by Michael Smith
A SURE AND CERTAIN HOPE
Please read John 20:1-30 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Many people these days don't think about death unless they have to, or decide to make a will, and those who do talk about it are often criticised for being 'morbid'. But this is rather strange because we usually spend time and effort preparing for other significant events in our lives: weddings, the birth of a child, holidays, a new job, retirement, or moving house. Some of the things we think about and plan for never actually come about, but one thing is certain: everyone is going to die. So it seems odd that some folk don't think about death or plan for it; even as they get older and their time left on earth is getting shorter.
Some people ask, "What's the point?". There are several reasons for this question: One is that death is inevitable whether we plan for it or not, "so let's just get on with living while we can and deal with death when our 'time is up'." Another is fear; fear of what may lead to or cause death - sickness, pain, disability, etc., or fear of what awaits us after we die. Or there is the view that death is the end and then we cease to exist and so there is no need to think about what happens after death (though even that view should surely still not deter us from considering organising funeral arrangements and a will in order to spare grieving relatives the added pain of trying to sort out the affairs of a departed loved one). Not knowing can be frightening, understandably, so we push thinking about death to the back of our minds. But not thinking about something doesn't make it go away, and we may be forced to face the fact of death at a family funeral or during a serious illness.
For the Christian the story is different. Though there may indeed be apprehension about events leading to dying, especially if from an increasingly debilitating or painful terminal illness, or when facing the kinds of cruel deaths suffered by many Christian martyrs through the centuries, yet there is not the same fear or dread - or denial - of death. It is not stoicism or mere bravado; Christians can face death with an equanimity and a peace unable to be experienced by unbelievers because Christians have a sure and certain hope.
Often when we say we hope something will happen, we mean it would be good if it did; for example, 'I hope it won't rain tomorrow', 'I hope to visit my relatives next week', 'I hope my football team wins on Saturday', or 'I hope you enjoy your holiday next month'. But hope for the Christian means something different. When used in connection with life after death, we mean something we are SURE about. In a Christian funeral service the Minister will say, "We commit this body to the ground in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to life eternal through our Lord Jesus Christ." The non-believer has no such hope or certainty, and I have taken many funerals where there is terrible heartache and great despair at the loss of the loved one with all hope gone of ever seeing them again.
You ask, how can a Christian be so sure? Our confidence about the future comes from something that happened in the past which is of fundamental importance to every single person who has ever lived and died: on a Friday afternoon approximately 2000 years ago Jesus Christ died by being crucified on a cross but three days later was fully alive again. This may seem impossible because dead people - usually - remain dead. The first Christians living at that time had the same objection, but they could say, "No longer is death the end! We have seen the risen Lord! We have spoken with Him, eaten with Him, walked the roads with Him, and touched His wounds!" These first Christians had fled into hiding when the Lord was arrested, they denied knowing Him, and they too were heartbroken and despairing at the loss of their loved one, thinking they would never see Jesus again, because, well, dead people remain dead.
But within three days of His death they were transformed; no longer frightened, no longer hiding themselves away behind locked doors for fear of the Roman authorities, they were suddenly confident and purposeful, boldly saying, "Look at us".
WHY? They realised that Jesus had overcome death. His sinless life had conquered death for the sinful. He had defeated death, and soon a true saying spread; "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" These first Christians now realised that their loved ones who died "in the Lord" actually lived on in God's nearer presence and that one day they would go and join them. Death no longer was the final dreadful parting, but only a temporary separation.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central theme in the message of the New Testament, and is a basic belief in order to be saved. It is simply this: Jesus died on the cross and rose again on the third day bearing the marks of His crucifixion.
On the cross Jesus completely reversed the results of the fall in the Garden of Eden. He took the judgement that should have been ours and paid the price for every one of our sins. Our sins were washed away; His blood shed at Calvary cleanses us from ALL sin . And because His sacrifice was perfect and complete God the Father accepted His sacrifice, death was defeated, and the Lord rose from the grave victorious to live ever more. Praise God!
But if Jesus had not risen from the dead, there would be no means of
salvation. There would be no cleansing of sins, no gift of eternal life, no
Christian faith, no New Testament (or, indeed, much of the Old), no
Church, and only a skeleton of the Judeo-Christian tradition,
culture, or laws upon which most Western nations are based.
