(The Easter sermon I’m working on….)

I told a friend once that if I have gone to seed on anything in Christian theology, it’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m about to qualify that. As essential an element in the Christian faith as it is, the resurrection of our Lord did not end the fears, settle the nerves, conquer the phobias, or break the chains with which the early disciples were bound. It took one thing more.

To be sure, when the Lord Jesus Christ walked out of that garden tomb on the first Easter Sunday morning, it settled a lot of issues. His identity was forever established. His claims were solidly substantiated. His promises had just received the guarantee of Heaven.

When Jesus arose victorious from the grave, His enemies were routed. His opponents were silenced (or should have been, had they been men of even a little integrity). His executioners were shamed. A bamboozled Satan and his imps were beside themselves with rage.

The resurrection of Jesus answers our questions, excites our hopes, and escalates our anticipation. It draws us back to the Scripture, back to the Church, and back to a new reality.

No wonder the disciples’ later preaching centered on the single key ingredient of belief in Jesus’ return from the grave as an essential element of saving faith. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Settle that–that Jesus actually died on that cross, that He lay in that grave from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, then walked out whole and healthy–and so many things fall into place.

Everything, that is, except one. And we see it in the Lord’s disciples, as recorded in John 20.

“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.'” (John 20:19)

Did you see that? They’ve locked the doors out of fear of the people who executed Jesus.

All right, that’s to be expected I suppose. At this point, the resurrection of their Lord was still just a rumor to most of them. But that should change now that He’s present with them, right? I mean, they see Him, touch Him, and know He’s alive. Everything should have changed for them at that moment. But did it?

“After eight days, His disciples were again inside…. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.'” (John 20:26)

Pause for a moment here. The Greek word translated “shut” is “kleio,” which means “shut, lock, bar.” It is in the perfect passive participle in both verses 19 and 26 and means “locked tight.” The disciples have shut the door and drawn a bar across it from the inside.

And that is my point: as vital as the Lord’s resurrection was and still is, and as much as it did in answering the disciples questions then and now, there is one thing it did not do and cannot do. It does not conquer our fears and get us outside the walls of our upper rooms (or church buildings) into which we have secured ourselves.

It took the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost to do that. We read all about that in Acts 2. As God’s Spirit arrived and took up permanent residence inside those 120 disciples, suddenly they were empowered and gifted and driven into the streets with the gospel message.

The Holy Spirit blew that locked door wide open.

It was exactly as Jesus had predicted before His ascension. “But you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

It takes more than answers; it takes power. We need more than promises and assurances, more than evidence and proofs, more than guarantees of our future and calms of our fears. We need Holy Spirit power.

We have a hard time believing and accepting this, it seems to me.

And so, we teach people what they ought to do, then wonder why they go home and lock the doors and pull the blinds. We hold witnessing classes and have to literally force the students to get into the streets to share their faith. We give conferences on reaching the city, conferences which are sparsely attended and fearfully received, and check it off our list as though we have made actual in-roads to the community. But our people are still locking their doors and hoping the big bad world doesn’t come after them.

Satan has done a number on the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, I’ll tell you that.

We’re like the trained elephant that was confined so long inside a small electrical field and taught not to venture outside. Once the electricity was removed and the danger is gone, the massive animal continues to live in fear of crossing that line.

Someone needs to tell God’s people that death is conquered, Jesus Christ is alive, the Holy Spirit is here, Heaven is just ahead, the Gospel is true, Satan is a liar, and humanity is waiting.

Take it outside, church!

“Go in this thy power.” (Judges 6:14) Don’t leave home without the Holy Spirit indwelling, accompanying, empowering, and directing you.

That was a needless thing to say, wasn’t it. The whole point of this message is that without the Holy Spirit we won’t leave home. We won’t even venture out the door. We will huddle inside and shudder for fear that someone should knock on our door and question us.

God help us to recover the essence of the Christian faith, the assurance of the resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and to once again take it to the streets.

Two key observations, then I’m going to ask for your input.

1) The Christian who knows the Lord Jesus (that’s redundant, isn’t it) and believes the Scripture and hungers to be used of God in the community, needs one thing more. He needs to shut himself away and pray. Empty himself and worship. Humble himself and wait on the Lord. Give all of yourself you can to all of the Lord you understand. Ask Him to forgive you, to cleanse you, then to fill you, and use you.

2) Then, when you are finished, regardless of how you feel, get up and leave the room and begin to share as the Lord leads you.

Note that we are not suggesting you wait for a feeling (or tongues of fire on your head or the gift of foreign languages to be given you) before you leave the room. The way I understand the Holy Spirit’s modus operandi, the power will be there when you get there.

Go in faith. He’ll be there.

Nothing will ever be the same for you thereafter.

(I know a preacher whose sermon on Simon Peter was titled, “From chicken-hearted to lion-hearted.” He was referring to the way the apostle changed from a fearful Christ-denier to a bold Christ-proclaimer. Pretty good title, I say.

Peter is a great example for us. His transformation seems to have occurred in three stages: the crucifixion of Jesus broke him, the resurrection reassembled him, and Pentecost (the Holy Spirit’s filling) empowered him. Each segment is so crucial, but one is incomplete without the others.)

