Because of the resurrection, hundreds of millions of people all around the world stop what they’re doing on Easter Sunday, and they go to a church. Some go to remember. Others go the rejoice. Still others go to recalibrate, to ponder the significance of the resurrection.
In an attempt to help us remember and rejoice and recalibrate this Easter, we will focus on four brief conversations Jesus had with people shortly after the miracle of his resurrection. Each of these conversations can be summed up with two words that carry every bit as much meaning to us in 2022 as they did to Jesus’ listeners in 33 A.D.
You don’t have to live very long in this world to learn that good news rarely comes from a graveyard.
But on the day that brings us together today, that’s precisely what happened.
Against all odds, good news burst forth from the grave when Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead.
And his resurrection changes everything.
By coming back from the dead, Jesus clearly distanced himself from all the other religious leaders throughout history who claim to be sent from God in some special way.
To this day, the tribute to their deception is a row of grave markers with ‘occupied’ signs hanging on them.
But Jesus’ tomb stands open and empty. And if you’ve seen it in person, as I have, the reality of his resurrection, the impact of that empty tomb, is overwhelming.
This is not religious folklore. This is historical fact.
It is documented. And it’s real.
And because of the implications of the resurrection, hundreds of millions of people all around the world stop what they’re doing on this holy day, and they go to a church.
Some go to remember.
Others go the rejoice.
Still others go to recalibrate — by that I mean to ponder the significance of the resurrection; to determine what impact the resurrection can have on our lives today in 2022.
Someone said to me recently, “Matt, I don’t doubt Jesus came back to life. I just want to know what difference it can make in my life.”
He was wondering if the good news from that graveyard two thousand years ago was just news, or if it was news that he could use in his everyday existence.
And you may be wondering that very same thing.
Well, in an attempt to help us remember and rejoice and maybe even help some of us recalibrate a little this Easter, I want to focus on four brief conversations Jesus had with people shortly after the miracle of his resurrection.
Each of these conversations can be summed up with two words that I think carry every bit as much meaning to us in 2022 as they did to Jesus’ listeners in 33 A.D.
The first conversation comes as the disciples, upon hearing the rumors that something strange had happened at Jesus’ tomb, raced to the place where Jesus had been buried.
In mid-stride they ran smack-dab into their resurrected Savior, which nearly resulted in fatal heart attacks for the whole group of them. In fact, the term ‘terrified’ would capture the feeling.
One of the writers of Scripture mentions that the disciples fell back, and stumbled all over each other.
In the middle of all that chaos, Jesus looked at his followers, and he said two words, “Fear not.”
Now, what adds punch to this first conversation is that this is not the first time Jesus had challenged his followers in this way.
I think I could build a pretty good case that one of the major objectives in Jesus’ three-year teaching ministry was to help his followers conquer the tyrannizing power of fear.
Now, I don’t have to spend much time convincing some of you how destructive and immobilizing fear can be.
I read an article recently about a young woman whose parents left her on a set of cold concrete steps when she was just three days old. They just walked away from her.
She was put in an institution for unwanted children, and she grew up there.
She described the terror of visitors’ day.
You see, visitors’ day meant a couple would be coming to check her out — to visit with her to determine whether or not they might want to adopt her.
Some of these couples would just talk with her.
Some would take her out for the day.
Some would even take her to their home over a weekend.
But all of those visitors eventually wound up doing the same awful thing to this young girl. They took her back to the institution, and they said, in effect, “Thanks, but no thanks. We don’t want you.”
This went on month after month and year after year, until the fear of another rejection ran so high in her that she became physically ill at the mere announcement of another upcoming visitors’ day.
I was choking back tears reading the article.
She said, “To this day, whenever anyone expresses interest in me, whenever anyone wants to get together with me, I’m terrified that at some point I’m going to hear those words again, ‘We don’t want you. Thanks, but no thanks.’”
Her life has been wrecked by fear.
Fear is powerful.
And it’s very real to a lot of people.
And you wouldn’t know it from the calm, polished exteriors that most of us project in a crowd like this, but if the truth were known today, many of us in this place are well acquainted with the suffocating effects of fear.
Maybe you feel the burden of financial pressure weighing heavier and heavier on you, and you’re scared.