Man would be hopelessly lost in every way; living in a hell on earth
and going to hell after death.
Evidences for the Resurrection
Some years ago, Frank Morison, a lawyer, decided to disprove the resurrection, which he believed to be just a fairytale. To his amazement, he discovered that the more closely he examined the evidence, the more clearly it pointed to the fact that Jesus really had risen from the dead and was alive for ever more. He ended up writing a book titled Who Moved the Stone? which has since become a best-seller, leading to the transformation of many folk from sceptics into believers.
For those who doubt the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is the evidence of the original disciples to consider, as we saw above. They were so fearful of the Roman authorities after the Lord's crucifixion that they shut themselves in behind locked doors. Yet after Jesus appeared to them having conquered death, they changed completely and went out boldly sharing the gospel with others - being even willing to die rather than deny Christ.
Jesus appeared to many of His disciples and conversed with them following His death and resurrection: firstly, to Mary Magdalene at the tomb , to Peter and to James , to two disciples as they travelled on the road to Emmaus , to the eleven apostles on several occasions , to "five hundred brethren at once" , and to the apostle Paul , and of course at His Ascension into heaven . If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then ALL these disciples were deliberately lying and spreading falsehoods. Even before He died and rose again, the Lord proved to those willing to see, that He had the gift of eternal life within Himself by restoring to life three people .
Then there is the testimony of angels . Also after the Lord's resurrection many Old Testament saints were seen , and at the Mount of Transfiguration Moses and Elijah were recognised by Peter, James, and John, as being with Jesus even though they had died many hundreds of years previously . All these witnesses are sure evidences of the Lord Jesus' defeat of and control over death.
Added to these are the millions of Christians through the succeeding centuries who also bear witness to their changed lives as a result of the risen Lord Jesus. Countless of these believers have also been willing to suffer and die the most horrible deaths as martyrs because they knew that Jesus is alive, and had faith in His promise that those who believe on Him will likewise be raised from death to eternal life.
And of course, we must ask why, if the Lord remained in the grave, was His body not produced by the many unbelievers who would obviously very much want to refute all these testimonies? Roman guards had been placed at the entrance to the tomb and they had seen no sign of the Lord's body being stolen away by the disciples, so surely it was still inside?... No, the gospel accounts of the resurrection have about them the ring of truth, and the Lord's body was never produced by any of His detractors.
NOT ONE OTHER 'GREAT' RELIGIOUS LEADER HAS EVER BEEN ABLE TO DEFEAT DEATH.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the ONLY conqueror of this fearful and terrible enemy of mankind. We no longer need fear death and can receive God's gift of eternal life by faith when we believe all that Jesus did for us at Calvary.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23)
Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel (1 Timothy 2:8)
Jesus said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20)
Christians know death is not the end because of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and we know where we are going to spend eternity because He has promised us eternal life with Him, and we know we can believe Him because He has proved His Word is true. The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. It tells us that as Jesus overcame death, so anyone who believes on Him and trusts in Him will also share in His amazing victory and live beyond the grave. It is a sure and certain hope.
The first Christians witnessed the risen Lord. They certainly weren't lying; their changed lives and martyrdoms are the evidence for the truth of what they had seen and experienced. The same goes for the many millions more down the succeeding centuries who have likewise met the risen Lord Jesus, who have experienced transformed lives, and who have been prepared to die for their belief in His death and resurrection and His wonderful, precious gift of eternal life.
There isn't one single person who cannot be in that number if they choose to believe in Jesus Christ and accept what He did for them on Calvary. Not tomorrow, but TODAY is the day of salvation, as the Scripture says:
"To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Hebrews 3:15)
 1 John 1:7b.  Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18.  1 Corinthians 15:5a,7a.  Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35.  Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-29; John 21:1-24; Acts 1:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:5b,7b.  1 Corinthians 15:6.  1 Corinthians 15:8.  Acts 1:6-11.  Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 7:11-17; John 11:1-45.  Matthew 28:2-7.  Matthew 27:51-53.  Luke 9:28-36.
© Michael Smith 2013