I’ve told the story before, in 2013 I was leading a teaching trip in West Africa. We flew into the capital of Ghana, Accra and then drove 16 hours to where we were teaching. Now I love the people of Ghana, and there are many things about West Africa I enjoy, but the traffic is horrendous. The 16-hour trip, covered about 600 km, and it was terrifying.
Long trips aren’t my favourite pastime. My ADHD kicks in after about 20 minutes, so I was doing the best to make myself comfortable for the trip, and that included plugging in my mp3 player, and going to sleep.
One of the other team members asked me how I could sleep in the van. Which was kind of annoying because I was almost asleep when he asked me.
One thing I discovered from working on a fishing boat, was to sleep whenever you had a chance to sleep. He then told me he was afraid he’d go to sleep and wake up dead. Interesting thought.
But what if it was the other way around, what if you expected to wake up dead and woke up alive?
When I was a teen I loved those black and white horror comics, you know like Tales of the Crypt, and a recurring theme was that of being buried alive.
And in many television shows, when things are getting tough for the writers and the ratings, they bury one of their main character’s alive.
And if you have a fear of being buried alive, then you have taphophobia and you’re not alone.
Lord Chesterfield once wrote, “All I desire for my own burial is not to be buried alive.”
And George Washington instructed his family, “Have me decently buried, but do not let my body be put into a vault in less than two days after I am dead.”
While Frederic Chopin insisted on even more extreme measures when he said, “Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive.”
In the 1800’s there were many designs for what were referred to as safety coffins. The features included a breathing tube to the surface and a string that would ring a bell to alert people that you weren’t dead.
The good news is that today with autopsies, embalming and more and more people being cremated, being buried alive is the least of your worries. You can thank me later.
But if being buried alive is still a major concern of yours, and it keeps you awake at night, write this down. Bob Newhart, Stop it. Just google that and everything will be fine.
This Sunday concludes our Worst-Case Scenario series here at Cornerstone and we’ve looked at various Worst-Case Scenarios from the Bible, what to do when you lose all hope, what to do if you find yourself nailed to a cross and various other topics.
The inspiration, came from a chance encounter I had with this book, Worst Case Scenarios, a Survival Handbook. And since January we’ve given you tips on how to survive killer bees or a shark attack. What to do if your car goes in the water or if your parachute fails to open and a litany of other scenarios. And some day you’ll thank us.
This morning’s helpful hint is: How to Survive an Avalanche. 1. Struggle to stay on top of the snow by using a freestyle swimming motion. 2. If you are buried, your best chance of survival is if someone saw you get covered. 3. If you are only partially buried, you can dig your way out with your hands or by kicking at the snow. 4. If you are completely buried, chances are you will be too injured to help yourself. Well, that wasn’t entirely helpful was it? But it did come with a picture.
And on this Easter Sunday our Worst-Case Scenario is: What to do if you wake up in a grave.
The scripture that Claire read for us earlier, is one of the four descriptions of the resurrection found in the gospels. Now there are some who would point out the differences in the four accounts, but for me they make them more believable.
If three or four of us all witnessed the same event, we would all see it different. Where we were looking and when we were looking. What was important and worth remembering, and what seemed trivial and not worth mentioning.
Our first church out of college was in upstate New York, and Angela and I made a few trips home while we were there. Which involved a 12-hour drive, each way. And because we were young we discovered that if we left right after prayer meeting on Wednesday night and drove through the night, the next morning we’d be awake when we arrived and wouldn’t need to waste a day. When you’re in your early twenties, things like that make perfect sense.
So, it was about 2 o’clock in the morning, we are driving through rural New Hampshire and Angela said, “I wonder what he wanted?” to which I replied, “Who?” And she said, “The man standing on the side of the road jumping up and down waving his arms.” “Really?”
And no, we didn’t go back. I know that probably makes us bad people, but just around the corner was a house, and it was 2 o’clock in the morning in rural New Hampshire. I could hear the banjos playing in the back ground. Two of us, on the same road, in the same car, at the same time, and our stories were different.
The resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. Without the resurrection, then Jesus was just a deluded teacher who thought he was god.
Paul reminded the early church of that in his letter to the Corinthians, he writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.
And I find it mind boggling that there are preachers and churches who would deny the bodily resurrection. And I think, then why do you bother?
