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"It's Really Real"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 8, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: 1 John 1:1-3

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Dear Lord, all of us know that people don't rise from the dead. That is why it has been so easy for Satan to tell people Jesus' resurrection is a myth, a legend, a story for little children. Use today's message to touch doubting hearts, so they may know the resurrection is really real, and the living Lord Jesus has come to forgive and save us all. Grant this Lord, unto us all. Amen.

The message of this broadcast is a simple one. This message affirms the Scriptural truths which say Jesus Christ died, and three days later the living Lord walked out of that temporary tomb and showed to all the world that He, the world's one and only Savior, had conquered sin, death, and the devil. Today's message presents those statements as being factual, even as it rejects any and every attempt to reduce them into being theories, opinions, fantastic fantasies, or flights of spiritual fancy which can be ignored and rejected without a negative result, without any harmful or long-lasting repercussions.

And, yes, I know for some those words are fighting words. Recently I was given a story, telling of an event which is supposed to have taken place at the Chicago Divinity School. The story spoke of a special, annual event held at the School called, "Baptist Day." On that special day, students, faculty, and friends brought a picnic lunch which was to be eaten on a grassy hillside. Inspiration, education, and illumination was to be provided by some great theological mind who was imported for the occasion.

According to the story, one year the school invited Dr. Paul Tillich, who spent two-and-a-half hours poking holes in the resurrection account of the Gospels. Countless contemporary critics were quoted in his presentation which criticized Scripture's veracity, integrity, and authenticity. The attack against the physical resurrection of the Christ was unrelenting and inescapable, and the pity which was heaped upon anyone who would believe what he considered to be "groundless claptrap" was unreal. At the end of his presentation, the noted scholar shared his willingness to receive questions.

About one-third of the way up the hill, an old Baptist preacher got up. I will now quote the story as it was given to me.

"Docta Tillich, I got one question," the old preacher said, as all eyes turned toward him. He reached into his sack lunch and pulled out an apple and began eating it. "Docta Tillich" . . . CRUNCH, MUNCH. "My question is a simple one." CRUNCH, MUNCH . . . "Now, I ain't never read them books you read . . . CRUNCH, MUNCH, and I can't recite the Scriptures in the original Greek. I don't know nothin' about Niebuhr and Heidegger" . . . CRUNCH, MUNCH. He finished the apple. "All I wanna know is this apple I just ate - was it bitter or sweet?"
Dr. Tillich paused for a moment and answered in exemplary, scholarly fashion, "I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven't tasted your apple." The white-haired preacher dropped the core of his apple into his crumpled paper bag, looked up at Dr. Tillich, and said calmly, "Neither have you tasted my Jesus."

Now that story was so good and fit so perfectly into today's message I decided to check it out. A spokesman for the Divinity School at the University of Chicago says there's absolutely no evidence that the old preacher's challenge ever happened. Moreover, there is no record of the school ever having a "Baptist Day" in its annual schedule and Paul Tillich was on the School's faculty, and did not serve as a guest speaker.

Now, no matter how you feel about the Christ and the claims of Christianity, both believer and doubter can come together and agree on one thing: either the storyteller was right or the spokesman for the Divinity School was right. With contradictory perspectives and opposing opinions, the best that can be said is this: one of these individuals is lying, and although they both may be sincere in what they presented, somebody was not telling the truth.
You know, my friends, we live in a politically correct age wherein we try to find common ground between opposing positions. The encouragement and desire to let contradictory opinions live and let live is compelling and almost overwhelming. Still, there comes that point where compromise towards and acceptance of two differing positions is simply not possible.

Whenever a loved one goes into a lengthy and dangerous surgery, the family waits impatiently for some official person to give them updates on the patient's condition. Now tell me, what should the family believe if one surgeon comes out and says, "It was a tough operation, but the patient is doing fine," and then five minutes later, a second physician comes out and says, "After a long hard surgery, I am sorry to tell you, your loved one has died."

A family can believe a number of things. They can believe one doctor spoke prematurely; they can believe at least one of the doctors got the family wrong. But there is one thing the family cannot believe. They cannot think their loved one is both dead and alive, that he has survived and succumbed. The same thing can be said in regard to the Savior and the principal doctrines of Christianity. Either Jesus did die on that Roman cross, or He did not; either Jesus physically rose from the dead, or He did not. Either Jesus is the world's only Savior, or He is the world's greatest liar. You cannot have it both ways.

Nor can you look at the world's religions and say, "They are all different paths to the same god and goal." The spokesmen for all of these faiths may be sincere in what they say about their beliefs, but not all are headed in the right direction, nor are they strolling down the same path to paradise. The sad and sorrowful reality is this: some people, many millions of individuals, are walking away from, rather than toward, the Lord.

Confronted by enthusiastic believers from the world's great and not-so-great faiths, some people throw up their hands in frustration and say, "I give up. I am not qualified to decipher these differences and discover which, if any, is correct. I think when all is said and done, it's all just a matter of opinion. In the final outcome, I don't think God, if there is a god, is going to send anyone to hell, if there is such a place as hell. I think all I really have to do is be the best me I can be. If I can do that, the Lord, if there is a Lord, will gladly bring me into heaven, if there is a heaven.