(This sermon is a work in progress. Help us out. What comes to mind? Any personal illustrations? Any insights from your life or Scripture? Have I missed something? Got something wrong? This is the place and now is the time to say it. Thank you.)

7 thoughts on “(The Easter sermon I’m working on….)

  1. Good preaching, Joe.

    Someone said that “the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Gibraltar of Christian evidences and the Waterloo of infidelity.”

    Concerning the fear of the disciples: the issue is not whether the resurrection provided sufficient evidence to ameliorate their fears; it is that in the economy of God there can be no appreciation or appropriation of spiritual reality apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did not complete the work of Christ; He interpreted and applied the work of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the presence of the absent Christ, the true Vicar of Christ; He is Christ’s Alter Ego. He is the allos parakletos–other comforter–another of the identically same kind.

    We are trinitarian, therefore, not just because of biblical evidence, but because of the evidence of Christian experience. The early believers experienced Jehovah God in Jesus, and then they experienced God (Jesus) in the ministry and presence of the Holy Spirit. The church’s experience and, therefore, her worship, were Trinitarian before her theology was.

    BTW–Baptists need to make more of Pentecost and celebrate it as being (almost) as important as Calvary and Easter.

  2. Dr. McKeever – I really enjoyed reading “The Easter Sermon I’m Working On…”

    The reality of the disciples hiding in fear and then being able to overcome their fears through the accompanying presence of the Holy Spirit is an additionally powerful reality. I have certainly seen His empowerment to face a variety of fears over these 26 1/2 years of my Christian journey and for that I am eternally grateful.

    As a Pentecostal Christ-follower, I must be careful to remind myself that the Holy Spirit was not given to provide me with the power “to” witness but to “be” a witness (cf Acts 1:8). And although the Holy Spirit does provide the power “to” witness, the emphasis Christ placed is upon us being empowered to “be” rather than to “do.”

    Pardon my poor grammar but, as I see it, if who we “be” ain’t right then what we “do” ain’t gonna be right either!

  3. God gives us a wink sometimes. He could write across the sky in indelible letters who he is and the world could not deny it, but, for his own reasons, he prefers that we come to him in faith, not seeing everything in exact clarity. But, there are those winks. One of my favorite wink stories is about a young woman on a short term mission trip to an Eastern European country. Prior to going, she had participated in a

  4. “Your words have stood men on their feet.” Job 4:4, your favorite verse as I recall, is very appropriate in this context. The word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, changes us all to be people of God as the “Word became flesh and lived for a while with us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). We overlook a very important little phrase in the Pentecost experiece, “Then Peter STOOD UP WITH THE ELEVEN raised his voice and addressed the crowd…” Acts 2:14–From hiding to hallelujahs, from confusion to conviction, from cowardice to the courageousness–all because of the One whom Jesus sent, as promised as predicted and more powerful than ever imagined. May the God of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, stand us up on our feet as He did the dismayed disciples!

  5. Joe,

    I’m reminded of a visiting preacher who initially was critical of the minister of music’s choice of “Spirit of the Living God” as the call to worship for the first night of a week of revival services(he was hoping for something that would grab the congregation’s attention) until he reflected on those wonderful words. “Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me. Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.” He was so moved by them that he encouraged the worship leader to use it all week. It WAS only when these things happened in the hearts of the disciples that they overcame the fears of the world and effectively added the words “use me” to the phrases of the song. You’re working on a great sermon. I will pray that God will annoint it with the power of His Spirit and that all who hear or read it on this blog will be empowered to “take it outside.” God Bless!

  6. Today (Monday), as usual, I met with three young pastors at the local McDonald’s for our weekly hour-long session. We talk about what they’re preaching Sunday, what’s going on in their churches, their family situations, etc. Today, I threw out this sermon idea and asked for their input. Here’s what we came up with….

    Following the resurrection of Jesus, the function of the Holy Spirit with the disciples, while a lot of things, was predominantly in these areas:

    1. to overcome their fears.

    2. to energize their witness.

    3. to tenderize the toughies. (We laughed at that. The point is that the Spirit softens the hearts of our audience and prepares them for the Gospel.)

    4. to reach the lost. Remember how at Pentecost when Peter preached, the people were “pricked in their hearts” and interrupted Peter’s sermon to ask, ‘What shall we do?’ That is a function of the Holy Spirit.

    And I recalled an illustration. I’ll google it and see if I can get the accurate account. A ship was lost in the South Atlantic and the passengers and crew had run out of water. One day they spotted another ship on the horizon and sent a message, “Do you have any water? We’re desperate.” The ship answered, “Let down your buckets. The water is all around you.” Turns out the lost ship was in the estuary of the Amazon River, which sends fresh water 200 miles into the Atlantic. They were dying of thirst when life-giving water was under their feet, so to speak.

  7. I googled “Let down your buckets” and found that story is everywhere. In recent history, Clovis Chappell gave it to us. He speaks of how the crew on the dying ship thought the message from the ship on the horizon (“Let down your buckets!”) was a taunt, laughing at their distress. When they re-sent their message (“We’re dying for water.”) the same message came back. Finally, with nothing to lose they let down the ship’s bucket and drew up fresh, life-giving water. They had everything they had needed to live, but were dying needlessly. Makes a good point. I’m not certain how it fits this particular sermon though, or if it does.

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