April 30, 2006
3rd Sunday after Easter
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Judy Meyers, of Johnston, Rhode Island writes that she always enjoys asking her children what they learned in their Sunday School class. When her oldest daughter was five years old, she came up to Mom after an Easter Sunday service and Mom began to quiz her. The little girl was excited and willing to tell Mom the whole story in great detail. She told of the death of Jesus on the cross and how he was buried in a tomb. Later an angel came and looked in the tomb and asked Jesus what He wanted. In the little girls words, Jesus said, "I want out of this hole." (1)
I'll bet there were a few of the disciples who wanted to jump IN to a hole to get away on that day Jesus appeared out of nowhere. That must have been whole lot more than just startling. It had to have been a Twilight Zone moment for the disciples. One minute quiet and alone and the next minute the Risen Christ standing in their midst. That would make the strangest heart skip a beat.
Let's look at Luke 24:36-48 (NRSV) and see what happened that day.
 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
 He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."
 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?"
 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,
 and he took it and ate in their presence.
 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."
 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
 You are witnesses of these things.
They were witnesses all right. Startled and shocked witnesses. But we can understand their reluctance to believe that Jesus was alive, can't we? They saw Him die on the cross. As verse 48 says: "They were witnesses of these things." Some of them had taken His body down. Others had carried Him to the tomb and wrapped His body in the burial clothes. They stood by and watched as the stone was rolled in front of the tomb and the tomb sealed. They had tons of physical evidence that Jesus was dead and buried.
But as Grissam and H and Mac all say on CSI, "All the evidence isn't in yet."
So, like a good Forensic Specialist let's look at all the physical evidence on the scene.
First: They had seen the empty tomb. They were there. They walked inside. They saw where the body had been laid.
Second: There were the burial clothes. The linens used to wrap the body were lying where Jesus' feet had been. While the one that had been wrapped around head was rolled up lying in another place.
Third: The Disciples saw Jesus. They saw Him and thought he was a ghost.
Fourth: Jesus spoke to them. They heard Him. They heard his query, "Why are you afraid?" After their shock wore off, they heard and remembered Jesus' teaching about the fulfillment of Scripture.
Fifth: The Disciples touched Jesus. He spoke to them and offered His hands and arms for them to examine and said, "Ghosts doesn't have flesh and bones." They touched Jesus and you know they examined the wounds in His, Hands, Feet and Side. Thomas wasn't the only one who touched Jesus.
Sixth: Jesus ate. They were eating so they gave Him broiled fish. He held it and ate it. Ghosts can't hold anything. Ghosts don't need to eat.
In my mind the Physical Evidence is overwhelming.
A. But we know that no case is ever won simply by the physical evidence. A good case has eye witness accounts and testimony as well. Even if the eye witnesses are there to testify, they have given a deposition which can be used as evidence. So, let's look at the eye witnesses.
Mary Magdalene: There was the encounter we experience in John.
The Women: (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome) as the other Gospels report.
The Ten: The Disciples, minus Thomas, this encounter we read about today.
On the Road to Emmaus: In Luke we read about Cleopas and his companion and their encounter with the Risen Jesus while walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They describe the journey and how they didn't recognize Jesus. And then how He broke bread with them and in the breaking of the bread was revealed for who He truly was.
The Eleven: The Disciples were gathered again, this time with Thomas. Jesus appears to them and has knowledge of Thomas' doubt. Thomas touches Jesus. Then later, John records Jesus appeared to all of the Disciples in Galilee one morning after they had been fishing. He didn't just appear, He fixed them breakfast of grilled fish and bread over a charcoal fire.
Peter: In 1 Corinthians 15:5 Paul writes, in his own deposition, that Jesus appeared to Peter.
James: It also reports that Jesus appeared to His own brother James.
The 500: Paul also says Jesus appeared to 500 followers and believers at one time. We don't know when, how or why but Paul records it in this letter.
Paul: And then of course, there's Paul, himself. Paul was first known as Saul, persecutor of the early church. Bound and determined to wipe out this fledgling group of believers, Paul was there when Stephen was stoned to death for his belief. And he had warrants for the arrest of others. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest Peter when he encountered the Risen Christ.
By my count that makes 518 witnesses, all with the same story. At Jesus trial, they had two witnesses who couldn't agree and Jesus was convicted on their testimony. Here we have the testimony of 518 eye witnesses to the Risen Christ.
B. A number of years ago Clarence Jordan, founder of the Koinonia Community in Americus, Georgia and the author of the popular Cotton Patch Gospel, reminded us that the most convincing evidence of Jesus' resurrection wasn't the empty tomb. It was the life-filled community of faith embodied and spread by the Disciples. It wasn't a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.
Jordan writes: "I've always said the real evidence of the empty tomb was the conversion of Paul. Why would he give up every thing he held dear to preach and be persecuted for a lie?"
