Faithlife Sermons

Too good to be true?

The Gospel of Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Hi - my name’s Matt and I’m one of the leaders here at Hope City. It’s my privilege this Easter Sunday to help us to learn together from the bible.
It’s hard to know what reports to believe in the midst of this current crisis, isn’t it?
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Is the Easter Bunny exempt from the lockdown? New Zealand’s PM has declared it so. And if you got any eggs, perhaps that’s true!
Will the US be open for business again by Easter? Cutting it real fine, Mr Trump.
Is China all sorted now? Maybe. But maybe we should just wait a little longer and see first.
Will we hit 100k tests/day by the end of April? Well perhaps - but judging by this chart, it’s not looking likely.
Is a COVID vaccine imminent? I hope and pray so, but it does seem very doubtful given it’s not on the BBC yet.
Is China all sorted now? Maybe. But maybe we should just wait a little longer and see first.
Is a COVID vaccine imminent? I hope and pray so, but it does seem very doubtful given it’s not on the BBC yet.
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Too good to be true? In a world filled with fake news, bombastic pronouncements, and overoptimistic predictions, it’s often wise to be sceptical. Not to reject things outright, you understand, but just to be careful what you accept, to be cautious, withhold judgement - you know, “the jury’s out, let’s wait and see” -type thinking. “I’d like some more evidence, some more data” -type thinking. I want to hear it from a trusted source. Let’s see where this story goes...
The bigger the claim - the bigger the story, well, the more sceptical it seems like we should be, right?
“it’s dinnertime!” - is it really? could dinner be ready? should I come right away? how much evidence do I have? A call for dinnertime shouldn’t need that much evidence, shouldn’t make us that sceptical. It happens most days. There’s good smells. It’s probably dinner.
But a cure for COVID? That’s a big claim, a big story. We would be right to be very sceptical if someone told us crystals or whisky or masks could do that.
It’s Easter time just now and that’s the point in the Christian year when we focus particularly on Jesus’ death on the cross, and on his resurrection - so it shouldn’t surprise you that we’re going to take a close look at one of the accounts in the bible of Jesus’ resurrection today. What might surprise you, though, is just how sceptical Jesus’ closest followers were about the whole thing - though when you think about it, you can understand why.
Jesus’ claim he would rise from the dead on the third day is HUGE, make no mistake. Let’s not be naive about that - people don’t just rise from the dead, and they didn’t 2,000 years ago either. People who die stay dead. Resurrection is a huge claim - so it seems logical to be hugely sceptical - like we’ll see his followers back then were sceptical.
Now Jesus’ claim he would rise from the dead on the third day is HUGE, make no mistake. Let’s not be naive about that - people don’t just rise from the dead, and they didn’t 2,000 years ago either. People who die stay dead. Resurrection is a huge claim - so it seems logical to be hugely sceptical. so the key question I want us to think about today is this: how sceptical should we be?
It’s hard
Should you believe reports of Jesus’ resurrection?
The key question I want us to think about today as we explore this story together is whether you and I should be too. Does wisdom demand we be sceptical of Jesus’ resurrection?
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Let’s start by hearing the bible’s telling of the story as recorded by Luke, a 1st century doctor. If you have a bible, we’re in Luke chapter 24 and we’re reading verses 1 to 12. If you want to use the one built into our church online platform, that should just be a click away. Luke chapter 24, starting at verse 1. Over to Rachel.
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So that’s Luke’s telling of the very first report of Jesus’ resurrection. Should you believe it? Or, since it’s a huge claim, is it wiser to be a sceptic, to remain a sceptic? Does wisdom demand we be sceptical of Jesus’ resurrection? That’s our question today.
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Now the story we’ve just read shows us it’s easy to be sceptical that Jesus really rose from the dead - it’s easy to be sceptical even if you’ve been told it was going to happen.
See Jesus had told his disciples - including these women - a number of times that although he would die, he wasn’t going to stay dead. In verse 6 we just read: “remember how he told you, while he was still you in in Galilee: ‘the Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” If we looked back through the four recountings of Jesus’ life in the bible, we’d see Jesus speaking to his followers a good number of times about this.
