Does God Answer Prayer?

Bob L. was leading a weekly prayer meeting for the community around Sentani International School in Papua, Indonesia. At the front of the room was a chalkboard divided into four columns. As people suggested prayer needs each week, Bob wrote them in the first column. Tracking the specific requests, each week Bob would move some into column 2 -- “answered yes,” column 3 – “answered no,” or column 4 – “not yet.”

All of those attending Bob’s prayer meetings saw graphic examples of how God does respond to our prayers. He doesn’t always do so in the way we might expect (or want), but he does respond, and we almost always see his response in an obvious way.

Although pray is more than just asking for things, we most often seem to associate it with bringing specific needs or requests to God. So, let’s continue to look with that perspective through today’s post.

From a person’s first prayer, usually in the form of Romans 10:13 -- Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, to specific promises and principles given to people like the prophet in Jeremiah 33:3 -- ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know,’ to Jesus words to his disciples in John 15:16 – “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name,” God shows that he wants to respond to the prayers of his people

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat prayed for deliverance from a superior army coming against Jerusalem. Not only did God destroy the invaders, the fear of God came upon all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard how the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel (2 Chronicles 20:29)

Peter the Apostle had been arrested and imprisoned in Jerusalem. Acts 12:5 records, So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. The next paragraphs describe how God sent an angel to free and then personally escort Peter from his cell and almost to the door of the house where this prayer was going on.

Paul told the Corinthian church about his “thorn in my flesh,” some unknown affliction from Satan which made him less effective than he wanted. He prayed very specifically that God would remove this problem, but God responded with an emphatic “no.” God does not always with what we want to hear. When that happens, we have to have faith that God has a better idea, which he will reveal in his own time.

Beginning the great faith chapter in Hebrews, the writer used the example of Enoch to tell us and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

As I write this, I am encouraged anew that God does care about his people enough to listen to us when we converse with him. The overwhelming weight of biblical evidence convinces us that God cares enough to respond, that he is powerful enough to respond, and that he wants us to see and acknowledge his responses.

For our part, we can’t afford to allow our preconceptions, personal agendas, or impatience to get in the way of what God wants to do in and through us as we pray.

Hearing God

Let’s build on two statements from last week’s posting.

Starting with the simple definition that says prayer is conversing with God, we remember that we have the privilege of that conversation because we are in a relationship with God the father through our faith in Jesus Christ.

As far as biblical terms go, words such as pray, worship, praise, ask, inquire, and plain old speak – when they are active verbs – express the concept of conversation with God from our side. When God such says things like “listen carefully” (Ezekiel 44:5), “hear my words” (Deuteronomy 4:10), “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18), we can understand it is God’s turn to lead the conversation. More generally, whenever we read anything from the Bible, we can be sure it is part of God’s conversation, both to those who originally heard the words and to us who came after its writing.

The thing that sets prayer apart from any other conversation in our lives is a simple fact that is between the God of the universe and we who are called by his name. From the beginning, it’s all about relationship.

I was recently reading the book Face to Face by Pastor Monte Kline. In this book, Klein calls Christians to spend more personal time with God. He often labels this as personal retreat, which can be anything from a few hours to days alone with God. He points to Moses’ 40 days with God in the clouds of Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:19) and Paul’s years in the Arabian desert (Galatians 1:17) as examples to note and follow (though not to those extremes) in finding our own times to be alone to talk to and hear from God.

In these examples, God seems to have used the person’s time alone to instruct, build, and prepare them for the next stage in their lives.

We know the Christian life is supposed to be one of spiritual growth. Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews refer to some Christians as being in the baby stage of growth. They don’t note this just in passing, but as an stage we should quickly grow out of. New Testament writers point this out in passages such as 2 Corinthians 10:15, Ephesians 4:15, and one of my favorites, 2 Peter 3:18, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” And then there is a wonderful statement by Paul in second Corinthians 3:18. This one verse is so chock-full of meaning, but the overall sense is growth, when he wrote, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

I submit that one of the greatest outcomes of prayer is becoming increasingly more comfortable in the presence of God so that he can direct our lives and use them for his glory. The more we converse with God, the easier it is to continue speaking to him. That conversing can find us on our knees alone or one of several praying in a group. It might be speaking aloud with God or forming the words in our minds. It can be singing together with hundreds in a church sanctuary or singing Scripture choruses alone in our car. It can be asking him for something or thanking him for something. Although I highly doubt God needs a smart phone, we could probably talk to him through texts, where the acronym omg takes on a whole new significance.