But the resurrection isn’t just an integral part of our faith, in that we can point to an empty tomb and say “See, he’s not there he is risen and that means everything he said is true.”
Because even though that’s true, the resurrection is a foundational point of what and why we believe, it goes so much deeper than that.
In his first letter to the church Peter writes, 1 Peter 1:3-4 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.
And this morning I want to focus on one part of that scripture and that is, It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
And so, it is here that Peter makes a link between the resurrection of Jesus and our new birth as a Christ follower.
Now, I would suspect that most of us are familiar with the term “Born Again”, sometimes people will add it to the word Christian. I’m sure that you are familiar with the term “Born Again Christian”, but that term is actually a little redundant. Being born again is what makes you a Christian. You can’t have a Christian who hasn’t been born again.
The first time we hear the term is in a discussion that Jesus is having with a religious leader by the name of Nicodemus, you will find that discussion in the third chapter of John’s gospel. Let’s pick the story up in John 3:1-3 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
So, did you catch the last statement that Jesus made here? John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
So, if the resurrection is a type of new birth, then from the resurrection we should be able to find out what the new birth should look like.
So, what should you do if you wake up in a grave?
Mark 15:37 & 39 Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”
You Need to Understand, You Were Dead For the those who cannot accept the reality of Christ’s resurrection, the easiest theory to default to, is that Jesus wasn’t really dead, they just thought he was dead.
Some people have called this the swoon theory.
There are some people and even some churches that teach Jesus wasn’t dead but he was simply unconscious and in the coolness of the tomb he revived and people thought he had been raised from the dead.
If you understood the reality of the crucifixion you would realize just how implausible this theory is. The Romans crucified people all the time, and it was done to kill people not just render them unconscious. They knew the difference between “He’s Dead” and “He’s simply sleeping.”
Think about it, by the time he got to the trial he had already been awake for 24 hours, then he was repeatedly beaten, flogged by a Roman soldier, forced to carry a cross to his place of execution, had a crown of thorns pressed into his head, was nailed to a cross and left for hours in the Palestinian sun and then had a spear thrust into his side.
When one of Jesus’ followers asked for permission to remove his body for burial, this is what happened, we find it in, Mark 15:44-45 Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body.
So, according to some people, a Roman centurion who supposedly had all kinds of experience at this kind of thing pronounced him dead, then he was pulled down off the cross and stuck into a cold tomb where apparently with no medical help he spontaneously revives, moves the rock in front of the tomb, slips by the Roman Guard and then this half-dead bedraggled man in desperate need of medical help convinces his apostles that he is the risen Lord and conqueror of death.
And the reason people teach this is because they find the resurrection hard to believe. OK.
Jesus. Was. Dead. The apostle knew that. Pilate knew that. The centurions knew that and apparently Jesus knew that, because you’ll remember from my message on Friday, his last words are recorded in John 19: 30 & Luke 23:46 Then Jesus shouted, “It is finished! Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.
But, here is the reality. In order for you to experience new life, you first have to realize that you are dead.
Paul reminds us in Colossians 2:13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. . .
And then again in Ephesians 2:1 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.
Now obviously Paul isn’t speaking about being dead physically. We, eat and drink, breathe and move around. For all intents and purposes, we are alive, but we are dead spiritually. We’ve been cut off from our God because we have chosen to rebel against him and to disobey him.
We are told in Isaiah 59:2 It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.
The consequences of being cut off from God are spelled out in Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, . . .
Again, not physical death, because we all know that regardless of our relationship with the giver of Life, we are all going to physically die. That has probably hit home more than ever in the past month.
Just as an aside, when did the reality of the pandemic really start to hit home with you?
I think for me, it was when I heard that Country singer Joe Diffie died of COVID-19. We were close to the same age and I was a fan. Then we discovered that a girl we had gone to university with was dealing with a really serious case, and another friend from university lost a cousin to the virus. Then all of a sudden, it wasn’t an abstract, it was a reality.
So, the resurrection began with a death. And our new birth needs to begin with the reality that we are dead. Because, if we aren’t dead then we don’t need to be reborn.
Let’s continue with Jesus’ story.
John 20:1-5 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in.
You Need to Understand, You’re Now Alive
After Jesus had been taken down from the cross we see his body being claimed by Joseph of Arimathea. And what happened then is what you would expect to happen 2000 years ago to a dead person. Let’s pick up the story in Mark 15:45-47 The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.
