Happy Easter everyone! The Lord has Risen - that is Easter and theme of our retreat. It is the day that Jesus rose from the dead, 3 days after suffering horrific death on the cross. The other title verse is last from John 20,it's like thesis statement for John's Gospel, similar John 3:16. While John 3 was a middle of night conversation with Nicodemus, John 20 is about resurrection and Easter. Believe and have life in his name, the emphasis is on a relationship with the resurrected Lord. We are lost, completely empty in this world, but believe in resurrected Lord, have life in his name.
It's true, when it comes down to it, this world is completely empty and devoid of life. Really, what meaning is there in this world when we often just live wasting our lives away? Most people have romantic memory of their youth, I think mine was living 2 years in dorms. I was young, independent from parents for first time, full of dreams, excited to face the world. But when I actually think about it, there was online computer game I was really good at. I spent hours on it trying to get better, even researched bought better computer equipment for it. I think about now, it's so interesting to me, the most exciting time of my life and actually I was spending hours, sleepless night playing some video game.
When I look back, it just strikes me what exactly I was doing at the time. How perhaps the most widespread sickness in the world is feeling of emptiness, trying fill emptiness. People in world are always trying to fill this emptiness with money, power, pleasure, entertainment. Why do you think the opioid epidemic is so serious in this rich country? Drugs fill emptiness.
I think the disciples were struck hard with the emptiness of this world after Jesus died on the cross. Think about, they walked with the Lord full of life, experiencing miracles listening to Gospel. But suddenly, in an instant, all of that is taken away when the Lord dies on the cross. And in the next 3 days, the reality of that death is striking them, emptiness of world hits them. Was it all just a dream? It's kind like going on a grand vacation, coming back to work on Monday. The problem here is that until now, for those 3 days, they had only experienced the cross. They had not yet experienced a relationship with the risen Lord.
Christianity is not simply about the cross, if it was, the Jesus movement would have fizzled in short time. But cross didn't remain as cross, in God's loving, paradoxical graciousness, all the hurt, sin, death inside of this world was wiped out in one fell swoop with resurrection. On the 3rd day, Easter, which we are celebrating, Jesus rose from the dead and conquered all that. When Satan, depravity of world thought they gained victory, Jesus overturned that by rising again. And so the foundation of Christian faith is the Cross and Resurrection, they go hand in hand. Faith is carrying cross together with the Lord and experiencing living relationship with risen Lord. So how did the disciples begin to experience a relationship with the risen Lord? That is what we see here in John 20, and through them, we can know how to experience risen Jesus.
Peter and John race to the tomb and see the burial clothes lying there, but no body of Jesus. Biblical commentators differ on whether or not John believed resurrected Lord at that moment. But without a doubt, the experience of the empty tomb definitely struck them. Why? It was the realization that death could not contain Jesus. They nailed him to the cross, let him bleed, and pierced his body afterwards. They then wrapped his body, put him in a tomb, other gospels record soldiers - Matthew 27:62-66
The world tried to seal of Jesus' dead body in a tomb with a huge stone over it and say we are completely done with you and go away. But Jesus on this Easter, when they looked into that tomb, it was completely empty. And the mystery of the empty tomb, stirred something in them that they couldn't shake.
I think for many people, a relationship with the risen Lord begins with mystery of empty tomb. We are spiritual being by nature and their a curious mystery to our spirits. When I was younger, not necessarily believe in God, but I experienced curiosity of the spirit. This happened whenever I would go camping, out to nature, beautiful place like this. My spirit was stirred and longed for something more than what I can see. Our spirit is that we long for a God who we can't necessarily see, who is intangible. But the mystery of that stirs our spirits, we long to believe in our lives beyond time here on earth. Mystery of the empty tomb, the possibility for the risen Lord, stirs excitement in us. These two disciples, Peter and John, I believe they were stirred to the core of their spirits. That stirring of their spirits was the beginning of their relationship with the resurrected Lord.
