Andy Stanley: Here we are 2000 years later, there are people on every continent and just about every country celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. How did that happen?
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John Fuller: That’s a really good question. Why do we celebrate the biblical account of Easter? Well, we have some answers for you on this Good Friday edition of Focus on the Family with Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today we commemorate the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, an event that has been documented by even non-biblical sources. A skeptic can agree that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who died on a cross on a hill called Golgotha, 2000 years ago. I mean, think of that. But the real question is this, did Jesus actually rise from the dead? Because if he did, he’s extraordinary. And that’s the topic of our guest, Pastor Andy Stanley. He’s going to explore this for us today.
John: That’s right. He’s an author and the founder of North Point Ministries and the senior pastor of North Point Community Church. And here now is Andy Stanley, on Focus on the Family.
Andy: Well, I absolutely love Easter, I love Easter weekend, I actually love Easter sermons. And I’ll tell you why I love Easter. I love Easter, because Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all give us the Easter story. It is chaotic, it is detailed. In fact, it’s the most detailed account… Really, it’s the most probably the most detailed and, um, finely tuned, described event in all of ancient history by far. 500 years either way of the resurrection and there’s more detail to these few hours around the resurrection of Jesus than anything at all of ancient literature. And it’s exactly like you would find the story, expect the story to be. There is inconsistency just like when a lot of people kind of tell the story, nobody doubts would… that something actually happened. But the details are a little bit different. Their angles, their perspectives are a little bit different. But the great thing about the Gospel accounts when it comes to the resurrection, is that they all arrive at the same conclusion, they all arrive at the same conclusion. And although it is an unbelievable story when it comes to just, you know, 30,000 feet looking and thinking about res- resurrection, what we’re gonna discover today is that it is actually unbelievably believable, it’s actually unbelievably believable, and that’ll become apparent as we move through our time together. Now, we do not believe Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible tells us so. We believe Jesus rose from the dead, but we don’t believe he rose from the dead simply because the Bible tells us so, it is way, way better than that. And let me tell you why that’s important. The reason us adults in this room and churches and millions and millions of people all over the world actually believe that Jesus rose from the dead is this. It’s not because the Bible tells us so, it’s so much better. It’s because Matthew, an eyewitness of these events believed it. Mark who spent time with eyewitnesses believed it. Luke who says he thoroughly investigated all these events believed it. John, who was an eyewitness believed it, and then hang on to your hats, James, the brother of Jesus believed that his brother was the Son of God and rose from the dead. And let me ask you a question. And I ask this every Easter. What would your brother have to do to convince you that he was the Son of God?
Andy: And there’s only one thing, magic tricks would not do it. Miracles would not do it. The only thing that could possibly convince you that your brother is the Son of God, was for you to attend his funeral, and then a few days later for him to show back up. And it’s like, “Okay, you’re the Son of God.” And here’s the amazing thing. James, the brother of Jesus is invisible in the Gospels when Jesus is doing all of his stuff. And suddenly at the end, when it is most dangerous to be a Jesus follower, James shows back up in the story in the city of Jerusalem as a leader in the first century church. Why? Because his brother rose from the dead. That’s why we believe it. And then there’s this guy you’ve heard so much about the Apostle Paul, the Apostle Paul hated Christians, hated them. He actually put Christians in jail. Okay? He hated Christians. And then, within just a few years, a few years of the resurrection of Jesus, this man, the Apostle Paul, who was a Pharisee, who hated Christians, had Christians in prison, became a Jesus follower. So, if you want to know why we take this seriously, if you want to know why it’s not make believe, it’s not a made-up story. It’s not something just to inspire us and to give us hope, the reason we believe it happened in history, is because Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, the Apostle Paul and others, but just those who were eyewitnesses and new eyewitnesses wrote about it, said they believe and here’s what’s great.
