The Fact of Easter

The season of Easter rests upon a historical claim: Jesus died, and on the third day he rose from the dead.  But is this historical claim true, and is it rational to believe it?  Was Jesus’ resurrection an actual historical event?  Is Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection the best rational explanation of the historical testimony about Jesus in the New Testament?

The apostle Paul himself said that not only the season of Easter but the credibility of the entire Christian faith rests upon this issue:

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:14–19 [ESV])

The following collection of resources demonstrates that there are strong historical arguments and evidence that support belief in Jesus’ resurrection.  The four Christian scholars who produced the articles, videos, and books in the following list (Craig, Habermas, Wright, and Licona) have all devoted a substantial portion of their scholarly careers in research and writing about Jesus’ resurrection and are widely recognized experts in the historical and philosophical issues involved in studying the historical Jesus.

1.  Introductory defenses of Jesus’ resurrection

Articles

William Lane Craig, “The Resurrection of Jesus”

Gary Habermas, “The Case for Jesus’ Resurrection”

William Lane Craig, “Forum on the Resurrection”

Video

Gary Habermas, “Teaching on the Resurrection of Jesus”

N. T. Wright, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?”

Books

Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004).

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The Meaning of Easter

The colors at the front of the church have changed from purple to white.   These colors mark the seasons of the church year, which are designed to help us remember and live in light of the story of Jesus’ life.  Having traveled through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent we come to the next chapter of the story—the climax of the story—the season called Easter.

After journeying through Lent by recounting the sufferings of Jesus that culminated in his death and burial, Easter is a season of celebration.  Easter is a time of joyfully retelling and remembering the true story that Jesus was not defeated by death, but rose again from the grave three days later (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20)!  This special celebration of Jesus’ resurrection continues for fifty days until Pentecost Sunday.

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Prayer: Costly Unity for the Sake of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-27)

Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have welcomed us into your family with extravagant grace. Though we deserved nothing but condemnation from you, we thank you for lavishing goodness on us in Jesus Christ, who freely gives us forgiveness, life, and a family to belong.

Gracious Father, we are humbled by your humility in seeking us. We stand in awe of your strength and love that you chose to surrender your right to honor and glory to accept suffering and death you did not deserve, all to serve us and save us in love while we were still your enemies. So please help us to lay aside all prejudice and pride so that we can love others in that same humble way that you have loved us. Please give us supernatural sight to see others as you see them, as people who bear your image with sacred dignity whom you love. Continue reading

Prayer: Sacrificing What Is Dear (Hebrews 11:17-19; Genesis 22:1-19)

Our Redeemer-King, we thank you that you are a God who meets us at our point of greatest need.  Thank you do not ask us to sacrifice anything without the promise of your provision, that what you from us never exceeds what you give to us, and that your work will never lack your supply.

We thank you that in Christ you know the pain of sacrifice more than anyone and that in Christ your accepted the greatest sacrifice for us for the joy of your mission, so that your love and healing power would prevail over our selfish and destructive attempts to save ourselves. Lord, please open our eyes to see that sacrificing everything we have to your service is our greatest honor and purpose and the way of abundant life.  We ask you put to death our pride and fear born of unbelief and fill us such boldness and peace and confidence in your promises that we also can take up our cross and follow you for the joy of finding true life in sacrificing for you and your great purpose for us.  We pray for boldness and peace and confidence even when we don’t understand the path or the process.  When we are full of doubts, please fix our eyes firmly on Jesus, whose resurrection is the living proof that your word and your promises and your good and perfect will for us cannot fail but are all fulfilled in him. Continue reading

Prayer: Following God by Faith into the Unknown (Hebrews 11:8-10; Genesis 12:1-7)

Sovereign Lord, like Abraham, you have called us to follow you into a future world and mission filled with danger and uncertainty. We know that the evils we see so quickly and frequently are not new, but they feel new to us, closer to us, and more overwhelming to us than ever before. Lord, please fill us with your Holy Spirit’s supernatural presence and power that casts out all fear. Fill us with your supernatural life and love that empowers us to live by your promises and to love others boldly as you have loved us. Please make us compassionate and not callous toward those who suffer.

We pray for the cities of Orlando, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas, whose grief is still fresh. Please draw near to all who grieve with your comfort and hope. And we ask you to comfort and protect the people of Nice and the people of Turkey, from those who would do further violence. Use our sister churches in those places to wrap strong arms of support around those who grieve.

But Lord, we are weary with grief and so tired of oppression. You are the Just Judge of all the earth, so how long must the weak and the innocent suffer at the hands of the violent? Please come to deliver the oppressed with mercy and bring justice to your world. We thank you for the violence you have prevented, but we ask boldly for so much more: restrain and break the power of those who do great evil; lead them to repent, and to find forgiveness and eternal life in the Lord Jesus, and to surrender their heart and bow their knee to you as their King.

And in the midst of it all, help the leaders of our nation, state, and city, and above all us, your people, to follow you into hard places and hard relationships as servants of true peace and reconciliation and truth. Please forgive us and keep us from being part of the unending cycles of anger and revenge and accusation, on social media and wherever we engage others with whom we disagree. Please give us courage and care to seek out knowledge and to dispel ignorance and prejudice and delusions with truth that sets us free to see injustice clearly, that considers all sides of a story with empathy, and that moves us to compassion and relentless action toward unity and justice for all people.

