Sermon – “Reasons to Believe”

Sermon for Sunday, February 28th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Mic 5:2-4 ESV] 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

New Testament reading:

[Act 10:34-43 ESV] 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Gospel reading:

[Luk 24:1-12 ESV] 1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

INTRODUCTION

In a number of past sermons I have given my answer to the question “What is the Gospel.”

Based on Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, I describe the Gospel as follows:

The Gospel is that Jesus died and rose again, showing him, based on the Old Testament prophecies, to be the promised messiah and Lord, ushering in the kingdom of God with it’s justice and peace, and forgiving the sins of God’s people so that they are seen as righteous in his sight.

So I hope that you all know clearly what the Gospel is.

Today then, my goal is to take the next step and attempt to persuade you (by the work of the Holy Spirit) to believe the Gospel.

And there are a number of Reasons to Believe that we will be looking at.

First we have the fulfillment of prophecy. The fulfillment of prophecy is sufficient reason to believe the Gospel.

1. The Fulfillment of Prophecy is Sufficient Reason to Believe the Gospel

In that definition I gave of the Gospel I mentioned “the Old Testament prophecies.” The fulfillment of those prophecies in Jesus Christ was a major factor in persuading the early Christians to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the messiah who forgives sin.

In the beginning of the book of Acts we find that Jesus provided “many infallible proofs” to those he appeared to after his resurrection. These “proofs,” I have argued, were the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The Jewish people already held the Old Testament Scriptures to be the word of God. When Jesus fulfilled those Scriptures, it confirmed the truth of His claims to be the messiah.

This fulfillment of prophecy not only convinced the early Christians but continues to convince people today. This is especially important for people of Jewish ancestry or religion. Messianic Jews who have come to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior most often note as a reason for their belief the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in Jesus Christ.

And we must consider this. If Jesus were just a regular man going around TRYING to fulfill prophecy, he would fail completely. While one might attempt by forms of magic or sleight of hand to perform certain miracles, it simply the truth that no one can chose their parentage or their place of birth. That Jesus was “Son of David” by descent is the testimony of the Gospels written by devout Jews who sought the truth. Had Jesus been from another tribe or people or descended from another genealogical line, he would not qualify to be the messiah. But he did qualify, he did fulfill prophecy, from his very birth. Not only was he the Son of David, but he was born in Bethlehem which fulfilled that prophecy from hundreds of years prior which said: “Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel who coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

These are two prophecies are fulfilled in his birth.

And many prophecies were fulfilled in his death. He was pierced on the cross. Lifted up for all to see. A righteous sufferer.

The fulfillment of prophecy has always been especially important for those who already believed the Old Testament was the word of God.

But for the Gentiles also, the fulfillment of prophecy was quite amazing as well. We have to realize that the Old Testament was written hundreds of years before Jesus, and predicts things about Him that are more than mere coincidence. The story of Jesus, in fact, confirms the truth of the Old Testament. That which occurred was predicted, and to a far greater extent and detail than any human prognosticator can match.

Simply, the fulfillment of prophecy confirms the truth of the Gospel.

2. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is Sufficient Reason to Believe the Gospel

Then also, another reason to believe in the truth of the Gospel is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The factitity and historicity of it.

It actually happened that Jesus rose from the dead.

And this is a miracle so profound that only IT having actually happened can explain the history of the early church.

Only the resurrection can explain how the disciples went from despondent followers of a dead messianic claimant to martyrs for the cause of a living Christ.

The disciples simply would not have believed that Jesus was resurrected from the dead unless JESUS WAS RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD.

The historicity of the resurrection is attested to by the New Testament writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and Paul. And while James and Jude might not specifically mention the resurrection, their theology depends on it.

So this was not a story made up by one disciple. Nor a plot put together by a small group of disciples, for the Apostle Paul was an enemy of the Christians at first, but came to believe after Jesus appeared directed to him.

The history is clear that Jesus lived and was killed by crucifixion.

Not only is this attested to in the Scriptures, but in the writings of ancient historians in the century after Christ. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jesus and his brother James. The Romans historian Tacitus even says that this Jesus was “executed under Pontius Pilate.”

And somewhere in the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection — the writings of the earliest Christians — it is said that there was actually a record of the death of Jesus kept in the archives in Rome, and that the Christians so frequently asked to see it, that it was intentionally destroyed in order to stop their requests.

So while respectable secular historians might not believe in the resurrection, they all believe that Jesus lived and was crucified by the Romans.

But we do not end with the death of Jesus. We cannot end there. For there is the empty tomb.

