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Andy Stanley - Invitation to Believe (Easter)



Well I absolutely love Easter. And when you're the pastor and it's Easter everybody already knows what you're gonna talk about. Christmas and Easter, and some preachers struggle with that. In fact, every once in a while, I'll get a text, this week I did from pastors, like hey, pray for me, I'm trying to figure the Easter thing out. I'm like, figure the Easter thing out? My goodness, this is like the Super Bowl. I mean, this is like the thing. This is like, this isn't peripheral, this isn't hey, have you heard the one about. This is the one everybody's heard a little bit about and we get to repeat it and talk about it because at Easter, obviously we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, but the point of it is that Easter actually points to the answer to a question that everybody should ask.

And I don't wanna say it's the most important question in the world because you may disagree so I won't go that far. But I'll tell you what, it's a really important question and it's a question everybody should ask and if you haven't asked it since you were a kid or maybe you haven't asked it since you left faith or you haven't asked it as a Christian in a long time, you should ask it. This is the question everybody should ask at some point in their life and Easter points to the answer to the question and the question is who is Jesus. And the resurrection, this is so important, the resurrection is what convinced his first century followers that he was the Jewish messiah, that he was the son of God, that he was God in a body.

It wasn't his teaching that convinced them. It wasn't even his other tricks or his other miracles, depending on how you interpret those things that convinced them. It was the resurrection and the resurrection has been convincing people ever since. But if this is your first time with us at any of our churches or first time to tune in or to watch online, here's something you need to know about us, we don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible tells us so. It is way, way, way, way better and more substantial than that. We believe Jesus rose from the dead because a first century follower of Jesus named Matthew documented the life of Jesus and documented the resurrection.

And we believe because a Greek named Mark who was a friend of Peter got Peter's story out of Peter and concluded in the first century that Peter was telling the truth and that Jesus actually rose from the dead. And we believe because a doctor named Luke, who was also a Greek, who traveled around the area of Judea and traveled around the world with the apostle Paul came to the conclusion that he'd met enough people who'd seen the resurrected Jesus that Jesus was alive and he gave us an account and we call it the Gospel of Luke. And at the beginning of that gospel, he says to the person he was writing this for, Oh excellent Theophilus, I have sat down like many have to give an orderly account of the events that took place among us. And we believe because the apostle Peter in the two letters he left the first century church declared that Jesus rose from the dead. And we believe Jesus rose from the dead because, this is my favorite, James, the brother of Jesus concluded his brother was his lord.

What would your brother have to do to convince you he was your lord, exactly. And James did not believe Jesus was his lord when Jesus was doing his earthly ministry. He was not impressed by his sermons, apparently. He was not impressed by his tricks. He was not impressed by the supposed miracles. But James the brother of Jesus shows up as the pastor of the church in Jerusalem and is stoned because he will not go along with the religious tradition because he insists that his brother, his crucified brother who rose from the dead was his lord. And we believe because the apostle Paul who stepped onto the pages of history as someone who was committed to doing away with the church concluded that Jesus was in fact the Jewish messiah, he was the son of God, and that he actually rose from the dead, and he knew this because of a personal revelation and because he spent so much time with Peter and Andrew and James and John and James, the brother of Jesus.

And these extraordinary brave men documented what they saw, documented what they heard, documented what they heard from others who had seen the resurrected Jesus. And these documents were collected and they were protected and many years later they were combined and put into a volume we call the Bible. But long before there was the B-I-B-L-E, there were men who were witnesses of and friends of witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. And besides that, the story of Jesus isn't even worth telling. The story of Jesus wasn't even worth telling or documenting apart from the resurrection. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus was just another Jewish rabbi that went off the rails. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus is just another wannabe messiah executed by Rome. They come and they go. And the people who were closest to Jesus are so excruciatingly honest, in fact it's one of the reasons you should take their account seriously. They do not write themselves into the story as heroes in the story. They write themselves into the stories as doubters because in fact they doubted. They expected Jesus to do what all dead people do.

