Sunday: Sixth Sunday of Easter
Preacher: The Rev’d Jonathan Turtle
Readings: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
Last week a friend of mine shared an article on Facebook entitled Why God Matters. The author suggested that the most pressing matter facing the church today was to give an answer to this question. Does God matter? If so, why?
Here during these fifty days of Easter I’d like to put an Easter spin on it. Not just “does God matter?” but “does the resurrection matter?” On Tuesday we started a new parish bible study on the book of Acts (you’re welcome to join us on Tuesdays at 7:30pm). Already in the first few chapters we’re seeing how the resurrection of Jesus from the dead transformed the life of the early Christians. It was as if after the resurrection a new way of life had been opened to them and they were suddenly playing by a different set of rules. Simply put, the life of the early Christians—and generations of Christians following them—only made sense because of the resurrection of Jesus. How about us? Does your life still make sense apart from the resurrection? Does the resurrection matter? Does it make a difference?
Well I hope this comes as no surprise to you but this morning I want to suggest that the resurrection of Jesus does matter and make a difference. And sure, our lives may not always reflect that difference well—such is the nature of sin—but even still it’s a compelling difference that we are called to think about, and live, and articulate. So here are three reasons why the resurrection matters: 1) the resurrection means that God can be known, 2) the resurrection means that God is capable of saving us, and 3) the resurrection means that our faith can endure.
The resurrection means that God can be known. In our reading from Acts the Apostle Paul is called before the intellectual and moral authorities of Athens and he’s asked to give an account of this new teaching that he has been promoting: “It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means,” they say (17:20).
And Paul basically says, “The God who made everything and us for himself, who needs nothing because he lacks nothing but who himself gives life to every human being, the God who has no contemporaries or equals, who cannot be bound to a temple, whose image we cannot even begin to imagine, this God longs to be known and has indeed made himself known.” And the sign by which Paul says we can be sure of this is the man Jesus Christ who has been raised from the dead. In other words, for Paul the resurrection is proof that the unknowable can be known.
A recent study published by researchers at the University of Copenhagen showed that during this pandemic Google searches for “prayer” have skyrocketed around the world. They found that for every 80,000 new registered cases of COVID-19 the intensity of Google searches for “prayer” doubled. Likewise The Guardian published an article a couple of weeks ago that said a quarter of adults in the UK have tuned into religious services online during the pandemic and that one in twenty have started praying.
Why is this? I submit that it is because human beings are wired for something more. We might not know what that “something more” is. Or maybe we have some vague notion that this “something more” is God but it’s unclear how we might know this God. Whatever the case it seems that when we’re confronted with our mortality, when we face up to the fact that we have a beginning and an end, then we start to search. That’s the whole reason why we’ve been given this life says Paul. So that we would search for God and perhaps find him.
If you’re watching this morning and you’ve somehow landed on this broadcast because you Googled “prayer” I want you to know that this “something more” can be known. God is not far from you. You are because he is. And he has come to you in Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead and you can get to know him chiefly in the Bible, in prayer, and in the Church. Pray to him and ask him to open your mind and your heart to know and love him. The resurrection means that God can be known.
The resurrection also means that God is capable of saving us. God doesn’t just want to be known as if all we were lacking was some important information. God wants to be with us and he wants us to be with him (Jn 14:17, 20). God wants you to be with him. This is what salvation means, to know God and to enjoy him forever.
And the good news is that God has already taken the initiative and done everything that is required for this to happen and he has done so in Jesus Christ. Think back to our second lesson that Morgan read. What did Peter say there: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive,” (1 Pe 3:18). In other words, by his death and resurrection Jesus took everything that gets in the way of us knowing God and being with him and he removed it. And now when anyone at all turns to him they are saved “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pe 3:21).
Not only can God be known but you can be with him. You can know him as your Father and be known as his beloved child, indeed that is who you are (Jn 14:18). You can live in God and he in you. You can know his presence and friendship. And all because of the resurrection: “Because I live,” Jesus says, “you also will live,” (Jn 14:19). The resurrection means that God is capable of saving us.
Finally, the resurrection means that our faith can endure. In a word, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ, not even death. Which means that you have nothing to fear, not even death. Because Jesus Christ is risen. If Christ is dead then our faith and hope are dead but because Christ lives our faith and hope live. The object of our faith and hope has passed through death and come out the other side therefore there is nothing that our faith cannot endure.
Both Peter and Paul are good examples of this. Peter’s letter, which we heard read from, is addressed to churches all over Asia-Minor (modern day Turkey). These Christians were facing hostility and persecution for their faith so Peter writes to encourage them. And the foundation of his encouragement is, you guessed it, the resurrection.
He begins by reminding them that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead God has given them a new birth into a living hope (1:3). Some of the same themes that we’ve been hearing already this morning. Then in the passage we heard he basically goes on to say, “Don’t fear or be intimidated by your persecutors. This is what they did to Jesus and his suffering brought about your present hope!” In other words, suffering can purify your faith and make it more genuine by burning away distractions and reminding you of your true hope. It can also make your faith bolder by clarifying the mission that Jesus has given us.
It’s this boldness that we see in Paul before the Areopagus in Athens. Christians are being persecuted even to the point of death and Paul is called to give an account of the Christian message. But instead of cowering he boldly proclaims the gospel of the risen Jesus Christ. Because he knows that if Jesus lives then he has nothing to fear. The resurrection means that our faith can endure.
Does the resurrection matter? It sure does. It makes all the difference in the world because it means that God can be known, and that he can save us, and that our faith can endure anything the world might throw at us.