Sunday, April 21, 2019

Proof of Life

There was a movie released in 2000 called Proof of Life. For those of you who travel overseas a good bit, the story is terrifying. Peter Bowman, an American engineer, is traveling for business in a Latin American country. He is kidnapped. The people who kidnap him demand $6 million for his safe return. His company is on the verge of bankruptcy and they refuse to pay the ransom. So, his wife hires a freelance professional hostage negotiator to work on his release. Throughout the entire ordeal, this hostage negotiator, as he speaks with the kidnappers, demands “proof of life...”

“If we are going to do our work on this end to raise the money…if you ever want to see a dime in ransom money…you have to give us proof that Peter Bowman is still alive!”

They have that same conversation several times in that movie.

“You want me to work on this end, prove to me he is still alive."

Surely, there is some kind of connection between a story like that and Easter Sunday! Every single thing we do here. All of the songs we sing. All of the prayers we pray. The baptism many of us experienced. The lives that so many of us live. It all hinges on one thing: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

If He did, all of this is worth it! There is no sacrifice too great. There is nothing we should refuse to do for a God who really did rise from the dead. Because that means all of this is true—the Bible, the promises, everlasting life! But if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then none of this is worth it. That means this Book is just a bunch of lies. That means none of the promises matter. That means Jesus was just an ordinary man. Perhaps a “good” man, but an ordinary man nonetheless. I agree with Paul on this one!

"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that He raised Christ—whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and your are still in your sins. Then those who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied!" (I Corinthians 15:12-19, NRSV)

So, listen, church, it all hinges on this one thing: Did the Resurrection really happen? I’m one of those people who wants proof! Maybe I should just have more faith. I wish I could just accept it blindly, but I’m not wired that way. I remember when I was a teenager, I wrestled with this question in a very profound way.

I was raised in a Christian home. Both of my parents were Christians. I was at church every time the doors were open. I was taught the faith. I knew the Bible stories, and I could already quote a great amount of Scripture. But as I entered my adolescent years, I remember wrestling with this question: Did the Resurrection really happen? Where is the proof? How do we know Jesus really lived after He had been killed?

I read a lot during that time of my life—“proofs” of the Resurrection. I want to share with you this morning the most compelling evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection. More than anything else, this piece of evidence did it for me. If you are one of those who needs proof of life, pay attention this morning. I want to read a text that is not often read on Easter Sunday, but I think it is a crucially important story in any discussion about the Resurrection of Jesus.

Acts 9:1-19 (NRSV)

Do you remember Paul’s story? Well, first of all, his given name was not “Paul”; it was “Saul.” And Saul was a devout Jew. From the time he was very young, he was being groomed to be someone special in the Jewish community. He was the kid in Bible class who always brought his Bible and his chart was filled with stars! Later in the New Testament, he will describe himself as a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” That means, he knew the Law and he practiced the law religiously! Saul’s life was right on track until that day as he was traveling to Damascus.

Luke, the writer of Acts, tells us that Saul sees the resurrected Jesus. He becomes blind. He finds his way to Ananias, a Christian in Damascus and Saul has this “conversion experience.” He immediately leaves his old life. He threw all of that away in an instant to follow after Jesus. Brothers and sisters, there it is—the proof.

I believe Saul must have seen Jesus that day, because he had absolutely nothing to gain by lying about that moment. In fact, he had everything to lose…and he did, in many ways, lose everything. He lost his position among the Pharisees. His entire “friend group” was lost! Undoubtedly, his family would have been furious with his decision. He went on to live a difficult life. He was beaten. He was imprisoned. He was eventually killed because of his belief that what happened to him on that day was real. The greatest proof of the Resurrection is a changed life.

As you work your way through the stories of the New Testament, you find other equally staggering stories.

Peter—He followed Jesus around for three years believing Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom. He left everything to follow Jesus. But as soon as he realized that Jesus was not going to establish that kingdom, he left. When Jesus was arrested, he became a coward. But then, he saw the resurrected Jesus! After that moment, everything changed for Peter. He was a coward before, but then he turns into a man with unbelievable courage! He delivers the first Christian sermon just days after He sees Jesus in front of thousands!

A person does not go through that kind of metamorphosis unless they’ve seen something real. Understand, Peter had nothing to gain by lying about Jesus’ resurrection. His confession made him look like a fool to the rest of the world. His confession insured that his life would be difficult. He never shrank back from his story. He, like Paul, died a horrific death. How does someone go from “coward” to “courageous” in a single moment? Peter saw the resurrected Christ! And so did the other apostles. And so did Mary. And so did other disciples.

How do we know? Because those formerly scared, misguided people changed their lives after they saw Jesus. That small band of disciples established a church that grew and grew and grew. They saw something & it changed them! Church, the Resurrection is real.

The Resurrection still has the power to change lives! Before you found Jesus, your life was different. All of us—everyone in this room—was a different person before they found Jesus. We may not talk about it much out in the open, but I heard someone say this awhile back: “Everyone in this room has a story that if they said it out loud, it would break our hearts.”

That is true. And some folks, this morning, are willing to share with us how Jesus took their “broken lives” and made them whole again.

What is your story? What would you write on your sign? These signs indicate radical transformation. They indicate the power of the Spirit of God working in our world today. You know what else? These signs are proof that Jesus really did rise from the dead. 2000 years later, His Resurrection still has the power to turn cowards into people of great courage and faith and power.

Church, He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!)

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