Power of Christ as a Lion

Power of Christ as a Lion

Apr 01, 2018

Passage: Acts 1-28

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Category: The Resurrection of Christ


Resurrection Sunday

Let's begin this morning by talking about reactions. A reaction in the chemical world is this event that takes place when you take two chemicals and force them to interact in some way. Sometimes nothing happens. If you take water and mix it with baking powder nothing happens. But if you take water and mix it with cesium which looks almost identical to baking powder you have one of the most violent reactions in all of chemistry.

And so reactions are very telling of what kind of substance we are dealing with. It's a way to test the composition of a substance.

Well just there are reactions in the chemical world there are reactions inside our hearts and minds when we are confronted with various situations. And just like in chemistry those reactions reveal the composition of our hearts.

  • Some people, the thought of large groups of people energizes them and for others it terrifies them. That tells us something about the values and loves of a person.
  • Some people, love a Saturday with nothing on the calendar and for other people it feels like prison. That tells us something.

And all of these reactions tell us something about the heart. Today is resurrection Sunday. And today we ware going to talk about our various reactions to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now I was reading through the book of Acts this week in search of how some of those living in the first century reacted to the resurrection because essentially that's what the book of Acts is. It's a book that describes people's reaction to the resurrection. Many of the people Paul spoke with were just like us. They lived hundreds of miles from Israel and had never personally seen Jesus. He lived and died and they were completely unaware of this world changing event and now they are hearing about him for the first time.

And so these 1st century reactions are very instructive. What we see is a spectrum of responses that I think approximate the reactions we see in our culture today.

And so what we are going to do this morning is look at 4 different reactions to the claim that Jesus rose from the dead and draw some conclusions based on those reactions. These reactions are going to tell us something about the composition of our hearts.

We will start in Acts chapter 17

Reaction #1 - Mockery

In Acts 17 we have this famous sermon that Paul preaches in Athens. Athens was a center of learning kind of like an Ivy league Campus of the 1st Century where people get paid to sit around and talk about ideas. So Paul is hanging out in this town waiting for his friends so he can continue his journey and he sees all these idols and begins conversing with the philosophers and religious people of his day. And he says, I see you are very religious but perhaps still searching. Let me tell you about Jesus Christ. So he begins proclaiming the Christ and after a short bit of conversation it becomes clear what makes this new teaching different than anything else this community had ever heard.

So it was talk of the resurrection that caused them to conclude he was a babbler. They say, this is strange stuff Paul. Give us a more full account of what you are talking about. So he launches into this sermon and he gets to the end of his sermon where Paul is beginning to focus on the meaning of what he is saying. What I'm saying has implications to our lives.

And do you see it here? The text is absolutely crystal clear that the point at which those mocking comments came was the resurrection from the dead.

Do you see what's happening here. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers had very definite system of education that established a worldview and this concept of resurrection was not part of their worldview. And because it didn't fit as part of their mental model of the how the universe worked, they dismissed the ideas as ludicrous. But they went beyond dismissal to mockery. Mockery tears down the intelligence or character of a person who would hold such an idea.

Now I want you to notice that this whole idea of being skeptical or mocking people who hold to a literal resurrection is not new to our modern technological era. I hear this all the time among unbelievers I talk to and I think it's really important to point this out to them. They say, "Hey, listen, that was a fine concept for these ancients that didn't understand how the world works. They had all sorts of crazy conceptions of reality. And whose to blame them? But we have advanced beyond that. We can't believe in the resurrection, because we know, scientifically speaking that this is impossible.

Well guess what, they knew it was scientifically impossible too. It doesn't take a PhD in biochemistry to understand that when people die, they don't come back to life.

If you told someone 2000 years ago or you told someone today that someone rose from the dead the reaction would be identical. These people aren't idiots. Nobody comes back to life. That's never happened. Whatever your problems would be with the resurrection, it’s the same problem we’ve had for 2,000 years. People have mocked and sneered and scoffed and scorned the resurrection for centuries. Skepticism has been part of the fabric of humanity since the beginning of time.