We have Physical Evidence, Eye Witness accounts and depositions. What else do we need besides faith. Which is all we really need. But apart from faith and trust in God what is there that can be used as Evidence of the Risen Christ.
A. I think you would call it Spiritual Evidence. It's sort of like the scene in A Miracle on 34th Street when Chris is being tried because he says he's Santa Claus. There are those who thought he was crazy. But then, the Post Office did something that turned to scales. They delivered bag after bag after bag of letters to Chris in the courtroom. The judge stood up and said, "If the U.S. Post Office, a branch of the Federal Government, recognizes this man as Santa Claus, then who am I to argue with the Government. Case dismissed."
For example, we know what the world craves, fame and fortune. That's why shows like Deal or No Deal and American Idol are so popular. We want it and we want it big. We cheer for the folks who make it big. And that's great.
But let me ask you this? What would make 28 people pay $150 to drive 517 miles to sleep in a dorm and work in a hot warehouse sorting and packing health kits, school kits, layettes, and sewing kits for people we may never meet?
That's where I was last weekend. In the day and a half we worked, we sorted, packed and verified: 2222 health kits, 216 school kits, 432 sewing kits and 452 layettes.
Then on Saturday afternoon we took a trailer load of supplies to one of the distribution centers in New Orleans.
What would make over 600 college age youth give up their spring break to live in tents they brought, in miserable conditions with little if any running water, minimal shower facilities and 14-16 hour days in filthy conditions? Not a desire for fame and fortune.
What is it that inspires 3000 youth and adults from the Central Texas area to scatter to the wind every summer and pay $350 to live and eat in a church for a week and work painting, building, cleaning and the like for others.
That's the Spiritual Evidence. It's all around us in lives being changed and lives being helped through presence of the Risen Christ.
B. But that's not all. The fact that this Church is here, that there are people like you who respond to the needs of others. Who provide gifts and offerings so that ministry can happen and lives be changed.
That's what happens when we tithe. God takes those gifts and offerings and blesses them and the givers. God blesses those gifts and sees that they multiply and are transformed into changed lives and ministry that touches hearts and meets needs. That's part of the Spiritual Evidence. Look around, everyone sitting here today is part of that Spiritual Evidence. Do you think the Church would have lasted this long and been this strong if everything we believe, everything in this book were a lie? I doubt it.
C. A few years ago, while on my first tour of duty on the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, we were involved in Spring Interviews of those in the process of working toward the ordained ministry. Our interview team had finished and we had a little bit of a break, so I walked down to the fellowship hall of the Church to get a cup of coffee.
The host Church has a Day Care Center and the doors of the rooms open onto the hallway leading to the fellowship hall. As I was walking down the hall, I couldn't help but overhear a conversation between two of the teachers. One of them was talking about one of the boys in her class. I never did catch the name of the boy but from the sign on the classroom door he was about three-years-old.
It seems about a year before this young boy was presented with a beautiful baby sister whose name is Vanessa. But the boy didn't like girls, especially little sisters. HE wanted a baby brother. So, from the day Mom and Dad brought her home, this little boy has called his sister "Joe Bob."
I laughed so hard, I had to apologize for eavesdropping. I couldn't help it because it was so funny.
That's exactly the attitude of some people toward Christ. All the evidence is in, it's staring them in the face. It's conclusive. The jury of time and history have declared their verdict. Yet much of the world chooses not to believe it. They don't accept the resurrection and they won't call Jesus Messiah or Savior. All I can say is, "Thank God they don't call him "Joe Bob."
The Physical Evidence is there. The Eye Witness Accounts are there. The Spiritual Evidence is all around us and as close as the air we breath. Look at the schools, the hospitals, nursing homes and day care centers. All were started by the Church. Most, if not all, compassion based services were started by the Church or individual Christians who wanted to make a difference for Jesus and through Jesus. The Evidence is there and the Spiritual Evidence continues to build every day as more and more people encounter the Risen Christ in their faith journeys.
There was a little girl who wanted to make her own Easter card for her mother. So, while she watched cartoons on Saturday morning, she worked on her card. Inside the card she drew three balloons with a written message inside each balloon.
She wrote, "Happy Easter" inside the first balloon.
Inside the second balloon she wrote, "Christ Is Risen!"
Then the girl just sat and sat but was unable to think of a third greeting. She sat and sat and then all of a sudden the girl grabbed her colored pencil and quickly wrote a third message. When her mother read the card, the third balloon said, "That's All Folks." (3)
It's true! All the Evidence is in. The Physical Evidence, Eye Witness accounts, and the Spiritual Evidence are all in. And they point to one thing, all we need to know about Easter is that Christ Is Risen! That's all folks!
1. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), March 1990
2. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), April 2000
3. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), April 2000
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