“The Good News in Which We Stand”
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, April 17, 2022
Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 & 12-20
Do you believe? What do you believe? Many of you – certainly not all of you, but many of you – know the words of the Apostle’s Creed, having learned them in your youth; maybe some of you even remember the whole creed by heart. It starts with the words, “I believe.” The word “creed” comes from the Latin “credo,” which simply means, “I believe.” A creed is a statement of what “I believe” – it’s a bold statement of our faith – and the Apostle’s Creed, the roots of which may date as far back as far as the mid second century, is one of the most universally proclaimed of the formal Christian creeds, shared by almost all Christian denominations; and when we say this creed, it binds us together with all Christians throughout history and in all parts of the world.
Do you remember the words? “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, he descended to the dead, on the third day he rose again and ascended into Heaven, and he is seated at the right hand of God the Father from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
The central and most fleshed-out part of the Apostles’ Creed, you may notice, focuses on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is the centre of the Christian faith. Sure, there are many important aspects of our faith – love, service, his birth in human flesh, prayer and Scripture, forgiveness – and one could make a noble case for any of these being the heart of the Christian faith; but I don’t think we can have a truly Christian understanding of any of those things on their own, if not through the lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
When I was in my first year of seminary a teaching assistant asked our class, “If it was proved that Jesus was not raised from the dead, would it affect your faith?” It was a good question, and at the time I couldn’t answer it. I’ve come to understand, though, that what we believe about the Jesus’ death and resurrection of Jesus does make all the difference in our faith. And that is what the Apostle Paul thought too.
As we read in 1 Corinthians, it was a difficult idea for the early Christians living in the mid-1st century to get their heads around, and it is no less mind boggling for us today. Because, frankly, we’ve never seen someone be raised from the dead! Maybe some of you, like me, have prayed that one of your loved ones could come back to you. It’s a deep longing that many of us have had; but they never do.
The foundational affirmation of the Christian faith, though, is that – as hard as it is to believe; and as impossible as it is to understand – Jesus died and was buried, and on the third day God the Father raised him back up from the dead.
There’s a story of a young man named Robert, who was dying to play for his school’s football team. He attended all the team’s games; he idolized the players and studied their different styles, the different skills that were needed; and he’d visualize himself running out onto the field with them… He worked hard to get fit, and he signed up to play on a junior team to develop his skills. He did everything he could to prepare himself to be on that team.
Then one day a friend came running up to him: “You made it! You’re on the team! I saw it on the notice board…way to go! Robert was on his way to class at the time and he couldn’t go and check the notice board himself, so he spent the next hour with his head buzzing with excitement…it had happened! This was going to change his life!
As he came out of class he whispered to another friend: “I made the team! Sam saw it on the notice board!” His friend gave him a bemused look: “Ha! They never put up the team list this early in the week,” he said. “Sam must have been pulling your leg. They wouldn’t do that. It just doesn’t happen that way.” Robert was bewildered…why would Sam say it if he hadn’t actually seen it? “Maybe,” he thought, “something different happened this time.”
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, a part of which was read for us this morning, because the Corinthian Christians were being ridiculed for believing in the resurrection of Jesus – they had heard it from eyewitnesses, and they believed it. But others didn’t, and they mocked the Christians for their belief: Resurrection? Things just don’t happen that way!
We’re still hearing the same thing today – resurrection doesn’t happen. It can’t happen and it didn’t happen; it’s an analogy; it’s wishful thinking. It can feel awkward in our scientific age to say, “Well, I don’t know HOW it happened…I just believe that God is able to do what God will do, and God did something different with Jesus.” Even some Christian groups – in an attempt to avoid the awkwardness – will try to work around it, teaching that when the early apostles said that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, what they really meant was “God’s cause continues!” or “I still regard Jesus as my teacher and my leader.” Except that 11/12 apostles were killed for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, and I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be willing to die for an analogy.
Those ideas work fine if Jesus was one guru among many that you could choose to follow or not, or if Christianity was simply an admirable set of ethical rules to live by. But the gospel that Paul and all the other apostles announced was not that Jesus’ “cause” would continue even though he was dead; it was that Jesus was – and still is – the Messiah, the anointed one of God, and hence the world’s true Lord and King. He couldn’t be the Messiah according to anyone’s definition of the term if he was dead, so he must be alive, and what this meant was that there was now a King who was superior to David; a King who was over Caesar; a King at whose name every knee in heaven and on earth would bow.
