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Proclaiming Jesus' Resurrection

Proclaiming Jesus’ Resurrection

April 7, 2024 | by Pastor Peter

Are the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection reliable? If so, how should Christians Respond? In this sermon we’ll look at two disciplines that come from Jesus’ post-resurrection command: Forgiveness & reconciliation and Discipling.

Sermon Text

Bearing witness to the resurrection

I want to look at two questions in this sermon. The first is whether or not the accounts of Jesus’s resurrection are reliable. The second is, what should we do about it?

Are the resurrection narratives reliable?

On Monday, shortly before noon, I received a text from Chris in which he told me that he had just seen on Fox News that the prime minister had resigned about a half hour previously. This struck me as implausible, so I immediately opened up my phone to several different Canadian news sources. I figured if the Prime Minister resigned, it would be the top story on every one of them. No sign of it anywhere. I even went to Fox News and didn’t see the story. When I told him I think that’s not very likely to be true, he said April fools. I should have known.

We live in a time when it is sometimes difficult to tell what is true and what is not. We might be looking at propaganda. Parading is news. Maybe we’re seeing a deep fake. We are probably all aware of conspiracy theories. So when we look at these ancient documents that talk about a dead man rising from a tomb, do we simply file this under the bucket of fake news? Do we just believe that ancient people (the kind of people who believed that bloodletting was an effective medical treatment) are easily duped? Might they have been suggestive when Jesus told them he would rise and so primed to believe that he was no longer dead?

When we look closely at the story, this seems highly implausible. The disciples are shocked by the resurrection. They seem predisposed to skepticism towards claims that Jesus had risen, even after the women return from the tomb and Tell the story of their angelic encounter. This week, I want to look at another story about the resurrection:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 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.”

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!” 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.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:19-29, NIV)

Despite the testimony of the women, the disciples were initially skeptical of the resurrection. According to John’s account, only the beloved disciple (John?) believed before encountering the risen Jesus. The disciples finally did believe, when they encountered Jesus and were invited to inspect his wounds. Wounds. We often single Thomas out for his doubt. He wasn’t present when the Lord revealed himself, and what he asked for is precisely what the other disciples also received. Received. So he seems no more predisposed to doubt than the other disciples.

Jesus pronounces a special blessing on those who will believe in him without an eyewitness encounter. Of course, that is all of us, because none of us have seen Jesus with our natural eyes. But we should be thankful for the eyewitness testimony of the original disciples because it is the foundation upon which our faith is based. The skeptical disciples became so convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead, that they went around the world to tell everyone, and submitted themselves to torture and martyrdom rather than to recant their testimony. 

The word martyr in Greek simply means witness. But these early witnesses were so emphatic under such intense opposition, that the word martyr has become synonymous with a person who dies for their faith. Disciples paid an immense cost for their testimony. Church tradition tells us about the fate of many of them. Some of these are fairly well documented, while others are a little more dubious. Peter, Andrew, and James, the son of Alpheus were all crucified for their faith. James son of Zebedee, and the apostle Paul (who encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus) were beheaded. Matthew and Thomas were stabbed. Bartholomew was flayed alive, or possibly burned. Matthias (the disciple who replaced Judas) was burned. Simon, the zealot was sawn in half. Thaddeus was killed with arrows. And Jesus’ brother James was thrown from the temple to his death. There is no record of any one of them wavering in their faith. For me, this is absolutely convincing proof that the disciples truly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. If they had concocted the story for wealth, or to simply deal with their grief, they would not have so boldly proclaimed it in the face of such opposition.

So The accounts of Jesus’s resurrection that we have, are reliable. But what effect does this have on our lives today, besides an assurance that we can be forgiven for sin? Does it affect the way that we live? The resurrected Jesus gives his disciples the Holy Spirit, along with a mandate to forgive sins and to carry on the work of discipleship. It’s to these two tasks we now turn.

The work of forgiveness and reconciliation

Jesus’ crucifixion was the decisive act in God’s plan to reconcile himself to the creation that he loves, but from whom he was estranged. In one of his letters to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul reflects on how Christ is God’s reconciling agent, and how the apostles, were sent out to proclaim this offer of reconciliation as God’s representatives:

All this [God’s transforming and reconciling work] is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Co. 5:18-20, NIV)

As we saw last week, Jesus is the beginning of God’s work of renewing creation. Through his crucifixion and resurrection, he has made a way of reconciliation possible between people and God. The effect of this is that we may come to God and be transformed into new creatures. To this end, God empowers his disciples to forgive or to retain sin.

If God has authorized the church to retain sin, does this mean that we have the option of refusing to forgive those who sin against us? Or perhaps it means that we can use the threat of withholding forgiveness to control others? No. Elsewhere, Jesus commands that we forgive those who sin against us. God promises that he will not forgive us, if we do not forgive those who sin against us. The authority to forgive or to retain sin must be understood first, In the context that it immediately follows Jesus’s giving of the Holy Spirit. We must forgive or retain sins, according to the direction of the Holy Spirit, not for our selfish ends. 

Further, I don’t believe God is speaking here about forgiving those who sin against us, but rather he is authorizing us to offer forgiveness in other sorts of situations. Jesus is pointing to the priestly function of the church. In the Old Testament, the priests were able to officiate sacrifices. That would assure someone of forgiveness for sin. For example, in Leviticus chapter 4, we read about the procedure for a priest to offer a sin offering on behalf of an individual:

They [the priests] are to lay their hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. Then the priest is to take some of the blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. They shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. In this way, the priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:29-31 NIV).

