How do you know something is true? That’s a big question these days, when truth seems to have taken on the consistency of Jello. Some people think the only way to the truth is science. That’s why the phrase “studies have shown” is so compelling. Even if you never see the data, you assume that it’s true, because studies have shown it to be true. Studies have shown that eggs are bad for you. Later studies have shown that eggs weren’t so bad, and some studies suggest that eggs might even be good for you.
Without scientific facts, then what? Some people believe in UFOs and life on other planets without a shred of verifiable scientific evidence. People believe in the theory of evolution as a scientific fact, even though it doesn’t hold up to the standards of scientific fact. In fact, the hard evidence tends to argue against evolution. But people believe it anyway. People believe in reincarnation without any evidence. How do you prove that you existed before you existed?
Some talk about a “leap of faith” and simply believe that something is true against the facts. It just feels right. Like bungee jumping. Jump off the cliff and hope the rubber band will hold you. People trust that the government, though governments don’t have a very good track record when it comes to truth telling. Would you give over a third of your income and the nurture of your children to a total stranger just because he says, “Trust me”?
What about something like the resurrection of the dead? We say we believe in the resurrection of the body. That’s the whole point of these seven weeks of Easter. The body of Jesus is risen. Our bodies will rise on the Last Day, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus. But how do we know it’s true? How can we know to trust Jesus rather than Mohammed or the Buddha or the Dhali Lama or our own gut feelings?
The last chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all deal with the hard evidence, each in his own way. The open, empty tomb. The folded burial cloths. The scarred hands and feet and side. The appearances to eyewitnesses. This is how you build a case in court. You present the evidence. You call eyewitnesses to testify. That’s what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are doing. Testifying. Laying out the evidence for you, and for the whole world, that this Jesus is the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world, the Son of God.
He’s to be trusted because He’s risen from the dead. That’s a matter of history, an historic fact. Our faith rests on facts not feelings. Two historic facts – that Jesus died and on the third day rose from the dead.
Three weeks ago, one of our local newscasters summarized Easter this way: “This is the day when Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.” That’s not quite accurate. We don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead any more than we believe George Washington was the first president of the United States. We assert it as a matter of fact. The fact is, Jesus rose from the dead. Deal with it.
His death being the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world, now that’s a matter of faith. His resurrection being our life and salvation, that’s a matter of faith. But not the fact that on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s a matter of fact.
In Luke, the fact of Jesus resurrection is always underscored by a meal. Jesus appeared to two disciples in Emmaus at a meal. They were prevented from recognizing Him earlier, even though one of them, Cleopas, was the brother of Joseph, they recognized Him when He broke the bread at the dinner table. The two immediately rush back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. And the disciples tell them that Simon Peter saw Him. (Jesus seems to be everywhere at once, which He is, since He fills all things in every way.)
While they’re comparing notes, Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.” That’s the Easter greeting. It’s how you speak in the resurrection. Death is defeated. The grave can’t hold us. Sin is forgiven. Peace is restored.
In Luke’s account, the disciples are startled and afraid and doubting. Who wouldn’t be? The news is just beginning to sink in that Jesus is risen, the reports are still somewhat sketchy, and before you can say “Alleluia!” there He is. Jesus in the flesh, right there among them. You almost expect Him to say “Boo!” or something like that.
The disciples think they’re seeing ghosts. But He shows them the evidence: His hands and His feet, those wounds by which we are healed. They mark Him forever as the Crucified One, the One who layed down His life for the sin of the world. They also authenticate Him. This is no substitute Jesus, no stand in. Consider the evidence: nail holes in His hands and feet; a spear mark in His side.
Jesus invites them to touch Him. This is no ghost. This is bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh. That’s why we believe the body rises from the dead, because Jesus rose bodily from the dead. His tomb is empty. The disciples not only saw Jesus, they touched Him. Flesh and bone.
Still not convinced? It is pretty unbelievable, you have to admit. Resurrections don’t happen every day. Jesus takes a piece of broiled fish left over from dinner, and He eats it right in front of them. It’s not that He was hungry. He wasn’t looking for a snack. More evidence. Ghosts don’t eat. Eating is a body thing.
