He is risen! I’m happy to see you this Resurrection Sunday. You all look so good! Does anyone have a new cross necklace? I’ve always thought that if you don’t like giving chocolate and bunnies, a cross could make a great gift for Easter morning. Whether you received it today or have worn it for years, how many of you are wearing a cross right now? Some of the crosses you are wearing are so beautiful and elegant. If you have a cross, just hold it for a moment. It’s a special piece of jewelry because it also has such special meaning!
Have you ever thought about what the cross really is? Originally the cross was the tool Rome used to execute its criminals more than two thousand years ago. It wasn’t just a form of execution; it was a form of torture and humiliation—where the victim usually suffocated to death from the weight of his own body. If you had worn a cross around your neck at that time, it would be like wearing a necklace with a little electric chair pendant at the end today. But do not stop wearing your cross. The fact that such an ugly instrument has become a thing of elegance and beauty is actually a testimony and clear picture of what this day is all about.
The Resurrection is the day that took things that were broken, cruel, harsh, ugly, and repulsive and made them beautiful again. The Resurrection is redemption. The Resurrection is transformation. The Resurrection doesn’t make the cross a little less barbaric, a little smoother, or a little kinder. The Resurrection is so powerful and so all encompassing that it has taken a symbol of death and transformed it into our symbol of life and salvation.
Maybe you haven’t thought of your cross like that before, but on this day I want to bring you back to the reality of what really happened on the day that will be celebrated by more than two billion people across the world this weekend. We’re going to look at two important aspects of the Resurrection that go hand in hand—the reality of the event and the amazing beautiful transformation the event brings. Like those beautiful crosses we wear around our necks, the Resurrection points to a harsh reality while at the same time displaying an overwhelming beauty and transformation of grace. Without the Resurrection, the cross is barbaric and meaningless. With the Resurrection, the cross is our hope and life.
The Great Proof
As He lived, Jesus foretold His death and resurrection; we read about it in passages like Mark 8:31–32: “[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Jesus’s Resurrection proves all of Jesus’s words were true, and it proves that His sacrifice for our sins accomplished its work.
Since Jesus rose from the grave, we know that all who believe in Him will be raised from the dead as well. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15:17–21, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.”
A scholar by the name of John S. Whale said, “Belief in the Resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith.” It is the proof that all Jesus did and all Jesus said was true. Without the Resurrection, Jesus’s claim in John 14:6—“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”—doesn’t make sense. Because of the Resurrection, that same claim is our great and only hope for salvation.
This Resurrection Sunday we have great confidence in both the truth and power of Jesus’s Resurrection. While scholars may argue over what Jesus’s words meant, no serious Bible scholar denies that Jesus was a historical figure who had a profound impact on His immediate world. In fact, historical witnesses outside of the Bible confirm that Jesus lived and was crucified. Amazingly, historical witnesses also prove that Jesus’s earliest followers were extremely serious about their devotion to Him, His teachings, and His resurrection.
For example, in Annals of Imperial Rome, written around AD 116, the Roman senator and historian Tacitus wrote about how the Emperor Nero burned Rome in AD 64, then blamed it on, to quote, “the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate.” Other non-Christians such as the Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Jesus and His followers as well. Before Tacitus wrote his history, a Roman governor, Pliny the Younger, complained in a letter about how the early Christians he persecuted and punished would “sing hymns to Christ as to a god.”
Dr. Paul Maier called this “positive evidence from a hostile source. In essence, if a source admits a fact that is decidedly not in its favor, the fact is genuine.” These and other witnesses confirm that something monumental and transforming had taken place in the followers of Jesus. Even the pagan Roman rulers testified to the fact that the earliest followers of Jesus, who knew Jesus, did not consider Him to be an ordinary man.
The Great Cost
This brings us to another ugly reality that had a beautiful result. In the years after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples faced persecution and rejection. Acts 12:2 tells us the apostle James was killed by Herod. The Jewish historian Josephus told us that James, the half brother of Jesus, was stoned to death by Jewish leaders. The second-century church father Origen wrote of Peter’s crucifixion. Tradition tells us that all of the other remaining apostles except for John died as martyrs. There is convincing evidence both inside and outside of the Bible that a number of the apostles died for their faith and that they all faced significant persecution for their belief in Jesus’s Resurrection.
Of course, Christianity isn’t the only world religion that has martyrs. But what makes these martyrs so unique is that they died for their belief in something they saw with their own eyes—namely Jesus’s Resurrection. Many people in history have died for what they truly believed as a result of what others have told them. These apostles willingly gave their lives for what they saw with their own eyes rather than deny the Resurrection.
For that matter, Peter, James, the other James, and Paul knowingly and willingly died alone at the hands of various rulers for a lie they purposely fabricated or for an historical event they witnessed with their own eyes. Their determined adherence to believe and proclaim the Resurrection brought no fame, power, or status. Rather, it cost them everything! Herein we find the beautiful aspect of this reality. What a transformation had come about in the hearts of the disciples because of the certainty of the Resurrection!