What a sad point of view. What a miserable and dangerous way to lead your life. Is getting to heaven to be decided by a quick pull on the slot machine of life? And even as the world begins to nod its collective head in agreement, and as philosophers begin to say, "Yup, that's what we gotta do," old John, the last-surviving apostle, John, stands up and very politely interrupts and says something like, "No, that's not what you ought to do. There is a better way, a right way, a sure way-a way which turns humanity's question mark into God's exclamation point."

And when the world's critics and skeptics reply, "Tell us John, just exactly how are you going to do all that?" the apostle doesn't get frustrated or fazed. He simply says, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."

Like a teacher introducing a new subject to his students, John begins simply. Selecting gentle words, comforting words, words which are easy to understand, John lets his listeners know that the life, death, and resurrection of the Redeemer is an historical event, and not a fiction which sprang from the disciples who were still mourning the death of their Rabbi, their Teacher, their Friend.

Right from the get-go, John wants everyone to know he didn't get this message about Jesus' sacrifice from a good friend of his wife's second cousin whose barber once read an article on the internet which implied that Jesus lived, suffered, died, and rose for humanity. Nope, John's message isn't gossip, or hearsay, or the product of an overactive imagination. No, John wants everyone to know that the Jesus whom he preaches is Someone he really saw, really heard, really looked at, and really touched. Jesus was a real Person, who lived, died, and lived again at a real time in history.

John wants his readers to know that although Christians believe by faith, they don't have to put their brains into neutral when they follow the living Lord. John wants his readers to know that the Man He preaches is a very real Individual-a Person whom we should check out for ourselves. And how could John make such a bold invitation? Simple. John's confidence is based on the fact that he had been there. John had been there to see the lame throw away their crutches and the blind remove their bandages. He had been there to see the white scales of the leper be replaced by flesh, living flesh. He had been there and watched in astonishment when Jesus raised a young man from the dead, and returned a dead daughter to her family. John had seen the decomposition of death in Lazarus turned back as the enshrouded man shuffled out of the graveyard.

How did John know? He had been there to see the Savior muzzle a storm, feed thousands with a few loaves and fish, and walk on the water so He might comfort His frightened disciples. John lets us know, "You can believe, because I'm telling you what I saw when Jesus was arrested. When He was tried, I was there in the high priest's house. I was there when Jesus was nailed to the cross, and I was there when He died."

When the Roman solider stabbed the Savior in the heart, John saw blood and water come out of the wound. Now he may only have been an uneducated fisherman, but even he knew what that meant. The serum of the blood and the red corpuscles separate after an individual's heart stops beating. Blood and water: that small fact told him Jesus was really dead ... and He had been dead for a while.

Because John knew Jesus was really and completely dead and not just mostly dead, he didn't bother to go to the tomb on the day when Jesus said He would rise. Even so, when he heard the lady's report he raced to that empty tomb, went inside, and found only emptied burial cloths. Then, later that wonderful day, in a closed and locked room, he saw Jesus face to face. And no, Jesus wasn't a Marley's ghost whom John could see through, a specter who gave all kinds of dire warnings. He wasn't the product of an overactive imagination inspired by an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. No, John saw our living Lord, living alive enough He could feel His breath.

Having shared his personal experiences, John could have branched out and spoken about how the other disciples had also seen Jesus, and how they had seen Him again and again and again. John might even have encouraged us to speak to the many hundreds who also saw the crucified and resurrected Redeemer. Each of them could have testified to the risen Christ and the eternal life the Holy Spirit gives to all whom He brings to faith.

Meeting Jesus: that's what John wanted to give to you. He wanted you to know the Savior who can give hope to an individual who is crushed by a failure, who can heal those who have been victims of the darkness, who can offer life to those who are seeing the approach of death. He wants to give value to those who feel worthless, and a heavenly message of a love which exceeds every love we have ever known.

John was not simply interested in us merely learning facts about Jesus; he wanted us to meet the living Christ who changed John's life as well as the lives of many millions since. John shared Jesus in the hopes that you and I might come to trust the Savior who has risen from the dead to rescue us. John shared Jesus so we might become curious enough to see if He matches the claims we make about him. Hear Jesus' words. Check out the facts. Take time to look at the evidence for the resurrection. Christians are not afraid of serious and honest study. If Jesus is the truth (and He is), He will stand up under any scrutiny. If He is not whom He claims to be, then you shouldn't follow Him.

So what will you do? Each Sunday for more than 85 years, The Lutheran Hour has gone into farms and fields, cities and countryside. Each Sunday, without exception, we have told the Lord's story, and the Holy Spirit has used us to touch many millions of lives. But it may not have touched you or another person who is dear to you. That is why today we ask-will you not be brought to Jesus?

When Jesus was with us physically, He told a parable about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man lived his life without faith or any of the deeds faith produces. In contrast, the poor man lived as a true follower of the Lord. Eventually, both died. The beggar went to heaven and the rich man went to experience the unending torments of hell. Realizing his never-ending pain, the rich man's thoughts turned to his home and what he could do to make sure none of his family joined him. Well, the rich man thought and he thought and he thought some more. He asked himself, "What foolproof method can be used to get my brothers to change their lives and become men of faith?"

