"An Unbeliever's Sermon" #83-30
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 27, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Culture Wars)
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Luke 24:5-6
And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen."
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! On this Resurrection Sunday the world is divided between those who believe in the living Lord and those who do not. May the Holy Spirit use this message to move souls from doubt to deliverance. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Peggy was a conscientious driver. When she set herself behind the wheel, she did not drink and drive; she did not send or receive texts; she did not speed excessively; and she did not give in to road rage when people cut her off. Because she was a good driver, when her vehicle began to shudder, stutter, and pop, she was already in the freeway's right lane and was able to get safely to the shoulder of the road.
That was the way the situation was when, in her rearview mirror, she saw an Arkansas Highway Patrolman pull up behind her. The officer approached her door, had her roll down the window so he could ask the traditional questions, "Are you all right?" "What seems to be the problem?" Peggy replied, "She was okay, but her car seemed to be internally hemorrhaging." The officer had her release the latch on the car's hood. Although not a mechanic, he was able to rule out some of the basic vehicle difficulties. Next, the officer asked Peggy to scoot over and placed himself behind the wheel. He turned the key and... nothing.
It was then the officer asked, "When was the last time you filled your car up? As near as I can figure, you're out of gas." To that good news, without thinking, flustered Peggy said, "Is that all? Great. Officer, can you tell me will it hurt the car's engine if I drive it home this way?" To the officer's credit he didn't grin or chuckle when he replied "Well, Ma'am, you may believe that will work, but I believe you may find the trip to be a frustrating experience."
Peggy believed one thing and the officer believed another. The belief of one was right, the belief of the other was wrong. In this particular case it is not hard to see who was correct. But there are other times, very serious times, when the choice does not seem to be so obvious. Today is Resurrection Sunday, the most important day in the calendar of the Christian church. If you are unaware that today means more than Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, and Easter bonnets, I can tell you this is the day Christendom celebrates the resurrection of the Redeemer. You see, I and a great many people believe that Jesus Christ, God's innocent Son and the world's Savior, rose from the dead three days after He had been murdered. Some of you, and there are also a great many of you, don't believe a single word of that sentence. Simply stated that means one of us may be right and, at least one of us is definitely wrong. Now if you are an unbeliever, you may think, "No problem. If you don't try to cram your faith down my throat, we can each believe what we want and everyone will live happily ever after." This "live and let live" motto seems really good on paper... but, from a Christian's point of view, there is a problem.
The problem is this: we care about you. We care about you because you are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, spouses, children, and friends. We care about you because Jesus told us to care, but also because, we believe that Jesus is the only Way to heaven, which means He is also the only Way to escape going to hell. And we don't want you beloved people to spend eternity in that bad place. More importantly, we believe God doesn't want you to spend eternity in a place where hope has been banished and happiness cannot be found. So you could be rescued from such a desperate and depressing fate, the Lord sent His Son into this world. You probably know part of His story. You may know how, according to God's promise and prophecy, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. True man and true God, He did for us all we could not do for ourselves.
Where we have sinned, He was perfect. Where we broke God's holy laws, Jesus kept them. Where we have fallen into temptations; He resisted them without a stumble or misstep. Last week we remembered how Jesus carried our sins to the cross and was crucified. When He died, the work of buying us back, of paying the ransom for our rescue, had been fully paid. These are some of the things we believe. They are the things which, when believed, move us from hell to heaven, from damnation to salvation. These are the things we believe and for almost 2,000 years believers have been inviting unbelievers to join them in worshipping God's Son Who takes away the sins of the world. That many have come to believe this is borne out by the fact that the Christian Church is the biggest organization the world has ever seen.
But even as we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we must admit that many, maybe even you, have declined to put your faith in the Redeemer. Reactions to the Gospel message have not always been meek nor have they been mild. Today many believers are being accused of being narrow-minded, bigoted, and backward. We are supposed to be legalistic, judgmental, and standoffish.
In retaliation, the unbelieving world has decided to take off the kid gloves and fight back. In our country that fighting is done in our classrooms and courtrooms. In other countries politics has demanded that Christianity be forbidden and all missionary work be muzzled. Where other global religions hold sway, conversion to the Christ can be punished by death. All of you have seen how ISIS and other radical groups kidnap Christian girls and women for the purpose of slavery. You have seen the pictures of men lined up for execution, guilty of no other crime than saying, "I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior."
Yes, for almost 2,000 years we have been preaching, "Jesus Christ died and rose for you," and for just as long, people have rejected that message; which is why I thought, this year, this Resurrection Sunday message would be done differently. Rather than telling you only what I believe, I thought I would go to my unbelieving friends (and yes, I do have unbelieving friends) and ask them, "What is your stumbling block to faith in Jesus? What has stopped you from acknowledging Him as your Lord?" Well, I asked and most of them, not all, but most of them, replied. Let me share with you some of their answers.
The first, from Massachusetts, said, "I don't believe because I can't. I don't know what happened on that day, but I do know Jesus didn't rise from the dead. Maybe Jesus didn't die on the cross. Maybe He went into a coma. Maybe His body was stolen. I don't know what happened, but I know Jesus didn't rise, because, if He did, I would have to be a Christian."
You know, it surprised my friend to find out that, on the first Resurrection Sunday, one of Jesus' closest friends thought the same thing. Mary Magdalene assumed that Jesus' body had been moved to a different location. Now before I speak to that, allow me to say one thing Mary didn't consider. She never doubted Jesus had died. Why? Because she knew that the Roman whipping He had endured often killed a man right off. She had been there when He was crucified. She had seen when His body stopped writhing in pain and gasping for breath. She had seen the Romans stab Jesus with the spear and she may have even noticed, as John did, blood and water coming out of that wound. For those of you who don't know, such separation of the blood serum from the platelets only happens when the heart has stopped beating for some time.
