Sermon title: FROM DOUBT TO FAITH
Immanuel Baptist Church – April 1, 2018
The message of Easter is that Christ is risen.
Our Lord Jesus died on the cross for our sins on Friday.
He was buried,
and then rose again the third day.
His resurrection gives us new life now
and the hope of eternal life with him
in heaven forever.
This Easter message is wonderful.
It’s the miracle of miracles.
The Easter message is joyful.
Our sins are forgiven
by a risen, living Savior.
The Easter message is more than we could have hoped for.
But is it also more than we can believe?
Is your joy at Easter
tempered by nagging doubts?
While you share in Easter festivities
with family and friends,
is your joy clouded over
by questions and doubts?
Somewhere in the back of your mind,
are you thinking,
“Could that really have happened?”
“Did the story get exaggerated over time?”
“Why can’t I have faith, like other people?”
It’s important to believe Christ rose from the dead.
All of Christianity hangs on
this being a true historical fact.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians[ OPEN ]
at 1 Corinthians 15:14,
“If Christ has not been raised,
our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
But, what if you have doubts?
Don’t give up. Don’t despair! I say that because
Jesus’ Apostles Peter, James, John and the rest
also wrestled with doubt.
But their doubts were erased by solid evidence.
By the time Good Friday came to an end,
everyone knew that Jesus had died on the cross.
The Gospel of John, Chapter 19, makes that very clear. [ OPEN ]
We’re going to read,
beginning at John 19:31.
But I should mention first that
Jesus was executed by professionals.
The Roman soldiers who crucified him
were trained professionals.
Their expertise was in crucifying criminals.
They were accustomed to watching men die,
and they knew when they were really dead.
And they took their job seriously—
not because the pay was great,
but because of the penalty for failure.
A soldier who allowed a prisoner to escape
had to pay with his own life.
Similarly, if a soldier tasked with performing an execution
allowed the condemned man to escape alive
the soldier himself would have been executed.
Our Lord Jesus had already been
hanging on the cross for hours,
and had already died,
when we pick up the chain of events
at John 19:31.
It was late Friday afternoon,
the day of preparation for the Jewish Sabbath,
which would begin at sundown.
John 19:31 says,
31 Now it was the day of Preparation,
and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.
Because the Jews did not want the bodies
left on the crosses during the Sabbath,
they asked Pilate to have the legs broken
and the bodies taken down.
A man hanging from a Roman cross for hours
would have a difficult time breathing.
With his arms and chest exhausted from the ordeal,
he would need to push himself up by his legs—
despite the awful pain that would involve—
just to take another breath.
The Romans usually left condemned individuals
to suffer through that, as long as it would take,
until they could breathe no more.
But when the bodies needed to be taken down for some reason—
the Jewish Sabbath in this case—
they would break the men’s legs,
so that they could
no longer lift themselves up to breathe.
John 19 continues in Verse 32,
32 The soldiers therefore came
and broke the legs of the first man
who had been crucified with Jesus,
and then those of the other.
33 But when they came to Jesus
and found that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs.
34 Instead, one of the soldiers
pierced Jesus' side with a spear,
bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
The Apostle John, who later wrote this Gospel,
was standing right there,
at the foot of the cross.
So, he saw all these things happening.
Continuing in Verse 35, he says about himself,[ OPEN ]
35 The man who saw it has given testimony,
and his testimony is true.
He knows that he tells the truth,
and he testifies so that you also may believe.
36 These things happened
so that the scripture would be fulfilled:
"Not one of his bones will be broken,"
37 and, as another scripture says,
"They will look on the one they have pierced."
And he adds, beginning in Verse 38,
38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea
asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.
Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus,
but secretly because he feared the Jews.
With Pilate's permission,
he came and took the body away.
39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus,
the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes,
about seventy-five pounds.
40 Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.
This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
41 At the place where Jesus was crucified,
there was a garden,
and in the garden a new tomb,
in which no one had ever been laid.
42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation
and since the tomb was nearby,
they laid Jesus there.
So, the Roman soldiers certified that Jesus was dead.
If they had allowed him
to come down from the cross alive,
they would have paid with their own lives.
And the Apostle John knew that Jesus was dead.
He watched as the Roman soldier
plunged his spear
into Jesus’ lifeless body
as the final guarantee of his death.
Joseph and Nicodemus
also knew that for sure,
since they had carried his dead body to the tomb.
