Dr. Billy Graham once told TIME magazine, "If I were an enemy of Christianity, I would aim right at the Resurrection, because that is the heart of Christianity."
Well Dr. Graham knew what he was talking about because more and more theologians, those who admit to be liberal, and even some who claim to be conservative, are taking dead aim at the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The founder of the infamous Jesus seminar, Dr. Robert Funk, told TIME magazine as well, "The tales of entombment and resurrection were latter-day wishful thinking. Instead, Jesus' corpse went the way of all abandoned criminals' bodies: it was probably barely covered with dirt, vulnerable to the wild dogs that roamed the wasteland of the execution grounds." (1)
Thomas Jefferson totally emasculated all of the miracles from the four gospels. His bible called The Jefferson Bible, ends with the 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." (2) He had no problem with the crucifixion or the burial, but he stopped short at the resurrection.
Dr. N. T. Wright, identified in the media as a "conservative," said this: "I think the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but I have no idea if it involves anything happening to his corpse, and, therefore, I have no idea whether it involves an empty tomb. . ..so I would have no problem whatsoever with archeologists finding the corpse of Jesus for me. That would not be a discrediting of the Christian faith or the Christian tradition."
When I hear from these so-called "biblical scholars" I feel like a well-known politician who visited a city one time and was speaking to a local civic group. He got there late and arrived just in time to make his way to the platform, shake hands with the committee and begin his speech.
He gave it everything he had, ranting and raving at length. Finally, pausing momentarily for breath, he was collared by the horrified chairman who whispered frantically that the sponsoring civic group he was speaking to was on the other side of the issue.
Well this politician was slick. Clearing his throat impressively, and not missing a beat, he said, "My friends, I have told you exactly what the opposition is saying. Now I'm going to tell you the truth."
I want you to imagine this headline on the front page of every major newspaper around the world: "Body of Jesus discovered in Israel: Christianity in Chaos." What would this mean? Just what would be the ramifications and the implications if the body of Jesus were found? Well it would mean something for the church, something for Christ, and something for the Christian.
I. We Must Forfeit Our Message
Let's just start with me, a preacher of the gospel. If Jesus is not risen, all preaching is profitless. "And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain." (v.14) If Jesus Christ is still in a tomb, if He is as dead now as He was when they took Him off the cross, then basically for forty years of my life I played the fool. I wasted seven years in seminary, I have wasted twenty-five years pastoring churches, and I have thousands of books in my library that need to go to the junk heap.
If Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead, I'm wasting my time preaching and you're wasting your time listening. As a matter of fact, it would be hard to figure out who the bigger fool is; me standing up here preaching as if what I am saying is true, or you sitting out there saying, "Amen," as if you believe it. The truth of the matter is, if Jesus Christ is still dead, bonnets and bunnies make more sense than the cradle and the cross.
Without a risen Savior no sermon, regardless of how beautiful, how oratorical, how logical, or how stimuilating it might be, is really worthy hearing. That is why he calls that type of preaching "empty."
A little six-year-old boy complained to his mother that he had a stomach ache and his mother said, "That's because your stomach is empty; you would feel better if there were something in it." Well, that afternoon the pastor stopped by for a visit, and the little boy said, "Preacher, how are you feeling?" He said, "Well, my head hurts." The little boy said, "Well, that's because it's empty; you'd feel better if there were something in it."
Well, preaching is empty without a risen Savior. Because if Jesus is dead, quite frankly, I've got nothing worth saying to you, and you've got nothing worth coming to hear. Those of you who know me know that I have no problem with saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. There cannot be any doubletalk about whether or not Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.
6. Have you ever in your life communicated something that you really didn't intend to say? I was reading the other day about some newspaper ads that have actually been printed in newspapers, and I don't believe they really intended to communicate what they said. Here are just a few of them:
Antique desk for sale--suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.
Earring Special--have your ears pierced and get an extra pair to take home.
Illiterate? Write today for free material.
Dry Cleaners--We never tear your clothing with machinery--we do it carefully by hand.
Men Wanted For Work in Dynamite Factory--Must be willing to travel long distances.
Professional Mixing Bowl Set--Perfect for a lady with a round bottom suitable for beating.
Well, if I cannot get up here and say that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and mean it; and if I cannot mean that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and say it; then preaching is profitless.