Maybe you’re living with a physical or health-related fear. Like the young father I prayed with last week. He has brain cancer. He’s going through experimental treatment that wipes him out once a week, and it’s uncertain whether or not it’s making a difference. It’s life and death, and he’s scared.
Maybe you live with the aching fear that you might have to live alone for the rest of your life.
Maybe you have a fear of being caught. Maybe you’re involved in behavior that involves deception or is unethical — and you know you would be in big trouble if someone found out.
Maybe you fear dying because you know deep down you’re not ready in your relationship with God.
Fear is every bit as real to us today as it was for the disciples in the first century.
We can all relate to those pulse-quickening, stomach-turning stabs of terror that strike unannounced and leave us gasping for breath.
And on the very first Easter, our resurrected Savior said with greater authority than he ever had before, “Fear not.”
“Look at me,” he said. “I am back from the grave, for real. For three years I have challenged you to believe in me and to believe in my love for you. For three years I have asked you to choose faith over fear, and I have told you I will help you.
“I have challenged you to take off the heavy chains of fear that bind you, and now today, as you see for yourselves the unmistakable example of the power of God, I want you to realize once and for all that the very same power that brought me back from the grave is available to you. So fear not.”
That Easter and this Easter, the resurrected Jesus is saying, “Listen, people. You don’t have to cave in to every fearful thought that enters your mind. You don’t have to cave in to it anymore.
“You don’t have to manufacture elaborate horror stories about your future and then write yourself in as the hopeless victim. You don’t have to live constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“You can make the choice of faith over fear, and it’s a better way to live. You can believe the best about the kind of future a loving God would want for you, but please, Jesus cries, don’t settle for a life that’s tyrannized by fear, because really, that’s not much of a life at all.”
“Fear not,” Jesus said on the very first Easter.
I wonder if you needed to be here this Easter in 2022 just to hear those two words from the risen savior, “Fear not.”
I wonder how many of you need access to resurrection power in order to turn fear into faith in a specific area of your life so that you walk out of here this morning liberated from the tyrannizing power of fear.
Resurrection power is available to you today, if you will access it and act on it.
The second conversation happened because one of Jesus’ disciples had been absent when Jesus first appeared after the resurrection.
When the other disciples, with excitement, told him all about the resurrection, this disciple almost got sick to his stomach.
Finally he said, “Stop it. I’m not a fool. You can believe all you want in a resurrection, but it looks like I’ve already blown three years of my life. I’m not wasting one more day on anything associated with Jesus. It’s over. He’s dead. Don’t you get it? Let it go.”
And then in total frustration, he blurted out, “I would have to push my finger into the wounds on his hands and feet, and stick my arm into his side before I would ever believe in a resurrection.”
I think Peter probably wanted to ask Thomas how he really felt, but he probably held his tongue for the first time in his life.
Shortly after Thomas’ tirade, a group of people were gathered in a room, and all of a sudden Jesus appeared out of nowhere.
And it became very obvious to everyone that he wasn’t there just to join the fellowship. He was on a mission. He was looking around the room at each of the people, one at a time, like he was trying to find someone.
Then he locked eyes with Thomas.
Now, if I let my imagination run a little bit with this, I’m reminded of those old western movies where two guys square off in a saloon, and while they’re staring each other down, everyone else is diving behind tables and generally making themselves scarce because they know there’s going to be some action.
Well, I sort of picture Jesus squaring off in front of Thomas and the other disciples remembering Thomas’ doubting tirade a few days earlier.
And they’re fearing the worst for Thomas, so they’re sort of getting out of the way, thinking, “Oh man, is Thomas going to get it. He’s going to really regret opening his big mouth.”
And so they cover their eyes as Jesus walks up within a foot of Thomas’s face.
The room is deadly quiet, and then everyone hears Jesus say two words to Thomas, “Touch me.”
Not ‘beat it,’ not ‘drop dead,’ not ‘get out,’ not ‘go to hell,’ but ‘touch me.’
You see, those words communicated volumes about the character of Jesus Christ.
Thomas and the other disciples learned a lot about Jesus that day.
And I’m hoping you will learn something about Jesus today; namely, that he’s not angry or afraid of honest doubt.