They left the corpse there,
wrapped in linen,
with spices to cover the expected smell of decay.
Mark, Chapter 15, tells us [ OPEN ]
that there were other witnesses to Jesus’ death.
Besides the nameless crowds,
and the religious leaders,
who mocked and ridiculed Christ
while he hung suffering on the cross,
there were also many of his disciples watching—
some close, and some from a distance.
Beginning at Verse 37, Mark Chapter 15 says,
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two
from top to bottom.
39 And when the centurion,
who stood there in front of Jesus,
heard his cry and saw how he died,
he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
40 Some women were watching from a distance.
Among them were Mary Magdalene,
Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses,
41 In Galilee these women
had followed him and cared for his needs.
Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
So, many of Jesus’ followers saw
his painful, slow death on the cross.
The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 23,[ OPEN ]
also tells of the crowds of onlookers
and the disciples who were present.
Beginning with the moment of Jesus’ death
at Luke 23:46, it says,
46 Jesus called out with a loud voice,
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
When he had said this,
breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened,
praised God and said,
"Surely this was a righteous man."
48 When all the people
who had gathered to witness this sight
saw what took place,
they beat their breasts and went away.
49 But all those who knew him,
including the women
who had followed him from Galilee,
stood at a distance, watching these things.
And then Luke goes on to tell
about Joseph of Arimathea
taking Christ’s dead body
and placing it in the tomb.
And Luke mentions that others, too, saw him buried.
Skipping down to Verse 55, it says,
55 The women
who had come with Jesus from Galilee
followed Joseph and saw the tomb
and how his body was laid in it.
56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
So, Jesus’ disciples saw him die,
and they saw his dead body buried in a tomb,
and left there Friday night.
They knew he was dead,
and they knew he was buried.
they don’t seem to have remembered
the words Jesus had spoken to them earlier
promising that he would rise on the third day.
But Matthew Chapter 27 tells us
that Christ’s enemies did not forget.
At Matthew 27, beginning at Verse 62, we read,
The next day, the one after Preparation Day,
the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.
"Sir," they said, "we remember
that while he was still alive that deceiver said,
'After three days I will rise again.'
So give the order
for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.
Otherwise, his disciples may come
and steal the body
and tell the people
that he has been raised from the dead.
This last deception will be worse than the first."
"Take a guard," Pilate answered.
"Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how."
So they went and made the tomb secure
by putting a seal on the stone
and posting the guard.
So, Jesus’ tomb was sealed
and was guarded by Roman soldiers.
Some estimate a troop of 16 soldiers
would have made up such a guard unit.
Then, as we read a moment ago in our responsive reading,
early Sunday morning, while it was still dark,
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.
The Gospel of Luke mentions
that some other women accompanied her,
and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark name
Salome and Mary the mother of James among them.
They all saw that the stone had been rolled away
from the entrance.
Did they understand that Christ had risen?
No, they assumed someone had taken his body elsewhere.
Mary Magdalene ran to tell Peter and John
that Jesus’ body had been removed from the tomb,
but in the meantime
the other women entered the tomb.
They encountered angels there
who reminded them of Jesus’ words
and assured them that Christ had risen.
After these women left the tomb,
Peter and John arrived,
as we read in our responsive reading,
John first, then Peter trailing behind him,
and Mary Magdalene who had fetched them,
Peter and John then went home,
still confused by the empty tomb.
They now believed what Mary Magdalene had said
that the body was gone from the tomb.
But they still didn’t believe
that Jesus had risen from the dead.
After Peter and John went home,
Mary Magdalene lingered at the tomb,
and Jesus appeared to her there,
and spoke with her.
Meanwhile, the other women
who had earlier accompanied Mary Magdalene
were returning home,
apparently by another route.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus met them
and spoke with them.
They bowed down and worshiped him,
and Jesus told them to go tell the Apostles
about his resurrection.
Matthew also tells us that the Roman soldiers
who had been guarding the tomb,
and who had been frightened nearly to death
by the angel who rolled back the stone,
had meanwhile gone back into the city.
There they reported to the Jewish chief priests
what they saw.
The Jewish religious leaders bribed them
with a large amount of money
to make up a false story
and to say that Christ’s disciples
had stolen the body while they slept.
Luke Chapter 24 tells us what happened[ OPEN ]
when the women arrived back from the tomb.
Jesus had appeared alive to all of them.
And they excitedly reported this wonderful news
to the Apostles.
