Andy Stanley - Easter Matters
I wanna welcome all of our campuses around the city of Atlanta, around the state, around the country, and more and more around the world as people join us from all over the place. And it's so fun to see this growing network of people who understand that being a Christian isn't simply about believing things, it's about doing things with what we believe. Because that's what makes the difference. And I absolutely love Easter. I'm often ask Andy, Easter and Christmas, it's like, you know that story, it's pretty much the same every year. You know, how do you come up with new stuff to talk about? Christmas is challenging, Easter not so much, because I just absolutely love Easter.
If this is your first time with us for the first time watching, here's something you need to know upfront if you lose interest or electricity between now and the end of the message, here's what I want you to hear. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but we don't believe Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible tells us so. It's actually the other way around. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, there would be no Bible, there would be no church, and I would have no job, okay? So the sequence of these things is so important. The reason we believe is because the men and the women who were there in the moment for this, and the men who spent time with Jesus after he rose from the dead, talked about it. And then they wrote about it. And those documents were so valuable in the first century that they were protecting people, protecting these documents with their life.
Matthew, who was a tax collector, who had scribes working for him, documented the life of Jesus in the first century. Mark who spent time with Peter, Peter was a fisherman, probably illiterate, and Peter dictated his story to Mark, a Greek, who wrote down Peter's account of his time with Jesus. Luke, who opens his account of the life of Jesus by saying, "I thoroughly investigated all of these things, talk to the eyewitnesses, and here's what I discovered". He wrote it down. John, who was with Jesus from the beginning, he gives us his account. Then Paul, the Apostle Paul, steps outta the pages of history, we'll talk about him in a minute.
As a Jesus hater who persecuted the church, the apostle Paul meets the resurrected Jesus, and he's one of the people who in the earliest, in fact, his document in 1 Corinthians is the earliest written testimony to the resurrection of Jesus just a few years after this event took place. And then my favorite one of all, and I know I say this all the time, James, the brother of Jesus believed his brother was his Lord. And and I just have to ask you, what would it take for your brother to convince you that he's the son of God? You're like, it would never happen. Exactly. But James, this document in the New Testament is written by James, the brother of Jesus.
When James later was dragged outside the city walls of Jerusalem and stoned to death, Josephus tells us about this. He was James the Just who was leading the church when he was martyred. When James died, get this. He died believing Jesus, his brother, was his Lord. So that's why we believe Jesus rose from the dead. And then these incredible first century documents that were so important were protected and collected and collated, and then when it was safe for the bishops to come out and talk about this out loud, later in the Roman Empire, they were put together in what we call the New Testament. It was added to the Hebrew scriptures, and that's where we got our Bible. So the Bible didn't start this off. Christianity wasn't launched by the Bible, it was launched by this event that we celebrate, the resurrection of Jesus.
And then here's one other interesting fact. The men who brought us this story and who documented it, they were so honest, and one of the things they were so honest about, was they did not believe Jesus was gonna rise from the dead. They believe that Jesus, when he died, was gonna do what dead people always do, stay dead. And when they visited the tomb and found it empty, they were shocked, and all of them acknowledged, nobody writes themself into the story as a hero. I believed it the whole time, nobody. They were all shocked. When they visited the tomb, say this with me; Nobody expected no body. That's right, nobody expected no body, and they acknowledged that. But when that tomb was empty and they met their living Lord, their lives were changed and the world began to change.
But here's what I want to talk about for the next few minutes, here's what I want us to focus on. So what? So what? What does Easter have to do with you? I mean, what does that have to do with you? And what does that have to do with your kids, and what does that have to do with your future? What does any of that actually matter? Does any of that actually matter in the real world? Does the fact that Jesus rose from the dead solve anything? Does it resolve anything? Does it change anything about your life? Does it make your life better? Does it make anybody better? Does it make anything better? I mean, you know, do we really need Easter? Do you really need Easter? And the answer to that question is absolutely yes.