And, before you know it, talking to God becomes second nature to us.

On the other side, God responds to very few people in the booming voice he must have used to Moses on Sinai, or even the still small voice which Elijah eventually heard in 1 Kings 19:12 (KJV). He most often seems to talk through his written word, in which case the more time we spend reading the Bible, the more familiar we are with what he wants us to know. He talks to us often through circumstance or the advice of believing friends. Again, the more often we recognize this, the easier it is to understand and apply it in our lives.

And, again, before you know it, we are able to discern more specific leading for our lives.

I once attended a communications seminar where the facilitator reminded us of a common proverb, practice makes perfect. "There is some truth to that,” she said, “but a more realistic way to look at it is practice makes permanent.” She explained the more we do something the more it becomes a standard part of our lives. Oh, were that so in our prayer lives as well!

Last week I left you with the thought that prayer is based on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It doesn't stop there. Prayer helps us grow in that relationship so that we may become more like Christ and be more useful to the God who calls us.

Beginning Practical Prayer

Let’s take a practical look at prayer. I admit I don’t understand how prayer works or why God would even want or need us to pray. I do know that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, suggests, encourages, and commands God’s people to pray. With that as our bottom line, how can we put prayer into practice and see it make an effective impact on life.

In a quote I’ve come to enjoy, Dr. Ralph Martin has said, “Prayer is, at root, simply paying attention to God.” As nice as that sounds, it is more the outcome than the action of prayer. More basically, prayer is conversing with God. It includes talking to God and hearing/perceiving his return conversation. The conversing from our side includes such shades as praising, asking, even complaining. The return conversation can come in such forms as direct audible response, scripture, or circumstance. Don’t take this as a comprehensive definition, but it sets the tone for prayer.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God offers the freedom of prayer primarily to those who give him their allegiance. For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a covenant promise by God to the nation of Israel, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” There is the promise to God’s people that he will hear them in repentant prayer. This offer is based on a relationship. Such promises were not made to other nations, then or now.

Jesus gave a similar promise to his disciples in John 15:7-8, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Going through other biblical teachings, we see the same principle. While God sometimes responds to the prayers of specific people outside his own, he is not bound by covenant or promise to do so.

From that, I conclude that prayer and effectiveness in prayer is tied to our relationship to God the Father through Jesus Christ.

Can you see how the totality of prayer, whether adoration, petition, or thanksgiving, comes back to our relationship with God? More specifically, prayer molds us to be effective disciples of Christ and bear fruit. 

I don’t have any tattoos. If I did get one, it would be the Greek word Onesimus, printed on my right hand. The New Testament book of Philemon refers to a servant with that name. It comes out that his name means “useful.” My imagined tattoo would always remind me to be both useable and useful to God.

With that somewhat weird thought as a base, prayer is not given to make us rich or comfortable, but to make us useful.  Our prayers will be effective so long as we are willing to be useful to God.

Effective Prayer Begins and Continues

with a

Personal Relationship with God,

which can only come through

Jesus Christ.

Modern Day Peters

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 'Take away the stone,' he said. 'But, Lord,' said Martha, the sister of the dead man, 'by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.' Then Jesus said, 'Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?' John 11:38-40

The thing that lay between seeing the miraculous glory of God- the power to raise the dead- was a stone. As we continue with this fascinating collection of rocks found throughout scripture, we add the final pieces this week. Almost all of us can identify with Martha. Jesus on the brink of a miracle- even after we have witness Him do many- is still paused by our “but, Lord”. Usually, also like Martha, the giant stones between us and the miraculous glory of God are based on logical reasoning. So often God proposes what is so out of our imagination and so contrary to our inclinations we are left stammering, “but, Lord!”. Every Biblical miracle, however, was a time when God met our fathers and mothers in the faith in a place beyond imagination or contrary to logic. God is an unchanging God, and while we are still here, there is a still a spiritual war waging and a mission to be completed. He is waiting to release the same glorious and miraculous power in our own lives. What is the stone in the way? What leaves you saying, “but Lord”?