But when you’ve seen him nailed to a cross, watched in despair as he breathed his last, when you’ve seen his body taken down and placed in a tomb, it seems pretty hard to believe Jesus’ claim. He’s told them these things - but still they prepared spies and perfumes for that dead body…
But it’s not just easy to be sceptical of Jesus’ resurrection when you’re told it’s going to happen - It’s easy to be sceptical even when you’re told it has happened.
The women go to the tomb with their plans to dress Jesus’ dead body - but instead find the circular stone which covered the entrance to the tomb rolled away. They’re shocked to find angels rather than a body! What they make of the angels’ declaration, “he has risen!”, isn’t spelled out for us except that it sends them rushing back to the disciples. But the gathered disciples’ response to the women’s breathless report is: Verse 11 “they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Like the ravings of someone ravaged by fever. Ridiculous. Inconceivable. Fake news.
And consider this: this isn’t just some random website the disciples have stumbled upon, or an article in some minor newspaper they’ve never heard of, the Bethlehem Reporter. This is women they have travelled with for months, perhaps years, as a part of Jesus’ entourage. Now perhaps they think the women have been overcome by emotion, had a group hallucination or something. But however we frame it, these disciples have been told Jesus’ resurrection is going to happen, and now they’ve been told it has happened. And still they are massively sceptical: “they did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
But the story we read takes this one step further: it’s easy to be sceptical of Jesus’ resurrection even if you’ve seen evidence yourself that it has happened.
Peter, so often first to jump into the action, is at it again: he runs to the tomb the moment he hears the women’ strange report. And what does he find there? verse 12 - “strips of linen lying by themselves.” There’s a particular word used in the original language there which identifies these strips specifically as the kind used to wrap dead bodies. Strips of linen - but no body.
What does Peter make of that? Does he believe the women’s report of resurrection? “he went away,” Luke tells us, “wondering to himself what had happened.” He’s a sceptic - plain and simple. Perhaps not as sceptical as the other disciples who, so it seems, don’t even bother to investigate, but he’s still a sceptic. Resurrection? Perhaps...
What’s my point here? If you struggle to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, others have struggled before you. It is hard to believe. Because, generally speaking, people who die stay dead - there’s lots and lots of evidence of that in every graveyard everywhere. Sadly, there’s lots of evidence of that day after day in the huge numbers on the news - each one a precious life: loved, missed, mourned.
It is hard to believe - people who die stay dead - lots + lots of evidence of that in every graveyard everywhere. Sadly lots of evidence of that day after day in the huge numbers on the news - each one a precious life, loved, missed, mourned.
It’s easy to believe in death, surrounded by so much evidence - it’s much harder to believe in resurrection. It was hard to believe for those first followers of Jesus - followers who heard him say amazing things, who saw him do amazing things. It’s hard for us today. Resurrection is a big claim, so logic says we should be sceptical.
But I want to challenge you not to stop there. I want to challenge you not to be satisfied with being a sceptic. We can feel very clever, very sophisticated when our scepticism keeps us from swallowing something that’s simply not true, when it helps us keep our intellectual distance from a hoax. We can wear our scepticism with pride and feel very superior for it. But it cuts the other way too: when our scepticism makes us too slow to embrace what’s true, that can be deadly.
Let me be honest: I was pretty sceptical of this whole corona virus thing to start with. I was pretty confident it’d just be another flash-in-the-pan panic blown out of all proportion by the media - like SARS or bird flu or swine flu or Ebola. I was slow to react, reluctant to start preparing. And I was wrong - here we are in week three of lockdown with thousands of people dead. Good thing I’m not in charge, right?
Scepticism helps us keep our distance from a lie - but it can keep us distant from the truth, too.
Now I could throw some more evidence at you today, to try and change the balance of data in your head, try and win over your scepticism. I could talk about how these eleven sceptical disciples would become so convinced of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection that they’d all be willing to die in unpleasant ways for it. I could talk about how the enemies of this new movement were unable to shut it down in the days and weeks that followed - all they’d have needed to do was display Jesus’ still-dead body. I could talk about how these followers of Jesus, declaring resurrection central to their faith, would turn the whole Roman Empire upside down over the next 300 years - and that despite waves of terrifying persecution. I could talk about a long list of eminent philosophers, thinkers, scientists, businessmen and artists who came to the conclusion resurrection was a fact all across these last two thousand years. I could point you to friends and family around you, people you know and love, who have overcome this scepticism. There’s lots of evidence if you’re willing to consider it - as a church, we’d love to share more evidence with you.