And the reason is this, because Easter addresses and answers the two questions that every single person wrestles with at some point in their life. And you may not have wrestled with these yet, but you will wrestle with these two questions at some point in your life, but most of us already have. The two questions are, is there a personal God? And if there's a personal God, what does that mean for me personally? Now, before the resurrection of Jesus, ancient people wondered and they wandered. They searched just like many people today for a context, a meta narrative, some grand narrative that would make sense of life, that would make sense of the sorrow, and death, and injustice and loss, and pain, and the joys of life. Something that would sort of be a framework to make sense out of life. Every ancient people tried to piece this together.
And that's why they worshiped how they worship, and that's how they live their lives, and that's why they were so superstitious. There is something in every single person that wants to know, does this matter? Do I matter? How do I fit in? And is there even anything to fit in to? And like us, they suspected there's more to this life than this life. But what? And before Jesus came along, everybody buried loved ones. But they grieved without hope. If there was a God or if there were gods, these gods were cruel, they were uncaring. Before Jesus, there were just hints and shadows that perhaps there's something beyond this life. The world and every ancient civilization was left guessing. And maybe you're guessing even now.
Now if I were to talk to you over at coffee, you have a theory. If I were to say, how do you think this whole thing works? You've got an answer, everybody has some sort of an answer. But regardless of your answer, you still wonder at times. And you still hope there's more at times. And then at times you're afraid to even hope. You've almost convinced yourself, or maybe listen or watch today and you have convinced yourself, Hey Andy, I know you're paid to do this, but the truth is we can't know, we can't really know, we're all just guessing. And even though maybe you're confident that you can't know, every once in a while something breaks through, a little light breaks through, a little question breaks through, and you find yourself second guessing your confidence.
You say things like, everything happens for a reason. Well, who's behind that? What's behind that? Or I don't believe in coincidence. Well, why? And then maybe you've just decided, Hey, I've just come to the conclusion, all there is to this life is this life. That when you die, you die, and that's it. But the truth is, when you're alone and you're honest, you're not absolutely convinced. And you know that chemistry and biology can't explain the internal yearning, the questioning, that goes beyond what you understand and how you can make sense of life. You hope, but you suspect, and you hope and you suspect it. Maybe there's more.
And here's the good news, and maybe you've never heard this before. That's why Jesus came and spent three and a half years walking among us being one of us, to fill in the gap, to remove some of, not all of, to remove some of the mystery and to add some personality to who God is like, who God likes, what God cares most about. This is why, and that is why the resurrection of Jesus absolutely matters. Now, I'm gonna tell you a quick story. Around 50 AD, so walk with me here. Good News 50 AD, about 20 years after the resurrection of Jesus.
All the eyewitnesses are still running around, 50 AD, the Apostle Paul, who again steps onto the pages of history as someone who hates Christianity, does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, and then becomes a Jesus follower, and he becomes so committed to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, and came for the entire world, that he spends years of his life traveling around the Mediterranean Rim, the Mediterranean Basin, port city, after port city, after port city, telling people, telling strangers that God has done something in the world, in that generation for the entire world. So on one of these trips, he gets dropped off at a little port city, and he's gonna walk to Athens, and spend a few days in Athens waiting for a couple of his traveling companions to catch up with him.
Now, one of his traveling companions is Luke. And Luke, who's the man that wrote the gospel of Luke. And Luke traveled with Paul, and so Luke is the one who tells us what happened. So here's what happened. While Paul was waiting for a few days in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city, the city of Athens, as you can visit today, same city, was full of idols. In fact, literally, you can look this up. In these ancient times, the city of Athens, there were hundreds of idols, thousands of shrines, dozens of temples built to worship and to celebrate and to commemorate many, many, many gods. In fact, as soon as he gets off the ship, before he even gets up the hill to Athens, at that very port little town, there are shrines to gods we've never even heard of.
And all the way up the road there were shrine, after shrine, after shrine. And then he gets there and there's the sanctuary to Athena, and a sanctuary to Zeus, and the temple of Poseidon, you can still see the remains of some of these, and the temple to Demeter and Apollo and Hermes and Dionysus. There's the temple to the nine Muses. The Muses were the gods of music, and poetry, and art. So everywhere he looks, there's temples and temples and temples and shrines and altars everywhere. And he's shocked.