It's so interesting that above sticks and flowers and many other options that rocks have become so much more collectable. There is something weighty- no pun intended- about rocks and their ability to hold symbolic meaning and even literal value. We hold on to rocks. On a retreat, I once received a rock that had “PEACE” written on it. It has stayed with me, and each time I look at the rock, it is a reminder not only of what God did during that time, but also to remain grounded in peace. It's no surprise then that we find Jesus in a scene very familiar to the one we just saw with Lazarus in Luke 24 during His resurrection. I wonder if, as His followers gathered outside the tomb, any gazed at the stone blocking the entrance and had a fleeting memory of Lazarus. I wonder if that Lazarus miracle occurred in just such a way so that the image of the stone being rolled away from a tomb and the dead rising would be held in the memories of all who heard of it as a REMINDER that He could- and would- do it again! Maybe, just like my PEACE rock, it went beyond practicality to trigger that memory. Each time God breathes miraculous hope into a situation we thought was hopeless, that's a spiritual stone we want to hold in our memories as a reminder that He can do it again! We build up this rock collection as a testimony of what God has done for us and also as a reminder of what He will do again.

God has, for some time, marked His chosen ones with stones.

The entire priestly vest must be made of fine linen skillfully woven with blue, purple, and red wool, and decorated with gold. It is to have two shoulder straps to support it and a sash that fastens around the waist.

Put two onyx stones in gold settings, then attach one to each of the shoulder straps. On one of these stones engrave the names of Israel’s first six sons in the order of their birth. And do the same with his remaining six sons on the other stone. In this way Aaron will always carry the names of the tribes of Israel when he enters the holy place, and I will never forget my people.

From the same costly material make a breastpiece for the high priest to use in learning what I want my people to do. It is to be nine inches square and folded double with four rows of three precious stones: In the first row put a carnelian, a chrysolite, and an emerald; in the second row a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; in the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and in the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. Mount the stones in delicate gold settings and engrave on each of them the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.” Exodus 28:9-12, 15-21

The stones God chose to adorn the high priest with were to be reminders of His people. They were each depicted as precious stones, denoting the value each had to God. YOU are a precious stone affixed close to the heart of God.

Jesus also RENAMED Simon as Peter, meaning ROCK, saying he would be the rock upon which He would build His church (Matt 16:18). This privilege wasn't reserved exclusively for Peter. In Revelation, the message to the churches said that to those who were victorious a white stone would be given with a new name (Rev 2:17). God is still creating Peters today! We are to be the stones the cry out! As we conclude our rock-collecting journey, our prayer should be this; Lord, may I be a rock upon which you continue to build your church. Amen.

A New Kind of Temple

So David gave orders to gather the foreigners who were in the land of Israel, and he set stonecutters to hew out stones to build the house of God.” 1 Chronicles 22:2 NIV

When Solomon inherited his father's rock collection it had a very special purpose. He would go on to build God's temple... the center of worship and communion with God. This was the place in which God said He would LIVE.

Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Will you build a house for me to live in?” 2 Samuel 7 NIV.

As we watch the building and destruction and rebuilding of the temple, we are watching the foreshadowing of the temple becoming something very different in the New Testament.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 NIV.

We all begin our spiritual rock collections with a very specific stone. The stone of our hearts. The love of God and rebirth through the Holy Spirit tear down that heart of stone and rebuild it as a heart of flesh...a living, moveable, growing, functioning life source through which God is “pumped out” to the world.

Just following His water-to-wine miracle in John 2, we find Jesus doing some housekeeping. He goes into the physical temple courts and in a literal table-turning display, shoos the sacrificial animals being sold out and, through this prophetic act, shows Himself to be the replacement sacrificial animal- not able to be bought by money. Upon being asked to prove His authority to direct the temple activities,

Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days'.”...“But the temple he had spoken of was his body” John 2:19, 21 NIV.

