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Dearly loved by the Risen Lord,
Shortly after the end of World War II, a German pastor by the name of Martin Niemoeller visited our country. Like many other ministers of Christ, he was imprisoned by the Nazis for six years because he couldn’t keep quiet about Jesus. After the war he was freed. He was very much in demand as a speaker. Reporters wanted to interview him so that he would tell them what life was like in those horrendous concentration camps. Whenever the reporters showed up and wanted to get a story about the filth and inhumanity that took place, they went away disappointed. One of the reporters was heard leaving Niemoeller muttering, “Six years in a prison camp and all that man wants to do is talk about is Jesus!”
Today we have gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the center piece of the Christian faith. We want to talk about Jesus too. While Martin Niemoeller was under-fed, under-clothed, under-sheltered, under-cared for and existed at death’s doorstep for six years, he knew his Savior lived to forgive him and to care for him even there where the lice abounded as did death.
Today some of you are caring the weight of the world on your shoulders. In the future others of you will carry the weight of the world because of the quick and sharp turns life can take. Don’t fail to do what Niemoeller did even in that filthy concentration camp – “Praise the Ever-living Christ!” 1) He is real and lives; 2) He is real and lives for you.
When God inspired the apostle John to write the book of Revelation, his circumstances were not much different from those of Niemoeller who lived almost two millennia later. John was on a prison island, the ancient world’s version of Alcatraz. The apostle John, like Niemoeller, talked too much about Jesus. But while John was on the prison island of Patmos, the Lord granted him this glorious vision. He wrote the content down that were intended for the seven churches of Asia Minor, churches in Ephesus, Thyatira, Smyrna, Laodicea, Philadelphia, Pergamum and Sardis. We have that vision as the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.
What John saw was too much for him to behold. His reaction to the vision was much like the reaction of any sinful person when he or she meets holiness. John’s reaction was like that of the guards who had been put in charge of guarding the tomb of Jesus. They fainted in fear when God’s perfect messengers rolled away the stone to let everyone that Jesus wasn’t there. They fainted in terror. That’s how John reacted when he saw his glorified Savior and God. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
Just so we are clear, who is the “him?” The “him” identifies himself. “Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! Is there any doubt whom John gets to see? This was Jesus! Not the Jesus of the thorny crown! Not the Jesus of the blood-stained cross! The Jesus John saw was the one who conquered death and won victory over the grave. The Jesus who was speaking here was not the one who needed wine vinegar to get out his last words from the cross on Good Friday. This is the exalted Jesus! This is the risen Jesus! This is the Ever-living Jesus who was crucified dead and buried but who arose on the third day.
What a blessing John got to see! But he had also been blessed to see Jesus alive on the first Easter too. He had gone to the grave to see it was open and empty. Jesus wasn’t there. He heard it from the mouth of the angel, He is not here, he is risen just as he said. He was also behind the closed doors on Easter evening when Thomas wasn’t there and a week later when Thomas was there. Perhaps he was among the number who took advantage of Jesus’ invitation to put their hands into his side and feel those wounds of his hand from the iron spikes. Yes, John got to see the risen Christ on the first Easter; he was with him on a few occasions during the next forty days when Jesus showed himself to be alive and attended the Bible classes Jesus held. John also got to see Jesus years later on that craggy and deserted prison island of Patmos. Ask John, “Does Jesus live? John would tell you that Jesus lives.
There are plenty other proofs. His resurrection was prophesied. It was prophesied in the Psalms that Messiah’s body would not see decay. There were many passages say that his rule would last forever. God prophet Isaiah called the Messiah, “Wonderful, Counselor, the Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Everlasting doesn’t mean dead. Jesus even did a little prophecy about himself when he said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it.” The skeptical one says, “Ah, come on! That’s pretty veiled! That’s not fair!” Yet even Jesus’ enemies knew what Jesus meant when they posted guards at the tomb of Jesus because they remembered those words.