That's actually what makes the resurrection of Jesus so amazing. The resurrection of Jesus is not a story that has been embellished over time. Any historian, secular or Christian will tell you this. It's not a story that was passed down orally for hundreds of years and has been embellished along the way. 1 Corinthians was written 20 years after the fact. That would be like me writing a book about the twin towers. That happened almost twenty years ago. If someone challenged you and said, the twin towers never collapsed, you could say, listen buddy, that's a ridiculous claim. There are thousands of people in NYC that saw this. Go talk with them. Paul says the exact same thing. There are 500 witnesses to this in Jerusalem and Galilee and Judea. Talk to them for yourself. Most of them are still alive. They saw Jesus in his risen state. Thy saw these things happen. If this were not true, there is not a chance in the world this document would have been preserved.

But just because there are lots of witnesses, still it does not make this easy to believe. People had a hard time believing it back then for the same reason you and I have a hard time believing it now. Why? Because this never happens. And we are skeptical of things that are statistically infrequent.

If I were to say that this coming Friday the sun will not rise, I don't think a single person would believe me. The pattern is too regular to be broken. Of anything that's statistically infrequent, it's people rising from the dead. That, like, never happens. So it's logical that people would be skeptical, even if a lot of people tell you it happened.

So from an intellectual point of view, I get it. I understand why these Stoic and Epicurean philosophers were skeptical. But where does the mocking come from? You see there is an emotional side to this as well. What is at the root of being skeptical and mocking, emotionally speaking?

Emotionally speaking, the reason we are skeptical is because we don't want to get hurt/burned. In the past all of us have experienced something we believed, and we went all in, and then we had that shattering feeling of disappointment. We've all had those experiences where our world comes crashing down when something isn't the way we had hoped. Maybe it's some roll model that ended up having an affair. Maybe it was when we realized the corruption of a corporation. And so we learn to be skeptical to protect ourselves.

So, I think it fair to say, those who mock the resurrection are protecting themselves from something that they sense has so many wonderful implications, so much good news, it's just too good to be true. They don't want to get hurt. When then were kids they went Snipe hunting and got duped, they believed in Santa Claus and it turned out to be a hoax. I don't want to go through that again. I'm going on the offensive. I will mock rather than be mocked.

And so when you see in someone a skeptical mocking spirit, it should create compassion. See in that person someone who is protecting themselves from getting hurt, see in that person someone who wants so badly for it to be true but can't allow himself to burned another time. It's not a personal attack. It's actually a person who is being very honest with the implications. If this was true, it would literally change everything. That's actually a tremendously frightening thought.

Mocking protects you from having to really grapple with the intellectual feasibility of an idea. It's very hard to admit that everything you ever believed about the nature of reality is wrong. It's easier to just mock it. And if part of that admission includes confession and repentance, well that's even harder. So let's just mock. That's what the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers did. That's what many in our culture do.

So this first reaction is just outright rejection of the idea of a historical resurrection and it comes out in the form of mockery and skepticism.

Reaction #2 - Annoyance

Now there's a second reaction I want to talk about that is slightly different. It goes a different direction.

Let's move next to Acts chapter 4.

Peter and John are in Jerusalem and there is this guy who was lame since his birth. Clearly, everyone knew about this guy. They tripped over him every day on the way to work. We are told that he was 40 years old. So he's my exact age. So if you had lived in Jerusalem you had seen this beggar. Begging was the social means of taking care of the handicap. And so he reaches out his hand to Peter and John like's he's done 10 million other times but this time instead of getting money he gets healed. And this shakes up the entire city. It's one of those moments that just blows people's minds. The text actually says, "They were utterly astounded filled with wonder and amazement and ran together to hear an explanation." And this miracles gives them a platform to speak of the person of Jesus. So they are on the temple mount, which is this giant stage. It can hold thousands and thousands of people. And they are preaching and explaining how Jesus was the fulfillment of OT prophesy. And the religious leaders are listening in the shadows. But then all of the sudden the subject of their preaching turns such that the religious leaders storm in and decide to intervene.

