Christ is risen! John 20:1-18; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Christ is Risen3 (610x352)Christos anesti!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

From St. John’s Gospel and the other gospel writers, Mary Magdalene, with some other women, went to the tomb early in the morning of the first day of the new week.  In the dim, gray light, they wondered how they would move the stone away from the entrance.  But when they arrived, the large stone was no longer sealing the tomb.

They peeked in and saw what looked to be a young man.  He had a message for them to deliver to the Twelve.  And they did.  And when the Twelve heard that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, they didn’t listen any further.  John, younger and faster, and Peter, braver but slower, hurried to the tomb.

John stooped to look inside.  But Peter, being the impulsive man that he was, rushed in, not giving it a second thought.  Peter saw the burial cloths lying where Jesus’ body had been.  All was in order: Jesus’ burial cloths were folded neatly, as if He had made His bed after waking.  Realization of what happened came slowly to them that day.

In the next few days, others would learn that Jesus had risen from the dead.  This would happen because Jesus would come to visit them.  As Jesus came to visit Mary Magdalene at the tomb, He would visit with two others as they were traveling to Emmaus.  Jesus would reveal Himself to the Twelve in the upper room, and then to more than 500.

After visiting with the resurrected Jesus, they all had the same remarkable testimony: The One whom the Romans had crucified has risen from death!  No more does the grave have its icy grip on Him.  And as Jesus also promised, the grave has lost its grip on us.  Jesus secured a real victory over death, not just a wish and a hope. [We sing hymn 633, stanzas 6-8.]

Now flash forward 25 years, to Corinth, in Greece, one of the busiest cities in the world.  The Greeks, heirs of the philosophical heritage of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle didn’t believe that a human could rise from the dead.  Oh, they could handle the idea of an immortal soul, but not a risen body.

Even before the Greek philosophers, we know that different cultures and peoples taught and believed that the souls of people are immortal.  Yes, people easily accepted a spiritual resurrection, but not a bodily resurrection from the tomb.

The Apostle Paul, who helped start that congregation in Corinth four years earlier, knew the Greek mindset.  He had known it all his life.  For, even though he was a Jew educated under Rabbi Gamaliel, he had grown up in Tarsus, a city thoroughly steeped in Greek culture and thought.

It was only four years after Paul had left Corinth and barely a generation after Christ’s resurrection.  In that short time, Greek thinking had made its way back into the minds of the Corinthian Christians, creating division, doubt, and confusion.

But Paul wouldn’t compromise the truths of the Christian faith.  For, if Christ didn’t rise from the grave, then our teaching is false, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins.  And you will die in your sins, forever alive in a state of eternal death.  That’s hell.

But Paul didn’t just say that Christ rose from the dead.  That wouldn’t have worked with the Greeks.  So, he methodically took them through the proofs of Christ’s resurrection, like an attorney at trial.  Paul pointed the Corinthian Christians back to the Scriptures.

The Old Testament teaches that the resurrection had to happen.  The Corinthians had those Scriptures, translated into Greek, in the Septuagint.  Paul also had said that Jesus was buried and rose on the third day.  The Corinthians had heard Paul read the Gospel accounts written up to that time, copies which they had in their congregation.  They had the written testimonies of Christ’s resurrection.  They heard what the women discovered early on that first day of the week.

My Greek friends, Jesus “appeared Cephas, then to the Twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:5).  It isn’t just a written record you have.  Cephas, Peter, and the others saw Him.  They’re still alive, telling the world what they saw in those days that followed the crucifixion.  Even more, Jesus “appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time, most of whom are still alive” (1 Corinthians 15:6).

Although Jesus’ resurrection from the dead seems unbelievable and goes against your Greek culture, it’s easy to verify.  You have the written, eyewitness accounts.  You even have living eyewitnesses, some who have passed through your city and greeted you on Sunday mornings, who are still available for you to question.

It’s only been a few years since Jesus rose from the dead.  You know some of the people who saw, heard, and ate with the resurrected Jesus.  James, the stepbrother of the Lord, is still alive.  He’s the bishop of our mother Church in Jerusalem.  You know this!  And you have me.  I also saw the risen Lord.  The proof is unbreakable!