There is more proof. The four Gospels describe the resurrection in great detail. Each testified to the truth of the resurrection. Although there are different authors, not once do they contradict one another. There are two supplementary accounts in the book of Acts and I Corinthians 15. Look up the references and I dare you to find a contradiction. Take this for what it is worth. One scholar said there is actually more proof that Jesus rose from the dead than for Christopher Columbus discovering the Western World.
But what makes a huge impression on me are the disciples. They weren’t the most reliable guys before his resurrection. In the Garden of Gethsemane the disciples all ran away when the mob came to arrest Jesus. They scattered like chickens with the Colonel after them. They didn’t want to be identified with Jesus. Later Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. The disciples locked themselves in the Upper Room afraid that the Romans and the enemies of their master would make them their target.
That all changed once they saw, talked to and even ate with Jesus. They were impressively bold. In fact, it is a very well established truth that they all met death by giving testimony of Jesus except for John. They would rather die than deny. It’s a fact. Jesus lives. Praise the ever-living Jesus!
What does the Ever-Living Jesus mean to us? Jesus said to John, “And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Perhaps that word Hades is a strange word to hear. In the Scripture it can mean one of two things depending on context. It can mean hell, the place of everlasting torment. It can mean more generally the life after we die. You know something? It doesn’t make any difference. He slams the door shut on the possibility of hell for all who believe when he says, “There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Sin is paid in full. The resurrection is the proof.
And he also assures us, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even though he dies. He who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus said those words right after he raised Lazarus from the dead. He then went on to prove how true they are and how they can be trusted because he has the power over death, even his own.
For all faithful Christians God promises that when it is time to die the dust of our bodies will return to the ground and the spirit, our soul, returns to God who gave it. There our spirit awaits the grand judgment and day of resurrection when God says that “he will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep.” On that day all who are in their graves will be reunited again with their bodies and we will line up at Jesus’ right hand and together he will say to all of us, “Come, inherit the kingdom God has prepared for you since the foundation of the world.” With God and his holy angels and all our fellow saints we will enjoy both glorified and sinless body and soul what God has prepared for us for eternity. Easter guarantees it.
There are other blessings of Easter. In fact, when I give a God 101 lesson on the lesson on last times and Judgment, we go through the following. I tell the Bible student no matter what time of year we might be on this lesson, we are celebrating Easter. If it is July, we are celebrating Easter in July. If it is in December, we are going to kick Jesus out of the manger and take him to the cross and the empty grave for that evening.
The first thing we need to know is this: The resurrection proves that Jesus is God. Romans 1:4 says that Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” Benny Hinn, televangelist and fleecer of the flock, lived a couple of miles from us in Orlando. He moved to Fort Worth. Now he is in California and divorced. He is outrageous and once claimed to have raised someone in Ghana from the dead with 500,000 people watching. Who does he think he is? Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God.
2) We said something about this before. Three years before the events of Holy Week and the first Easter, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it.” The temple was his body. He did raise it in three days just like he said. If Jesus said that and it came true, then whatever Jesus says can be trusted and is true. He speaks the truth about all his promises.
3) The apostle Paul said, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” The resurrection is the proof that was said in the first part of that verse. How do we know we had our sins paid for? How do we know that we were justified, declared innocent of our sins? He rose to prove.
4) We will rise too from the dead. Job, who lost his wealth and health and family, had this hope and certainty “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another.” “Because I live, you will live also!” Jesus assures.
An historian once wrote about the life hereafter, “I believe in life beyond the grave because every nation throughout antiquity has believed in a future existence.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t do anything for me. A college president once wrote, “It is easier for me to believe than not to believe in immortality.” That kind of logic doesn’t do a lot for me either. I need more than that; you need more than that. We have Jesus’ promise. We have our ever-living Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the dead and lives and rules for us. Give him the praise. Enjoy his blessed promises.