Do you know what all dead people do? They stay dead. Nobody, nobody, even his closest followers, even the most committed among them, nobody expected no body. Nobody was standing outside the tomb counting down from 10 backwards on Easter morning, 10, nine, eight, cue the sun, seven, six, nobody was out there because every single person who loved and was devoted to Jesus determined they had been fooled, they had been tricked, he was not who he claimed to be. Because the problem with Jesus was not what he taught. The problem was Jesus was not what he did. The problem with Jesus was what he claimed about himself. And if he was telling the truth about who he was, clearly he lied, because you can't crucify the resurrection and the life. You can't execute God's messiah that the Jews had been waiting on for hundreds of years. You can't put the son of man to death. The other person that was a eyewitness and a follower of Jesus who gives us his account is John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

And John was a witness of both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. And he details both for us. But like the others who followed Jesus, he did not expect either. He did not expect a crucifixion and he did not expect a resurrection. Do you know what he expected? He expected a king. John tells us that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead just two miles from Jerusalem, a miracle that went beyond all the other miracles because Lazarus hadn't been dead for a few hours. They'd already had the funeral. And just a few miles outside of Jerusalem so many Jewish people put their faith in Jesus after the resurrection of Lazarus because it was an undeniable act of God for anybody who saw it, that many, many, many Jewish people put their faith in Jesus and there was a groundswell of support. They had all the momentum. They had the crowd. John said, after the resurrection, many, many believed in him. But the problem was it was too many who believed in him.

And Jesus' enemies back in Jerusalem decided they'd had enough. Something had to be done. If they didn't do something about Jesus, in their words, the whole world would go after him. They knew Jesus was coming to Jerusalem for Passover. The city would be crowded. They decided this was their best opportunity to take him out. They would wait 'till after all the festivities were over, as people were leaving the city, thousands and thousands of visitors and travelers in the city at that time, they would isolate Jesus form the crowd, they would arrest him, and they would make sure they could convince Rome to ultimately execute him. So as Jesus and his disciples leave the area of Bethany and move toward Jerusalem, the crowd knows he's coming. The city is full of spies. The city is full of fans. This is if they're so much patriotic zeal during Passover in Jerusalem. Passover was a reminder to the Jews that God once upon a time a long time ago had delivered the nation from the bondage of the Egyptians and they hoped one Passover would come along when God would deliver the nation from the bondage of Rome.

And perhaps this was that Passover. Because there was so much momentum behind Jesus, perhaps it would be during Passover that he would rip off his rabbinic robe and declare himself king. As he makes his way into the city he's met by hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of fans declaring him lord, declaring him king, it gets political very quickly. He comes into the city a few days before the final Passover Sabbath. He makes his way to the temple. He teaches and preaches. He works his way freely through the city. People are watching him at all times, waiting for that moment when they can carve him away from the crowd. And while he's there, Judas runs out of patience, goes to the temple leaders, and says, I can isolate him from the crowd. I can isolate him and his few followers at a time that it will be easy for you to arrest him. And he does his deal. Toward the end of that week, after he came into the city, Jesus celebrates the final Passover with the 12. And while he is there, he increases their expectation that perhaps this is the time he will declare himself king.

While they're having that meal, Jesus announces that he's establishing a brand new covenant. And for these Jewish young men who'd been raised listening to Torah and being taught the prophets, they knew that the prophet Jeremiah had prophesied that one day God would in fact declare a brand new covenant with his people and Jesus indicated that this is that time. I am about to inaugurate the covenant with all of mankind that God promised so many years ago. A covenant, he said, that will be established and they had no category for this. That would be established in his blood. In his blood? And then he said this, the terms and conditions of this new covenant are very simple. Once upon a time the terms and conditions of a covenant were very complicated because they were given to a very, very specific group of people. But this is a covenant for the whole world. This is an arrangement between God and the human race.