And again, Jesus shows Himself in the context of a meal, just as He does for us in the Lord’s Supper. Table and table, Word and Sacrament, that’s where the action is. That’s where we can reliably expect to see Jesus. In the Sacrament and in the Word.
At the table, while eating with them, He opens their minds to the Scriptures, the old testatment, so that they can understand Moses, the prophets, the psalms – the entire old testament. It’s all about Him, about Jesus. Even before the name of Jesus was known and before the Son took on our humanity, the entire old testament was laying the groundwork.
That’s the third piece of evidence. The Scriptures. They point to Jesus before Jesus was ever known. Jesus fulfills all that was ever written about Him.
The Bible is the record of the Mystery dwelling among us, the Word that made all things in the beginning, the Promise to one man named Abraham that created a nation of out nothing slaves. The Word that brought freedom from slavery, that split the Red Sea, and carved out the only nation in the history of the world that could be called God’s nation.
Imbedded in that history of Israel, all of its battles, its ups and downs, successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, is this singular message: That the Christ, God’s anointed One, the Messiah, would suffer and die and on the third day rise again. Centuries, literally thousands of years before it all happened, it was written down and handed on, all pointing to that good Friday Jesus said, “It is finished.”
With minds opened to the Scriptures, the disciples would change the minds of the nations. “Preach repentance unto the forgiveness to all the nations. Present the evidence. Preach the Word. And I’ll open their minds and turn them to my forgiveness. You just tell them. Tellthe world I embraced by my death. You’re my witnesses. Testify.”
I find it remarkable that Jesus entrusted this amazingly good news to such a band of fearful, doubting disciples. Of all the means the Lord has at His disposal, He uses the least efficient, weakest, most vulnerable. If we ran the show, we would have used angels, or done the job ourself. God could broadcast the good news to the world in a miraculous moment, if He chose. But He chooses to call witnesses to testify on His behalf.
The wisdom is not our own, it’s God’s wisdom. The truth is God’s truth. The victory is Christ’s victory. The power is the power of the Holy Spirit. The work of salvation is done, accomplished once and for all on the cross. Now the work must be preached to the nations, to every man, woman, and child.
Jesus is Lord; Jesus is Savior; Jesus is risen from the dead.
The Twelve started in Jerusalem as far as they could. Tradition says that John made it to Asia Minor. Thomas went to India. Paul, who wasn’t one of the Twelve, took it all over the Mediterranean world. In our time, the good news came to us, as much of a gift to us as that first Easter was to the disciples. Someone told you. Someone testified to you about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
You, in turn, tell others what you’ve been told. That’s how it works. It’s not the most efficient way to get things done, but it’s God’s way, so who’s going to argue? You are witnesses, testifying to what you have seen and heard, bearing witness to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus and the world’s death and resurrection in Jesus. There are no “professional witnesses” in God’s church. No hired experts. There are simply disciples – sent into the world, sprinkled as salt over the earth, scattered as light in the darkness.
Faith isn’t about feelings. It’s about facts. Lay out the facts. You have them at your fingertips. (If you don’t, you haven’t been paying attention.) You have the cross and the open, empty tomb. You have the eyewitness accounts – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You have the Scriptures, which are able to make people wise to salvation in Christ Jesus. You have the sacramental signs, the visible, tangible ways that God reveals Himself to be gracious in Jesus – Baptism, the Supper of Jesus’ Body and Blood, the word of forgiveness. You have the power of the Holy Spirit. Your Baptism assures you of it.
Remember the old Dragnet TV show? Not the new one. The old one, with Detective Joe Friday. Remember his line when people started rambling on and on. He’d say, “Just the facts Ma’am. Just the facts.” This dying, messed up world doesn’t need religious opinions or mantras or methods or programs. Just the facts. Jesus died and on the third day rose from the dead. Bodily. That’s a fact. It was for you and for your salvation. Trust Him.
In the name of Jesus, Amen