Several years ago, I was facing a moment that nobody wants to face but almost everyone will-the imminent death of a loved one. My father, for whom I am named, had experienced heart failure a few months before. Since that diagnosis, his heart had stopped 3 times. While he had been revived each time, it eventually became apparent that he would not survive. My father and our family faced a decision no family wants to face: "Is it time to remove life support and let go?" My father courageously and faithfully made the decision that it was time to go. He died a day later. I am very thankful for that final day we had with him. Because he genuinely believed in the resurrection, we were able to gather around his bed with friends and family to sing, laugh and celebrate his life. Having had the feeding tube removed, for the first time in weeks he was able to drink his beloved diet peach soda from Walmart. These moments are precious and have a way of melting away all that is superfluous.
That day, I was confronted with the reality of death and the challenge to my faith of whether or not I really believed in the resurrection of the dead. After the death of her brother Lazarus, Jesus asks Martha, "Do you believe this?" "Do you believe that whoever lives and believes in me will never die?" When death is right before you, these direct challenges have a strange way of providing comfort. Jesus had very unusual funeral etiquette. He said things like "Get up", Come out of the tomb", "She's not dead but asleep", and "Why are you crying?". Anyone else making these comments at a funeral would immediately be ushered out, restrained and taken to a mental health facility. Jesus, however, provides a "resume" that no one else can boast: "RAISED FROM THE DEAD"!
The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of Christianity. Without it, Jesus is just another figure silenced by an authoritarian government. As Jaroslav Pelikan said, "If the resurrection of Jesus is not true, then nothing in life really matters. However, if the resurrection of Jesus is true, then nothing else in life really matters." The resurrection of Jesus was the gamechanger for His disciples. Despite Jesus' miracles, great teaching and His sacrifice on the cross, until the resurrection, the disciples were scattered and hiding in a room afraid. After being convinced of the resurrection, the disciples preached boldly, publicly and fearlessly in His name. All but one were martyred for their belief in the resurrection. This drastic change in behavior is one of the greatest testimonies to the truth of the resurrection. Liars and martyrs are not made of the same stuff. These men would not have died for something they knew to be a lie.
While the cross is essential to our preaching, I fear too many of us live on the wrong side of Easter. Many are still living on "Friday," and failing to transition to "Sunday." We have a tendency to be more focused on the cross than on the resurrection. Are we "Friday" focused christians or "Sunday" focused? Many of us are more focused on how sinful we are versus how we are forgiven and will live eternally. Every sermon in the book of Acts speaks of the resurrection. A focus on the resurrection allows us to be free and focused on giving instead of being self-protective. What thought could be more encouraging as we all inch our way towards the grave? As John Donne said, "Death be not proud". Death has been swallowed up in victory! While death is a daunting enemy, he has been beaten by our Master! May God grant us the faith to live as if "we believe this"!!
Note: For those interested in hearing my sermon on this topic please click here.