That’s why we take the Easter story seriously. So, real quick, I want to tell you the Easter story. Here’s what happened. Pre first century, um, Jerusalem, pre first century Judea. Many Jewish people are hoping for a messiah. Rome controlled the whole world they thought, and they prayed that God would send a military deliverer, a Messiah. And every once in a while, someone would show up in history that they thought, this is the one, this is the time. This is the one. This is the time. And time after time after time, the Roman soldiers, the Roman army, the power of Rome would squash that rebellion. And once again, Judea was under the heel of Rome. Rome was known as the Eternal City. And it looked like the Roman Empire would be the eternal Roman Empire. And then one afternoon, a very strange man dressed in strange clothes, walks out of the Jordan River Basin, it’s a civilized Judea, and began to say, “Repent, repent, repent, God is about to do something unique. “We know him as John the Baptist. And the leaders from the temple went down to the Jordan River Valley, and they found John the Baptist and they said, “Are you a messiah? Are you claiming to be another Messiah?” And John the Baptist said something that shocked them. He said, “No, but he’s on his way. Get ready, get ready, get ready, get ready, get ready, repent of your sins so that when he shows up, you will recognize him for who he was.” And very soon after that, this is so dramatic. Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth, who just about everybody in the 21st century has heard of Jesus of Nazareth steps on to the pages of history. And he begins to teach, and he begins to heal. Everywhere he went, there were crowds, because he fed people, and he healed people. And his teaching was confusing, we’re still trying to figure it out. And he talked in parables, and he would tell these amazing parables. And after the parable, his disciples would say, “That was fantastic.” What did it mean? We have no clue. And we’ve heard all your parables, okay? And so although he was a fantastic teacher and spoke with authority, Jesus’ teaching wasn’t always all that clear. And yet the crowd began to follow Jesus. And suddenly, there was a conflict. Suddenly, there was tension between the followers of Jesus and the followers of the temple. And then something happened. Rumors began to spread that Jesus had raised someone from the dead. And not just anyone. Jesus had raised a prominent businessman in the community, his name was Lazarus. And not only did he raise him from the dead, he had already been buried. And the rumor was that Jesus showed up late for the funeral, asked his family to roll the stone away. One of the most famous verses in the Bible. One of je- Lazarus sister says to Jesus, “But by now his body stinketh.” King James Version. “By now his body stinketh.” In other words, are you kidding? They rolled the stone away and Jesus raises a man from the dead and I’m telling you the crowd went wild. And as rumors of this resurrection spread around that small Judean community, the temple leaders realize there’s a shift going on, we are losing the people and Jesus is gaining, Jesus’s gaining ground with the crowd. And this brought a group of people that never got together, together around one simple idea. The chief priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the temple lawyers, they all came together in a council, and they made a decision. And here’s what they said. John had somebody in the room apparently that told him this story. “If we let him…” Talking about Jesus. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him.” To which we say, “Well, what’s the problem with that?” And they answer that for us. “And once everyone believes in him, the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” And suddenly faith and religion and politics get mixed and now the tension mounts to the point where those in charge of the religious system realize something’s got to go, it’s either us, or it’s him. And so, John tells us that from that day on, from that very day on, they plotted to take Jesus’ life. And eventually, as you know, he’s arrested. Now, here’s the fascinating thing, when you read the accounts around Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it’s just like somebody would tell a story that actually happened. And when you get to that part in the Gospels, where the gospel writers tell us about the crucifixion of Jesus and the resurrection, the details are unbelievable and they write it as if it’s narrative, not fairy tale. They write it as if it’s history, not something that they were simply making up. Now, here’s something really important for you to know. If Matthew wrote Matthew, Mark wrote Mark and Luke wrote Luke and John wrote John, and Peter wrote the, the Epistles of Peter, if these are actually the authors of this literature, they made themselves look terrible in the