John 20:1-9; Revelation 3:14-22
I always think that Easter is an odd time. And I say that because of the different ways that people observe it. For some, it makes no difference to them whatsoever. Except, of course, that the shops being closed on Good Friday is a nuisance. But apart from that nothing is different. For others, it’s a time for a break; an opportunity to get away from the normal routine. And for some, perhaps only a small minority, it’s the religious significance that is most important. Because it’s an opportunity to celebrate the most important festival in the Christian Calendar.
The celebration of Easter, then, provokes a variety of responses. As a consequence, what I’d like to do, is to present three scenarios based on possible responses to the resurrection and see exactly where they lead.
B. SCENARIO 1: IT NEVER HAPPENED
1. It Never Happened
And the first scenario is: That the resurrection never happened.
Now, obviously, even at the time of the event this would have been the most popular theory. After all, Mary Magdalene herself had gone to the tomb to embalm a dead body, and the rest of the disciples believed that everything they had worked towards was over. Indeed, after Jesus’s death on Good Friday, no-one believed that Jesus would rise from the dead, least of all the disciples. And what’s more, the authorities weren’t concerned about a resurrected saviour either. All they were concerned about, was someone stealing the dead body and starting the myth that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.
Consequently, as far as the followers of Jesus were concerned, after the crucifixion, yes, they had been around a great man and a great man of God come to that. But on Good Friday all their hopes and dreams—everything that they had lived for—had come to a crashing halt. And quite frankly they didn’t know what to do next, except to hide from the authorities in fear that they might be executed too.
If Jesus had never been resurrected, then, the group of disciples would eventually have scattered. When all the fuss had died down, and it was safe for them to do so, they would have returned home to their original occupations. They would then, presumably, have begun their search for purpose in life all over again. There would have been no group of followers left risking their lives for a lie. There would have been no hope. And the church would never have been formed.
And, of course, that would mean for us, today, that no one would be sitting in church.
Because, firstly, the hope that the disciples had believed in, would never have been passed down. We would not have been told of the opportunity of a restored relationship with God, and the concept of eternal life with God would, therefore, be just a dream. Secondly, there would be no church because the people of God would not exist. As a result, thirdly, there would be no church buildings for us to sit in, historical or modern. And, fourthly, many of the organisations that we treasure today would never have come into existence.
So, apart from the lack of a spiritual message of hope, it would mean that we would be living a very dark world indeed.
Because if the church had never existed, schools and hospitals today would probably be very different. The Red Cross would not have been founded; St John’s Ambulance would not have come into existence; and the Flying Doctor Service would never have been created. Because although those organisations are no longer run by the church, they began their life amongst the communities of believers.
Furthermore, there would be no organisations like World Vision, the City Mission, or any other missionary organisations. And as a high proportion of the caring compassionate work done in Australia and abroad is done by Christians, much of the work of caring would probably not be being done either.
3. Current State of Affairs
Consequently, if Jesus had never been resurrected from the dead, not only would the hope of a restored relationship with God been lost, but the chances are that this would be a bleak and dismal world indeed, if we hadn’t destroyed it already.
And yet the strange thing is that most people today carry on life as though they couldn’t care if Jesus had risen from the dead or not. And the result of this we can see all around us. Because despite the influence of Christians over the years, sharing the message of hope and trying to make this world a better place, there are still plenty of people who are only in it for themselves. And consequently they do a very good job of trying to destroy this world for everyone but themselves.
The disciples’ hopes may have been dashed temporarily. But a world that believes that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead or simply doesn’t care whether he did or not, is a very dark world indeed.
C. IT DID HAPPEN – BUT WE’VE GOT DISTRACTED
1. It Did Happen
The second scenario that I’d like to present is: That the resurrection did happen, that people have taken it seriously, but after a while have got caught up with other distractions.
Now this is a scenario that has actually happened, and it first happened within the first fifty years of the resurrection of Jesus. Because after Jesus was resurrected and the church was established, there was whole flurry of activity, and much of it spurred on by the members of the church who were being persecuted. Because despite persecution, the church’s members went out and told others about Jesus. And in doing so they taught the idea of regularly meeting together to worship, teach, encourage, and care for one another.
But then, bit by bit, the first flush of enthusiasm died down, and unfortunately other distractions crept in. And the apostle John, amongst others, recorded some of the distractions for us: People stopped caring; their enthusiasm for Christ and the people around them waned (Revelation 2:4). People were tempted with false teaching; people wanted to adjust the Christian faith to suit themselves (Revelation 2:9). Some people’s ethics became pretty twisted and sexual immorality became a real issue (Revelation 2: 14, 20). And many were accused of being half hearted in their beliefs (Revelation 3:2), just sitting around and doing nothing to promote the faith.