In fact, he warmly invites any and all who have questions about him to come and to seek and to ask and to touch. He wants you to clear up the fog.
Which is sort of liberating, isn’t it? — How different Jesus is from all the narcissists who demand blind loyalty from followers and who disqualify anyone who has the audacity to doubt.
How different Jesus is from self-appointed gurus who seek to intimidate or brainwash unsuspecting people into following them.
Jesus says, “Touch me.”
That ought to be good news to you if you’ve come to this Easter service with more questions than answers, and with a lot more doubt than faith.
I think the resurrected Jesus has two words for you today, if you are carrying doubts — “Touch me.”
“Deal with your doubts. Don’t discount them or deny them or run away from them or bury them. Ask your questions. Do your homework. Consider the evidence.
“Read the Bible. Read secular history. Look at the facts. Listen to smart people who have devoted their lives to determine if the Christian faith is real or a pack of lies.
“Feel free to check it all out,” the resurrected Jesus says, but — and I think Jesus would add this tagline — “once you check it all out and you do your homework and you consider all the evidence, then act honorably. Don’t lie to yourself about your findings. Make a high integrity decision once you’ve done your homework. Do the right thing once you know the facts.”
That’s what Thomas did.
Thomas weighed the evidence, fell to his knees, and he said, “My Lord and my God, I believe in you.”
There are many, many people in this church who have honestly investigated for themselves what really happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday and how much evidence there really is to back up the claim that Jesus is God’s son, the only savior of the world.
I would urge those of you with questions and doubts to do the very same thing. Start your own personal search.
Need I remind you how sweeping the consequences are for deciding one way or the other about Jesus Christ?
I had a fascinating discussion with an atheist recently, and at the end of our conversation, he said, “Well, Matt, it’s obvious. You believe one way, and I believe a different way, so let’s just agree to disagree and leave it at that.”
And I said, “There’s only one problem. There is coming a day when we’re both going to find out who’s right. We’re both banking our lives and our eternal destinies on totally different alternatives, and they’re mutually exclusive. We both can’t be right on this. One of us is going to hit the jackpot, and the other is going to be an unhappy camper for eternity. We’re both going to find out who is right in just a short time, really.”
And so I said, “You know, I just want you to know — I’m not flying blind on this. I’ve done a lot of homework. I’ve probably read a hundred books on the evidence for Jesus Christ. I’ve done a lot of thinking and talking with people about it. I’ve weighed the evidence and have come to my conclusions on it. I just wonder if you’ve ever really done your homework.”
I could almost hear Jesus whispering to this guy, “Come on, touch me. Don’t just spout the party lines of a bunch of dead cynics. Seek honestly for once. Seek for yourself. Ask your toughest questions, but then deal honorably with the answers you get.
“If nail prints are all you need,” I could hear Jesus whisper, “I’ll show you mine, like I did to Thomas. I’ll reveal myself to you if you do your homework and search honestly and act honorably.”
I wonder how many of you need to hear those two words from the resurrected Jesus this morning, on Easter?
I wonder how many of you are way past due in dealing with your doubts about the Christian faith?
I wonder how many of you are just spouting off party lines that you’ve heard other people say and you’ve never really dug into the evidence for yourself to come to an honorable conclusion in and of your own right so that you can have strong convictions one way or the other about the Christian faith?
When are you going to do that?
My suggestion is that you take the time between this Easter and next Easter to resolve your doubts one way or the other, and do it honestly. Do your homework. Get a Bible and read it. Find some good books to read. Read evidence on all sides of the issues. Attend services here if you think that will help.
But as you’re doing your search to resolve your doubts, know this: The resurrected Jesus Christ is not afraid of your investigation. He welcomes it. He invites you to check him out, to touch him.
Alright, the third conversation that I want to highlight is a direct challenge that Jesus issued shortly after his resurrection.
He simply looked people in the eye, and he said without a hint of apology in his voice, “Follow me.”
“If you believe I’m God’s son, the resurrected savior of the world, then follow me.
Follow my example.
Follow my teachings.
Love people the way I love people.
Serve people the way I serve them.
Care for the poor the way I have.
Feed the hungry and visit the sick and lonely.
Remember forgotten people.
Share with the needy.
Lift up the downtrodden.
