It started as a day marked with mourning, but today it is a day of celebration.
It started as a day when the forces of Evil celebrated victory, but today it is a seen as the day when goodness and grace triumphed.
It started as a day when people paused to remember what man did to God, but today is a day when people stop and remember what God had done for man,
This is week three of our “after the but . . .” series here at Cornerstone. And over the next couple of months we are unpacking the reality of “After the But, comes the truth.”
And we use that every day in conversation. How often have you added but to a statement to modify it? Last week I was in the Miramichi and asked someone about a local restaurant and they replied, “The food is good but, . . .” They went on to say the décor of the restaurant was really dated and there was no sense of ambiance. So, I went there for lunch and the food was awesome, I might have said, “The décor is a little dated, but the food is incredible.”
‘But’ is such a powerful word, only 3 letters however it is the hinge that turns the entire meaning of a statement.
For example, C. S. Lewis wrote, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” After the but, comes the truth.
The bible uses the word ‘but’ over 4500 times, so we shouldn’t have a lack of material. This morning I want to look at a statement that occurs in the book of Acts.
Paul is preaching to a crowd in Antioch and he is telling them the Jesus story. And part of his sermon is the Easter weekend summed up in 115 words.
And in those 115 words there are two buts. Which is perfect, there was a ‘but’ for Friday and now there is a ‘but’ for today.
And that one little word was literally a world changer. It was the hinge that history now turns on.
Because of that but, all of history is divided into BC, Before Christ and AD, Anno Domini, The Year of the Lord.
We find the story in Acts 13:27-31 The people in Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the one the prophets had spoken about. Instead, they condemned him, and in doing this they fulfilled the prophets’ words that are read every Sabbath. They found no legal reason to execute him, but they asked Pilate to have him killed anyway.
And that was Friday, But this is Sunday.
So, let’s keep reading, “When they had done all that the prophecies said about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead! And over a period of many days he appeared to those who had gone with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to the people of Israel.
Did you catch the ‘but’? . . .they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead!
And that was the deal breaker right there for everyone who was present on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. With that ‘but’, everything changed.
Because of the But, Their Present was Changed
On Thursday the Apostles had been on top of the world, they had arrived in Jerusalem and that evening they had celebrated the Passover feast together.
But by Friday one of the twelve was dead by his own hand, one had denied he had ever known Jesus and nine had scattered rather than be associated with the one they had called master and friend.
When Jesus needed them most, they had given him their least.
And now on Sunday morning they were defeated and discouraged.
They felt that they had not only lost their friend, but they had lost their dignity in their denial. Not only that but they had lost the three years of their lives they had invested in following Jesus.
I don’t know what they talked about through the day on Saturday or what plans they were making on Sunday. Were they wondering when the Romans would arrive at the door to take them away? Were they planning on leaving Jerusalem and heading back to the Galilee, resuming the lives they had left behind?
Were they wondering what they were going to tell their friends and family? After all, they had been so confident that Jesus was the one, that Jesus was the messiah. But now Jesus was dead, and they were defeated.
But that all changed when the women arrived at the tomb and found it empty.
If the religious leaders and the Romans had of been right about Jesus, there would have been a body in the tomb. But the tomb was empty.
Now I would never presume to put myself inside the mind of Jesus. But if my friends had denied me and deserted me, I think I’d have been a little put out. I think I would have just gone back to the Father and said, “Well, that didn’t work out so well, did it?”
But listen to Mark’s account of the resurrection: Mark 16:5-7 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”
Did you catch that? The women were told to go and tell the disciples and Peter, that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The disciples who fled when Jesus needed them the most, Peter who denied that he had even known Jesus. Tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus’ body is not in the grave, but that he lives.
And with that statement they knew they had been forgiven. That all of Jesus’ talk about grace and forgiveness wasn’t just words. That when Jesus had looked down from the cross and said “Father forgive them, that he was talking about them.”
