1559) Two Tombs

By Russel Moore,  posted July 3, 2017 at: http://www.russellmoore.com

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     A few years ago, I stood at the grave of Thomas Jefferson, and wondered.  I was in Charlottesville to speak at the university Mr. Jefferson founded, and made my way up to his homeplace, Monticello.  Standing at his grave, I was prompted to give thanks for his life and legacy.

     After all, if it weren’t for Jefferson and his majestic Declaration of Independence, there might not even be a United States of America, and certainly not a country quite like it is now.  If it weren’t for Jefferson (and the Baptists), would I have grown up in some cold, dead, state-established Anglican church instead of the vibrancy of a free church in a free state?  And, of course, if President Jefferson hadn’t purchased the Louisiana Territory, I would have grown up some place other than America.

     But, much more than that, standing at Jefferson’s grave prompted me to realize that Jefferson is, well, in a grave.  The Enlightenment ideals that gave this brilliant thinker a right understanding of natural rights led him to idolize human power and potential.  Jefferson’s disbelief in divine power and intervention is seen in visual form in his famous Bible, with the miraculous parts cut out, most significantly the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  I love Jefferson for standing up against King George, but not for standing up against King Jesus.

     And yet, two hundred years later, belief in the resurrection of Jesus persists.  Just days after I was at this hero’s grave, Christians from all over the world, despite all this science and all this progress and all this technology, confessed what the earliest believers in the catacombs of Rome cried out:  “Christ is risen indeed.”

     Thomas Jefferson is still dead.  I thank God for him, but standing at his grave reminds me how limited even his legacy can be in the grand scheme of trillions of years of cosmic time.  It also reminds me of the contrast with a Middle Eastern day-laborer whose monument isn’t a house or a temple made with hands, or even a simple grave-marker.  It’s instead a borrowed tomb that isn’t filled anymore.

     That empty tomb is, itself, a declaration of independence.  By raising Jesus from the dead, God declared him (and all who are in him) to be free from death, free from the curse, free from Satan’s accusation.  I suppose you could say that Jesus was endowed by his Father with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… except that these blessings don’t end in a graveyard.

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Matthew 28:1-6a  —  After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”

II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

John 6:67-68  —  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

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Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

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1497) It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

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     Shadrach Meshach Lockridge (March 7, 1913 – April 4, 2000) was the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, a prominent African-American congregation in San Diego, California, from 1953 to 1993.  He was known for his preaching across the United States and around the world.

     In his classic message, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming!,”  Lockeridge expressed the pain and seeming defeat of the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, while hinting at the victory to come.  Christians celebrate the cross because the story does not end on that fateful Friday.  It does not end at the cross.  The irony of the cross was that the very instrument Jesus’ enemies used to defeat Him, became His greatest victory.  Little did they know when Friday ended that what would happen on Sunday would change the course of the world’s history.

     Here is a portion of that famous sermon by Lockridge.  As you read it (or hear an audio recording of it as Lockeridge himself preached it at the link below), just remember that regardless of what today brings, regardless of today’s problems, challenges, or defeats; Sunday’s coming! 

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It’s Friday.  Jesus is praying.  Peter’s a sleeping.  Judas is betraying.  But Sunday’s comin’. 

It’s Friday.  Pilate’s struggling.  The council is conspiring.  The crowd is vilifying.  They don’t even know, that Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  The disciples are running like sheep without a shepherd.  Mary’s crying. Peter is denying.  But they don’t know, that Sunday’s a comin’.

It’s Friday.  The Romans beat my Jesus.  They robe him in scarlet.  They crown him with thorns.  But they don’t know, that Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  See Jesus walking to Calvary.   His blood dripping.  His body stumbling.  And his spirit’s burdened.  But you see, it’s only Friday.  Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  The world’s winning.  People are sinning.  And evil is grinning.   

It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands to the cross.  They nail my Savior’s feet to the cross.  And then they raise him up next to criminals.  It’s Friday.  But let me tell you something.  Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  The disciples are questioning.  What has happened to their King.  And the Pharisees are celebrating that their scheming has been achieved.  But they don’t know, it’s only Friday.  Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  He’s hanging on the cross.  Feeling forsaken by his Father.  Left alone and dying.  Can nobody save him?  Ooooh, it’s Friday.  But Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  The earth trembles.  The sky grows dark.  My King yields his spirit. 

It’s Friday.  Hope is lost.  Death has won.  Sin has conquered.  And Satan’s just a laughin’.

It’s Friday.  Jesus is buried.  A soldier stands guard.  And a rock is rolled into place.  But it’s  Friday.  It is only Friday. 