No, Mary knew Jesus had died. And as far as His body being moved or stolen; well, that didn't hold water either. She knew the disciples hadn't done it. They were too afraid. She knew the Romans hadn't done it. Pilate had allowed Jesus to be crucified because the Christ was supposed to be a threat to the Emperor. Pilate certainly didn't want to have the rumor spread that Jesus was so powerful He had conquered the grave. As far as the Jewish religious leaders, they were the ones who had sealed the tomb and put a guard there. They had the most to lose if Jesus were alive. The truth is, that first Resurrection Sunday, nobody expected Jesus to rise and almost everyone had a vested interest in having Him stay dead. But that is not the reason Mary discarded her idea that Jesus' body had been moved. The real reason is the Savior came to her, spoke her name, and having allowed her to dry her tears, see for herself He had risen.
Well, today's sermon is being written by unbelievers. That was one; there were others who wrote back to me. One of them, an old pal from Colorado, called me. He said, "Hey, Ken, thanks for asking. To be honest, no one has ever really done that before. Not in so many words. In reply, I will make my answer, short and sweet. I'm not a Christian because I can't believe that a person can rise from the dead. At least not after having been dead for three days."
Although my friend didn't use the term preposterous, that words fits. The idea of a person who is really dead rising from the grave is unbelievable. I have buried hundreds of people and none of them have come back to life. Although zombies seem to be all the rage in science fiction nowadays, the truth is, people don't come back from being dead-dead. Cemeteries are filled with people who are exactly where they were placed hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. And if a cemetery plot is opened and the body is not to be found, nobody, and I mean nobody, ever comes to the immediate conclusion: "Wow, Uncle Julius or Aunt Hortense has risen from the grave."
No, my friend is not alone in his doubting. In fact he is in good company. The women who first found out about the resurrection were at Jesus' grave not to greet a risen Savior; they were there to embalm a dead Friend. When they told the disciples, Jesus' closest pals didn't believe the news. Even though Jesus had repeatedly told them that He was going to come back to life on the third day, they simply couldn't believe that He would make good on His promise. When ten of the disciples told their friend that Jesus had risen from the dead, he refused to take their word. Again and again, Jesus' conquest of death was denied, doubted, and derided as utter foolishness and complete fakery by those who had been warned of the resurrection, by those who should have known.
I can tell you the day came around when they put their misgivings on the shelf and came to believe that the impossible was not just possible, was not just probable, but was real and factual. They put aside all thoughts that Jesus was a ghost; or He was a figment of their imagination; or some mass hallucination, or wishful thinking on their parts. They began to change when Jesus physically, actually, came to them. But seeing the Savior was not enough to dispel their doubts. He breathed on them and He ate with them. That's something ghosts and imaginary made-ups don't do. They touched Him and He willingly held out His hands for their inspection, offered His side for their examination, and if they still were not sure, they became sure when they saw Him again and again and again and again. They saw Him individually and as a group and then at a crowd of over 500.
Jesus' appearances happened often enough and were complete enough that eventually the doubters stopped doubting. They believed so strongly in Jesus' resurrection that they suffered martyrdom rather than denying the unique and wonderfully gracious act of God which had bestowed upon them forgiveness and salvation. Now I say that almost matter-of-factly. I shouldn't do that. It's not a small thing to hold on to your faith when a representative of ISIS is holding a gun to your head and you know you are going to die. But it's quite another thing to suffer the deaths which tradition says came to the disciples. Peter was crucified upside down and Andrew nailed to the X shape cross which carries his name. Both were said to have kept preaching as they died. James was beaten, stoned, and clubbed to death. Bartholomew was skinned alive. Skinned alive. Almost all could have saved themselves by denying the living Lord. All went to their graves, confident of the Christ and trusting in the resurrection He had promised to give those who were faithful unto death.
Once again, let me say this Resurrection Sunday sermon is being written by unbelievers. I have time for one last comment. This one was an email from someone I had almost lost track of. He didn't pull any punches when he wrote back. He said: "Why don't I believe? How can I? Would a God of love allow injustice like I see in the world? Would a God Who cares send anyone to hell? I wouldn't do that to my worst enemies but your so-called loving Lord says He is going to do that to those He created and cares about. No thanks, I don't need to believe in that kind of God."
More than the others, that email saddened me. I could not imagine how we could look at the same God and see Him so very differently. Where He sees God as the Author of life's tragedies and terrors, sadnesses and sorrows, I see humankind creating and continuing to live in disobedience, wars, hunger, prejudice, injustice, and inequality. We could stop there, but we choose not to. Then, in discouragement, we lay the blame for these things at the feet of our all-caring God. We condemn Him for sending souls to hell, but fail to acknowledge the fact that He has provided a means of salvation for every man, woman, and child in this world. All they need do, all my friends need do is believe God loved the world so much He allowed His Son to live, suffer, and die so that they might be saved. Jesus' glorious third-day resurrection from the dead is His promise that there is a similar and joyful life for all who put their faith in Him.
In this message I have quoted three of my unbelieving friends. God has given me the job of witnessing to them. They already have a copy of this message and I will be visiting with them in the immediate future. But this message is also written for you... and for the people whom the Lord has laid on your heart. For almost 2,000 years believers have been telling unbelievers about Jesus' resurrection. Will you not join The Lutheran Hour this year in sharing the Savior's story with those doubters the Lord has entrusted to you so that they may join all of Christendom in a heartfelt "Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed"? To that end, we are at your disposal and you are in our prayers. My friends, believe, and feel free and call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.