And the terms and the conditions are very simple. It is one new command. You are to love each other the way that I have loved you. You are to love each other not the way you've been loved, not the way you wanna be loved. This isn't do unto others as you would have other do unto you. This is a whole nother thing. Gentlemen, you are to love each other. You are to love the world the way I have loved you. And the next day, he would put on a demonstration of love that would take their breath away. And this was to be the trademark, this was to be the brand of this brand new movement. Clearly, they thought, he is about to declare himself king. Clearly, he is about to do something for the nation. But unbeknownst to them, Jesus was about to do something for you, and you, and for you, and for the whole world.

They leave that meal and that very night, as you know, Judas has betrayed Jesus. He's worked it all out. He's isolated from the crowd. He's in the garden. Judas knows his pattern. Judas knows his habits. And Jesus is arrested. He's taken to the high priest where he's falsely accused. He's beaten. Later they take him to Pilate because they want Jesus executed, and they want him executed quickly, before the crowd changes their mind about who this false messiah really is. They take him to Pilate. Pilate doesn't wanna have anything to do with it, but they convince Pilate to talk to him. And Pilate comes out and says, seriously, I can find nothing wrong with this man. There are no charges worthy of death. And they say, he must die, he must die. So Pilate gives in and decides, you know what, I will have him flogged, I'll have him beaten within an inch of his life, and surely when I bring out the beaten and broken and bloody wannabe king, surely the crowd will change and they won't force me to execute their king. And he has Jesus flogged and he brings him out and he's looking for mercy from the crowd.

And instead they say no, it's not enough. He must die, he must die because he claims to be the son of God. He must die because he claims to be a king. And Pilate, if you are a friend of Caesar, you cannot be a friend of this man and you cannot be allow this man to live. And Pilate relents and he gives in. And John, who was there for all of this says, at that point the soldiers took charge of Jesus. And carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the skull. Again, John is writing this as an old man thinking back. He's dictating this probably, because he's too old to see. He probably can't write by this time. He's dictating this and someone is taking this down in Greek because Greek is the language of the Empire, that part of the Empire, and this is a story for the whole world about simply a part of the world. And he says he was taken to the place place of the skull.

And there they crucified him. No details are given because no details are necessary. Everyone who would hear this story in the first century, everyone who would hear this story in the second century had seen or had seen the aftermath of a crucifixion. He was crucified with two others, one on each side and Jesus in the middle. And then John records the words of Jesus from the cross. And John gives us a detail that would be unnecessary unless it were true, in fact, he gives us a detail that would be easy to discount or show that it wasn't true unless it was true. John said that as he stood there gazing and wanting to look away, but gazing and wanting to look away he stood beside Mary, Jesus' mother, and Jesus said to him, John, Mary is now your mother. And Mary, John is now your son. And this was Jesus' way of saying take care of my mom.

And John said, I was there and I heard him utter his last word when he said, "It is finished". And then he said I watched as he bowed his head and died. And then John does the most unusual thing. These are words that if you are reading the gospel on your own you would get to these words and skip right by because they don't seem significant. They don't seem to carry any meaning and they are extraordinarily, extraordinarily important. John pauses, reflects, and then makes this statement, not for his immediate audience, but for future generations. For us, for you. And here's what he writes. The man talking about himself, the man who saw it, in other words, I saw this. I didn't hear about it, I didn't read about it, I saw it. The man who say it has given his testimony, in other words, I'm swearing to you that this is exactly how it happened. The man who saw it has given his testimony, and his testimony is true.