So what was the reaction of the Sadducees?

Annoyance. Let's drill into this a bit. What is really going on in the text here and our first impression of what is going in the text here are probably different. When I first read this, I saw this as run-of-the-mill gospel hostility on the part of the Sadducees.

But the Sadducees’ annoyance at Peter and John’s witness to the resurrection was not so much theological as it was political. If you study the Sadduccees in Jesus' day you realize they care very little for religion. They are just using religion to get power. The Sadducees are in charge of the temple, one of the largest most magnificent buildings in the world at the time. It's no small deal to have this much power. And one thing history teaches us is that people who rise to power are experts and detecting power shifts. They can sniff them out a mile away and I think when they heard Peter and John preaching on the resurrection they saw a powerful idea that they needed to stop.

Now to see from the text that this is really about power not religion you have to appreciate a key phrase that meant more to them than they it does to us. This idea of "resurrection from the dead" was an apocalyptic concept with all sorts of messianic overtones.

It might be similar to us saying something like, Black Power or Me Too. Those are just words but their is a giant movement that is leashed to them. You can't separate the words from the movement. There's pent up emotion and energy in those words.

Resurrection from the dead was a messianic idea among the Jews of Jesus' day and meant revolt, revolution and restoration of the Davidic kingdom. In Acts 5 we read of Thadeaus who led a revolt with 400 men and then about this guy, Judas the Galilean both who were squashed by Rome. So what the Sadducees were concerned about here was legitimate. Eventually there was a major Jewish revolt called the Bar Kokvah revolt and it was catastrophic for the Jews. This is not an imagined threat.

So the Sadducees look out and see:

  • A miracle that was just performed,
  • large crowds surrounding Peter and John,
  • 5000 came to Christ that day, so we are talking huge crowds,
  • a powerful sermon about the Author of life,
  • a new Moses,

Their fears were aroused. These were revolutionary ideas. The movement must not spread. It must be nipped in the bud.

And so what was their reaction to this idea of the resurrection of Jesus. They saw it as political. Whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead did not even cross their mind. They already had an answer to that. The Sadducees as a group, by definition, didn't believe in the resurrection. So obviously when they talk about Jesus rising from the dead, well clearly that didn't happen.

Of course they have heard these claims. the Sadduccees are stationed in Jerusalem. Where was Jesus buried and where did he show himself and where did he ascend into heaven? Jerusalem. So the Sadduccees are bumping into people left and right who said, "I saw him alive! I saw him ascend to heaven. I saw it with my own eyes!"

But it never crosses their mind that this actually happened. Instead they think, "Ok, here's a group of people that are trying to leverage the person of Jesus for their own political purposes. Obviously Jesus managed to drum up a following and now he's dead and he had a good run and so clearly what his disciples are doing is trying to not let this thing die. Let's stage a miracle, take the life of Jesus, merge it with this apocalyptic idea about his resurrection from the dead, and let's start a revolution. Here's a group of people who have some agenda and they need a means and the resurrection of Jesus becomes their means.

And I think the word chosen to describe the Sadducees reaction is super interesting. It's the word annoyance. Surprisingly you want to know the only other time this word is used in the Bible? It's in the passage we studied last week. This word annoyance is the exact same Greek word that described the emotional reaction Judas had when saw Mary pour out her perfume on the feet of Jesus.

Annoyances are things that are irksome to you. They don't represent real threats or danger, they just bug. It's something that gets under your skin. It just interrupts you in a way you can't stand. It grates on you.