Lead high integrity lives.
Don’t cave in to lust or greed or pride.
Do my bidding, whatever I ask.
I’ll say it again, “Follow me.”
And in that day and in this day, whenever people hear a challenge like that coming from Jesus, oftentimes something inside of them wants to cry out, “I will. I know there’s no one else in the world worth following. I will follow you, wherever you lead, however you guide. Whatever you want me to do, I will follow you.”
But just when you’re ready to take that first step, there’s another voice that demands a hearing inside of you, isn’t there?
And this voice says, “Now, hold on. Just slow down a little bit. Think this over. You’ve got one life to live; it’s almost half over, and you’re actually contemplating submitting what’s left of it to a leader you can’t see or hear or talk to directly? Oh, that’s good. The lottery is a better gamble than that. Get a grip on yourself. This is your one and only life you’re rolling the dice with.”
Then comes the kicker. I’m sure you’ve heard this voice before. The voice says:
“You commit to following Jesus Christ, and you can kiss your freedom, your individuality, your sense of adventure and any hope for fulfillment in this life… just kiss it goodbye.
“Because what he’s looking for is a bunch of low-life, look-alike, act-alike losers who don’t have anything better to do with their lives anyway.”
And the voice says, “That’s not you. You’ve got a lot to live for. You’ve got brains and talent and potential; places to go, things to do, goals you want to achieve. So whatever you do, stop this foolish talk about falling in line and following Christ. It’s religious nonsense. He doesn’t care about you anyway.”
Am I the only one who ever hears that voice?
I’ve got to make a choice everyday about who I’m going to follow.
There are times when I’m ready to do something courageous to follow Christ, and I hear that voice saying, “Don’t do it, you’re a fool. You’ll lose more than you gain.”
Am I the only one who hears that?
How do you deal with that voice?
Well, the resurrected Savior of the world stands before you and me, saying, “Follow me. Trust me. Obey me. Cooperate with my plan. And if you do, you will be richly rewarded a hundred times in this life and all throughout eternity. I promise. But follow me.”
And that pesky little voice keeps chattering, “It’s a scam. Don’t do it.”
So what do you do?
My strongest counsel for you on this Easter 2022 is to take a risk every day of your life and follow Christ. Follow him.
Find out for yourself if he’s going to really come through for you and back up his promise.
Find out for yourself if his love is real, if his counsel is wise, if his wisdom is true, and if his plan for your life is good. But find out.
I heard a man once lament the fact that Christianity is not untrue; it’s just widely untried. I agree with him.
I wonder if you’re willing to climb down from the fence of indecision today and say to the living Christ, “Alright, starting today, I will follow you. I will. I don’t want to go to my grave, never having honestly attempted to follow you fully. So starting today, I will.
“I’ll need your help. I’ll need your patience and power, but to the best of my ability from this day forward, I’m going to honor you in everything I do.
I’m going to trust you.
I’m going to obey your word.
I’m going to respond to your promptings.
I’m going to stop what you tell me to stop doing.
I’m going to start to do what you tell me to start doing.
I’m going to follow you flat out, Lord, and find out for myself if you will back up your promise with blessing, and if your plan for my life is a good one. I’ll take the risk. I’ll follow you.”
I have a feeling you may be here today, Easter 2022, to hear those two words.
Maybe you’ve just strayed from the path over the years. You didn’t mean to. You just wound up over on the gravel somewhere, and you’re not following after Christ as closely as you once did.
Or maybe you’ve never taken that risk.
Are you going to go to your grave never having fully attempted to follow Christ, to find out if what he said was true?
Maybe today you would say for the first time, “I’m going to make a total commitment to following Christ,” and just find out what happens.
I’ve got good news for you if you’re willing to take that risk. It’s news from the writers of Scripture, from my personal experience, from watching people for over twenty five years of being a pastor — Christ honors those who follow after him fully. He does.
He gives them a new kind of freedom, better than the freedom the world offers.
He gives them a mission, he gives them a purpose, he gives them a sense of adventure, and he gives them soul satisfaction.
Follow Christ. Follow him, and find out for yourself if it’s true.
Let me briefly mention two more words that came from a conversation Jesus had just before his ascension — when he looked with earnestness in his eyes at his followers, and he said, “Go out.”