Sunday is a comin’!

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cikenKl92Og

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FRIDAY:

Luke 23:44-46  —  It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last.

SUNDAY:

Luke 24:1-6a  —  On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had preparedand went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”

John 20:19-20  —  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

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EASTER PRAYER, 1766, by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784): 

Almighty and most merciful Father, before whom I now appear laden with the sins of another year, suffer me yet again to call upon Thee for pardon and peace.  O God! grant me repentance, grant me reformation.  Grant that I may be no longer distracted with doubts, and harassed with vain terrors.  Grant that I may no longer linger in perplexity, nor waste in idleness that life which Thou hast given and preserved.  Grant that I may serve thee in firm faith and diligent endeavor, and that I may discharge the duties of my calling with tranquility and constancy.  Take not, O God, Thy Holy Spirit from me; but grant that I may so direct my life by thy holy laws, as that, when Thou shalt call me hence, I may pass by a holy and happy death to a life of everlasting and unchangeable joy.  Amen.

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1473) Was the Resurrection a Hoax?

By Charles Colson (assembled and edited from several sources).  Colson served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969-1973.  In 1974 he was convicted for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up.  He was the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges, and served seven months in a federal prison.  Colson became a Christian in 1973, and after his release from prison founded the non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship.  For the next 38 years he was a respected evangelical Christian author and leader.  Colson died five years ago last Friday. 

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      I have been challenged many times on my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My answer is always that the disciples and five hundred others gave eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus, risen from the tomb.  But then I’m asked, “How do you know they were telling the truth?  Maybe they were perpetrating a hoax.”

     My answer to that comes from an unlikely source:  the Watergate scandal in which I was very much involved.

     Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up the truth.  It was perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States, the most powerful men in America, men who were intensely loyal to their president.  Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell, myself and the rest believed passionately in the President.  We had at our fingertips every imaginable power and privilege.  I could phone an aide’s office and have a jet waiting at Andrews Air Force Base.  I could order Cabinet members or generals around.  I could influence the United States budget.  Yet even at the prospect of jeopardizing the President, and even with all the privileges of the most powerful office in the world, the instinct for self-preservation was so overwhelming that one by one, those involved deserted their leader to save their own skin.

     The first of us, John Dean, testified against Nixon only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on– two weeks!  The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks.  Soon after, everybody else began to jump ship in order to save themselves.  The fact is that the only thing those around the President were facing was embarrassment, or perhaps a little time in prison.  Nobody’s life was at stake.  But in a situation like that, as I saw up close, the desire to save oneself has a way of overriding loyalty or any idealism.

     What does this have to do with the resurrection?  Simply this: if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, then the proclamation of that central Christian truth had to involve a massive cover-up.  The disciples would have had to cover up the fact that Jesus was really still dead, and in the face of the  fiercest opposition, lie to everyone, all the time, from then on; and say that Jesus was still alive and that the whole world should believe in him as Lord and Savior and God.

     Think about the situation that Christ’s disciples were in after He left them.  Here was a group of peasants, powerless, up against the most powerful empire in the world.  Possible prison time was the very least of their worries.  They knew that torture and execution could be in their future if they refused to stop preaching the name of Jesus Christ.  But they couldn’t stop, and every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.  To a man, they kept talking about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to anyone who would listen.  None of them would deny or retract their story.  Eventually, just as the authorities had threatened, most of them were executed for it.  But still, all of them maintained to the very end that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that they had seen Him, touched Him, and talked with Him.

     Don’t you think that if those disciples were attempting to cover up the truth that Jesus was really still dead, that at least one of them would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned– that one of them would have made a deal with the authorities?  Only an encounter with the living God could have kept those men steadfast. Otherwise, the apostle Peter would have been just like John Dean, running to the prosecutors to save his own skin.  He had already denied Jesus three times (before the crucifixion).  But Peter did not ever deny Jesus again, and neither did any of the other disciples.  And no one can ever make me believe that eleven ordinary human beings would for forty years endure persecution, beatings, prison, and death, without ever once renouncing that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead.

     You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true, but they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.

     The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity.  Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally.  But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead.  This gives us one of the strongest proofs we have for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

     You can take it from an expert in cover-ups– I lived through Watergate– that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord.  Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful– despite prison, torture, and death.

     Jesus is Lord:  That’s the thrilling message of Easter.  And it’s an historic fact, one convincingly established by the evidence, and one you can bet your life upon.  

     Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!

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“I prefer to believe those writers who get their throats cut for what they write.”

–Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French inventor, mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and adult convert to Christianity

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1 Corinthians 15:3-8  —  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Acts 5:27-33  —  The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said.  “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

     Peter and the other apostles replied:  “We must obey God rather than human beings!  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.  We are witnesses of these things,and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

2 Peter 1:16  —  For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 

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Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever.  Amen.

St. Hippolytus of Rome (AD 190-236)

1431) Socrates, Jesus, and Paul

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All of the wisdom of this world is but a tiny raft upon which we must set said when we leave this earth.  If only there was a firmer foundation upon which to sail—perhaps some divine word.  –Socrates

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     This thought is from Socrates’ last conversation with his friends before his death at the age of 70 in 399 B. C. in Athens, Greece.  He had been sentenced to death by the authorities for raising questions about their understanding of justice and goodness, and, for corrupting the youth of the city.  He was to be executed by drinking a cup of the poison hemlock.  At the end of this conversation, Socrates drank the poison and died in the presence of his friends.

     Plato records this conversation in Phaedo, one of many dialogues written by Plato.  These are not precise verbatim accounts of actual conversations, but the literary device Plato used to teach his philosophy.  Plato was the most famous student of Socrates, and since Socrates left no writings, most of what is known about Socrates we know through Plato.  The above quote is a summary of a longer quote from Phaedo, where Plato puts it into the words of Simmias of Thebes as they discuss the nature of the afterlife:

I think it is very difficult to acquire clear knowledge about these matters in this life.  And yet, he is a weakling who does not test in every way what is said about the afterlife, and persevere until he is worn out by studying it on every side.  For he must do one of two things; either he must discover the truth about these matters, or if that is impossible, he must take whatever human doctrine is best and hardest to disprove and, embarking upon it as upon a raft, sail upon it through life in the midst of dangers– UNLESS he can sail upon some stronger vessel, some divine revelation, and make his voyage more safely and securely.

      In the short and the long version there is a longing for a more secure word.  “If only there was a firmer foundation upon which to said, perhaps some divine word,” as it says in the briefer version.  All worldly knowledge put together is but a tiny raft—if only we could sail into the afterlife upon “some stronger vessel, some divine revelation,” as it is said in the longer quote.  “If only… perhaps…”

     Four centuries after the death of Socrates, Jesus Christ was born not far from that same Mediterranean Sea near which Socrates lived in city of Athens.  Jesus was born to bring that ‘divine revelation’ that Socrates wished for, offering us a ‘firmer foundation’ and a ‘stronger vessel’ on which to sail into the afterlife.

            Jesus, like Socrates, would leave no writings of his own, and his story would be told by his students.  Jesus, like Socrates, was executed by the authorities.  Jesus, like Socrates, had many discussions with his followers about the afterlife.  But unlike Socrates, Jesus returned from that far country, rising from the dead, and offering that same resurrection to eternal life to all who would believe in him. 

            A few years after Jesus died and rose from the dead and returned to heaven, the apostle Paul came to Athens, the city of Socrates, to proclaim the Gospel of eternal life in Christ Jesus.  450 years after Socrates and Plato, the philosophers of Athens were still gathering every day to talk about life and death and what comes next.  They invited Paul to speak to them.  This story is told in Acts 17:16-34:

      While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him.  Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?”  Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.”  They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.  Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.”  (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

     Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:  “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.  So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship— and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

     “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.  Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

     “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone— an image made by human design and skill.  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

    When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”  At that, Paul left the Council.  Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.  Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

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O God, our heavenly Father, who hast taught us not to sorrow overmuch for them that sleep in Jesus; mercifully grant that after this life, we may be received into everlasting joy; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Service Book and Hymnal, Funeral Service, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958.

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The Death of Socrates, 1787, Jacques-Louis David  (1748-1825)

1083) Quotes on the Resurrection

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Sometimes people approach me and say, “I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching.  I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.”  I usually respond:  “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said?  The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”  That is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection.  They knew that if it was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want.  It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing.  If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.

–Timothy Keller in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, 2008.

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I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me.  How?  Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it.  Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned, or put in prison.  They would not have endured that if it weren’t true.  Watergate involved twelve of the most powerful men in the world; and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks.  You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years?  Absolutely impossible.

–Charles Colson

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To preach Christianity meant (to the Apostles) primarily to preach the Resurrection…  The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the book of Acts.  The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the ‘gospel’ or good news which the Christians brought.