Because regardless of how Sunday morning started, his resurrection changed everything.
Remember the C. S. Lewis quote from earlier, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
The apostles didn’t get a do over for what happened on Friday, but through his grace Jesus offered them the opportunity to start again.
But it wasn’t just their present that was changed.
Because of the But, the Future Was Changed
You’ve heard me preach on this over and over again. The world is what it is because of Jesus. Not because of his teaching, not because of his death but because of his resurrection.
Without the resurrection, the life and ministry of Jesus would have had a very minimal impact on the world. His words would have been forgotten; his teachings would have been lost in the tragedy of his death.
But all that changed when the women found an empty tomb instead of a body.
Because 40 days after he rose from the dead, Jesus told his followers what his church would accomplish and how they would accomplish it.
Remember our scripture from two weeks ago? Sure you do, it was only two weeks ago. But for the benefit of those who weren’t here for that message, they were the last words that Jesus spoke to the apostles before he returned to the Father. This was forty days after the resurrection, and we pick up the story in Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Because Jesus had risen from the dead, the Holy Spirit empowered the 11 and they became witnesses about Jesus and his story to the very ends of the earth.
And with his story they brought his teaching of grace and forgiveness.
I know that the church and Christians often get a bad rap from the world and to be truthful there are instances in our history that we need to be ashamed of. But so much of what is good about the world comes from Jesus’ teachings and the church’s influence.
The world was radically changed as the church began to spread.
The teaching of Jesus revolutionized how people viewed the poor, how women and children were treated and how the sick were cared for.
Because of the church, hospitals and universities were founded.
If Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead, the world as we know it today would be unrecognizable.
And not everybody agrees with that premise.
There are those who criticize the church and point to areas where the church has failed through the years.
It was the atheist Friedrich Nietzsche who said “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret, subterranean, petty — I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”
Of course, this was the same Nietzsche who was educated in a university founded by the church, paid for by a scholarship because his father had been a Pastor. The same Nietzsche who spent his last days being cared for in a hospital that was founded by the church and who is buried in a Christian graveyard.
And if we were to eliminate every university in the world started by churches, there would be no place for our children to be educated, but over the past two thousand years children have been educated in schools and universities founded by the church. Why?
Because Jesus followers remembered how Jesus told his followers to love God not just with their hearts but with their minds.
if we were to eliminate every hospital in the world founded by churches, there would be no place for our sick to be treated. Why?
Because for two thousand years those who have taken the name of Christ have read the stories in the Gospels where Jesus saw the sick and had compassion on them, saw the lepers and touched them, even when others wouldn’t, and they remembered how Jesus healed people.
If we were to eliminate every relief agency founded by the church, then there would be nobody there the next time a disaster strikes.
But because the tomb was empty, we have World Hope, and World Vision, and Samaritan Purse and the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and a multitude of other relief agencies. The majority of relief agencies around the world are either operated by the church or were started by the church.
Why? Because two thousand years ago Jesus was born and told his followers to care for the poor and the unfortunate.
It was the church that helped eliminate child labour in England and North America and formed the first schools to teach children to read and write. Why? Because Jesus embraced little children and encouraged his followers to do the same.
It was the
church that changed how slaves were viewed and treated 2000 years ago and it
was the church that was at the forefront of ending slavery in the Western world
200 years ago.
And why? There was no personal gain to be had; in fact, they often were at risk for their views and their preaching. There was no financial incentive and yet they embraced the truth of “for God so loved the world.”
2000 years ago, slavery was a part of life, and had been for thousands of years before and so the teaching of the early church was revolutionary when Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And the thoughts of Colossians 4:1were a brand-new teaching, Colossians 4:1 Masters, be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in heaven.
But don’t think that slavery is simply a historical battle that has been won. It is estimated that there are 27 million slaves in the world today. And Jesus followers are still in the forefront of that battle to end slavery. As a matter of fact Cornerstone supports 2 anti human trafficking agencies.