Jesus was killed, and he was buried in a tomb. But on the 3rd day, the massive stone covering the tomb was found rolled away and his body gone.

The Chief Priest, according to Matthew’s Gospel, paid the Romans soldiers who were guarding to say “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.”

Some sleep it must have been. Giant stones are quietly moved. Nor is there any good reason to think the disciples would risk their lives to steal Jesus’ body. They didn’t risk their lives to defend when he was alive, why would they risk their lives now that he is dead?

When the women found the empty tomb, they assumed it was the Romans who had moved Jesus’ body. Mary Magdalene said “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Each side then was accusing the other. The Romans accused the disciples, and the disciples accused the Romans.

But the angels at the tomb explained “He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:6)

And the disciples did not believe the women so easily. But upon the repeated post-resurrection appearances of Jesus even doubting Thomas came to believe. He is Risen indeed.

All that it would take to end the whole Christian movement would have been for someone to find Jesus’ body. But it wasn’t found. It couldn’t be found. He indeed is risen.

Had their been a body of Jesus still around, consider what would have been done with it. Look at human nature – for so many early church saints, when they died their bodies were kept in shrines. Now, if Jesus’ body was available, followers of him would want that body. But it wasn’t available. He Is Risen.

Lying didn’t go over very well in the Jewish world. Not only is it against the Word of God to lie, but lying was downright dangerous. And no one is going to risk their life for a lie.

The Resurrection confirms the truth of the Gospel.

And the conscience confirms our need for the Gospel.

3. The Conscience Confirms Our Need for the Gospel

What you sin, and you feel guilty, have you every stopped to ask “WHO do I feel guilty to?”

If you’ve stolen your brother’s bike you might feel guilty to him. Or if your boots carry mud into a house, you might feel guilty to the owner of the house.

But what about sins that affect no other human person?

When you’ve committed lust and feel guilty, who is it that you are guilty to?
When you’ve had too much to drink — or too much to eat — who is that you feel guilty to?
And when you fail to pray, or fail to come to church, who is it that you feel guilty to?

If there is no God, then why is there guilt?

But there is guilt. We have a conscience. We feel bad when we’ve sinned. And it is because we know that we are guilty before God, the judge of all.

And being guilty, we hide like Adam in the garden. We cower in fear.

How are we ever going to appease God? If I do a hundred good deeds, does that erase that fact that I am a sinner? Does charity work make up for murder? Does giving your child money make up for neglecting them? Obviously no.

No matter what WE Do, we cannot appease God.

We have sinned and fall short.

The Gospel is our only hope.

4. At the Proverbial Pearly Gates

So then, at those proverbial pearly gates, if St. Peter or anyone else were to ask you, “Why should we let you into heaven?” What would you say?

Here are some wrong answers:

1. I went to church more often than not.

2. I didn’t kill anyone.

3. I wasn’t as bad as that other guy.

These are answers from those who do not realize how sinful they actually are.

I wasn’t as bad as that other guy. I’m not Hitler.

If a man drinks twelve beers a day, do we not call him a drunk? But if you ask him, he’ll say “Now, I know this other guy, and he’s really a drunk for he has 24 beers every day.”

But does this make the first man any less drunk?

And does Hitler’s egregious sins make you any less of a sinner?

No indeed.

The Gospel is our only hope.

At those proverbial pearly gates, the only right answer is

“Though sinner I am, I trust in Jesus Christ. I rely on Him for the pardon of my sins, for the atonement — the covering over — of my sins on the cross. Jesus Christ conquered death that I may live.”

5. The Peace of God

Some of us love history, and the arguments to the historicity of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection may powerfully influence us to belief.

But if you are not so inclined to history and rather care more about the “now” or “today” then I want you to consider the power of God and the peace of God.

Simply, the most powerful effect in the world is conversion to Christ.

Nothing compares in how profoundly a person is changed. Paul, the enemy of the Christians, becomes their greatest missionary. Today, many in jails come to Christ and change their lives. But it doesn’t need to get to that desperate of a place for us to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Not only does the person who is at rock bottom in this world need Christ, but we all need Christ. For morally, we are all at rock bottom. We have sinned, and conscience is guilty to God.

But in the Gospel, our sins are forgiven. The power of God gives us peace.

Though all sin and fall short of the glory of God, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ bring us new life that we may live with joy and peace, knowing that we God has forgiving our sins and cleansed us from all unrighteousness. We live then in thanksgiving to Him, and with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

This peace is especially available in reading the word of God. There we see the authenticity of Christ. He speaks with authority, not like the scribes and pharisees. His words command our attention, and change our lives. They gives us hope and they give us joy.

Read his words, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and know his peace. Amen.