Jesus’ body was wrapped in a burial shroud and it was placed in a tomb, exactly what should have happened. And when the women got to the tomb on Sunday, bringing with them the things they needed to prepare his body, they expected to find . . . his body,
But when the women got to the tomb, they found it empty except for the linens the body had been wrapped in. Now their first reaction was someone had stolen the body. That has actually been presented as another theory to disprove the resurrection. That the same disciples who had been cowards just hours before had all of a sudden become ninja’s sneaking up on a group of highly trained Roman soldiers, roll aside the stone that sealed the tomb and disappear into the night carrying the body of their friend.
And then they use this act of deception to found a religion based on a high moral code of integrity and honesty. Seems a little far-fetched to me. But there is no record of the soldiers being punished for falling asleep on duty, no record of the apostle’s being forced to tell where the body was hidden.
Add to that the fact that every one of the disciples eventually faced persecution and death for their faith and not one of them broke and admitted where they hid the body.
They were a braver bunch then I would have been, I hate pain, I probably would have made up secrets.
I know that there are all kinds of people who are willing to die for what they believe in, remember 9/11 and all the suicide bombers we hear about on the news. They are willing to die for their faith because they believe that it is true, but if the apostle had stolen the body of Jesus they would have been willing to die for something they knew was false.
Why was the tomb empty? Why were the grave clothes left behind? Because tombs and grave clothes are for the dead, and Jesus was alive.
The resurrection wasn’t just a spiritual resurrection, it was a bodily resurrection. Jesus’ body was dead.
There was no pulse, there was no breath, there was no brain activity. Jesus was dead. And then he wasn’t.
We probably don’t think about it, but Jesus body was put in the tomb dead, and at some point he wasn’t dead.
He opened his eyes and realized that he was alive, and he was in a tomb. And so, he took off his dead man’s clothes and he left his dead man’s tomb. Because the living don’t belong with the dead.
When we’ve been born again, when we’ve been given new life spiritually we need to leave the things of the dead behind.
Let’s finish a couple of the scriptures we looked at earlier, Colossians 2:13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.
And again, in Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
But it’s not enough that we are no longer dead, we need to leave the grave clothes and the tomb behind.
The bible is very clear that when we experience our new birth, that things are to change. After all, it’s a new birth!
Let’s go back to Colossians 2:12-13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.
Did you catch that? You were dead and then God made you alive.
Paul expands on that in 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
Old behaviours, old attitudes, old priorities are to be replaced with new behaviour, new attitudes and new priorities.
When Jesus was explaining what it would be like to be his follower he said, Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
A part of that is changing our behaviour.
And as difficult as it may seem, part of that might be changing who we hang around with. Not because we don’t care for them, but because hanging around with them means doing things, watching things and saying things that would displease God.
When I first became a believer my father told me, “Don’t worry about losing friends, if what you have is real, they’ll lose you.” And he was right, many of the people that I had hung around with weren’t comfortable with my new behaviour, new attitudes and new priorities.
The early church was reminded of this in Romans 6:9-11 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.
I heard a story years ago about a guy who was walking along with a scruffy looking mutt on a leash and he was stopped by a friend who asked, “What type of dog is that?” to which the first man replied, “He’s a police dog.”
His friend looked at the mutt and said: “He sure doesn’t look like a police dog.” To which the dog’s owner said, “That’s because he’s undercover.”
I have met people, who profess to loving God, and having had a personal encounter with Jesus, but you’d never know it by the way they behave. And one thing the bible is clear on, is there are not supposed to be undercover Christians.
What are the grave clothes that you need to take off now that you are alive? What is the tomb you need to leave?
Let’s go back to the scripture that Claire read for earlier. The two Marys have arrived at the tomb, only to discover the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. The angel who had moved the stone told them that Christ had risen from the dead and instructed them to go and tell the disciples what had happened.
You still with me? And as they turn to go, we pick up the story in Matthew 28:8-10 The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”
If you were dead and then you were alive You Need to Let People Know That You are Alive
If you have been given new life through Jesus, you need to let people know.
Let me leave you with Paul’s words to the church in Rome, Romans 10:8-11 And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”
Today, all around the world, Christians are celebrating the Resurrection, not just because it gave Jesus new life, but because it gives us new life.