Text: Mark 16:9-13
Date: Wednesday of Easter II + 4/18/07
For those who doubt and do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, very Word of God but prefer to think it is only a human book of religious propaganda written to promote a fantasy, probably the most convincing argument is this: that the first disciples, the principal proponents of the faith, are not portrayed in the Bible as bold heroes of faith but as quite the opposite. They are found mourning and weeping and when Mary Magdalene tries to tell them that the risen Lord was alive and had appeared to her, “they would not believe it.” Even when two more witnesses reported their encounter with the risen Lord, “they did not believe them.” After Jesus had appeared, here and there, now and then to all of them, as St. Luke tells it, “they still disbelieved” (Luke 24:41). All these reports would have been suppressed if the Gospel writers were merely trying to convince people of a falsehood.
There are many today, too, who simply reject the Christian faith as bunk and refuse to believe. At least these unbelievers are honest. The tougher nut to crack today, however, seems to be not those who refuse to believe. The more common response, it seems today, to the claim and proclamation of the Christian Church, “The Lord is risen!” is, “So what?” That is, even if everything the Bible says about the crucified and risen Savior is historical fact and true, still, what difference does it make? And maybe especially this week in the shadow of the great tragedy that happened Monday at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, this question begs in a more insistent way to be answered.
What difference does it make—the Lord is risen—for you who say you believe it? There are some who would answer that question by claiming the supposed “benefits” of their faith in terms of some dramatic changes in their life; healed bodies or restored relationships. They may even list financial blessings or other successes in their life as evidence of the benefits of believing. Yet, is this not propaganda? And what about the ancient and eternal question in times of tragedy, “Why?” “Why did God let this happen?” Certainly the Bible does not make the claim that faith will result in success in worldly terms, or in deliverance from random violence. Rather, the benefit of faith in a risen Lord is, first and foremost of all, a restored relationship with God and deliverance from sin, death and hell. The benefit of this saving faith is justification before God through the forgiveness of all your sins. In point of fact, when it comes to worldly terms, believers for the most part do not populate the lists of the world’s 100 richest men or the most likely to succeed. Jesus gave a list of characteristics of the saints in His sermon on the mount. He said,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12).
The first disciples remained unbelievers until the Lord opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. In that Spirit-given understanding is revealed a world and a life much bigger than can be calculated by bank accounts and earthly honors or benefits. For it is a world and a life that is not destroyed by setbacks, suffering or even by death. It is a world and a life like God Who created each of us intended things to be in the first place, only now, in Christ, even better. It is eternal life marked by things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) even in times of suffering, pain, doubt and fear. It is the hope of the resurrection and the life of the world to come.
Therefore, we do not deal in propaganda. But as the Apostle Paul said it, “we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery…nor with a pretext for greed…nor did we seek glory from people” (1 Thess. 2:3-6). The only thing that can make believers out of unbelievers is God Himself, the Holy Spirit opening minds through the Holy Scriptures, not in listing any supposed “benefits.” For once a person discovers the love of God, faith is created in the heart and God, not anything else in this world or in self or in all creation, becomes your total life and value. Even then, in this life we continue to struggle, to “see in a mirror dimly,” but faith is assured that there is coming a day when we shall see face to face the risen Lord in the new heavens and new earth.
So we proclaim, “The Lord is risen!” So what? So believe, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:38-39). For everyone who believes and is baptized shall be saved.