“The Linchpin” – John 20-21
The Resurrection of our Lord – April 16, 2017
- A “linchpin”
My sermon today is entitled “The Linchpin” but I bet a lot of people don’t really know what a linchpin is. It’s not a very common term, and unless you’re a mechanic of some kind or have farming experience in your background, you probably haven’t heard of it or used one. Let’s ask Google…
A linchpin – Google definition – a pin used to hold a wheel on an axle (photo), otherwise wheel falls off and cart is in jeopardy of being destroyed, and passengers injured; also a person or thing vital (indispensable) to an enterprise or organization – somebody who just holds everything together: captain or coach who holds a sports team together, a mom or dad who holds a family together, a CEO who holds a company together with his/her vision and leadership and charisma.
Some things just capture the essence of a day or event for a person. They are the linchpin of how we think about that day or event. I need four volunteers to complete a sentence. Let me assure you there are no wrong answers, just right answers for you. How would you complete this sentence?
Christmas isn’t Christmas without…
A birthday isn’t a birthday without…
Valentine’s Day isn’t Valentine’s Day without… (husband… were you listening?)
Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without…
- Easter isn’t Easter without…
OK, we’re not on any of those days today, so we need to consider another sentence starter… Easter isn’t Easter without… evidently somebody thought the appropriate answer is… Cadbury chocolate! This is a photo of the display I saw in the grocery store a couple of weeks ago.
There is a right answer, a best answer to that statement… Easter isn’t Easter without… Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Without that, it’s just another holiday with a bunny and eggs and greeting cards and yes, chocolates, and unique family favourite foods. The key thought today is: The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin – not just of Easter – but of the Christian faith. Without it the Christian faith would literally fall apart and crumble. A few weeks ago, I was chatting with someone on Skype about what church to go to (in another city). I decided to ask my favourite question: In 25 words or less, what do you think is the central teaching of the Christian faith, of the Bible. He thought about it for a minute or two and said… John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” OK, it wasn’t his own words, but it was a good answer, a solid answer, so I encouraged him to find a church that really believes and teaches and lives that. The Christian faith really is about believing in Jesus’ crucifixion for the forgiveness of our sins and believing in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead in order to have eternal life in heaven with God. In fact, if Jesus’ hadn’t risen from the dead, I wouldn’t be a pastor today! It would be incongruent for me, even hypocritical. But Jesus’ resurrection really is the linchpin of the Christian faith. It’s indispensable, it holds everything together, and, as St. Paul says in the Bible, all of God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ, and in his resurrection. Now, this linchpin is different from the lynch mob that arrested Jesus on the Friday, and that called for His crucifixion. Although, to be honest, without the lynch mob there would be no linchpin! Without the crucifixion there would be no resurrection.
- Movie: “The Case for Christ”
I think it wasn’t just coincidence that ten days ago a new movie was released to coincide with Easter. It’s called “The Case for Christ.” And it wasn’t just coincidence that a dozen of us went to see it on Monday evening. I like to say that God plans coincidences!
So, this movie is the true story about – SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! – about Lee Strobel, the author of this book by the same name. The movie starts in 1980 when Lee has just been promoted in his position as an investigative journalist with the Chicago Tribune. Lee and his wife were not believers in Jesus. In fact, he called himself an atheist. After his promotion, Lee, his wife Leslie, and their daughter, Alison, celebrated at a local restaurant. Alison gets some candy caught in her throat and can’t breathe. A Christian nurse who just happened to be in the restaurant at that time, knew what to do to get the candy out, and Alison was OK. The Strobels were grateful for the nurse’s intervention, and went back to their meal. But Leslie wasn’t content. She had to find out why the nurse said “My husband and I were going to go to a different restaurant, but I sensed God leading us here instead. Now I know why.” Leslie dug deeper, even to point of attending church with the nurse. As she explored the Christian faith with more sincerity, it created a wedge in her marriage with Lee. Lee was not happy about this at all, but decided to do his thing – investigate the claims of Christianity in order to disprove them to his wife and dissuade her from getting involved with this “cult” and belief, and instead abandoning her silly spiritual journey. In his investigation, he especially focused on the resurrection of Jesus – the Easter event. He interviewed experts in several fields of scholarship and questioned such things as the reliability of the Biblical record, and the reliability of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and whether or not hundreds of witnesses of the risen Jesus could have been psychologically deceived into making the same false claim, and he even interviewed an expert medical doctor to see if it might be possible that Jesus did not really die during the crucifixion but regained consciousness after a couple of days in the tomb. He left no stone unturned in his interviews. After all his research, some two years after the restaurant episode, Lee Strobel had to admit to himself that there was nothing that could lead him to doubt that Jesus was an historical person and nothing to lead him to doubt Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He came home one evening to humbly and haltingly tell Leslie that he believed, he believed that Jesus really had risen from the dead.