And I think this is how these powerful political leaders felt toward Peter and John. Uh, another one of these political flies that we have to swat. Another one of these weeds that we have to pull out of our garden. And we'd better do it soon before the weed grows too big to pull out and chokes us to death. Ugh. What an annoyance to have to be dealing with these revolutionaries.

You see, they were annoyed because they saw the idea of revolution as having power. You see unlike the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers we looked at in chapter 4, these politicians are not going to mock it because they know that this whole idea of Jesus and religion and resurrection has power. So how can I use it. How can I leverage it or how can I make sure that others don't leverage it against me. Do you see that?

The Sadducees were powerful, but I think they would have conceded that revolutionary ideas were even more powerful. And so as annoying as it is, we need to use our power to remove their power.

And certainly there are parallels in our culture and perhaps even to some in the room here. The question of whether Jesus actually rose from the dead isn't even on the table. There's a pre-determined conclusion to that question. Your naturalistic worldview says, "Of course not." But you also don't deny that there's real power in the idea. Look at the power of organized religion.

But it's annoying you have to deal with it. When you hear Jesus rising from the dead, it's annoyance. Uh, there are those Christians pushing their political agenda, again. Jesus rising from the dead is code for organized religion as a way to make money off gullible people. The resurrection is banner under which we get things like NRA, pro-life movements and traditional marriage values. It's just another one of those annoying campaign slogans. Just drop it, would you.

There are less hostile but equally empty ways of perceiving the resurrection that function along the exact same lines as the Sadducees. You will find ministers today who are exactly like these Sadducees only instead of pushing a political agenda they are pushing a moral one. If you ask them, did Jesus literally, historically rise from the dead they will say, “The personality and the ideology and the power that was in Jesus continues so that today he is a risen and a living presence and possibility.”

You see, the spirit of Jesus lives on but of course we all know that Jesus is still physically dead. You see it's the same thing. Let's leverage the idea of Jesus to promote good living.

But think about what you are really saying there. If Jesus is not really alive and the only thing that really exists is the mere idea of Jesus then it's foolishness of the highest order to try and talk to him or pray to him.
I watched one of the absolute lamest movies of my life this week. It was just so cheesy and unrealistic. The whole thing made me want to throw up. But I suppose I got a sermon application out of it. In the movie the girl looses her mother and in the scene where the mother is dying, she says, "Know that I will always be with you." The movie critic in me rises up in revolt. The lady died. In what sense was she with her? What does that even mean? There are about a thousand movies just like that. That's all Hollywood has to offer.
When we say that Jesus is with us, or Jesus is in us, is that what we mean? In the same way that the dead mom was with her daughter. The idea of Jesus lives on, the memory of Jesus lives on in us? The self-sacrificing nature of Jesus lives on.

  • If that is all, then there's certainly nobody to talk to.
  • You can't talk to him and he can't talk to you because he's dead.
  • He can't change anything in your life.
  • He can't intervene in any situation or give you any form of guidance.

This is certainly a form of religion but completely without power. That's why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, folks if Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, we of all men are most to be pitied. In order for our faith to mean ANYTHING this must be a physical, historical reality.

So we've looked at two reactions. We have this reaction of mockery that denies the historicity. Then you have a reaction annoyance that still denies the historicity but acknowledges the power of the idea.

Reaction #3 - Fear

But there is this third reaction that sees the power and sees the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection but doesn't go quite all the way toward belief. They consider it.. They toy around with it.

We see that in the end of the passage there in chapter 17 with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.

So they aren't ready to dismiss it as a historical reality. They are curious. They want to hear more.

But there's another place we see it in acts that's fascinating to me. It's in Acts chapter 24. Now here we have the account of Paul being tried in Caesarea before Felix. Now Caesarea is a beautiful coastal city. It's one of my absolute favorite places to go in Israel. If I was a king, I would have lived here. Now geographically Caesarea is reasonably close to Jerusalem so there would have been some familiarity with Jewish customs but this is still very much a Roman city.