Well, let's go from the preacher to the pew. If Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead, your witness is worthless. "Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise." (v.15)
Let me ask you some questions. How many of you would say that Jesus Christ has changed your life? How many of you would say that Jesus Christ lives in your heart? How many of you would say that you have a living, breathing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Now listen carefully. If you raised your hand and Jesus is dead, you just lied. Now I don't mean to be offensive, but you are guilty of spiritual perjury if Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead.
Paul calls you "false witnesses." Those two words in English translate one word in Greek, the word "pseudomartus." The word pseudo means "false." A pseudo intellectual is someone who thinks he is smart, but he is not. A pseudonym is a false name. The other half of the word is the word that gives us the English word "martyr." Now originally the word martyr did not mean someone who died for a cause, it meant witness. So literally the word is just what it says; we are false witnesses if Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead.
In fact, it is worse. If Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead, then the greatest liar in all of history, and the biggest religious charlatan in the existence of the world, is Jesus Christ Himself. If Jesus Christ is not alive He does not deserve our empathy or our sympathy; He deserves our anger. Because He said Himself in Mt. 17:22-23, "Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, 'The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up. . .'
But not only is Jesus a liar, but that means Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the twelve disciples, and the Apostle Paul were all liars. That is the problem with a dead Christ; we must forfeit our message.
II. We Must Forget Our Mission
Now our mission is Mt. 28:19-20, which you all know as the Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Our mission is to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. But the problem is, if Jesus Christ is dead, our faith is irrelevant. "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile. . ." (v.17a) You see, faith is no greater than its object. Now all of the faith in the world will not allow you to sit in a two-legged chair. All of the faith in the world won't keep you from falling to your death if you jump out of an airplane without a parachute. What gives faith credibility is the object in which it is placed.
Many years ago I read about a man out in Los Angeles who called himself "the human fly." This man would crawl up the walls of skyscrapers by clinging to window ledges; putting his fingers in the little crevasses in the bricks and pulling himself up. People were amazed at his ability because he could climb up a sheer wall almost like a fly.
On one particular day he was going up the wall of a huge department store in Los Angeles. There was a crowd watching him as the policemen were holding the crowd back, and they watched him climb up window ledge after window ledge, crevasse after crevasse. He was making his way carefully up the sides of this building until he almost came to the roof.
There was a ledge that he was standing on and he needed to get up just a little higher in order to make it to the top of the roof. He saw a little protrusion sticking out from the building like a piece of stone, and he thought to himself if he could just reach that protrusion he had the strength to pull himself up to the rooftop. The problem was it was just beyond his grasp; right beyond his fingertips. So he stood on his toes on that ledge and reached out and gave just a little jump and grasped it with his hand. When he did, he came falling off of that building down to his death.
When they went over to his body and gathered around him, they opened up his hand and in his hand they found the crust of a spider's web. What this man thought was brick was nothing but a spider's web. Well, if Jesus Christ is not the risen Son of God, He is not the Rock of Ages, He's no more solid than a spider's web.
You see what gives meaning to the birth of Jesus Christ is the life of Jesus Christ. Had He not lived a sinless life, the virgin birth would have been meaningless. But what gives meaning to the life of Jesus Christ is the death of Jesus Christ. Because if He had not given His sinless life as a sacrifice for our sins, dying on the cross that He might gain our forgiveness from God, then His sinless life would have been meaningless.
But what gives meaning to the death of Jesus Christ is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because if He has not been raised from the dead, then He could not have been who He said He was, and therefore His birth, life, and death are all meaningless. That's why Paul said that Jesus "was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised because of our justification." (Rom. 4:25) In other words, without an empty tomb the cross is meaningless.
In an oriental market oftentimes you will see people walk up to a counter; they'll see some merchandise they like and they will put down on the table what they feel the merchandise is worth. If the price is acceptable to the seller, the seller will raise his hand. May I tell you today that when God raised Jesus from the dead He was raising His hand saying to a lost world, "I accept the price that my Son, Jesus Christ, paid on the cross for your sins." The empty tomb is God's receipt that Jesus has paid for our sins. Without it our faith is irrelevant.