A Change of Heart
You might remember that before the Resurrection, Peter was afraid to admit to a young servant girl that he knew Jesus. After the Resurrection, Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus not just to one young slave girl but to thousands of men and women. In Acts 4, Peter and John spoke boldly about Jesus. We’re told when the high priest and leaders “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (verse 13).
The beauty of the Resurrection is the transformation power it brings! Peter and John were changed by it. Countless people throughout the ages have been transformed through it. Today you can be transformed by it as well. At the moment the Resurrection comes into our lives when we allow ourselves to be crucified with Christ, every other moment is transformed from being stuck and bound by the things of this earth to being freed and prepared for the things of heaven.
Not only does the forgiving and healing power of the Resurrection reach out to every day in our future, it also reaches back to every day in our past. To take part in the Resurrection is to believe in the cross. In that belief, Jesus takes all our sin and all our failures and makes us beautiful again. If we take part in the Resurrection, even our greatest failures of the past are transformed completely and totally. At the cross and through the Resurrection, God forgives and redeems our very worst moments. And even our sins are transformed into victory. In the Resurrection your deepest regrets are transformed from unbearable shame to a proclamation of God’s amazing grace, mercy, and love.
In the Resurrection you and I can say, “God loves, God uses, God draws near to, God protects, and God helps people who have even done things like the very worst I have done. My failure is no longer my shame. It has been transformed by the Resurrection into my story of how good God is even when I’m not.” How powerful His love can be even when we are unloving. How far His grace reaches when we fail. How completely He can change the way a person thinks, how a person lives, and even who a person is.
Some point to Jesus’s half brother James as one of the greatest proofs that Jesus rose from the dead. We read in John 7:5 that before the Crucifixion, James didn’t believe in Jesus. But after the Resurrection, James is the central elder of the Christian church in Jerusalem. Think about your brother or sister for a moment. In his book Irresistible, Andy Stanley asked the insightful question, “What would your brother have to do to convince you he was the Son of God?” Wouldn’t the answer be, “Something like rise from the dead”?
Before the Crucifixion, every single one of the twelve disciples deserted Jesus and ran away. After the Resurrection, all eleven of the surviving disciples boldly proclaimed the message of His death and Resurrection. Something happened to them that can only be explained through their firsthand witness of the Resurrection of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
If you have not experienced the transformative power of the Resurrection in your life, today is the day to enter into it. If you have already put your faith in Jesus, today is the day to move forward in its power to make you bold and make you free.
The Empty Tomb
Through the Resurrection, the cold, hard, heartless tomb itself is transformed into a symbol of hope! Matthew 28:13 shows us that there is little debate as to whether or not the tomb was empty. Even Jesus’s detractors admitted it was. Rather than say, “Jesus is still there,” the Jewish leaders bribed the guards and told them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’”
The priests couldn’t produce proof that Jesus’s body remained in the tomb, so this statement seemed to provide a plausible explanation of the empty tomb. However, over the years and decades their lie unraveled as the disciples faced persecution and death for their insistence that the tomb was empty and the body could not be found because Jesus rose from the dead. More than five hundred different witnesses saw the risen Lord in the weeks after His Crucifixion—yet none of them came forward to refute the truth of the empty tomb through the Resurrection.
When you’re looking for a place to relax or connect with others, I would guess that you wouldn’t choose a graveyard. A cemetery is the last place most of us would go to find hope. But the Resurrection does more than put a nice stamp on a tombstone. The Resurrection transforms the meaning, the impact, and the result of the grave itself. Now the cold tomb is for us a symbol of hope and life. Hope is now found in the tomb because Jesus was not found in the tomb. He died for our sins, and three days later, He rose again from the dead. And that changes everything!
Author Clarence W. Hall said it like this: “The resurrection of Jesus changes the face of death for all His people. Death is no longer a prison, but a passage into God’s presence. Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.” The Resurrection completely transforms death for those who will believe in it. Without the Resurrection, death is the tragic ending to life. With the Resurrection, death is just the beginning of eternal life. Without the Resurrection, death is where our strength finally runs out. With the Resurrection, death is where our eternal glory begins.
Paul encouraged us in Colossians 3:1–4, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
The Change Is Complete
Watchman Nee said, “Our old history ends with the Cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.” This may be the most precious and amazing transformation the Resurrection brings. The Resurrection makes us new. Will you enter in to the Resurrection today? If you have already done so, will you choose to live every day in the freedom, joy, and hope of the Resurrection?
The Resurrection doesn’t make us a little bit better. It’s not one step on the road to self-improvement. It doesn’t help us be good. What so many people don’t understand is that being good or better isn’t the issue. Being good enough or kind enough isn’t what God is looking for. To be human means to be broken. To be human means to be divided. To be human means to have potential for incredible nobility and moments of exceptional kindness and generosity. It also means to have moments of selfishness, greed, and desperate depravity.