And he knows, he says, and he knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that. And then it's as if John reaches out through the ages and grabs each of us by the shoulders and looks into our eyes and he says, my testimony is true and I testify so that you also, like me, the eyewitness, so that you also, even though you were not there to see it, that you also would trust that I'm telling you the truth and that you also would respond like I responded to this story, that you also may believe. To which we may respond, well that's easy John. So far, so good. So far we got a wannabe messiah that gets executed by Rome. I believe. So far you got a rabbi who kinda went off the rails and fooled his followers and finally the religious leaders caught up with him and got rid of him. We believe. So far Rome simply crucifies another wannabe king. I mean, we believe, it's easy to believe.

To which John would say no, no, no. Not that part. What happened next. Not that part. It's this next part you'll have a hard time believing. But I promise you, I swear to you my testimony is true, what happened next happened. I was there, I saw it all. Later, he's says, later Joseph of Arimathea, a specific name, so much detail, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Why, because you couldn't bury a crucified body unless you bribed someone, the centurion on site, or in this case, Pilate. They asked Pilate for the body and with Pilate's permission, he came and he took the body away. And he was accompanied by somebody that showed up earlier in John's gospel, Nicodemus. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. And Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, and about 75 pounds of things to embalm Jesus' body.

Why, because these men expected Jesus to do what dead men always do. Stay dead. And taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. This was John's way of remembering, oh yeah, there will be people who hear this account, hopefully, who read this account hopefully that don't understand all the Jewish customs. I want them to understand what happened at such an important moment. At the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, a cave, in which no one had ever been laid. And because, and because it was the Jewish day of preparation, and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

This was his way of saying they were in hurry. The sun was about to set. Once the sun set the Sabbath began. And none of this work would be lawful as when the Sabbath began. So they hurriedly prepared Jesus's body for burial, put him in this tomb, this cave, had their slaves roll the stone in front of it, and they left. And John, along with Peter and perhaps others, but for sure John and Peter, they disappear into the city as well. We don't know what John did that night. We don't know what John and Peter talked about that night. But they knew that these last three years of their life were a waste of life. They were so convinced Jesus was who Jesus claimed to be and the fact that he was arrested so quickly and crucified so quickly, I mean, these events went by so quickly they were just beginning to catch up emotionally.

We don't what they did that night. We don't know what they did on Saturday. But John tells us that early Sunday morning they were awakened, assuming the slept at all. They were awakened to someone banging on the door. And certainly their first thoughts is the officers or the soldiers have found us, but then they realized Roman soldiers don't knock. They just kick in the door and come in so they go to the door and they open the door and there's Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus' most devoted followers. She had followed Jesus for a long time because Jesus had delivered her. And Jesus had performed a miracle for her. She was one of the women that followed Jesus that was so grateful because Jesus consistently elevated the dignity of women and elevated the dignity of children and elevated the dignity of everyone and she was so brokenhearted like all the women followers were when Jesus was crucified.

And she's banging on the door. They open the door and she's panicked. She's sobbing, they can barely understand what she's saying and she says to Peter and John, they have taken the lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they've put him. We went to the tomb to make sure his body was properly prepared. The stone was rolled away. We looked inside and there was no body. Someone, and she assumes what anyone would assume, not a miracle, not a resurrection. No one writes themselves into the story as heroes or believers. None of them believed Jesus would rise from the dead. She looked into an empty tomb and she assumed what you would assume in the first century. Somebody has stolen the body. Someone has taken the body of our lord and we don't know where they, whoever they are, put him.

And John tells us that whereas they'd been hiding the night before, suddenly they felt the urgency of the moment, and they knew where Jesus' body had been put the night before. And John says, so Peter and the other disciple, speaking of himself, started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple, talking about himself, outran Peter and reached the tomb first. Now this is an interesting detail. I have a theory. By the time John dictated this, I think he chuckled. By this time Peter had been executed in Nero's Rome. And he thought to himself, I think it's safe to tell this detail. Peter's not here to be embarrassed. I outran him to the tomb. People should know that.