“Go out into the whole world and spread the news that moral failures can be made right with God because of what I did on the cross.
“Repentant sinners can find forgiveness, and the shame and guilt can be removed.
“Alienated men and women can be reconciled to God and walk with him closely.
“Go out, and as you go out and spread the news, people will respond. They will. If you’re willing to go out, people will respond.
“Then you will be doing your part in bringing about a kind of worldwide renewal.”
As you can imagine, the eyes of Jesus’ followers were probably like saucers.
“What, Lord? Worldwide renewal through us? That’s a huge vision. I mean, what a challenge! That’s worth getting out of bed for every day. You would use us for that?”
I’m reminded of the story of Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple, who realized that the incredible growth of the company necessitated hiring an experienced executive who could provide overall leadership for the company.
So young Steve Jobs went after a seasoned top executive with Pepsi Cola Company named John Scully.
After wining and dining Scully and getting the sinking feeling that he probably wasn’t going to leave Pepsi to come run Apple, Jobs finally took Scully to an apartment overlooking Central Park in downtown New York. He tried one last time to get Scully to come to Apple, but it wasn’t looking good.
So finally, in a last-ditch effort, Steve looked Scully right in the eye and he said to him, “Are you telling me you’re going to settle for selling sugar water the rest of your life when you could lead a company that could change the world?”
Scully wrote in a book years later that that challenge knocked the wind out of him and eventually caused him to leave Pepsi and join Apple.
Like John Scully, every single person in this place is wired up by God to resonate with the challenge of bringing change to the world.
But I got to tell you, iphones will never impact the world as much as leading someone into a personal relationship with Christ. Believe me.
When a love-starved person is introduced to the love of God for the first time.
When a lonely person finally experiences the richness of the companionship of Christ.
When a shame-filled guilty person finally finds forgiveness in Christ.
When a wandering person suddenly finds a purpose for his life.
That’s huge, and it creates transformation in the life of an individual.
And a powerful chain reaction is then set in motion.
That transformed person begins to touch other people in his life.
A husband affects his wife.
Parents affect their children.
Friends tell friends.
Co-workers tell their colleagues.
And little networks of Christ followers are formed.
Then churches are established and ministries are launched that really touch people, and pretty soon change is breaking out all over the place.
The poor get cared for.
The hungry get fed.
The sick get visited.
The lonely people get loved.
Needy people get served.
Wounded people start becoming whole.
And before you know it, that corner of the world is changing a little bit.
But that chain reaction has to be initiated by someone who’s willing to go out, someone who’s willing to step out of the shadows and create some action for Christ, someone willing to say a word for the risen Christ in a lost and confused world.
In a very real way, worldwide change hinges on those two words — “Go out.”
I have a feeling, maybe you needed to be here today just to hear the resurrected Jesus say to you, “Go out.”
Don’t settle for spending the rest of your life selling sugar water.
There’s something more important to be done on the planet than just making a living, buying some trinkets and toys, and going to bed at night.
With the help of God, with an authentic faith, with courage to go out, every single person here can be that someone who sets in motion a chain reaction that will change a little corner of your world.
But maybe for you this morning, you need to say, “This is the day when I plant my feet down and say, ‘God, with your help, I’ll go out. I will. In my corner of my world, with your help, I’ll start that chain reaction, and we will do something a whole lot more important than sell sugar water.’”
Are you ready to go out?
What’s a higher calling?
What would give you greater fulfillment than starting a chain reaction that will change a corner of the world?
Four conversations — four two-word statements from the resurrected Savior.
I don’t know which one you needed to hear today, but I’ll bet you needed to hear at least one of them.
Maybe you needed to hear “fear not.”
You need resurrection power today to turn fear into faith in a particular area of your life. Do it!
Maybe you needed to hear “touch me.”
Maybe you needed to be challenged to mark today as the starting date when you’re going to resolve your doubts, weigh the evidence and act honorably with the outcome.
Maybe you needed to hear “follow me” because you’ve drifted off the path.
Maybe you needed to hear “go out.”
Start a chain reaction that will change your world.
I just pray that whatever you needed to hear, God would underline that in your life, and you would take action on it today.
Let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church