But there's a worse problem. Forgiveness is impossible. He goes on to say in verse 17, "you are still in your sins!" In other words, if Jesus is still physically dead, then we are still spiritually dead. Sin is still a chain that binds us. Sin is still a load that burdens us. Sin is still a hammer that breaks us. If we are still in our sins and God is still in his holiness, then it is impossible ever to have a relationship with God.
III. We Must Forsake Our Ministry
If Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead, we have no ministry to offer either to the living or to the dying. We can offer no hope for the dying. Paul says in verse 18, "Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." It means death still has its sting. It means the grave still has its victory. Life is just a form of Russian roulette and all we can do is wonder which day will fire the fatal bullet.
If Jesus has not been raised from the dead there is no hope now, and there is no heaven later. Your loved ones are lost. When you buried that mother or that father it didn't matter whether they were godly or not; it did not matter if they had faith in Jesus or not; it did not matter if they knew Christ or not. You may as well have been burying a dead dog in a dry hole. If Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead there is not enough gold in Fort Knox or enough tea in China to make me do another funeral.
Life is just an exercise in futility; a dead-end street that winds up in the pothole of death and despair if Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a now famous poem called "The Raven." It sums up the hopelessness of life without a resurrected Christ. Poe is lamenting the death of his beloved Lenore, his sweet precious wife, and he ends the poem with these tragic stanzas:
And the Raven, never flitting,
still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas
just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming
of a demon's that is dreaming.
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming
throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow
that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted--never more!
There is no hope for the dead and the dying, but there is also no hope for the living. "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable." (v.19) Paul said the most pitiful human being on this planet is a person who has put his faith in a Jesus who is dead.
I am reminded of the story of some boys who got together to play football. When they all got together they discovered that nobody had brought a football. One of the boys said, "Never mind the ball, let's just get on with the game." That makes as much sense as somebody saying, "Never mind the resurrection, let's get on with Christianity." Friend, without the resurrection you don't have Christianity.
Now I know this message sounds kind of like a downer, but the darker the dark the brighter the light. Notice the next eight words: "But now Christ is risen from the dead. . ." (v.20) I've got great news for you today. We do have a message--Jesus is Alive. We do have a mission; we are to tell everyone we know that Jesus is alive. We do have a ministry; because Jesus is alive we can offer life to the dying and hope to the living.
Arnold Toynbee, the eminent British historian, once said, "If the body of one Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, can be produced, then Christianity will crumble into a lifeless religion." Toynbee was right. The only problem is nobody has found the body and nobody will find the body, unless you look for it sitting at the right hand of God the Father.
As much as I marvel at the virgin birth of Jesus; as much as I wonder at the sinless life of Jesus; as much as I glory in the cross of Jesus; it is the resurrection of Jesus that makes Christianity unique among all of the world religions. Confucius died and he was buried. Lao-tzu, the father of Taoism wandered off into the wilderness and died with his water buffalo. The Buddha rotted away with food poisoning. Muhammad died in 632 and his body was cut up and spread all over the Near East. But Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. On that single statement hinges the only hope of the human race, both in this life and in the life to come.
A Buddhist in Africa was converted to Christianity. They asked this Buddhist why did you change your faith? Here's what he said: "It's like this: If you are walking along and came to a fork in the road and two men were there, and one was dead and the other was alive, which man's directions would you follow?"
That really is the question. You have the right and you have the freedom to choose a dead Muhammad, a dead Lao-tzu, a dead Buddha, a dead Confucius. But I say loudly and I say proudly I choose to follow the only One who is raised from the dead and lives forever and his name is Jesus.
1 RICHARD N. OSTLING, "JESUS CHRIST, PLAIN AND SIMPLE," TIME, 10 JANUARY 1994.
2 THOMAS JEFFERSON, THE JEFFERSON BIBLE (BOSTON: BEACON PRESS, 1989), 147.
Sermon courtesy of: www.sermonsearch.com.
Dr. James Merritt is pastor of Cross Point Church near Atlanta and host of the television broadcast "Touching Lives." Sharing God's powerful message through a powerful medium, Dr. Merritt's purpose remains to bring lost souls to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. In June of 2000, Dr. Merritt was elected as President of the Southern Baptist Convention which currently hosts a membership of well over 15.8 million individuals and over 40,000 churches across the United States.