story of Jesus. Terrible. They wrote themselves and as cowards. They did not write themselves into the story favorably. And this is interesting, because these documents weren’t written till maybe 30, some say 40 years after the events, some say 80 or 90 years after the event. We’ll get to that in just a second. But if they wrote it in their lifetime, 30, 40 years later, some time had gone by. They had time to spin it, they had time to make themselves look good. But when you read the Gospels, you don’t find that at all. You find the description of these men to be very, very real, as in real scared, as in real insecure, as in real concerned for themselves. And the interesting thing is this. If these accounts were written 80 or 90 or 100 years later like most of you were taught in college, if they weren’t written, if Matthew didn’t write Matthew and Mark didn’t write Mark, and Luke didn’t write Luke and John didn’t write John, they were all dead and gone, all the eyewitnesses were dead and gone and these Gospels were fabricated by people many, many, many years later, you have to ask the question, why would someone fabricate stories about Jesus? The answer is easy, because they were trying to keep the Jesus movement alive. If you’re trying to keep the Jesus movement alive, then you make the leaders of the movement heroes. But when you read the accounts, the Gospel accounts, yet no one took any interest in manning these guys up. When you read the stories, they are all so extraordinarily believable. Get this, you know the story. Many of you know the story. When Jesus is arrested, they don’t stand by their man, if you’re making this up, you have them circle Jesus, you know, elbow to elbow and say, “If he goes, we go.” But in the gospel accounts, when Jesus is arrested, they all run for their lives. In fact, this is how these men are described. Not only that, they don’t even show up for Jesus’ funeral. Think about this. These are his closest followers. And when Jesus is buried, they don’t show up for his burial. Now, let me say something about the burial. This is absolutely fascinating. The two people that show up to bury Jesus, one is a rich guy that was a secret believer, he kind of believed Jesus was special. But the gospel writers tell us he was so afraid of the Jews, he never went public with his faith. And the other guy was a Pharisee. Now, just telling you, if you’re making this up, if you’re making this up, and you know the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees, which was horrible from day one, you don’t have a Pharisee bury Jesus. The Gospels tell us that the secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea. And a Pharisee, go to Pilate. And they say, “Pilate, we know that because of Passover, you’re probably going to break the legs of those who’ve been crucified, and you’re going to throw them in the city dump like you do everyone who’s crucified. We would like for you to give us the body of Jesus so we can bury the body.” And chances are they paid Pilate. You have a Pharisee and a coward, come get the body while his closest followers are in hiding. Why? Why is it written that way? Because that’s what happened. Because nobody was trying to make anyone a hero, because no one was trying to man anybody up, so they’d have more credibility in the future of the Jesus movement. And then the other fascinating thing is this. Jesus enemies, Jesus enemies had more confidence in the Jesus movement than Jesus followers. When you read the Gospels, Jesus enemies, those that had Him crucified, they had more confidence in his disciples than the disciples had in themselves. They had more confidence, they had more concern about the Jesus movement continuing than those that had, whose responsibility it was to continue it.
John: You’re listening to Focus on the Family. And that’s Andy Stanley, you can get a CD of this program for gift of any amount when you stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Let’s return now to more from Andy Stanley.
Andy: The chief priests and Pharisees who never ever got along. The chief priests and Pharisees actually went to Pilate, and they said to Pilate, these are my words, these aren’t gospel words. Essentially, they said, “Pilate, you’ve created a problem for us, because you gave the body of Jesus to a Pharisee and a rich guy, and they buried him. Now, Pilate, generally, bodies as you know, stay on a cross until they rot. But at this particular occasion, because it’s Passover, you know, we understandably, you broke the legs of those who were crucified, and you allow their bodies to be taken down. But now Jesus has been buried. So, Pilate, we need you to do us one more favor. You’ve already allowed us to crucify him, one more favor. We need you to establish a guard outside of the tomb of Jesus, so his disciples don’t come along and steal the body.” And here’s what Matthew says how that conversation went. They