Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Stories of Resurrection

For Easter this year, we had five people tell their stories of how God has changed their lives.  Their stories were very personal and vulnerable, so I don't want to post them on the internet.  However, hearing all the stories was deeply moving for many of us.  After the last story, I gave this conclusion.

    Simon of Peraea was a slave of Herod the Great.  In the year 4 BC, he put on a crown and declared himself the Messiah king.  A large group of fighters joined him and burned down many of the royal buildings.  Herod’s soldiers killed most of the fighters, captured Simon, and cut off his head.  That was the end of his movement.
    Athronges was a shepherd.  In about 3 BC, he declared himself Messiah.  Together with his four brothers, he led a military revolt against Herod’s son Archelaus.  They had many military victories, but they slowly became more and more cruel.  First they killed for freedom.  Then, they killed for greed.  Finally, they killed for sport.  They were defeated, and that was the end of his movement.
    Judas of Galilee was called the Messiah.  Around 6 AD, he led a revolt because of the Roman census and higher taxes that would follow.  His revolt was brutally crushed by the Romans.  This guy is actually mentioned in the Bible, Gamaliel, one of the most famous Jewish teachers is quoted as saying, “He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered” (Acts 5:37).
    Theudas called himself a prophet and probably Messiah.  To prove his claims he told people to walk with him to the Jordan River, where he would split the waters just like Moses split the Red Sea.  He never made it to the Jordan River.  The Roman cavalry caught up to them, killed most of his followers, and brought Theudas’s head back to Jerusalem.  Gamaliel talked about him too, “About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways.  The whole movement came to nothing” (Acts 5:36). 
    Jerry Rabow wrote a book called 50 Jewish Messiahs: The Untold Life Stories of 50 Jewish Messiahs Since Jesus.  Many people have claimed to be the Jewish Messiah.  They made big promises.  They said amazing things.  They did or pretended to do miraculous things.  They gathered a group of loyal followers, people who will bleed and die for them.  They were in different places around the world and in different times throughout history. 
    But one thing unites them all.  When they died, their movement died.  When the Messiah figure died, everyone went home sad.  When the Messiah died, the movement died. 
    Except for Jesus.  When he died, his movement exploded, went viral, spread around the world.  Within 20 days after his death, there were 20,000 Jesus-followers in Jerusalem.  Within 20 years, there were Jesus-followers all around the Roman Empire - many who weren’t even Jewish.  2,000 years later, there are 2 billion Jesus-followers scattered among every nation on earth.
    What happened?  Why did the other messiahs disappear but Jesus didn’t?  Why did their movements fade and die but Jesus’ movement grew like crazy?  Why is Jesus - who died 2000 years ago - now the most followed, most loved, most well-known human being in history?  Two reasons.
    First, God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus came back to life.  Jesus really died.  Jesus was really raised.  When the other messiahs died, they were gone.  It was over.  Three days after Jesus died, he came back.  He appeared to some 500 different people.  He explained to them why he had to die, how the Bible prepared them for this moment, and how this all fits into God’s greater plan to redeem humanity.  Then, Jesus sent his followers on a mission to tell people everywhere how they can find forgiveness and new life through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  (See for example Luke 24.) 
    That leads us to the second reason, Jesus is different from all the other would-be-messiahs because he still gives life.  Jesus still moves people from death to life, from darkness to light.  Jesus changes people.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, he sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and the Holy Spirit filled them with a spiritual fire and passion that changed the world.  They went around telling people everywhere how they too could make a fresh start and have a new life.  And it worked!  People were changed!
    And it’s still happening.  Gina and Arnold and Susan and HyunSu and Amy are living proof that Jesus still changes people.  Jesus is alive, and he gives us new life.  This is Easter.  This is why we sing.  This is why we celebrate.  This is why Jesus is The Messiah. 
    Your pain, your suffering, your sin, your brokenness, your darkness, your depression, your addictions, your wounds, your dead places are not the end of the story.  They do not define you.  They will not end you. 
    Jesus is alive, and Jesus offers new life.  Put your trust in Jesus, the true Messiah, who has stood the test of time.  He lived a perfect life.  He died for our sins.  God raised him from the dead.  Through Jesus, God can raise us from death to new life.
    In a minute we’re going to pray.  I want to challenge you to make this prayer your prayer.  Ask God to give you new life.  Ask God to make this a day of change for you.  You are not stuck.  You are not fixed in your past.  You can become new.  Jesus can make you new.  Confess your brokenness.  Confess all those dead and destructive places in your life.  And ask God to forgive you and to give you new life.  This is your day of change.  Let’s pray.

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