Jesus proposes a trade. Our stone heart for a living one. Our temple stones for His resurrection and Holy Spirit. As we live for Him, we ourselves become the stones crying out! Christ is called the cornerstone because He came to build. His body that He called the temple in John 2 has now become us.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” 1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-20 NIV.

We were created to build. The question is what are you building through your life? How could you, a perfectly crafted piece of His body...His temple...best be used by Him to advance His kingdom? As we conclude our series next week, we'll take a look at the incredible HOPE written in some new Biblical rocks that we will add to our collection.

Stones Part 2; Slingshots, Sips, & Smoke

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.” 1 Samuel 17:50 NIV

As we continue our Biblical journey, we are adding to our Holy rock collection. Last week we heard the rocks cry out “the kingdom of God is advancing!”. This week, we listen as the stones say, “Only God does the impossible!”. David, another famous “rock” star of the Bible, was going up against all odds. Have you ever been in a position in which all odds were against you? David was the youngest of his brothers, had no military experience, and refused any weapons or armor he was given. The experience he had would never have qualified him to take down the best troop of the opposing army. When he volunteered, Saul dressed him in his own armor! Being the king, it would've obviously been the best quality armor and the best protection he could offer the young boy. It wasn't, however, what David was familiar with. He had experienced God coming through for him when defending his flock of sheep in the past against a bear and a lion. It doesn't say that he used a rock and sling against these but merely that he “struck them down”. It does say, however, in verses 39-40 of 1 Samuel 17;

David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. 'I cannot go in these,' he said to Saul, 'because I am not used to them.' So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

Stones were small and seemed like a joke against such military prowess, but the passage does suggest that he WAS used to using them. The stones, to David, represented reliance on God. Many times in the chapter he voices how Goliath would fall because God would fight with David. Our remembrance of the times in which God has triumphed us in the face of overwhelming odds is the stone with which we fight our next spiritual battle. God did it once, he can do it again.

Tired, thirsty, and complaining, the Israelites in the desert sound a lot like many of us on a rough day. Moses was likely sweating for more reasons than the long walk as the exodus from Pharaoh began to look more and more like a death sentence and less and less like freedom. Panicking, Moses turns to God essentially asking for back up. The response?

“'I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.' So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.” Exodus 17:6

Talk about vindication! A rock (as opposed to plant life or even wood) would have been one of the driest elements in the wilderness. To strike a rock and have water flow from it to satisfy the whole group was the message, through a stone, that only God does the impossible. This same back up is still our back up today. When has God backed you up in an unmistakable way? When has He made a solution where there were no possibilities...only impossibilities? Cherish these experiences as rocks for your holy rock collection.

“Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, 'Your name shall be Israel'. With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed,” 1 Kings 18:31-32

Elijah was undoubtedly a close friend of God. This man knew God did the impossible. He decided to prove it in the face of those who worshiped Baal. So he gathered his own rock collection- twelve to symbolize each of the tribes of Israel- and built an alter. He stacked up wood and soaked it with water three times, even digging a water-filled trench around it. Those worshipping Baal also had wood built up as a sacrifice to Baal. In a showdown-style cook-off, the Baal worshippers prayed and danced and called fire down. Nothing. After some time I'm sure they hoped for a rogue lightning strike or anything that might start a fire. Elijah, on the other hand, had a few spiritual “rocks” in his collection. He had experiences in which God had shown him how mighty and able He was. Each of these experiences that he held and treasured in his spiritual collection had built confidence in God. Elijah, having made it as difficult as possible for fire to catch altogether- much less supernaturally- prayed for God to send fire. FLASH. In a fiery blaze, all was consumed. Even the rocks caught flame. I imagine those who used to worship Baal (because who could not believe in God after such a display) watching rocks burn (“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” 1 Kings 18:38). What happened with those rocks in that day would forever cry in their memories, “Only God does the impossible!”

So what did Jesus have to say about rocks? Did He even have a spiritual rock collection? Keep following this month as we explore deeper together.