And Paul gives his defense before Felix basically arguing for his innocence. He says, listen, these guys are charging me with stirring up riots and causing a sedition. But none of it is true. He says, "Listen Felix, I'm not on trial because of any law breaking. I'll tell you Felix why I'm on trial:

So again, we see this theme of resurrection causing real reaction in people.
So Felix hears this and not finding any charge of substance against him throws up his hands and says, "Well, I'll just put him in jail until someone who knows more than I do can decide this case."

So you can see, he's curious. He clearly sees the power of the idea of resurrection as whole swaths of his jurisdiction are worked up about it. But he's going further, why? because again he's curious. Could this be true? He wants to hear more.

So Paul's speaks to him about it.

So here's a 3rd reaction. Fear.

Felix's reaction here is an honest one. Think about it. He's got a Jewish wife, so he probably knows something of this idea of a Messiah. He knows at least the storyline of the OT to some degree. And his thought process goes, wait, if the entire OT history was pointing to a Messiah, and Jesus, this guy I've heard about doing miracles, was killed but then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. IF ALL THAT IS TRUE then that means the next part is ALSO TRUE. He is coming back to judge people. Well, I've done things I don't want to be judged for. And that creates fear. I sure hope it's not true. I wish I could know if it was true or not. How can I test whether this is true?

Now, you have this little side note in there that's interesting. It says, "He hoped that money would be given him by Paul." And it's easy to read that as he was hoping for a bribe so that he could let him off. And it could be as simple as that. But I think there is a better explanation. Think about it. What meaningful resources could Paul leverage that would even move the needle in Felix's economy. What kind of bribe could Paul pull together? $100 bucks? I think Felix could see in a second that this guy was a tentmaker. I think this was his test as to the authenticity of the resurrection. If this guy tries to bribe me, then it's a guaranteed hoax. If he gives me money, then he's like every other crooked politician I've ever met whose just trying to advance his cause. He hoped he would bribe him so that it would relieve his fears.

And this is how a lot of people test Christianity isn't it. I'll test the authenticity of the resurrection by testing Christians. The second I find a Christian that's a hypocrite, the whole thing is off. That test takes about 1 second because every Christian you will ever meet is a hypocrite. And so having successfully found a hypocrite, they dismiss the whole thing. But here's the problem with that. Sure, it's a bummer that Christians are hypocrites, but that's why Jesus died and literally rose from the dead, was to save hypocrites. Who isn't a hypocrite? We are all that way. Every single human being. The reality of the resurrection isn't undone by hypocrites, it's what saves hypocrites.

The question is not are Christians hypocrites? The question is not can you point out faults in the church? The question is did Jesus Christ rise from the dead?

If Jesus rose from the dead than you have to grapple with everything he said, if he didn't rise from the dead you don't have to listen to anything he said. The issue is not whether or not you like his teaching or his followers or his morality or his stance on some politcal issue. The issue is whether or not he rose from the dead.

You see Felix was smart. He was being honest with the implications. And it created fear in him. It’s no use skating around the edge of the matter.We either need to accept all the claims of Jesus or none of them. The middle ground just honestly isn’t any ground and doesn’t make ANY sense.


Now there is a fourth reaction. Perhaps you can see where this is going. The Epicureans and Stoic philosophers rejected the historicity of the resurrection and denied its power and they tried to mock it.

The Sadducees rejected the historicity of the resurrection but acknowledged it's power and tried to eliminate it.

Felix feared the historicity of the resurrection and acknowledged it's power and tried to avoid it.

Then there's this fourth reaction, those who confesses the historicity of the resurrection and acknowledges its power and try to experience it.

What you have there is the heart of the Christian faith. When you confess and embrace the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, you bring in the answers to life's biggest questions on purpose and meaning and you fill up the heart's biggest longing for joy and satisfaction.