And the reason he's shocked is because, this is supposedly the intellectual capital of the world. These are supposedly the brightest and the smartest people who've come together to figure out how the world works, and who makes the world work. And he realizes these people are just as superstitious as everybody else in every city I've visited. These people as smart as in and as educated as they are, they are as superstitious as the peasants that they look down on and make fun of. Paul realized they're asking the same questions that everybody in the world is asking. They were asking the same questions that maybe you're asking, they're asking the same questions that again, all of us have asked at some point, is there anybody out there there, can anybody make sense of this? Does this make sense?
So here's what he did. He went to the marketplace, we don't have all these details, but he sees some men who look like they're important guy, and he walks up and starts talking to them because he's on a mission, he wants everybody to know God has done something in this generation for all generations. And he starts a conversation with them. And he starts telling them about Jesus. Imagine how this goes over, he's an intellectual capital of the world, he's a Judean and actually he's from Tarsis, but he's a Jew, and now he's gonna tell them about a rabbi from Nazareth, and they're like, Nazareth, not familiar with that, a rabbi from Nazareth and what? And so Luke says, here's what happened. They look at each other and they're like, what? And they said, this is such a slur. "What is this babbler trying to say"?
It's like this doesn't even make sense to us. "What is this babbler trying to say?' Others remark, 'He seems to be advocating another god". Just what we need in Athens, another god. And Luke says, the reason they were confused and the reason they were saying that, is this, "They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus". Now I just have to stop and say something that I say often here, good news. If the version of Christianity that you were raised with that you left didn't strike you as good news, it wasn't the right version. It wasn't the first century version, it wasn't Paul's version, it wasn't Peter's version, it wasn't the Jesus version.
And if the version of Christianity that you are considering leaving, you're considering leaving it because there's not very much about it, but it's good news to you, perhaps it's not the version that Jesus launched into this world because the message of Jesus was such good news, it was branded "Good News". Back to the text, "They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus". But specifically what he was preaching in Athens about Jesus was his resurrection. Now this is so fascinating. Paul was not sharing the parables of Jesus, he wasn't sharing the narratives from Jesus' life, he wasn't going over The Sermon on the Mount, he wasn't quoting Jesus, his message was focused on the resurrection of Jesus, not even love one another. And the reason he focused on the resurrection is this.
If Paul had simply gone in there and said, let me tell you about a man named Jesus who taught the following, well then Jesus is just another burger on the grill, okay? Jesus is just another God and another altar, and that's the last thing they needed. And Paul's point was, he's not just another god with another altar, he has come to replace all the gods and all the altars, because God has done something new in the world for the world, and he punctuated the claim by raising this man, Jesus, his son from the dead. A resurrection of a human who claimed to be more than human in their lifetime? If this was true, okay, if this was true, this trumped even the best philosophy of the dead philosophers and the dying philosophers in Athens.
This was like if God had done it, because all the philosophy was guesswork, and all the stories were ancient stories. But if God had done something in their generation, in their lifetime, and it involved raising a man from the dead, then that would change everything. So they take Paul to a place that you can visit today. If you ever go to Athens, they take him to Mars Hill. Mars Hill is this giant outcropping of rock at the foot of the Acropolis, you can Google it and see it. And this is where the philosophers met and argued. So they take Paul to Mars Hill, you can go there today and climb up on the top of Mars Hill and see the Acropolis. They take him to Mars Hill, they invite the best and the brightest of the philosophers, because what Paul is advocating for is so different and so unique, they decide the city fathers need to hear what he's talking about. And so there he stands, can you picture this?
Now on the Acropolis there are even more temples. So there he is with that as a background, and they ask him, they say, look, stranger, these strange things that you're teaching us and trying to introduce to us, what do they mean? And so he tells them, because now he has their undivided attention. Now I want you to picture this, he is all alone in Athens. He is a foreigner and he is about to do his best to dismantle not simply their worldview, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of Athenian and Greek worldview. To which we would ask, Paul asked Luke, who documented this for us? What in the world was he thinking? I mean, why would he do this? And it's because the apostle Paul was absolutely confident God had done something in their generation, He raised Jesus from the dead, which punctuated everything Jesus claimed about himself, about God, and about you, and about me.