said, “So, give the order for the tomb of Jesus to be made secure until the third day, otherwise his disciples, otherwise his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he’s been raised from the dead, and this last deception will be worse than the first.” But here’s what you pick up on immediately when you read, the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John account of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus followers weren’t about to steal the body. And here’s why. Because stealing a body would be dangerous and pointless. Now, think about this. This is something we can’t fathom. When we think crucifixion, we think Hollywood, we think movies, we’ve never smelt it, we’ve never seen it. We’ve never actually seen what a body looks like after it’s hung outside for days and days and days. These men had grown up seeing crucifixion, and they watched Jesus crucified, and they knew, if they came for Jesus, uh, there’s a great possibility they will come for us. And if they were willing to go that far to crush the movement, we will not be exempt. To steal the body in order to perpetrate the lie of a resurrection, it was absolutely too dangerous and pointless. Think about it. If they weren’t willing to (laughs) die for Jesus while he was alive, they weren’t about to risk their lives now that he was dead. Think about it. If they ran off when Jesus was arrested, they’re not gonna risk their lives now that he was dead. Why die for a dead man whose death disproved everything he asked you to believe while he was alive? Why die? Why die for a dead man whose death undermined everything he taught? We talked about this last year. This is important. That the very epicenter of Jesus message was Jesus. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, Son of Gods don’t die. Jesus claimed to be a Jewish Messiah, he allowed them to hail him as the Jewish Messiah, Jewish Messiahs (laughs) don’t die by Rome, by being crucified? Jesus said to His disciples, “I’m gonna start a movement and death won’t stop it.” And yet he was crucified. When Jesus died, in the minds of his closest followers, the movement ended and died as well. IF Jesus couldn’t stay alive to keep the movement alive, why risk their lives to keep a lie alive? There’s no way in the world these men ever contemplated stealing that body and lying about a resurrection, because they knew the next night there would be a knock on their door, and there would be 11 men crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem. So, recap the story. Here’s what you got. You got nervous religious leaders, we got to get rid of him and make sure he stays dead. You got terrified apostles, they came for him, they’ll probably come for us. You have despondent women who had hoped and hoped and hoped that things would change in their world, and now their rabbi and their teacher was dead. And you have confused Roman soldiers. Because after all, when the temple guard went to arrest Jesus, all of his followers fled. So why are you wasting our time to guard a tomb of a dead man? They didn’t stand by him while he was alive, there’s no way in the world they’re going to come try to steal the body. But here’s what you don’t have. You ready? You don’t have anyone standing outside Jesus’ tomb expecting a resurrection. Nobody was there on Easter morning counting down 10, nine, eight, seven, six, would you? Of course not. Because when people die, (laughs) they always stay dead. When Jesus died, the Jesus movement died with him. The story is written up to this point, as if it absolutely happened, it is exactly what you would expect, expect. It’s unbelievably believable. And yet, here we are, 2000 years later, there are people on every continent and just about every country, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. How did that happen? Come on. Why is it that there were a half dozen other wannabe Messiahs and you can’t name a single one of them? And yet, at this point in history, there is so much written about this one person and here we are 2000 years later. But we’re not here. (Laughs). We’re not here because someone stole a body. They would have figured that out. We’re not here because someone died on a cross thousands and thousands, and thousands of people were crucified. And we’re not here because someone gave a series of lectures and said made some pithy statements that changed people’s lives and they wanted to keep that literature alive. We’re here because on Easter morning, on Easter morning, a group of women showed up at a tomb expecting to find a body. We’re here because on Easter morning, a group of women who knew Jesus, trusted Jesus, believed in Jesus had seen the miracle and then lost all hope showed up expecting a body. And they showed up ready to re-embalm them the body because a couple of guys had embalmed him the first time, and they assumed they probably didn’t get it right.