And it was the church where the women’s rights movement began.
The Apostles saw how Jesus treated women and later when they gathered together in groups, called churches, many of those identified as being in positions of leadership were women.
And time and time again Paul addresses his letters and sends greetings not only to men but to women in the early church.
For example, Romans 16:3 says Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. Not Aquila and the wife, or Mr. and Mrs. Aquila but instead he refers to my co-workers in the ministry, Priscilla and Aquila.
And because of how Jesus treated women one of his followers wrote Galatians 3:26-28 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. That was radical.
And Jesus never commanded that woman should cover themselves from head to toe and hide away from men, instead he told men to respect them and not look on them as objects.
Jesus didn’t say that if men had lustful thoughts it was because of women, instead he said it was men’s responsibility to control their own thoughts.
Not because on
Friday Jesus died on a cross.
But because on Sunday God raised him from the dead!
If there had been no resurrection, then the 11 apostles would have left Jerusalem discouraged and defeated.
The Holy Spirit wouldn’t have come, the church wouldn’t have been founded and the world would be a darker place today.
But it wasn’t just the present and the future that was changed by the resurrection.
Because of the But, Our Forever Is Changed.
Jesus didn’t just come to heal people and feed people and make people feel good. He came for a very specific purpose. Jesus told his followers in John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
But it took more than three years of preaching and healing to give us eternal life. And it took more than Jesus dying on the cross to give us eternal life.
While both of those would have made Jesus a good teacher, and a good man that wasn’t enough to buy our salvation.
It all comes down to the resurrection. Ultimately that is what we need to believe, because that is the foundation of our faith.
Listen to the words that Paul wrote to the church 2000 years ago in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
It was because Jesus was able to defeat death that he gives us the victory.
The promise of eternal life was a promise that Jesus made to his followers over and over again through the gospels.
He didn’t just offer his followers good teaching and the truth, instead in John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
And if at the end of the story, if Jesus had remained in the tomb, the promises would have been empty. But the promises weren’t empty because the tomb was empty.
I was never very good at Physics, if you don’t believe me you can check with Mrs. Harding my grade 12 physics teacher. However, that won’t keep me from quoting a physicist, it was Frank Tipler who said, “We physicists know that a beautiful postulate is more likely to be correct than an ugly one. Why not adopt this Postulate of Eternal Life, at least as a working hypothesis?”
If you have chosen Jesus, then you have adopted the postulate of eternal life, but it is more than simply a working hypothesis.
Jesus reminds us in John 3:36 “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”
Do we believe that? On this Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the resurrection, do you believe that Jesus can offer you grace, forgive your sins, and give you eternal life? And do we act like we believe it?
Saint Ignatius wrote,
“Among the many signs of a lively faith and hope we have in eternal life, one
of the surest is not being overly sad at the death of those whom we dearly love
in our Lord.”
So, on this resurrection morning, we not only celebrate that Jesus conquered the grave but that in doing so his promises are true, and we will conquer the grave as well.
John, one of those who was closest to Jesus would go on to write, 1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. Not that you will hope you have eternal life, but that you may know you have eternal life.
But the promise doesn’t just begin when this life is over. Corrie Ten Boom wrote, “You know, eternal life does not start when we go to heaven. It starts the moment you reach out to Jesus. He never turns His back on anyone. And He is waiting for you.”
When I was in High School, one of the poets we studied was John Donne, and I was intrigued with his poem, Death be Not Proud. And the last line of that sonnet says: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
A few years after that, after having chosen to follow Jesus I discovered the words of 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And I realized where Donne had gotten his assurance from.
On this resurrection Sunday, as we celebrate Christ’s victory over the grave, do you have the same assurance as John Donne when he wrote “One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
And more importantly, do you have the assurance that the other John had when he wrote to the church 2000 years ago saying, 1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.
You can, and the greatest gift being offered this Easter has nothing to do with a bunny or chocolate.