Next, let's continue on to Mary's encounter with risen Lord - John 20:11-18. She was weeping, fearful that maybe Jews and Romans had taken the body of Jesus. She doesn't even recognize the Lord in her tears until the Lord called out to her "Mary!". Mary's grief during 3 days was her lowest of lows, inconsolable over Jesus, holding onto body. Mary's story reminds me a bit of Paul's story actually, the angry Pharisee killing Christians. Saul is at his depraved low, martyring Stephen, came back for more to kill more disciples. At his most depraved low point, Jesus comes calling "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And it's at that moment Jesus called Paul that he encounters the risen Lord. Our experience with the risen Lord doesn't always come at some high point in our life. It's not you imagine where you are full of grace, praising, Lord come to me, and he comes . Sometimes it at the lowest of our lows and at first we can't even see Jesus is there like Mary. We may not see it, but it's at the lowest points that risen Lord is there calling us.
In the Lord of Rings, there is something called "eucatasrophe", J.R. Tolkien coined the term himself. It basically means sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensures that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible and probable doom. It seems like everything is going against the good guy, but suddenly it turns all around. Tolkien called the incarnation of Christ, the eucatsrophe of human history. He also called the resurrection, the eucatsrophe of the Incarnation. We all like to believe we're the protagonist of our own life story right? I mean we really are. If so, then I believe the eucatasrophe of our lives is an encounter with the risen Lord. When it seems like everything is going against us, the cross seems like death. When we are at the lowest of the lows in our lives. At that moment, God's hand swoops in and we encounter the risen Lord.
Let's look at the next encounter with risen Lord - John 20:19-23.
This encounter with the risen Lord happens when all the disciples are together. Isn't that was church is all about, we encounter the risen Lord when we're with each other. Coming to church, being with brothers and sisters and a very important part of faith. We get most disconnected with God when we get disconnected with the Church, stop going.
Finally, we reach Thomas's encounter with Risen Lord - John 20:24-29
Oh doubting Thomas, one of our favorite scenes in the Bible! Thomas wasn't with the disciples in the previous scene when the risen Lord visited them. So here he was doubting and needing definitive proof, to feel the nail marks to believe. Thomas is a skeptic, he needed verifiable proof that the Lord had resurrected.
Jesus says "Blessed are those who don't see and yet believe". On one hand, Thomas opens himself up to criticism on his faith, but on other, there is preciousness. People like Thomas or Paul, they need a full acceptance and not just 1-2 things. But once they do have full acceptance, they dedicate their lives mission, make big history. These two dogmatic individuals were utterly convinced in the person of Jesus in a complete way because the overwhelming evidence in front of them was that Jesus is the truth. Because they were convinced, they were two of the great contributors to Christian mission in history. Among all things, they were convinced that Jesus died on the cross and 3 days later rose from the dead.
Doubting Thomas is the part of all of us that is not 100% sure. It's the feeling that no matter what see in the faith, miracles of God, experience Jesus, it's not enough. There are people who no matter what, won't believe in the resurrection from dead of Jesus Christ. People come up with all kinds of crazy theories on alternatives to the resurrection. Maybe it was a mass hallucination? But that's ridiculous because hallucinations happens to individuals. Maybe it was a myth passed on? But any academic scholars would concede, there are recording where he appeared to individuals, to groups, at different times/places, doing many different things.
1 Corinthians 15:3-7 - There were a lot of people, hundreds of people that saw the resurrected Lord. It even says most of them who are still living, it's almost as if to say, go out and ask them yourself. There were many people who were utterly convinced that they had seen this man Jesus alive and interacting with him, after he had died. It was more than just mere myth and legend.
Here's the bottom line, Christianity could have been completely, utterly destroyed in one minute. Think about it, it was resurrection that spurred the early church, vast missions, spread around world. But very, very early on, Christianity could have been completely, utterly destroyed in one minute. All they had to do is present the body of Jesus after he claimed to have risen from the dead. If Jesus died, then present the body and Christianity would be destroyed, resurrection would be false. Jesus never said he was spiritually rise again, he was clear in saying he was going to bodily rise again. That is an empirically verifiable statement - you can disapprove bodily resurrection by showing body. Jesus had enough enemies who could have simply said, here is the body, Jesus never really rose again. They guarded the tomb and Jesus' disciples were fearing for their own lives at that time. Let alone trying to hide the body, make some myth spread it, or have a mass hallucination together. Jesus was famous enough, hated enough for them to be able to go get and show the body. Just show the body and all that about Jesus is completely destroyed, Christianity destroyed in 1 minute. But this never happened because Jesus did rise again, spent 40 days with hundreds of people witnessing his resurrection, and he ascended to heaven.