And then John steps back and realizes, okay, but if I'm gonna tell that part of the story, I have to tell the entire story. John says when I got there, I got to the outside of the tomb and I bent over and I looked in at the strips of linen lying there, but I'll be honest, I didn't go in. And why didn't he go in? It was dark. It was a tomb. Such honesty. He's no hero, he's as confused as all of Jesus' followers were on this first Easter morning. He said, then eventually my friend Simon finally caught up. Then Simon Peter cam along behind me and he went straight into the tomb. And why did he go straight into the tomb? Because he was Simon Peter and that's what Simon Peter would do. Simon Peter didn't wait. He spoke too soon, he acted too soon. He was always getting into trouble and he went straight into the tomb.

And John says, here's what we saw. We saw the strangest thing. We saw what we did not expect to see. Because when someone steals a body, they take the body and everything with it. But what we saw in that moment convinced us that the world, our world, had changed. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. This wasn't a mess, this wasn't a rushed job. Thieves would not take time to disembalm or unembalm a body. And John finally musters up the courage to step inside. He says finally, I'll admit, finally, I was late, the other disciple who had reached the tomb first, I do want you to know that, also went inside.

And then John gives us his formula. This is the formula we find throughout the gospel. This is the formula he wants to leave his readers with. Because it takes us to the epicenter of the Christian faith. And John said, speaking of himself, he saw and when he saw, he put two and two together. And he believed. And his world changed. Because the resurrection of Jesus reframed his entire life. It reframed everything about his life. Suddenly it dawned on him, everything Jesus taught was true. Everything Jesus said about God the father was true. He realized that in the moment when they had that difficult conversation, that final Passover, when Philip said hey, Jesus just show us the father and Jesus said that crazy thing that should have got, you know, this is when everybody should've gotten up and left the room, and Jesus looks at Philip and looks at the guys in the room and says, if you've seen me, you've seen the father. I am close to every understanding what God is like as you'll ever get. Why do you think I came?

And in the moment when it dawned on John that we don't know where Jesus is, but clearly he has risen from the dead. I saw him crucified, I saw him died, I saw him embalmed, I saw him buried, and he has risen. And suddenly everything lines up for John. Who could imagine, who could imagine so great a mercy? What heart could fathom such boundless grace? He invited a tax gatherer to follow. He elevated the dignity of every single person. He spoke to centurions, the rich, the poor, the empowered, the disempowered. The God of ages has stepped down from glory to wear my sin and bear my shame.

This was his message. That in the beginning was the word, and the word, don't ask me to explain it, he would say, all I can say is this, the word which is God became flesh and dwelt among us. The best way I can describe it, he would say, is this, it's as if the light of the world entered the world and lit up the world for us. And on that Easter morning, when I recognized that he had risen from the dead, it all came together for me. And John and Peter and the others would eventually see Jesus alive from the dead. They would have conversations. John, you should read them, records many of these conversations. But one in particular, I wanna read to you as we close.

You see, when Jesus was crucified and everybody knew the game was over and there was no movement to keep moving. There was no cause to keep going. There was nothing to keep alive because Jesus declared too much about himself. This wasn't like some of the other movements in culture where people, you know, the leader goes away or the leader is assassinated and people wanna keep the dream alive or people wanna keep ideas alive or people wanna keep the teaching alive. There was no teaching to keep alive because Jesus, so much of his message was all about him. Said there was no future, and when they realized there was no future, they scattered. Peter and John stayed in town. Some of the disciples went back to Bethany where Lazarus lived, and some of the disciples, we don't know where they went. They just knew that there was a price on their head and one of those disciples was Thomas.

And John gives us the detail of Jesus' first encounter with Thomas, he says this. Now Thomas, one of the 12, was not with the disciples, or he could have said was not with us when Jesus came to the rest of us. And we told him, we said, Thomas, Thomas, we have seen the Lord, because Jesus' sightings were circulating all over Jerusalem and in that vicinity and apparently Thomas heard about this, that people are saying that Jesus is back from the dead. And Thomas makes his way back to the area, makes his way back to the city and he finally reconnects with the disciples and they're like Thomas, where have you been? The lord, he is alive. But Thomas isn't superstitious. Thomas is just, felt like he just spent three years of his life chasing a false messiah.

