“Too Good to Be True?” 1 Corinthians 15:12-23 and Matthew 28:1-15

It seems that every religious holiday has become overshadowed by the secular trappings of the day, especially in the minds of children, and Easter is no exception. In the newspaper cartoon, “The Family Circus,” the children find their Easter baskets on Easter morning and begin enjoying them. The little boy asked, “Who colored all these eggs?” To which the sister replied, “The Easter Bunny.” “Who gave us the jelly beans?” “The Easter Bunny.” “And the chocolate rabbit?” “The Easter Bunny.” (Obviously, there was NOTHING beyond the reach of the Easter Bunny!)

Later that morning, the family attended Easter services at their church and heard the preacher say, “They came to the tomb and saw the stone had been rolled back. Who could have done this?” To which the little boy jumped up in the pew and shouted, “The Easter Bunny!”

Yes, sometimes we miss the point of our religious holidays. But we had better NOT miss the point of this one! That is because Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, is the very heart of the Christian faith. It is the cornerstone on which all our other beliefs are built. It is the lynch-pin which holds the Church together.

There is no other doctrine in the Christian faith which is more essential . . . no conviction that is more important . . . than the belief in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. We confess it in our creeds, we sing it in our hymns, and we proclaim it from our pulpits Sunday after Sunday. Indeed, there is nothing that defines us as Christians more clearly than our belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. And that is why we are here this morning.

Yet, if we look beyond all the whoop-la of our Easter celebration, we must confess that, at times (and maybe even this morning), you and I have a little trouble accepting this remarkable story at face value. It seems “too good to be true.” Growing up, I always heard that if something seemed too good to be true, it probably was!

Some of us have a hard time quieting the questions that arise from our modern 21st century minds. We think, “It’s impossible for a person who has been dead three days to be brought back to life . . . isn’t it? Maybe Jesus wasn’t really dead after all . . . or perhaps the disciples DID steal the body, like the Roman guards said . . . or maybe the whole story was made up?” No matter how hard we try to ignore it, our minds cause us to question our faith, and sometimes, we lose our faith.

Years ago in Moscow, when the Communists were doing their best to erase the church from Soviet Society, a noted Soviet educator was giving a lecture attempting to prove the Christian faith had no merit. At the close of the address, he asked if anyone would like to reply or to refute his arguments. After a few hushed moments, a village priest arose and slowly ascended the platform.

“Remember, only five minutes,” the lecturer reminded him. “What I have to say will be brief,” the priest replied. The priest looked out over the crowd a moment in silence, and then in a clear ringing voice, gave the timeless Easter greeting, “Christ is risen!” Then, as if in chorus, the audience responded with on voice, “He is risen indeed!” The lecturer went home in defeat.

Yes, many of us in the 21st century are like that Soviet atheist . . . we have trouble accepting the notion of the resurrection. But we are not alone.

Our scripture lessons this morning tell us that we are not the first to have difficulty believing in the Resurrection of Christ. In the account of the resurrection found in Matthew’s Gospel, we read of how the Roman guards and Jewish leaders were so flustered by the Resurrection, that they agreed to start a rumor claiming that the body had been stolen in order to discredit the Disciples. And it must have worked. Because, in the Church in Corinth, there were those who claimed that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead. And, of course, that is what our Scripture lesson from First Corinthians is all about.

You know, there are many people today (even some leaders within the Christian church) who say you don’t have to believe in the Resurrection in order to be a Christian. Maybe even some of you here this morning might agree with that statement. I don’t agree!

Every year at Easter-time, thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps. Along the trail, they pass the “stations of the cross” and end up standing before an outdoor crucifix. One tourist noticed a little train that led beyond the cross. He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine. It had been neglected. The brush had grown up around it. That hidden shrine depicted the empty tomb. Almost everyone had gotten as far as the cross, but there they stopped.

There are many people who never get beyond the cross. They see Jesus as a “good man” who was martyred for his beliefs. Period. For them, Jesus’ ministry, his passion, and his death are enough. To them, it doesn’t really matter if Jesus was actually raised from death or not.

