st century) era church keeping an annual specific day, but only Sunday itself.
    • It is also important to note that there was no doubt in the 2nd century about the actual historical event of Jesus’ resurrection. Only the heretical Gnostics rejected its truth. Mainstream Christianity only squabbled over what date they should celebrate it on.
  2. Now Christian history does tell us is that three practices of the church go all the way back into the 1st century of Christianity – and all three of these practices declare the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection. We will speak more about these 3 practices in this lesson.

The Resurrection – an Essential Fact of the Christian Religion

  1. We acknowledge that many 1st and 2nd century Jewish and Greek peoples did not believe in His resurrection – 1 Corinthians 1:22-23
    • The Jews did not accept Jesus as Messiah and no miraculous sign He did was sufficient to show He was from God (even though they admitted He did many miracles).
    • Greeks by the “wisdom” of their philosophy saw anything involving the human body as corrupt, temporary and unimportant. In their mind a resurrection event was either impossible or irrelevant.
    • For both groups, they started with a wrong set of foundation assumptions and wouldn’t believe the plain facts set before them.
  2. EVIDENCE for Jesus’ resurrection available from the very beginning:
    • Jesus was killed by crucifixion, buried in a known location, had His tomb guarded by soldiers and on the third day after His death an inexplicable event occurred revealing the tomb to be empty!
      • Governor Pilate, the guards at the tomb, the Jewish leaders, and Jesus’ own disciples all knew this chronology of events was true!
      • No credible alternate explanation was ever put forward by any of them. Even the rumor that the disciples had somehow overcome the soldiers and stolen the body was never substantiated by the soldiers themselves.
    • Jesus was seen ALIVE after the resurrection event by numerous eyewitnesses:
      • At least 11 different appearances are mentioned in the NT records.
      • The appearances happened over a period of some 40 days by different people and in different places.
      • Some witnesses saw Him only one time, others on multiple occasions – the Apostles, women, Jesus’ brother, 500+ disciples in Galilee. They could see, touch, hear Him as John would later say – 1 John 1:1-3.
      • This series of appearances was convincing enough for the Apostles to transform them from fearful, doubting men to bold and courageous proclaimers of His resurrection. History shows that none of them ever recanted their testimony and died for their faith.
    • Many in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Galilee and across the Roman Empire heard the testimony of these eyewitnesses and also believed:
      • Those especially in Jerusalem and surrounding areas lived in the right place and right time and could double-check all the evidence (death, empty tomb, soldiers, explanation of religious leaders, cross examine eyewitnesses, etc.) and thousands became believers even in the face of persecution.
    • One of the chief persecutors of these early “Christians” was himself converted – Saul of Tarsus – and as the Apostle Paul perhaps did more than any other man in the 1st century to convince others of the resurrection and its implications. Just take a look at his own conversion story in Acts 9,22 & 26.
    • Miracles were done by some of the eyewitnesses, which were also seen by their hearers as confirmation that this was all truly a “God thing” – Romans 15:18-19; Hebrews 2:4; Acts 2:43.
    • Written records were created, circulated and preserved which further served as evidence of these events. We now call these records the “New Testament.”
  3. Numerous skeptics and unbelievers over the centuries have themselves become believers in Jesus after examining the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. A long list could be produced here if we had time.

Three Christian Practices Testify to the Resurrection:

  1. Christian believers meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week, begins in the 1st century. This was instituted under the guidance and approval of the Apostles – Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Two thousand years later, we still do this. Jesus rose on a Sunday – John 20:1.
  2. Another unique practice of the earliest believers was immersion baptism. Baptism was different than the “washings” of the Jews. And baptism was seen as a symbolic reenactment of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as the new convert was “raised to new life” – Romans 6:3-5.
  3. The third practice was the communion or Lord’s Supper. This ceremonial meal instituted by Jesus Himself was a confession that Jesus was the Savior, alive and now in Heaven, but coming back some day. For 2,000 years Christianity has continued to confess that He is alive (i.e., resurrected from the dead) in celebrating it (usually on Sundays).

If The Resurrection of Jesus Did Not Happen:

  1. Jesus Himself was a fraud, claiming to be someone He really wasn’t! Despite His amazing teachings and many eyewitnesses to His miracles, He had to be either a liar and charlatan, or deluded and deranged.
  2. All the NT accounts of this resurrection are fraudulent, even though many thousands living in that time and place had examined the evidence and were convinced it was true.
  3. If He was a fraud, and the records concerning Him are also fraudulent, then He could not be God’s Son or the Savior for anyone’s sins.
  4. Jesus is not alive and in Heaven, so our prayers are unanswered.
  5. Jesus is not coming back, since He never left! His body is still in an unknown grave somewhere.
  6. We have absolutely no reason to believe that anyone will be raised to live again. When we all die, we must conclude that it is the end!

“BUT CHRIST HAS INDEED BEEN RAISED FROM THE DEAD!” – 1 Corinthians 15:20

Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:14; John 20:27-29

Our image of Peter and John peering into the empty tomb is provided by www.freebibleimages.org.