All the naysayers and enemies of Christianity could not disprove Paul’s testimony and the many witnesses he mentioned.  Think about it as you would a crime scene that a forensic investigator would examine.  How often does a body remain undiscovered?  It is a rarity.  If Christ didn’t rise, the body of Jesus is out there somewhere.

Oh, skeptics have scoured that part of the world for a long time, looking for what isn’t there.  But with no solid evidence to the contrary, they’ve even tried to get you to believe that a handful of women and two Galilean fishermen carried off a deception that has remained undiscovered for 2,000 years.

Paul’s case to the Corinthians was strong when he made it.  It remains strong to our day.  We have a real resurrection, not just a groundless hope in stories and words.

The Christian faith without a resurrected Jesus is worthless, even foolish, just as Paul said.  It doesn’t matter if it may bring you some psychological peace of mind or joy in your heart that helps you through life.  Forget that, for if Jesus isn’t risen, nothing else matters in the end.  Christianity would be a religion, just like all the others.  Paul wrote, “If Christ is our hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).  If Christ didn’t rise, we are the sorriest bunch of them all!

You can’t have Jesus the teacher, Jesus the moral example, Jesus the prophet, Jesus the good guy who did miracles without the Jesus who hung dead on the cross and rose bodily from the dead.  If Jesus didn’t rise from death, then the Christian faith is not even one of the great religions of the world.  It’s just one big, fat lie.

If Christ hasn’t been raised from death by the glory of the Father, you should’ve stayed home today, read the newspaper, cleaned the garage, or done anything else but waste your time here.  If Christ is not risen, get on with your lives, and quit coming to church.  “Let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).  And that’s the end of it.  That’s all the good news you’d get this day.  If Christ isn’t raised from the dead, then all you’d have waiting for you is death.

If Christ didn’t rise from the dead, you can wake up tomorrow morning and start your day with a shower.  But you’d no longer have your sins washed away in holy baptism, by which the Holy Spirit, working through the water and Word, buried you with Christ and then raised you again to newness of life (Romans 6:4-5).  If Christ didn’t rise from the dead, you can enjoy your Easter dinner, but you’d no longer have the joy of forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes to you in the Lord’s Supper.

If Christ didn’t rise from the dead, your body has become nothing but an aging and dying prison.  For in Adam, all die, and you’re no exception.  If Christ didn’t rise, then it’s only a matter of time before death claims you and you receive the wages of sin.  It could be cancer, a stroke, a stray bullet, an out-of-control car, and then you’d stand before God the Judge.  Even if you spent your entire life doing what you think God would have you do, it would be all for nothing–if Christ didn’t rise from the dead!

If Christ didn’t rise, you’re still in your sins.  That’s the worst of it.  All that horrible suffering and death did nothing.  The bad guys won again, as happens so often in this wicked world.  The devil would have the last laugh, because there would be no forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation.

But Jesus Christ is risen.  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  The tomb is empty.  The grave cloths are neatly folded.  His crucified body is risen and alive.  It’s a witnessed fact of history.  Mary and the women, John and Peter, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Twelve, James, and the 500 eyewitnesses all speak the same: “We saw Him.  We heard Him.  We ate with Him.  He is risen!”

So, come, enter the joy of the Lord.  Whether rich or poor, dance together.  Whether strong or feeble, celebrate the day.  Whether you have fasted during Lent or had your fill, rejoice!  For the table is richly laden.  Do not go away famished.

Lament your poverty no longer, for the reign of God has been revealed.  Weep over your sins no more, for the Light of forgiveness has risen from the tomb.  Fear death no more, for the Savior’s death has set you free: He has destroyed death by enduring it.

So, death, where is your sting?  Hell, where is your victory?  Christ is risen, and you are annihilated.  Christ is risen, and the demons are cast down.  Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.  Christ is risen, and life is liberated.  For the tomb is emptied of its dead.  For Christ, having risen from the dead, has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.  To Him be the glory and power forever and ever.  Amen. [Conclusion adapted from John Chrysostom’s Easter Homily]

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!