But Paul says, “Yes it does! It makes ALL the difference in the world!” Why? Paul gives us at least three reasons:

First, he says that if Christ was not raised from the dead, our preaching is fraudulent, and our faith is a delusion.

Sigmund Freud, one of the great seminal thinkers in the area of psychology, wrote a little book, entitled, The Future of an Illusion, in which he argues that all religion is a mere projection of wishful thinking on our part. He said that we believe what we want to believe, but that there is no foundation for that belief. It’s all in our minds.

Those of us who have strong religious convictions are offended by that! But you know, in a way, Freud does has a point . . . he makes the same point Paul himself makes: If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith IS a fraud. If the Resurrection never happened, then we ARE just deluding ourselves this morning, – and we all might as well go home.

In the second place, Paul says that if Christ wasn’t resurrected, then we are still lost in our sins. Christ’s promise of forgiveness would have exposed as a lie, and we would still be doomed to hell by our sin.

John Bunyan, in his allegorical book, Pilgrim’s Progress, describes a character he calls by the name, “Christian.” Christian goes around throughout the story carrying a heavy burden on his back.

If Jesus was not raised from death, then He was not the Messiah. And if He was not the Messiah, then his passion and death on the cross could not have redeemed us from our sins. If Jesus was not raised from death, then we, like “Christian,” in Pilgrim’s Progress, would be forced to labor under the weight of our sins forever, with no hope of relief.

Finally, Paul says that, if Jesus did not return to life, then all those who have died believing in Jesus are lost forever.

If Christ is not raised, then there is no reason to hope for our OWN resurrection. That means that our loved ones who have died in the faith have lived a lie, and you and I who look forward to spending eternity in heaven are fools. We might as well give up – Easter was a cruel joke – we are eternally trapped in the “tomb” of Good Friday. Death has had the last laugh, and evil has ultimately triumphed . . . all is hopelessness and despair . . .

That is . . . IF the story is a LIE.

But . . . what if the story is TRUE?

The remarkable, radical conviction of the Church for 2000 years is that THE STORY IS TRUE! . . . That Jesus WAS raised by God on the third day . . . and is ALIVE . . . and is HERE in our midst this morning!

The modern mind asks for proof, and, to be honest, the IS no empirical proof of the Resurrection. It’s left up to each and every individual to decide for him or herself whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. Ultimately, it is a matter of faith.

We must decide for ourselves . . . Is this story “too good to be true?’ Or is it good – BECAUSE it is true?

If the story is true, then those of us who believe the Biblical witness have reason to celebrate this morning! Because, this morning, God has kept His promises! You and I are freed from the burden of sin! We can be born again! We can live new-lives in Christ! And death is NOT the end!

This morning, we proclaim that the Easter story IS true! Christ is alive, God is victorious over evil, – and we can share in that victory!

Once there was a man named George who was accustomed to driving his wife, Rosie, to church every Sunday. They had been married forty years, and loved each other deeply. They did everything together. They were inseparable in practically every area of their lives, except one. When George drove Rosie to church, she went in. He did not. He refused to go inside the church with her. He remained in the car, reading the newspaper.

Well, after a time, Rosie died, and for many Sundays thereafter, church members looked wistfully at the parking lot because George’s car was no longer seen there.

Several months later on Easter Sunday, however, George came to the church service. The pastor delivered a stirring sermon on the Resurrection, and then, as was his custom, invited the members to respond.

George stood up, and with deep emotion said firmly, “Rosie Lives!” Then he began to sing, “My wild Irish Rose, the sweetest flower that grows . . .” One person joined in, then another, and another. Finally, everyone present was joyfully singing the most beautiful “Easter hymn” ever sung in that church!

Rosie lives . . . because Jesus lives! That is the good news of Easter. We can live . . . because Jesus lives!

The story is NOT “too good to be true!” It is good BECAUSE it is true!

“Christ is Risen!” “He is Risen, Indeed!” “Christ is Risen!” “He is Risen, Indeed!” “Christ is Risen!” “He is Risen, Indeed!”

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.