Andy: So they show up to re-embalm the body, totally expecting to find a body and there was no body. The story ends in a way that nobody expected. Nobody predicted it. And then you know what happened after the resurrection? And this was the punctuation. The very same men who scattered, who wouldn’t even show up for the burial. The very same women who were despondent and showed up ready to re-embalm that body, those very same men and women just a few days, not a few years, not 50 years, not after all the eyewitnesses had died. A few days later, these men and women poured into the streets of Jerusalem, within walking distance of the tomb, within walking distance of Golgotha, they poured into the streets of Jerusalem, and they said to the very people who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, who stood at the trial of Jesus, you oversaw and approves his crucifixion, you killed him, God raised Him. We’ve seen him, now repent of your sin. And Acts, the book of Acts tells us that thousands, thousands of people in the city of Jerusalem within weeks of the resurrection, repented and embraced Jesus as Messiah. The reason we’re here 2000 years later isn’t because Jesus said some cute things, not because Jesus died on a cross, but because he rai- was raised from the dead and he was seen by eyewitnesses who went and proclaimed that message and most of them gave their lives. Not for what they believed; people do that all the time. They gave their life for what they believed they saw, a resurrected Savior. And the reason these cowards and these despondent people reengaged with a message in the movement of Jesus, was because they saw a resurrected Savior. Now, here’s something that is so cool then I’m done. About 22 years after the resurrection, the apostle Paul writes a letter to a group of Christians in Corinth. And he writes a letter to them, and he reminds them of what’s at the core of their belief as Christians. And listen to what he tells them. He says, “Now brothers and sisters, I wanna remind you, because when I was with you years ago, I told you all about this, but I wanna remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” In other words, this is an essential part of your faith. He says, “For what I received…” And when he says received is because the Apostle Paul didn’t become a Christian for, for years after the resurrection. And he received his information from eyewitnesses. He says, “For what I received, I passed on to you as a first importance.” In other words, this isn’t peripheral. This is right in the middle. This is essential to what we believe as Jesus followers. Of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. In other words, within a period of 22 years, this had already been documented in literature, someone had begun to write down the details of these incidents. He said, “No, I want to remind you that when I presented the gospel to you, I told you that the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross, and it was actually buried. He died on a cross for your sins and was buried. he continues, “That he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared…” Now, hang on this is unbelievable. “And that he appeared to Cephas…” Who’s Peter. “He appeared to Cephas and then to the 12,” the apostles. “And then after that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living,” pause, “And last of all, he appeared…” This is so powerful. “And last of all, he appeared to me as the one who’s abnormally born.” Here’s what he means by that. “For I am the least of the apostles, and I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” This was his precious kind of sensitive way of saying, it’s true they were all cowards. It’s exactly as I present to you. They didn’t show up for his funeral. They didn’t show up for the burial. When he was arrested, they ran for their lives. Peter, Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was to a middle school girl. It’s true that none of them stepped up. “But I can’t be critical,” Paul would say. “Because I did worse than that. I had Christians arrested, tortured and put to death. And the idea that God would allow me to be an apostle, to proclaim the message of Christ’s death and resurrection, it’s so humbling. I wake up every single day and I can’t believe I get to be a part of this.”
John: Some great insights from Pastor Andy Stanley today on this Good Friday edition of Focus on the Family.
Jim: I love this message, John. And just like the apostle Paul, I’m truly amazed to think that we, uh, get to wake up every day and be a part of spreading the gospel, the good news around the world.
Jim: What a privilege. And there’s nothing more important than the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. And he offers us forgiveness for our sins and eternal life with him. And if you’ve never asked Jesus to be your savior, please consider stopping what you’re doing and praying this prayer with me. Lord Jesus Christ, I need you. I agree that I’m a sinner and have sinned in my thinking, and speaking, and actions. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I’ve counted the cost of following you, I repent and turn away from my past sins. I open the door of my life and receive you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be. Amen. And if you prayed with me, let me say well done. Welcome to the family of God. This weekend is the perfect time to begin your walk with Christ. Happy Easter. Christ is risen.
John: Mm-hmm. He is risen indeed. And if you prayed along with Jim, please stop by our website to download a free booklet called Coming Home. It explains more about what it means to be a Christian and offers some great next steps to grow in your faith. You’ll find that booklet, Coming Home at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or give us a call and we can tell you more. 800 the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Have a great Easter weekend and be sure to be back with us on Monday when Phil Yancey explains how Christians can reach out to those who are hurting.
Philip Yancey: We win people by saying I’m just like you, and I found something that satisfied deeply in my soul. And if you have ever experienced anything like this, if you’ve ever experienced confusion, pain, whatever, I, I know a place to go.