Peter Chattaway spoke to Lee Strobel on the phone about the release of the movie. This is an excerpt of their conversation.
Chattaway: The story takes place in 1980, and the book came out in 1998 — so almost 20 years later — and now the film is coming out in 2017, which is another 20 years almost. How have the issues changed over the years? Are people asking different questions? Are they asking the same questions?
Strobel: Well, that’s a good question. (laughs) I think fundamentally, the question of whether or not Christianity makes sense — whether it withstands scrutiny, whether the evidence supports it or hurts it — always comes down to the Resurrection. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17, if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. So that’s the linchpin of the Christian faith, is whether Jesus did indeed, A, live, B, die, and C, was resurrected from the dead, which authenticated his claims of divinity. So I think the Resurrection continues to be a pivotal issue, a pivotal question for people. I think a lot of other issues have been raised in interim years, about the nature of truth, of course gender issues, issues involving social matters like abortion and euthanasia and so forth, those swirl about and change from time to time, but I think the fundamental question of whether or not Christianity is true ultimately goes back to the Resurrection.
Now, I decided to use the word ‘linchpin’ for today’s sermon title a couple of months ago, and I only found this interview site on Wednesday, but it’s interesting that Strobel uses the same word to describe the indispensable nature of the resurrection of Jesus to the Christian faith. That’s another God-planned coincidence!
- Jesus’ resurrection and four real-life people
I want to take a couple of minutes now to look at four real-life people – Mary, John, Tom and Pete – why the resurrection of Jesus was the linchpin for their faith and their lives. These stories come from the Bible, in the book of John.
Mary had been a prostitute, and when she met Jesus for the first time, He chased seven demons out of her. In response, she could not but follow Jesus, and learn from Him, and live for Him. She followed all the way to the cross on Good Friday, and then, along with the other women, she went to the tomb of Jesus on that Sunday morning, before sunrise, to finish the anointing of Jesus’ body for burial. The stone was rolled away. She went to tell Jesus’ disciples, but came back. She was crying in grief when she personally encountered the risen Jesus. He spoke her name, “Mary,” and that changed everything. Whereas earlier, Jesus had chased demons out of her, now He chased the confusion out of her. He was alive. She saw Him. She talked with Him. I wish we knew more about what happened to Mary. This is the last time she is mentioned by name in the Bible. But there were a group of women who continued to meet with Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem after He ascended into heaven, so it’s natural to assume that Mary was in this group of women, too. Her confusion was dispelled – she knew Jesus was alive, and that changed her whole life.
Let’s turn to John. He was presumably a young man, for when Mary first told them about the empty tomb, John outran Peter to the tomb. With the decorum and solemnity expected at a grave site, John simply stood outside and peered in. But Peter, brash Peter, couldn’t put on the brakes and just barged right into the tomb, seeing the linen body cloths and the face cloth which were lying there with no body underneath. Finally, following Peter’s lead, John also went into the tomb. He had not known what to do with Mary’s report. Luke’s account tells us that the disciples considered the Easter news from the women to be nonsense and they didn’t believe it. But now, as John went inside, four words record his response: “he saw and believed.” What did he see? Nothing! No body! And he was convinced. Usually people – like the people of a jury – are convinced by evidence… fingerprints, a bullet casing, some DNA. You know what they say, “Seeing is believing.” John was convinced by a lack of seeing, by a lack of evidence. He saw nothing there in the tomb… and believed. What did he believe? He believed that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. John saw nothing and believed that Jesus was alive.