–C. S. Lewis

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The devil, darkness, and death may swagger and boast, the pangs of life will sting for a while longer, but don’t worry; the forces of evil are breathing their last.  He is risen!
– Charles R. Swindoll

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In short, I didn’t become a Christian because God promised I would have an even happier life than I had as an atheist.  He never promised any such thing.  Indeed, following him would inevitably bring demotions in the eyes of the world.  Rather, I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus really is the one-and-only Son of God who proved his divinity by rising from the dead.  That meant following him was the most rational and logical step I could possibly take.
– Lee Strobel

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The truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of gospel truth.  The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter.  Without the resurrection, Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation.
– John MacArthur

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Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.

–Frederick Buechner

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Romans 10:9  —  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.

John 11:25  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

I Corinthians 15:1-8  —  Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast…  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

I Peter 1:3-6  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

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Lord Jesus, give us the grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and to live in you, the Life.  

–Desiderius Erasmus, Roman Catholic priest and scholar  (1466-1536)

1082) Cemeteries

All things are growing older:  The world is growing older; we ourselves are growing older.  A few more summers, a few more winters, a few more sicknesses, a few more sorrows, a few more weddings, and a few more partings, and then– what?  Why, the grass will be growing over our graves!

–J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, in his 1877 book Holiness.

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Singsaas Lutheran Church, Brookings County, South Dakota

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From The Word for Every Day, page 178, by Al Rogness, 1981:

     Whenever I preach in Singsaas, my grandparents’ church on the Minnesota-South Dakota border, my eye wanders through the window to see the gravestones nestled around the church with its white spire pointed heavenward.  Sleeping there are five of my great-grandparents, my four grandparents, many uncles and aunts and cousins.  In another prairie cemetery a few miles away my parents and our son rest side by side.

     There have been many changes since 1870 when the immigrants established their church.  My grandparents’ homesteads are in the hands of other farmers, and the grandchildren are scattered.  The only piece of this earth that the family now occupies is the graveyard.  I find nothing melancholy about having them there.  Here the rich past and the promise of a glorious resurrection come together.

     When my cousin’s 17 year-old son was killed, his parents, remembering a chance remark he had once made about resting in the Pacific, arranged a service at sea and had his ashes dropped into the great waters.  I remembered that Mahatma Gandhi had asked that his ashes be given to the life-giving Ganges River of his land, and that Jawaharlal Nehru had ordered his to be taken into an airplane and scattered across his beloved India.  I find nothing distasteful, but even something beautiful, about such expansive resting places.

     But I’m glad I can wander around the graveyards of my family.  My grandchildren love to go from marker to marker, listen to the recollections and legends I have to tell about their forebears, and be carried back to the roots of their histories.  And while I don’t then preach a sermon on the resurrection, I know their young minds move from these dead to the celebrated company that awaits them.

     Rarely now are people allowed to know death at first hand.  No longer does a family live with the labored breathing of death in the next bedroom; no longer do the dead lie in state in the living room; rarely does a whole community assemble for the funeral.  So death, such an integral part of life, is smuggled out and hidden from view.

     At Singsaas, the cemetery’s sober reminder that death is real is matched by the pulpit’s clear and powerful word of a resurrection.

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 Luke 24:5b-6a  —  (The angels at the empty tomb of Jesus said), “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”

John 3:16  —   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14  —  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

I Corinthians 6:14  —  By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

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PSALM 90 (selected verses):

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered…

All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away…
Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

724) Hallelujah!

ALLELUIA!  CHRIST IS RISEN!

CHRIST IS RISEN, INDEED!  ALLELUIA!

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     Christians all over the world begin their Easter worship services with those words.  Alleluia, also spelled Hallelujah, is a Biblical word of praise that has become very well known in recent years because of a song written in 1984 by Leonard Cohen.  The title of the song was simply Hallelujah, and it wasn’t much of a hit when it first came out.  But it gradually grew in popularity, and other artists sought permission to record it.  Cohen was generous in granting that permission, and there have been over 300 different professional recordings of Hallelujah, including one for the popular kid’s movie Shrek.  It has become a well known and much loved song, and has been used in numerous other movies, television shows, memorial services, and other events.

     The song’s title is a Biblical word, and the melody sounds very much like something you could use in worship.   However, even though some of the lines speak of the Old Testament King David, the lyrics would not fit very well in a worship service.  But Cohen has granted permission for the song’s use with different lyrics, and there have been some very nice recordings of some ‘Christianized’ versions.  In 2006 Kelley Mooney wrote an Easter version of Hallelujah for her church.  A couple years later she received permission to make her own recording with these words:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5diqGpttHDk

Here is a Christmas version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GSTH3G1YIs

And this one was done by a priest for a wedding:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-voADFn0aow

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This is Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah as he wrote it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrLk4vdY28Q

And here is Cohen in a 2010 talking about the success of the song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGpumEYjDAc

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Revelation 19:1-2a…4-7  —  After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:  “Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments….  The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne.  And they cried:  “Amen, Hallelujah!”  Then a voice came from the throne, saying:  “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!”  Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:  “Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!