A Person Here's what he said. "People of Athens". Can you imagine this moment? They're quiet, you can hear a pin drop. They didn't have pins, they could hear something drop. Anyway, "People of Athens, I see that..." And this is a bit of a slur, "I see that in every way you are religious". Actually this word should probably be superstitious, they didn't have religions back then. I can see in every way you are very superstitious, meaning I can see that you think there is more to this life than what we see. I see that you are convinced there's more than meets the eye. I'm convinced that you believe there is a supernatural factor out there somewhere that impacts the daily lives of the people of Athens and the people of the world. You got that part right, you are very religious. And he said, "For as I was walking around, I saw something very interesting. As I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, and there are so many of them. I even found an altar with this inscription: 'To an unknown god".
Now if you wanna do something fun, look up what this referred to, because hundreds of years or dozens of years before, there was a plague that broke out in Athens and nobody could figure out how to get rid of the plague, and they had so many gods, they didn't know which God to call on. And they had this very interesting thing that happened that revealed to them, uh-oh, you've missed one of the gods, the god is angry, that's why you have the plague. They built an altar to this unknown god, and then the plague went away and they thought, my goodness, what if there are other unknown gods. So as not to offend the unknown gods, little bit like my grandmother, I would go to her house for lunch on Sunday afternoons and she would always have an extra place setting at the table. I'd say, grandma, who's that for? She's like, well, in case somebody else shows up.
So that's, they had the alter to the unknown god, they didn't wanna offend anyone. Now Paul, he's all by himself, so he can kind of get up in their business a little bit because it's just him against all of them. And he says, "Because of this, apparently you are ignorant of the very thing you worship". You have all these altars and all these amazing temples, and these temples were torn down and burned when the Persians took that part of the world, then they were rebuilt. So there was so much money and so much emphasis given to these temples. He's like, even with that, you aren't confident that you really know how this works, are you? You are not confident that you know what's up and what's not up with the gods.
"You're ignorant of the very things you worship, and this..." this is so powerful. And this, this thing that you're ignorant about, the gap in your thinking, the questions that you can't seem to answer, "This is what I'm going to proclaim to you today". I'm about to fill in the gaps. I'm about to bring some clarity to what you know in general is true. I'm gonna give you the missing piece. And then he would imply and say in a minute, and the missing piece is not a new philosophy. And the missing piece is not a new idea. And the missing piece is not an organizing principle that's gonna make sense of the universe. The missing piece is a person. Then he says this to God, then he steps way back, he dips into his Jewish heritage, but he doesn't quote chapter and verse, because they could care less about Torah, or about anything the Jews believed, in fact they believed they were superior to the Jewish people.
"The God who made the world, the God". Of course their first thought is, which one? And he's like, no, no, no, not which one. The one. "The God who made the world in everything in it including you is the Lord of heaven and earth and he does not live in". This was such a slight and he does not live in, and he can turn to the point to the Acropolis behind him, and he doesn't live in any of those, those magnificent buildings you've built. The God who created the world does not live even in one of your beautiful temples built by human hands. And here's the good news. And the God who created everything is not served by human hands as if he needed anything. He's like, look, I understand how this works. My people had the same system where it seemed like God always needed to be satisfied.
God always needed to be appeased, more incense, more blood, more incense, more blood, more incense, more blood, anything to get the gods to pay attention and to bless us in battle, to allow our children to be healthy, for the crops to come in on time and to be able to feed our families and feed our nation. In the old days, it was all about appeasing the gods, but those days are over because the God of the universe is not a taker. The God of the universe is a giver. Rather He Himself, look what he says, "Rather He Himself gives everyone life and breath, and everything else". I mean this is complete paradigm shift, and they listen.