Now the reality is that this scenario—of believing that the resurrection did happen but falling away to other distractions—effectively denies the resurrection just as effectively as if it had never been accepted in the first place. Yes, there may be pockets of genuine believers who are faithful, but generally it leaves a faith that is dead, and a church that is dying. And God’s assessment of that kind of faith—that kind of church—is suitably recorded by the Apostle John. “I know your deeds. I know that you are neither hot nor cold, and I wish you were one or the other. So because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I will vomit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16).
3. Current State of Affairs
Now, sadly, into this scenario we could well fit the church, as it is generally represented in western society today. Because, yes, there are pockets of people and pockets of congregations that are alive. But generally as we look around, we can see people and churches who may have been enthusiastic to start with but, over time, have been distracted and lost their first love.
We can see that the message of the gospel has been changed, and what it means to be a Christian has been reinterpreted from the need to have faith to one where only doing good works need to be done (without the need for regular worship or faith). And the idea of good works, in terms of being like Christ in the world, has changed too. Because the emphasis has moved away from caring for the poor and the outcasts, to things like cleaning and fundraising.
Furthermore, we can see that the urgency of participating and sharing in the gospel has been lost. And that is reflected in the lack of regular worship and the lack of sharing of the faith. Where the emphasis is more on faith being a private matter, and where regular interaction with others is an option extra.
And further, we can see that the need to care for one-another has been lost too. And that shows in the lack of meeting together to encourage, build up, and to care for one another.
The end result of this kind of scenario—that the resurrection did happen but the people have given in to other distractions—is that many churches are featured by their small congregations. And often the practice is that the church is more of a club than a worshipping community. As a result, there is very little spiritual aspect to the life of such churches at all.
Now today’s church in the west may not be persecuted like the early church. But we have become comfortable, too comfortable. And consequently the western church as a whole has had the tendency to lose the plot.
After the resurrection, the disciples’ hopes were soon restored. And they, enthusiastically, went out of their way to share the faith. However, in no-time the corruption of the faith set in.
Consequently, we need to heed the warning. Because if God’s assessment of the corrupted church is of disaster, and that he would spit them out of his mouth, then that is a warning that we need to pay special attention to, today, as well.
D. IT HAPPENED – AND IT STILL MATTERS
1. It Happened – and it Still Matters
Now, of course, the third scenario is: That Jesus was resurrected from the dead and it still matters.
When the disciples realised that Jesus had risen from the dead, something special happened. Despite their Jewish background, the realisation of what the resurrection meant changed their lives. Apart from having confidence in God that his promises were true, the disciples re-evaluated every aspect of their lives. And they saw, not how their faith fitted into their lives, but how their lives fitted in to their faith.
Consequently, very quickly many of the traditions that they had previously held in the highest esteem got tossed out of the window. They changed their corporate worship day from the Sabbath to the Sunday. For the sake of gentile believers, they scrapped most of the food rules. Rules about working on the Sabbath and rules about circumcision got dropped. And the traditional festivals they previously celebrated got canned as being no longer relevant. The Apostles (including Paul) came to realise that there was only one thing that mattered, and that was worshipping and being obedient to God.
There may have been all sorts of ways that the faith was practised in the past, there may have been all kinds of things which people had found helpful, but if they ceased to be helpful—as they were to an rapidly expanding church—then they were effectively obstacles to faith.
In other words the implications of accepting the resurrection and living a resurrected faith, is to be constantly listening to God. Indeed, we need to be open to God’s ways of doing things, not necessarily the ways we have come to love.
3. Current State of Affairs
So, if we want to be a people and a church, today, that is true to the resurrection, then the only thing that matters is to worship God and to follow his instructions. It’s not about how we’ve done things in the past or how we like things done. It’s a matter of what God wants of us and what he wants us to do.
And what God has consistently wanted us to do, is to have faith in him and not to rely on ourselves. It is to worship him and not to be distracted with other things. It is to obey him and not to put restrictions on our willingness to be involved. And it is to care for one another and not to abandon those who need our support and care. And all of these, without the unnecessary baggage that often comes along.
The challenge today, then, is not only to acknowledge that the resurrection did happen, but to conduct ourselves in a way that is true to the faith, whilst making it relevant for the people of today.
Three possible scenarios to the resurrection, then. The first was based on the attitude that Jesus died and that was it, end of story, the resurrection never happened. And we can see that many people live in the world today on this basis. The second was the idea that the resurrection did happen, people did believe but then they became distracted. And this is the scenario that plagues the life of the western church today. And the third scenario is that the resurrection did happen and that it still matters.
Now only the third scenario spells out where the church should be today. But it is a position that many people, even if they accept it in theory find it very difficult to accept. And yet it is the only one which ensures that the faith continues and that the good news will continue to be spread. It is also the only way that will guarantee the existence of the church into the future.
So today, we are faced with the question, “What do we believe happened that first Easter Day?” Was Jesus resurrected or not? And if we do believe, or have believed that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, where do we stand in the faith right now?
Posted: 22nd May 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
John 20:1-9; Revelation 3:14-22