What do you need to convince you that Jesus is alive? John actually says that he wrote the entire account of the life and miracles and signs of Jesus precisely so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing you may life – eternal life – in His name.
Let’s consider Tom, Thomas. He was one of the disciples, too. But somehow he was conspicuous by his absence on Easter Day. He wasn’t there in the morning when the women came. He wasn’t there in the evening in the Upper Room when Jesus appeared in person to the disciples. Maybe he was afraid and was in hiding somewhere… alone. Maybe he had some other business to attend to. Whatever the reason, he was challenged by the unbelievable news of his friends, “We have seen the Lord.” Tom coined that “seeing is believing” philosophy. “Unless I see… I will never believe… Unless I put my finger into the nail marks and my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Well, Tom was there for Jesus’ encore appearance a week later. Though the doors of the Upper Room were locked, Jesus came and stood among them, extending His peace, and inviting Tom to believe in precisely the way he asked – “Put your finger here and your hand here… and believe.” Tom did, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” This wasn’t just the “OMG, Oh my God!” expression you hear too often and too carelessly these days. This was “You are my Lord and my God!” Wouldn’t you profess that, too, if someone had come back from the dead after being crucified? So, what is holding you back from believing that and making that kind of profession of faith? Jesus did rise from the dead. Although you can’t put your finger in His hands or your hand in His side, Tom did, and John faithfully reported it. Tom was a doubting skeptic, but his challenge to believe was met by a risen Saviour.
OK, last but not least… Pete… Peter. This is the guy who, when Jesus was being arrested on Thursday night, impulsively cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, the guy who ashamedly denied even knowing Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard, the guy who wept bitter tears of remorse when the rooster’s crow reminded him of Jesus’ words and of his failure, the guy who brashly barged into the tomb on Easter morning. It was later, maybe a couple of weeks later, that this fallen follower of Jesus had a conversation with Jesus on a Galilee beach. “Do you love me?” Jesus asked, not just once, not twice, but three times – once for each time that Peter denied knowing Jesus. Peter assured Jesus that he loved Him, and Jesus commissioned him for a life of compassion and service and teaching among God’s sheep and lambs who followed and believed. Without the resurrection, Peter would have floundered and drowned in his failures, but with the resurrection he was restored to leadership among the disciples and in the early Christian community.
The resurrection is so critical to our faith that if I were involved in the naming of a new Lutheran church, I would lobby for it to be named Resurrection Lutheran Church.
- Jesus’ resurrection and you!
So, these were real people – Mary, John, Tom, Pete. They each faced some serious questions when Jesus had died on Friday, but by Sunday, and in the days that followed, they came to understand that Jesus’ rising from the dead was indeed the linchpin in this God-man’s remarkable life. It wasn’t Jesus’ teaching, it wasn’t His healing, it wasn’t His miracles, it wasn’t His suffering and death. It was Jesus’ resurrection. That’s the indispensable event of the Christian faith. Without it Jesus’ death was just another human death, a gruesome one, but just another one. Without it Jesus’ miracles were those of a sorcerer who could walk on water, calm a storm and do tricks with fish and bread. Without it Jesus’ healings were those of a quack doctor who flukily got things right. Without it Jesus’ teachings were those of a gifted rabbi. But with the resurrection, Jesus was… is the Saviour, my Lord and my God. Like with Mary, He dispels your confusion. Like with John, He convinces you that Scripture’s evidence and the evidence of ‘nothing’ point to God’s plan that Jesus must rise from the dead. Like with Tom, He confronts and challenges your doubts and skepticism and invites you to believe even though you have not personally seen with your own eyes… because really “not seeing is believing!” Like with Pete, He restores and forgives you to be commissioned and sent out for service and witness to the world, with the hope of following Him in your own resurrection one day. And like with Lee, Lee Strobel, even after 2000 years, there is ample evidence to have that hope, to truly believe that Jesus is still a living and loving Saviour. May Jesus and His resurrection be and remain the linchpin for your todays, and the hope for your tomorrows. Amen.