But I want to take a different track today. Resurrection is a big claim - so logic says we should be sceptical - as these disciples first encountering the report of Jesus’ resurrection were. Scepticism helps us keep our distance from a lie - but it can keep us distant from the truth, too. Evidence can help - but it’s not always decisive. There’s another factor which can change the calculation, though. Picture this:
Resurrection is a big claim - so logic says we should be sceptical. But that’s not the only thing to consider here: it’s also something we desperately need - and perhaps that changes the calculation. Picture this:
Resurrection is a big claim - so logic says we should be sceptical. But that’s not the only thing to consider here: it’s also something we desperately need - and perhaps that changes the calculation. Picture this:
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Imagine you’ve gone to visit a desert country - back in the days when you could still go places, of course. Imagine you’re there - and, rather unwisely, you’ve decided to head out into the desert for a stroll by yourself. You have have your phone and some water with you - you’re prepared - and so you set off confidently over the dunes. But, a while later, you suddenly stumble at the top of one sand dune, lose your footing, and tumble down, head over heels. You manage to knock yourself out on the one solitary rock there is out there in the dunes, just at the bottom of that hill.
When you come to, with a mouthful of sand, first instinct is to reach for your phone - but it’s out of batteries. You’re parched with thirst but there are just drops left in your water bottle. Looking around, you can’t see any sign of your tracks; the wind must have blown sand over them. All you can see is dune after dune stretching away in every direction. It quickly dawns on you that you’re in serious trouble. In fact, you probably have just hours left in the blazing sun before you’ll die.
Can you feel the heat? Is your throat a little dry? Does panic begin to rise?
Now imagine this: imagine a bottle of water just drops out of the sky and lands right in front of you. Impossible you think. Ridiculous. But you see it there, just in front of you, all the same. It looks to be cold, even, as it stands glistening in the sand. Impossible. At least fantastically unlikely - perhaps somehow it fell out of a passing aeroplane.
Thirsty, lost in the desert. Water from the sky? impossible says the sceptic in us all. But tell me: if you’re dying, would you still reach out for it?
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The bible tells us we’ve distanced ourselves from God by following our own path rather than his. It tells us that the path we’ve taken leads nowhere other than to death in the end. Jesus’ resurrection, if we’re just willing to reach out and take hold of it, is the guarantee of a new start for every life, a path back towards God rather than away from him. The bible tells us Jesus walked God’s way his whole life - and yet he died when he should have lived. It tells us he did that in our place - so we could live when we should have died.
Don’t believe it, says the sceptic in us all. But if our only alternative is death, maybe it’s worth fighting that, and daring to believe instead, and to reach out?
Maybe it’s worth suspending that scepticism
Maybe it’s worth suspending that scepticism
But here’s the thing: water/desert
Easy to believe distantly, vaguely - hard when it’s up close and personal
It’s a big claim, so we should be sceptical. But on the other hand, there is quite a bit of evidence
Easy to believe in death - harder to believe in new life
But Jesus’ death
Maybe it’s worth suspending that scepticism
It’s a big claim, so we should be sceptical. But on the other hand, there is quite a bit of evidence
Maybe it’s worth suspending that scepticism
But maybe it’s worth suspending that scepticism
Blaise Pascal was a famous seventeenth century French mathematician. He pictured this as making a bet with our life, choosing how to respond to the bible’s claims.
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We can let our inner sceptic lead, and choose to doubt, or we could dare to believe - we all have to take a position, to place a bet. And then the day will come when all will be revealed. If you’re right to doubt, you’ve not missed anything. That water bottle wasn’t real. You were going to die in the desert anyway. The one who believed, believed in vain - nothing there. No resurrection.
But if you’re wrong - if the one who believes is right - then you’ve lost everything. Died with water right in front of you. Died when you could have lived - lived forever.
This Easter, when death is close at hand, reject scepticism. Dare to believe Jesus rose - and you will too.
the outcomeAnd then he says we can consider
, or bet betting our life on whether we believe or not. a 2-by-2 grid where the columns
Easy to believe distantly, vaguely - hard when it’s up close and personal
Easy to believe distantly, vaguely - hard when it’s up close and personal
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