As far as Paul is concerned, the evidence – the proof – that Jesus is God’s Messiah is that God raised him from the dead. We can know that Jesus is the King of kings because God vindicated him. They tried to kill God’s chosen one, but God is stronger than death. If we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus, then He was nothing more than a good guy who got a bad rap. If God did raise him… well that changes everything.
First, it changes how we live our lives in the here and now. How does it affect your day-to-day life to know that Jesus died and was raised again so that physical death would not be the end of your life? If you’re kind of meh about that idea, then it might not make a difference. If you think that’s amazing, and you love Jesus for doing that for you then it might cause you to look at your life a bit more closely.
That’s how it affected William Wilberforce, one of the most beautiful examples of how faith can change a life. Wilberforce was born in 1759 in Hull, England, the son of a wealthy merchant. As a youth he led a rather wayward life. He used his privilege and his father’s wealth for personal gain, often to the detriment of others.
At the age of 25, however, Wilberforce met a group of evangelical Christians who led him to faith and to re-evaluate his lifestyle. He went from living a self-centred life to leading a God-centred life. He was so transformed by his newfound faith in Jesus that he completely changed his ways and became a leading proponent of social reform in Great Britain.
Wilberforce's faith eventually led him to the door of Thomas Clarkson, a leading abolitionist in Britain. Clarkson and others were campaigning for an end to the horrific British slave trade that ferried Africans from their homeland to the “New World.” By this time Wilberforce held a position in parliament, so he had the ability to do something about this intolerable institution. Despite strong opposition from many lobbies, he introduced legislation to abolish the slave trade, and when it was defeated, he reintroduced it again and again and again for the next eighteen years in succession.
Over time, more and more people began to agree with him, until finally the Slave Trade Act was passed in British parliament, which would eventually lead to the complete abolition of slavery. Wilberforce made other important contributions to social reform too: He was a leader in the Society for the Suppression of Vice; he supported missionary work in India; and he led campaigns for better education for children. He died in July 1833 at the age of 74, literally just a few days after slavery was finally completely abolished in the British Empire.
Believing in the power of the resurrected Jesus, Wilberforce was given a second chance. Fortunately for the world he made the best of the opportunity God had given to him. Jesus’ death and resurrection means that in our lives too, we have second chances – and third and fourth and so on…as many chances as we need to reconsider our lives, and to live lives of purpose and meaning.
Not only does it change everything in this life, though; it changes how we live in the face of death, both our own and that of those we love. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have hope and we have peace, even in the face of death. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have reason to hope and to believe that death will not be the end of us! In Christ we have spiritual life even in the face of physical death – we are forgiven and drawn into full communion with God, and on that day when we will be absent from the body, we will be present with the Lord!
The resurrection of Jesus assures us that on the day when all worldly kingdoms come to an end, Christ has said he will return and those who have died in Christ will be raised to new life, and all creation will be renewed and restored to its intended state of perfection. Just as God spoke words in the beginning and brought life into being, at the sound of God’s voice the dead will rise again.
I freely admit that this whole idea is mindboggling to me! I don’t understand it – but Jesus said it would happen, and we have every reason to trust him. It seems incredible…but then, look at the world around you…God is capable of some pretty incredible things that none of us can explain! This is the God who was able to bring all of creation out of nothing, millions of years before a single living cell was on the earth. That same God is surely able to raise Jesus from the dead if he so chooses; and he can certainly raise us… and he has promised to do so.
If Christ is raised from the dead, so are we. If Christ is not raised, neither are we. If Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile. The Apostle Paul says we are most to be pitied. That is the nature of faith — it always requires taking a step toward the things about which we know nothing. When we believe, no explanation is necessary. When we do not want to believe, no explanation will be satisfactory. The Christian church has wagered a lot on this belief. And trusting in this gives us power to live lives of meaning, purpose, and courage in the face of all life’s challenges. Amen. Alleluia!