In God, there is no duplicity. There is no corruption. So to be human means to be separate from God, in need of forgiveness and transformation that can be found only in the Resurrection if we want to be with God and in His presence. Some would say, “Well, if God wants to separate Himself from me just because I’m human, I don’t want anything to do with a God like that anyway.” But we fail to understand that we have separated ourselves. The Crucifixion and Resurrection are God’s work to close the gap. And God loves you so much that He made a way for you despite your inherited and willful weakness of humanity.
It would kind of be like if I threw this huge Hollywood-style party at an incredible mansion, and I handed you an invitation. I then said to you, “In order to get into the party, you have to have an invitation.” And you said, “Well, if I have to have an invitation, I’m not coming to your party.” I gave you the invitation—that’s how you get in. It is, after all, my party. But in Jesus, everyone’s invited!
God has extended the invitation of the Resurrection to anyone who will simply put their faith in Jesus. He didn’t make it too hard for us. In Romans 10:9, Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” If you don’t want Him on this earth, He’s not going to force you to be with Him forever in heaven. If you don’t want to accept His invitation, He won’t force you to take it.
Understand this: God’s call is not for you to be better. His plea is not “Get it under control.” His call is “Come.” Come to the cross and die to your control. Die to the substitutes for God in your life. Die to your sin that lingers all around you like bad breath. To take His invitation is to lay down your pride and the weakness of your humanity and to be transformed by the Resurrection. Let the righteousness of Jesus make you right. Look to the goodness of God to make you good. Look to the forgiveness of the cross to make you whole. Let the power of the Resurrection make you free. He doesn’t want you to be good. He wants you to be forgiven so that you can be near.
Let me remind you of where we began—the cross that some of us wear around our necks or on our wrists. This symbols reminds us that God’s heart is to take that which is coarse, dark, and broken and to resurrect it into something beautiful. So I want to give you an opportunity to join in on the Resurrection right now. It’s not because I want you to be like me; it’s because I hope for your soul to be beautiful and free. I hope that you will experience what it means to have your most ugly moments transformed into a story of God’s forgiveness, love, and grace.
That change begins with a prayer. But I want you to know it doesn’t end there. In fact, praying this prayer from your heart means that you want to live in the Resurrection for the rest of your life—and all eternity. It means that you will ask Jesus to forgive your sins and to guide your life. When you make this decision through this prayer, you will be changed—whether you feel it or not. You will be forgiven. You will be a child of God. But it’s not the end. It’s the beginning of lifelong transformation where the Resurrection works deeper and deeper into your heart as it comes out through your life. Whether you pray that for the first time right now or if you’ve given your life to Jesus years ago, I want to challenge you to come back and join us here next week and to take the next step in that journey.
So if that’s the journey you want to begin, if you want to accept God’s invitation, pray this Resurrection prayer with me right now. I’ll lead you in it, and you can repeat after me. Dear God . . . I admit that I have done some ugly things . . . I ask for forgiveness for my sin . . . Thank You that Jesus paid the price on the cross for me . . . I put my faith in Jesus . . . I ask Jesus into my heart . . . I am ready to take part in Your Resurrection . . . Fill me with Your Holy Spirit . . . As I give my life to you . . . In Jesus’s name, I pray . . . Amen.
 Kevin Halloran, “40 Easter Bible Verses and Resurrection Quotes,” Unlocking the Bible, March 18, 2016, https://unlockingthebible.org/2016/03/40-easter-bible-verses-and-resurrection-quotes/.
 Note to the Pastor: While many scholars agree that Josephus wrote about Jesus, there is no lack of controversy concerning the complete authenticity of his famous reference to Jesus known as the Testimonium Falvianum, where it appears Josephus testified to and believed in Jesus’s Resurrection. See Ken Olson, “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum,” Center for Hellenistic Studies, Harvard University, https://www.chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5871.5-a-eusebian-reading-of-the-testimonium-flavianum-ken-olson.
 Christopher Klein, “The Bible Says Jesus Was Real. What Other Proofs Exist?” History.com, April 16, 2019, https://www.history.com/news/was-jesus-real-historical-evidence; Michael Gleghorn, “Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources,” bethinking.org, https://www.bethinking.org/jesus/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-christian-sources; http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/pliny.html.
 Matt Perman, “Historical Evidence for the Resurrection,” DesiringGod.org, September 12, 2007, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection.
 Stephen Miller, “What Happened to Jesus’ ‘Brothers’?” Christianity Today, Issue 59, 1998, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-59/what-happened-to-jesus-brothers.html.
 Steven Gertz, “How Do We Know Ten of the Disciples Were Martyred?” ChristianityToday.com, August 8, 2008, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/how-do-we-know-10-of-disciples-were-martyred.html.
 Andy Stanley, Irresistible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 124.
 Daryl Evans, “Quotes About the Resurrection: 23 Good Sayings,” What Christians Want to Know, https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/quotes-about-the-resurrection-23-good-sayings/.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Bombay, India: Gospel Literature Service, 1957).