Lee Strobel, famous Christian author and former Atheist said: "Christianity is different because it invites investigation and it withstands historical and scientific scrutiny". Some people say all religions are basically fundamentally the same, just superficially different. They say religion is just a variation trying to convince us of what happens after we die. But Christianity is more than just one-line argument about where we go after we die, its worldview. Worldviews are more than one argument. A worldview is connected series of arguments, viewpoint, there's a lot that the Bible gives us. Really, for a proper worldview, there are 4 big questions in life: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Why am I here? What is the meaning? What is right/wrong? What happens when I die? A correct worldview must not only answer these questions, but the answers must be consistent, be verifiable, be personally relevant, and also cohere together. So many religions fall flat in their answers - they are not consistent, verifiable, or the experiential relevancy of a person is not there, or frankly answers they give don't cohere together as a whole.
Practically all of these religions, worldviews don't even attempt to answer some of the 4 big questions. When it really comes down to it, it is only Christianity answer all 4 big questions and pass the test of truth, no matter how much you investigate, all the answer are there. Why are all answer there? Because when it comes down to it, it all comes down to the person of Jesus. It is in the person of Jesus that we see all 4 big questions being answered with consistency, evidence, and real-life experiential relevancy which all of us can be a testimony.
There is just something so unique about Jesus that cannot be ignored. The Bible - OT/NT scripture is has multiple authors - 66 books, 40 authors - think about it. Jesus was prophesied centuries before, 1500 years worth of prophesy about Messiah. Prophecies spoke about where he was going to be born, what he was going to do, what his name was going to be called, how the manner of birth, how the manner of life he was going to lead, how he was going to die, and the resurrection from the dead. Then when Jesus came - his birth, life, death, and resurrection were recorded by multiple authors in the gospel, written much later than the prophesy, but align exactly with the prophesy.
There's 1500 years scrutiny during prophesy of Jesus, then there's 2000 years of scrutiny by philosophers, religious experts, scientist, technology after Jesus came. Even some of the staunchest skeptics will say there is no document in early history, none that have the documented corroboration, historic archeological evidence that this book - the Bible - has. There is so much in the Bible that if you wanted to destroy it, there are so many empirical statements that you could go out and try to disprove it. The Bible is not some pie in the sky opinion, some existential type teaching. The Bible has objective moral facts presented, it not just a person's subjective personal belief. The Bible is based on the reason of the person of Jesus Christ. Look at the Bible with scrutiny and you will find that everything He ever said will come to be true.
Your problem and my problem is really not that we need more evidence. Your problem and my problem is that no matter how much evidence there is, we want to have it our own way, our own thoughts. And having it our own way, that is the very fundamental sin problem in the world today. What we need more than "my way", is we need to open ourselves up to a relationship with Jesus. The power of Easter comes when we open up our hearts to receive the risen Lord.
We live in an empty world, a world of despair and a world devoid of hope. We need the risen Lord in our lives, we need a relationship with resurrected Jesus. We know Jesus because our spirits long for him. We know Jesus because at our lowest moments in life, he is there as eucatasrophe . We know Jesus because we see Him in fellowship with brothers and sisters. We know Jesus because the skepticism of the world never ends, still Jesus remains. Easter, the Lord has risen, Jesus resurrected is the hope for this world. Jesus resurrected is the hope for all us when we have a relationship with him. Jesus resurrected is the hope that His Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven. The Great Commission tells us to go out and baptize all nations. Let us be the disciples that can testify to the personal relationship we have with the risen Lord. I wish the power of Easter can be with us all and we can testify risen Lord to the world.