"For from one man" again, he dips back into his Jewish heritage. "From one man, He made all the nations, including your great nation". He would say to the Athenians. "That they should inhabit the whole earth. And he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands". The Purpose of Easter And God did this, now he's gonna give them the point, the purpose. He says, "And God did this so that they, the peoples of every nation would seek Him". This is amazing. In other words, Paul says, look, I understand your sacrificial system, my people had one as well. I understand that all over the world, every single people group have their own gods, and they're doing their best to figure out how the world works. And they're doing their best to look up and to seek him.
This is why I said earlier, even if you feel at times, maybe you got it all worked out and there is no God, and this life is all there is. Every once in a while there's a question, there's a shadow, there's a, oh my God, there's a God help me, there's a, if there's anybody out there, there's something in you, and there's something in me that instinctively looks up. And Paul said that is built into every single human being. That God did this so that they would seek Him, not seek an idea, not seek an answer, not seek an explanation or a philosophy, but something personal, seek Him. And perhaps this is the best part, "And perhaps reach out for him". And maybe this is the message for you today. "And find him because God wants to be found".
Paul leans in and he adds this, and this made no sense to them with their way of thinking. And he talking about God and his son Jesus. "And he is not far from any one of us". He's not far from you. Then he quotes, it's so amazing. He quotes one of their poets, he doesn't quote the Psalms, he doesn't quote his own literature, he quotes one of their own poets to say, Hey, this whole idea, I'm not making this up, this has been here from the beginning. Everybody is searching, everybody's asking some of the same questions. Everybody is buried someone and wondered, well, I see them again. This is the human race on a quest, and there is eternity in our hearts. And everybody from time to time looks up, and God has heard the cry of mankind, has answered the cry and has shown up, He is not far from you.
We, he says, should not think. He says, now come on, this is tough for them. "We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human design and skill". In other words, no offense to what you've built here, it's magnificent. But God can't be contained in a temple, and God can't be imagined with something fashioned by human hands. And then he says this in the past, he's like, I'm not getting on your case, "In the past, God overlooked..." this is kind of strong, such ignorance. God overlooked such ignorance because there was a gap, because there were unanswered questions, And God understood that everybody's asking the same questions and coming up with different answers. And God and his compassion weighted and overlooked our ignorance, But the day has come when we're about to lose our excuse.
"In the past, God overlooked such ignorance. But now he commands all people everywhere," not simply here in Athens and not back home in Judea. He commands all people everywhere to repent. Now when we see this word in church, it's like, oh yeah, now I'm supposed to give up my sin and walk away. He's not talking about sin. He's never mentioned sin, this isn't about sin. In fact, the Greek word repent, is two words put together, it's metanoia. Oh, meta means change, noia means your mind. He says it's time for everybody to adopt a brand new way of thinking. To change their mind about how the world works, to change their mind about the gods, and to recognize there is a God who has left heaven and come to live among us, because he wants to close the distance, He is not far, He's revealed himself.
He showed up, he walked among us, and and Paul could have said, guys, I realize how hard this is for you to believe it, I'm telling you, you get on a ship with me, I'll take you to Jerusalem, I'll show you where he lived, I'll introduce you to his mother, I will show you where he died, I'll show you where he was buried, I'll show you an empty tomb, I'll introduce you, Peter, James, John, Matthew, I'll introduce you to his brother who thought he was crazy until he saw him die and had breakfast with him after the resurrection, I'm telling you, this wasn't a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago, this happened in our generation, men pay attention because God did this for you. "For he has set a day". He says, "When he will judge the world with justice".
Now justice, this was something there was not much of in the ancient world. In a world filled within justice, this was a big promise. And Paul says, the God that I'm talking about is a God of justice, and one day justice will be served. And how will this come about, Paul? I mean, you're painting a pretty big picture for us, you're making a lot of promises. It will come about by the man that he, God, has appointed.
What if that was true? That was his point. What if that's true? What if God has done something in this generation, he would say to them, that impacts every single person in this generation, generations before and generations after? What if God had just been waiting for just the right time to enter history and he overlooked the ignorance and the questions because well, what else could we do but ask if we didn't have answers? And what if God has closed the gap and wants to be discovered and wants to be known? And all you have to do is reach out? What if there is a God man? Who is the explanation for what God is like, and what if he actually cares for his creation? And what if he's a giver, not a taker? And what if he's concerned about justice? Well, that would be great, Paul, but, are you just making this up? How do we know? How can we be sure?