And there is no better example of this than Paul himself. Paul was a violent persecutor of Christianity. Why because he saw that the idea of resurrection had power. He was like the Sadducees. This Christianity thing was growing like cancer.

But then the resurrection itself confronted him. How can you argue that Jesus did not rise from the dead when the dead Jesus is standing in front of you in his blinding glory? The power of the resurrection and the reality of it merged for him in this conversion experience on the way to Damascus.

And it literally changed Paul for the rest of his life. And so we have this fourth reaction to the resurrection when you see it's power and confess it's historicity.

Turn to Philippians chapter 3 and what we see here is this amazing testimony of Paul. Paul says, I used to deny the resurrection. I used to deny Jesus Christ. I hated him. I mocked Christians. I persecuted them.

I was living for something totally opposite of Jesus. I was living for myself and the reason I hated Jesus, if I'm honest, was that he would not allow me to live for myself. But then I surrendered to that. I couldn't deny the reality of the resurrection. It confronted me. I couldn't deny it. He was standing right in front of me and my entire world came crashing down. And Paul says, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Paul says, I want to know Jesus Christ. You can't know someone who is dead. Paul says, I saw him and I want to know him. Do you see that this transformation took place when Paul confessed the historical nature of the resurrection. This is real, this really happened, this has implications for the way I live my life.

When Paul says, whatever I had I count as loss, you have to load into that everything he says in 3:3-8.

  • “I am proud of being a Jew. I am a Hebrew of Hebrews."
  • “I am proud of my family, being of the tribe of Benjamin.”
  • “I was proud I knew the law of God and I obeyed the law of God.”
  • “When I became a Christian, those things I used to glory in, those things that were my pride, those things that were my identity, those things that were my highest ambition: religious observance, family status, and national pedigree, those things were eclipsed. Now I have a higher ambition above all.
  • There’s one thing I want.” His passion, his number one ambition is to know Christ. He says, “I count everything else as loss.”

Now look at what Paul says next

What is Paul saying here? He's surrendering to the historical reality of the resurrection and all that it implies about him personally. He's saying, "If the resurrection is true, then everything Jesus said is true. And if everything Jesus said is true, then everything the OT says is true, the whole Bible is true."

And the Bible informs me of what I already know, what Felix knew and feared, that I'm not righteous. And the Bible informs me of what I already fear, and Felix feared, that one day I will have to give an account for my unrighteousness. If Christ was not raised from the dead, then this is a fairy tale. But if Christ did raise from the dead, this moment is as real as the moment we are living right now. And Paul saw it. The blazing reality of Jesus Christ had implications.

Paul says, what I discovered in the resurrection was the reason for Christ's death in the first place. Jesus died to give me his righteousness. Do you see that in the verse? Gaining Christ for Paul meant gaining a righteousness that was not his own. So often we try to prove to ourselves and others that we are righteous, that have worth because of what we do. And Paul says, no. That is rubbish. Look at all the stuff I did in my life. Rubbish. I surrender it all, gladly, happily, joyfully, I lay it all down, and in that act of renunciation, I gain Christ, I receive his righteousness.

That real transfer of righteousness, translates to a real resurrection life. This is what gives Christians hope, real hope, abiding sustaining hope. It's what totally transforms you. Being given a clean slate, totally forgiven, confidence in death. You say things like, “Something has taken control of my life.

  • My heart was cold. Now it’s warm.
  • My heart was hard. Now it’s soft.
  • My heart was stagnant. Now it’s fresh.”

When you try to talk about it, the change you’re describing is so radical you lapse into hyperbole. But it’s not hyperbole, except to everybody who hears you. They say, “This is an exaggeration,” but you know it’s not. I am the happiest person in the world!

Call to Action

  1. Celebrate Resurrection Life.
  2. Don't End In Curiosity.

“There are only three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second unhappy and rational, and the third foolish and unhappy.”

  1. Perhaps this message for you has been an awakening like Paul. Lean in. Come forward afterward and pray.