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Resurrction Hope

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

This weekend Christians around the world celebrate the most important event in their faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Many people would scoff at the idea of celebrating what they consider to be a myth.  Others, even many professing Christians, would say that Jesus wasn’t literally raised from the dead, but it is His example and teachings that we commemorate.  For them, Easter is a celebration of ideas, not an historical event. 

      Thomas Jefferson was one who felt he could embrace the morality of Jesus Christ but could not accept the claims to His divine nature and power.  Therefore, shortly before he died, Jefferson took it upon himself to create an edited version of the story of Jesus’ life.  He cut out all references to the supernatural, leaving what he considered to be a useful, purely moral document.  Jefferson’s gospel ends abruptly with these words:  “Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”

      At least Jefferson was honest, more honest than the theologians and preachers of our day who share his disbelief in the resurrection and his desire to follow a “Jesus Lite”.  They don’t cut the references to the resurrection out of their Bibles – they just ignore or dismiss them, or else they redefine the terms.  But, although Jefferson was sincere, he was also sincerely wrong.

     What if the story of Jesus’ life did end with the closing of His tomb?  What if His body decomposed and turned to dust?  The great English preacher Charles H. Spurgeon called the bodily resurrection of Christ “the keystone of the arch of Christianity” and said that “if that fact could be disproved, the whole fabric of the gospel would fall to the ground.”   The linchpin that holds together all Christian beliefs is the historical resurrection of Christ. 

      The fact that Jesus conquered death is the only hope for sinners to know God.  There are two important things that anyone can know from casual observation of the world around us:  first, that a world this complex and beautiful must be the creation of a good, wise, and powerful God; and second, that this world is full of evil and suffering.  And then there is a third truth that we all know at a gut level – somehow, we are to blame.  The evil isn’t just out there; it’s also in us.  We may outwardly deny our guilt, but our consciences are not easily silenced.  And death is our unavoidable sentence.

      No matter what incessant advertisements may tell us, our basic need in life is forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  That is what will bring us peace and satisfaction… wholeness.  

      Famous psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that they were forgiven, seventy-five percent of them could walk out of the hospital the next day.   But all of us are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually damaged by our inability to forgive and find forgiveness.  It’s just a matter of degree.  We all need to be made right with God.

      Jesus was a good man; as a matter of fact He was perfect.  But the example of His life cannot take away the guilt of our sins; nor can it change our sinful, rebellious hearts.  That’s why the purpose of Jesus’ life was not to teach, lead a movement, or perform miracles.  He came to die.  He was not a victim or a martyr. He willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice for sins.

      That’s why His resurrection was necessary.  It proved that His perfect life, offered on the cross, was an acceptable sacrifice to God, in the place of ours.  The penalty for our sins has been paid in full, once and for all.  Forgiveness is available to all that believe.  The Bible makes it clear:  “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).

      Here’s what the Bible tells us that we can know for sure, because these things are proven by His resurrection:  that Jesus is the unique Son of God (Romans 1:4); that Jesus is the one who will return someday to judge all people (Acts 17:30,31); that Jesus is the Lord over all (Romans 14:9); and that those who put their trust in Him will also be raised after death to live with Him (John 14:19).  That is good news, the best news.  That is worth celebrating!

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

What Easter Means to God

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

    “What does Easter mean to God?”  Does that question sound odd to you?  We are well-trained to ask the far less important question, “What does Easter mean to you?”  In an interview in World Magazine, the highly respected PBS journalist Bill Moyers was once asked, “Do you believe that the resurrection actually happened?”  Moyers answered, “You can't take the resurrection by fact - you have to take it on faith.  You appropriate the story for what it means to you and what it says to you. . .. If it means something to you, that's very important… Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, and all these years since - my faith is based on my experience.  This includes being taught to learn, thinking, reading the Bible critically from a historical and journalistic standpoint - I, like you, spend a lot of time reading my Bible - and it can't be justified by any of those measures.  It is part of my story and is therefore a necessary part of my faith, but I wouldn't dare suggest it is essential to anybody's faith who doesn't have my experience.”  Let me interpret Moyers’ doublespeak for you:  He was saying that the resurrection probably didn’t happen, but it doesn’t really matter if it did or not.  As long as I find some meaning in the myth of the resurrection, then it’s important to me.  According to Moyers, any value in the story of the empty tomb comes from the importance that I attach to it.

            Compare Moyers’ perspective to that of the Apostle Paul.  In Romans 1, Paul says that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, whose coming was prophesied beforehand by the prophets, who was descended from King David according to the flesh, “and was declared to be the Son of God in power…by His resurrection from the dead.”  He is saying that the one true God of the universe made it clear to us that Jesus was His unique, only begotten Son by raising Him from the dead.  The empty tomb was proof that all of Jesus’ claims to be fully God and fully man were true, and it proved that He is the ultimate revelation of who God is (Hebrews 1:1-3). 

             Much more than that, Paul goes on to say in the rest of the book of Romans that the resurrection was our proof that God accepted the death of His perfect Son on the cross as a payment for the penalty that our sins deserved – “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).  If Jesus had remained dead in His tomb, it would have shown that His claims to be God and His claims to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” were all false, that He had been a sinner like us and died for His own sins.  In I Corinthians 15, Paul says that if Christ is not risen from the dead, then our faith in Christ is in vain and we are still accountable to God for all our sins.  “But,” Paul joyously declares, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

             Easter means to me what God told me that it means – because Christ is risen from the dead, I too will live with Him for all eternity.  I am saved by grace through faith.  The interview with Moyers ended with this sad statement from Moyers:  “I am not a Christian because I can't do what Jesus asks.  But, I care deeply about that figure.  He has instructed my faith; He looms large in my life.  But I can't do what He asks me to do, so I can't legitimately claim to be a Christian.”  None of us can do what Jesus asks – that’s why He had to die for us, and to be raised for our justification.