Now he's not gonna spend the rest of his life chasing a ghost and a rumor. And he says to them, fellas, unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe. John, I love you, but your word's not enough. Peter, I love you, but I think you're seeing things. The rest of you guys, I love you guys, but no. I'm not gonna dedicate the rest of my life talking about a dead man who came back to life unless I see him, and who can blame him. A week later, so much detail. His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.

And John say, I know this is odd, but I'm just telling you how it happened. I've just asked you to trust that my testimony is true. I have suffered for what I believe. I have been exiled for what I believe. I'm telling you, this is how it happened. We were in the room and the doors, I promise you, they were locked and Jesus came and stood among us and he said, "Peace be with you". And of course he said peace be with us because he scared us to death. And then he looked at Thomas. Then he looked at Thomas and he said, Thomas, put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it to my side. It's me. It's me, Thomas I love this, the literal Greek translation of this verse that in some of our English bibles gets a little wonky is literally this, Do not be unbelieving, but believing. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.

John included this little piece of narrative because again it goes back to his central theme, do not be unbelieving, but believing. And Thomas answered and said to him, my lord, wow, my God. And then Jesus told him, Thomas I understand why you doubted. Thomas, I understand why you didn't believe. Thomas, you're just like the rest of these guys. Don't let 'em fool you, don't let them give you a nickname like Doubting Thomas, because none of the believed. All of them doubted, not one single guy in this room believed I was risen from the dead until they saw me, even when they looked into that empty tomb. Don't be deceived, don't be an unbeliever. Be believing, and then are you ready for this?

At this moment, Jesus leaves his immediate context and he looks through the ages and he looks at you and he looks at me. He leaves his immediate context and knowing that this story would be told for generations and for centuries with you in mind and with me in mind, he says to the group gathered that day, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed". You believe because you've seen, but blessed is that future generation, blessed are the people that come after you. Blessed are the people you tell. John, blessed are the people that read your account. And Matthew, blessed are those that read your account. And Peter, blessed are those that read your account. Blessed are those future generations that hear and believe but have not seen.

And then John closes his account with this, he closes it with an invitation for all of us. And his invitation is simple. It's what he has said throughout his gospel. John would say, I just want you to believe that. And then I want you to trust in. I want you to believe that my testimony is true and I want you to believe that Jesus is who Jesus claimed to be. And once you're convinced that he's who is claimed to be, I want you to take one more step. I want you to place your trust in, I want you to believe that, I want you to believe in. I want you to believe that, I want you to believe in.

Here's how he says it, he says Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, we saw them, which are not recorded in my document. But these, the ones I've selected, the conversations I've selected, the signs I've selected, the miracles I've selected, these are written, not simply so that you would know what happened, these have been written by me and I've ordered them in such a way that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, that's the believe that. I want you to take my word for what he said about himself. I want you to believe that, and then I want you to do one more thing. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. I want you to believe that. But I want you to personally trust in. And why?

If we were to ask John why, these would be our words, not his, but this would be his message. He would say, I'll tell you why. Because there came that morning, that sealed, that punctuated, that authenticated the promise. His buried body began to breathe. And out of the silence that we thought would be silent forever, the roaring lion declared, the grave has no claim on you or me. For God so loved the whole world, John concluded after being with Jesus, that he gave us his only son, the light of the world, the word became flesh, that whoever, here it is, believes in him, would not be lost to God, would not perish, but have, John says don't ask me to explain it, I'm just telling you, would have eternal life. That was Jesus' invitation to John. That's your heavenly father's invitation to all of us. And our hope this Easter season is that that would become personal for you. That based on John's account you would believe that. And then you would trust in.
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