What an amazing celebration on Easter Sunday at Gateway South in our new space!
Our theme at all of our Gateway Austin Campuses was Uprising: Live Forever Now.
I am so grateful to be part of a teaching team where we work together to create our messages.
Here’s the message I shared:
Here are notes from the message:
The story of the first Easter is actually a story of doubters, skeptics, and strugglers just like many of us have been or many of us are now.
“Doubting” Thomas had left everything to follow Jesus, believing he was the Messiah. For 3 years he heard Jesus teach and saw Him heal. Thomas felt so alive and loved by Jesus, but Thomas also had certain expectations. He just knew that Jesus would militarily overthrow their Roman oppressors, and he’d get to be in Jesus’ new political cabinet. Thomas imposed his agenda on God’s plan. So when Jesus was crucified, Thomas was dismayed, disappointed. God had let him down. Ever felt that way?
Maybe that’s you—you once believed, you tried to have faith, but God let you down. He didn’t do things the way you expected he would if he really loved you. So you became cynical. That was Thomas that first Easter.
Yet, because of Easter, Thomas went from a hurt, disappointed cynic, to the one who brought knowledge of Jesus to India—he too was martyred for not denying the resurrection. Jesus rising from the dead changed Thomas from a doubter to believer. From a believer to hero!
That first Easter, the eyewitnesses claimed that Jesus died on a cross that Friday night, yet Sunday he appeared to them alive!
This is a dramatic change!
Ironically, the same guys who followed Jesus and heard Him say multiple times that He was going to be killed and that 3 days later He was going to rise from the dead DID NOT actually seem to be expecting a resurrection.
Jesus’ closest followers did not go to the tomb waiting for Him to rise from the dead. In fact, on Friday after the crucifixion of Jesus all the disciples ran and hid themselves behind closed and locked doors because they were afraid.
Seeing Jesus alive changed everything for them!
Knowing Jesus is alive can change everything for us!
What do you believe about Jesus and the resurrection?
- Some of us don’t want to believe in God. We’ve never had interest or we don’t believe in God because He didn’t answer our prayers the way we wanted or He allowed something to happen which hurt us or someone we love.
- Some of us say we believe – but it’s more believing with our head rather than following with our heart. We know the facts about Jesus but we aren’t surrendered to Him and following Him – letting us lead us.
- Some of us have surrendered our lives to Jesus, but we struggle with doubt or discouragement when our expectations are not met.
As we celebrate Easter together this morning, we come to the very crux of the Christian faith – the resurrection of Jesus.
This section of the Biblical narrative is so very massive because if Jesus didn’t raise from the dead and if He isn’t alive today, we are wasting our time here today. That’s not just my opinion that’s actually what the Scriptures say.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. – 1 Corinthians 15:17
Now it’s important to understand that the Christian faith is not based on religion.
It’s not based on a philosophy.
It’s not based on a feeling.
The Christian faith isn’t some sort of mythology. This isn’t the Matrix or the Force or Superman.
The story of Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead is based on a historical and verifiable even and it changed the world forever!
The narrative of all of Scripture is how God worked in history to restore the relationship of broken people like us back to Him.
Something that I find amazing on this Easter Sunday is that you can go to the tomb of any religious leader in the world and you can see where they have died and where they’re buried today.
However, you can go outside of Jerusalem and you can go to the garden tomb where Jesus was buried outside of the old city and you can walk around in that tomb and what you will find is that it is empty. Nobody is there!
Think about this: The tomb of Jesus is the only place in the world where people go to see what’s “not there.”
For centuries the resurrection of Jesus has been scrutinized by more historians and more scholars than any other event in history. In fact, thousands of people have tried to refute the resurrection of Jesus.
So what happened on the third day after the crucifixion?
Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 They found that the stone had been rolled away…two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead”…9 So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples 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 the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. – Luke 24:1-11
The first people who saw the empty tomb were women – including Mary Magdalene. I love this! In a time when a woman’s testimony was not valid in court, women were the first to see the empty tomb! God was declaring that women were not second class citizens!
Even when the women returned with great news of an empty tomb, the disciples didn’t believe it!
Thomas was there hearing about the empty tomb. He too did not believe. How could He be alive?! Thomas saw Jesus crucified!!
Shortly after that, the disciples were all huddled together in this upper room in Jerusalem and they were afraid.
Then something remarkable happened:
19 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!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. – John 20:19-20
Can you imagine? What an incredible moment this had to have been for all of the living disciples!
Unfortunately, Thomas wasn’t there!
As the disciples share about this miracle, Thomas refuses to believe it. Perhaps he didn’t want to get his hopes up. Instead, he said: “Unless I actually can place my finger into the marks where the nails were and unless I can place my hand into His side then I will never believe!”
