And the fact of the matter is that …

God raised Jesus from the dead!

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 10th June 12

Reading – Acts 2:29-41

One of the things that we like doing at St Barnabas is holding quiz nights. Our next is here on 22nd June and we invite everyone to come along. Last time we were soundly beaten by a team from another church, so what I thought I’d do this morning is try and help us prepare for our revenge. So here are six questions I will to put to you, and all you have to tell me if they are fact or fiction. Are you ready?

The Marathon Race in the Olympics was named after the chocolate bar maker who sponsored it. Fact or fiction? (Fiction)

Queen Elizabeth the Second is the longest reigning British Monarch (Fiction)

Prince Philip was born on the island of Corfu (Fact)

The top row of the Olympic rings are in order from left to right blue, black and red (Fact – the bottom two are yellow and green)

The first women’s cycling event at the Olympics didn’t take place until 1948 (Fiction – the first road race took place in 1984, the first track event in 1998)

Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror (Fact)

Well done if you got all six questions right …

Now in our reading today Peter the apostle also talks about something about being a fact. Was there anyone listening carefully to what it was? That’s right – the resurrection of Jesus. Listen carefully to Peter’s exact words: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.

I wonder if you have ever realised that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact. Last year someone posted on Facebook that he would eat a page of his Bible if there was any professor of ancient history who did not believe the tomb of Jesus was empty three days after His death on the cross. Plenty of people posted back that they did not believe – but not a single historian. The empty tomb of Jesus is one of the best attested events in the whole of first century history. Of course people may argue how Jesus’ tomb came to be empty. But the evidence that Jesus’ tomb was empty is overwhelming, and the best explanation is the one that Peter gives that God indeed raised His Son Jesus Christ to life.

Now I realise there are facts and there are facts. You may know that Prince Philip was born on Corfu, or that William Conqueror built the original Windsor Castle. But those facts won’t make any difference to you when you wake up on Monday morning and plan how you are going to spend your day. They will quickly sink to the back of the brain, only to be dragged out again when you need them in a quiz or watching a game show.

But the fact that God raised Jesus to life again is more than a bit of information that may or may not come in handy from time to time again. Because if the tomb of Jesus was empty, then it changes everything. Someone once famously said that there are two things in life that you can’t avoid – death and taxes. Well, as a former accountant I know there may be ways to get round taxes. But as some of you know only too well, there is no way to get round death.

Yet if there was just one person who had defeated death, one person who could prove to us that there was life beyond our final breath, he would be pretty special, wouldn’t he? Someone we ought to find out more about? The claim of the Christian faith is that this person is Jesus. Nailed to a cross, left to die just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, everyone expected this would be the end of the story. Just another common criminal put to death by the Romans, soon to be forgotten. But three days later the tomb was empty. Fact.

And why is this such a big deal to us? Peter goes on to explain. This Jesus who rose from the dead is now exalted at the right hand of God. In other words, God has given Him the best position of honour because He has taken on man’s biggest enemy and won. And because He has won, Jesus now reigns with God in a position of total authority, whether we recognise it or not. Jesus has authority over us when we go to work on Monday morning, has authority over us when we are in school, has authority over us when we are chilling out with friends, has authority over us when we are asleep in our own home. That’s what it means when we call Jesus Lord. We are saying He is the boss, He is our number one because He has defeated death, and He demands our respect, our worship and our praise.

And once you begin to understand that, you start to see that the fact Jesus is alive and reigning today at God’s right hand is a fact that ought to make the world of difference to our lives. That’s what the crowd who heard Peter’s words realised. We are told quite plainly that they were cut to the heart and asked Brothers, what shall we do? Because they understood that if this Jesus was the one who had defeated the very power of death, then there was direct, practical action they needed to take.

And that’s a really important point to make. You see, so many people have this strange idea that believing in Jesus is really just like any other hobby such as stamp-collecting or playing chess. When you feel like it, you get out your stamp collection or your chess set, and when you’ve finished, you put it away again. If you’re keen and you’ve got the time you might meet up with other stamp collectors or chess players, but even then it’s only a pastime. Let’s be clear, believing in Jesus is not like that. We are not here today because we are part of a club who like to talk about Jesus. We are here because Jesus is Lord, and He commands us to come together to worship Him. But He is still Lord when we leave this church and go back to our homes, or down the pub, or to whatever else we have on today.

So what then do we need to do? Peter’s answer to the crowd is clear: Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. First of all, you need to repent. That means to turn round, to make a change at the very centre of your life. In other words, you need to put Jesus where He belongs, so that you learn to follow Him, and make obeying Him your number one priority. For some of us, that will involve baptism. Baptism is a sign of saying goodbye to an old way of life where you ignored Jesus or pushed Him to the edges, and publicly declaring that He is now your boss, your Lord. For others of us who have already been baptised, that might mean making a new declaration of your faith, or saying sorry for losing sight of Jesus.

But whatever step you need to make, please make sure that you actually take it. Don’t decide, like folk sometimes do, that you’ll start thinking about the Christian faith when you retire, when the kids leave home, when you have nothing better to do. Jesus is already Lord over your life, and He wants more than anything else to have a living, personal relationship with you right now. And yes, I do mean you. Not the person sitting next to you, or the person at the front, but you. After all, the reason why Jesus went through death in the first place was so that each and every one of us could receive forgiveness of sins.

And if we’re honest, isn’t that what we all need? Because you and I have all done things which have spoilt our relationship with God, with other people, even with our nearest and dearest. That too is a fact. It may not be a fact that we talk about that much. We may not like to admit to the things we have thought or said or done. We may even try and excuse ourselves by saying we’re better than the next person, or we’re no worse than anybody else. But our sin is still a fact and unless we deal with it, we will find it affecting every part of our lives, whether we like or not. And the risen Lord Jesus says, “Come to me and let me deal with it”.

So you will come? It says elsewhere in the Bible: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. All you have to do is accept that Jesus is Lord over your life, believe that He died for your sins and come to Him. In one sense it’s a very simple step to take. It’s not hard to understand. It doesn’t involve us pretending that we’re good enough or clever enough or religious enough for God to accept us, because before God none of us – myself included – can ever be good or clever and religious enough to be accepted by Him. It simply means praying with an open heart for Jesus to forgive me of all that I have done wrong and to take His place at the centre of my life.

And you pray like that, you can be sure that Jesus will answer. You may not feel any different, you may still have all kinds of questions. But you can certain that from that point on Jesus will be living in your heart, as a real, genuine presence wherever you go, whatever you do. That’s what Peter meant when he said And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises to anyone who believes in Him that He will give them His presence and His power and His peace. He makes that promise to you. How will you respond?

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