Paul's like, I'm glad you asked. He, this is the big close of the big finale. "He, God, has given proof". He doesn't expect you just to believe and belief, He certainly doesn't expect you just to believe my story. Paul would say he's given us proof, and he's given this proof to everyone by raising him, Jesus, from the dead. Now, there is something baked into this that's so powerful that I don't want you to miss. When Paul says everyone, he meant everyone because, everyone listening to him on that day was alive when Jesus was raised from the dead. That generation was alive when the eyewitnesses were testifying to what they saw.
In fact, most of his audience was alive when Jesus was raised from the dead. This was not an event a long, long time ago as I said, A Current Event this was a current event. He has given proof to this to everyone by raising him from the dead. This was a current event, but it was a current event, watch this, this was a current event that validated every thing Jesus claimed about himself. And the resurrection was the current event that validated everything Jesus said about God. And the resurrection was a current event that validated everything God said about you, and about me. That God so cared about you, and that God so cared about you and that God so cared about me, and that God so cared about us, that he sent his son into the world to close the gap, to bring some personality, to bring some answers, to clarify who He is, and then to lift up our sins, our individual sins, and carry them off, and hold them against us no more.
So that you could experience what we sometimes sing, God's reckless love. And it was reckless. It was reckless because of what we talked about last time. It was reckless because this is amazing, only a parent would do this for their child, that's it. It was amazing because God announced your forgiveness in advance. God announced that regardless of what you do, you will be forgiven. God announced that he loves you so much, He has prepaid your sin debt, because he loves you and he wants to unite with you. And if you will just reach out, Paul says, you will find him because he is not far from any of you. Before you sin, He paid for it. And of course he knew this would sound too good to be true. And so he validated that claim by raising Jesus from the dead.
So does Easter matter? Oh yeah, it matters. It matters because it answers the two questions we're all gonna ask at some point in our life, and maybe you're even asking that question today. Is there a personal God? Is there a personal God? Yes. There's a personal God who sent his son to die for your personal sin. That's how much he loves you and that's how well he knows you. And that's good news, because if there is no personal God, play any kind of mind games you want, if there's no personal God, there's no hope. If there's no personal God, there's no purpose. If there's no personal God, you can keep looking for a way to make sense out of this world, but it just doesn't make any sense.
The honest, atheist, just say it. Purpose is futile, there is no purpose. At the end, it's an endless void of purposeless existence. And perhaps you have tried to live with that mindset. And isn't it true you find it almost impossible to do because eternity is in your heart. And until we come to recognize that there is a God who loves us, all we have in this life are seasonal idols, remember your idols in high school? Does Easter matter? Then your idols when you were single? Then your early idols, and they're just seasonal idols? Mystery, empty altars.
Does Easter matter? Yes, it matters, because it validates the claim of Jesus' first century followers who said, Hey, we sat across the table from God in a body. And if God in a body is anything like God in heaven, and God is love, and God loves you. And the resurrection of Jesus provides us with that assurance. The assurance that we sing about sometimes, that God doesn't just tolerate us. He doesn't have some place to go, that we're not like his trophy children that he abandons when we roam, right? His mercy is not a favor, and His presence isn't rushed. On the contrary, the men who knew Jesus personally would tell you no, on the contrary, God is, and Jesus is love.
The cross wasn't not some kind of vehicle to prove that he finally cared, it wasn't like a last resort thing. Jesus made it clear that God's mercy has always been there in every generation for all people. And that's why it was good news of great joy for all people when Jesus was born. Acceptance, never withheld from us. No need to measure up, God's not like your boss. God's not like your earthly father, God's not like the person who's always comparing you to somebody else. Acceptance, not withheld from us, no need to measure up, it's true. God is love. And God has revealed Himself because he loves you. Paul was right, if you reach out, you'll find Him, because he is not far from many of us, and he is not far from you.