Matthew 28:1-7  —  After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples:  ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’  Now I have told you.”

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The Empty Tomb, Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942)

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Jesus Christ Is Risen Today, Alleluia!
14th century Latin carol

Traditional:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMwPEmUMP7U

Contemporary:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h9mGLh5WvI

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly king, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains which he endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured; Alleluia!
Now above the sky he’s king, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!
Praise eternal as his love; Alleluia!
Praise him, all you heavenly host, Alleluia!
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia!

375) Watergate and the Resurrection

By Charles Colson (assembled and edited from several sources).  Colson served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969-1973.  In 1974 he was convicted for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up.  He was the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges, and served seven months in a federal prison.  Colson became a Christian in 1973, and after his release from prison founded the non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship.  For the next 38 years he was a respected evangelical Christian author and leader. 

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      I have been challenged many times on my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My answer is always that the disciples and five hundred others gave eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus, risen from the tomb.  But then I’m asked, “How do you know they were telling the truth?  Maybe they were perpetrating a hoax.”

     My answer to that comes from an unlikely source:  the Watergate scandal in which I was very much involved.

     Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up the truth.  It was perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States, the most powerful men in America, men who were intensely loyal to their president.  Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell, myself and the rest believed passionately in the President.  We had at our fingertips every imaginable power and privilege.  I could phone an aide’s office and have a jet waiting at Andrews Air Force Base.  I could order Cabinet members or generals around.  I could influence the United States budget.  Yet even at the prospect of jeopardizing the President, and even with all the privileges of the most powerful office in the world, the instinct for self-preservation was so overwhelming that one by one, those involved deserted their leader to save their own skin.

     The first of us, John Dean, testified against Nixon only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on– two weeks!  The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks.  Soon after, everybody else began to jump ship in order to save themselves.  The fact is that the only thing those around the President were facing was embarrassment, or perhaps a little time in prison.  Nobody’s life was at stake.  But in a situation like that, as I saw up close, the desire to save oneself has a way of overriding loyalty or any idealism.

     What does this have to do with the resurrection?  Simply this: if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, then the proclamation of that central Christian truth had to involve a massive cover-up.  The disciples would have had to cover up the fact that Jesus was really still dead, and in the face of the  fiercest opposition, lie to everyone, all the time, from then on; and say that Jesus was still alive and that the whole world should believe in him as Lord and Savior and God.

     Think about the situation that Christ’s disciples were in after He left them.  Here was a group of peasants, powerless, up against the most powerful empire in the world.  Possible prison time was the very least of their worries.  They knew that torture and execution could be in their future if they refused to stop preaching the name of Jesus Christ.  But they couldn’t stop, and every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.  To a man, they kept talking about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to anyone who would listen.  None of them would deny or retract their story.  Eventually, just as the authorities had threatened, most of them were executed for it.  But still, all of them maintained to the very end that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that they had seen Him, touched Him, and talked with Him.

     Don’t you think that if those disciples were attempting to cover up the truth that Jesus was really still dead, that at least one of them would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned– that one of them would have made a deal with the authorities?  Only an encounter with the living God could have kept those men steadfast. Otherwise, the apostle Peter would have been just like John Dean, running to the prosecutors to save his own skin.  He had already denied Jesus three times (before the crucifixion).  But Peter did not ever deny Jesus again, and neither did any of the other disciples.  And no one can ever make me believe that eleven ordinary human beings would for forty years endure persecution, beatings, prison, and death, without ever once renouncing that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead.

     You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true, but they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.

     The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity.  Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally.  But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead.  This gives us one of the strongest proofs we have for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

     You can take it from an expert in cover-ups– I lived through Watergate– that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord.  Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful– despite prison, torture, and death.

     Jesus is Lord:  That’s the thrilling message of Easter.  And it’s an historic fact, one convincingly established by the evidence, and one you can bet your life upon.  

     Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!

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“I prefer to believe those writers who get their throats cut for what they write.”

–Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French inventor, mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and adult convert to Christianity

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1 Corinthians 15:3-8  —  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Acts 5:27-33  —  The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said.  “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

     Peter and the other apostles replied:  “We must obey God rather than human beings!  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.  We are witnesses of these things,and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

2 Peter 1:16  —  For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 

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Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever.  Amen.

St. Hippolytus of Rome (AD 190-236)