Holy Rock Collection

"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Luke 19:40

If stones could cry out, what exactly would they say? The saying goes, “if walls could talk...”, but what if stones could talk? Looking at the Old Testament, stones have one overarching cry; “The kingdom of God is advancing!”.

Jacob had quite the rock collection. It began in a way he could have never anticipated during a time of movement. Fleeing a rather awkward situation at home with a murderous brother whose blessing he had stolen, Jacob had set out for Harran in Genesis 28. He chose a stone to rest his head on. He then dreamt of an open heaven from which angels were descending and ascending. God spoke to him saying he was to be given the land he rested on and, “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (v. 14-15). As the spiritual offspring of Jacob, we lay hold of this promise as today God continues to spread the gospel to the west, east, north, and south until ALL PEOPLES OF THE EARTH have been blessed. God will not stop until He has done what He promised. Upon awakening, Jacob placed the rock as an anointed pillar to remind him of what He had heard. The kingdom of God is advancing!

In Genesis 35, we find Jacob back at this same site but with a new rock. This time God tells him he is being given a new name, and with that new name a new legacy.

God said to him, 'Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.' So he named him Israel. And God said to him, 'I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.'” Genesis 35:10-12

God is specific to say that this new legacy is not just for him- it is for his descendants...a community of nations even! That legacy is the meaning of the name Israel; God prevails. He marks the occasion with a stone monument.

A portion of those descendants- the Israelites- were led by Moses in the desert. This man had probably two of the most famous rocks of all. Before God gave him these commandments, He told Him the purpose for those commandments. The purpose was that God's kingdom was advancing, and they needed (just as we need) to obey as He commanded in order to manage all He was about to give them.

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5-6

Joshua was another to add to this Holy rock collection. In Joshua 4 the long-awaited crossing the Jordan into the promised land is marked by none other than stones. The kingdom of God was again advancing! They were taking new land. These stones, however, were not for others to know that they had claimed the land. It was a reminder to themselves and future generations of God's age-old promise to be with them and their descendants and how He DELIVERED on that promise.

to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever'.” Joshua 4:6-7

As we continue through the month of April we are going to keep adding to our spiritual “rock collection”. As we review each of these, however, take inventory of your own spiritual rock collection. When is a time that God has met you in the midst of your trouble like Jacob as he fled Esau? That's a rock for your collection. When did you stop being the “old you” and receive your new identity to be reborn in Christ? That's a rock for your collection. What are the ways in which God has commanded us to live? Those are rocks for your collection. When is a time where God came through for you in such a profound way that recalling it or telling it to others builds your faith again? That's a rock for your collection. Because what we are building with these rocks is a temple. Before Jesus died He made reference to tearing down the temple and raising it in three days, but is says “But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” John 2:21. WE are now the body Christ has here on earth. It is through our hands and feet and lips that His kingdom continues to advance! So stone by stone, let us build up the temple in our hearts to complete what He began in spreading His redeeming love and truth until ALL PEOPLES OF THE EARTH have heard.

It is Finished?

“Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).

Jesus had begun this pivotal week in His life by triumphantly riding through the gates of Jerusalem, acclaimed by the crowds and feared by the establishment. By the end of the same week, He had been betrayed to His opponents, had been tried and convicted of blasphemy by a religious court, had been tried and convicted of treason by a political court, and, finally, had been nailed onto a cross-shaped wooden scaffold to die a slow and painful death.

After just a few hours, He spoke these words and died. “It is finished.”

Something was finished. Jesus was dead. He had come to earth in human form to become the perfect anti-type of the Old Testament sacrifice. By His death the sins of people inside and outside of Judaism could be forgiven by God once and for all.

This was not, or should not have been, a surprise. Jesus had been very open in saying such things as “. . . the Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), and “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“It is finished.”

Not quite.

In addition to predicting His death, Jesus predicted what was to follow. In his gospel, Matthew recorded “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).

“It is finished.” 

At that moment in time, Jesus’ physical human life was over. His suffering was cut short. That part of God’s eternal plan was, indeed, finished. But that was only the prelude to the day we call Easter.

“On the first day of the week [Sunday], very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. . . . suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. . . . the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, . . . ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words” (Luke 24:1-8).