As the church, we have a similar priestly job to disarm conflicts as ministers of God’s reconciliation. We are authorized to withhold forgiveness to ensure that true reconciliation has taken place. Let me give you an example. If someone came to me and confessed that they had been unfaithful to their wife, and asked that I would forgive them. I would refuse. For me to offer forgiveness in the circumstance, would be to short-circuit the reconciliation process. I would cancel the person to first confess their unfaithfulness to their wife, and to listen very carefully to their wife about how their actions have negatively affected her. After he has taken the appropriate steps and done all in his power to be reconciled, then I could rightfully offer the insurance so forgiveness from sins. For me to offer that without their first taking the right steps, would be counterproductive to the goal of restoring estranged people into loving fellowship.

Most of us, however, don’t receive such requests regularly. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have a priestly function (The priesthood is not an authority given to ordained clergy members, but to all Christians). As ministers of God, we can work to reconcile estranged people, whether these are within our church, our family, our workplace, or anywhere we encounter people who are estranged from one another. Of course, if the parties involved are unwilling to engage in the process of reconciliation, there’s not much we can do. But, Jesus blesses peacemakers and so we should work at making peace.

In his book, Faithful Presence, pastor and theologian David Fitch talks about a practical example of reconciliation that he undertook with the leadership of his church. A man he calls. Joe had lost his job and was 2 months delinquent on his rent. He had received an eviction notice from his landlord. He felt wronged in the process. No doubt. The landlord, who was expecting two months of rent, also felt wrong. Members of Joe’s Church family asked the landlord if he would be willing to meet. They invited Joe to share his grievances, and they also invited the landlord to share his. After the meeting, they were able to repair the relationship between the two of them. As Christians, we bear witness to Jesus’s saving and reconciling work by being agents of reconciliation. When we as Christians become agents of division and discord, we discredit our testimony about the risen Jesus. We are empowered to bring new creation dynamics into old creation conflicts. So let us use this tool to be agents of peace. 

The work of discipling

Jesus’s other focus is discipling people. In that parallel passage in Matthew’s gospel, this is even more explicit. As Jesus prepares to be taken up into heaven, he gives his disciples these final instructions:

arth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:18b–20a NIV).

Jesus is instructing them to replicate the process he has done for them in the lives of others. This process of discipleship has often been confused with evangelism. I’m not trying to say bad things about evangelism, per se, but it’s only a partial picture. After all, Jesus commands us to make disciples, not converts. How are the two different?

Conversion is where a person makes a one-time commitment to follow. Jesus. Discipleship, however, is the process of forming a person who has made such a commitment. When evangelism is removed from the context of a discipling community, it becomes largely ineffective. Many a young person has made a commitment in a moment of emotion at summer camp, only to return to their regular life and live as if nothing had happened. I remember feeling uncomfortable with this approach to sharing the message of Jesus. In 2000, I was attending a discipleship training school with YWAM in Costa Rica. During the outreach phase of the school, we visited various towns for short periods, and one of the activities we would do would be to hand out Bible tracts. I didn’t even know what the tracts said (my Spanish is pretty rudimentary). I would sheepishly hand somebody a tract, and say, “un regalo para ti”—a gift for you— Even though this is a stranger I didn’t care about and would never see again. If somebody happened to read the tract and wanted to become a Christian, they would have no discipling community to connect to. They might even end up connected to a community that would cause them spiritual harm. So evangelism, apart from the discipling community isn’t what Jesus has in mind.

Discipleship is often more costly. The radically inclusive nature of the gospel means that discipleship requires us to open up our community to people who are very different from us. We see this In Jesus’ own discipling community. Among Jesus’s disciples is Matthew, a tax collector, who formerly was a collaborator with the hated Roman occupiers. Another of Jesus’s disciples is Simon the Zealot. The Zealots were a violent Jewish nationalist sect. Who were the sworn enemies of the Roman occupiers and their collaborators among the Jews? You can understand how a community with people who are sworn enemies could get rather tense during Thanksgiving dinner. The gurus of church growth recommend that we try to grow the church by reaching out to a target demographic. But Jesus tells us that everyone is welcome at the table. It might not make church easy or comfortable, practicing this radical hospitality and inclusion is how we testify to Jesus’s resurrection.

Not only do we have to make space for people who are very different from us, but we also have to make space for people who are at different stages of the journey. As a parent, I’m perfectly willing to accept my children despite their inability to do their times tables. It would be ridiculous to expect my 6-year-old daughters to have that kind of proficiency in math. At the same time, we can overlook this same reality in the development of people’s spirituality. They may be new to church, they may be new to the faith. So we should have reasonable expectations for them, but high hopes for their future development. We need to follow the example of Jesus who bears with his disciples patiently, knowing that God will be faithful and transforming them into the kind of disciples that he wants them to be.

Discipleship is not just difficult for the community undertaking it, but also for the individual disciples. Our culture, prizes, personal freedom, but discipleship means submitting to the wisdom of the group. If someone tells you that a behaviour that you have long practiced is out of bounds, it can be humbling and potentially unpleasant. To be a disciple one cannot be in the driver’s seat. It may seem too obvious to note, but discipleship involves discipline. This is deeply countercultural.


God sent Jesus to reveal who he is to us. Jesus sends his disciples to share that revelation with others. And so it is passed down from generation to generation. It is now our turn to share it with the world. We do so by engaging in the work of reconciliation and in the process of discipling people. As we do this, we demonstrate the power of the risen Lord and bear witness to his reign here on earth.

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