But the Apostles doubted,
Beginning at Luke 24:9, we read,
9 When they came back from the tomb,
they told all these things
to the Eleven and to all the others.
10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna,
Mary the mother of James, and the others with them
who told this to the apostles.
11 But they did not believe the women,
because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
There’s a little bit of male chauvinism in all men,
and the Apostles were no exception.
Men often find it easier to dismiss what women say
than what other men say.
It shouldn’t be that way, of course,
but, unfortunately, it’s often the case.
And, the Apostles were still lacking in faith.
Mark, Chapter 16, tells how the Apostles[ OPEN ]
wouldn’t believe those who had seen Jesus alive.
First, it tells about how they didn’t believe Mary Magdalene.
Mark 16:10-11 says,
She went and told
those who had been with him
and who were mourning and weeping.
When they heard that Jesus was alive
and that she had seen him,
they did not believe it.
And it wasn’t just a case of not believing women.
Luke 24, Verses 13 through 44 tell of
Jesus’ appearance to two male disciples
on the road to Emmaus.
And Mark 16, Verse 13 says,
These returned and reported it to the rest;
but they did not believe them either.
And then Mark 16:14 says,
Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven
as they were eating;
he rebuked them
for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal
to believe those who had seen
him after he had risen.
But that still wasn’t the end
of doubting his resurrection.
John, Chapter 20, gives more detail[ OPEN ]
about Sunday evening,
when Jesus finally appeared to the Apostles
and they finally believed.
But then it goes on to say
that one of the Apostles—the Apostle Thomas—
was not with them on that occasion.
And he refused to believe the rest of the Apostles
when they told him Jesus is alive and visited with them.
Beginning at John 20:25, we read
25 So the other disciples told him,
"We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them,
"Unless I see the nail marks in his hands
and put my finger where the nails were,
and put my hand into his side,
I will not believe it."
And so, that’s where we get the common expression
Jesus left him to wrestle with his doubts for a while.
But then, continuing in John 20:26, we read,
26 A week later his disciples
were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.
Though the doors were locked,
Jesus came and stood among them and said,
"Peace be with you!"
27 Then he said to Thomas,
"Put your finger here; see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it into my side.
Stop doubting and believe."
28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Then Jesus told him,
"Because you have seen me, you have believed;
blessed are those who have not seen
and yet have believed."
So, if you are a “doubting Thomas,” you are not alone.
In fact, you are in good company.
Peter, James, John, Thomas and all the rest of the Apostles
also doubted Jesus’ resurrection.
But our Lord took away their doubts.
He gave them solid evidence that he is alive.
And solid evidence is available for you, too.
Hebrews 11:1 says,
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.”
God doesn’t expect us to have “blind faith,”
but, rather, faith based on facts.
And the facts are out there,
proving that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
is historical fact.
There’s much more than I could cover in one sermon.
There’s an abundance of evidence
proving the Bible is true.
Prophecies throughout the Old Testament
foretell the Messiah
who would die for our sins.
And the New Testament
Christ’s death and resurrection.
The secular Roman historian Josephus
confirms details found in the Gospels.
And artifacts dug up
in the Holy Land confirm details as well.
Whole books have been written,
assembling the evidence for skeptics—books like
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
and Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell
1 Corinthians 15:6 tells us,
that there were more than 500 eye-witnesses,
who saw Jesus alive from the dead,
when he appeared to a large gathering of believers.
History testifies that those who saw the Risen Savior alive,
went throughout the Roman Empire and beyond,
telling everyone what they had seen and heard.
And their reward
for testifying to Christ’s resurrection
was harsh persecution.
People would not have endured such things
to promote a false story they concocted to fool people.
They faced public beatings, jail,
stoning to death,
and public crucifixion themselves.
But, still, they testified to what they saw:
this Jesus who was crucified, dead and buried
If you have doubts,
you can research the evidence.
It will give you a solid basis for faith.
And it’s not just an intellectual acknowledgment
of historical events.
Since Jesus is alive,
you can invite him into your life.
Tell him in prayer that you are sorry for your sins,
and that you want to follow him as your living Lord and Savior.
He will answer that prayer
and will do powerful things in your life
that will confirm and strengthen your faith.
In John, Chapter 14, beginning with Verse 21, Jesus says,
“One who has my commandments, and keeps them,
that person is one who loves me.
One who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him,
and will reveal myself to him.”
Yes, Jesus is just as alive and real today
as he was that first Easter Sunday
when he rose from the grave.