Let me ask, what would work on you? Seriously, what would it take to get you to become Christian? Scrooge needed three ghosts from Christmas past, present, and future to change his life. What do you need? Well, as I was saying, the rich man figured it out and said, "I've got five brothers who will be petrified if Lazarus shows up. Let's send him." The rich man was told, "No can do. If people don't believe Moses and the prophets, they won't believe in a ghost." Not to be put off, the rich man again begged, "If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent."

Would the visit from a once-dead person make a difference to you? I hope it would, if that Person was Jesus Christ, who brings with Him forgiveness for all your sins, peace for a troubled conscience, and hope for a blessed eternity. Jesus has already stepped out of His grave and into the lives of billions. But has He stepped into your life?

Now, Jesus never shared what happened to the brothers of the rich man. Since they were a fiction, I don't especially care. But you're not a fiction, and today Someone, that is your real Savior, has returned from the dead and said to repent, believe, and be saved. By God's grace, may you hear that invitation and respond to the forgiven and blessed eternal life our living Lord wishes to offer. To that end, if we can help, please call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.

Reflections for APRIL 8, 2018

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and that was Pastor Ken Klaus. Dr. Dale Meyer joins us now. Pastor Klaus talked about the reality of the resurrection. Your thoughts?

Dale Meyer: Thanks, Mark. This happens to be the weekend of the Masters Golf Tournament down in Georgia. Pastor Klaus teed up, if I may use that image, teed up some points I'd like to try and hit. And the first is this question: did Jesus' resurrection really happen?

Mark Eischer: The Bible says it did, and we believe that. Is there also other evidence?

Dale Meyer: Yes Mark, I believe there is. At least evidence that tells us something very unusual happened. It was Dr. Paul Maier of Western Michigan University who shared this with me decades ago, and I find it very interesting.

One evidence that something happened is the universal agreement that the tomb was empty. Jesus' enemies never disputed that the tomb was empty. They made up stories like Jesus had only gone into a coma, or that He died, and the disciples stole the body. But no one disputed that the tomb was empty.

Mark Eischer: Very interesting. Is there more evidence?

Dale Meyer: Mark, there is more. Think about the first disciples. They were a rag tag collection. In the Gospel of Mark, they never really understand what Jesus is up to. They often disagreed with one another. And during Holy Week they showed cowardice, they fled. Now, all of a sudden after Easter, they are a tight band of brothers who have no fear of going into the world, even facing opposition and martyrdom in order to tell people about Jesus' death and resurrection. Something happened to meld them into such a frce. And I believe that something was seeing Jesus come back from the dead.

Mark Eischer: And that resulted in the church growing at a phenomenal rate; 3,000 people added just on the day of Pentecost.

Dale Meyer: And that's another evidence that something very unusual happened: the rapid growth of the church. In the 40 days after Easter, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people. St. Paul tells us about that in 1 Corinthians 15. Those appearances changed people, and the people in turn spread the message that Jesus had overcome death. How else do you account for the rapid growth of the church unless something very unusual happened, something like the resurrection of the church's Leader. And there's one more, one that I find especially fascinating.

Mark Eischer: And what's that?

Dale Meyer: It's the Roman historian Tacitus, he lived from about 56 A.D. to 120 A.D. and wrote a history of the Roman Empire. In the year 64 A.D. when Nero was emperor, a fire destroyed much of Rome. Here's what Tacitus wrote, "But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt, and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populous. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus. And a most mischievous superstition thus checked for the moment, again broke out. Not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular."

Mark, I find this fascinating. "A most mischievous superstition," Tacitus wrote, "thus checked for the moment, again broke out." Maybe it broke out because Jesus was raised physically from the dead.

Mark Eischer: Having said all of that though, doesn't it finally come down to believing that Jesus rose physically from the dead?

Dale Meyer: Absolutely. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, "We walk by faith, and not by sight." We can come up with evidence that something most unusual happened. But finally, you trust that Jesus rose, or you don't believe it. Pastor Klaus mentioned Jesus' parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. The rich man in hell wanted father Abraham to send someone from the dead to convince his brothers to change their ways. Here's the answer. Luke 16:31, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."

And here's another passage that teaches us it's a matter of faith and not sight. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, Matthew 28:17 says, "And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him. But some doubted."

Mark Eischer: Well, perhaps that describes one of our listeners today, someone who's struggling in their faith. How would you advise them?

Dale Meyer: For one thing, pray. For another thing, think about your sins. The Bible is very clear that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins. You and I could not satisfy the justice of God for what we have done wrong. In view of that, what hope does any sinner have except the Son of God dying in our place? And the resurrection shows that God the Father accepted Jesus' payment for our sins. Death has been overcome. And since sin brought death, we know by the resurrection our sins are forgiven. The resurrected Jesus is our only hope. And so, dear listener, we pray to God to increase our faith in the word of Jesus.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"O Sons and Daughters of the King" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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