Peter, one of the original disciples, later wrote about the importance of this resurrection, tying it directly to our salvation from sin and our hope of an eternal existence.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Resurrection . . . ? or !

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important doctrine of Christianity.

The 15th chapter of the 1 Corinthians is a wonderful affirmation of the resurrection and its importance to us. The apostle Paul clearly states an objective truth: “. . . what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Paul goes on, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” And, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

Over the past 2000 years, many people have opposed Christianity. Some have argued against Christianity on theological or philosophical grounds. Some have used force in attempts to destroy the faith. Others have sought to marginalize the church and her adherents.

If Christianity’s opponents want to completely destroy this religion, there is one foolproof way to do so. They only have to disprove the resurrection.

From the day of the resurrection in April of A.D. 33 until now, no one has been able to disprove the resurrection. The evidence of an empty tomb is historically accurate. Religious and secular historical sources attest to the resurrection. Jesus’ dead body was never discovered. Quite the contrary, a living Jesus showed himself to his closest friends and over 500 other people in the days following his death, burial, and resurrection.

A little over a week from today, Christians around the world will celebrate Easter, the day Jesus the Christ was raised to life.

If the resurrection did not happen, this celebration is meaningless. Christianity, then, is meaningless.  It doesn’t matter how nice Christians are or how much good they are doing. If Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is based on a lie and is meaningless.

On the other hand . . .

If Christ did rise from the dead, Christianity is true.

 

Jesus is the God he claimed to be (John 1:1, 10:30).

Jesus is the only way of salvation (John 14:6).

Salvation only comes through personal faith in Jesus (John 3:36).

Coming back to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul moved from the reality of Christ’s resurrection to the effect on those who put their trust in him. “For as in Adam [the natural human] all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (v. 22).

Then he looks forward to the culmination of our faith with the awe-inspiring words:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable,

and the mortal with immortality,

then the saying that is written will come true:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

                        Where, O death, is your victory?

                        Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is Easter, my friends. Celebrate!

The Investigators

Lew Wallace had been a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. A decade later he was a lawyer and trying to become an author. He had come into contact with one of the most famous atheists of his day who had, quite simply, embarrassed him. Wallace was not embarrassed by the two hours of anti-religion he absorbed during that conversation, but by his own indifference and ignorance of that area of life.

In an academic way, that encounter convinced him to study Christianity. Even as a skeptic, he had long enjoyed the story of the wise men who came to Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth. He had even begun a fictional novel based around that event, which he also considered mostly fiction. Now he thought he would carry that story down to the crucifixion which would, in his own words, “compel me to study everything of pertinency; after which possibly, I would be possessed of opinions of real value. It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results – – first, the book Ben Hur, and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”

Frank Morrison was a skeptic concerning Christianity, and especially the resurrection of Jesus. In the early part of last century, he decided to write a short paper about the last days of Jesus, in order to debunk the most crucial evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity.

As he progressed with his research, he became convinced that Jesus did rise from the dead, and that this truth is the crucial underpinning of the entire Christian religion. Intending to write a paper criticizing Christianity, his research became the book, Who Moved the Stone? The final sentence in the book says it all, “There may be, and, as the writer thinks, there certainly is, a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed -- ‘the third day he rose again from the dead.’”

Closer to our own day, a Chicago Tribune journalist and atheist named Lee Strobel began a similar investigation. When his wife became a Christian, Strobel began exploring the historicity and truthfulness of that faith.

Explaining his quest, Strobel wrote, "Some people are more experiential. . . . [coming] from a legal background and journalism background, I tend to respond to facts and evidence. My way of processing my spiritual journey was to ask the question 'Is there any evidence that supports Christianity being true?"

Ultimately, that two-year process convinced him that all evidence led to the conclusion that Christianity is true. As with Lew Wallace and Frank Morrison before him, Strobel acted on that evidence and made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ in 1981.

All of Christianity rests on the foundation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As these three men discovered, those are two factual events. Not because we want them to be true, but because they really happened, just as described in the Bible. That's called reality!

That’s also called Easter, the true Holy Day we will celebrate in just over two weeks.

What does that mean for you?