Where there are bombs, and shootings, and wars, please help us, your church, our sisters and brothers everywhere, to follow you faithfully in the way of the cross, no matter the cost. Help us to be islands of your safety in an ocean of unrest, to be an oasis of your mercy in places dying with anger, and to be a ray of your hope for people who walk in darkness, to be a people who boldly pursue justice and share freely the good news of Jesus Christ where wickedness prevails. Please give us courage and compassion to weep with those who weep, to provide supplies and work for those in need, and be compassionate witnesses of the only true hope for the world in the empty tomb, the occupied throne, and the return of King Jesus in the flesh. Come, Lord Jesus! Make all things new.

Lord, we pray for the coming of your kingdom in all its fullness using the words that you taught us, saying, “Our Father…

Prayer: Looking to Jesus rather than doctrine (Matt. 7:21-27)

Liturgist:           I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.
All:                      Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.  (Psalm 86:11-12)

Father, we never want to hear you say these terrifying words to us: “I never knew you.” Please help us to know you truly and to love you deeply as you designed us to do, because you have poured your love into our hearts by your Holy Spirit. Break down every wall and every barrier that we put in the way of knowing you. Seize the attention of our hearts from the distractions that we allow to seduce us away from knowing you. We long for your truth to set us free from every hindrance so that our hearts would be united and whole to know and honor you.

Liturgist:           I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, . . .

Lord, please help us be doers, and not just hearers, of your word. When we stand before you as our Judge, we pray that our lives will show the fruit of truly knowing you, the fruit of love that is more than merely being sentimental or doing thing that are convenient, but rather real love that sacrifices when it isn’t convenient or pleasant, the fruit of your character expressed in us as we do our jobs for your glory with skill and devotion, as we welcome strangers generously, as we care for the sick, as we forgive and bless those who hate us, as we visit those who are prisoners, as we care for and adopt children, as we serve a friend who suffers.

Liturgist:           I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, . . .

Father, please be our rock that holds firm when life’s storms put our faith to the rest: when marriage is hard, when friends disappoint, when children wander and won’t listen, when parents and leaders fail, when everything in us wants to give up and surrender to bitter anger, we pray for your strong, patient love to hold us fast, to calm us and give us courage to trust you and to love as we have been loved by you.

Liturgist:           I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, . . .

We pray for those who do not know you, for family and friends, for co-workers and neighbors, some of whom have attended a church and who think they know you but do not. Please open their eyes and hearts to think, to see, to understand, and to embrace you as their true Creator and Savior. Please make us your loving ambassadors in their lives. Help us adorn that good news with humble love. Help us to listen and share and discuss the truth for the sake of love and with a manner of love and a motive of love.

Lord, pray for the coming of your kingdom in all its fullness using the words that you taught us, saying, “Our Father…

Prayer for Pentecost Sunday: Walking by the Spirit and not by the flesh (Gal. 3:1-9)

Spirit of wisdom and understanding, give us the mind of Christ. When we need direction, please bring your word to our mind and heart. When we need clear thinking, please show us wonderful things in your word and lead us in the way of right reason and Spiritual wisdom.

Spirit of counsel, when we do not know what to pray, when are too tired, or too hurt, or too afraid, or too confused to think and pray clearly, please remind us that you pray in us and for us. Please help us bring our simple lament and pain and confusion to you in the simplest thoughts, and words, and groans too deep for words. Thank you that you lead us to look to Jesus when we feel that we cannot. Please help us pray for others and offer your good counsel to others who need to hear it through us with gentleness and respect.

Spirit of the Father, when we feel alone and abandoned, please remind us that you are the guarantee that we are adopted daughters and sons of the Father and heirs of eternal life. Please help us receive and comfort others as we have been received and comforted by you.

Spirit of might, when we feel tempted and weak, please make us strong strengthen us to stand firm. When we want what we know is wrong, and what is bad for us and for others, please give us a stronger desire for what is right, and good, and true, and beautiful. Holy Spirit, make us holy and you are holy, and fill us with your might to stand firm against our flesh and against the schemes of the evil one; make us strong and courageous to encourage and strengthen others who are

Spirit of justice, when we see injustice in ourselves and in the systems and institutions in which we live in our work and our city, may zeal for your justice, goodness, and mercy consume us and compel us to work for justice for the poor, for the marginalized, for the powerless, for the oppressed, with whatever resources and opportunities you have given to us. Please give us courage to do what is right and to trust you for whatever results may come. We pray especially for groups in St. Louis seeking justice and mercy for all in law, in our courts, in housing and economic development, and in education. Please help our city flourish because your people unite to bring your Spirit’s truth, and blessing, and power.

Spirit of Christ, when we feel hopeless, please help us remember that you are the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead. Fill us with hope that you are greater than the evil one and any power in our flesh or in the world that opposes the ultimate triumph of your mission to save.

Spirit of the King, we pray for the coming of your kingdom in all its fullness with the words that you taught us, saying: Our Father. . .