An entire week went by and I can’t help but notice that in that one week, Jesus didn’t appear to Thomas one time. He just left him alone for a full week to wrestle with his doubts. Thomas was searching and Jesus gave him some space. It makes you wonder what Thomas was thinking about doesn’t it?
Have you ever felt God was silent?
Have you ever felt God wasn’t there? Have you ever felt like if God was truly loving then He would just speak?!
Let’s think about this for a moment. Sometimes God is silent and we are seemingly allowed to suffer in the silence. God seems so far away AND when we need Him most.
Consider the three reasons we suffer:
- We face consequences (for the bad that we do).
- We face persecution (for the good that we do).
- We face challenging circumstances (for the world in which we live).
Let’s look at this a bit more in depth.
Consequences – Bad decisions have bad results.
Consider: are you suffering because of a mistake you made or continue to make?
Sometimes we blame God for things we have done. We even get angry with God because of the dumb things we do. God loves us so much He does not force us to live according to His ways. He respects and loves us enough that we have been given freedom. The challenge is that we have made bad choices that lead to results we did not want.
We wonder if God cares, and He wonders if we are even listening!
So often we ask God to free us from the consequences of our actions. Instead we should be asking Him for help to make better decisions.
We need to be quicker to learn from our mistakes. We need to humble ourselves and ask God for forgiveness, ask those we’ve hurt to forgive us, and ask God for the help to forgive ourselves. Guilt and shame can keep us trapped. We need to have the courage to involve others in our healing and recovery process. Humility helps us acknowledge we need help from God and help from others. Our pride can keep us from moving forward.
Persecution – Good decisions may have tough results.
Are you suffering for doing good? Sometimes to get to where God wants us to get, we must endure hard times.
For some of us, we try so hard to avoid pain in our lives that we avoid making the right choices. We choose to reject God’s guidance because we value how we feel more than we value the future God has for us.
Genuine persecution comes when we are criticized, mocked, ridiculed, or even endangered as a result of the good choices we make. In our world, people who choose to follow Jesus face hostility, imprisonment, and even death.
Keep going. Persevere. Endure. Your efforts will be rewarded – if not in this life than in the one to come!
Circumstances – A broken world affects us.
We live in a fallen world. We are also adversely affected by the choices others make, whether those choices seem innocent or those choices are downright evil. We don’t have to look very far to see evidence of a world in disrepair. Disease, death, violence, natural disasters, injustice all point to the fact that something has gone wrong. Other times we face difficult moments as a result of the times in which we live. Challenging circumstances remind us of our frailty, and they can be what draws us closer to God rather than pull us away.
We do not have to become victims to our circumstances; we can overcome!
It is easy to trust in God when everything is going great! Very little faith is required! A deep faith is necessary to trust God when things are not going well. Shallow faith gives up.
Our faith is made real in the midst of silence.
Our faith is made real in the midst of suffering.
Often we are in the midst of the pain and disappointment, so we bail. We bail on God. We give up on relationships. We give up on our dream. When in reality, we quit just before the breakthrough.
“Everything can look like failure in the middle.”
– Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Maybe the struggles you are currently facing are the direct results of your prayers for something better in your life? Maybe God has allowed pain to come into your life to refine you and help you become the person He created you to be.
In other words, we cannot experience the power of new life without experiencing the pain of dying to the old life.
There is no resurrection without the crucifixion.
With God’s help, our faith can be bigger than our circumstances.
When you are facing a trial, what do you do? To whom do you turn? Do you see things from God’s perspective? Do you notice His love, His sacrifice, His plan? Do you see Him showing His love through the people around you?
Our response to suffering and disappointment will determine the quality of our lives. We all face disappointment. Who we become depends on how we respond. Perhaps we may not be able to see the cause of our suffering. We will experience many trying times that will never be understood in our lifetime.
Thomas Did Not Give Up
In spite of his disappointment, Thomas kept meeting up with the other disciples. He could have walked away. But he could see they seemed sincere when they retold the story to Him that they saw Jesus alive!
His perseverance paid off.
Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”- John 20:26-27
And John tells us that Thomas answered Jesus:
“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
– John 20:28
What an incredible moment that must have been. I mean, Thomas is saying: “I’m choosing THIS plan. I’m choosing Jesus’ plan for me. I’m choosing the one who lived . . .who died . . .and who lives again!”
He did not declare Jesus as the Lord or the God but as My Lord and My God!
Jesus was no longer a great teacher or a prophet or even the Messiah to Thomas, now Thomas declared him “Lord!” Thomas was kneeling before Him as his Lord, his Leader, his Life!
- Do you believe in the story of Jesus?
- Do you believe in Jesus?
- Do you believe in Jesus as your Lord, your Leader?
We can take our faith to the next level by renewing our commitment to follow Him or begin today.
Many of those who led Jesus’ church doubted, yet they claimed to actually see Jesus alive—risen from the dead. That changed everything for them. They became eyewitnesses of the resurrection.
Simon Greenleaf was a Harvard Law professor who wrote the treatise on the rules of legal evidence. Greenleaf was an outspoken atheist. Some Christian students challenged him to apply his legal rules of evidence to the eyewitness reports of Easter. He did it to disprove the Superstitious Myth of Jesus’ Resurrection. But ended up writing a book revealing his newfound faith in Christ. In it he stated,
“It was impossible that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead….” –Simon Greenleaf, An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence, p.29.
History tells us that all of these original apostles (all except John who was exiled to the Island of Patmos) were killed by a spear or a sword or stoned with rocks. Some were beheaded and some were crucified because of their faith that Jesus was alive.
So the question you have to ask is what happened? What happened between “this is crazy” . . .and “we will die for this”? What happened between “this is nonsense” . . .and “I’m willing to give everything”? . .what happened?
Well, it’s actually pretty simple: they saw Jesus alive after He’d been dead.
It wasn’t just these few, listen to this passage:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. – 1 Cor 15:3-6
Paul is saying: “If you want to know if Jesus is alive, just go to talk to one of the eyewitnesses who saw Him!”
There is a moment in Jesus’ conversation with Thomas I do not want us to miss!
Just after Thomas declares Jesus as God, as Lord, it was then that Jesus told him these words:
29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” – John 20:29
Did you catch that? Jesus is talking about us right there! Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
And I know that some of you are saying: “Well, it was easy for Thomas to believe, he saw Him face-to-face. Jesus was right there in front of him. What evidence is there for me to believe, right? I can’t put my hand in His side!”
You may be thinking: of course people who met Jesus face to face would believe! If only I knew someone in this day and age who saw Jesus, then I would believe! Then I wouldn’t struggle in my faith!
What if I told you there are very credible people—and lots of them—claiming they too have seen the risen Jesus. But under very different circumstances. Modern medicine is bringing back more and more people from death. Their heart stops beating, they show no brain waves, they’re clinically dead—yet when doctors revive them, they come back with Near-death experiences (NDEs) saying things that make that first Easter not seem mythical after all.
These modern day eyewitnesses have seen Jesus.
This past fall, we did a series called Imagine Heaven based on our founding pastor John Burke’s book of the same name. His book hit #1 on Amazon.com and #9 on the New York Times Bestseller’s List. He studied about 1000 of near-death experiences (or NDEs) and came up with the commonalities of their stories and how they reveal the Heaven of the Bible.
Many skeptical doctors have been convinced.
In fact, a radiation Oncologist, Dr. Long scientifically studied thousands of accounts and concludes: “By studying thousands of detailed accounts of NDErs, I found the evidence that led to this astounding conclusion: NDEs provide such powerful scientific evidence that it is reasonable to accept the existence of an afterlife.”
If we’re willing to consider what the Bible says, and now what modern medical evidence says, you’ll discover this life does not end, it’s just the beginning to the real story and the real life more exhilarating than anything we’ve imagined.
Maybe you struggle to believe the story of the disciples or even the story of those who have had a near death experience.
You’re thinking: it’s easy to believe when you see Jesus! I wouldn’t struggle in my faith if I saw Jesus! I wouldn’t doubt! I would actually believe!
Remember the promise Jesus made about you and me?
“Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
– John 20:29
This morning, you are in a room of broken and messed up people. Many of us have never seen Jesus, but we believe.
We have never heard His voice audibly, but we’ve heard Him.
We’ve never seen His face, but we’ve met Him.
The wind is real. We can see the affects of the wind – even if we cannot actually see the wind.
Jesus is alive!
I can tell you all the proof from the lives of disciples and the lives of people who had near death experiences. I can tell you story after story in my life and in the lives of many people in this room, where we discovered Jesus is alive!
God’s love for you is so real. He will not force you to trust Him.
Have you had a moment when you decided you do want to believe?
Do you want to believe?
Are you willing to let Jesus lead you?
Are you willing to let go of controlling your life, controlling others, and even trying to control God and surrender all to Him?
I wish I could express to you how real Jesus has become to me.
I’ve seen Jesus – just as surely as I have seen the wind.
I cannot make you believe. I cannot argue with you until you believe.
All I can do is point you to Him.
If you have an open mind and open heart, you will find He is alive.
He suffered on the cross for you – so you would never need to suffer on your own. He is Alive so you can experience life forever now!
Jesus said that eternal life can start right now.
The night before his crucifixion, [Jesus] looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:1-3
It’s not just about believing.
It’s not just about living out what we say we believe.
You see, unless we truly believe, we will never fully live!
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9
He came for us! He died for us! He lives for us!
Next Steps for Life Groups
- What are some of your favorite Easter memories from your childhood?
- What are some highlights from Easter 2016?
- What are some of the takeaways from the message?
- What are ways you sense God wants you to move forward to grow in your faith?
- In what ways do you need God to work in your life?